3 S.R. Johannes: Marvelous Marketer: Jennifer Laughran (Andrea Brown Literary)

Monday, April 19, 2010

Marvelous Marketer: Jennifer Laughran (Andrea Brown Literary)

Update: Thanks to Danielle Leafty for interviewing me for her new series: Wickedly Awesome Writers Society. I love mysterious clubs!

For those of you who haven't met Jennifer, let me tell you what I have learned from hanging out with her in many late night chat after-parties. She is sweet, funny, honest, smart as hell, and a damn good agent! Query her! Now let's get to the interview.

Hi Jennifer. Thanks for stopping by today. Can you tell us about yourself and
your agency?

I've been an agent at Andrea Brown Literary Agency since 2007. We're a children's & YA only agency with offices in San Francisco, NY, Chicago, LA and San Diego. I'm based in San Francisco.

I started out my career in books at my older sister's bookstore, at age 12, where I worked for lunch money and all the stripped copies of Sweet Valley High I could read. I continued to work as a bookseller, events coordinator and children's book buyer for independent bookstores all over the country, which has given me a unique perspective on the book industry for sure! I think that my background is a definite asset for my clients.

I've read that you started Not Your Mother’s Book Club. Can you tell us more about it? (NYMBC Blog)

NYMBC is a YA author event series for teenagers that I started way back in 2005 at Books Inc. in San Francisco, where I was a buyer and events person. I call it a "literary salon for teens" - we have amazing authors visit every month, and do all kinds of cool events, like a tea party with Meg Cabot or a private luncheon with Sarah Dessen. Later this month we have David Levithan and John Green visiting our San Francisco location to talk to us about WILL GRAYSON, WILL GRAYSON, and then on May 6th we're having a ginormous pizza party with FIVE authors (Susane Colasanti, Michael Grant, Cynthia Omololu, Jenny Han and Beth Fantaskey) to celebrate the beginning of Not Your Mother's Book Club Berkeley.

I still run the events and have a blast doing it. And that has definitely given me a direct insight in to what real kids are reading and loving!

You must get great teen insight! What do you as an agent encourage your authors to do to market themselves?

I think that every published author should have a website of some kind. It doesn't have to be flashy, but it does have to be professional and neat, with a brief bio, your book info and some kind of contact info at the very least. It is like the equivalent of a business card.

As far as social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook, or blogging and vlogging and whatever the next thing will be - I think that if that is your kind of thing you should go for it. I personally love Twitter and have amazing and fun conversations both with people I know personally, authors and editors I admire but have never met, and people I've never heard of who just drop in to the mix! So for ME PERSONALLY, Twitter rocks. But if an author finds that it is a drain rather than a pleasure, they shouldn't do it.

Some people are naturally great at Blogging or Twittering, and for others it is really a time and energy suck. I think that if you don't want to be doing it, or you are doing it because you feel you HAVE to, it will show. There is nothing more irritating than reading the "blog" of somebody who only has a blog because somebody told them they had to. You DON'T have to. If writers spent as much time ACTUALLY WRITING as they do anguishing over what they should or shouldn't be doing online, they'd be a lot better off.

Ultimately, the very best thing you can do for your career and to "market yourself" is to write the next great book. You write an absolutely amazing, unbelievable book, it will find its audience. But no matter how big or small a budget you think your book is being given, I would go ahead and assume that you are going to get zero publicity help. Start from there.

If you are getting zero publicity help, what can YOU do? You could send postcards to indie bookstores maybe. You could talk about your books to librarians and booksellers. You could do school visits. You could have bookmarks to give out to people. You could make friends with other local authors and book folks. You could have a launch party at your local bookstore. You could do online contests. You don't HAVE to do any of that stuff... but you probably ought to do some of it.

Let me make this clear: Nobody is going to care more about the fate of your book than you do. If you want a bunch of online buzz, YOU are probably going to have to help create it. Publishers and publicists can only do so much. They can't make a boring product fly off the shelves - the product has to be compelling - and part of that product, for better or worse, is YOU.

Wow that's all great advice. Thanks for being so detailed. As an agent, when evaluating whether to take on an author or book, I'm assuming you Google them. What do you look for?

Oh, I just look to see if they have a web presence. If they don't that's fine, but if they DO, I'd check to see if they have any prior publication history, if they seem to be web-savvy, and just generally gauge the "crazy-factor". Do they blog and if they do, do they publish embarrassing things on it? Do they go into details about all their rejections and how nobody likes their writing and who cares anyway because publishing is full of IDIOTS who don't know anything about books? OR are they secretly some sort of political/religious/philosophical extremist or something? I mean, I seriously doubt that any of your readers would have horrifying or embarrassing websites, but there are weirdos out there.

How have things changed with agencies promoting their author books? What things do agents/literary agencies do to help promote their author's books?

I think that the majority of promotion is still shouldered by the author themselves and either the publisher's in-house publicist, or sometimes freelance publicists. Agents tend to be much more "behind the scenes". We do have an agency facebook fan page where we proudly tout our new releases every month and brag when one of our books gets a starred review or ends up on the NYT bestseller list or similar. And I certainly talk about my authors every chance I get, and help my authors make decisions about how to do their own promoting and marketing... but we don't do a lot of that work ourselves, that is really what publicists and gung-ho authors do for the most part.

As an agent, what are you looking for in 2010?

Oh, I am always looking for sparkling, awesome Middle Grade & YA novels. I'd love to see more middle grade of all kinds - adventure, realistic, comedies, mysteries, and fantasy. And cool high-concept YA like Hunger Games. I am actually quite full up on paranormal/fantasy YA, but if something was truly unique I might still be interested. Check out the submission guidelines before querying.

Thanks for stopping by!

