s we enter the festive holiday season and visions of sugarplums (and dreams of agent deals!) start to dance in our heads, (let’s gather around the proverbial, wreath-decked hall and hearth for another “fireside chat”—this time with Amy Giuffrida, associate literary agent with The Jennifer De Chiara Agency.
The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency (JDLA) is celebrating, in their words, 20 years of making dreams come true. This New York City-based full-service literary agency was founded in 2001, and Writer’s Digest named JDLA one of the top 25 literary agencies in the country. They represent children’s literature for all ages, from picture books and middle grade to young adult novels, as well as high-quality adult fiction and nonfiction in a wide range of genres. JDLA also represents illustrators and screenwriters for both television and film, including Emmy and Peabody Award-winners.
Amy Giuffrida has been with JDLA since 2020. After I read in her bio that she’s renovating her house, questions started firing in my head—what type of house, year built, wood clapboarding or vinyl siding, slate roof or shingles? I have an 1890 Victorian that I’ve just about rebuilt top to bottom, so house renovation lovers are My. People. But, I forced myself to return to all things writing. I may be back for an offline chat, though, Amy!
OK, the Christmas carols are on in the background and we’ve got our mugs of tea. Let’s get started!
WOW: Welcome, Amy! Before we get too far into our discussion of what appeals to you, I want to point out to our readers how you prefer to be queried. You ask that writers do so through QueryManager, not through email, as emails will go unread. Please take note of this PSA, everyone!
One of the first things that jumped out to me from your JDLA agent bio is your wide taste in genre: On the one hand, you list horror, and on the other, romance—with supernatural creatures and non-Western myths making it into the fold. Tell us what helped you form such an interesting mix of tastes.
Amy: I have always been a horror reader—Stephen King and Dean Koontz is what I leaned on as a high school student. But as I worked to become an agent, I started as a slush reader of adult romance. And of course ... I LOVED it! But I think the point of books is that we read to not only escape, but to see ourselves in books. There should be all kinds of books with all kinds of places and people represented. Which is why I want to see it all—because a good story is a good story.
WOW: How true. In the end, we all just want a good story. And so, of the fiction you represent—middle grade (MG), young adult (YA), and adult—do you feel most comfortable or in tune with one group over another? For what reason?
Amy: YA speaks to teen me—and it is my jam. It’s my favorite age category of them all. I will forever love the “angst-iness” of it all. And since I’m an adult, I like reading things that I can personally connect with. The category that really snuck up on me when I became an agent was MG.
For those who don’t know, I am an 8th grade teacher. So you would think THIS would be my jam, but it never really was. I found when I started reading submissions that MG is full of whimsy and magic. I just fell in love with it all.
WOW: I noticed that fantasy and magical realism appear in your MG list, but not in your YA or adult lists. Have you found that those genres are more popular with very young readers?
Amy: With the crowded YA market, fantasy is really difficult to break into at the moment. I also have a few YA fantasy stories on my current list, so I’m not looking for more unless they are extremely unique. As for the adult market, I really have to love the story line, so that may be something I would likely request from a conference or a contest after I hear the pitch.
WOW: In nonfiction, you again list MG, YA, and adult, particularly with storylines from diverse voices. When I think of nonfiction, I assume that memoir is implied—that is, outside of anything that is non-prescriptive such as cookbooks or self-help. Can you explain how memoir falls under MG or YA? I always think of memoir as adult nonfiction, even if it’s written from the narrator’s childhood POV.
Amy: There are some MG memoirs—although they are written by adults, they are about that point in their lives that a MG reader can identify with due to their age. It’s very similar to fiction, just in nonfiction form. It is also written in that particular voice that MG is so known for. There definitely aren’t many out there, but there is room for growth here.
WOW: Now I want to go out and find these MG memoirs! And actually, speaking of cookbooks, you call out that you’re interested in “cookbooks that highlight family stories or ancestral anecdotes.” I love those types of books as well, because it’s like getting a two-fer: part cookbook, part memoir. Stanley Tucci’s Taste comes to mind, just published last month. Are you looking for cookbooks with a narrative along those lines?
