Wednesday, November 27, 2013

7 Questions For: Literary Agent Jessica Sinsheimer

Jessica Sinsheimer has been reading and campaigning for her favorite queries since 2004. Originally from the San Francisco Bay Area, she went east for Sarah Lawrence College and stayed for the opportunity to read soon-to-be books for a living. Now an Associate Agent at the Sarah Jane Freymann Literary Agency, she’s developed a reputation for fighting office members to see incoming manuscripts first – and for drinking far too much tea.

For more information, check out my friends Natalie Aguirre and Casey McCormick's wonderful blog, Literary Rambles.
And now Jessica Sinsheimer faces the 7 Questions:


Question Seven: What are your top three favorite books?
Aaaaaaaaahhhhhhhh. I hate questions like this, because the idea of having to choose among books (there are so many wonderful ones out there!) feels like having to choose one food to eat for the rest of your life—in other words: why in the world would you do that to yourself?

So, instead, I’m going to duck the question and tell you the books I’m reading now and really enjoying: 

1) Devil in the White City. I love this period of history—it’s such an interesting intersection of travel (I love trains), beautiful clothing, architecture, innovation (electric light!), and a population suddenly realizing just what technology can do for them. I love it. 

2) Writing on the Wall—Social Media: The First 2,000 Years, which is so amazing and mind-blowing and yet so perfectly logical. Did you know that people used to, instead of Yelp reviews, make little graffiti marks on pubs to say things like “Great beer” or “Try this dish” or “You’re better off going down the road”? Me either! It makes so much sense: humans are inherently social creatures, and we’re creative—I’m fascinated by our ingenuity throughout the ages. 

3) Longbourn by Jo Baker—it’s Pride and Prejudice, but from the perspective of the servants. It’s beautiful and grotesque at once—the language is lovely, the descriptions vivid, and the concept a strong one. It doesn’t moralize (so far, at least), which is great—it just observes, and in wonderful detail.

Question Six: What are your top three favorite movies and television shows?

Right now? 

1) Scandal. Olivia Pope is a genius, and I would like to be her when I grow up. 

2) It’s no longer on television, which is a shame, but I loved Pushing Daisies. It’s beautiful, smart, thoughtful—what a wonderful project. Really sad that it died so soon. And that I can’t bring it back from the dead by touching my television. 

3) Not gonna lie—I’m a huge fan of Pretty Little Liars.

Now, there are also a lot of guilty pleasure shows for me, too. I love the Food Network. (Master Chef Junior is rocking my world—I love the moment when adorable little Sarah gave another kid a gummi bear and went, to the cameras, “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.”) I love Million Dollar Listing, because it’s amazing how their problems are, in fact, very close to ours. (Case in point: in one episode, a seller insists that his house—with exposed two-by-fours, windows without glass, and electric cables everywhere is ready to go, and if the agent can’t sell it, it’s the agent’s problem. I’ve never had a client act this way, thankfully, but I’ve definitely heard stories in the “But my work is perfect send it now!” vein.) I also enjoy your basic sitcom. Sometimes television is just for unwinding, and that’s fine.

Question Five: What are the qualities of your ideal client?

Hardworking, creative, and interested in a lot of aspects of human life. I need someone willing to put in the time (I’m very hands-on, and want to go through multiple drafts—I insist on getting a work to the best place it can be before sending it out) and, for this to be possible, we have to communicate well. I love to get on the phone and brainstorm with my clients—but this only works with some people. We have to have a creative rapport. I also like clients who have a number of interests outside of publishing. I want to work with complete, reasonably healthy humans—and not book machines.

Question Four: What sort of project(s) would you most like to receive a query for?

This is a tough one. I almost always want more foodie stuff (still, so few food memoirs in my inbox!), strong female characters (who doesn’t, these days?), contemporary YA (ditto), and some nice popular science, psychology, history, and/or parenting.

I’m going through an evolutionary psychology phase—I just read a fantastic piece about how depression may actually be adaptive. I’m really intrigued.

I’d also really love anything that falls under the women’s fiction umbrella—romance, erotica, upmarket women’s fiction—I like all of it. The most important thing is that the idea behind the story be original—unless your writing is insanely good, I’m going to have a hard time loving a piece about, say, a woman moving back home after a failed relationship and happening to fall in love with the guy she liked in high school.

Question Three: What is your favorite thing about being an agent? What is your least favorite thing?

I love the collaboration of it, the fact that I’m always learning new things—and that, technically, any information that can go into a book—any kind of book—is relevant to my work. It’s a job that requires me to read constantly—not just manuscripts, but published books, news articles—and I like that it requires me to be, well, very aware of what’s going on in the world. I wouldn’t say that I miss school—I hated having so many deadlines for writing my own work—but learning is very important to me.

