Posted by: Kathy Temean | June 11, 2021

June Agent of the Month – Kelly Dyksterhouse – Interview Part One

JUNE AGENT OF THE MONTH

KELLY DYKSTERHOUSE, Literary Agent

Raven Quill Literary Agency

Kelly Dyksterhouse grew up with a book always in her hands and a story always in her head. The important role that books played in her early years developed into a passion for children’s literature in her adult life. Kelly holds an MFA in Writing for Children & Young Adults for Vermont College of Fine Arts and has interned as an editorial reader at leading literary agencies and worked as an independent developmental editor and writing mentor. She considers the opportunity to help bring books into existence to be a great honor, and it is a particular joy for her to work alongside authors as they develop their project from idea to polished manuscript. The best feeling of all is when those manuscripts end up as books in the hands of children.

I am looking to acquire middle grade and young adult novels and narrative nonfiction, as well as picture books and graphic novels.

For 2021, I am especially looking for graphic novels. I’ll consider text only, but am hungry for author/illustrators.

For picture books, I am drawn to books that are character driven with a strong narrative arc, and I particularly love books with a surprise or subversive twist to them that make me laugh. I also love lyrical texts with a classic feel, and am looking for nonfiction picture books about a little known period of history or that focus on the natural world. Author/Illustrators are always a plus.

In middle grade, I’m looking for a wide range of genres. I enjoy high-concept, fast-paced adventure books with a commercial hook, either contemporary or speculative, as well as literary works featuring lush, lyrical writing. I love ghost stories, magical realism, historical fiction and mysteries–books that get you to look at the familiar in a different light and to see the possible in the impossible. I enjoy books that feature ensemble casts, unlikely heroes, underdogs, surprise friendships and complicated, yet hopeful, family dynamics. I am particularly interested in books written by and featuring underrepresented voices in ways that showcase kids being kids in all the above scenarios. For nonfiction, I’m interested in projects that shed a light on a little known historical time period or discovery, projects that focus on the natural world, and issues of social justice. In all genres, I’m looking for beautiful writing and strong voice.

For YA, I’m looking for speculative fiction that is layered, has a distinct voice, and is grounded in a universal emotional desire. I seem to be drawn toward literary works that have a commercial hook, and I’m interested in genre mash-ups. So whereas I don’t love sci-fi, I’d jump at a mystery set in space; I would also really love a historical that feels relevant or that has a light magical twist. I find that I’m especially drawn to YA that has vivid, immersive and contained settings–settings that almost function as a character themselves (Think Scorpio Races or Frankie Landau Banks). As with MG, I enjoy books with ensemble casts and fast action. I’m not usually a great fit for straight romance, but I do enjoy a romantic thread. I always enjoy a good enemies to lovers story. A couple of specific wishes: I would love a smart, funny heist and a moving novel in verse along the lines of Poet X. 

Fun facts about me:On my nightstand right now: When You Trap a Tiger by Tae Keller, Elatsoe by Darcie Little Badger, King and the Dragonflies by Kacen Callender, The Way Back by Gavriel Savit, You Should See Me in a Crown by Leah Johnson, and Everything Sad is Untrue by Daniel Nayeri.

What I miss most about life “Pre-COVID”: live music and breweries, soccer, traveling, working in coffee shops.

What I am thankful for during these months of social distancing: Long walks in the woods. Zoom. Chocolate. Books (duh). Animals-dogs, cats, birds, squirrels, foxes, deer, owls…anything living and breathing I can watch or talk to during the day.

Submission Guidelines

Submissions should be emailed to QueryMe.Online/KellyDyksterhouse https://querymanager.com/query/KellyDyksterhouse 

Submissions are only accepted through Query Manager. You may submit one project at a time to one RQLA agent at a time. If that agent passes on your query, you may then query another RQLA agent after a period of one month. For picture books, you may submit the entire manuscript in addition to your query. For novels, please submit a query, a one-page synopsis, and the first ten pages of your work. Authors and artists from underrepresented groups are invited to make note of that in the referral box.