Amy: First of all, I absolutely LOVE Stanley Tucci! His cooking videos are ah-ma-zing! And I am hoping his book, Taste, will be under the Christmas tree from Santa this year. LOL. But to answer your question, yes. I am looking for cookbooks that not only have recipes that are simple enough for home cooks to recreate, but that also include stories behind the food—both ancestral and cultural. Our country is founded on a mix of people from all walks of life.
“I think the point of books is that we read to not only escape, but to see ourselves in books. There should be all kinds of books with all kinds of places and people represented. Which is why I want to see it all—because a good story is a good story.”
WOW: OK, take us back in time a bit. How has your career as an agent grown? What attracted you to agenting?
Amy: I started out as a writer. I wrote an adult horror novel and queried it. Eventually I self-published it, because it wasn’t going to sit in the market in the right place. I realized that although I can write, I really liked cheering on writers. This began my journey as an intern in 2015 to learn how to be an agent. And after almost seven years, I am still learning.
I love working with writers on their stories and careers. Helping them get their books ready for submission, then finding the perfect editors to send their work to, is actually fun for me. But I can tell you that nothing beats making that phone call to tell an author that there is an offer on the table!
WOW: Tell us something that surprises you about your role; something you didn’t expect when you were starting out. What brings you joy each day? On the flip side, can you share a challenge?
Amy: The waiting is the toughest thing for me. I mean, I am super impatient and this job has taught me to help others to be a little more relaxed about the wait. LOL. I have been very surprised about how nervous I get when I set up meetings with new people. Even though they’re over Zoom, I still sweat ten minutes before I get on a call. Every single editor I’ve spoken to has been so nice, but I just can’t help it.
WOW: I’m glad to hear that waiting is just as tough for agents as it is for writers. It really can be tortuous, can’t it? So, what do you look for in manuscripts that hit your desk? How far do you generally have to read to know whether or not it’s a fit for you?
Amy: I am really drawn to a strong voice. That is what pulls me through a story. I typically know within the first few pages whether or not the story will be something I’m going to request. But I know by chapter 3 if I am probably going to offer. If I am not drawn in by then, it isn’t a good fit for me.
WOW: On average, how many queries do you receive in a year? What timeline should querying writers expect from you after having sent you their work?
Amy: I receive around 2,000 queries per year. I take anywhere between one week to two months to respond to my queries. It honestly depends on the time of year. The end of year gets pretty hectic with contests, conferences, and finalizing submissions, so it takes me longer if you send to me at this time. The more client work I have, the less time I have to read queries. My focus will always be on my clients, so sometimes it takes me longer on the query end if I am reading for my clients.
WOW: Whoa, that’s a ton of queries to get through! What’s the working relationship between agents within JDLA? Do you pass leads among each other? Should a writer try another agent there if a manuscript isn’t the right fit with you? Or does one No from any agent there mean a No across the board?
Amy: I came to JDLA knowing two of the agents very well already, so that’s a good hint at the working relationship. I’ve gotten to know the rest of the agents over the course of the last year and a half. We all bounce ideas off one another and the more senior members have helped to mentor me, along with our founder Jennifer De Chiara.
“When getting ready for submission, I take a lot of things into consideration, for example, an editor’s MSWL posts, their recent sales, Twitter feed, pitch likes, recent interviews or chats with myself or colleagues. Submissions aren’t one-size-fits-all. I try to really find editors who will love a story as much as I do.”
WOW: Let’s talk about trends you’re seeing in the industry. What does the publishing landscape look like to you, from a 50,000-foot view? How about from a 500-foot view, inside JDLA? And with 2022 right around the corner, what do you think will be in demand for this upcoming year? Any predictions for the next five years?
Amy: I still can’t believe 2021 is almost over. I happen to know that vampires are coming back! So excited for this! But I do predict that we will see werewolves again down the road—I am really hoping for this!! I also foresee more diverse books across all age categories and genres, YA rom-coms, YA mysteries, and lots of fun MG.
