Thanks so much for visiting us at How to Publish a Book. We are grateful for your interest and support. Two pieces
of news this week.
1. This week's literary agent interview features a new, young agent at one of the country's best entertainment agencies.
2. I'm excited to announce the launch of our new community-based website
Please visit the site, register an avatar, and
introduce yourself to the crowd. This site will grow like wildfire once we rank for "Kindle Chat" on Google, so
check it out while we're still in the early stages here in 2011. Should be a fun one to watch this year.
Finally, I want to say thank you to all the visitors to How to Publish a Book who have been
sending comments and questions to me off-site. Your support and your interest means so much to us, and we appreciate your
For newcomers, please feel free to drop us a note
to let us know a little bit about your book and ask us any questions that you may have.
Thanks so much, and enjoy the interview.
Jason Yarn is a literary agent with Paradigm, one of the nation's top entertainment agencies. He'll be graduating from Brooklyn Law School this year and is actively building
his client list. Recently, he took time out of his busy schedule to speak with us at How to Publish a Book. Thanks for joining
HOW TO PUBLISH A BOOK: You're finishing up at Brooklyn Law School soon, studying
entertainment law. What are some of the ways that prepares you for a career as a literary agent? Also, in a broader sense,
how does it prepare you for a career in the entertainment industry?
JASON YARN: I’ll actually complete BLS this year – I’ve been taking part-time
law classes over the last several years while working full time as a literary agent. That might sound crazy – and it
is – because of the huge amount of reading, but it ended up balancing out nicely: an hour of manuscripts and queries,
then an hour of law, and then back again. Good change up going from vampires to Dred Scott.
So much of a lit agent’s job in a changing publishing landscape is to find new areas
that your clients can take advantage of, with ebooks being the current example, but there are always new distribution models
cropping up. The other side of course is being able to deal with the new copyright and contract changes that publishers are
proposing. You certainly don’t have to be a lawyer to know how to deal with all that (obviously), but I’ve found
it’s definitely a help, especially as publishers have their own in-house counsel to protect their interests.
HOW TO PUBLISH A BOOK: What are one or two courses
that have been particularly helpful in a pragmatic sense? Did you do any internships?
JASON YARN: Copyright and Internet Law were probably the most on point for
my day-to-day work, as my professors were very interested in helping us explore the current issues in each of these fields
and how the law is so in flux. Going over the Google Books issue was quite illuminating.
HOW TO PUBLISH A BOOK: How did the job at Paradigm come to you?
JASON YARN: I started as a floater at a company
called Writers and Artists and quickly ended up on the desk of Lydia Wills, the new head of the book department there. Then WA was acquired by Paradigm in 2004. I made the move with Lydia to the new
company and eventually transitioned off her desk and into a junior agent/contracts monkey for the book division. In the last
few years, I gradually became a full agent, though there was no particular dividing line. Paradigm and Lydia have always been
incredibly encouraging and given me the opportunity to pursue the projects I am interested in and feel will succeed.
HOW TO PUBLISH A BOOK: Paradigm is a robust
agency, representing a full-range of niches in the entertainment industry from books, to movies, television, theater, and
music with offices in Los Angeles, Monterey, Nashville, and New York. Tell us a little bit about the agency. Who founded
it? How has it grown over the years? And what is the agency’s mission?
JASON YARN: Paradigm was founded in 1992 by the CEO Sam Gores and as you hint has grown by connecting with some of the hottest other agencies in the business across the country. It’s
bi-and inter-coastal, so it’s big, but we do a good job of connecting effectively with a client in all possible areas.
That all comes out of Paradigm’s mission which is to occupy a unique place in all areas of media where our clients are
not only well cared for, but their dream projects are also realized.
HOW TO PUBLISH A BOOK: With an agency this size, I’m curious if there is much communication
between the different departments. It seems like if you had an author whose book was perfect for a film adaptation, you’d
have many of the resources you need right within the agency to make that happen.
JASON YARN: Yep, that’s it exactly. I know it’s a corny word,
but “synergy” is the best way to describe it. What’s really nice is the book department has the feeling
of a smaller agency, meaning we can give great focus to our clients, but at the same time we have all the backing and support
that being a part of a large agency gives us. So I don’t have to worry about the film rights really, because there are
agents down the hall in New York and a phone call away in our LA offices who know the ins-and-outs of that side of things.
