Happy Agent Monday, everyone! Did you miss me? 😉 It HAS been a busy time here, with lots of exciting goings on. Part of that excitement? The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency has welcomed some terrific new agents. Today, let’s get to know more about new Associate Agent Savannah Brooks…
Q: Hi Savannah! Thanks so much for taking the time to visit. How did you get into agenting?
A: When I started my MFA program back in 2015, I wanted to get as much experience in as many avenues of publishing as possible. So when I heard about the opportunity to intern for JD Lit, I jumped on it. I interned with Damian McNicholl for a year and a half before officially coming on board. I loved (and still love) the way agenting blends manuscript editing with author and editor facetime. It’s the perfect mix.
Q: Can you share some details about yourself, and how these have shaped who you are as an agent and as someone working with authors?
A: This isn’t anything new, but I’ll say it anyway: being a writer myself really informs the processes I create with my authors. I write creative nonfiction, mostly personal essays pretty heavily influenced by research (though I dabble in fiction as well). The last essay I had published I started writing two years prior. It’s an essay I wrote a few drafts of then had to put away for a while. I worked on other pieces, I grew as a writer, and I made it better with time. So when I look at an author’s career, I’m not just considering this one book; I’m considering the ways that writing and revising this one book can inform all the books that are to come.
Q: What types of projects are you representing? Anything you are especially hoping to find in your inbox?
A: I didn’t exactly mean for this to happen, but I’ve found myself focusing pretty heavily on YA fiction. By its nature, YA is extremely voice driven, and I’m most intrigued by characters. Weird, obsessive, smart, unforgettable characters. That being said, I’ve been keeping an eye out for funny, voice-driven adult fiction that isn’t afraid to tackle big topics but knows how to do it and entertain at the same time. Think An Absolutely Remarkable Thing.
Q: Can you give us an example of one of your favorite books in each category that you represent, and why it’s your favorite?
A: I’ll do some category bending here. Starting with one of the main players in the “what the heck is YA anyway” category: the His Dark Materials series. I’ve read this series countless times over the years, and each time, I’m floored by three things: how much I adore Lyra as a character, how real the worlds feel despite jumping around in them so frequently, and how layered the narrative is. As I grew up, the main focus of the story bounced around: adventure, love, religion, quantum physics, war. This is a book accessible and intriguing to readers of practically any age, which is, to put it simply, a feat.
For very similar reasons, I’ve also always gravitated to the Chronicles of Narnia series. I remember being crying-level devastated as a child by the fact that I could never actually get to Narnia. The world felt that real to me. Again, a feat, especially in children’s and middle grade writing. (That the film producers cast Ben Barnes as Prince Caspian certainly didn’t hurt my continued obsession into my teenage years, though I think I would’ve stuck with the series regardless.) I’m not a religious or spiritual person, but I’ve always been fascinated by Lewis’s allusions to Christianity. You can either read to be entertained or read to solve a puzzle. That level of engagement is powerful.
Q: To help folks understand your point of view, what are some of your favorite TV shows and Movies?
A: I don’t actually watch a ton of TV/movies, but this seems like a good opportunity for some psychoanalyzing, so why not? The shows I tend to turn to are Criminal Minds (again), America’s Next Top Model (again), Rick and Morty (again), Riverdale, and Planet Earth II. (Now that I think about it, I’m not sure I want anyone to read too deeply into that selection, but here we are.) As far as movies go, I’m always a sucker for Pixar and Marvel. I’ve seen Moana more times than I’d like to admit. I would say listening to “How Far I’ll Go” doesn’t still make me tear up (yes! girl power!), but that would be a lie.
Q: What’s in your reading pile?
A: Honestly, a little bit of everything. So far in 2019 I’ve read thirteen books: everything from memoir (Educated, Muslim Girl) to award-winning fiction (The Mars Room) to new releases (The Night Tiger). But mostly I’ve been focusing on YA classics that I should have read a long time ago: Speak, Wintergirls, We Were Liars, Burn Baby Burn.
Q: What makes a successful query to you?
A: When it’s clear the author truly thinks I’d be a good fit for their work (and themselves). I get it: publishing is a tough world, and sending to the most agents possible ups your chance of acceptance. I’m not saying I immediately discard form queries; I don’t. But I’m much more drawn to a submission that mentions something I’ve tweeted or a Minnesota connection or even just draws a line in from my agent page. Agents can only take on so many authors; someone who’s proven they’re (a) engaged with you as an agent, (b) willing to put in work, and (c) serious about their writing automatically stands out more.
Q: What are some common query mistakes that will result in an immediate rejection?
A: I have a couple. Queries that are either self-disparaging (“I don’t expect you to respond to this; no one does”) or cocky (“this is the best book ever, and you’ll miss out if you don’t take it on”). Authors aren’t only selling a manuscript, they’re selling a working relationship. And I just don’t want to work with that.
Then there are queries for books completely outside of what I represent. If there isn’t an option for your genre on my query page, I’m not going to take it on. Calling a romance novel literary fiction isn’t going to shoehorn it into that category. And this isn’t to disparage romance (or any other genre I don’t represent); romance is great. The reason I don’t represent it is because I don’t know anything about the genre, which makes me ineffective both as an editor and a liaison to the publishing industry. That doesn’t do either of us any good.
I’m also somewhat of a stickler about the minutiae. It’s fine if you don’t know where to put a comma, but please spell things correctly. Including my name.
Q: Are you a very editorial agent? What does that mean to you?
A: Yes and no. I’m not a rewriter, unless it’s rearranging the author’s own words for clarity. I leave pretty much everything language related to the author. I’m much more focused on content overall. As an author, it’s so easy to get caught up in the small things, especially for a book you’ve been working on for months. So I ask a lot of questions to get an author to start thinking bigger again. And at the last pass, I line edit to align everything with Chicago Manual of Style. My background is editing, so call it somewhat of a compulsion.
Q: What is your idea of an ideal client?
A: Someone who’s excited about the process. The first author I signed, Marquita, told me both that she loves editing (more power to her) and that she’d rewritten her first twenty pages based on feedback she’d gotten from other agents. That really shows a willingness not just to push the book out there but to make it the best it can be. And then do it all over again with the next book.
Q: Where can folks go to follow you online?
A: I’m most active on twitter: @slbrooks91. I’ve also got a pretty thorough write up of what I’m interested in at jdlit.com/savannah-brooks.
Q: Your link for submission guidelines?
Thanks so much for stopping by, Savannah, and taking the time to let us get to know you a bit more!
In the coming weeks I hope to spotlight here some more of the new The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency agents, so stay tuned!
*Marie is a Literary Agent at The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency in New York City. To keep up with all her posts, subscribe to her site.