Literary Agents in Profile
with Brian Mercer
Tell me, Kate, about your path to becoming a literary agent?
I was an English major at the University of Florida, and while there
my smart older sister suggested I get an internship at the
University Press of Florida. That taught me the ropes and turned
into a full time job after I graduated. I then went to graduate
school for my Masters in Fiction Writing at the University of
Southern Mississippi, where I worked on my own craft and editing
skills. It was awesome. But I knew I wanted to be a professional in
the industry, instead of teaching (even though I do that now, too)
or do another job to pay the bills while I wrote my book. I'd always
worked in sales, I have an outgoing personality, so I knew agenting
would be a good fit for me. I left Mississippi, moved to New York
City, and here I am (in Brooklyn).
When someone is pitching a project to you, either in-person or
through a query letter, what's going through your mind? How are you
My first thought is: "Do I want to
know more?" If I'm captivated by the story, whether fiction or
non-fiction, and want to find out what happens, then there's a good
chance another reader will, too. Close on that thought's heels is:
"Can I sell it?" If it's non-fiction, I also think: "Does the Author
have a big enough platform? Is he or she established in this subject
As an agent, you're not just handing a
writer's manuscript over to editors but working with your clients to
make the work the best it can be. Can you speak to that process and
what you bring to it?
I am a hands-on agent when it comes to editing. My years in
University publishing and in workshops speak to that. But every
manuscript is different. Some need close line editing. Some just
need revision notes, and the Author takes off without more detailed
guidance. I always stop when I'm just replacing words with others
*I* would have chosen. It's not my manuscript; it's my client's.
I've been on the other end of the editing pen, so I know how my
clients feel, and hopefully that helps.
When we as authors are preparing and sending out query letters,
we're trying to get a mental image of what it's like for the agent
when they receive it. Would you describe one of your typical query
letter reading sessions?
I try to read queries early in the morning, before the phone starts
ringing or other emails come pouring in, several times week. I can
only do 50 or so at a time or my eyes glaze over. I get about 100 a
week. I know I've got something good when .
Morhaim Literary Agent
I can't stop scrolling or when I forget I'm even looking at a
computer screen. I want to forget I'm working when I'm reading
queries, and just feel like I'm reading for the fun of it.
What percentage of queries do you reject simply because they are
either not what you represent or the work that was submitted just
I don't have a number for you, but it's a lot. Maybe just about
half. It's usually the case that the query is not a genre I'm
looking for or it's not suitable for the genre it wants to be (too
short for a novel, for example), when I pass on a project for
reasons other than merit. Because even if it's a really good book,
I'm not going to be the right agent for it if I don't know the
editors who buy in that genre. Any agent is not always the right
When a writer gets an offer of representation, how should he or she
be evaluating the agent to insure that it's a good fit? What
qualities should a writer look for in an agent?
This is a big question, but the author should consider how
each party's personal working style meshes, how familiar the agent
is with the author's genre, what each expects in regards to editing,
and many other things. An author should look for an agent that she
can see talking to in depth about her project, in a professional
way, and one whose advice she would trust. An agent should be
organized and communicative. And one who is above all, passionate
about her project. An agent is not a therapist or a BFF (though
friendships can and do develop). Communication is the most important
thing, I think.
What material are you especially attracted to these days? What are
you presently acquiring?
I'm very interested in contemporary (non-fantasy) young adult and
commercial women's fiction. I am still open to fantasy, but I'd also
like to read some books about non-magical people, too.
In addition, I'm always looking for romance, paranormal romance,
urban fantasy, middle grade fiction, narrative non-fiction, sports
related books, food writing, pop culture, humor and craft.
I'm not looking for any epic fantasy, science fiction, police
procedurals, crime fiction, or children's picture books.
Brian Mercer is the author of
Mastering Astral Projection (Llewellyn, 2004) and The
Mastering Astral Projection CD Companion (Llewellyn, 2007).
He is a board member of the Pacific Northwest Writers Association.