HOW TO PUBLISH A BOOK: The main agency website
is quite clear about not accepting unsolicited materials. How should prospective clients contact you (or should they) if they
believe you’re the perfect agent for their book and career?
JASON YARN: Ah well, this is one of the few drawbacks of being with a big agency – the unsolicited
materials policy is necessary for the other departments, but you if look at the Publishing section specifically, you can see
all the info on how to submit to me or my colleagues. I’m also up at the various agency websites, like Agent Query,
Writers.Net and QueryTracker. (You should check out my colleague Alyssa Reuben as well.)
Very quickly: people can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with their query letter and the first 10 pages of their manuscript, though I do recommend they read up for more info on one
of those sites.
HOW TO PUBLISH A BOOK:
What was your first year at Paradigm like? What are some of the tasks you’ve done? What does a typical Monday through
Friday workday look like?
I won’t go back that far, but I’ve done and do just about everything: reading/answering queries, reading full
manuscripts, editing, submissions/selling, negotiating contracts, drafting contracts, dramatic rights, foreign rights, tax
A typical week depends on what stages various
projects are in. For example, this is an odd, but nice, week where I have four different clients all getting back to me with
revisions on their projects (two novels, one non-fic, one cookbook). Today I sent edits out to another author on his novel
and then started to review the revisions of the other works. In between, I dealt with some foreign tax issues for clients,
reviewed and broke down a contract, and read some queries.
And also answered lots of emails, lots and lots of emails, on a range of various subjects (publicity questions, potential
clients from other divisions in the agency, ideas from clients on new works, etc.). Emails can swallow up a day if you’re
The things I usually do outside the
office are heavy reading, editing and query responding. I can do some of that in the office, and will input my notes and edits
on my computer, but oftentimes it’s too distracting to really give a manuscript your full attention when the emails
are surging in and the phone is ringing.
TO PUBLISH A BOOK: What types of books are you most interested in representing?
JASON YARN: It’s easier to say what I’m not interested in: Romance,
Children’s Picture Books or straight-up Horror. Unless you mashed all three together…hmmm….
Beyond those genres, I’m pretty wide open to most pitches.
There are areas where I am more picky (like women’s fiction) because I am just less familiar with it right now, while
others (like sci-fi/fantasy) I have to work at being picky because I love so many of the ideas that people dream up.
The most important thing, as I think all writers know, is to
have a solid unique voice that transports me into the story and leaves me feeling like I will die unless I keep turning the
pages. That goes for both fiction and non-fiction. Even if you’re writing a proposal about migratory birds, you should
endeavor to tell the best story you possibly can.
TO PUBLISH A BOOK: How quickly does it take to know the difference between a good writer and a phenomenal writer,
and is there any trick to recognizing the difference? Seems like the success of an agent really hinges on this distinction.
JASON YARN: That feeling of “MUST TURN
THE PAGE” definitely helps. If I hit a spot and feel I can set the work down and don’t get pulled back to it later,
it’s probably a sign.
In terms of how quickly,
it’s usually pretty fast. The first five or ten pages give you a feel for writing style, voice, a little character,
etc. A fantastic writer makes his or her presence known right from the start – a good writer may take longer. Part of
the job of an agent is to see if a good writer can raise their game and make an entire book shine, not just certain parts
HOW TO PUBLISH A BOOK:
What are your thoughts on eBooks? Will the traditional publishing business model sustain itself through the transition to
digitally read books?
I think as a practical matter, paper books will always be with us in some fashion. Baby and children’s books will continue
to be hardcopies because you don’t really want to give an unsupervised two year old an iPad to play with, at least until
they are only 6 bucks a pop (the iPad, not the baby). That in turn keeps kids primed for non-electronic works, up to a certain
point. Eventually though, if only to help the environment, ebooks are the best bet – especially if you have the space
concerns of an NYC apartment.
The full transition
to digital is a little ways off, but publishing’s real challenge is appealing to the continually fragmenting audience.
The wave of Tumblr and Twitter books is one response to this: specific sites garnering huge amounts of attention, they are
the crests of the internet waves showing that while everyone can have their niche, there will still be some things that are
just more popular than others.
