What are the upcoming trends for the next year?
Right now books about power, relationships, and sexuality seem to be gaining currency. There is also a mind to include more diverse voices, a slight uptick for international writers, and the short story is making a mild comeback. I should say that while I follow trends, I don’t try to predict or bend to them. Just because certain things are selling doesn’t mean that’s what I’m looking for. Some agents do well finding books that fit neatly into current trends. That’s not me. I’m interested in unique, idiosyncratic voices and in discovering great prose and then figuring out how I can finesse a place for it in the market. I put my faith in passionate writers and their ideas. Writers should write what they care deeply about, and hopefully that will transcend a trend or set one.
What book/genre/topic would you like to see cross your transom?
I represent five books by Jesmyn Ward. The range of her work is a great example of my own range of interests—literary fiction, narrative nonfiction, issue-oriented nonfiction, stunning prose, dazzling settings, inimitable voice.
What topic don’t you ever want to see again?
I’m not interested in formulaic books. I look for originality.
What is unique about your corner of the publishing industry?
Perhaps that I have one of the most global perspectives of agents, having sold over 200 books from other languages, including Nobel Prize–winner Heinrich Böll, Banana Yoshimoto, Isaac Babel, among many others.
What do you want to change about publishing?
It would be great if BookScan numbers were less of a factor when publishers decide whether or not to take on midcareer authors; for large publishers to pay boutique agencies faster so they can stay strong and so their clients can focus on the work; and for all houses to give fair contracts to authors. I would also like for the industry to become increasingly diverse—more editors, agents, and authors of diverse backgrounds and orientations. We especially need diverse voices in the marketplace and to find more ways to give these voices a platform.
Anything else you’d like to add?
Authors should follow trends but not be overly interested in them. They should find an agent who is committed to convincing naysayers to get onboard with their work, to see the world through their lens, and not ask them to write the same book over and over again because they think that’s what the market wants.
Jennifer Lyons was a senior agent for 16 years before she decided to open up her own literary agency. The awards her clients have received include the Nobel Prize, the Pulitzer for both fiction and nonfiction, the National Book Award for both fiction and nonfiction, PEN Literary Awards, the Hurston/Writer Legacy Award, the Coretta Scott King Book Award, the National Jewish Book Award, the Koret Award, the Lambda, and many others. Jennifer has attended the Frankfurt Book Fair 16 times and has also visited the Jerusalem and London book fairs. She is a contributing editor to the literary journal Fiction and the author of The Business of Writing (Allworth Press, 2012). She is also on the board of New Poetry in Translation, published by World Poetry Books. Although Jennifer prefers hard-copy submissions, email submissions intended for Jennifer should go to firstname.lastname@example.org.