We are gearing up for our 2019 SCBWI Pocono Retreat, which will be April 12 to 14 at the Highlights Foundation (https://epa.scbwi.org/events/27th-annual-pocono-mountain-retreat-2019/). Recently, at the Eastern Penn Points Café, middle-grade writer Susan North had a chance to speak with one of the retreat’s faculty members, literary agent Jennifer Herrera of the David Black Agency. Let’s hear what they had to say!
Susan: Hello, Jennifer. Thanks for agreeing to chat with me at our EasternPennPoints Café. While we’re waiting for our drinks, let’s get started.
We’ll be talking about lots of children’s books at the Pocono retreat. Do you have a favorite picture book or middle grade novel from your childhood?
Jennifer: I have a very fond memory of my mother reading From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler while my sister and I each flanked her on the bed. I still love that book and think of it often, especially when I go to the Met. I always check the cordoned-off displays for signs of life.
Susan: How about a YA book?
Jennifer: YA books weren’t a thing when I was growing up. Or if they were, I didn’t know about them. During my early teen years, my favorite book was Pride and Prejudice. I loved those breathless tête-à-têtes. My favorite YA book as a (now) adult is The Raven Boys. It’s infused with so much love and so much wry humor that it lifts my spirits every time I open it.
Susan: How has your interest in languages benefitted you as a literary agent?
Jennifer: One of the early lessons I learned when I was beginning my study of various languages was the problem of translation: Give three people a French phrase, for instance, and you will end up with three different translations. The same, it can be said, goes for stories. Most of the stories we read are not “new” in that they’ve all been done before, but they have been translated to us in ways that are fresh and exciting. My study of languages has helped me steer clear of the cynicism that so often plagues people in the industry because I know that no matter how many books I read, there will always be a new translation to enchant me.
Susan: You’ll be offering critiques at the Pocono retreat. What is one bit of advice you can give authors who may be submitting work to you?
Jennifer: Great question! The best piece of advice I can give to writers is to let me fall in love with your characters rather than worry about giving me a big BANG of an opening. Yes, I need to see the seeds of the plot beginning to sprout, but in general, the most important thing for me is to have a sense of the characters’ emotional arcs so that I know that these will be characters I’ll be able to root for. Imagine this is a first date with your characters and moi. You don’t have to tell me everybody’s life stories. (You’d never do that on a first date, right? TMI.) You just have to give me a flicker of interest that makes me think, hey, I want to get to know these people better.
Susan: How do you like to relax after a stressful week?
Jennifer: Ready for a cliché? At the end of a stressful week, my favorite thing in the world is to cuddle under a wool blanket, wrap my hands around a heavy mug, and crack open a book. If my cat snuggles with me for this, then as far as I’m concerned it’s a perfect night!
Susan: Thank you, Jennifer. We look forward to having you on our faculty in April.
Jennifer: My pleasure. I look forward to seeing you.
Jennifer Herrera joined the David Black Agency in 2015 after working at Fletcher & Company and Europa Editions, where she was an early advocate of Elena Ferrante. She went to college in Ohio, where she studied Philosophy, French, and Russian, and has master’s degrees in Philosophy and Social Sciences.
She loves reading nonfiction books about big ideas and fiction that is thoughtful, unselfconscious, and authentic. Jennifer is actively looking for submissions in upmarket and literary fiction, as well as nonfiction. She is particularly drawn to science, psychology, philosophy, economics, prescriptive, lifestyle, and smart gift books, as well as history, when its focus is on the stories of underrepresented groups, and anything that has a social justice angle.