I can’t speak
to the distribution model as much, but I think the PR model is where the real fight is going on. How do you reach all these
disparate people, satisfying your “base” audience while at the same time opening up new areas for people who might
not know they will like your work? Most authors know they have to be their own best PR, but publishers can be better at working
with and supporting them in getting their names out on the web, not just in straight advertisements, but in chats, contests,
HOW TO PUBLISH A BOOK:
At the end of the day, what is the most satisfying thing about living in New York with your whole career ahead of you?
JASON YARN: For as long as I can remember, I’ve
been a reader. Not just that I read a lot, but that I read at all times. In college, the other guys would make fun of me when
they saw me in the dorm bathroom reading a book while I brushed my teeth. If I could read while showering, I would. So being
able to help authors get their works published, to be involved with getting more great books out there, it’s just a
wonderful feeling since I’ve had a long affair with books.
As far as New York goes, why would you want to live anywhere else? The city feels like a collection of different
genres, like wherever you get off the subway, you’re in a different city or story (Midtown, Chinatown, Lower East Side,
Harlem, etc). Tons of people on the subway are reading, and you can read the multitude of stories in their faces. Plus, my
wife and I are food lovers, so NYC is definitely the place to be.
HOW TO PUBLISH A BOOK: Finally, please write a narrative paragraph describing yourself as you imagine
you’ll be in five years. Feel free to write about professional or personal aspects of your life, location, level of
happiness, etc. What is the picture of yourself as you see it in five years?
JASON YARN: Wait – you want me to write a story? Dear god, you’re crazy man, it would
turn out all noir and filled with inerrably polite space aliens. Instead, I’ll merely talk about my hopes.
In 2016, I hope that my almost-five year old son will be as voracious
a reader as I was and not already taller than me. I also hope my wife has not yet taught him all my weaknesses, but instead
instilled a love of Hellboy in him.
As far as work
goes, I hope that publishing still exists and people still want to read full length works, not having their attention sub-divided
so much that they can only absorb 20-second snippets of Facebook News. I don’t think this will be quite this apocalyptic,
but I do hope that the various major publishing houses have not contracted further, and instead that there is a continued
growth and strengthening of the independent line of houses (whether one causes the other, well, I shall leave for greater
minds to decide).
Personally, I hope to have more
and more found that sweet spot of getting cool authors and their works recognized in this crowded marketplace (more books
than ever with less readers?!). I hope the awesome writers from my personal love of comics (book, online, and web) get more
and more recognition, and that I am representing some of them.
And finally, by 2016 I hope to have finished reading all the queries currently in my inbox.
Our next interview will be with literary
agent James McGinniss of the McGinniss Associates Literary Agency. Look for it published here in the next couple weeks.
Thanks so much for
visiting us at HowtoPublishaBook.org. We are grateful for your support and interest. This week's literary agent interview
features Jon Sternfeld of the Irene Goodman Literary Agency.
A former creative writing and literature teacher, Jon Sternfeld is a book
lover, first and foremost; he views agenting as an extension of this passion. Jon is looking for literary fiction (including
well-researched dramas and historical thrillers) and narrative non-fiction that deals with historical, social, or cultural
issues. He has a particular interest in fiction that has a large, ambitious canvas (exploring a time, place, or culture) or
non-fiction that does the same. Always up for an adventure, Jon once canoed the entire length of the Mississippi River and
sold a new author for a hefty six figures--but not in the same week.
HOW TO PUBLISH A BOOK: How did you first get your start as a literary agent?
JON STERNFELD: After leaving teaching, I started
as Irene Goodman’s assistant – reading slush and learning the basics of the business. After a few months, she
offered to train and make me an agent.
TO PUBLISH A BOOK:You started out as a Creative Writing and Literature teacher. In your opinion is Creative Writing
generally taught well? Does it prepare students well for the “real” world of trying to make a living as a writer?
Is that/should that even be its purpose?
STERNFELD: That’s a good question. I think the nature of writing classes is that they depend on the teacher
and the students. I’ve both taught and taken many writing workshops and each one is at the mercy of the dynamic between
the students and why they’re there.
or not it prepares students for the real world of writing, I’m not sure. Getting an impartial audience is invaluable
but I think writing classes at the college level should spend more time with the business side of publishing – if it’s
craft alone, the writers still are lost in terms of getting started.
