I’ve got another good one for you. Today’s interactive interview features Jeff Ourvan of Jennifer Lyons Literary Agency. Details on the interactive part are at the bottom. Happy reading!
KV: Are you a writer yourself? What did/do you write?
JO: Yes, I’ve written two thrillers and also two non-fiction works about sports, one of which, HOW TO COACH YOUTH BASEBALL SO EVERY KID WINS, will be published next spring.
KV: How long have you been agenting, and how did you get into it?
JO: This is my first year as a literary agent. I was for a long time a PR guy and spokesperson and then a corporate attorney, in addition to working as a magazine editor. I also studied creative writing for many years with the novelist John Rechy.
I wanted to bring all these skills together so had considered agenting for several years. I knew of the Jennifer Lyons Literary Agency because Jennifer successfully represented my wife, who is a published novelist with Harper Collins. And I found out I enjoyed working with authors a lot more than I did with lawyers.
KV: How would you summarize your personal agenting philosophy? What do you expect from an agent-author relationship?
JO: I was on the author side of this coin long before I was an agent, and so I’m keenly aware of how much heart and soul and work and tears it takes to write, let alone market, a successful book. And I know from personal experience that authors place their hopes and dreams in an agent’s hands, so I take that responsibility seriously. I work closely with my authors, and I hope I help them to bring forth their very best--which, from my perspective, means marketable--work before we ever take that work to editors and publishers.
The relationship between writers and agents has to be based on mutual consideration, a shared vision, and a common objective to work diligently and professionally. E-mails and phone calls have to be returned.
KV: What client work do you have coming out soon? What drew you to those writers and/or projects?
JO: I have some terrific projects right now, including a memoir from a former top leader of Hezbollah; a memoir from the only Jewish-American spy in Baghdad; a very clever romantic comedy set at Harvard University; a zombie novel that both turns the genre on its head and reads like Edgar Allan Poe; and several exciting YA and sci-fi works.
All of these authors are new, excellent, page-turning writers. Also, they offer something different, something not out there yet that people--meaning publishers and editors--would be intrigued to either learn about or to experience.
KV: What genres do you represent? What genres do you definitely NOT represent?
JO: I favor nonfiction works--international, sports, music, history and memoir--and commercial fiction, including thrillers, mysteries, international, YA, and really just about anything other than children’s picture books.
KV: What query pet peeves and/or pitfalls should writers avoid when querying you?
JO: Well, since you ask, please spell well and use proper grammar. I’m in part judging ability based on the care writers take when they query me. Second, just get right to the point. And third, try to control the use of adjectives and superlatives when describing yourself or your work--less is more in that regard. But I went through a couple hundred queries today so I might just be cranky.
KV: What’s the best way to query you?
JO: E-mail is preferred.
KV: How do you feel about a writer’s including a few sample pages at the bottom of the query? Do you find that more assertive or obnoxious?
JO: Yes, it can be helpful to paste a few pages of the manuscript below the query. I typically know from the general query whether I'd want to read more, but in a case where I'm on the fence a few attached pages can help me to capture a sense of writing ability and style.
Thank you, Mr. Ourvan, for these responses, and good luck to everyone who decides to query. I imagine that will be quite a few of you, as Mr. Ourvan represents a wide range of genres:)
I’m sure everyone knows the interactive drill by now, but for any newcomers, here’s a brief refresher: If you have a question for Mr. Ourvan, feel free to leave it in the comments below. He’ll drop in periodically throughout the day and leave his answers down there in the comments as well. We’ll wrap everything up at 4:30 p.m. EDT (or 1:30 p.m. PDT), so don’t dilly-dally!