Thanks Shelli

Now, you tell me. What other questions do you have for Jennifer or about agenting in general? Did anything surprise you about her answers?


Shannon O'Donnell said...

Another wonderful interview, Shelli!

Thanks, Jennifer. I enjoyed learning more about your book club and appreciate your wonderful online presence advice. :-)

Deb Salisbury, Magic Seeker and Mantua-Maker said...

Great interview, Shelli and Jennifer!

Lisa Gail Green said...

Love the interview! Sounds like great advice!

~Jamie said...

Jenn is so cool. I agree with her, if you love twitter, then tweet away!

But if not, then it totally shows. :)

Anonymous said...

good~ keep sharing with us, please....I will waiting your up date everyday!! Have a nice day........................................

Robert W. Leonard said...

Great interview, just another reminder why Jennifer is on my top 5 list to query when I'm ready. Thanks as always!

Christina Farley said...

Great interview guys! Jennifer, I so want to attend your NYMBC events! They sound fabulous.

Sherrie Petersen said...

Another great interview, Shelli. I actually follow Literaticat, although I've been doing a lot more writing than tweeting the last few months :) My class ends tomorrow so I'm looking forward to joining in on kidlitchats again next week.

I'm curious -- I know of one writer who used Twitter to help her get an agent. Has Jennifer ever "discovered" someone online?

Ann Marie Wraight said...


I read a recent interview that Ms. Laughren gave over at the lovely TEXAS SWEETHEARTS some days ago. I was very impressed that this lady is so incredibly APPROACHABLE - not scary at all!!! Quite human in fact... That was my first impression.

My second impression is that I LOVE Ms. Laughren's opinion about the blogging-Tweeting-FACEBOOK etc world. Not to do a thing if it doesn't suit you sounds pretty logical and obvious right? Wrong - these days with all the networking frenzy that goes on, if you don't do ALL of the aforementioned networking aids - it's kind of like never having heard of Harry Potter or Twilight...."what, you don't have a blog?!?..don't tweet?!? GASP!"

Thirdly, I have a VERY specific question for you, Ms. Laughren:

At the moment I'm writing a YA reality based fantasy story. I see that most agents are full with this age group and genre. I have notes on a project suitable for middle grade bordering into young adult. It's a humorous project based on the life of an accident prone girl...disasters just seem to follow her EVERYWHERE. Some examples are when she decides to run away into the Australian Bush...with an enormous female pig...well, she couldn't open the stable door to release her pony...so, a pig's got 4 legs - right? Another couple of crazy things she does is,
1)Set the house on fire almost killing her parents and sibling whilst doing experiments with burning underwear...
2)Brings a calf into the kitchen after her mother tells her she should start to bring friends home for cookies and milk...havoc ensues of course.....
All these things I HAVE DONE and an awful LOT more so it's a kind of hilarious memoir, too. Is it commercially viable?

Anyway - you asked if we wanted to ask anything SPECIFICALLY - so I did, even though I'm not sure if it's appropriate...APOLOGIES if it's not!

THANK YOU for the post Ladies!

Bish Denham said...

Thanks Jennifer for sharing all that wonderful info! And thanks Shelli for having her on you blog.

Jackee said...

Great insight, ladies. The NYMBC sounds like the coolest thing for teens ever. What an awesome (yet time consuming) thing to do!

And I too notice when blogs are made just to promote the writer--they are the least fun ones to visit for sure.

Thanks, ladies!

Stina said...

Great interview. Wow what timing. Jennifer was this month's MSFV secret agent.

Carmela Martino said...

Great advice regarding blogging/social networking. Thanks for sharing this!

Kimberley Griffiths Little said...

Hi Jennifer and Shelli, thank you for a wonderful interview. I always love hearing about Jennifer Laughran and her clients (of which I know several).

I have a specific question: I read somewhere about a year ago and I cannot remember *where* that you grew up in Louisiana? Is that true or am I totally out to lunch?

I have a reason for asking, but I won't make this comment super long . . . thanks!

Literaticat said...

Response to Solvang Sherri: I haven't discovered a writer via Twitter, per se, but I have certainly gotten to know writers who I might not have, and either asked them to query me, or else am watching with interest for when they are ready to query.

Response to Ann Marie: I think that middle grade and YA memoir is tough to sell, you'd probably be better off calling it fiction.

Literaticat said...

Response to Kimberley: Yes (sort of - my family is from Louisiana and I grew up there and Los Angeles).

And yes, I am already aware of your book. :)

Anonymous said...

Great interview, Shelli. I like Jennifer's take on focusing on the writing while pointing out that if you do sell a book that you will probably shoulder most of the promotion but if you don't spend time writing the best book you can, then you might not have anything to promote or market.

Kimberley Griffiths Little said...

Thanks, Jennifer! Yay! Mandee Vega, my publicist at Scholastic, said she was going to have the sales reps reach out to Books Inc. I'm from San Francisco originally and will be in the East Bay Area in early November speaking at my sister's school and she's throwing me a book party at her house so I thought about coming across the bridge for a signing. :-)

P.S. I met Jamie Weiss Chilton two weeks ago at our local SCBWI conference and she's a darling and did a GREAT job!

Natalie Aguirre said...

Great interview. I would have loved to have a job at a bookstore as a kid. Jennifer's book club sounds so awesome.

I have a question for Jennifer. What would you consider an unique fantasy story? Are you looking for more fantasy for middle grade?

Christina Lee said...

GREAT interview. Loved the details about how to promote yourself (for now and later). ;--)

PJ Hoover said...

Jenn is awesome at so many things! I love these interviews!

Sharon K. Mayhew said...

Wonderful interview! Thanks for the links. :)

Anonymous said...

I'm "new" and scared and reading everything I can...this interview really gave me a wealth of info. Thank you so much!