Fizzy Fangirling – An Interview with Jessica Sinsheimer

Hello my darlings!

Today I bring you an interview with the impossibly adorable Jessica Sinsheimer.

Jessica is an agent with the Sarah Jane Freymann Literary Agency, a Twitter darling, and all around bucket of fabulous.

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I mean, come on. How precious is she!?

Without any ado whatsoever, let’s get to know her better!

1. Let’s start with basics: How long have you been a literary agent, and what made you dive into this wacky business in the first place?

It was a wonderful accident. I was in college, and my roommate had just finished an internship with a Very Important Agency. They needed someone else, and I had an interview that was pretty much, “Do you like books? You’re hired!”

Anyway, the Very Important Agency was terrifying. Everyone yelled. People bounded into the hallways with “I just scored a million dollar deal! UHHHH!” and then punched the air for a while and jumped back out again. All of the women were very pretty and probably had feet permanently molded into “I’m wearing heels” position. It was like working in the Mad Men office, without the cool retro clothes.

However, given how insanely uncomfortable I was there, one thing stood out: I loved the work. Then I went to a publishing house and a magazine, and neither was quite right–but I loved the work each time. That kept me coming back.

Now I have the best possible situation: Sarah Jane is one of the kindest, warmest, smartest, funniest, wittiest, savviest, most supportive people on the planet. Our clients are amazing. And our office is small, so I can show up in flats and glasses and with my hair all puffy. It’s great.

2. For those unfamiliar, what genres do you rep? Is there any type of story that you are praying to the literary gods will land on your desk one day?

Oh, I would love a food memoir. I’d love more popular science–particularly on women, food, and hormones—or climate change on a human scale–or a new theory on the neuroscience of a common psychological disorder. I’m fascinated by brains and how they work. In general, I’m hungry for a book that really examines the human condition in the twenty-first century in a new way. I also like fresh takes on self-help, books about love and relationships (of all kinds), and books about living one’s best life.

I love history focused around one subject (like Salt or Consider The Fork), political books (especially those with a strong narrative), and parenting books for this generation of parents. I also like health books, but realistic health books. I really like Robert Lustig and Kathleen DesMaisons. I’m all for giving up sugar (and, um, I do so weekly), but I’m unlikely to take on anything that suggests that all unprocessed carbs are evil and will kill you. And not just because that would be a terrible book party.

I’d love–and I really hope it doesn’t retain this title–what some people are calling “Chick Noir.” These are the books, like Gone Girl, that are thrillers set in the domestic sphere.

I’d also love upmarket women’s fiction and/or literary fiction with an emotional emphasis.

And I always love a combination of highbrow sentences and lowbrow content.

I’m officially open to all genres. I’m never sure what I’ll love next, honestly. And I like to be pleasantly surprised.

3. You are an active participant in online writing contests. What draws you into them? Have any contest success stories to share with the class?

Well, I love that I can connect with authors I might not normally find. Many of them say things like, “Oh, I wanted to query you, but _____ site says you don’t rep my genre!” Well, I do. There’s a lot of misinformation out there.

Sometimes it seems that contests–whether presorted or open–are a better method than querying. It’s hard to guess what someone will like—each agent knows his or her own tastes best. Everyone comes to one place; agents go home happy. It just makes sense. Plus, it’s fun.

And yes! I signed Amanda Gardner from Cupid’s Literary Connection, and Camden Leigh from PitMad.

4. What is your absolute most favorite part of being an agent? And for the sake of balance, what part makes you *headdesk* now and then?

I get to work with creative geniuses to make their books even better–to find new potential in their stories and innovative ways to promote them–and to make sure that things go well for people I care about. It’s a great intersection of helping people and creativity. I love that. I love having a creative partnership. I love sitting up and suddenly thinking, “YES! I know exactly what s/he has to do!” with edits–finding that one thing that will change everything.

In terms of headdesk, well, it’s just a matter of finite time. It’s really difficult to have enough time to do everything–meetings, lunches, editing, reading, events—all while keeping on top of everything for my clients and also carefully going through the submissions that come in each week.

But, of course, too much wonderful packed into too little time is a great problem to have.

5. In this delightfully subjective business, what works for one agent doesn’t always work for another in queries. Tell me, what gives you the happy feels in a query? What is a personal no-no for you when an author queries you?

Well, I love it when a writer knows who I am and proves it in the first few lines. So many writers just mass-mail everyone with Agent on her business card (many beginning with “Dear Sirs”), and that drives me nuts. I feel a bit like Nigella on The Taste–my approach is different, and I want writers to know what they’re getting into.

In terms of actual query writing, I tend to like varied sentence rhythm and advanced punctuation used not just correctly, but effortlessly. I want to get the sense that you just are a writer, versus someone trying on some sentences for the time it takes to write an email. The best queries—like the best manuscripts—have a distinctive voice. Don’t be so nervous, so formal, that I can’t hear your personal written voice coming through.

6. Tell me something you are working now that has you all a-flutter?

Actually, I’m super excited today about something I’ve already sold–I’m going over the edits for book two for Dawn Klehr right now, and it’s going to be INSANE. In a great way. I can’t tell you anything other than that it’s terrifically dark, and I gasped out loud while reading–a reveal was that good, that unexpected (and I’m usually good at guessing what’s about to happen next, so I was very impressed). You’d never know it from looking at her, but she’s a (literary) evil genius. Yes, behind that pretty, blond, Midwestern face is a brilliantly dark mind. I have absolute faith that she 1) Would never try any of this at home, because she’s a good person, and 2) Could be like Castle, running alongside someone like Beckett, and be just fine. Perhaps I’ll suggest that. That’d be fun.

