Kurestin Armada is our featured agent for the month of October. I met her at the NJSCBWI conference in June and invited her to the Avalon Writer’s Retreat, so I am happy to introduce her to everyone.
Kurestin began her publishing career as an intern with Workman Publishing, and spent time as an assistant at The Lotts Agency before joining P.S. Literary. She holds a B.A. in English from Kenyon College, as well as a publishing certificate from Columbia University. Kurestin is based in New York City, and spends most of her time in the city’s thriving indie bookstores. She reads widely across genres, and has a particular affection for science fiction and fantasy, especially books that recognize and subvert typical tropes of genre fiction.
Genre Wish List: Picture-Book, Middle-Grade, Young-Adult, Graphic-Novel, Nonfiction, High-Fantasy, Science-Fiction, Mystery, Edgy, Upmarket and Commercial Fiction, Magic Realism, Alternative History, Historical Fiction, LGBTQ (any genre), Graphic Novels, Mystery and Romance.
Here is the first part of the interview I had with Kurestin:
Are there any genres that are less interesting to you?
Right now I’m not really looking for memoir (because it’s such a hard sell), and I’m also avoiding traditional thrillers because I’ve just never read that many of them. I love other works with thriller elements, but anything that has that ex-CIA agent kind of feeling isn’t for me.
Do you have any story or theme that you wished someone would submit?
Oh, definitely! There’s so many, but a few are:
• stories about siblings
• a good road trip book with a twist
• a funny, adventure-filled MG novel
• young girls with STEM interests/something traditionally masculine like being a carpenter or a mechanic
• a fantasy world where the heir feels a sense of duty and responsibility to their land
What do you like to see in a submission?
I like to see that the author knows their genre, knows what’s working and what’s fresh. I’m looking for that perfect combination where a reader is interested because it shares qualities with books they love, but has a little extra something that makes them pick it up instead of the books next to it.
How important is the query letter?
Very important! But it doesn’t have to be the most amazing piece of writing you’ve ever done. At heart, it just needs to tell me about your book. But it’s very important that it does that job well, and doesn’t describe a general plot that could apply to many other books as well. I want to know specific details about your characters and world!
Any tips on how an author can get you to ask to see more?
Get me hooked on your main character. If I feel invested in them and like I already know them a bit, then I’ll want to find out how they tackle the issue facing them/get out of the mess they’re in/get that very important thing.
How far do you normally read before you reject a submission?
Assuming we’ve moved past the query stage, I’ll either read only a couple of pages or I’ll read the entire partial I’ve requested (50 pages to start). I know in the first few pages if the writer is at the level I’m looking for when it comes to the writing itself, on a sentence by sentence level. Once I know they are, then it’s a matter of building my interest in our main character and having something plot-wise happen in those 50 pages that leaves me wanting to read more.
I specifically request a partial before the full to build in that extra step of work for myself. If at the end of the 50 pages I’m kicking myself for not having the full, or I’m firing off the request for it and waiting with excitement when it finally arrives in my inbox, that’s a great sign. If I feel like I might get around to asking for it, I might not, then I’m clearly not excited enough by what’s happening in the story.
Would you lose interest in a submission if the writer missed correcting a few misspelled words?
Not necessarily, but it would become an unpleasant distraction if it happened repeatedly in the opening pages. Once I’m more drawn into the story those kinds of things aren’t a bother, but ideally there won’t be more than a handful in the entire manuscript.
Do you let people know if you are not interested in what they sent?
We do have an auto response for queries that confirms receipt and explains that we’re a “no response means no” agency. This only applies to the query stage, though. When we’ve requested material, we always respond! For me this also includes things I’ve requested through conferences or online pitch contests.
How long does it usually take to respond to requested material?
It can really vary (sorry)! For queries, usually four weeks at the latest. For partials it might take up to two or three months, and for fulls it could be anywhere from two months to six months. It really depends on how much time I have for reading submissions as opposed to client material/other tasks and how many submissions I’ve requested recently. I have read some things incredibly quickly because of how excited I am, but I’ve also offered rep on things that just took me a while to have time for!
Have you noticed any common mistakes that writers make?
When I critique queries in person, more of a dialogue develops with the author. Through those conversations I’ve noticed that a lot of writers aren’t mentioning the most interesting parts of their story in the query! This often happens when people lean towards the general to make it easier to digest. Instead, the interesting parts are all wrapped up in the specific details, so those are what I want to see in a query.
Another common mistake is to end your query on the wrong conflict. Ideally your query ends on the inciting incident, that initial conflict that propels our mains character into the action of the book. Instead, I often see what ends up being the ending conflict, or the question that decides the last 10% of the book. This will feel fairly weak to me when reading, because I feel like it can’t possibly carry an entire book and be interesting. This is of course because it doesn’t carry the entire book. Remember that the query is a tool to get me to read the manuscript, so leave me wanting more!
Any pet peeves?
This might sound obvious, but when people don’t describe their book! When a query opens and it’s a paragraph about how they found me, and then a paragraph about their inspiration, and so on, it feels a bit like a waste of time. A little bit of housekeeping in the beginning is okay, but I really want to dive into the matter at hand here—the manuscript. And by that I mean characters and plot, not themes or praise for your own book (another pet peeve). Also, this is a very minor/personal thing, but I don’t really like when people describe how their book is very funny/hilarious. I would prefer to be laughing as I read the query!
Check back next Friday for Part Two of Kurestin’s Interview.