Author Topic: Jason Yarn Literary Agent  (Read 6432 times)

Stacey Cochran

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Jason Yarn Literary Agent
« on: October 19, 2013, 03:51:43 am »

Jason Yarn, Literary Agent

HOW TO PUBLISH A BOOK: You completed Brooklyn Law School in 2010, 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 were one or two courses that were 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 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 has your first year at Paradigm been like? What are some of the tasks you’ve done? What does a typical Monday through Friday workday look like?

JASON YARN: 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 stuff.

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 not careful.

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.

HOW 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.

HOW 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 or elements.

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?

JASON YARN: 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, games, etc.

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.
« Last Edit: October 19, 2013, 03:57:19 am by Stacey Cochran »