To paraphrase Garrett Morris of SNL, children’s books have been very, very good to me. It was never my planned career option, however.
I came to New York in the summer of 1989 after graduating from the University of Kansas with a B.A. in English and a B.S. in Journalism. I’d just finished an intensive six-week course on science fiction with James Gunn there, and I was determined to come to the city and get an editorial job at a science fiction magazine or book publishing company. If I’d only done a little research beforehand, I’d have realized how few editorial positions there were that fit that description. Fortunately I had a great interviewer at Simon & Schuster who explained a bunch of other job options, including describing the subsidiary rights department, which sounded like a lot of fun. I added that to my application letters and suddenly started getting a lot more calls for interviews…but none of them with science fiction or fantasy publishers.
I was running low on cash and starting to worry when I got a call to meet with Donne Forrest, the Subsidiary Rights Director at Dutton Children’s Books and Dial Books for Young Readers. I liked her immediately and we had a good interview. She sent me home with three books: Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred Taylor, Interstellar Pig by William Sleator, and Winnie-the-Pooh by A.A. Milne. I read them all that night, and she called and offered me the job the next day. She made it clear to me that she needed a body right then, but she’d completely understand if I found a job in SF&F in the near future and left. Six months later, I got a call from Tor about an editorial assistant job…and I said “no thanks, not interested.” I’d fallen in love with children’s books, and I couldn’t imagine doing anything else.
Two years later I was laid off by Penguin (after just signing a lease for a more expensive studio in the East Village to boot!), but fortunately landed a new job as the subsidiary rights associate at The Putnam and Grosset Group. After a couple of years there, I was handed a true golden ticket: I was hired as the Rights and Contracts Director at Orchard Books.
When news came in 2000 that Scholastic was buying Orchard, I had to decide what to do with my future. I’d always thought of agenting as an opportunity down the road, but I certainly hadn’t planned to do it so soon. I talked with several people about it, including award-winning author Angela Johnson, who basically said that if I did decide to agent, she’d be my first client. With that kind of vote of confidence, I took the leap and in September 2000 opened my agency, and it is without a doubt the best move I’ve ever made.
Jennifer Udden was born in Houston, TX, and spent many of her formative years hiding books under tables while she was meant to be paying attention to something else. She has a BA from Mount Holyoke College, and graduated in 2008 with a major in Politics, a minor in Chinese, and honors thesis work on anxiety in British detective fiction of the early 20th century. She has worked in fundraising for an off-Broadway theater company and joined the publishing industry in 2010 at the Donald Maass Literary Agency. She is the co-host of the podcast Shipping & Handling (shippingandhandlingpodcast.com) with Bridget Smith of Dunham Literary, Inc. To query Jen, follow the directions on the submission guidelines page. She blogs at www.jenniferudden.com and jenniferudden.wordpress.com
Jen is looking for: speculative fiction of all stripes, especially innovative science fiction or fantasy that explores worlds we haven’t seen before; contemporary/erotic/LGBT/paranormal/historical romance; contemporary or speculative YA; select mysteries, thrillers, and urban fantasies. Please, do not send to Jen: any middle-grade, chapter, or picture books; nonfiction.
Some of Jen’s most recent favorite reads include: THE FIFTH SEASON by NK Jemisin; TO SAY NOTHING OF THE DOG by Connie Willis; CAPTIVE PRINCE & PRINCE’S GAMBIT by CS Pacat; WOLF IN WHITE VAN by Jon Darnielle; The LYNBURN LEGACY books by Sarah Rees Brennan; DUMPLIN’ by Julie Murphy; CITY OF STAIRS by Robert Jackson Bennett.