Posted by: Kathy Temean | March 13, 2020

March Agent of the Month – Katie Grimm Interview – Part One

This week we have part one of my interview with agent, Katie Grimm. See submission guidelines at the bottom for how to submit a first page for a chance to win a critique with Katie.

KATIE GRIMM

Don Congdon Associates

Originally from Colorado, Katie earned her BA in History and Spanish Literature from Bowdoin College. She joined Don Congdon Associates in 2007 as the assistant for the agency, and she still works with many of the agency’s Estates in addition to her own list of novelists, essayists, academics, scientists, critics, and translators. Her clients have been awarded the Booker International Prize, the O. Henry Award, and the Pura Belpré Honor, and they have been long- and shortlisted for the Center for Fiction First Novel Prize, the National Book Award for Translated Literature, and New England Book Award, among others. Her clients’ books are frequently selected for the Junior Library Guild, Indie Next List, and yearly “Best of” lists. She currently splits her time between New York and North Carolina and is actively looking for new voices from the South while she’s there.

Here is Katie:

Most generally, I focus on adult literary fiction, narrative and creative non-fiction, and literary fiction for middle grade and young adult audiences. Across all genres and ages, I’ll always be interested in the darker and weirder side of the human condition as well as previously under- or misrepresented experiences and voices. I look for books with a heartbeat, and “tragicomic” is one of my favorite descriptors.

In adult fiction, I enjoy literary and up-market fiction and cohesive short story collections with a unique voice that evokes a strong emotion and necessitates a conversation—be it contemporary, historical, mysterious or speculative. I’m delighted when an unusual structure or form functions at a higher level.

In non-fiction, I’m also looking for distinct voice and new perspectives. I enjoy narratives that blend the personal and investigative, are nerdy deep-dives into a particular topic, and/or use individual stories as a lens to analyze a systemic problem or issue.

In children’s fiction, I love the idea of finding a new middle grade classic that I wished I had as a child to guide me through complicated feelings or take me to faraway lands. I’m also looking for contemporary and speculative young adult novels that use genre tropes and form to create an emotional space to work through issues in a new way. In MG and YA, I’m open to every genre—from magical realism to horror to high fantasy to sci-fi—as long as the focus is on the characters’ personal growth and relationships, with an emphasis on creating wonder and building empathy.

How to Submit to Katie at Don Congdon:

Submissions should be emailed to dca@doncongdon.com

Please include a first chapter or 15 pages with your query letter (if you have a prologue, you can include both, for alternating POV, please include a chapter from each) in the body of the email as we don’t open unsolicited attachments. I usually respond within eight weeks if I’m interested in seeing more, but please do follow up if there are any changes on your end. I do not accept paper queries.

Visit: www.doncongdon.com/submissions.shtml for more guideline details.

*******

HERE IS PART ONE OF MY INTERVIEW WITH KATIE:

When did you decide you wanted to become an agent?

I moved to New York City to follow my dream of working in the industry—the chance to be paid to read seemed too good to pass up—but it took a few years before I was sure I wanted to be an agent. I think it’s the opportunity to always be on the author’s side, to be in service of an artist who is trying to change the world, that makes me feel particularly passionate about being an agent.

How did you get the job with Don Congdon Associates and how long have you been with them?

I’ve been with Don Congdon Associates since 2007. I started as the agency assistant which meant I assisted three agents directly with their client lists and managed the office generally. After adding interns and part time assistants, we hired my full-time replacement so I was able to develop my own list of clients. Working at a small agency, I had my hand in almost everything—be it small-business concerns like building our first website or managing accounting to direct hands-on experience with all departments within agenting. There’s so much to learn about the long-term rights management that comes with an agency with a long history, so I’ve been very grateful to grow with Don Congdon Associates.

Do you have a limit on the number of clients you will represent? 

I don’t have a personal limit yet, and I’m always looking for new clients. But I do think a natural limit exists—at least in terms of the ebbs and flows of managing what is going out and coming in. If I am in the middle of several submissions or deeper developmental projects, I will have less time to hit a quick turnaround of someone who has been offered representation.

Any story or themes you wish someone would submit?

I’d like to be entertained while learning something greater about myself and the world, and at the moment, that means chasing the thrill of genre elements (like fantasy or horror) with literary introspection that reads as necessary and of the moment.

I always read to feel intensely—both laugh and cry—which is hard to distill in a wish list. I’m hoping to look at the world sideways and teach kid readers in particular to see through a new lens.

Which do you lean more towards: Literary or Commercial?

