Curious to know what steps you can take to break into the publishing world? How about ways to catch a literary agent’s attention? We talk about it all and so more with New Leaf Literary & Media literary agent JL Stermer!
In our conversation, we discuss JL’s love for storytelling as a child and how it found its way back into her life as an adult. We talk about the importance of being open to new opportunities and having the courage to ask for advice and help. We then take a peek into the finances of being a literary agent at all levels, and touch on the kinds of clients she works with, along with what the work culture is like at New Leaf. We even break down some publishing-related jargon and unpack what “backlist” and “earning out the check” means in the publishing world. Further into our conversation, we discuss the classes she teaches at Gotham Writers and all about the upcoming Gotham Writers Conference. Scroll below for our listener Q&A with JL, and access her downloadable cheat sheet packed with the do’s and don’ts when querying a literary agent!
Books and resources:
Benji: Off the Leash! by Joe Camp
The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
Writer Shel Silverstein
Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume
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Gotham Writers teaches creative writing classes online and in NYC where they’ve built an incredible reputation for nearly 30 years and guess what? Their first-ever Gotham Writers conference is dedicated to arming you with all the knowledge and actionable feedback to best help you land a literary agent. This is a one-of-a-kind experience that puts like-minded people who are at the stage of finding an agent in an intimate and productive setting. And to top it off, there’s free happy hour!
The conference takes place at the Ace Hotel in NYC on Friday, October 25th and Saturday, October 26th. Day 1, learn from eye-opening and entertaining panels and presentations. Day 2, get ready to roll up your sleeves at the pitching roundtables with literary agents in your genre. We especially love this because the writers attending Day 2 all have to apply and be pre-selected to attend. Click here to learn more and be sure to grab your spot!
Check out these highlights:
- How JL fell in love with storytelling (4:25)
- JL shares her journey to becoming a literary agent and dives deep into all the stops and turns along the way (6:16)
- The important role side jobs serve throughout your creative pursuits and why it’s crucial to keep a positive attitude (13:28)
- How JL’s career at New Leaf Literary and Media came to fruition (17:42)
- The difference between working on salary and working on commission as an agent (33:20)
- The importance of an entrepreneurial mindset as an agent (36:38)
- A look into the financial possibilities of a literary agent (38:39)
- What the terms “backlist” and “earning out the check” mean in publishing (42:22)
- How to catch a literary agent’s attention and how JL knows when she finds the right client (44:49)
- She talks about the classes she teaches with Gotham Writers and all about the upcoming Gotham Writers Conference (49:00)
JL answers listener-questions:
Karis Rogerson: “I notice on her New Leaf Literary page, one of the first categories she lists as genres she’s interested in is “humor,” and I’d love to know a little more about what specifically falls into the “humor” category in fiction. I know in nonfiction what I’ve seen as humorous essays are often strictly satire, not just essays with a light comedic bent/that might make you smile, so I wonder: does a humor novel have to be entirely that, or can it be something that maybe blends humor with another element?”
Hi Karis–thanks for this question! Humor for me is really more about a POV: something tragic can be happening, but how is the protagonist handling it? Is she falling apart at the seams with no help in sight or is she able to soothe herself with a little levity? Does she work through her obstacles with either an acerbic or sarcastic tone? Is she able to stave off her fears with thoughts that might seem out of place to a “normal” person? I’m thinking a lot of my love for this probably stems from being raised in New York City–we can definitely be a sarcastic bunch. Jonathan Tropper’s This Is Where I Leave You is a good example of humor in fiction that I like. In the end, I think the best way to describe it is the voice: it might sound like a humor memoir, but it’s ultimately fiction.
Katlyn Duncan: “Hi JL! I’ve always wondered how agents balance multiple clients in different stages of publication. How do you organize your work time when it comes to your authors?”
Hi Katlyn! Yeah, I’m still figuring this one out, lol. The busier I get, the more adjustments I find myself making because what I was doing before is no longer serving me or my authors. My organization is a combination of excel spreadsheets (keeping track of all projects on submission, keeping track of each book project as it goes through the different stages leading to publication, etc.), lots of calendar pings/reminders (I love my Google calendar b/c it immediately downloads into my iPhone and the Schedule view keeps it all in order for me). I am also super analog because I love post-it notes, legal pads, pens, and Sharpies. Anyone who works with me knows I have a wall of post-its with each one of my projects and I have to-do lists that I edit weekly/daily. As for the time on the clock/the hours in my day: I keep meetings/lunches/work-mingling restricted to specific days of the week, so that I can be sure to have solid chunks of reading/editing/email that I can get done uninterrupted on other days. Then I make sure to spend time with my friends and loved ones by having standing weekly gatherings (usually 2x a week)–and then…and THEN, I really need alone time. I truly believe the only way I’ve been able to expand and grow to be a better agent is because of my morning ritual: I meditate as soon as I get up, write one quick page in my journal, read something short & inspirational, and watch a quick video to get me going. It sounds like a lot to do–and I had to work my way up to this–but I’m telling you, this is key. You need your inner-balance so you know how to adjust yourself and your work methods in order to accommodate all of the good things coming your way! It also helps that I do all of this before I even get out of bed–it feels doable when it’s cozy–and then I start my day from the best headspace possible.
“If you love it and it makes you happy, I’m with it.”
“Everybody’s kinda riding the wave of what is happening to them. You just have to figure out how to ride your own wave.”
“I think that channeling any kind of nervous energy or doubt into positive feelings and excitement is the key, and that is not an easy thing to do, but I feel it and I’m understanding it more and more.”
“You just gotta ride the wave of energy and build your foundation and let each thing push you to the next level.”
Say ‘Hi’ to JL Stermer
Learn more about New Leaf Media, Inc.
New Leaf Literary & Media, Inc. is a full service management and representation firm. In the five years since morphing from a boutique literary agency into a one-stop shop for writers and artists, New Leaf has had thirty-seven books hit the New York Times bestseller list and eight films produced, including CBS Films’ sleeper hit, The Duff, the Divergent series, Cannes Film Festival Jury Prize winner American Honey and Love, Simon.
Learn more about JL Stermer
JL Stermer is an agent at New Leaf Literary & Media. She is adding to her non-fiction list in both YA and adult with smart pop-culture in all categories, comedy, fashion & style, health & wellness, self-help, memoir and narrative non-fiction covering current compelling topics. She’s also growing her fiction list (a bit more selectively) and is looking for adult and YA coming-of-age, humor, dark and edgy stories, and new and original voices in commercial and upmarket.
JL is looking for voices that reflect the world as it changes, stories that share the human experience of life, love, growth, and achievement. And they don’t have to all be serious–having fun is important! Some of her favorite reads include: The Basketball Diaries by Jim Carroll, Redefining Realness: My Path to Womanhood by Janet Mock, Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay, Less Than Zero by Brett Easton Ellis, and Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson.
A born and bred New Yorker, JL has lived in Manhattan her whole life and is a lover of all things art & culture, people watching, and Donut Pub doughnuts.