It's agent interview time again!
Remember: it's essential to get the RIGHT agent, not just AN agent.
I'm delighted to welcome the very delightful (VERY VERY delightful)...
...Kat Kerr of The Donald Maass Literary Agency!
So, Kat, you’re a literary agent… Tell us all about how that happened!
It’s a bit of a long story, so I hope you have some coffee ready! I came into agenting by starting off as a writer. From the time I was six to graduating college, becoming a published author had always been my goal. About five years ago, after finishing my first novel, I realized that I had no idea about how to get it published; it was not something that was ever taught to me as an undergraduate.
Once I started researching what it takes to get published, I realized a couple of things. First, my novel was nowhere near ready—plot was all over the place, word count was not even close to an appropriate length, and the writing still looked like I was fresh out of school. I buried it for the time being. Second, when I learned what a literary agent was, I knew I wanted to be one. I still want to write, but I have so much passion for helping others realize their dreams and I knew that this would be the right job for me.
Breaking into the industry was a bit difficult. I was at a disadvantage because, four/five years ago, remote internships were not as big of a thing, and the few existing remote opportunities required I be either a recent college graduate or have previous industry experience. I had neither going for me.
I had a full-time job. And kids. I couldn’t give up a stable salary just to move up to New York for an internship. Remote was going to be the only way I could go, but I had to find something to bring to the table. If not industry experience, maybe another type of experience?
My editorial eye was still good thanks to my college writing workshops, so I decided to start off as a beta reader. I placed an ad through a Goodreads forum and set up a blog/website through WordPress so that authors would know what sort of literature I was interested in and what to expect of me in regard to feedback.
In that time, I got to work with a lot of authors and it taught me valuable skills such as time management and how to write editorial reports, which would later turn into reader reports once I landed my first internship. All in all, I worked two internships (one leading to a promotion as an agent), racking up a little over three years of industry experience before landing a job at my current agency, DMLA.
And how has it been going so far?
I love it! It’s a lot of hard work and it’s definitely not easy being a new agent when you’re just starting out—I have quite a bit left to prove—but every day I wake up and know I’m exactly where I should be and I’m surrounded by a wonderful team of people.
What’s on your current wishlist?
Oh, gosh, so many things! I’m still relatively new and therefore hungry to build my list. I’ve been keeping my eyes peeled for creative and journalistic nonfiction works that read as effortlessly as their fiction counterparts. Within fiction, I am looking for a couple of dark fantasies for both the adult and YA markets and a near-future speculative in the vein of Black Mirror.
I would also like to see some more fun and quirky romances/women’s fiction that feature POC or the LGBTQ community in a non-issue driven way.
And what are you definitely not looking for right now?
Right now, I’m not really focusing on space operas or a Bildungsroman as I’ve just signed two new clients whose manuscripts are in these categories. I try to space out the types of projects I’m working on so I don’t have my clients competing against each other.
While I am looking for fantasies, I wouldn’t be the right agent for fairy tale retellings. If someone were to query me with a retelling, I’d prefer a retelling of a classic like Faust or Dante’s Inferno. (One of my favorite movies is What Dreams May Come.)
And of course, I recommend authors checking out the bottom of my submission interests to see what genres I do not represent.
Can you tell us what it is that makes you request additional material? What is it that might lead to a full request? And what keeps you reading to the final pages?
When looking at an initial query, I check to see what the concept is and whether or not it’s the kind of story I would be interested in. About 85% of my initial query rejections are from not connecting to the concept.
If I like the query, I immediately read the sample pages to evaluate the quality of writing. I can usually make a decision based off these two things alone, but if I’m having a tough time making a call, the synopsis serves as a tie breaker. The synopsis will show me any glaring structural issues, as well as help determine if I like where the story goes.
With partials, I always ask for the first fifty pages because if a reader can’t command my full attention and emotional investment by the end of those fifty pages, it’s not strong enough for me to keep going. Fifty pages should be sufficient to get to the hook of your story, regardless of whether it’s commercial or literary.
