Literary Agent Jenny Bent on Foreign Rights and Comp Titles

In Feature Articles by Erin L. Cox

Leading up to Bologna and London, Jenny Bent discusses the current state of foreign rights deals and how she has been so successful growing her business worldwide.
London Book Fair 2015 (Photo: Hannah Johnson)

London Book Fair 2015 (Photo: Hannah Johnson)

By Erin L. Cox

Jenny Bent

Jenny Bent

In 2009, when literary agent Jenny Bent opened the doors to her eponymous agency, The Bent Agency, she was realizing a dream she long had. Most recently at the Trident Media Group, where she was a Vice President, Bent wanted to offer her authors the tailored support that comes with a boutique agency.

Seven years later and adding eight agents to the team, The Bent Agency has become a powerhouse both in the US and abroad. A quick search of The Bent Agency deals in Publishers Marketplace will note not only a slew of domestic deals, but countless international rights sales for their authors.

“I personally love selling foreign rights,” said Bent. “While some books won’t work in foreign markets, I read [submissions] with an eye for that.”

When asked what books tend to work better in foreign markets than others, Bent noted that, for the categories she represents — women’s fiction, thrillers/suspense, and children’s books — books that have good comparative titles for foreign publishers to associate the submission with are easier to sell. In those cases, it’s helpful to have a great co-agent in that market to help define those “comp titles” that might work in their individual market.

A recent book, The Lightkeeper’s Daughter by Jean E. Pendziwol, was compared to two titles, The Light Between Oceans and The Language of Flowers. For Italian publisher Garzanti Libri, who published both comp titles very successfully, that rights deal was made almost immediately.

Of course, Bent noted, sometimes it’s hard to tailor comp titles for specific markets because foreign scouts already know the main comparisons or the book is so similar to another title that there really is only one comparison.

One Bent Agency author’s book, that Bent would not divulge the title of, sold well throughout the world, yet there was one market that held out on buying the rights for simply because the main comp didn’t sell well in that country. “If the comp doesn’t work, there’s no way to trick that,” said Bent.

the life list lori nelson spielmanLast year, one of Bent’s writers, Lori Nelson Spielman, wrote a piece for Publishing Perspectives about how writers measure success in the new global publishing landscape. A number-one bestseller in France, Germany, Israel and Taiwan for her debut novel, The Life List, Spielman saw less success in the US with that novel, released as a trade paperback original.

While there is often interest in US titles abroad, Bent wasn’t sure if it was due to foreign interest in high-concept fiction or the retail landscape of each market.

“In the US, it became harder and harder to have a trade paperback bestseller, but Germany can still have huge success in trade paper,” said Bent. “Perhaps that is due to differences in the way each market publishes or in their specific retail environment.”

Though some books work better in one market over another, one thing that is the same around in the world is a rising interest in YA and middle-grade books. Heading to the Bologna Children’s Book Fair (April 4-7) next week, Jenny already has a pre-empt offer for a middle-grade book she represents.

About the Author

Erin L. Cox

Erin L. Cox has worked as Business Development Director for Publishing Perspectives. She is a Senior Associate at Rob Weisbach Creative Management, where she represents writers and handles publicity and advertising clients.