Thursday, January 2, 2014

Query Questions with Jenny Bent

Writers have copious amounts of imagination. It's what makes their stories so fantastic. But there's a darker side to so much out of the box thinking. When a writer is in the query trenches, their worries go into overdrive. They start pulling out their hair and imagine every possible disaster.


Here to relieve some of that endless worrying is a new series of posts called Query Questions. I'll ask the questions which prey on every writer's mind, and hopefully take some of the pain out of querying. These are questions that I've seen tossed around on twitter and writing sites like Agent Query Connect. They are the type of questions that you need answers for the real expert--agents!

If you have your own specific query question, please leave it in the comments and it might show up in future editions of Query Questions as I plan to rotate the questions.

Jenny Bent of the Bent Agency is just opening back up to queries after several months away. This interview should help you nail your query to her. 

Is there a better or worse time of year to query? It's generally not good to do it around the holidays when people are stressed and rushed.

Does one typo or misplaced comma shoot down the entire query? Not for me, I have heard other agents say that it does for them.

Do you look at sample pages without fail or only if the query is strong? It's more that if a query is very weak, I won't look at pages. If I am on the fence about the query, I definitely look at the pages. 

Do you have an assistant or intern go through your queries first or do you check all of them? I have an assistant weed out the ones that fall outside the genres I am looking for; I look at all the rest.

If the manuscript has a prologue, do you want it included with the sample pages? Yes.

Some agencies mention querying only one agent at a time and some say query only one agent period. How often do you pass a query along to a fellow agent who might be more interested? Fairly often. Probably about once a day. It doesn't always result in a request of course, but often it does. 

Do you prefer a little personalized chit-chat in a query letter, or would you rather hear about the manuscript? Probably the manuscript although I don't mind a bit of chit chat.

Most agents have said they don’t care whether the word count/genre sentence comes first or last. But is it a red flag if one component is not included? Not for me, no.

Is there a bias against querying authors who have self-published other books? Not for me. I love self-publishing, always have.

How many queries do you receive in a week? How many requests might you make out of those? I get 50-100 a day. I request a few manuscripts a week.

Many agents say they don't care if writers are active online. Could a twitter account or blog presence by a writer tip the scales in getting a request or offer? And do you require writers you sign to start one? I certainly don't require it. If an author had a huge twitter account or huge blog following that could certainly tip the scales.

Some writers have asked about including links to their blogs or manuscript-related artwork. I’m sure it’s not appropriate to add those links in a query, but are links in an email signature offensive? Not to me, no.

What bio should an author with no publishing credits include? I like some information about why they chose to write this particular book--what relevant life experience do they have that relates to what they are writing about. Or what inspired them?

What does ‘just not right mean for me’ mean to you? So many things. It might not be a genre I represent, I might think it's badly done, I might think it's well done but just not my taste. It's not a phrase that writers should struggle to figure out, because it's pretty much impossible to know.

What three things are at the top of your submission wish list? A great female-driven thriller or suspense novel, well-done women's fiction with a compelling hook, a great funny/emotional YA like Eleanor and Park. 

What are some of your favorite movies or books to give us an idea of your tastes? This changes ALL THE TIME. I mostly love goofy movies with some thrillers mixed in. Better Off Dead, Hot Tub Time Machine, LA Confidential, Old School, Bridesmaids, to name a few. For my favorite books, go to my Pinterest page:


Jenny Bent represents literary and commercial adult, young adult, and middle grade fiction and nonfiction in the areas of memoir, humor and select narrative nonfiction.
I was born in New York City but grew up in Harrisonburg, Virginia in a house full of books where I spent many lazy afternoons reading in a sunny window seat. I went on to England to get a BA/MA with first class honors from Cambridge University, but I began my career in publishing as an undergraduate, with jobs at Rolling Stone and Ladies Home Journal. I then worked with prominent agent Raphael Sagalyn and with Michael Cader, the force behind the website Publishers Marketplace, before establishing a successful career at several boutique agencies. In 2003 I joined Trident Media Group, where I was promoted to Vice President before leaving to found the Bent Agency in 2009. I now live in Brooklyn in an apartment full of books and while there are not quite so many lazy reading afternoons, I manage to fit one in now and then.
My list is varied and includes commercial fiction, literary fiction, memoir and humor. All of the books I represent speak to the heart in some way: they are linked by genuine emotion, inspiration and great writing and story telling. I love books that make me laugh, make me cry, or ideally do both.


  1. Very interesting post. Thanks so much :)

  2. I see that Ms. Bent is closed to queries, did she give any timeframe for opening back up? Thanks.

    1. She indicated to me that she is reopening in January. I'd guess most offices are reopening on Monday from the holidays, check her website then.