North Central College - Naperville, IL

New Degree Writes New Chapter to Literary Agent’s Life

Literary agent Jennifer Flannery M ’07 has represented top authors and discovered award-winning books for children and young adults, but she says those successes seem secondary to earning her master of arts in liberal studies (MALS) degree and becoming a mother to Hannah, now age 7.

“I’d always wanted a master’s degree but most importantly I wanted to show my daughter, in word and deed, the value of education,” Flannery says.

Through her Naperville firm, Flannery Literary, she has represented several award-winning projects since starting out on her own in 1992. After graduating in 1988 from the College of St. Catherine in St. Paul, MN, she landed an internship at a Twin Cities literary agency and eventually headed to New York City to work as an editorial assistant at a major publishing house.

Her big break came when an author she knew, Minnesotan Gary Paulsen, asked her to represent him as an independent agent. Paulsen had already won awards for his writing for children and young adults. “I knew that if I didn’t do this, I’d always wonder what my life would’ve been like if I hadn’t lost my nerve,” she says.

Flannery gave up the security of full-time employment and financed her independent business on a shoestring. Literary agents receive compensation on a commission basis, and her salary would be dependent on any book deals she could represent. An author like Paulsen gave Flannery the ability to take the risk and she continues to represent him today.

She’s represented several other award-winning authors in the children’s and young adult categories. The 1999 National Book Award went to When Zachary Beaver Comes to Town by Kimberly Willis Holt and another in 2004 to Godless by Peter Hautman. A book by Audrey Couloumbis, Getting Near to Baby was a Newbery Honor book in 2000.

“Audrey was a former assistant at my agency in New York City and she called me in Naperville to ask if she could send me her book,” Flannery says. “My first thought was, ‘You’ve got to be kidding, this is great.’”

Flannery relocated to Naperville about 11 years ago and later attended a graduate studies open house at North Central. The class that fit into her schedule was Changing Concepts of the Earth and Its Life, taught by Richard Wilders, Marie and Bernice Gantzert Professor in the Liberal Sciences and professor of mathematics. “I thought I’d made a tragic error because I was terrified and intimidated by the subject matter but Dr. Wilders was so passionate, you couldn’t help but get excited, too,” she says. “Ten weeks later I walked out of there a different person than I was when I walked in.”

She says all the courses made her better understand different viewpoints and grapple with ideas and concepts that often are controversial, such as poverty and evolution. “My world got a whole lot bigger as a result of the books I read, the discussions I participated in, the papers I wrote, the presentations I listened to, and the guidance of my professors,” she says of her MALS experience. “I was transformed into a different person.”

North Central NOW Fall 2008