CritiqueMatch

CritiqueMatch is a platform where writers and beta readers connect and exchange work for free! New: You can also buy a critique or beta-reading service from our top-rated users!

Nov 24, 2020

Agent Spotlight Series: Heather Jackson

 

A warm welcome to literary agent Heather Jackson! Heather decided to vault over the desk to the agent side in 2016 after a highly successful career as a trade editor.  In her 20+ years as an editor she acted as the creative midwife to multiple dozens of New York Times bestselling authors and titles, including: Tim Ferriss, Jillian Michaels, Suzanne Somers, Dr. Steven Gundry, Tara Stiles, Ron Fournier, Joy Bauer, Janine Driver, Rick Hanson, Dr. Robert C. Atkins, Dr. Joseph Mercola, Dr. Arthur Agatston, Dr. Nancy Snyderman, Dr. Susan Love, Dr. Alice D. Domar, Dr. Barbara Fredrickson, Mallika Chopra, Martina Navratilova, Joe and Teresa Graedon, B. Smith,... among many others.

CM: Please share a fun fact about you.  
Heather: I received a Book Worm award at the age of 10 in summer camp, setting the stage for my life-long book nerdery.

CM: Think about the next book whose author you could represent. Give us three emotions you want their book to evoke. 
Heather: Joy. Laughter. Hope.  I think we’ve been sorely lacking in these items (or maybe I’m projecting) over the course of the last few years in our world and on our bookshelves.

CM: How do you pitch books to publishers in a world that requires social distancing?  
Heather: I don’t think that process has actually changed much.  Yes, we can’t meet over a meal or a cocktail and share about the works we’re excited about, but we can talk on the phone, by email, or by the omnipresent Zoom.  Calls are perhaps the trickiest to manage, though, as folks work from home and have other distractions and obligations for a spur of the moment chat.  So your pitch letter—much like an author’s when seeking representation—has to be, well, ‘pitch-perfect’. I feel lucky enough to have spent so much of my adult life in publishing that I have long-term relationships with editors that aren’t harmed by this moment; it is much harder to be an agent or editor starting out now. That’s why one of my agent groups has made it a point to start outreach to meet the younger generation of editors in Zoom meetings.

CM: How many authors do you represent? How has your author list changed over time? 
Heather: I currently represent 40 clients at various stages of the publication or pre-publication process, but I try not to ‘sell’ more than 12-15 titles a year so that I can be deeply involved in every aspect of the book’s path to readers.  I believe that the sale to a publisher isn’t the endpoint, but rather the start; I try to use the years I had on the other side of the desk to build a bridge for the author, so they can understand the publishing process best and I can help shepherd them through each step.  The beauty of becoming an agent—and the primary force behind my decision to become one—is that the editorial and creative concepts can be and have been broadened out to all of my interests, not just one segment of the marketplace. As an editor, I could work on one particular genre; now I can work with authors who write commercial fiction, narrative non-fiction, and of course, the more practical non-fiction that I have been lucky enough to have had success with throughout my years as a publishing professional. So I’m ridiculously lucky to be able to ‘play’ in the field of the ideas that excite me most while helping authors to find homes for their brilliance and creativity.

CM: How hands-on are you in the editing process before you send the manuscript out to publishers? 
Heather: I bet you can guess the answer to this one: very much so. It is so very difficult to sell a book and made much more so if you don’t present the absolute best version of a proposal or manuscript that you can to the editors you are pitching.  They are bombarded every day from every angle, and as such, their lists and their mindsets are tilted towards a reason to say no.  I like to try and remove as many reasons for that “no” as possible before we send out, so as to give an author the absolute best shot at a good sale and a good home.  And even then, most of the process of selling the book is filled with rejection, even when making a ‘big’ sale.   

CM: What is a common myth about agents? 
Heather: I think there are a few, but for purposes of this chat, the one I think authors really must know: agents aren’t all-powerful or Oz-like.  They can and should and will do the best job possible for their authors, but they can’t control the marketplace.  I say this as it makes it all the more urgent that authors truly hone their craft and understand the publishing landscape that author and agent navigate together.  It’s a bumpy, twisty, sometimes terrifying road; a good agent will know its twists and turns and advise accordingly.  

______

Wish List

Genres/sub-genres you’re looking for:
  • We specialize in commercial non-fiction and fiction. We represent top-tier authors in personal health and well-being, popular science and psychology, politics and current affairs, business, memoir, and self-help. 
  • We are always game for the unique or deeply moving journalistic narrative that takes us into a world we didn't know would intrigue us through its brilliant writing and insights. We love big ideas and groundbreaking big think books. 
  • Lastly, we love a great and memorable character in women's fiction and are steadfastly looking for a reliable narrator who isn't a hot mess and a great ‘new-fashioned’ family saga.
What you’re not interested in:

  • Science fiction, children’s board books, speculative fiction.

______

2 Client Examples

Harmony - 2020
Atria Books - 2020
______

Query Tips
Please provide a couple of tips for querying authors.

Dos:
  • Check your grammar and make sure there are no typos in your query letter.  Have fun and breathe.  Be thoughtful and specific.  Remember: your query is one of many that an agent is seeing that day/week/month, so a smart voice and super smart writing is key to standing out.
Don'ts:
  • Tell me what I’d like to read; just tell me about your work.  Ignore an agency’s guidelines for submission; do so and you’re at risk of not being reviewed at all.  Take it personally if you don’t hear back; many agents, including myself, will only respond if a query intrigues them.  We’re not being bad people, just needing to make sure that we have enough time to do our jobs properly for our clients—and the slush pile can be a full-time job in and of itself. 
_______

Submission Guidelines
Submit to: QUERY@HJLIT.COM
We do not accept unsolicited proposals or manuscripts. Though we deeply respect every author's work, due to the volume of submitted queries we can only respond to projects we are interested in pursuing.  Please send your query to the below address with a brief description of your book, its uniqueness in the marketplace, and why you and only you can write it. Do not send attachments.