Ten Questions for Literary Agent Jessica Negrón

by Carolee Noury

Writers know that it’s a good idea to get to know agents before pitching to and/or querying them. In that spirit, here’s an opportunity to meet Jessica Negrón, Associate Agent at Talcott Notch Literary Services. Jessica will be one of three agents participating in the practice pitch sessions at the 2014 Maryland Writers’ Conference.

Jessica Negrón chose a career in publishing over her previous lab research plans. We’re lucky that publishing tempted her away.

Carolee Noury: Who’s your favorite living author?

Jessica Negrón: This is a dangerous question. It’s so hard to choose just one! If I absolutely must pick one, it would be Juliet Marillier.

CN: Have you met her?

JN: No.

CN: If you could, what would you ask?

JN: If I did have the chance to speak with her, I’d probably ask about her wonderful characters. She creates such rich, layered worlds filled with generations of fascinating people. I’d love to know what these characters were up to off-page, and how she keeps track of so many of them! I’ve been hooked on Marillier since I discovered DAUGHTER OF THE FOREST when I was thirteen, and the young women in her books had a profound effect on how I viewed myself growing up. I couldn’t have asked for braver role models.

CN: Was there a moment when your career as an agent snapped into place? What was that like?

JN: My journey as an agent is really just starting, but I think the moment things really started to feel real was when I closed my first deal (SHRIKE, Harlequin 2014). Before that, it’s so easy as a new agent to doubt yourself and worry about people taking you seriously. Like anyone, we’re our own worst critics, and it’s easy to feed into the doubt bred by comparing yourself to others who are further along in their careers. That first deal is such a validation and a relief.

CN: What experiences prepared you most to be an agent?

JN: I’ve been in sales for almost my entire professional life, so that really prepared me for the sales aspect of being an agent. I was a telemarketer for a long time, so I’m no stranger to trying to convince people to throw money at me. The book industry is its own beast, however, and I would never have been able to make my way here without the internship positions I held in the years leading up to my becoming an agent. These positions gave me such an insight into the world of publishing and provided the strong foundation I needed to start my career as an agent.
CN: What makes Talcott Notch Literary Services an unique agency?

JN: We’re a very small, boutique agency located in Connecticut. I think our size makes us more capable of developing closer relationships with our authors. Our smaller lists allow us to provide more personal attention to the people we work with, so no one feels like they’re a product on a long, automated assembly line.

CN: When you reflect on some of the best advice you’ve gotten in your life, what comes to mind?

JN: By far, the best advice I’ve ever received came from a beloved mentor of mine from college. I’d started to doubt the path I’d chosen and he asked, “When you’re old and retired and get to do things for pleasure without worrying about money, what do you want to be doing?” If it wasn’t for him, I’d probably still be in a lab coat. Successful and important work, but not the work of my heart.

CN: What would your perfect day look like?

JN: I’d wake up and be bombarded with phone calls from editors offering each of my clients 13-figure deals for books to be printed and distributed an hour later, which would then immediately hit all the bestseller lists, win all the prizes, and inspire world peace. Then I’d celebrate with a nice cup of spicy hot chocolate.

CN: Approximately what percentage of writers follow your query guidelines?

JN: As of answering this question, I happen to have exactly 200 queries in my inbox. Of those, 48 have a subject line that does not follow my submission guidelines. That’s 24% just looking at subject lines, never mind peeking inside the email to see if they’ve included the materials my guidelines ask for. Unfortunately, it’s an indicator that the writer has not done the proper research on me, and many times, the story isn’t something that fits my interests (usually not a genre I represent), something that could easily have been avoided had they read my guidelines.

CN: If being an agent doesn’t work out, and I hope it does, what would your next career be?

JN: I wouldn’t mind being a pro poker player.

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