Interview with Jenny Bent, Spring 2010
Born in New York City, Jenny Bent grew up in Harrisburg, Virginia and obtained a BA and MA with first class honors from Cambridge University. Bent worked in magazines and bookselling before becoming an agent, most recently as an agent at Trident Media Group. She founded the Bent Agency in March 2009.
In the span of her career, Bent has made a practice of shaping bestsellers from a variety of genres, commercial fiction, nonfiction, literary fiction and memoir. All of the books she represents "speak to the heart in some way: they are linked by genuine emotion, inspiration and great writing and story-telling."
Some titles Bent represented include Ann Cummin's Red Ant House (Houghton Mifflin), Sara Pritchard's Lately (Houghton Mifflin), John McNally's After the Workshop (Counterpoint), Greg Bottoms' Sentimental, Heartbroken Rednecks (Counterpoint), Jacqueline Sheehan's Lost and Found (Harper), Laurie Notaro's Spooky Little Girl (Random House), and Bent Road by Ann Cummins (Dutton). Bent currently lives in Brooklyn, New York.
In Capital Letters: What authors, novels, poems, stories do you return to again and again?
Jenny Bent: Jane Austen, always; classic children's literature like Anne of Green Gables, Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farms, Understood Betsy, anything by Edith Nesbit (The Magic Castle is my favorite), or T.H. White, or Lloyd Alexander, the Narnia books; Larry McMurtry; The Bell Jar; The Catcher in the Rye, Miss Marjoribanks by Mrs. Oliphant. In terms of poetry, I love Yeats and Tennyson, but I haven't read poetry in a very long time.
ICL: How and when did you know you wanted to be a literary agent?
JB: In college. I was taking a class in publishing and Joyce Johnson, the author of The Night Cafe, came in and talked to us. She had been an editor and the way she described agenting vs. editorial made me realize that I could only be an agent.
ICL: What was the last book you read for pleasure or are currently reading for pleasure?
JB: I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith. Before that The Woman In White by Wilkie Collins.
ICL: What is your favorite book of the past year?
JB: An amazing young adult book called The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks.
ICL: What is the best way for a writer to find an agent?
JB: I take on a number of clients every year simply because they send me an e-mail query. Another way is to be referred by an existing client, but that's harder to do.
ICL: Do you see any specific trends developing in the industry right now?
JB: It's always changing. Paranormal is obviously very popular.
ICL: What makes you want to work with new writers?
JB: In many ways it's the most fun part of a job. It sounds cheesy, but helping someone achieve their dream is a pretty amazing feeling. Plus, it's great to feel that you are part of the discovery of a new voice in fiction.
ICL: What advice would you give new writers who have not been published?
JB: Be open to advice.
ICL: If your life had a theme song right now, what would it be?
JB: Ice Cube, It Was a Good Day.
ICL: Tell us something about yourself that most people don't know.
JB: I'm such an open book that this is a tough one. Maybe that I used to pack chicken backs and necks at a chicken processing plant. Or that I collect blue and white dishes.
ICL: If you weren't an agent you might be...
JB: Screwed. I don't think I could do anything else.