Today we’re interviewing Jen Karsbaek of Foreword Literary, Inc. Welcome, Jen!
Me: How did you become an agent?
Jen: For five years before I became an agent I was a book blogger, founder of Devourer of Books (www.devourerofbooks.com). Over the years Devourer of Books became a well-regarded and – at the risk of sounding conceited – influential blog, particularly in the areas of women’s fiction, historical fiction, and upmarket (commercial-literary crossover) fiction, which gave me reasons and ways to get to know people within the industry.
I was recruited to agenting by Pam van Hylckama Vlieg, one of the founding partners of Foreword and fellow blogger-turned agent. She was looking for someone with my specialties and thought of me; I jumped at the chance to spend my days being a cheerleader and advocate for books and authors I love.
Me: What are three things that elicit automatic rejections from you when reading the first 50 pages of a manuscript?
Jen: I need a connection to the story and a reason to keep reading. In my first five years of blogging alone I read well over a thousand books and I’ve gotten pretty good at identifying when they aren’t working for me. If I’m not compelled to keep reading then, well, I won’t.
Me: What are you looking for right now in fiction submissions and not getting? Are there any subjects or genres that are near and dear to your heart? And on the flip side, what are you getting too much of?
Jen: I’m getting too much historical fiction set in the United States. For some reason it tends to interest me less than historical fiction with other settings. I love, love, love historical fiction focusing on European royalty and would like to see more of it (although, sadly, probably not the Tudors or the Wars of the Roses, they are a bit oversaturated in the market).
Me: What is one thing about you that a writer would be surprised to learn?
Jen: I taught second grade for two years in Chicago Public Schools for Teach for America.
Me: Best piece(s) of advice you can give a writer we haven’t talked about yet?
Jen: Social media is the new water cooler. Don’t use it to pitch agents or editors (seriously, don’t be that guy), but get to know other writers, as well as people within the industry. You may make connections or learn things that will be invaluable in your writing career.
Me: Are you open to submissions? If so, how should a writer go about submitting?
Jen: I am! I am taking submissions in women’s fiction, historical fiction, literary and upmarket commercial fiction – no YA (that is handled by some of the other great agents at Foreword). Send your query, 1-2 page synopsis, and the first 10 pages of your manuscript to firstname.lastname@example.org.
You can find Jen at these locations: