Interview with Literary Agent, Jen Chen Tran

Jen Chen Tran

Jen Chen Tran caught my attention when she asked a question during a panel discussion at the Virginia Festival of the Book in 2014. She looked and sounded so approachable that I decided to introduce myself after the panel. I’m very glad that I did!

At that time, Jen had her own literary agency in New York City. Since then, she moved to Northern California and is currently an agent at Bradford Literary Agency. It’s been a pleasure to keep in-touch and watch her career grow. I’m excited to host her on my blog today!

After dinner in Northern CA in August 2018

Amy: Welcome, Jen! Thank you for making the time to be here.

You hold both a B.A. in English Literature and a J.D. That sounds like a winning combination for an agent. How has your educational and professional background benefitted you as an agent and hence your clients?

Jen: I have always been an avid reader, and I think my background as an English major really helps me see both the artistry and mechanics behind writing. I consider myself an editorial agent and read widely, which helps inform my work with my clients.

You might be surprised to hear this, but quite a few literary agents started out as attorneys. There’s definitely a lot of overlap in terms of transferable skills, one of which is being a stalwart advocate for your clients. I am licensed to practice law in New York (and soon to be licensed to practice law in California–I passed that beast of an exam!), and I have helped review the occasional publishing contract for non-clients.

Amy: How did you find your way to agenting? What makes you stay?

Jen: It’s a long story, but basically I graduated law school in 2008 at the height of the recession. I wanted to be a government attorney, but most government agencies weren’t hiring and law firms were imploding left and right.

I did practice for a few years but found that my heart wasn’t in it. I’ve had some health issues that really made me evaluate what my strengths are and what I’m passionate about. I think it’s so important to find meaningful work since we spend most of our days working.

A few years after I graduated from law school, an opportunity from The New Press materialized–they were looking for a volunteer Of Counsel. After a successful interview, I was brought on board to help the press with their permissions, contracts, and some related publicity efforts.

That’s when I started liaising with literary agents and learned through the grapevine that one of them went to my law school. I was able to intern for this agent and his agency as well and started my own agency shortly after.

When I moved to California almost five years ago, I joined a West Coast agency, then in late 2017 moved to Bradford Literary. I am truly passionate about what I do. I love my clients, I love the written word, and I love stories. It is truly a privilege and an honor to be able to make a living as an agent. I am grateful.

I love my clients, I love the written word, and I love stories. It is truly a privilege and an honor to be able to make a living as an agent. I am grateful.” — Jen Chen Tran

Amy: How would you describe your agenting style?

Jen: First and foremost, I am a champion for my authors. I see myself as a problem-solver and creative thinker. I help my client get to the “next level” and reach their goals as an author. I’m very collaborative and try to be transparent about the process, whether that means sharing my pitch list with my client, or working on a pitch letter together.

I truly appreciate the trust that each one of my clients places in me, and I work hard to get my client what she or he deserves. I try to be extremely communicative and responsive–I’m known to text or e-mail my authors often!

Amy: How do you know when it’s time to offer representation to a writer?

Jen: For fiction, when I can’t stop reading the manuscript and am absolutely enthralled by the voice and the characters. Sense of place is also really important to me. For me, it’s either there or it’s not. A lot of the time I rely on my instincts–I have to have a visceral reaction, an emotional reaction, when I’m reading fiction.

For non-fiction, it’s a little different. If I feel that the author is an expert in his or her field, is truly passionate about what he or she does, has a message, wants to change the world, and/or wants to share entertaining information, then I’m interested. But all of these elements have to come together in a persuasive way. I’m looking for cohesion and clarity for non-fiction projects.

If our goals align, then I am more likely to offer representation. I also take the long view. Ideally, I’d like to work with the author over the course of her career and not just for one book.

Amy: What would you like to see more of in your inbox?

Jen: I’m a huge foodie, so I’d like to see more unique cookbooks in my inbox. I’m also trying to grow my list in terms of visually-driven and graphic projects, meaning graphic novels (for adult, YA, and MG) and guided journals.

I also would love to see more fiction written by underrepresented minorities and marginalized people. Publishing, as an industry, is still very homogeneous, but the world around us is not. I want to contribute to diversifying the written word, so it’s important to me to represent diverse clients.

I also would love to see more fiction written by underrepresented minorities and marginalized people. Publishing, as an industry, is still very homogeneous, but the world around us is not. I want to contribute to diversifying the written word, so it’s important to me to represent diverse clients. ” — Jen Chen Tran

Amy: You represent an eclectic range of genres including non-fiction, women’s fiction, graphic novels, and select YA and middle grade novels. How do you keep up with that range in the industry?

Jen: Good question! I’m a Gemini so I have a lot of interests. I’ve never been the type of agent who believes you should specialize in one area. I think that’s the beauty of being an agent–building your own list and not necessarily having to specialize.

It is a challenge to keep up with industry changes, and there are days when I think I should just do one type of book. But because I am so passionate and interested in a variety of topics, I think, why limit myself?

I read widely across genres and that helps. I do try to talk to as many editors in the areas that I represent so I know what the editors are looking for. It’s a challenge and I love being challenged! 

Amy: What are some books in your to-be-read pile?

Jen: Too many. I have a variety of graphic novels (MG and YA) such as Glitch by Sarah Graley, on my list. I also am trying to read more contemporary fiction–both literary and commercial. Normal People by Sally Rooney is on my list. I also read non-fiction, multiple books, at a time. I’ve been making my way through Bad Blood by Jon Carreyrou. 

Amy: Thank you, Jen! Best wishes to you and all of your lucky clients.

If you’d like to get to know Jen more and/or you’d like to query her, visit her at Bradford Literary Agency.

Until we meet again,


Rejections: A Reason to Keep Going

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A few years ago, when my younger daughter was nine years old, we were chatting about my writing and publishing goals. She said matter-of-factly:

Just remember, Mom, you have a very rocky road ahead of you. It took Kate DiCamillo 473 tries before she got BECAUSE OF WINN DIXIE published.”

Oh, how funny to hear that from a kid!

But yeah. A very sobering fact. Kate DiCamillo had shared this whopping number at the Virginia Festival of the Book the previous year at a presentation to local students.

If it had taken the inimitable Kate DiCamillo 473 tries, oh my oh my, how many would it take me?


I started sending out manuscripts to agents and editors almost one year ago. For the previous few years, I’d been building my writing life to get to the point of submitting. Hitting “Send” was another leap, and the ultimate one.

I can now say, “Fourteen rejections down.” Hopefully, not 459 to go.

But who knows? Maybe less. Maybe more. Only time will tell.

The following quote, attributed to Katherine Paterson, sums up the writing life:

To write, your heart has to be absolutely tender, and you have to have the skin of a rhinoceros.”

I have the tender heart. I’m growing a thicker skin.

The first few rejections were a tough reality to face. Since then, each rejection has been disappointing, no doubt. But I’m at a point where I see rejection as par for the course. I try my best with each submission and then send it off, hoping for an acceptance but knowing that a rejection will most likely appear in my inbox. It’s a fine line to walk.

Some rejections have come in the form of silence. The reality is that agents and editors are overloaded with queries and other responsibilities, and they simply can’t respond to every query. I do understand.

Some rejections have come in the form of a standard email. I’ve appreciated this sense of closure. Here are a few lines from some of those:

  • “It’s not quite right for my list.”
  • “I don’t think this one is quite right for me right now.”
  • “I don’t think I’m the right agent for this particular project.”

Some rejections have come in the form of a more personalized email. These are the ones that have encouraged me to press on. Here are a few lines from some of those:

  • “You are a wonderful writer with a delightful sense of humor.”
  • “It’s beautiful and bold.”
  • “I REALLY enjoyed your manuscript.”

Not all rejections are equal. There are many factors that need to be in place for an editor to acquire a manuscript or an agent to represent a writer. It’s kind of magical when it happens.


Maybe some of the agents and editors I’ve queried don’t think I have what it takes as a writer. I really don’t know. Whatever the case, I’m not taking rejection as a statement about me as a writer. I’m taking it as a statement about that particular manuscript: that it wasn’t the best fit for them for some reason(s).

I’ve come to see my role as one of matchmaker: given the information I have about an agent’s or editor’s preferences, do I have a manuscript on my laptop that might resonate with her? Even if a manuscript does end up resonating, there may be reasons that she chooses not to or can’t acquire/represent it.

The more I send out there, as thoughtfully as I can, the better my chances of making a match. At the time of this post, I have six manuscripts out on submission. Another one is going out on Monday. I have a manuscript that I’m revising. And many more that I’m planning to revise. (Don’t even get me started on new stories that I want to write!)

I don’t exactly feel like throwing a party when I receive a rejection (okay, maybe a little pity party). But to me, a rejection means that I’ve tried hard. And I feel good about that part. So, what do I do? I take a long look at the manuscript, revise as needed, and send it back out.

I may need to try many, Many, MANY more times. In fact, I know I will. Rejection is a fact of life for a writer, even those who have multiple books published.

Waiting is another fact of life. Submission guidelines have stated anywhere between four weeks to six months for a response or an assumption of rejection. What do I do in the meantime? Write. Revise. Repeat.

So, Kate DiCamillo’s 473 tries. That’s a very rocky road, for sure. But it’s also an incredible story about hard work, persistence, and patience. And hope. I, for one, am very glad that she kept going.

Thanks for hopping onto my road for a bit. And if you’re following your dream (whatever it may be), I wish you the very best of luck! I’ll see you along the way.

Until we meet again,