A surefire way to determine an agent is the best fit for your manuscript/writing career is by learning everything you can about them. Such information is great when choosing who to query and deciding who you’d love to work long term with. As a site dedicated to guiding writers through the publication journey, we’ve put together awesome agent interviews for you!
Today we’re introducing Savannah Brooks from the Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency!
Path2pub: Welcome to Path2pub! How did you become an agent?
SB: I graduated from Virginia Tech with a BS in marketing management in 2014. Once out, I worked in corporate America for seven months before giving in to how miserable it was making me. So, as one does when their carefully planned life falls apart, I decided to go to grad school and pursue my MFA in creative writing. I started my program in 2015, and while there, I dabbled in many different literary avenues: I worked on various lit mags, I taught, I worked as an editor, and I interned in publishing. That’s when I found my internship with JDLA. I interned for a year and a half and was brought on board as an associate agent in 2018.
Path2pub: What an awesome journey!What genres do you represent and why did you decide ‘these are what I want to help bring to the world’?
SB: When I started out, I focused primarily in young adult works, simply because those were the manuscripts I received that really resonated with me. That grew into representing all of kid lit, both fiction and nonfiction, which has been my main focus for the past few years. Just recently, I’ve started to really expand the adult side of my list, looking for contemporary fiction, romcoms, thrillers/mysteries, and horror. Thrillers are probably what I’m most excited to find in my query queue, as I just devour them when I manage to find time to read for pleasure. I have a brain wired for puzzles, so helping an author figure out layers of connectivity in their story is one of my favorite editorial pursuits. In general, though, I want to champion stories that add to our cultural voice in new, thoughtful ways, especially if they bring in an underrepresented perspective.
Path2pub: That’s wholesome 🙂 What instantly catches your eye in a query letter/manuscript?
SB: For a manuscript, voice is going to win me over every time. I’m a reader who needs to fall in love with a character to really be invested in the story—and that doesn’t mean a character has to be likable. In fact, I love unreliable narrators, morally gray narrators, sketchily motivated narrators—the works. I respond particularly well to dry humor. In a query, it’s really just the caliber of the story—does it sound new/surprising, does it address larger sociopolitical questions, is it from a multicultural/queer/disabled perspective. A query letter also needs to coherently explain the story itself, which may seem like obvious advice, but I often see queries that focus on why the author wrote the book or why it’s important or where the market is lacking. Those are important tidbits, but not for that very first stage.
Path2pub: What is that element that makes you know at once that a story is not for you?
SB: There are certain topics I stay away from, primarily stories about sexual assault and people dying of illness. I’m also not a good fit for any law-enforcement stories, including FBI/CIA, or military stories. More generally, I’m not particularly interested in stories we’ve heard before told from perspectives we’ve heard before. That’s not to throw shade on those projects—a lot of people love them, and for good reason—it’s just not my mission as an agent.
Path2pub: How hands-on are you editorially?
SB: Since I came into publishing through a combo of MFA and editorial work, I’d say I’m pretty editorial. My editing style is telescopic: we start big and get more and more precise as we go. Typically, I’ll send an editorial letter first, then with each iteration I’ll comment on the manuscript itself. I don’t believe in rewriting my author’s words, and most of my edits are questions: “Why does she feel this way?” “How does X connect to Y?” “Where can we go deeper on this topic?” I like to think of myself as less prescriptive and more focused on layering depth and connectivity.
Path2pub: Do you have goals for how many clients you want to acquire in a year?
SB: I don’t have any goals for this, no. Each individual client is going to require a different amount of attention. Sometimes I’ll sign a new client, and they only send me one manuscript a year; sometimes I sign a client and they have a new manuscript for me every couple months. If I sign the former, I have a lot more bandwidth to take on more clients. So it’s all a balancing act. And of course if I adore a story, I’m not going to pass it up just because I recently brought another author on board.
Path2pub: Very insightful. What is your favorite trope?
SB: There are myriad thriller tropes I love, but my favorite has got to be the group of adult friends who did something bad when they were younger, and now someone’s hunting/blackmailing/threatening them. You should have seen how quickly and obsessively I binged Yellowjackets (although maybe it’s a good thing no one could see that).
Path2pub: That’s a rare trope! What are some books you think everyone should read?
SB: Oh god, I don’t think I can answer this because there are just so many incredible books out there. But I will say two books I think every writer should read: The Artful Edit by Susan Bell and The Art of Creative Research by Philip Gerard—yes, even fiction writers should read the latter. I teach a seminar on how important it is to incorporate research into fiction writing, so I can go on about this for days, but just trust me here: research will strengthen any piece of writing.
Path2pub: True! If a writer could write a book specifically for you, what would you want it to be about?
SB: I’m sure I could get really specific here—and my Manuscript Wishlist page does have specifics—but overall I want a surprising and/or immersive setting; a quick, witty main character; a propulsive, can’t-put-it-down plot; and really thoughtful rumination about society and how people fit within it. I would also kill for a thriller that uses a unique story structure and a twist even I don’t see coming.
Path2pub: What advice do you have for querying writers?
SB: As much as possible, try not to compare your publishing journey to other people’s. The process looks different for everyone, and publishing is always going to be subjective. A no from an agent or editor doesn’t mean your manuscript is garbage; it just means it wasn’t for them for whatever reason (and there are so many reasons we end up passing on projects). I also recommend practicing joyful writing while you’re out on sub. You’re going to get a lot of rejections, and they really suck. If you can make it a habit to write in ways that make you happy, you’re not only going to become a stronger writer—because you do become stronger with each new piece—but you’re also going to foster that love of writing (which can be tough to maintain in the midst of so many passes).
Path2pub: Great advice, thank you for sharing it with us! What are your non-publishing related hobbies?
SB: I’m basically a lizard in the sense that the majority of my rejuvenation comes from the sun. I love spending time outside, whether it be hiking or just reading by the lake. I also love any sort of puzzle—1,000-piece jigsaw puzzles, the New York Times’ spelling bee game, Wordle, you name it. This isn’t really a hobby—and it’s even less of a non-hobby during pandemic times—but I’m very about fashion (which, admittedly, is not a great vice on a publishing income) and any excuse to dress up is a good enough excuse for me, so I tend to be out and about in Minneapolis quite a bit. And to round it all out, I’m also a boxing instructor, so I spend a good amount of time at the gym.
Thank you for stopping by and for the smooth interview!
Savannah Brooks joined the Jennifer De Chiara team in 2018 as an associate literary agent after interning for a year and a half. She earned her MFA, focused in creative nonfiction, from Hamline University and her BS in marketing management from Virginia Tech. As well as agenting, she works as a publishing professor at the University of Minnesota, a teaching artist at the Loft Literary Center, and a boxing instructor. You can find out more—including her wishlist and submission guidelines—by visiting her website: http://sblitagent.com.
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