Thursday, June 3, 2010

INTERVIEW: Molly Jaffa - Agent - Folio Literary Management

Ms. Molly Jaffa, has been working closely with Folio Literary Management's clients’ projects since 2008, when she began editing manuscripts and writing book proposals. Her editorial background, previous work experience in the e-publishing industry, and intimate knowledge of the Folio list has led to her current position as Subsidiary Rights Associate. She actively pursues sales of all unsold subsidiary rights, helping Folio clients’ books reach wide audiences in as many formats as possible.

She loves fiction set in another country, time, or place that opens up a rich new world for the reader to discover. She also like to see: Edgy YA that’s not afraid to explore controversial and complex social issues, middle grade and YA with elements of magical realism, multicultural fiction, verse novels, reality-based fantasy, and –most importantly – books with a voice that makes the reader think.

She is an avid reader, and when she’s not devouring manuscripts, she can usually be found camped out in the aisles of her local bookstore.

WHAT SHE'S LOOKING FOR: YA fiction with a literary voice that challenges the reader intellectually and emotionally.

SHE'S NOT LOOING FOR: Mysteries, thrillers, suspense, romance, boy books (no gross-out humor, aliens, gore, etc.), paranormal fantasy, diet/fitness, or religious/inspirational.

E.I. Do you see the demand for first novels increasing? Any difference between literary and genre work? What is your opinion?

Molly Jaffa: The demand for first novels is increasing only in the sense that it’s often easier to sell a novel by an author with no publishing track record than it is to sell a book by a previously published author whose work wasn’t a commercial success. In this economy, publishers are sometimes unwilling to take another financial risk on a writer whose books haven’t sold through for them in the past. From a purely artistic standpoint, I’m especially looking for debut novelists-- I love the process of helping new writers build their career and achieve their writing goals.

It’s true that literary fiction is typically a more difficult sell than genre fiction, but that doesn’t mean that an agent won’t fall in love with and fight for a beautiful literary novel. Many of my colleagues continue to take on gorgeous literary projects. Write what you love, not what’s “on trend.” I’m always looking for YA and MG with a literary voice, and I’ve never taken on a project simply because I thought it looked like what was “hot” at the moment.

E.I. Is it true that the first 3 chapters in a MS is crucial, but if the narrative is awkward or the prose poor, won't that be obvious right away? Why would an editor or agent need to read past the first 3 chapters?

Molly Jaffa: The whole manuscript is crucial. If I request a partial manuscript (50 pages) from a writer and really love it, I’ll still ask to see the full before discussing representation. I need to be able to see how the author develops his or her characters over the course of the story; if the internal and external conflicts continue to build; if the pacing stays strong; and if the narrative arc comes to a satisfying, organic conclusion. The quality of the work should be consistent throughout-- it shouldn’t be obvious that you’ve spent more time developing one portion of your manuscript than another. It’s definitely important that you can start a story off with a great idea and a strong opening, but for me, what really counts is your ability to follow through on that premise in a way that’s consistently intriguing, well-written, and believable.

E.I. What qualities must a manuscript possess in order for you to really push to see it published? Do you base it on the query letter?

Molly Jaffa: I represent YA and Middle Grade fiction, so for me, it’s all about the voice. The reader has to absolutely believe that your character understands them; is them. Being able to write from a young person’s perspective is a gift, and when I find a writer who can do that really well, I’m smitten. Of course, the manuscript also needs a unique hook, well-drawn characters, strong world-building, and that elusive “unputdownable” quality. I’m always looking for the next manuscript that will grab hold of me and force me to read it in one thrilling, electrifying sitting. As an agent, those are the moments I live for. Though I love working closely with clients to help them further develop their work, those basic tenets still need to be in place before a manuscript hits my inbox.

As for the importance of queries – they’re hugely important, though a query alone isn’t enough to make me take on a project. In my submission guidelines, I ask for the first ten pages of the manuscript to be pasted at the end of the query. I feel that this format really gives me the best possible opportunity to connect with an author’s work. I read every query—my clients come from the so-called “slush pile”—and I always reply to each query within two weeks.

My clients:

I’ve been with Folio since 2008, when I began assisting Jeff Kleinman, one of the agency’s partners. Over the past few years, I’ve been working with Folio’s foreign rights and selling our clients’ subsidiary rights. I’m delighted to be a part of Folio Jr., a new initiative of the agency devoted to developing and nurturing the careers of children’s, Middle Grade, and YA authors. I’ve been aggressively looking to build my list over the past few months, though nothing’s hit shelves yet. I’m really enjoying the process of finding fresh, new voices in children’s and YA literature, and I’m definitely hungry for more.

To learn more about Molly Jaffa, please visit their website

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