Name: Jessica Faust
Agency: BookEnds Literary Agency
What was your first job in the industry, which led directly or indirectly to your current agent role? I was hired as an editorial assistant at Berkley Publishing, at that time part of the Putnam Berkley Group (before Random House and before Penguin). It doesn’t feel like that long ago (at least to me), but it was a much different time in publishing. There were more houses and they were smaller, most editors did not have computers, submissions were made by snail mail and a lot of publishers accepted unagented submissions (although we often recommended an agent once an offer was made).
My job was to act as the assistant to two romance editors which was ironic because until my job interview the only romance I ever read was Bridges of Madison County, but I had spent my summer reading commercial fiction and a lot of (ironically) Berkley books. This is the job that taught me all of the ins-and-outs of a publisher’s editorial process. It was here where I acquired my first books and was privileged to be able to explore all of my interests. I acquired romance, mystery and nonfiction (back in the day when there was a mass market nonfiction market). While I didn’t ever imagine myself becoming an agent at that time, I’ve been amazed by how much I learned from my mentors in that job that I still bring with me today as both an agent and a business owner.
There’s no specific agent qualifications, so what would you say best qualifies you to do your job & allows you to do it well? Perseverance, a strong editorial eye, and a great respect for authors and books. I also really love to negotiate and push for the next best thing. My psychology minor doesn’t hurt either.
Years ago I ran into a former high school English teacher of mine. She remembered me as the student who loved English and was great at writing and reading, but horrible at grammar. It was very common for me to get an A on a paper for the writing itself, and a C or D for the grammar (commas still trip me up). She asked how it was possible that I could work in publishing when I was so horrible at grammar. Luckily, as I explained to her, my job has little to do with comma placement. My success stems from a keen eye for what makes a great book the reading public will love, how I can work with the author (my editorial eye) to shape it into an even better book, and my ability to get that book into the right hands (networking and connections), and push and push the publisher for more, more in contract negotiations, more marketing, a stronger cover, or just more love.
What routine, if any, do you look to start each working day with? Lift the lid as best you can, and describe a typical working day? I’ve really changed things up this year and it’s made a hugely positive impact on my productivity.
I usually get into the office around 9 or so. I start up my computer and review a weekly calendar I make for myself on Saturdays. This calendar chunks my days down by the hour. This gives me perspective on what I have on my schedule. It could be a lunch, a meeting, plans to review a contract or submissions, this interview, or time blocked out for phone calls.
Once my email has loaded I immediately sort it into files labelled: Today, This Week, This Month, and FYI. Then I shut down my email and dig into my most important projects for the day. Those can vary. It could be reviewing a contract, reading and editing a proposal for a client, or negotiating a contract. My one big project for each day is the first thing I do. Mornings are when I’m most focused and getting these big projects done sets the right tone for the rest of the day for me. My one big to-do item almost always involves something for a client.
Late in the morning I’ll typically tackle email. I’ll open it up and sort again and then hit my “today” folder. I’ll work through those as much as possible and review my “this week” and my “this month” folders to see if there’s anything there I should get to or add to my weekly calendar.
If I have lunch with an editor that will take up most of my afternoon. I’ll spend my travel time to and from lunch reviewing submissions on my Kindle and respond to those when I return. Otherwise my afternoon will involve another big to-do item (as noted above), another check into email, and possibly phone calls and follow-ups to submissions as needed.
I’ve found that being more focused and targeted in my planning allows me to take breaks during the day when I really need them. This also sometimes means that I’ll leave the office a little earlier than usual, with time to read a submission or even a book for pleasure.
What do you feel a client and agent should expect of each other in the course of a fruitful working relationship day-to-day? Trust, honestly, and good communication are the keys to any good relationship, that of an author and agent is no different.
Is there a typical process that sees a first enquiry turn into a working client relationship? There really isn’t. It’s all about the book, the story, the writing and my connection to it. Once I make an offer of representation it’s my job to make that connection with the author, because at that point the ball (the decision to work together) is entirely in her court.
What is the best way to approach you, or any agent, with a view to representation? Is there one part of an approach that makes you think this client is or isn’t for me? A straight-forward query letter or fun conversation at a conference is the perfect start. I don’t need anything fancy, I just need to know about your book. I think the only thing that turns me off is the author who thinks she’s too good for the typical query process. Querying isn’t about one person being more special then another. It’s really just a simple way for me to decide which books I want to read and which I don’t.
Is there any part of your day-to-day work that manifests itself in evenings & weekends? I try to avoid email as much as possible on nights and weekends. When I do work during this time it’s typically submission reading and working with my team to answer questions and concerns they might have. The really heavy work, for me, is done in the office when I can quietly focus in a controlled environment.
Conferences are the exception. All conferences are on weekends. That time is, obviously, dedicated to work.
What one piece of advice would you give to a writer just starting out? Those who succeed do so because they never give up.
What one piece of advice would you give to your younger self? Just do what you do because you’ve got this.
Favourite film? Sadly I don’t really watch movies enough to have a favourite.
Favourite TV program (currently or all-time)? Right now it’s Samantha Bee.
Favourite book? Of all time, probably Little Women. In 2016, Bull Mountain.
Favourite director? I do not watch enough movies to even know directors
Favourite writer? This is like asking a mother to choose her favourite child. Impossible.
Favourite actor (male or female)? Paul Rudd makes me laugh every single time.
Our website and blog: www.bookendsliterary.com.
You can follow me on twitter: @BookendsJessica.