With a publishing industry that is ever in flux, it can be hard for an aspiring author to figure out what information is relevant and what she needs to do to be successful. Recognizing this, literary agent Andrea Hurst and writer/blogger Cherise Hensley present a series of weekly interviews with publishing industry specialists. The AUTHORNOMICS Series features literary agents, editors, authors, marketing experts and more talking about their opinions on the publishing industry, writing, and what a writer needs to know.
AUTHORNOMICS Interview with Katie Reed
Katie Reed can’t resist a good story. One of her greatest joys is opening a book and being held captive by it till the last page, often staying up all night because the riveting plot and brilliant characters won’t let her put it down. Katie obtained her Bachelor’s in English from California State University, Sacramento, but the most enlightening part of her college career was her internship with Andrea Hurst Literary Management. There she discovered her passion for being part of the process that connects compelling stories with book-hungry readers.
Katie has worked as a freelance editor and enjoys helping writers develop their novels in preparation for pitching and publication. She understands how challenging the writing process can be and strives to help her clients through it. Katie resides in the small town of Durham, California with her incredible husband, her joyful son, and Snoodles, her loyal cat. Besides her addiction to reading, she is also a diehard Miami Heat fan and obsessed with all things Disney.
Katie is looking for stories that demand to be read, having characters that transcend the page and remain in her thoughts long after the book has been closed. She represents all areas of young adult and adult fiction and nonfiction, with a special interest in YA and fantasy.
How did your internship with Andrea Hurst & Associates steer you toward a career in publishing?
My internship was invaluable because it covered everything that I needed to know to become an agent. I doubt I would have ever become a literary agent had I not interned for Andrea in college. So, I’d say that internship changed my life.
What influenced your decision to become an agent with Andrea Hurst & Associates at this time?
I was itching to carve out a career for myself doing something I loved, and I wanted to find something that would still allow me to stay home with my son. Being a literary agent is the perfect job for me. Not only is it logistically perfect (I get to work from home) but it is also the only thing I can imagine doing with my life.
What is the most rewarding part of being a literary agent? The most challenging?
This job is the perfect job for me, and there are so many aspects that are greatly rewarding. Since I was little I have always loved books, and I’m blessed as an adult to be able to do what I love every single day. I get to read amazing stories, work with incredible authors, and be a part of the process that brings these stories into the hands of readers who are as hungry for a good book as I am. I also love that I can do all of this from the comfort of my own home, often in my pajamas and always with coffee!
The most challenging part is rejection. Have you ever watched The Voice? There are so many amazingly talented singers on that show, and yet only a certain number of slots on each team. And someone will get passed over and you’ll hear Adam Levine say, “It was really good, but I only have so many spots left on my team, and I’m waiting to be really blown away.” A lot of times I feel like agenting is very similar. There are a lot of good manuscripts out there, and I wish I could take them all but I can’t, so I wait for that one that blows me away, but in the process have to (sadly) say no to the rest.
What kinds of things do you look for in a query letter? What are some common mistakes you see writers make in them?
With the massive influx of query letters I receive daily, I’m looking for something that stands out and catches me immediately. Anything an author can put in the subject line that will force me to stop scanning and open that email is a plus. I’m a big fan of the standard three paragraph query letter (hook, book and cook), and less is more in most cases. If I see a huge letter with lengthy paragraphs, my eyes tend to glaze over.
Some common mistakes…writing the query letter in a teeny tiny font that I have to struggle to read is a major pet peeve of mine! Not including word count is another big one. Or genre. I can guess, but I want to know what genre the author considers his or her book to be.
How important is building a platform for authors? Do you have any tips for new authors trying to get their names out there?
It doesn’t hurt to have as big of an author presence as possible. Aspiring authors should really try to immerse themselves in the industry as much as they can to set themselves apart from the competition. I always tell people to start with the free resources, like creating an author Facebook page or a low cost website or blog. Social media makes affordable marketing very accessible to new writers!
Do you prefer to work on self-publishing projects or traditional publishing projects? Why?
