LitChat Interview: Jita Fumich, Folio Literary Management
Jita Fumich first began working with Folio in 2006. She has also worked with the editorial department at Berkley Books at Penguin and with Macmillan Publishers at their self-help podcasting website, and is currently the secretary for the AAR’s Digital Rights Committee. She holds a B.A. from New York University and has taken classes at NYU’s Center for Publishing.
Jita can’t think of any better industry to be in than publishing. Her favorite trips as a child were to the bookstore or the library, and she always tried to take home more books than she could carry. She is excited about being part of the magical process of making an author’s idea end up on bookshelves.
As an agent, Jita seeks to work with her authors on all aspects of their career—understanding that being an author today involves more than just writing a great book, and being an agent involves more than just selling one. She considers her job to be in a partnership with the author, working to perfect projects before sending them to editors, advocating for the author throughout the process, and supporting and encouraging the author in promotion before and after publication.
In addition to traditional agenting, Jita is the Digital Liaison at Folio. In this capacity, she utilizes the skills she learned working with digital products at Macmillan to assist all Folio authors seeking to self-publish both backlist and original titles in electronic format. Since navigating the murky and frequently-changing waters of self-publishing can be a hassle for authors who really want to spend their time writing or promoting their careers, Jita handles the multitude of details that go into self-publishing so that authors don’t have to. Her goal is to help the author through the process, from scanning books which have no electronic copy, to assisting the author in writing cover copy, providing pricing aid, working with the author to finalize a commercially-successful cover, and ensuring that the book appears for sale with all major digital retailers. However, she also makes sure that the author maintains control at each stage and firmly ensures that Folio’s goals remain where they have always been—with supporting the career of authors in both the traditional print and digital spheres. Jita and Folio will also work with other agencies in a sub-agenting capacity to achieve the same for their authors’ backlist and original titles.
LS: Thanks so much for chatting with us, Jita. I’ve read that you began your career at Folio as a freshman intern at NYU. When you began that internship, what were your expectations about the job? Did that opinion change after the internship ended?
Other than what I had learned during a basic internet search, I didn’t have much of an idea of what an agent does other than read queries and make deals for clients. I was surprised to discover that the work goes far beyond that. Agents are editors, negotiators, graphic designers, PR consultants, accountants, hand-holders–the list goes on for quite some time. It’s a job where there are always new challenges to be met and new things to be learned. So, yes, my fairly unformed opinion definitely changed, and for the better.
LS: What sparked your interest, initially, to take a position in publishing? Did it began with a love of books?
So you’ve heard that answer, huh? But, yes, like so many others in publishing, there was rarely anything I wanted to do more than read a book, so I knew I loved words. However, in high school I was able to take a number of creative writing courses which were largely based on peer critique. It was there that I realized that, while I did enjoy writing, my real passion was helping other writers really shape their projects. Thus, I started looking for publishing internships as soon as I got to New York City.
LS: What books that you read as a child left an indelible mark on you?
Ah, a trip down memory lane. I would say that on the fantasy side, Anne McCaffrey and Mercedes Lackey were probably the most formative. I also loved classics early on; Shakespeare, Austen, Dickens, books that took me outside of my every day and used language in ways that were, at least to me as a young child, exciting. I read anything I could get my hands on, and I think its fair to say that every book had *something* to teach me.
LS: Would you consider yourself an editorial agent? If so, what is that process like, particularly when you’re working with a debut writer?
Definitely–see my reason for getting into publishing in the first place! When I start working with an author, I like to discuss my vision and the author’s vision for the book first. Then, once I know we’re both on the same page, I send both a line-edited manuscript and a detailed editorial letter. And then we go through the revision process for as long as it takes for us both to be satisfied with the final product.
LS: What drew you into the genres that your represent?
One of the things that makes me feel so lucky to be an agent is that there are not that many people who can say that they get paid to do what they would do in their free time anyways, but reading what I am looking to represent really is my hobby. I love to be able to escape into a different place through a novel, and I think fantasy and romance, particularly, are genres that give readers plenty of material in which to do so.
LS: How important is an online presence for emerging authors?
Increasingly important, but in what way depends on the genre. Before you have an agent or a publisher, there are some genres (such as YA) where being active in the online community can actually help you get an agent or a deal. In other genres, though, you can wait until you have a publication date before diving in online. At that point I do see being online as a near-necessity, to be able to connect with and cultivate readers and be an active part of your genre community.
LS: What should querying writers expect from the relationship with their agent and what should these writers ask prior to signing with an agent?
I think you should never be afraid to ask a question or bounce an idea off of your agent. Agents can forget just how much of the process debut authors have no way of knowing, so I’m always happy to explain and discuss things with my clients.
Ultimately, I see representing someone’s book as a partnership: I want to work with the client along every step of the way, making sure they are comfortable and feel in control.
In terms of just a few things to ask before signing: know about the agency’s track record of sales, make sure that your agent is knowledgeable in the genre of your book, and don’t hesitate to ask questions about payments, commission, expenses, and what happens if you end up wanting to part ways. I also think this is a great time to talk about your goals for your career as an author.
LS: Traditional publishing models are changing, particularly how books are distributed. (Self-publishing and the e-book) What are your thoughts on the future of publishing?
This is something that everyone in publishing is thinking about right now, whether they’re an agent, an editor, or an author. I firmly believe that although self-publishing online can be a truly positive thing, there will continue to be a place for traditional publishing and the sort of curation of content that it provides. I think that we all need to stay informed and make sure that we’re always having conversations about what more can be done for an author or a book and whether it makes sense to do it. Don’t be afraid to look for and try new things, as long as you are always taking a calculated risk–the future can be intimidating, but I think it holds some great things for publishing.
LS: What’s the best advice you can give to a debut novelist?
Writers don’t just have one job. They have many. Their first job is to write the best book that they can possibly write. Their second job is to sell it. Agents take care of selling it to a publisher–but authors need to sell to an agent. So do your research: make sure you’re only querying agents who want to represent what you’ve written, make sure that your letter follows standard querying format (or precisely what the agent requires in a query), is error-free, and makes sense to someone who has never read your book. But even after you’ve gotten an agent? The work doesn’t stop there. Make sure that you become an expert in your genre: know the books, the authors, and the fans. Think on your own about what else you can be doing as an author, and talk to your agent about that as well.
LS: What are you not seeing enough of in terms of genres and what would you love to see in your Inbox?
Steampunk! I would absolutely adore more inventive, interesting, well-written novels with a fantastic steampunk setting. I also really like things that have playful concepts–things that are more than just a slight spin on what is already in the market.
Thanks for chatting with us, Jita!
Thank you for asking such insightful, interesting questions–it was a pleasure to get to think about and answer them!