Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Interview With My Agent: Janet Benrey

Janet Benrey is a fascinating person. She graduated from York House College in Kent, England, and has a degree Magna cum Laude in Communication from the University of Pittsburgh. She and her husband, Ron, have been a successful writing team since the late 1980's. Many of you have probably heard one or both of them speak at a writers' conference. Janet's agency is Benrey Literary, and I am fortunate to have had her represent me for over a year and a half.

RM: Why did you decide to become an agent?

JB: Becoming an agent seemed like a natural progression for me. I worked as Editorial Director for a small press before turning to marketing and publicity for authors. At the time I was an unpublished author with a completed manuscript so when my agent suggested I join her, I said yes. The rest, as they say, is history.

RM: What does an agent offer that writers can’t do for themselves?

JB: The flippant answer is access. But there’s more to being an agent than simply getting a manuscript in front of an editor. Some authors can do that for themselves when they attend conferences and meet with editors. But an agent should know where your manuscript will fit in the marketplace or even if it’s appropriate for the marketplace. Also, literary agents have become gate-keepers, the first professional reader. They are often able to spot weaknesses in a manuscript that the author may not. But perhaps the most important reason is that publishing agreements are publisher friendly, not author friendly. It’s a rare author who understands what they are signing away when they put pen to paper. Contracts are legal agreements that can have long-term consequences on an author’s earnings.

RM: How has your experience as a writer helped you as an agent?

JB: I understand what authors face when they write and why they write what they do. But what an author may chose to write may not be what editors are buying. The skill is to steer the author in the right direction so that his or her manuscript eventually finds a home.

RM: What’s the absolute worst query or proposal you’ve ever received?

JB: Easy. An original manuscript the author was convinced was perfect and therefore could not be changed. Not one word.

RM: What advice would you give a writer who is seeking an agent?

JB: Remember that this is a business where perseverance may matter more than skill. Some writers will write better than you, but the writer who finds a home for his or her work is often the one who hangs in there and keeps trying new things. Sometimes it’s not the first manuscript that sells, so my advice is to always have something up your sleeve. I have had many editors say: “I like the writing, but this book will not work for us. I’ll read anything this author writes. What else does he or she have that I can take a look at?” It’s hard to say ‘nothing’.

I think it’s appropriate to close this posting with Janet’s favorite Scripture verse, which I ran across somewhat by accident. It sort of says it all…or should. It's Ephesians 2:10 " For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do."


Anne Mateer said...

Thanks, Richard, for helping us get to know Janet a bit better.

Crystal Laine said...

Wow, Dr. Richard, you ask the best questions! This was excellent insight gained from a very respected agent. What Janet says about perseverance is so on the money.

I enjoyed reading this interview--thanks to both of you.