Literary Agent Interview: Roma Panganiban Interview and Query Critique Giveaway (2023)

Today I’m thrilled to have agent RomaPanganiban here. She is a literary assistant at Janklow& Nesbit Associates.

Hi­Roma! Thanks so much for joining us.


1.Tell us how you became an agent, how long you’ve been one, and what you’ve beendoing as an agent.

Literary Agent Interview: Roma Panganiban Interview and Query Critique Giveaway (1)

Like many agents, Iwas once an English major who thought editing books sounded like a pretty coolway to make a living. Also like many agents, I spent a few years applying toeditorial jobs with very little idea of what I was doing; unsurprisingly, Ididn't get very far. I got the foot in the door I needed when I had aninformational interview with a Big Five editor, who held onto my resumé andgenerously let me know whenever an entry-level job opened up somewhere. Whenanother editor (who didn't hire me, but no hard feelings) passed my informationon to a literary agency that was looking for a new assistant, I went in for aninterview knowing only as much about the work of a literary agency as Googlecould tell me, i.e. not very much. Though I didn't get the job, thatintroduction to agenting redirected my job search, and an incredibly hands-oninternship at The Gernert Company convinced me I was headed in the rightdirection.

Since starting afull-time assistant position at Janklow & Nesbit in 2019, I've beenmentored by three incredible agents in-house, as well as by others in theindustry. After gleaning invaluable experience from riding in the passengerseat on dozens of deals over the past four years, I'm now representing my own literary/upmarketfiction and nonfiction clients writing for both the children's and adultmarkets. Agents have the freedom to rep only books that they love and clientswhom they believe in, and I'm grateful that my list reflects just that.

Aboutthe Agency:

2.Share a bit about your agency and what it offers to its authors.

Janklow & Nesbit is a full serviceliterary agency, which means that while I focus on helping my authors shape andpolish their writing; developing relationships with editors, film agents, andscouts; positioning my clients' books for critical and financial success; andotherwise being the #1 supporter and advocate for my writers, they can restassured that my colleagues are expertly managing the legal and financialaspects of their careers, as well as subrights like foreign and audio deals. Ialways tell clients that I'm their point person, but working with me means theyhave a whole team behind them.

WhatShe’s Looking For:

3.What age groups do you represent—picture books, MG, and/or YA? What genres doyou represent and what are you looking for in submissions for these genres?

I'm currentlyconsidering subnissions of YA & MG novels; most nonfiction comes to me byreferral or request. I gravitate toward realistic contemporary and historicalfiction in the vein of Kelly Loy Gilbert, Angie Thomas, and Mary H.K. Choi, butI get really excited about otherwise grounded stories with a twist of magic,mystery, or eccentricity, e.g. Maggie Stiefvater's Raven Cycle, Rick Riordan'sPercy Jackson (and everything else) books, Markus Zusak's The Book Thief,Trenton Lee Stewart's The Mysterious Benedict Society. I'm always hoping forstories by and about people of color.

4. Is there anything you would be especiallyexcited to seeing in the genres you are interested in?

It may be an unusualway to think about fiction, but I'm eager to read books that not only tell agreat story, but incidentally also immerse me in a niche interest, culture, orexperience and teach me something about a subject I'd never thought much aboutbefore—e.g. in my own early days as a reader, I learned about the Met from TheMixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, frontier life from LittleHouse on the Prairie, and the difference between raspberry cordial and currantwine from Anne of Green Gables, and all of that knowledge has sincebecome a part of me in some way.

WhatShe Isn’t Looking For:

5.What types of submissions are you not interested in?

I'm not the best fitfor romance (including rom-coms), horror, straightforward action/adventure, orfantasy/sci-fi that takes place in a world totally different from our own. Ilike a strong sense of humor, but anything that could be called "silly"or "goofy" probably isn't for me. I don't tend to enjoy stories aboutbullying, parent/child relationships, death by suicide or terminal illness. Asmuch as I enjoy retellings of fairy tales, mythology, and classic literature,I'm not the best agent for them.


6.What is your philosophy as an agent both in terms of the authors you want towork with and the books you want to represent?

Because I read sowidely, I look for clients with some range, i.e. the interest and ability to writebooks with different themes, settings, structures, and character archetypes, evenwithin the same genre. I want writers who are excited to keep trying new things,but I want to see quality over quantity, and the ambition to do more than justtell an entertaining story: I want each book I send out on behalf of a clientto be one that we genuinely think will make the literary world a tiny bitbetter—more diverse, more thoughtful, more compassionate, more interesting,more hopeful, more fun—than it was before. My authors and I are a team, andwe're on a mission.


7.Are you an editorial agent? If so, what is your process like when you’reworking with your authors before submitting to editors?

I'm very heavily editorial, which is a strongselling point for the writers who sign with me. My goal as an editor is not totell you what story you should tell, but to help you effectivelycommunicate what you mean to say, while perhaps nudging you to consider whatelse you could say that's even truer to your heart than what's alreadyon the page. That starts with a conversation about character, setting, theme,plot, and pacing: the "what" of the book.

Then, because I approach all writing with a"literary" perspective (i.e. the belief that language matters, and thatword choice, sentence structure, punctuation, etc. all make a meaningfuldifference in what the reader takes away), I'll do at least one round ofnitty-gritty line edits for style, voice, and consistency: the "how"of the book. I love working with writers who are just as excited about thispart of the process as I am, whether they have formal experience, e.g. via anMFA program, or just the passion and dedication to think deeply about how wordswork.

