Today I’m thrilled to be interviewing literary agent Jennifer Azantian of the Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency. Ms. Azantian is also a published author of short stories, and she is primarily interested in YA fantasy and science fiction submissions.
Welcome to the YA Stands blog, Ms. Azantian! Can you tell us how long you’ve been agenting, and what led you to being an agent?
Due to a wonderful volunteering experience in high school, I decided that I would like to become a psychiatrist working with special needs children. After a few internships during college, however, I realized therapy had moved in a direction away from my own interests (a better way, in my opinion, just not for me). So despite being all set to go to grad school, I decided to take some time off and reevaluate. I also write and had heard of the fantastic internship opportunities at the Dijkstra Agency in my research so I decided to pursue an internship. It was there that I gained confidence in my eye for talent and editorial abilities. When a position opened up, I eagerly accepted. It was definitely one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. I have now been officially agenting for a little over a year.
Besides having written a book you love, what makes you know an author is someone you just have to represent?
Professionalism, absolutely. Crafting a letter that reflects research on the industry, their place in it, and my own interests will put authors above the rest. I want to represent people who treat writing as their occupation not as some misguided, get-rich-quick scheme.
What are you tired of seeing submitted right now? What would you love to see land in your inbox?
Personally, I’ve seen a lot of copy-cat paranormal romance. I’m not opposed to seeing projects within this genre, but I think it’s really hard to break out and catch my attention with these. I would love to see more science fiction and, though not currently stated in my bio, some psychological horror would be great to see, as well
What are three things you love, and one thing you can’t stand? (Hobbies, favorite TV shows, professional interests, etc.)
At the risk of being a total cliché: tea, long baths, and longer books.
As far as what I can’t stand, I think I would have to go back to a previously asked question and mention professionalism, again. It’s just that important to me. There is little that upsets me in general, but those who waste my time-and so take away from their fellow writers-by not following guidelines and doing their research really bothers me.
What’s the most surprising thing about the publishing industry to you?
Just how gosh-darn hard it is to publish successfully. I’ve seen some of the most polished and stunningly written works rejected, and I’ve seen equally fantastic works publish and fall into the ether, never to be seen again. I knew publishing was subjective, but I had no idea just how much. Not finding the right agent or editor is NOT an indication of how good a writer someone is or how great a story they have. I suppose, in a round-about way, that could be encouraging information.
What’s one thing you wish writers knew about signing with an agent?
One thing I wish writers knew is that signing with an agent is just the first step. Your work is just beginning, and signing with an agent does not guarantee publication. To that end, it’s important to not jump at the first offer presented. Instead, take some time to figure out what they are looking for in an agent and gauge if this particular agent is right for them.
Tell me about one work you’ve recently signed or sold. What made that project something you just had to have?
I have recently signed on a writer with a YA sci-fi project that hooked me with its voice and carried me though at a fantastic pace right to the end. What set this work apart was its masterful handling of the trifecta of qualities that I weigh most heavily: strong voice, interesting/unique story, and perfect handling of pacing. It’s very hard to get all three of these at once so when I reached the end and found myself wanting more, I knew I had to take it on.
Voice, concept, and pacing- those are great things of which to take note! What one piece of advice would you give to aspiring writers?
I’ve answered this question before, and while I could come up with a different answer, I re-read what I’ve said and found it to still hold true. So here it is: “As cliché as it sounds: Write Every Day and Keep Moving Forward. With rare exception, it takes time to develop the craft of writing, to figure out what works, and what doesn’t, for you. The only way to get better at anything is to practice. Make writing a priority in your life, and be consistent with it. Don’t put down your work publicly, and try your very best not to do it privately, either. Editing is imperative; self-deprecation is not. I truly believe what separates those who are successful from those who are not is that the successful ones never quit.”
Is anything specific on your wish list?
Steampunk that is not European/Victorian (not that I’m opposed to seeing either). Also, I plan to open up query interests to include psychological horror. Something to keep in mind with horror submitted to me is it must be more than just its creepy element.
Thanks so much for talking with me! I appreciate you taking the time. Readers, check out the links below for more information on Ms. Azantian and her agency.