When it comes to full manuscripts, I’m looking to see how it would fit into the market, and how much editing it would need, and how much I love it that I would be willing to take it on and work on it with the author. Full manuscripts are a large time commitment for me. I take a lot of extra time reading, evaluating, and researching so that if and when I offer representation, I go into that business deal fully prepared.
It’s important to note that while this is my personal process in handling my inbox, every agent will have a different process based on what works best for them.
So, when you fall in love with a manuscript, what might happen next?
I fall on my knees and beg the author to sign with me, casting off any sense of personal pride. lol! That’s actually not too far from the truth, however there are a few steps first.
I set up a call with the author. Even if I absolutely love their manuscript, that doesn’t automatically mean we’re going to work well together. Some other factors have to go in to the work relationship. I want to get to know the author on a personal level—what does their life look like outside of writing? What inspired them to write this current manuscript? Do they have ideas for other projects? How receptive would they be to feedback? Would my edit plan fit within their own artistic vision?
If I think we’ll be a good personal as well as professional fit, then I cast aside all sense of personal pride and beg them to sign with me. 😊
What kind of agent are you? How do you approach your side of the business arrangement? What should a potential client expect from you as their agent?
This is always a tough question for me to answer because I feel this question belongs more to my clients.
I am—what could be described as--possibly the tiniest bit of a Type A personality. I tend to be very organized. I like schedules and timetables and research but, all that aside, the most important thing to me as an agent is making sure I maintain transparency and open communication with my clients. It’s very important that I am responsive to their communication needs, and that they always know when they can expect a reply from me.
And, importantly, what do you expect from your clients?
I look for writers who have a strong sense of what they want from their career. I’m a champion planner, but it’s hard to make a plan or guide someone if they aren’t sure yet what they want to do. It’s why I look for career writers and someone who has more than just the one book in their back pocket.
In fact, it’s a bit of a red flag for me when authors talk about only having the one project planned out, especially if they are talking about a series. That’s a lot of pressure on me as an agent because if that one book doesn’t sell due to a shift in the market or for whatever reason, it’s the end of our working relationship because there are no other projects to pursue.
I don’t expect all my clients to agree to every edit, but I also expect them to be objective enough in their work in order to handle feedback and be able to effectively communicate to me when an edit note doesn’t work. There are multiple solutions to fixing a problematic scene or moment within a manuscript and the most important thing is that we find a solution.
All writers have dreams and goals – win an award, be a bestseller, get a movie deal – but what dreams do you have as an agent?
To make all my clients’ dreams come true. My success lies in their success.
And now the important stuff...
Ketchup or mayo? - I have a feeling people are going to come after me, but I’m actually a metchup kind of girl.
E-book or paperback? - Paperback. I can’t remember to keep my phone charged sometimes, there’s no way I’m going to be able to keep an e-reader charged. Plus, I just love the way a book feels when reading it and it’s hard to replace that.
Day or night? - Any time that isn’t early morning. I am not a morning person. To say I’m cranky when I have to wake up before 8am would be a massive understatement. My kids already know to let me have at least 30 minutes and a cup of coffee before they start asking me questions in the morning.
Walk or drive? - Drive! The longer, the better. I love road trips.
Beach or mountains? - If I have to live in humidity, the beach. Otherwise, I prefer mountains.
Dogs or cats? - BOTH!
Chocolate or chips? - I am confused by this question. Both are tasty, but both very different.
Sun or rain? - Sun, mostly. But there’s something about working to the sound of rainfall that I find very relaxing.
Inside or outside? - I am not an outdoorsy person because I live in Florida and we have bugs.
I am not a fan of the bugs.
Drama or comedy? - Depends on the mood. I love a story that will make me cry my eyes out, but I also love the feel-good aspect of a nice light-hearted rom-com.
Want to guest blog or be interviewed? Got a cover reveal or book coming out?
Get in touch today!