December 2013 SPOTLIGHT INTERVIEW
Natasha Kern Literary Agency
WG: Hello! Welcome, and thanks for stepping into my spotlight this month.
WG: To start off, please tell us a bit about yourself.
SB: Just last month, I joined the Natasha Kern Literary Agency! As many of you know, I've been in publishing for a number of years, most recently as Executive Editor with Zondervan, a division of Harper Collins Publishing. Most of my experience has been in editing and marketing Christian fiction and non-fiction. I am a native Arizonan, but have lived in Michigan long enough to learn how to drive in the snow. And "no" I don't miss the dry heat of Arizona. I love the change of seasons here in the Midwest.
WG: Can you tell us why you decided to pursue a career as an agent and what steps you took to get you where you are today?
SB: To be honest, I never actually pursued a career in publishing at all. I started out with a business degree and focused much of my efforts in marketing and market research. However, I have always been an avid fiction reader. This has lead me to a passion for marketing fiction, and later, to editing fiction. Over the years, I have read so many stories that I would have liked to have published, but for one reason or another could not acquire, that now, I want to work with writers to pursue their dreams.
WG: What genres/lines do you currently represent?
SB: I am actively pursuing authors in Romantic Suspense, Mystery, Contemporary Romance and Contemporary Women's fiction genres. But just like any agent, I am looking for the story that I can't put down.
WG:      Are you interested in expanding into other genres, and if so, which ones?
SB: Since I am just starting, I have a long way to go before I expand. However, I love Historical fiction and Historical Romance, but feel the market is very competitive right now. It would have to be a very powerful story for it to get my attention. I would also like to acquire some non-fiction in the future, most likely in the memoir, inspirational (true-life) genres.
WG:      Are there any genres you have absolutely no interest in representing at this time?
SB: I am not likely to have much interest in Science fiction, fantasy, YA or allegory. I have never had a passion for reading these types of books, and so I don't think I would have the needed passion to represent them.
WG:      Do you represent any authors of non-fiction? If so, have you been successful in selling their projects? If not, is this a market that interests you?
SB: As yet, I have not sold any projects. However, as an editor, I have helped to develop several non-fiction projects like Amy Clipston's inspirational story, A Gift of Love which releases in February. I am fascinated by stories of strength and courage in the face of insurmountable odds. I think we need more of this kind of encouragement in our world.
WG:      What genre(s) do the majority of your recent sales fall into? Has this changed over time? How so?
SB: I would expect most of my sales to fall in the romance and suspense genres. I think I will also do well with novels that focus on women's relationships-mother/daughter, sisters, friends.
WG:      What publishing houses/lines have you sold to in the past 12 months?
SB: In a market that changes daily, it's hard to say who we will be selling to in the future. However, I my first target will be to traditional and small publishers in both the ABA and CBA markets.
WG:      Approximately how many clients do you currently represent and what is the ratio of published to unpublished?
SB: The first client I signed was Amy Clipston, a popular Amish author. I am still reviewing proposals and referrals from several other authors. I would hope that all of my clients will become published authors!
WG:      Approximately how many works by first time authors have you sold in the past 12 months?
SB: While it's too early to talk about sales, I do like working with debut authors and acquired several while working at Zondervan including Amy Clipston, Camy Tang, Vannetta Chapman, Karl Bacon, Lisa Harris and Don Brown.
WG:      Are you actively seeking out new authors to represent, and if so, what would it take to catch your eye?
SB: Yes, I am actively seeking new authors! I want compelling stories, strong writing, and a clear target reader. I will always be drawn to novels that are so engaging, the reader doesn't want to come to the end of the book!
WG:      How would you describe your agenting style? What is your involvement with the author's creative process? With his/her career planning? Or is your relationship strictly the business side of contract negotiation and as author/editor interface?
SB: I consider myself an editorial agent. I want the authors I represent to have solid proposals, well-edited manuscripts, and professionalism that demonstrate their commitment to a career in publishing. I love the creative process and believe brainstorming and problem-solving are two big areas that I can add value for my clients.
WG:      Do you enjoy one of these roles more than the others?
SB: It's hard to say. I am in awe of writer's ability to put words together that tell a story. Anything I do that brings the writer closer to the reader, whether it be editing, marketing, creative brainstorming, or just encouraging, makes me feel like I am doing what I am meant to do.