As of this point, I prefer traditional publishing. Projects that have already been self-published are harder to sell to publishers unless they have already achieved significant sales figures.
Why do you think having an agent is beneficial to authors? Is an agent for everyone?
Having an agent is the necessary first step to a foot in the door to bigger publishing houses, but in reality agents are so much more than just “feet in doors.” Agents are developmental editors, proofreaders, guides during the revising process, consultants, marketing assistants, cover designers, the list goes on. Most importantly, they are an author’s advocate and look out for an author’s best interest during the publishing process.
I believe that if a writer wants to be published, the most strategic course of action is to pursue representation before self-publishing. If you self-publish first and the book doesn’t do well, then your chances of landing an agent decrease significantly. However, if you pursue an agent first, you can always try self-publishing later. That being said, I know that many authors have done very well with self-publishing e-books on Amazon. I guess it just depends on what your long term goals are for your project.
What is the best advice you’ve ever gotten, either regarding writing or the publishing industry?
Andrea has given me so much invaluable advice; it’s really hard to pin down one thing. I will say this, though. When you are just starting out in a business, whether it is agenting or anything else, some of the new things you have to do can be a little intimidating. I recently did my first panel and was a little nervous going into it, and Andrea told me, “Just be yourself—that is always enough.” That one little thing helped me so much. Sometimes staying true to who you are is what really matters at the end of the day. I think this applies to authors and their manuscripts–staying true to who you are as an author and staying loyal to your vision for the story.
When reading a manuscript, what are some elements that “seal the deal”?
I talk a lot about books that demand to be read. For me, that means I start reading a first 50, kick myself for not initially requesting the full because now I have to wait, desperately email the author for the whole thing, and stay up all night long because I can’t move on with my life until I’ve finished. If your manuscript has me jumping out of my skin to find out what happens next, chances are you’ve got me hooked!
Voice is another big one for me. I like a fresh, compelling voice with characters I can connect with. I’m one of those reading addicts who will walk away from a novel and think about the characters for the next few days as if they are real people.
What does your manuscript wish list look like?
My current primary focus is on YA, and I am a sucker for anything magical. I’m open to a variety of genres but am really drawn towards anything supernatural or fantasy related.
What advice do you have for readers looking to pursue a career as a literary agent?
Get an internship! It’s the best path to a career as an agent. And read, read and read some more.
What is your best advice to writers who want to query you?
There are two things that really stick out in my mind. 1) Craft a subject line that forces me to open your email in the midst of all the other emails in my inbox. I once had an author query me with the subject title “Have 2 fulls out but would LOVE for you to take a peek.” This told me that her manuscript was good enough to have other agents looking at it and that she wanted me to look at it specifically. I was curious as to why, so I immediately opened the email. 2) Present yourself as a real person behind the query. That same query I mentioned above did just that. She began it by telling me that she saw me on Query Tracker while at work, wrote my name down on an alcohol swab, and stuck it in her scrub pocket because she loved all the same books I mentioned on my list and felt her project would be right up my alley. (Turns out she was right, and ended up being the first author I signed!) My point is that in that one little line she managed to reach out from the email and introduce herself in a way that made me connect to her as a person first. In a business where most of our communication is done through email, that can be difficult to do, but is very refreshing when it happens!
Thanks so much for interviewing with us, Katie!
Andrea Hurst has over 25 years experience as a published author, developmental editor for publishers, and skilled literary agent. She works with both major and regional publishing houses, and her client list includes emerging new voices and New York Times best-selling authors. Andrea represents high profile Adult Nonfiction and well crafted fiction. Her clients and their books have appeared on the Oprah Show, Ellen DeGeneres Show, Good Morning America, National Geographic network and in the New York Times.
Cherise Hensley is an English/Marketing major at Whitworth University. She has interned with Andrea Hurst Literary Management as well as the Rock & Sling literary journal and has been involved in the production of other print media such as newspapers, magazines, and yearbooks. Cherise is an editor and a writer, and loves discovering new books to distract her from everyday life