WOW: Just between us, I was on Team Edward back in the day and almost came to blows with a friend who was Team Jacob all day, every day. Moving back to present, one thing I’ve loved seeing is how virtual book tours took off in 2020 and 2021, because they had to in a world constrained by a pandemic. How have the authors you represent adapted? Do you see virtual tours as a trend that will continue, or do you think authors and publicists will go back to physical tours as more of the U.S., and the world, opens back up?
Amy: I think there will continue to be some sort of hybrid model. Having things virtually allowed authors to get together and tour who under normal circumstances may not have been able to do so geographically. It’s been really cool to see international authors come together with American authors and host speaking engagements.
WOW: What other changes have you seen in the industry since the pandemic?
Amy: I absolutely love that the industry has discovered that much of this job can be done virtually. Not everyone needs to live in NYC. I’m lucky to be close enough, but far enough away. But the biggest change is also the work load. I think we all worked a lot before, but with the lines blurring between work and home, we’re all tired.
WOW: How do you like to communicate with your clients, after you’ve signed them? What’s your working relationship like? Do you consider yourself hands-on with edits?
Amy: My clients and I have a Slack channel. This allows us to communicate as a whole group about a number of things—like our pets. We also communicate via Twitter DM or email, depending on the length of what we need to discuss. I also Zoom frequently with my clients when we need to discuss revisions, and each of my clients has their own Google folder with submission information shared with them. This allows them some freedom and control over when they see rejections.
I am very hands-on with edits. I work with my clients to make their stories the best they can be before going out on submission. From developmental editing to line editing, we work together to polish their work.
WOW: Do you follow a set submission strategy with acquisitions editors, or do you customize it, project by project?
Amy: When getting ready for submission, I take a lot of things into consideration, for example, an editor’s MSWL posts, their recent sales, Twitter feed, pitch likes, recent interviews or chats with myself or colleagues, and so forth. Submissions aren’t one-size-fits-all. I try to really find editors who will love a story as much as I do.
WOW: At what point do you start talking with your client about the next project? Do you prefer and/or expect to sign writers for multiple books, or are one-book deals acceptable to you?
Amy: On the offer call. I always ask what a potential client is currently working on. It’s how I know what they really are looking to be as a writer. I want to work with writers long-term, so this is important for me to know.
WOW: Can you think of any advice you like to offer writers that I may not have asked about?
Amy: Finding an agent is very exciting, but you have to make sure they are the right person for you. Ask the right questions and do your research. Don’t settle.
WOW: OK, last question. Tell us something about yourself that can’t be found on your agent bio page.
Amy: Well, in the beginning you brought up the whole home renovation idea, so why don’t we start there? Ha-ha! What you don’t know is that it happened to help me make money when I sold my house. I knew the basics—how to paint—but nothing else. I learned the rest by watching YouTube videos. I bought myself tools and just figured it all out, from plumbing, to basic electrical stuff, to carpentry. Whatever I couldn’t learn from videos or my brother, I got artistic with.
Now, I am working to renovate our 1968 house that was perfectly preserved. I have learned to hire people for certain things that aren’t worth getting angry at ... and have gotten shocked by electrical wiring that a professional screwed up. I know, I know. If I actually had a decent platform, this could be a book! Wink, wink.
WOW: Look at you, Amy! I love that you tackle all this yourself, and learned basic plumbing, electrical, and carpentry from YouTube and trial and error! This is such an empowering story—truly. I think you should go for it, and write that book! As for the year of your house, 1968, well that’s an incredible year. I was born in 1968. LOL.
My thanks to associate literary agent, Amy Giuffrida, for chatting with me. For those in our readership who are ready to query Amy with works that meet her interests, remember to use her QueryManager form.
Wishing everyone a safe and happy holiday season!
Ann Kathryn Kelly writes from New Hampshire’s Seacoast region. She’s an editor with Barren Magazine, a columnist with WOW! Women on Writing, and she works in the technology sector. Ann leads writing workshops for a nonprofit that offers therapeutic arts programming to people living with brain injury. Her essays have appeared in a number of literary journals.