SDSU Writers’ Conference: Six Questions with Literary Agent Jessica Watterson

Jessica Watterson

Jessica Watterson, Literary Agent,

1. What’s the best advice you can give to writers who are right now polishing their pitches, query letters and first 10 pages of their manuscripts in preparation for the upcoming SDSU Writers’ Conference?
The best advice I can give, is try your absolute best to get your query to where you would normally want it to be if you were sending it out on a round of submissions. You will only stretch those query muscles if you do our absolute best, and are critiqued on your best, because otherwise we aren’t really helping you.

2. Can you share one of the best and one of the worst opening lines from query letters that you’ve received?
In regards to the best opening lines, I think that what all of the authors I have taken on from queries have in common, is they sort of jump right into the story in their first line. I have opening lines about biting mosquitoes, self-absorbed hockey players, washed-up movie stars  ̶  those are what draw me and catch my interest. I’m someone who immediately wants to know what I’m getting into in the query, and if I love the story from what I’ve read, then I definitely want to know more about the author.

The worst are always the intro sentences who say that I HAVE to take this book on because it will sell 6 million copies and achieve eternal infamy. While that’s great and all, and could very well be true, I’m never going to take on a book just because it will sell so many copies, and those types of opening lines also show me that the author probably won’t be the most willing to edit and have their expectations in line for a debut author.

3. What’s the first book that spoke to you as a young reader?
The first book I can coherently remember is Scott O’dell’s Island of the Blue Dolphins. I remember my mom reading it to me when I was pretty young, and that I think spurred my love of reading because I loved to imagine myself stranded on an island with docile wolves. But, the book that most spoke to me as a young reader is probably this little book called Hope was Here, by Joan Bower. That book I hold personally responsible for my love of character-driven plots. It’s fantastic and powerful and just an all-around wonderful book.  

4. If you had to choose only one, what’s your favorite book?
Hands down, The Blue Castle by L.M. Montgomery. It’s the ultimate love story, but done in a truly masterful way.

5. How did you make the leap from writing your book review blog to becoming a literary agent?
While I was writing my blog, I became friends with a bunch of indie authors and actually started beta reading for them, and I thought it was so cool that I could actually have input on someone’s story. I have always been one of those, “Man I wish the author had thought to do this” kind of person, so I really started looking into what types of jobs I could actually do where I would have this input.

Well, I originally thought, “I want to be an editor,” but I was very opposed to moving outside of Southern California (I don’t really do weather well). So when I started looking in the backs of my favorite authors’ books, I saw that they always thanked their agents and, upon investigating more, I found that we have this treasure trove of agencies right here! So with a little direction I applied for an internship at Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency, and they liked me enough to keep me around as an assistant, and then I graduated to agenting. So while it may seem like a leap, there were definitely lots of little steps in there!

6. What do you hope to find at the 31st Annual SDSU Writers’ Conference?
I would love to find some historical romance! I’m on a hot streak with contemporary right now, but if someone thinks they have the next Jamie Fraser (or even a Darcy!) I want to see it.  I also would love to find an urban fantasy a la Richelle Mead or JR Ward.

For more information about the SDSU Writers’ Conference, visit neverstoplearning.net/writers