QueryMethods and Submission Guidelines: (Always verify before submitting)

8.How should authors query you and what do you want to see with the query letter?

Please send a query,synopsis (if available—I do read them), and first 10 pages in the body of theemail to with my full name in the subject line. The bestquery letter is one that gives me just enough information to know that I wantto read the manuscript, so I hope authors keep in mind that the worst thing aquery letter can do is oversell or misrepresent the book. The best thing to askyourself isn't, "Is my query good?" but "Does it match the bookI'm pitching?" A successful query isn't one that results in a full request100% of the time, but one that gets your book in front of an agent who willfall in love with it.

9. Do you have any specific dislikes in queryletters or the first pages submitted to you?

Most of the time, a pass means that I'm notinterested in the book for some reason, not necessarily that I disliked thequery—which, again, is just a step toward me considering the book itself. Imight miss out on a great book, however, if the query is too vague: if itsounds like something else I've already read without adding anything new, orthere's no clear goal or conflict that the book aims to address, I won't feelcompelled to read more to figure out those fundamental details.


10.What’s your response time to queries and requests for more pages of amanuscript?

It really can vary,from less than a day to a few months, and the speed of my response is dependentonly on when I get the chance to look at the query, not my level of interest. Ihave days when I'm raring to look at queries, and days when I'm not in the rightstate to evaluate them fairly, so I look at them in batches at irregularintervals, and at that point I make a decision on each one quite quickly.That's probably frustrating to hear, and I'm sorry! But I'd rather take alittle more time to be sure in my response than be too hasty in rejecting abook someone's worked so hard on, or requesting and then not being the rightperson to read it after all.

Self-Publishedand Small Press Authors:

11. Are you open to representing authors who haveself-published or been published by smaller presses? What advice do you havefor them if they want to try to find an agent to represent them?

I've had thepleasure of working with a few authors with previous books not published by aBig Five or major indie publisher, and I think that kind of experience isinvaluable if it's helped them keep developing their craft. Traditionalpublishing is a different ballgame than micro-press or self-pub, though, and I'llpass on a writer who seems like they either aren't versed in that distinctionor aren't interested in understanding it—including pitching a book that'salready been published elsewhere.

12.With all the changes in publishing—self-publishing, hybrid authors, more smallpublishers—do you see the role of agents changing at all? Why?

An agent's job isalready different now than it was just a few decades ago, let alone when theprofession was first invented, but the basic role is always to be an advocatefor the author. These days, that might mean being more hands-on editorially, doingmore deliberate outreach to editors outside the New York bubble, keeping closertabs on other ways that someone's writing might be adapted (remember whenNetflix and podcasts didn't exist?), etc. Books and culture are alwayschanging, so agents should be changing, too.


13.Who are some of the authors you represent?

I represent a numberof authors who haven't yet announced deals, but I'm proud to have sold THESTARS TOO FONDLY by Emily Hamilton, a queer adult speculative rom-com set on aonce-abandoned spaceship that mysteriously launches with an accidental crew offour friends and a hologram of the ship's former captain who have to figure outhow it happened and what they can do to get home; and a YA novel called THENOTES, along with an untitled second YA novel, by Catherine Con Morse: a coming-of-agestory about a Chinese-American pianist at a competitive performing arts boardingschool in the South, her fellow pianist who's a little more charming andtalented, but a lot more reckless, and a glamorous but challenging new teacherwhose influence leads them both to question who they really are and want to be.The common theme is that my authors write about characters whose stories wehaven't heard before in sharp, smart, often funny voices, and each of them haswritten a book that almost made me cry at least once.

Interviewsand Guest Posts:

14.Please share the links to any interviews, guest posts, and podcasts you thinkwould be helpful to writers interested in querying you.

My full MSWL is at

Linksand Contact Info:

15.Please share how writers should contact you to submit a query and your links onthe Web.

Submissionguidelines are at



16.Is there any other advice you’d like to share with aspiring authors that wehaven’t covered?

Always be learning—or, alternatively, think ofeverything you do as a way to learn. Read books, but also magazines at yourdoctor's office and board game instructions manuals and tweets and group textsfrom your friends; watch movies and TV and TikToks and your child's soccergame; attend panels and conferences and workshops as well as poetry readings, politicalrallies, dinner parties; walk away from your notebook or computer and discover somethingworth writing about.

Thanks for sharing all your advice, Roma.

Giveaway Details

­Roma is generously offering a query critique to one luckywinner. To enter, all you need to do is be a follower (via the follower gadget,email, or bloglovin’ on the right sidebar) and leave a comment through April22nd. If your e-mail is not on your GoogleProfile,you mustleave it in the comments to enter the contest. Ifyou do not want to enter the contest, that's okay. Just let me know in thecomments.

If you mention this contest on Twitter, Facebook, or yourblog, mention this in the comments and I'll give you an extra entry. This is aninternational giveaway.

Have any experience with this agent? See something thatneeds updating? Please leave a comment or e-mail me at

Note: These agent profiles and interviews presently focus onagents who accept children's fiction. Please take the time to verify anythingyou might use here before querying an agent. The information found here issubject to change.

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