WG:      Given that you feel an individual author's manuscript is marketable, how important is it that you personally like the work in order for you to pursue acquiring it?
SB: I think it is very important. I can't imagine being a passionate advocate for something that I didn't personally like.
WG:      How often do you provide feedback to your clients on the status of their submissions?
SB: I think communication is the key to any relationship. It's my job to set expectations with the author, though, in what is a reasonable time to hear back on a proposal. I plan to have a submission strategy that includes regular feedback to the author on the status of their manuscript. I believe it is important that I pass on constructive criticism from editors and that we brainstorm on what the next step should be.
WG:      What is your process for submitting work to editors? Is this different if the editor is one you've had no prior contact with as opposed to one you've already built a working relationship with?
SB: My strategy for submitting work to editors is to try to meet their needs and those of their consumers by matching them with the right authors and stories. It's critical for me to develop relationships with the editors I hope to be working with, to know what they are looking for, and to know how they want to receive materials. I am fortunate to be working with Natasha Kern as she brings a wealth of knowledge that will help me to build those relationships.
WG:      How do you feel about sending a particular work to multiple houses simultaneously?
SB: I think it is in my client's best interest that I send their manuscript to those publishers that have expressed interest in the type of work I am representing. I would always let the publisher know if a submission was going to multiple houses.
WG:      Once a work has been sold, do you provide any input to the author and/or editor in the area of marketing and promotion for the book?
SB: I don't think the marketing of a novel or author starts when you sell the book. It starts with the first book the author writes when they decide what type of fiction (genre or not) they are writing. As an agent, I appreciate an author that has an understanding of how important self-promotion is and has already been thinking about strategy. As a former Marketing Director, I know that some great writers are just not gifted in that area. So it's my responsibility to teach them and help them to create a list of things that they CAN do. When the book is sold, it is imperative that clear expectations are set for both publisher and author and that a coordinated strategy is developed going forward.
WG:      What do you see as the personal strengths you bring to the table in the agent/author relationship? In the agent/editor relationship?
SB: I think I bring insight, thoughtful review and recommendations, creative brainstorming, and market awareness to the author/agent relationship. The editor will appreciate that I understand the role of acquisitions and will help them to be more effective in their jobs. To both, I bring a thorough knowledge of the publishing process from beginning to end.
WG:      Do you feel that writers' conferences provide significant value to you in the way of networking with authors? With editors?
SB: I definitely feel that writers' conferences are a good way to network with authors, particularly when I can attend different regional conferences and meet authors that aren't able to come to the big national events. I don't think that's true with editors. The larger conferences (ACFW and RWA) are the most effective for meeting and networking with editors.
WG:      Have you ever been involved in the sale of movie rights? Foreign rights? If so, did you handle this yourself or did you work with someone more specialized in this field?
SB: No, I have not been involved with the sale of sub-rights. Again, this is a huge benefit of working with the Natasha Kern Literary Agency. They have access to specialists that work in these areas who are up-to-date on changes in the marketplace.
WG:      Realistically, what is the normal timeframe for your response to queries? Partials? Fulls?
SB: I try to answer queries with a quick email that acknowledges receipt of the email. If I have an immediate interest because it is in a genre I am looking for and the query has an interesting blurb or short synopsis, I will ask for the proposal and three sample chapters. It usually takes 3-4 weeks to provide a response on the proposal simply because of other deadlines and necessary reading. I will either pass on the proposal or I will ask for a full manuscript. From there, I will either ask for revisions or I will schedule a phone conference to discuss the possibility of an author/agent relationship. It does take a little longer this way, but I think it builds a better relationship and sets expectations for both parties.
WG:      Do you feel an agent based in New York has a significant advantage over one who is not? Why or why not?
SB: With today's technology, I don't think there is a significant advantage to have a New York based agent. I do think you want to look for an agent who has good networking skills, is savvy about social media, and who knows the market well.
WG:      What sort of misconceptions/ unrealistic expectations have you encountered from authors about what an agent's role is?
SB: Misconceptions and unrealistic expectations occur when the author and agent do not start out with agreed-upon strategy for submitting a project. It sounds simple, but I think it's important that both parties are realistic about where a manuscript will sell, what its market potential is and exactly what the role of the agent is going to be.
WG:      In your opinion, when is the right time in an author's career for him/her to start actively looking for an agent?
SB: #1 Look for an agent when your manuscript is finished. #2 Look for an agent if you feel that the person you are currently working with is not meeting expectations and after you have terminated the agent agreement.
