Posted by: Kathy Temean | August 14, 2020

August Agent of the Month – Jennifer Mattson – Interview Part Two

I am happy to announce that Jennifer Mattson at Andrea Brown Literary is our Agent of the Month for August. Scroll to bottom to learn how to submit a first page for a chance to win a critique with Jennifer.

Some client books that best represent Jennifer’s tastes


I’ve been with Andrea Brown Literary Agency for more than a decade, and began working in children’s publishing immediately out of college—including five years as an editor at Dutton Children’s Books and five years as a Books for Youth reviewer with Booklist magazine. I rep all audiences and genres, from picture book through young adult, and I’m looking for authors or author-illustrators who bring a deep professionalism, an open mind, and a fresh point of view to their work.

My client list includes authors of YA and middle grade fiction (such as Katy Loutzenhiser and Kate Hannigan), authors of picture books (such as Kim Norman and Linda Ashman), illustrators (such as Katy Wu), and author-illustrators (such as J. R. Krause, Brandon Reese, and Liz Starin). I primarily gravitate to fiction, but occasionally can’t resist an impeccably researched nonfiction project. I’d currently like to add more novelists to my roster, especially those from diverse and underrepresented backgrounds; I also have soft spots for mindbending fantasy and gripping survival stories of all kinds. But I’ll always give more than a passing glance to a slam-dunk of a picture book!

In the picture book arena, Jennifer is interested in authors, illustrators, and author-illustrators who bring a distinctive, well-developed point of view to their work. In longer fiction, her interests are wide-ranging, but she always has a soft spot for middle grade about resilient kids sorting out the messiness of life. In middle grade and YA both, her heart beats faster for richly imagined, mind-bending fantasies that depart from typical quests (portals entered by protagonists who fulfill prophecies don’t tend to be for her). The most dogeared books in her childhood library tended to be fantasy adventures, survival stories, and sprawling, atmospheric tales with Dickensian twists and satisfying puzzles. She gravitates to all of the above, but contemporary realistic fiction can work for her too, especially if it’s voice-driven and carefully structured. In all categories, she is especially delighted to see queries in her inbox from kid-lit creators underrepresented in mainstream publishing.

Fiction that Jennifer represents includes Katy Loutzenhiser’s contemporary-realistic YA debut, IF YOU’RE OUT THERE (Balzer & Bray/HarperCollins) and Kate Hannigan’s historical middle grade novel, THE DETECTIVE’S ASSISTANT (Little, Brown/Hachette), which won the 2016 Golden Kite Award for Middle Grade Fiction, received two starred reviews, was a Booklist Editor’s Choice, and appeared on the 2016 Amelia Bloomer List. Picture books she represents include noted poet Linda Ashman’s lyrical ode to the rhythms of the natural world, ALL WE KNOW (HarperCollins), and her nearly wordless celebration of optimism, RAIN! (Houghton/HMH); and Kim Norman’s three Arctic Companion books that cleverly spin off favorite preschool songs, TEN ON THE SLED, IF IT’S SNOWY AND YOU KNOW IT, and SHE’LL BE COMIN’ UP THE MOUNTAIN (all Sterling). Artists she represents include Geisel Honor winning author-illustrator Paul Meisel, who has illustrated or written a total of more than 70 books for young readers; J.R. Krause, author-illustrator of DRAGON NIGHT (Putnam), an Indie Next selection; Rob Polivka, illustrator of GOD BLESS AMERICA (Hyperion) and co-author and illustrator of A DREAM OF FLIGHT: ALBERTO SANTOS-DUMONT’S RACE AROUND THE EIFFEL TOWER (FSG/Macmillan); and former Google doodler Katy Wu, illustrator of several picture book biographies, including Laurie Wallmark’s GRACE HOPPER: QUEEN OF COMPUTER CODE and HEDY LAMARR’S DOUBLE LIFE (both Sterling).

Prior to joining ABLA, Jennifer spent time as an editor at Dutton Children’s Books and as a Books for Youth staff reviewer at Booklist magazine. Jennifer is based in Chicago and enjoys speaking at SCBWI and other writers’ conferences in Chicagoland and farther afield. She is also in the midst of a personal mission to read through the oeuvre of Anthony Trollope. Follow her on Twitter @jannmatt.

I’m based in Chicago, where I live with my husband and two daughters. I like to run at a decidedly non-marathon level and enjoy dance as both audience member and participant. I also spent two years a little bit obsessed with the works of Anthony Trollope.

You can occasionally find me at writers’ conferences in Chicagoland and farther afield.

Fun facts about me:

Not that this is pertinent to my query in-box, but I once coauthored The Official Easy-bake Oven cookbook, which was a personal highlight.

Submission Guidelines

Please query me via this QueryManager link exclusively:  http://QueryMe.Online/JenniferMattson.

Guidelines & Details

Vital Info




When did you know that you wanted to become an agent?

Due to a relocation to Chicago, I switched from being a children’s book editor to being a staff book reviewer at Booklist Books for Youth, which was essentially a journalism job. After several years of writing two dozen book reviews a month, I found that I missed the hands-on story development and the more varied, creative day-to-day of bookmaking. A close friend pointed out that agenting would allow me to work with authors again, but could be more geographically flexible, and it was my great good fortune that she put me in touch with Andrea Brown Literary Agency.

Do you think being an editor at Dutton helped you as an agent?

