Book Broker – An interview with Jessica Craig
Agent: Jessica Craig
Preferred genres: literary fiction, commercial-literary crossover fiction, narrative non-fiction (but not personal memoir), literary middle-grade or young adult, crime and thrillers.
1) What stands out in a good submission?
I can’t easily define it. I’m not a trend-chaser so I’m most drawn to a pitch and submission when the writer shows confidence in their voice and has a clear intention in their choices of plot and structure. The first 25-50 pages need to immerse me so that I want to read all the way through to the end.
2) What is the most common error or flaw you see in query letters?
Addressing a different agent’s name is an occasional error, and that immediately makes me feel less interested in the submission. Often there is no mention of the author’s background and I like to know a little about the person whose work I’m considering.
3) What's a typical early warning sign that a manuscript isn't structurally sound?
If the writer is not in control of voice and flow, it can be seen as flawed in just the first page.
4) Are you currently open to submissions, and is there anything in particular you are looking for right now?
Yes, I’m open to any of the genres mentioned above. I keep aiming to have an eclectic list of fiction and non-fiction, but since I’m known more as a literary fiction agent and most of my authors are literary fiction writers, I’m now a little more interested in non-fiction, especially if it is a subject relevant not only to the US but also to Europe, or maybe more about Europe than the US. And I’d like to see non-fiction for young readers. In fiction, I wish I’d receive more crime or thriller submissions, especially by writers of colour.
5) What advice can you give to writers who are submitting their work?
Research which agents you feel would be the best match for your work. Polish your work, at least through two drafts, before you submit it. Literary Hub just shared great advice to writers from interviews with Toni Morrison and I think some of the most essential advice is to learn how to read—and critique—your own work, before you start submitting it. I’m happy to provide editorial advice to my clients and to work with them through 1-2 drafts before submitting a work to editors, especially if a writer has not been through an MFA program and needs more mentoring than writers who do have an MFA, but there’s only so much work an agent can realistically do, and most editors expect submissions to be very polished. So this is where the work of companies like the Darling Axe can fill an important role in the pre-submission process. Oh, and try to keep your queries succinct. I personally don’t like reading a lengthy synopsis of a work, especially when it’s a novel. I prefer to see if I’m hooked by the work itself.
6) What do you love most about being an agent, and what do you find the most challenging?
I most love discovering a talented new writer and being one of the first readers of their work. Since I recently launched my own agency and handle everything on my own, I find keeping up with new submissions the most challenging part of my work, since I also think it’s essential to be reading at least one published book for pleasure alongside new manuscripts.
7) If you disliked a submitted manuscript but thought it could be a bestseller, would you take it on? (This is a question from one of our Twitter followers.)
Dislike is too strong a word. I see every work I take on as the start of a long journey and it usually requires a lot of time and persistence to take a work through even just one round of submissions to publishers. I could not go through all this for a work I disliked. There have been times I’ve successfully sold works I’ve liked rather than loved, but even these are manuscripts I’ve enjoyed reading.8) Can you tell us about an exciting author you're working with at the moment?
2019 has started off as a very exciting year because of the successful publication in January of Chigozie Obioma’s magnificent second novel, An Orchestra of Minorities. His debut, The Fishermen, was the first work I ever sold as a full agent (previously I’d only worked as a foreign rights agent), and An Orchestra of Minorities is even more ambitious, challenging, heart-breaking, and mind-expanding. It’s gratifying to see so many critics and readers responding so passionately to it.
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