WG:      What piece of advice or 'pearl of wisdom' would you like to offer authors who are considering approaching you (or any agent) for representation?
SB: I would suggest that an author carefully research any agent they are considering for representation. Who else does this agent represent? Where have their authors been placed? If possible, ask their clients what they like about working with that agent. Set expectations! Make a list of what is important and find out if that meets the working style of the agent. Read the agent/author agreement VERY carefully. Ask experienced authors what to look for.
WG:      Do you think contest credits help authors further their career before and/or after making that first sale? Have you ever acquired a client that you discovered via a writing contest?
SB: Writing contests are very subjective and probably will not be the determining factor in getting an author an agent or a publishing contract. However, in practical terms, entering writing contests is a good way for the author to get name recognition in the marketplace by providing publicity and a marketing hook for the novel if it finals and/or wins.
WG:      Do you visit the websites and blogs of authors you work with or of authors you are considering working with? If so, is there something in particular you look for that potentially impacts your view of the author and their work?
SB: I definitely look at websites and blogs of authors I am considering working with. As I said before, marketing starts way before the first book is sold to a publisher. I will also look at client's websites and blogs periodically to make sure their message is clear and consistent and that it is being kept up-to-date. I don't think an author has to have all the technological bells and whistles, but it does have to be current and active. I would also recommend that every author has a mechanism for readers to get on an email mailing list. Regardless of how many "Likes" on Facebook or "Followers" on Twitter, there is nothing better than a fan who signs up to hear from you!
WG:      How important do you think self-promotion is to a writer's career? Is there a particular area of promotion that you feel is most effective?
SB: Self-promotion is essential to a writer's career. Some writers are better at it than others, but they need to know how to reach their readers and partner with publishers on marketing their books. A good agent should be able to guide the less promotion-minded writer on key activities that will be an effective use of their time.
WG:      I love to collect quotes, all kinds of quotes - inspirational, quirky, motivational, profound, etc. Do you have a personal favorite you'd like to share?
SB: "…fiction does its work by creating a dream in the reader's mind." John Gardner, The Art of Fiction
WG:      When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
SB: I was always playacting, but never gave much thought to an occupation when I was growing up. Coming from a very small town, I did know I wanted to do something that would allow me to travel.
WG:      What do you do to relax and have fun?
SB: I relax with my furry "kids." They include Shep, the cat, and Ollie and Pepper, two black lab mixes. I am also a self-described Anglophile. I love reading about Great Britain, watching television from Great Britain (Top Gear and Downton Abbey are favorites) and travelling to Great Britan.
WG:      Other than your client's work, what do you enjoy reading?
SB: It depends a little on how much focused time I have for the novel. In general, for fun and a quick read, I go for Contemporary or Regency Romance. If I know I will have the time to concentrate and really get into a novel, I will go to the bestseller lists for something a little more literary or something I've heard a lot of people talking about. I have found real gems in The Thirteenth Tale by Diana Setterfield and The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein this way.
WG:      What are your favorite movies and/or TV shows? Why?
SB: My favorite movies are the ones that make me cry because they are so hopeful-Rudy, Apollo 13, The Natural, For the Love of the Game, and Dave. Frankly, there is no TV that I will stay home for except Downton Abbey.
WG:      Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on your life? In what way?
SB: There is a novel by British author, Adrian Plass, called Silver Birches. It's a bit sad, but it's kind of a Christian Big Chill. The characters are so well written that I remembered them long after I had read the book and that's important because I rarely read anything more than once. And yet, I can still remember details and settings and the way the main character talked about the love he shared with his wife and how desolate he felt when she died. It's not a huge bestseller, but I've always thought it was one of the most beautifully written books I had ever read.
WG:      Before we close, is there anything else you'd like to mention about yourself or the agency?
SB: While I am working on building my agent client list, I am also doing freelance editorial work under Susan Brower Editorial. I focus on developmental and substantive edits, manuscript critiques and proposal writing. I am doing work primarily for publishers and authors who need editorial help before they sign on with an agent or who want to self-publish their novels.
WG:      Is there a website you can point us to where folks can go to learn more about you and/or your agency?
SB: The agency website is www.natashakern.com and my freelance editorial site is www.susanbrower.com.
WG:      Thanks again for taking time out of your busy schedule to sit in this month's spotlight. It was delightful 'visiting' with you here.