Jessica Papin Personal Essay

I am delighted to return to Dystel and Goderich Literary Management. Since beginning my career in publishing in 1995, I’ve been fortunate to have the opportunity to work in three different (albeit related) capacities in the book industry: first as an acquiring editor at a major commercial house; most recently as an international rights director at an academic, not-for-profit literary press; and, of course, as a literary agent with DGLM. I find that it is this final role that I most enjoy, in part because I can employ the full breadth of my experience in the service of my clients. From seven years spent as an editor, I am familiar with the inner workings of a house: the ed-board pitches, the p&ls, the presentations to sales and marketing—and can help authors navigate effectively through what sometimes seems an inscrutable process, to find and maintain a relationship with a publishing house. Just as importantly, I have retained a genuine love of editing. While the editorial process is not alchemical—it cannot spin straw into gold—I do believe it can refine and distill material into its most effective and enduring iteration. Indeed, it was this “hands-on” aspect of working with writers that I missed while in Cairo, overseeing the international rights department of the American University in Cairo Press (though the consolations of living and working in the city known as the Oum el Dounia, the “Mother of the World,” were considerable). Moreover, through my work with the AUC Press—whose list I still represent—I have been privileged to work with some amazing individuals: the late Nobel Laureate Naguib Mahfouz; international bestseller Alaa Al Aswany—whose book The Yacoubian Building has now sold in more than 23 editions throughout the world; and widow of the slain Nobel Peace Prize winner, Jehan Sadat. Somewhat paradoxically, by leaving New York—the capital of English language publishing/the blockbuster bestseller/hyperbolic sales pitch, and immersing myself in the broader community of global literature, and more specifically, literature in translation—I was able to appreciate anew the way in which books can, quite literally, change the world.

I am ever on the lookout for literary fiction, as well as smart commercial fiction. Favorite authors include: Margaret Atwood, Nadine Gordimer, Naguib Mahfouz, Ian McEwan, Jhumpa Lahiri, Orhan Pamuk, and Philip Pullman. I am an assiduous reader of narrative non-fiction, ranging from the personal to the reportorial. Perhaps not surprisingly, subjects that engage the history and culture of the Middle East are of particular interest. I would point to books like The Looming Tower, Guests of the Ayatollah, and Ghost Wars as outstanding examples. I am also on the lookout for authors who can tackle religion and spirituality in the vein of Reza Aslan’s No God But God or any of the works of Karen Armstrong. Superb research, fine writing, and a strong thesis compose my own holy trinity, whether for works of history or health/self-help.