My least favorite thing? Writing rejections. I hate it. HATE it. You never know if someone is going to read your rejection and stop writing forever—or worse. You know that there’s a good chance they’ll cry, and feel discouraged—and a 99 percent chance that it will not. Feel. Good. I hate it. Absolutely hate it. If there were a way for me to only say, "Yes," well, sign me up!

Question Two: What one bit of wisdom would you impart to an aspiring writer? (feel free to include as many other bits of wisdom as you like)

The most important thing is to remember that agents are humans. We vary. There are agents of so many different types, and it’s worth trying to get to know as much as possible about each person you submit to. Follow them on Twitter. (If you follow me, and chat with me about cheese, or chocolate, or caffeine, or cats, we’ll get along.) Learn what they tend to like, and not like. Look up some of the books they’ve represented.

So many writers threaten their chances by having no idea who I am, other than the fact that I have “agent” on my business card—I can’t tell you how many “Dear Sirs” emails I receive, or queries with my name misspelled (I know it’s a lot of syllables, but copy-paste if you’re unsure!), or emails that could really benefit from spell check.

If you show in the first line of your query that you’ve done your research, it automatically puts you in the top third of my pile—maybe even top fourth.

Also, please check in—at three weeks for a query (and then every three weeks), and at three months for a manuscript, and then once a month.

Question One: If you could have lunch with any writer, living or dead, who would it be? Why?

Dorothy Parker—though it wouldn’t be lunch. We’d go out for drinks first, and then I’d take her out on the town for her commentary on what’s changed. I think she’d have some very amusing things to say about Williamsburg and Bushwick, Brooklyn (hipster capitals), for example. She’d probably be pleased that her round table at the Algonquin is still here. And wouldn’t it be fun to ride around in a car with a sunroof? (I was far too well-behaved in high school to consider this, though I hear it’s de rigueur now for proms.) I love the idea of her scowling at hipsters and Times Square and the kids with way too many safety pins in their hoodies in the Village. Yes, I think we’d have a wonderful time.  


  1. This is one of the best Agent Interviews I've read, and I stalk/haunt Agent blog interviews. I was going to quote some parts in my comments, but then I'd be copying and pasting pretty must the entire interview, though I had to pick these two out:
    (i) "If you follow me, and chat with me about cheese, or chocolate, or caffeine, or cats, we’ll get along" -- this could have been written about me

    (ii) (re: Dorthy Parker)"I love the idea of her scowling at hipsters and Times Square and the kids with way too many safety pins in their hoodies in the Village. Yes, I think we’d have a wonderful time" -- even though I've never been to NYC I can SO see this conversation, wonder if Ms. Parker loved cheese?

    Jessica sounds seriously awesome and I so want to her to come to Melbourne so I can take her to one of my many favorite cafes for our famously wonderful coffees. We can talk about books, chocolate, cheese, Jane Austen & the magical era of 1880's to 1910 (maybe she's also a secret Nikola Tesla fan?)

    1. Who isn't a Nikola Tesla fan:) This is a great interview. Over the years, we've had the good fortune to get a lot of great agent interviews. I hope you'll check out some of those as well--and the writer interviews, and editor interviews:)

    2. I'm going through your blog now, including your author interviews; great site -- seriously :)

  2. Interesting interview, but this lassie doesn't seem to be interested in middle grade queries at all. Why is it so?

  3. Interesting interview, but this agent doesn't appear to be interested in middle grade queries and far more interested in adult books and themes. How does it fit with middle grade ninja?

  4. Hi Cavanagh,
    I am, actually--for middle grade, I like smart, usually precocious, usually nerdy protagonists--and real world, magic realism, or adventure.

    All best wishes,

  5. Nikola,
    Yes, I'm a huge fan. How can you not love Tesla? I have a soft spot for scientists, mad and otherwise. :)

  6. Question 8: What would one of your clients say about you as an agent?
    Oh! Me! Me! Pick me! *waves hand from third row*
    Jessica is a remarkable agent, but the best thing I can say about her is that she is a kind person. She's compassionate, creative, funny, talented, and motivated, but what I love most about my agent is knowing she's a good person. She also pushes me to expand my talents, test my limits, and always to go with my heart. I knew from our first easy conversation (in which I laughed so hard I had tears in my eyes) that she was the right choice for me. And I wasn't wrong.


Thanks for stopping by, Esteemed Reader! And thanks for taking the time to comment. You are awesome.