LitChat Interview: Kate McKean,
Howard Morhaim Literary Agency
Her interests lie in:
Fiction, for adults: Contemporary romance, contemporary women’s fiction, literary fiction, historical fiction set in the 20th Century, high fantasy, magical realism, science fiction.
And for children/teens: Middle grade, young adult, and new adult full length novels only in the areas of: mystery, thriller, horror, romance, LGBTQ issues, contemporary fiction, sports, magical realism, fantasy, and science fiction.
Non-Fiction, for adults or children/teens: Books by authors with demonstrable platforms in the areas of sports, food writing, humor, design, creativity, and craft (sewing, knitting, etc.). Narrative Non-fiction by authors with or without an established platform. Some memoir.
She is NOT actively looking for:
Fiction, for adults: Mysteries, thrillers, crime, paranormal romance, urban fantasy. She is not the best reader of fiction that features: cops/private detectives/FBI/CIA, fairy tale retellings, dragons, werewolves/vampires/zombies etc., satire, spoof, or the picaresque. No novellas.
Fiction, for children/kids: books that feature dragons, angels/demons/Grim Reaper, werewolves/vampires/zombies etc., zany middle grade stories about a character’s wacky adventures, stories about bullying, stories that center around orphans or parents who die in car crashes, ghost-teens back to right wrongs. No novels in verse. No picture books or chapter books.
Non-fiction, for adults, children/teens: Memoir in the areas of cancer survival, drug addiction, mental heath, infertility, or other topics WIDELY covered by current memoir, mind/body/spirit, religion, politics, diet/exercise by authors with NO demonstrable platform, collections of blog posts or newspaper columns for republication.
LS: What in your childhood informed your love of reading and what was your favorite book growing up?
My sister and mom were always reading, so I just thought that’s what everyone did all the time. And then it turned out I loved reading, too! Some of my favorite books were The Chronicles of Narnia, of course, S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders, and everything by Paula Danziger.
LS: You have a degree in Fiction Writing from the University of Southern Mississippi. Do you have plans to publish your own writing?
I do, someday. I have this pesky full time job. I have a good four book projects I’d like to be working on, though.
LS: How does your experience as a writer help you as an agent?
I’ve been on the other end of it, getting feedback, getting critiqued and rejected, ripping my hair out over edits. So I understand the author’s pain and how to formulate my feedback into actionable, constructive direction. Because “fix the middle” can be good feedback, but what does it actually mean?
LS: What drew you into the genres that your represent?
YA reminds me of what it was like to be a teenager–that angst and heartbreak–and while sometimes painful, it’s good to remember that time. I’m also really glad the craft book market took off, because I love to make things. My personal interests really overlap with the genres I represent.
LS: What should querying writers expect from the relationship with their agent and what should these writers ask prior to signing with an agent?
This is a huge question, but I’ll try to hit the highlights here. A writer should expect honesty, open communication, and professionalism from their agent. An agent can’t drop everything for every writer all the time, but reasonable responses to emails and calls is expected. A writer should trust an agent’s taste and advice when giving editorial feedback, and feel comfortable discussing that feedback honestly. A writer shouldn’t shy away from emailing her agent because she might be “bothering” her. An agent will tell a writer if her expectations (in any area) are unrealistic. A writer should not expect an agent to be magic–writing and selling books is hard work.
A writer should ask an agent, before signing:
What have you sold in this genre recently?
What’s your communication style like (email, phone, carrier pigeon)?
Does the manuscript need work?
What’s your submission process like?
What’s your favorite book?
There’s no definitive list of questions and answers, but this is a good start.
LS: Traditional publishing models are changing, particularly how books are distributed. (Self-publishing and the e-book) What are your thoughts on the future of publishing?
I think print books are a perfect technology. They’re portable, cheap, they always work, and they’re easily obtainable. That said, I looooooooove my ereader. Together, to me, this means that print books are never going to go away entirely, but the whole market will, and has, adjust to consumer demands. The most important part is diversification. If you love your indie bookstore, buy books there. If all you have in your hometown is one B&N, buy books there. We need to keep bookstores–indies and chains–around for many reasons, but if you want to have them as a choice, you have to buy books there. I’m not a doomsayer or a Luddite. Publishing is going to change whether we like it or not. But all of us need to support, with our dollars, the things we like, or they’re going to go away.
LS: What are you not seeing enough of in terms of genres and what would you love to see in your Inbox?
I want more contemporary YA, contemporary women’s fiction, and non-fiction craft books by authors with a demonstrable platform. I see these things in my inbox, but they’re all variations on the same theme. Send me something new!
LS: What do you enjoy most about being an agent?
I get to talk to people about books and writing all day. I get to hold pretty new books that no one’s even gotten to read yet–except for a lucky few. I get to edit and help writers make their books awesome. To me, that’s really gratifying.
LS: As someone whose career is focused on great fiction, are you ever able to read a book for pleasure without editing it?
Not anymore! I’m always editing. The best books are so good I’m too focused on the story or the prose to think about editing, but even then, I’m mentally cutting adjectives.
LS: What’s your idea of career fulfillment and who would dream client be?
I’d love an award winning book, like any agent. My dream client is flexible, a realist, an optimist, and a heckuva good writer in more than one genre.
Thanks, Kate for chatting with us!