It's time for another interview!
Today I’m interviewing the lovely literary agent Pooja Menon of Kimberley Cameron & Associates. She earned her BA from Nottingham Trent University in England, and an M.F.A from The Otis School of Art & Design in Los Angeles. For more information about her, you can visit her page on the company website, or follow her on Twitter at @FriscoDreamer, or read her blog at http://eatlovewritelive.wordpress.com/ (Link)
1. How did you become an agent, and when did you start building your own client list?
To be really honest, three years ago, I wasn't even aware that you needed an agent to submit your work. I was doing my M.F.A in Los Angeles, and my research into the publishing process introduced me to the profession. When I moved to San Francisco last year, I began applying for internships at a few Indie publishing companies around the area. I was always more interested in the creative process of writing, or helping writers to shape their work, I think my headspace was more into getting an editorial internship. Then one day, I came across Kimberley's Agency website. I absolutely loved the look and feel of the agency, so I decided to apply on a whim. I think my stars were aligned well, because I got a call from Elizabeth (Kracht) a week later, and after an informal interview, I got the internship.
Once I began learning on the job, I realized that being an agent meant I could wear many hats. Not only would I be helping writers to polish/edit their work, I would also be selling their work to the right publishing houses. There was a double challenge here! A harmonious melding of creation and business, if you will. That appealed to me a lot. After almost a year of interning, Kimberley offered me the opportunity to work for her as an Agent. I took it without hesitation. With regards to my client list, I began building my list over the last three months, and already have a small number of great writers on my roster. I would like to keep a small list, because I tend to be a hands-on agent. Being a hands-on agent to too many clients can get a little overwhelming. Also, there are two things that matter to me when taking on a client. One, I absolutely need to love the book. Two, the writer and I need to have a connection. I'm happy to say that this has been the case for all the clients on my list.
2. From your agency’s webpage we know you represent fiction (literary, historical, commercial, and high-end women's fiction), fantasy with layered plots and good world-building, young adult fiction, and some non-fiction books, such as adventure and travel memoirs, journalism & human-interest stories, and self-help books. What aren’t you getting enough of? And what are the fiction genres you definitely wouldn't represent?
Funnily enough, in terms of adult fiction, I haven't been getting that many multi-cultural projects. Writers like Jhumpa Lahiri, Isabel Allende, Adiche Chimamanda, Ben Okri, Gabriel Garcia, Paulo Coelho, Khalid Hosseini, Lisa See, Orhan Pamuk, etc (I could go on)- have blown me away, time and again, with their stories. Their prose has been a joy to read, and for the days when I'm reading their books, I'm not myself. This would also include multi-cultural historical projects. In terms of YA, I would like to get more projects in the following genres: contemporary, historical, mystery, and psychological thrillers with an edge. I'm also looking for great non-fiction in both Adult and YA categories. In terms of what I do not represent. I do not represent Middle-Grade (which is not a genre, but I've been getting plenty of submissions from this category), nor do I represent epic science-fiction. Apart from that, I don't really like to limit myself. If it's great (not good) writing, I'll be stoked.
3. Could you tell us about your agency and your role as a literary agent there?
Well, we're a small boutique agency based out of Tiburon. There are four of us, each with our own subjective tastes, which is wonderful because writers have a great selection of agents to choose from. The Senior Agent, as well as founder of the agency, Kimberley (Cameron) has been in the book business for more than 20 years. So, not only has she built a solid reputation in publishing circles, she's also seen the industry change and grow over the years. It is this experience of hers that makes me very fortunate to be under her wing. She's a wonderful mix of the world of publishing as it once was, and the world it is evolving into today. Working with her, not only do I get to hear about the 'good old days', but I also get sound advice from someone who has weathered every storm that has hit the industry in the past decade or so. Truly, she's been a great teacher. As an agent working for KC&A, I have free reign to choose my own projects/clients. And although we work independently, which is how all agents work, my colleagues and I discuss each other's work frequently, and give suggestions as and when needed. As Kimberley says, her door is always open (we don't have separate offices, but you know what I mean). :)
4. Are you an editorial agent? If so, what are your strengths? Do you like to focus more on the overarching elements of a manuscript, or do you prefer the line-by-line edits, or both? What part of the editorial process with your clients do you like the most?
I am an editorial agent, but I do not take on huge developmental projects. As agents, this would mean working with an author on revamping the most basic aspects of her story- premise, characters, arcs, climax moments, etc. If a writer hasn't thought this out well enough, even if her final vision for the story is great, I will have to turn her down. If it's a project I really like, where the writer has been doing her best (working on draft after draft, using original ideas, submitting her writing for critiques), then I will give her/him revision notes and ask her/him to resubmit. However, if I read a project that I love, with a premise that is spectacular, and a story that has been well-written, but is still in need of edits, then, not only will I sign her on, but I will also roll up my sleeves and get into structural as well as line-by-line edits with gusto. In terms of what I enjoy the most about the editing process with my clients, that would be the process of brainstorming, trading ideas back and forth and having them think of different ideas that are much better suited for their story. As an agent, I'm here to give my authors' a reader's perspective, and to bring up discrepancies and questions that need to be dealt with. Who better than they know the inner worlds of their stories?
