Posted by: Kathy Temean | June 12, 2020

Agent of the Month Interview Part One

It is my pleasure to announce that Katherine Wessbecher at Bradford Literary is our Agent of the Month for June. Scroll down for Part One of my Interview with Katherine. First Page submission guidelines follow.

Katherine Wessbecher

Bradford Literary Agency

Katherine joined the Bradford Literary Agency in 2020. Prior to becoming an agent, Katherine edited children’s and young adult books at Putnam, an imprint of Penguin Young Readers, and was the science and technology editor at an academic book review journal. She holds a B.A. in English from the College of William and Mary.

As an editor, Katherine worked with debut and veteran authors, including Sherri L. Smith, Stacey Lee, Keir Graff, Jeff Seymour, and Eliot Sappingfield. She brings to her work a nuanced understanding of the publishing industry and a practiced editorial eye.

Katherine is looking for children’s books (picture books through YA), upmarket adult fiction, and narrative nonfiction for all ages.

In MG and YA, historical fiction and fantasy have been favorites since she was young. But more than genre, she’s looking for the kinds of stories that transport her: to the past, an imagined world, or a perspective wholly different from her own. She’s drawn to stories that push readers to question their assumptions of the world. She’s interested in humorous voices; she’s also a fan of epistolary novels and other unexpected storytelling techniques, like Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff’s Illuminae Files series or Sorcery and Cecelia by Patricia Wrede and Caroline Stevermer.

Her favorite picture books are the kind that make both kids and grown-ups laugh. Inventive premises, twist endings, and quirky characters are all good ways to pique her interest.

Katherine is looking for upmarket adult fiction that straddles the literary and commercial divide. Books that inspire her list run the gamut from Where’d You Go, Bernadette to Yaa Gyasi’s Homegoing. She loves unexpected takes on familiar stories and flawed yet endearing characters. Katherine is actively seeking adult and juvenile narrative nonfiction—particularly projects that highlight stories the history textbooks left out. In the same vein, she’d love to work with nonfiction graphic novel projects like John Hendrix’s The Faithful Spy.

Katherine is not looking for: adult genre fiction (romance, thriller, high fantasy/sci fi), business, poetry, memoirs, or screenplays.

Twitter: @KatWessbecher

Prior to joining Bradford Literary in early 2020, I acquired and edited children’s books at Putnam and was the science and technology editor for an academic book review journal. I’ve got room to grow my client list and am actively seeking new clients in both children’s and adult.I’m most excited by stories that transport me: to the past, to an imagined world, to a perspective wholly different from my own. I’m drawn to stories which push readers to question their assumptions of the world. I’m all for immersive storylines and plot twists I don’t see coming, but first and foremost, I need to connect with the characters on an emotional level (bonus points if they can make me laugh or cry!).

One of the best ways to stand out in my submissions inbox is with a distinctive voice. I’ve got an inexplicable love for unexpected narrative techniques, so send me your epistolary novels in the vein of Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff’s Illuminae Files series, Sorcery and Cecilia by Patricia Wrede and Caroline Stevermer, or Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple. Humor is always welcome!

For MG and YA, I’m fond of historical fiction—particularly from settings and perspectives we don’t often read about—and contemporary stories with fresh voices that don’t shy away from weightier themes. On the fantasy and science fiction side, grounded and high are both welcome, as long as worldbuilding doesn’t get in the way of the characters.

On the adult side, I’m selectively seeking upmarket fiction that straddles the literary and commercial divide. I love unexpected takes on familiar stories and flawed yet endearing characters. I’m not seeking genre projects at this time (e.g., no adult romance, mystery, sf/f).

In picture books, my favorites are the kind that make both kids and grown-ups guffaw. Inventive premises, twist endings, and quirky characters are all good ways to pique my interest. I’m a better fit for narrative texts than concept-driven ones.

I’d love to find great adult and juvenile narrative nonfiction—particularly projects that highlight the people and stories the history books left out.

Below is Part One of My Interview with Katherine:

When did you know then that you wanted to become an agent?