HOW TO PUBLISH A BOOK: How did the job at the Irene Goodman Literary Agency come to you?
JON STERNFELD: After leaving teaching, I knew
I wanted to be in publishing, but knew that editorial jobs are very difficult to get, especially for someone a bit ‘older’
(I was 28 at the time). Agenting made sense and I’m so glad that I made that choice.
HOW TO PUBLISH A BOOK: I read in another interview that you worked in the
film industry in a creative and development capacity before making the move to agenting books. What can you tell us about
that experience? Specifically, what was the single most important thing you learned about how a movie gets made (perhaps from
a book adaptation route)?
When I was younger I did work in the development department of a film company. I was a huge film fan in my teens, early 20’s
and the job just made me realize how difficult (and arbitrary) the process of getting films made is. After awhile it bothered
me to continue; I gave up on the idea of making it a career. I learned that a movie
often gets made b/c someone who is ‘important’ in the industry wants it to happen – rarely does the quality
of the project have anything to do with it.
TO PUBLISH A BOOK: You’ve said elsewhere that you have three main criteria when reading a query letter: “1)
Does it interest me? 2) Does it appear to be well done? 3) Can I sell it?” For our audience at howtopublishabook.org,
what exactly are you interested in? What books do you most want to see?
JON STERNFELD: I love literary fiction with a great premise, something that’s well-written
but also spins a surprising and original story, often on a large canvas. I also love narrative non-fiction, whether it’s
offbeat memoir, politics, current events, science or history. I’m a sucker for an undiscovered and untold story that’s
HOW TO PUBLISH A BOOK:
Because the overwhelming majority of aspiring writers simply don’t have the goods to publish with a major publisher,
what should all these folks do with their books? What are your thoughts on self-publishing and eBook publishing as a vehicle
for the hundreds of thousands of books that aren’t right for traditional publishing?
JON STERNFELD: Another good question. Publishing with the big guys simply
isn’t for everybody. It depends on what you want. If you just want to get a book out there, self-publishing offers that
to people. Ebooks are changing the power dynamic b/w publishers, writers, and readers, so I’d recommend the e-route
to writers who have tried the big and mid-list houses and haven’t broken through or just know that they won’t.
I’d still recommend that someone looking to be professional writer try the agent/major publisher route, if only b/c
they can get your work to the largest audience. I often say that writing is one of those professions everyone thinks they
can do (unlike say, welding) because everyone knows the alphabet.
HOW TO PUBLISH A BOOK: What is the best way for potential clients to contact you?
JON STERNFELD: Through the agency’s email
– email@example.com. They can address the query letter to me. If it’s something I’m interested in, I’ll ask to read more –
we just get too many queries for me to respond to all of them.
HOW TO PUBLISH A BOOK: What is the best query letter you’ve ever seen? What was the worst?
JON STERNFELD: Hmm…the best would be
the shortest – it was for Paul Grossman’s THE SLEEPWALKERS, which is just out with St. Martin’s. The query was super short – an evocative three line description of the book, a couple of facts about the writer. The
reason I loved it is that it worked! It made me ask to read more because the pitch was written in a way that didn’t
give too much away. Writers want to draw agents in, not bury them in information about their book.
The worst are the ones that try to be too ‘different’ and cute – not following
guidelines, being too informal, anything that tries to ‘charm’ me – I’d rather the work speak for
HOW TO PUBLISH A BOOK:
Describe your dream client.
I’m fortunate that a lot of my clients act like my dream client! A committed and dedicated writer who loves to revise,
who is open to my suggestions but also has a clear vision for what he/she wants for both a single book and for the long haul.
Just an open-minded professional who has guts – that’s my dream client.
HOW TO PUBLISH A BOOK: If you could change one major aspect of traditional
publishing, what would it be?
I’d love to see publishers get more behind debut fiction – it doesn’t get the audience it deserves because
publishers seem reticent to come out loudly for something new and untested.
HOW TO PUBLISH A BOOK: Where would you like to be professionally in five years?
JON STERNFELD: I’d like my current stable of
clients to all be on their third or fourth books and enjoying the trajectory of their careers. I’d love to continue
to get excited about finding new clients and projects because that’s the fuel that keeps us going as agents.
Our next interview will be
with literary agent Jason Yarn of Paradigm. Look for it published here in the next couple weeks.