I do, because I think it’s useful when negotiating on a client’s behalf to have a good understanding of the other side of the desk. At a more concrete level, my former life served me well with a solid base of editorial contacts, since many members of my cohort have fanned out across publishing and are now in decision-making roles.

Did you live in New York when you worked for Dutton?

Yes, I lived in Manhattan.

How did you get the job with Andrea Brown Literary Agency and long have you been with them?

After a friend put me in touch with ABLA, I spoke to a number of the agents on the phone, and then flew out to their California headquarters for an in-person meeting.  It was great timing because my husband, daughter, and I were about to move to Berkeley for a year’s sabbatical, so I spent the first year learning the ropes in person before moving back home to “open up the Chicago office” (read: my desk in one corner of my bedroom). It’s hard to believe that was 12 years ago!

Do have a limit on the number of clients you will represent?

No, I don’t have a specific limit, although I try to ensure that the size of my list doesn’t compromise my ability to give full measures of attention to each client.  Especially in pandemic times, with all of the juggling required of families with kids, I think I’ll likely be especially conscientious about keeping my list tight (I have a third grader and a freshman in high school).  I do try to strike a balance between picture book authors, novelists, and illustrators, because these use different parts of my brain and keep my job interesting.

Any story or themes you wish someone would submit?

Hm. I always hesitate to answer this question, because I don’t want to appear to be blocking the path for anyone whose amazing project isn’t on my conscious wish list!  But here goes, anyway:  I’ve always liked survival stories, in the spirit of Ruta Septys’ Between Shades of Grey and Life as We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer—the sort of survival stories that lean more on the side of human vs. nature than abuse or emotional trauma. My favorite book as a kid was The Endless Steppe by Esther Hautzig, about a wealthy Polish girl whose family is exiled to Siberia and must adjust to a vastly different, hardscrabble way of life.

Which do you lean more towards: Literary or Commercial?

I’m sure I’m not alone among agents in regarding some ineffable combination of the two as the holy grail. That said, my experience has been that in YA I lean more toward high-concept and commercial (as with Katy Loutzenhiser’s twisty-but-hilarious If You’re Out There); in middle grade more toward literary (as with Kate Hannigan’s The Detective’s Assistant); and in picture books I am omnivorous.

Since your agency is located in California, do you have someone there that looks to sell books with movie potential you represent to Hollywood directors?

We work with a number of different folks in Hollywood—they’re called book-to-film “co-agents,” and we pair up projects with co-agents whose tastes and sensibilities and vision are a good match.  The co-agents are the ones who know Hollywood inside and out, and they’re the ones who pitch it to the right people.

Do you think it is better for an author to focus on one age group and genre?

Not necessarily.  I think it’s helpful to avoid a backlist that’s completely scattershot, since it’s useful from a name-recognition point of view to build a platform within any particular genre.  But it’s definitely okay to branch out if you’re one of those fortunate writers who can nimbly switch gears.  If you’re going to write very young picture books as well as very edgy YA, there might be a PR problem when little kids search your name and stumble across age-inappropriate material.  But that’s easily taken care of by siloing different genres into separate websites or even by using a pseudonym.

If you had a MG or YA author who writes a picture book, would you represent them with the book, pass it on to someone else in your company, or tell them they will need to find another agent for that book?

I represent my authors on a career basis, and I represent all age groups and genres in the children’s book marketplace, so I would be the one representing a client for any children’s book (meaning anything from baby books through YA).  In most cases, the process works really organically and my clients and I collaborate to determine which books we’ll turn to next, and which ones might want to be revisited later.  In the unusual case of a persistent, continual mismatch between a client’s new works-in-progress and my own sensibility, that would be a situation where both client and agent might weigh whether or not to continue the partnership.

What do you like to see in a submission?

Straightforward, non-gimmicky writing and perfect copy-editing in a query letter, including all the routine components (I especially like to see that the writer has a working knowledge of the recent publishing marketplace, so if it’s possible to include apt competitive titles, do so!) And an ability to follow instructions regarding how many pages to submit and in what form, as this indicates that you’ve made an effort to research and abide by our guidelines.

How important is the query letter?

A great query letter won’t influence me to take on a client if the manuscript or excerpt isn’t stellar, but a really unprofessional query letter (rife with proofreading errors, for instance) might lend more doubt into the process even if the attached material were terrific.  A quality query letter can be a little bit of a litmus for how professionally an author might conduct themselves—i.e., in interactions with their future agent but also in interactions with an editor, a publicist, an interviewer, and so on.

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

Not much more to say here beyond a solid query letter and an outstanding manuscript!

Do you let people know when you are not interested in their submission?

It’s not always a business reality, but it’s certainly my goal to respond in some form to everyone.  I’ve recently switched from accepting queries via email to QueryManager, and I’m finding it easier to keep on top of things using that system!



In the subject line, please write “AUGUST 2020 FIRST PAGE CRITIQUE” Example: 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).

PLEASE name the Word document file by putting 2020 August  – Your Name – Title of first page. Thank you.

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: August 21st. – noon EST

RESULTS: August 28th.

Talk tomorrow,



  1. Jennifer sounds like a fantastic agent. It’s awesome that she represents PB through YA and that she collaborates with her authors on the future projects that they’ll be submitting. Natalie @ Literary Rambles


  2. Thanks for sharing this info, Kathy. 🙂


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