I was a bookworm growing up and dreamed of a publishing career, but I started out on the house side: I worked as an editorial assistant at Putnam (an imprint of Penguin) and was building my own list of YA and middle grade fiction by the time I moved out of NYC six years later. Ultimately, I’m most passionate about collaborating with authors to help their stories find an audience, and I’m lucky to be able to do exactly that as an agent.

Do you think your editor experience at Penguin Books for Young Readers prepared you for your career as an agent?

It definitely did. As a book’s editor, you are one of many people who play a role in transforming a manuscript into a finished book and getting it into readers’ hands (design and production, marketing, sales, etc), but first it’s your job to convince everyone else it’s worth investing in. From making the case to the publisher and acquisitions team to make an offer on a spectacular submission, to mustering resources for successful publication, being an editor taught me a lot about what it means to champion a book. The agent’s role is similar—you’re there to advocate for your clients and their books.

How did you get the job with Bradford Literary and long have you been with them?

I joined Bradford in January 2020. After my husband and I relocated to San Diego, an agent friend helped me get connected to the vibrant community of agents here. Laura Bradford had an opening at her agency around the same time. She and the rest of the team have been incredible mentors as I learn the ropes.

Do you think you will limit the number of clients you will represent?

I’m actively growing my list right now but am not rushing to fill it either. The writers I work with trust me with their publishing career, and I don’t take that trust lightly! I take on clients when I feel passionate about their work and equipped to help them grow their careers.

Any story or themes you wish someone would submit?

I’d love to see more settings that surprise me—stories that take place in less frequently covered time periods and places and that reveal perspectives we too seldom see. I also have an abiding love for unexpected storytelling techniques (epistolary novels, diaries, dossier style, etc.). Some find it gimmicky, but I’m just enthralled by stories that aren’t “narrated” in the traditional sense. So much room for intrigue or humor!

Which do you lean more towards: Literary or Commercial?

I’m most drawn to writing that sits somewhere in the middle: stories that feel fresh and thought-provoking but are still accessible.

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?

It is possible, but rare, for an author to write both well. Picture books are more challenging than novels in a way: a good picture book does all the things a novel does with character and story in just a handful of words. If you enjoy working in both formats, then have at it!

What do you like to see in a submission?

Characters that I want to get to know better and a distinctive voice. The best way I can describe what I’m looking for is tight, polished writing that balances atmosphere with movement.

How important is the query letter?

They’re my very first impression of the person querying me. Query letters don’t need to break the mold, but they do need to offer an effective pitch for the story. Imagine this pitch as the jacket copy for your book: what’s going to make the casual bookstore browser want to pick it up and start reading? Zero in on the main character, what they want, what’s keeping them from getting it. Don’t get weighed down with the plot and note that most jacket copy doesn’t exceed 100-200 words.

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

I want to feel disappointed when the sample runs out!

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

My query guidelines call for the first 10 pages—this is enough for me to get a sense for the writing and whether I’m connecting with it. If I’ve requested a full manuscript, I’ll read until I know if the project is really sweeping me up or not.

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

I try to respond to all queries submitted through QueryManager within 6 weeks.

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

In the case of novels, this can vary but generally I try to respond personally to full manuscripts within 2 months.

Any pet peeves?

Picture book texts that feel similar to what’s already out there. Description-laden writing. Over-reliance on adverbs.

Have you noticed any common mistakes that writers make?

My query submission form includes a prompt for comparative titles (similar books), but many queriers skip over this. Some writers may have the impression that a comp title is a liability: if there’s another book comparable to your own, then yours isn’t unique. But publishers (and agents) don’t think that way. They want stories that are fresh and different, yes, but they also use comp titles to show there is a ready market for the manuscript in question—readers who loved X will love Y.

Good writers should be reading widely in their own categories—especially recent books! Not being able to come up with comp titles (or listing super familiar ones like Harry Potter or The Hunger Games or Goodnight Moon) suggests that you’re not actually very familiar with the market you’re writing for.

CHECK BACK NEXT FRIDAY FOR PART TWO OF MY INTERVIEW WITH KATHERINE.

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

In the subject line, please write “June 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 JUNE  – 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: June 19th. – noon EST

RESULTS: June 26th.

Talk tomorrow,

Kathy


Responses

  1. Thanks for sharing, Kathy!

    Like


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