Posted by: Kathy Temean | July 3, 2018



Jennie Dunham has been a literary agent in New York, New York since May 1992. In August 2000 she founded Dunham Literary, Inc.

Jennie represents literary fiction and non-fiction for adults and children. Her clients have had both critical and commercial success. Books she has represented have appeared on the New York Times Best Sellers in adult hardcover fiction, children’s books, and children’s book series. Her clients have won numerous awards including: New York Times Best Illustrated Book, The Schneider Family Award, Boston Globe Horn Book Honor, and Los Angeles Times Book Prize Finalist.

Jennie Dunham represents picture books writers and illustrators, chapter books, middle grade, young adult and for adults literary fiction and non-fiction.



I’m fearful my small publisher is about to go under. It’s published two of my stand-alone books in a three book adult-mystery series.

All my rights will revert back to me if this publisher no longer exists. What do I do if they do go bankrupt?  Is there anyone out there who would represent me to resale my three book series? How do I approach an agent with this convoluted mess?


While there are many benefits to publishing with a small publisher, there are some risks too, and going under is a serious one. It’s understandable that you’re worried about the situation. This problem, however, is not only for small publishers. Larger publishers can have imprints fold or stop publishing in an area. When an editor leaves a publisher of any size, the authors whose books that editor acquired also have an adjustment to face. But because of the question, I’ll focus more on the small press predicament.

For starters, your publisher will probably try to do everything possible to stay in business. They’ve worked hard to get as far as they have, and no publisher wants to go under.

If they find themselves in trouble, they might file for bankruptcy which would make a reorganization more likely than going under. And if they really are going under, they will probably do everything possible to sell their assets (including their contracts and printed books) to another publisher who will then assume the responsibilities of the previous publisher. What do you do? Get ready to meet the new staff and start working with them. They will be eager to give your book a good start, but they’ll also be busy with so many books that are new to them so get ready to dive in and do as much as you can to promote your book.

If your small publisher truly does go out of business without transferring any of their assets to another company, try to get a letter saying that they have reverted the rights for your books back to you. Also, get copies of your books. See what terms they’re offering and how many you can get. Finding a place to store them is definitely going to be an issue as they take up space. In this scenario, you’re going to end up being your own grass-roots publisher handling promotion, distribution, and sales by yourself.

It’s hard to set up previously published books with a new publisher after publication. The window of opportunity to launch is over which means the book is harder to promote since it’s not new and newsworthy. You’d have to have a large, local success to get another publisher interested in repackaging them even with a new third one to help promote the previous two. If you have sold several thousand books in one city, a publisher could think this is a book which would sell well in other areas in the country. But, if the book has been available nationally, for example online, a publisher is more likely to think that the book has found the market that it was going to find and won’t sell more no matter what they do.

If you have become your own grass-roots publisher, I don’t recommend self-publishing the third book in the series just to have it done. Either put it aside and work on a new book, or convert it to a new stand-alone book. The idea is to find new publisher for your unpublished books. After several successful books, you can go back and look at these 2 books and see what your new publisher says about repackaging them and possibly adding a third.

As for getting an agent, I’ll admit that I wouldn’t want to start working with someone with a 3rd book in a series after 2 books have been published by a defunct publisher. I might be willing to take on the third book if I could pitch it as a stand-alone title not related to the previous two. If I had handled the deal for those two books in the first place, however, I’d be there as a team member to support and guide you through the situation.

If at all possible, it’s best to avoid this predicament in the first place. Find out how long the small press has been in business and how many titles they’ve published. Ask about the experience of the editor and publisher.

There are many ways that books can be orphaned. But as we know from reading books, orphans can survive and thrive. One or two books left behind doesn’t mean that your career as an author is over.



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

She graduated from Princeton University with a degree in Anthropology and has a master’s degree in Social Work from New York University (although she only practices with characters on the page).

What She’s Seeking

  1. ​First and foremost, voice.
  2. A strong story.
  3. Memorable characters.
  4. Unusual premises.
  5. Heart and heartbreak.

Books She’s Represented

Children’s Books

THE WONDERFUL WIZARD OF OZ pop-up by Robert Sabuda
ADELE & SIMON by Barbara McClintock
BAD KITTY by Nick Bruel

Books for Adults

WORM by Mark Bowden
A SHADOW ALL OF LIGHT by Fred Chappell
GANGSTERLAND by Tod Goldberg
FORWARD FROM HERE by Reeve Lindbergh
IN MY MOTHER’S HOUSE by Margaret McMullan

Don’t miss this opportunity. If you have a question or two that you would like to ask Jennie, send them to kathy.temean(at)


Jennie, thank you for taking the time to answer this question for us. It is very helpful!


Send your questions to Kathy.Temean(at)

Talk tomorrow,



  1. Wow, this is sobering! It’s extremely helpful to get the straight scoop, for sure! Thanks, Jennie 🙂


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