SPOTLIGHT ON MARY KOLE
ANDREA BROWN LITERARY AGENCY, INC.
Interviewed by Dianne Ochiltree, www.ochiltreebooks.com
The back story: Andrea Brown Literary Agency, Inc. was founded in New York City in 1981. It was the first literary agency to represent both children’s book authors and illustrators. To date, the agency has sold over 2,000 books to just about every publisher, from toddler board books to serious, award-winning young adult. The agency recently added a new member to its successful sales team: associate agent Mary Kole. I was fortunate enough to meet Mary at a recent writers conference, and she graciously agreed to a quick Q&A for Writing and Illustrating readers. So…let’s hear what Mary has to say!
Q: Why did you decide to enter the field of literary representation?
I came to agenting from a writing perspective. I’d always been a writer and was getting my MFA in creative writing. But I couldn’t rest after educating myself on the writing craft: I wanted to know the business of publishing, too. I’m a very practical person, and really wanted the commercial perspective on the industry. There was a posting for a slush pile reader in my MFA program’s newsletter. After I started working for that agency, an adult agency, I wanted to experience the same thing but with a children’s agency. Children’s books, you see, have always been my writing and reading passion. I reached out to my friend and, now, colleague, Jenn Laughran, started reading for her, and a year later, came on as an agent. My job is the best of both worlds: steeped in the writing craft but also deeply involved in the business that I like so much.
Q: What do you feel is your biggest strength as a literary agent?
Since I am so passionate about the craft of fiction, I really do feel like my editorial guidance is a boon to writers. I have the opportunity to work with a lot of debut talent, and I love working with writers who come to the keyboard (or pen!) to learn and challenge themselves. One of my clients calls me a “one woman MFA program,” and I do hope that my clients grow as a result of working with me. That said, I also have a small list and am really passionate about the work I do take on, and writers deserve nothing less.
Q: In your opinion, what’s the most exciting development happening in publishing today?
Children’s books continue to grow and evolve now that the marketplace has gotten so much money and attention in the last decade or so. I know you want me to say that I’m excited about ebooks and all those possibilities, and I am, though we are still figuring a lot of that out, but I’m actually really excited that younger editors are acquiring more hip, unique, and modern art styles…I love picture book art and think that our leap away from the traditional styles has given a lot of exciting artists a venue on children’s shelves. I love creators like Peter Brown, Il Sung Na, Taeeun Yoo, Carson Ellis, Giselle Potter, Marla Frazee, and so many more that are bringing their artistic voices to the page.
Q: How many submissions do you typically get each month?
I don’t know if I’ve ever actually counted. I can sometimes get one or two thousand a month, if I’ve been doing a lot of conferences, which I have.
Q: What single quality in a manuscript or portfolio really grabs your attention?
Voice. In art as much as in writing, your unique voice takes practice, time, self-teaching, and patience to develop. It’s usually the last thing that emerges before you are finally ready to build your publishing career. I read the work of a lot of writers and see the work of a lot of artists who are technically fine…they have solid writing and good technique…but they haven’t risen to the next level yet. And only time and learning and growth can take them there. Reading and looking at the work of others is a great tool for teaching yourself about voice.
Q: On average, how many pages do you give a manuscript submission before you decide to stop reading, or to continue on?
I often stop on the first page. That sounds harsh, but it’s true. I’ve read tens of thousands of submissions and can tell, pretty quickly, whether the writer is at the level, yet, that merits serious consideration. Even if everything’s not perfect but a voice or high-concept premise grabs me, I will read through the first ten.
Q: Do you prefer queries first or full manuscripts and/or artwork samples?
I prefer queries with the full picture book manuscript OR the first ten pages of prose copied and pasted into the body of an email. For art, I look at online portfolios sent via a link in an email. I don’t open unrequested attachments and all emails must have the subject line “Query.” You can learn more about our submission guidelines here: http://andreabrownlit.com/how-to-submit.php
Q: What is your usual response time?
I try to get back to queries pretty quickly, usually within a month but sometimes a busy travel season makes that impossible. I also do respond to everyone who followed submission guidelines.
Q: Briefly, what is the acquisition process at Andrea Brown Literary Agency?
We each keep our own list. There’s no vetting by our colleagues and no approval needed. Andrea trusts each of us to know what we’re doing, so when we do share materials from a potential or existing client, it’s because we are so darn excited about their work! We have a great, collaborative, supportive atmosphere at the agency, and I feel very lucky to be part of it.
Q: What are you looking for?
I’m looking for MG and YA fiction in any genre, except for probably high fantasy or hard sci-fi (I define both as more focused on world-building than on character.
For example, Tolkien is high fantasy, to me, but Graceling by Kristin Cashore (Harcourt, 2008, Graphia, 2009) is character-driven and therefore exciting.
Other than that, I never want to close the door on a potentially amazing submission, so I will look at any genre. I keep a Manuscript Wish List in the sidebar of my blog, Kidlit.com.
Ghosts, murders, mystery. A MG or YA with any of these three elements would be absolutely great! Oh, yes, and ghosts, ghosts, ghosts. Did I mention ghosts? I like them keep-you-up-at-night and creepy-under-your-skin.
YA or MG set in a theatre
A picture book with a great, outside-the-box friendship hook, like HARRY AND HORSIE
A really good, edgy “issue book” like WINTERGIRLS
A dystopian YA that’s a little too close to home, like FEED
An incredible MG voice and main character, like the one in LOVE, AUBREY
A YA novel in verse
A really edgy, dark YA novel with a real voice to match…no edgy for edginess’ sake.
In terms of picture books, I find myself especially drawn to author-illustrators, who can create both the art and the text (usually, the art is their first passion, then we refine the text). My picture book sensibility skews toward the quirky, funny and character-driven.
Q: How do you prefer to be contacted by potential clients?
My email address for queries is firstname.lastname@example.org, and I only consider writers and artists follow submission guidelines as described above. You can also find me online on my blog, kidlit.com, which was named one of the 101 Best Websites for Writers by Writer’s Digest Magazine in 2010. My Twitter handle is @kid_lit.
For more information about agent Mary Kole and the Andrea Brown Literary Agency, go to: http://andreabrownlit.com.
Thank you Dianne for taking the time to interview Mary. In the short time she has been on the East Coast, she has become one of the agents everyone wants to come back and visit. Hope you discovered something new about Mary. As for Dianne, all of us in New Jersey miss her, since she moved South. Here’s hoping we’ll see her soon.