Posted by: Kathy Temean | August 7, 2018

ASK JENNIE

JENNIE DUNHAM – DUNHAM LITERARY, INC.

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.

HERE IS JENNIE’S ANSWER TO THE QUESTION BELOW:

Question:

Question:

I have an agent, but we are not a good fit. Do you have any suggestions on how to this situation?

Answer:

I agree that it’s very important to have an agent who is a good fit for you. And I can see how nervous the question makes you feel. You left a verb out of your question, and I can take some guesses about what the verb could be (e.g. handle, rectify, fix). The essence of the matter is that you want a change.

Ideally, an author only needs one agent for his or her entire career. The idea is that while an author may have several different editors, the agent is the one industry professional with the author for an entire career. If an editor changes jobs by moving from one publisher to the other, the editor can’t take books which have already been published or are about to be published to the new publisher. If an author writes different types of books, he or she may have different editors at the same publisher (for example, an adult mystery editor and a children’s book editor in different divisions of the same publishing house) or perhaps the two editors are at different publishing houses. The agent can keep track of the author’s publication schedule so that each book has a separate launch time to increase sales of the books, and if something comes up that necessitates a change in delivery of a manuscript, the agent can step in to help with that and the chain of changes that may happen for other books. In short, the agent should be a member of your team setting up a good career path and ready to step in if problems arise.

You don’t say how you’re not a good fit, but first I think you should first try to fix the relationship. Before you contact your agent, do some thinking about the problem. Ask yourself questions. I suggest that you try writing down what each problem is and how it could be different so that you feel comfortable and supported. What isn’t working? Why isn’t it working? What effect does this problem have on you? How could it go better?

Agents aren’t mind-readers. They can’t know that you have a problem if you don’t bring it up, so it’s in your best interest to try.

Once you have a list of specific items to discuss with your agent, set up a time and try to have a positive, productive conversation. Be reasonable in what you want. For example, if the problem is that you don’t hear from your agent enough, ask if you can have an update more frequently. A quick check-in every 6-8 weeks might work for both of you. Asking for daily updates, however, would be too much: your agent won’t have news to share that often. I can’t stress enough that the tone of your conversation is very important. If you’re angry and blaming, that’s unprofessional. Your agent won’t be motivated to make a change that you might find helpful, and further, the agent would worry that you might act that way with an editor which would be embarrassing to the agent and unproductive to everyone.

There may be a valid reason that you and your agent aren’t a good fit. If you’re writing in a new area that your agent doesn’t handle, your agent may not want to represent that new type of writing. If you don’t feel confident with your agent’s experience in an area, have a discussion about it. Every agent has had a first time with a different type of book, but most agents will also be clear if they don’t feel confident in trying or don’t have the proper enthusiasm to try.

It’s also possible that “we are not a good fit” is your polite code to say that you’ve lost trust in your agent. While most agents are ethical professionals, sometimes there are problems that arise. If your agent is a member of AAR and you think something like this has happened, you can contact the Ethics Committee and submit an inquiry with a specific complaint about your agent. Many people think that if you become an author, you’ll be rich, and this is rarely the case as anyone who works in publishing can attest.

Every once in a while something really does go terribly wrong when working with an agent. Perhaps the agency has failed to pay a client monies received or has misrepresented a client in a way that is potentially damaging to the client. These are valid reasons to switch representation. While these instances are rare, they’re serious when they happen, and they are good reason to look for new representation.

While you are working with an agent, you can’t submit to other agents or editors. You and your current agent have a written or oral contract for representation. If you want to search for a new agent or pitch to editors yourself, you need to sever your relationship with your current agent first.

Most agents started to work in publishing for the same reasons that editors and authors started: a love of books. Agents are human and can make mistakes, but the vast majority are respectable professionals. If you feel you’re not a fit try to work it out as best you can with a healthy dose of allowing for differences between any two people. But, if there is a fundamental difference between the two of you or a major problem, then consider other options.

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JENNIE’S BIO:

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
THE GOLLYWHOPPER GAMES by Jody Feldman
WAITING FOR NORMAL by Leslie Connor
LEARNING NOT TO DROWN by Anna Shinoda

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)gmail.com.

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

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Send your questions to Kathy.Temean(at)gmail.com

Talk tomorrow,

Kathy


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