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 agent Emily Keyes
Emily Keyes is Contracts & Foreign Rights Manager at the L. Perkins Agency as well as an acquiring agent. She is passionate about YA and teen novels, therefore acquiring in that area. In addition, Emily is looking for a wide-range of commercial fiction including women’s fiction, contemporary romance, fantasy, science fiction, paranormal and historical. Emily is actively expanding her client list and open to submissions. As a Contracts Administrator at Simon & Schuster, Inc. and a writer for “The World Almanac for Kids,” Emily forged her knowledge of many aspects of publishing, bringing that experience to her current position. She is a graduate of the NYU Publishing program.
As a literary agent, what are you looking for when you read a query letter? What makes you request a manuscript?
Obviously, I’m looking for something that sounds like a book I want to read—the way a reader browses in a bookstore. I’m also looking for something I haven’t seen before or feels like a fresh take on the genre. There are so many books out there (both published and unpublished) and I think the real trick is standing out from the crowd somehow.
What can you tell us about the current and upcoming trends in the book market? Are some genres and subjects more likely to sell than others?
With trends you have to remember that books being sold now aren’t going to be out for a year or two. So if you are seeing a lot of one genre in the stores, then editors and agents have most likely moved on already!
For YA, I still see a lot of dystopian and paranormal books, and those trends are mostly over. To sell one, it has to be exceptional because there are so many. Right now editors are asking for contemporary YA, science fiction YA (with real science) and I’ve gotten more requests for more middle grade too.
I don’t work with as much adult, but the “Fifty Shades”-inspired books are almost over.
Are the trends that are selling different in the foreign markets? How so?
Yes. Each country is different. It is interesting to see what plays in each market. I love YA but there are countries that don’t get it—maybe because they don’t have a strong youth culture, who knows? For example, my Japanese subagent asks me for historical romance and those are pretty difficult to sell in the States. So there are different tastes in each country the way different readers have different tastes. It also depends on whether or not a country has a strong digital market yet—many don’t—because that increases the number of books that can be made available.
You mention that you have a passion for YA books. What are some of your favorite published books in this genre?
Oh gosh, that’s hard. I got into YA because I never really forgot those books I read when I was younger, you know? So I suppose my favorites are those books I read when I was a kid that really stuck with me. Where the Red Fern Grows is one I remember having an intense sobby reaction to.
These days I like YA that is smart and fun but still meaningful. The Fault in Our Stars is a good recent example, or anything by Sarah Dessen, Stephanie Perkins, Deb Caletti, or Elizabeth Scott. This year, I’ve also loved Code Name Verity and Never Fall Down.
Can you tell us a little about your responsibilities and history as a Contracts & Foreign Rights Manager? What made you decide to take this type of position?
For foreign rights, I interact with our foreign subagents and try to figure out what books are best for them. For contracts, I help the other agents at my agency with their agreements. I decided to take this position because the L. Perkins Agency was willing to have me—ha! I wanted to work at an agency for a while. I was told contracts experience was a good way to get in, so I went after a contracts job at Simon & Schuster. Then after I left that, Lori—who I had interned for—said she needed someone to do her foreign rights. I didn’t really have any foreign experience but I wanted to try.
You are a graduate from the NYU Publishing program. Do you think that course helped you in your publishing career?
It did because I got my internship with the L. Perkins Agency through NYU, she used to teach there. I think it also helped knowing more about the other areas of publishing that I wasn’t exposed to (finance, marketing) in my day-to-day, but is good to know about when you’re an agent.
In your opinion, what are the most challenging parts of being an agent? What are the most rewarding?
It’s hard to stay positive when you are getting a lot of rejections, and feeling like you are failing the author. I feel like I’m letting them down. But then it’s also a great feeling when you get to call and say, “You’re going to be a published author!”
With thousands of literary agents across the country, how can an author choose just one to work with? What should a prospective author look for in an agent?
I don’t envy authors the task of sending their hard work over the transom to some stranger. There are more and more agents every day, it seems. Thankfully there are also some really great resources on the web for authors like AgentQuery, Predators & Editors, Writer’s Digest, and other places like this blog! I’d look for someone who loves the same kind of books you do. Someone who you can work with—that you’d trust. Someone who has the experience (either as an agent for many years or a publishing background) to get your work seen by the right editors and publishers.
What are some of the biggest mistakes you see writers make in terms of crafting a novel?
I see a lot of authors starting their novel too early. I mean they don’t get to the really interesting part for three to five chapters. But with so many books out there, a lot of agents and editors can’t wait that long. You need to grab them from the start
What are some of the most important things an author can do to give his/her manuscript the best possible chance of publication?
Read a lot and know what is already out there.
Do you have any upcoming projects or speaking engagements we can look out for?
I will be at the Write Stuff Conference March 22 & 23 http://www.glvwg.org/conference/ and Writer’s Digest Pitch Slam on April 6 http://www.writersdigestconference.com/ehome/index.php?eventid=51706&
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.