Q and A with Carrie Kania, literary agent, Conville & Walsh

Carrie Kania from Conville & Walsh Literary Agency is guest speaker at Novel Nights on October 27th 2016. We asked her some questions ahead of her talk.

What do you love about being a literary agent?

What I really love is working directly with the author and developing an idea to a full-fledged published book.   It’s a wonderful feeling when you walk into a bookstore and see a book that you have had a hand in.   Or seeing a stranger reading a book you worked on.     There’s also a wonderful joy in seeing the progress of a title as the book develops from an idea or first draft to the finished product.   Agents are there to help the writer; we’re the cheerleader, editor, helper, lawyer, bookseller, publicist, advisor for all things.    And that close relationship can also lead to develop life-long friendships.

Q: What advice do you have for unpublished authors who want to find a literary agent?

When you spend months, years, decades writing your book, you should spend some time when looking for a literary agent.  I receive too many ‘mass emails’ addressed to ‘Sir/Madam’ or ‘To Whom It May Concern’ – I even received a ‘Dead Mr. Agent’ once!   This tells me that person just emailing every-single-email they can find.   It’s best to research the agent, know what they work on, understand what they are looking for – and then if you think it’s a match, reach out using specifics.  Tell me why you think I would work best for you.    Agents receive hundreds of submissions a week – hundreds!  There is no way we can read everything that comes in and do our day-to-day jobs.   So if a manuscript comes to me and it is clear it’s a group-submission, it doesn’t go to the ‘to read’ pile.

We are all on-line and many agents participate at conferences, festivals, writing workshops etc.   Most agents have profiles and biographies – so have a look at what we do (and who we represent) before sending your book out to us.

Still stuck?   Have a look at the books that you think would sit happily next to yours.  Most authors will thank their agents in the acknowledgements – that’s a good way to find out who is representing books that are similar to yours.

If that doesn’t work – attend festivals and conferences where you know agents are scheduled to talk or be on panels.  There are some excellent festivals and conferences happening – as a writer, attend!   At the very least, you’ll meet some wonderful people.

Q: Tell me three things you look for when you see a manuscript for the first time

I look for and read for (in order!)

Voice.   Does the author’s voice on-the-page work and capture my interest.   The twist of phrase, sentence structure, looking at things in a new way.

Pace.     In any book – fiction to non-fiction – you want to read something that ‘keeps you turning the pages’.   So pace is very important to me.    I once spoke to someone who wanted to send me a script to look at and they said ‘it’s a little slow in the beginning, but really picks up around page 100.’

Story.    The story!   Try hard not to complicate things and include a huge cast of characters.  Make sure everyone is there for a reason.   If there are two characters in your book who are doing the same thing – and sound the same – then maybe those two people should be edited down to one.    Make sure the story is exactly that – tell me a story.   Keep that in mind as you write – ‘am I telling a story’ and you’ll find yourself self-editing, thereby quickening the pace and bringing your voice out even more.

Q: Is the book ‘concept’ as important as the quality of the writing when you are considering working with a writer?

For non-fiction, concept is key.    And making sure that whatever your non-fiction concept is, you are the most qualified to tell it.    For fiction, concept is certainly wonderful – but it is not the most important factor when I read.  A ‘coming of age’ novel is certainly not a unique concept, but when told in the right voice with pace and story – then it can be quite special.

Q: Tell me about publishing trends at the moment

The trend is never pay attention to trends.   Because once a trend hits, the market will be flooded with ‘like’ titles.   If you are brave enough and fast enough to get into trend publishing, and make it work, then that’s a skill.     At the end of the day, the best trend is a great book.  So publishing needs to and has to always pay attention to the quality of the title – whether that’s a full-color fashion book or a debut novel.   The trend that will never go away is quality.

More Blog Posts