I lean more Literary than Commercial, but I am always trying to chase the sweet spot of gorgeous prose with propulsive plot, and a fresh concept is important. If the writing isn’t singular though, if it doesn’t surprise me in any way, it’s hard for me to feel passionate about selling it (which is different from enjoying generally as a reader).

Do you think it is okay for an author to write novels and picture books? Or do you feel it is better to focus on one age group and genre?

You have to write what inspires you, but I would recommend giving yourself enough time to write deeply in one age group or format before you move on to something else. In other words, plenty of authors write both, but you have to do double the work, not half as much work in both categories.

What do you like to see in a submission?

In the query, I want to see clarity of purpose, market, and ambition. I need to know the author knows what their book is really about, why they feel driven write it, and with whom it would most resonate. While ambition might mean demonstrating dedication to their career in publications or accolades, without those yet, it can just be confidence in their own work.

How important is the query letter? 

For children’s literature, it’s the only way to get an agent, so it’s important to do your research on both the market and query conventions. But agents have to feel compelled to read chapter two after chapter one, so the query is just one piece of the package. In adult fiction and non-fiction, I do some outreach, but at some point, authors are required to write a pitchy synopsis and biography, so it’s a skill everyone should develop.

Any tips on how an author can get you to ask to see more?

In the pages themselves, I need to see that this chapter couldn’t have been written by anyone else and couldn’t be the start to any other story. While an inciting incident isn’t required in first chapters, a hint of what is to come is vital—I want to see that the protagonist will be an arbiter of change.

How far do you normally read before you reject a submission?

It completely depends on the submission, as sometimes I know within a few chapters, other times I will mull it over for days after reading the full. I usually write a note in my Kindle with my reasons for passing and read 10 more pages to confirm my thoughts.

Do you let people know if you are not interested in their submission?

We recently changed our query policy to no response means no, which I feel a little complicated about, as I’m paranoid about losing emails (and my requests getting lost, which has happened several times recently!). So I’m personally fine with authors following up for this reason if they think we’d be a particularly good fit, or of course, if they get an offer elsewhere. Otherwise, I always send a response to requested material. There too, I always appreciate follow up if I don’t hit my projected response date.

How long does it usually take to respond to requested material?

I try to get back to authors within 4-8 weeks, which is a wide range I know. As my priority needs to be my existing clients, that can change in either direction given my workflow.

Any pet peeves?

Not exactly—though we do get rude responses, tight deadlines, and incomplete submissions, so huge points to anyone who corresponds in a professional manner. Even if we connect personally to the work and working together, authors are still inviting me to apply for the job of their agent, which is worth keeping in mind during the process. I don’t have pet peeves in writing either—or at least, there are always exceptions of how something could work, so I’d hate to discourage.

Have you noticed any common mistakes that writers make?

I am often surprised when submissions don’t follow the hard rules of children’s literature, in terms of age of protagonist, inclusion of adult point of views, and page count, but more often it’s generally not following the conventions of the age group or genre, which is so much harder to explain. It all comes down to reading deeply in the areas you want to write in, and knowing that you’re contributing to a conversation that already exists. I don’t think authors give themselves enough time to both develop their own writing skills and listen to the market (not what’s trendy, but what has been said). There aren’t any short cuts, which may be exasperating to hear but very true.

*******

Check back next Friday for Part Two of my interview with Katie.

HERE ARE THE SUBMISSION GUIDELINES FOR MARCH 2020 FIRST PAGE CRITIQUES:

In the subject line, please write “MARCH 2020 FIRST PAGE CRITIQUE” Example: Paste the text in the email, plus attached it as a Word document to the email. Please make sure you include your name, the title of the piece, and whether it’s a picture book, middle grade, or young adult, etc. at the top on both the email and the Word document (Make sure you include your name with the title of your book, when you save the first page).

PLEASE name the Word document file by putting 2020 MARCH – Your Name – Title of first page. Thank you.

REMEMBER: ATTACH THE WORD DOCUMENT AND NOT GET ELIMINATED! Your First Page Word document should be formatted using one inch margins and 12 point New Times Roman font – double space – no more than 23 lines – only one page.

Send to: kathy(dot)temean(at)gmail(dot)com.

PLEASE FOLLOW THE GUIDELINES: Your submission will be passed over if you do not follow the directions for both the pasted email and the attached Word doc. This is where most people mess up.

DEADLINE: March 20th. – noon EST

RESULTS: March 27th.

Talk tomorrow,

Kathy


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