Posted by: Kathy Temean | May 12, 2017

Free Fall Friday – Jennie Dunham Interview Part One

Jennie Dunham owner of Dunham Literary Agency has agreed to be May’s Featured Agents and will critique four first pages from the submissions sent in this month. She has been a literary agent in New York, New York since May 1992. In August 2000 she founded Dunham Literary, Inc.

She represents authors of quality fiction and nonfiction books for adults and children and some illustrators of children’s books.

She has been a member of AAR (Association of Authors Representatives) since 1993 and is a member of the SCBWI. She served on the Program Committee and was Program Committee Director for several years. She was also a member of the Electronic Committee.

In 1996 she attended the US/China Joint Women in Business conference in Beijing where she gave a presentation about literary agents in the US. She also attended the NGO Forum at the International Women’s Conference.

She attended international meetings as the AAR representative to create the ISTC (International Standard Text Code) which is being created to ISO (International Standardization Organization) specifications. This business and tracking system will be based on titles not book formats (as is the case with ISBN) and will work in tandem with ISBN.

She started her career at John Brockman Associates and then Mildred Marmur Associates. She was employed by Russell & Volkening for 6 years before she left to found Dunham Literary, Inc.

Interview with Agent Jennie Dunham

What inspired you to open your own agency?

It was a natural progression for me after working at 3 different agencies. Once I built up my list enough, I decided to have my own agency. I also enjoy helping new agents blossom.

I’ve loved books all my life. I collect first editions and even registered for rare and collectible children’s books when I got married. (Who wants dishes?)

Are there any genres that are less interesting to you?

First let’s talk about what is interesting.

Right now I’d like to see a lot of humor! There is a wide range of styles with humor, and it’s different for every age. The very young like slapstick, and older readers like dry and dark humor. I like them all. Even the most earnest, difficult subject is easier to read about with humor.

I represent all ages of children’s books. I look for literary manuscripts with a fresh premise, memorable characters, an original voice, and a strong narrative arc.

Since I was an anthropology major years ago in college, I’ve always been on the lookout for underrepresented characters and cultures — even before it became popular.

Oh, I should answer the question. I’m not a big fan of westerns.

Do you have any story or theme that you wished someone would submit?

So many!

In general, I like stories with twists and characters who are quirky but endearing. Turn a story on end to tell it. Occasionally I like zany and oddball. Characters who are memorable for being quirky and flawed.

In chapter books and middle grade, I like funny and sweet stories that may have a subversive element but at heart are wholesome.

In young adult, I like gritty, edgy, tough characters and subjects, but also the wonder and potential of teens who angst their way through life in ways that are embarrassing and endearing.

What do you like to see in a submission?

When I’m reading any book, I want to forget about the rest of the world. (Almost.) If the voice is strong, I find that it stays with me after I’ve finished a manuscript.

How important is the query letter?

The query letter is very important. It’s the gateway to reading the full manuscript. I receive a huge amount of submissions, so I request them all. I look for: Wow!

Any tips on how an author can get you to ask to see more?

If I’m intrigued by the premise and author credentials, there’s a good chance I’ll request the manuscript. I’ll keep reading if I’m engaged by the writing, the voice, the characters, and the obstacles at hand.

How far do you normally read before you reject a submission?

I read until I know the answer. Sometimes that’s a few sentences, and sometimes that’s not until the end. My rule of thumb is that if I’m on the fence, the answer is no. I need to love it to go forward.

Would you lose interest in a submission if the writer missed correcting a few misspelled words?

A few misspelled words would seem like minor typos to me if I’m impressed with the writing style and voice. But, I do mean a few. A professional writer should check the manuscript to make sure it’s polished. Usually, another set of eyes is a tremendous help for this. Spellcheck only goes so far.

Do you let people know if you are not interested in what they sent?

My agency responds to all email query letters and to all regular mail queries that enclose the industry standard self-addressed, stamped envelope for the reply. If I request a manuscript, I respond.

How long does it usually take to respond to requested material?

I try to respond in 6-8 weeks, but sometimes it takes me longer to read a manuscript. I’m a slow and careful reader.

Have you noticed any common mistakes that writers make?

While it’s important to know comparable titles for your book, it’s a mistake to try to write the same as another writer. The world already has that other writer’s voice, so keep working on your own.

Many writers don’t know the appropriate age for the audience of the book, and it’s important to know that information.

Don’t tell me how many bad books are on the market for kids. Books for kids are better than ever.



In the subject line, please write “April 2017  Critique” and paste the text in the email, plus attached it as a Word document to the email. Please make sure you include your name, the title of the piece, and whether it’s a picture book, middle grade, or young adult, etc. at the top on both the email and the Word document (Make sure you include your name with the title of your book, when you save the first page). REMEMBER: ATTACH THE WORD DOCUMENT AND NOT GET ELIMINATED!

Your First Page Word document should be formatted using one inch margins and 12 point New Times Roman font – double space – no more than 23 lines – only one page. Send to: kathy(dot)temean(at)gmail(dot)com.

PLEASE FOLLOW THE GUIDELINES: Your submission will be passed over if you do not follow the directions for both the pasted email and the attached Word doc. This is where most people mess up.

DEADLINE: May 25th.

RESULTS: June 2nd.

Please only submit one first page a month, but do try again if your first page wasn’t one of the pages randomly picked. Thanks!

Talk tomorrow,


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