7. You seem to have a taste for books with Food themes, and you are also known for posting delicious and drool inducing recipes/pictures on Twitter. What about the yummy things pulls you into a story?

I think it’s emotional, actually. Reading about food just makes me feel warm, cared for, and emotionally open–more ready to take on whatever’s coming in the story. It’s sensory and pleasing. It’s a quick way to make the world feel more real, if it’s done well. And assuming your characters are human, they will eat occasionally—and a lot of life happens with edibles present–so you might as well show it. Also, food is something that everyone can relate to, and I love that.

I also like knowing that, if someone is following me on Twitter, but is too afraid to interact with me about business, we can talk about recipes, or coffee, or cats. I like to be accessible.

8. Because of all those delicious Tweets, now I will ask you to tell us one of your favorite recipes!

I’ve been really into the chana masala from Smitten Kitchen lately. It’s perfect winter food. It took forever to convince myself to invest in all the spices, but now that I have, I’m really glad I did! (They last a long time, too.) You can adjust the heat with the amount of pepper and lemon juice you put in. Cook as long as you can stand to–the longer you cook, the better it is. It’s also great in a slow cooker. 🙂 http://smittenkitchen.com/blog/2010/02/chana-masala/

9. As you are on my blog, it is customary to share an embarrassing or hilarious moment, industry related or otherwise. Bonus points if it involves accidental nudity.

Well. Let’s just say that there are a lot of them. I used to read those “embarrassing moments” sections in Seventeen/YM and think, “Ha! That’s nothing!”

(Also, I’m hoping that sharing a story of my getting spectacularly shot down will, erm, help the writers I say no to feel a little better.)

The first one that comes to mind started in junior high. I had the most enormous, unsubtle crush on this guy in my musical theatre class. Everyone knew. Probably because I told them. (I couldn’t help it. The whole thing was very exciting.) I’d do things like talk about him in the quad–going on about how charming and talented and handsome and…everything he was (naturally, it turned out he was right behind me the whole time). And then my friends, trying to make it better, asked him if he’d heard (he had). Years later, in high school, we were auditioning for Cinderella, the musical, and of course–ugh–we were paired up to try out–he the prince, I Cinderella (eventually cast as the stepmother, which was actually really fun and hilarious, because I was shorter than everyone). But first, I had to waltz with him, pretend to be in love with him, sing in his face, etc., all in front of a class who knew exactly how I once felt. Let’s just say “Ten Minutes Ago” felt like a really long time.

It’s my personal theory that, the further you are from middle school, the better your life will be. So far, it’s true!

And that’s Jessica!

Too much awesome, right? She’s a doll and a half.

Follow Jessica on Twitter HERE, give her a wave, and leave all your questions/thoughts/love for her in the comments!

I hope you all are having fabulous weeks!

Until next time,

Peace, Love, and Food!

7 Comments

  1. Thanks for this wonderful interview! Loved it! But I do have a question!

    I was recently told by someone I greatly admire and highly respect in the publishing industry, that my manuscript was NOT a thriller. A thriller must take place on a larger scale than personal. I was so relieved to hear that because I thought it meant it wasn’t my writing or story that was getting rejected when I queried, but maybe my query was labeled in the wrong genre.

    So, I’m wondering if maybe I have labeled it wrong and maybe it’s a “Chick Noir?” Any further explanations on what you consider chick noir would be so helpful and appreciated. Thank you!!

  2. Hi Talynn,
    Thank you for reading!

    I would consider “chick noir” a subset of the psychological thriller–more of an emphasis on the domestic, more of an aesthetic range–the beautiful along with the thrilling. If a women’s fiction piece married a psychological thriller and had beautiful, twisted, smart, plotting babies, you’d get (the way I envision it) chick noir.

    It’s hard to know without seeing your work, because to me, the difference is a feeling and an aesthetic.

    But this is still a relatively new distinction, and seems more popular in the UK. I don’t think many people are likely to start asking for “Chick noir” tomorrow–it’s not (yet?) an industry standard term. I think you’d have better luck searching for agents who like psychological thrillers who also represent women’s fiction.

    And the usual advice applies: get yourself a list of books like yours, go to the bookstore, and check out the acknowledgments–see their agents, and then submit to them.

    Hope this helps!

    All best,
    Jessica

  3. Great interview. I loved learning more about Jessica and what she’s looking forward to.

    And I loved the chana masala recipe. I’ve just started trying to cook more Indian food so bookmarked the recipe she recommended.

  4. Summer and Jessica,

    What a great interview from both sides.

    Jessica, thank you for being so open.

    I have a very similar embarrassing moment from Junior High and even more from High School. I am so glad to be an adult. Now when I embarrass myself, I just laugh and try to act like I meant to do that. 😉

    I love your awesome food tweets and your ‘snacks’ at twitter parties. 😉 Even the ‘snacks’ you sneak through the bars of Twitter Jail. 😉 😉

    I hope you get all the best manuscripts, especially the one’s you’ve been hoping for.

    Thanks, Summer, for doing this interview. I’ll be watching for more with other amazing agents. 🙂

    All the best to you both,
    Kelley

    • Thank you, Kelley! And poor Summer–I sent her so many drafts of this interview (mostly because I felt that, if I was going to reveal my middle school mistakes–I should try to get everything else right!).

      Here’s hoping I don’t get put in Twitter Jail again–but, if I do, you can rest assured that there will be snacks.

      Thank you for your good wishes!

  5. Kelly Clem Ruiz |

    Jessica and Summer,

    Insightful interview and very relate-able quote–“It’s my personal theory that, the further you are from middle school, the better your life will be.”

    Nice personal theory! You be hard pressed to find anyone out there that didn’t agree, I think!

    Kelly

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