5. You say that the best way to query you is: “Please send email queries to pooja [at] kimberleycameron.com. Include a one-page synopsis and the first 50 pages in word attachments. I will get in touch with you for extra pages or a hardcopy. In the case of nonfiction, please submit a well-crafted proposal and the first three chapters of your work in similar format.” Is there anything you’d like to add? Are you a no-answer-means-no kind of agent? And, Nowadays, how long (approximately) do you take to read a query and then a full?
That's a good question. My advice to authors would be to spend some time crafting their query letters. I receive a lot of queries that are so long and exhaustive to read-expounding on the plot of their story, and how the author thinks his or her story is different and unique, and how so-and-so person from here said it is riveting. To be honest, unless that person happens to be some well-known writer or editor who has shown an interest in your manuscript, it does not make much of a difference. Instead, focus on giving us a line or two about why you chose us specifically, a summary of the word count, category, and genre your book falls under, as well as a short, interesting pitch for your novel. The last paragraph should contain your credentials, and you should end it with a positive note. That is more than enough.
To be honest, I do my best to reply to each and every query that comes into my inbox. But that sometimes takes time. Which brings me to the second half of your question. The amount of time I take to read and respond to a query depends on the amount of queries in my inbox. If it's a slow week, then my response time will be much faster. But if I'm doing client work and haven't had a chance to get to my inbox, then it can take up to month or two.
6. Where do hope to be in five years from now?
Five years from now, I would like to be in a Barnes & Noble, sipping on an Iced Mocha, perusing the shelves containing all of my clients’ manuscripts, and seeing them sailing off the shelves towards the checking counter. I would like to see people picking up my client's books in a nervous frenzy. Most of all, I would like to see my client's getting the recognition they deserve.
7. Is there anything you’d like to say that hasn't been mentioned in this interview?
Actually, there is one piece of advice I would like to give. Recently, I sent a rejection letter and got a very depressed email from the author. She had been trying to get an agent for the past two years, with no luck. Suffice to say, that was a difficult email for me to read. My two cents to writers would be this: I know the publishing industry is a tough one to break into. I am also aware of how frustrating it can be to meet one closed door after another. But here is what everyone should know. All the great writers out there have had to face the same challenges before they got their big break. Instead of accepting defeat and giving up on your dream, focus on the bigger picture. You're writing not to get published. You're writing because you love the act of doing so, and you cannot imagine doing anything else. Sometimes it may not be your first book that gets an agent or gets published. Sometimes it may not even be your second book. It could be your fifth. But do not be disheartened. Keep forging forward. If one book has failed to get noticed, do not get bogged down, move on to the next project. Research on what the market is already saturated with, then do not touch that concept with a ten-foot pole. Unless you have a totally different angle, that is. Participate in critique groups were people are not afraid to give you honest feedback. Do your bit, and one day, you'll be paid back ten-fold.
8. Can you tell us why writers would be thrilled to have you as their agent?
Because I'm absolutely fabulous, of course! (Just kidding, maybe.) :) Jokes apart, because I am committed to my authors a 100%. This profession is not a hobby for me. It is a passion. I've always been a boring bookworm who would rather be curled up with a book than be out there streaking through town. As an agent, I am the sort who might turn into a nightmare for my authors. I might demand a lot from them in terms of perfecting their manuscript. Even though they might think it's ready to be sent out. My policy is that we cannot leave even the slightest reason for an editor to reject us. Of course, tastes are subjective, so we might be faced with rejections anyway. But if we can minimize the chances from our side, then we've done our work. I'm also the sort that has my eyes peeled out for interesting ways my authors can market their writing or their books, and I love brainstorming with my clients on future projects they have in mind. All in all, as a writer, first and foremost, I am very attuned to the challenges a writer faces. Writing is a lonely, frustrating job. I do believe this makes me connect with authors on a different level.
Now the fast five for fun!
Guilty pleasure? Chocolates, watching cop/detective series (Castle, NCIS, Bones, The Mentalist, Elementary) despite not being much of a crime book buff, and pretending to myself that X-Men, Cat-woman, Black Widow, etc really do exist, and that I am secretly one of them-except my powers haven't kicked in, yet.
Dream vacation? This is super hard. I love traveling, and there are so many places I have yet to see. Right now, I cannot wait to visit Africa. Something about how wild and unpredictable the place and people are fascinates me.
Random and funny fact about you that we probably don’t know? I am a total fanatic about order. Which means, my books have to be aligned on the bookshelf according to height, my living-room rug & dining table have to be aligned just so, and I have an elephant memory about what goes where and where everything has been kept, which is terrible for my husband. The poor man.
Professional food spiller or spick-and-span lady? Spick-and-span lady, I can make Monica (from FRIENDS) look like a light-weight.
What makes you laugh? Everything. I laugh fairly easily. Of course, never in inappropriate situations.
Thank you so much for doing this interview on Love YA!