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INTERVIEW WITH AGENT KELLY DYKSTERHOUSE – PART ONE 

1. When did you decide you get your MFA in Writing for Children & Young Adults for Vermont College of Fine Arts?

I started looking seriously at VCFA’s WCYA program in 2010, and applied in 2011 for their January 2012 class, graduating in 2014. (One of the most important and transforming decisions I’ve made in my life, by the way.) At the time I was considering it, I realized that the kidlit world was one in which I wanted to be involved, both as a writer and as a teacher. Working within the publishing industry was not in the forefront of my mind. I knew I needed to study writing craft, and while a person can certainly do that on their own, I thought that concerted focus in an MFA program would get me where I wanted to be more quickly. In addition, I knew that having a terminal degree would be necessary should I want to teach at a higher level.

2. Is that what made you decide to become an agent?

I think everyone around me knew that I wanted to be an agent before I did. I did start working in a literary agency in 2012, as an intern, and then worked my way up to assistant. I worked in literary agencies for 8 years prior to joining Raven Quill, and I loved it. I think the value of what I learned through my MFA program was a love for writing craft, and my work at literary agencies took that further by helping me develop my editorial eye and an understanding of the market.

3. How did you get the job with Raven Quill Literary Agency?

I knew RQLA founder Jacqui Lipton through the years, working with her at Upstart Crow Literary, and also through VCFA channels. The kidlit world is small. When she founded RQLA, she asked if I’d be interested in joining her, and after careful thought and encouragement from my then boss and now mentor, Susan Hawk, I took the leap.

4. What are your thoughts about prologues? Any tips on how to best use them?

Ha! Ah, prologues. This could be a workshop lecture. I am actually not opposed to prologues on the whole, but tend to not encourage them because readers tend not to read them. Why write something readers don’t read? I’ve found that writers often use prologues to pull themselves into a story, and once the draft is polished and finished, they’re not necessary. But I do think that prologues can serve the story at times. They’re helpful if you need to provide a different point of view, particularly if that character’s insight is only needed once and provides a foundation for the story, for foreshadowing future events, or to give some sort of information that the reader can’t otherwise glean from the plot. Some questions writers should ask if considering the prologue are: How does it serve the story? Is it for you or for your reader? What information are you providing the reader, and why is it important to give it right away in this form? Is it possible to incorporate that information into the story in a scene or a chapter?

5. What would you like to see from a writer sending you a query letter?

Short answer: I want to know what your book is about, why you’re sending it to me, and who you are.

Longer answer: I personally like queries that open right away with a hook. In terms of a short synopsis paragraph, I want to know who your character is, what they want, and what’s at stake. That should provide me a good overview of the plot. I also want to know your target audience, genre and word count. Comps are always helpful, as well.

6. How important is the query letter?

Very! I liken the query letter to a first impression handshake at a job interview. It shows how prepared you are as an author, how seriously you take your work, and it provides a basic snapshot of your writing skills. I always read the synopsis and first pages that a querying writer sends me, but the query predisposes me to those pages by making either a good impression or a bad impression before I start reading. This can be daunting, I suppose, but I think a writer should instead consider the query letter to be a great opportunity. A well-written query will definitely work in your favor!

7. Should the writer try to be funny in their query to you or is it alright to be more business like? Do you prefer short?

A query should always be professional, but it should also showcase your voice and the voice of your work. If you write humor, then that should shine through. And yes, concise is always preferred. It’s important to remember that your query should provide just enough information to answer the question, what is your book about? And do so in an engaging way. It can be hard to whittle your entire novel down into a couple of sentences, but remember that you can go into more detail in your one page synopsis (which I also ask for.)

8. Do writers need to mention some comps in their query letter?

Oh, absolutely! Comps are a querying writer’s friend! They give an agent or editor a great idea of where you see your work in the market. They can give a broader view of your work’s genre (“Would fit nicely on the shelves with”), the plot/content (“Title meets Title”), your writing style and voice (“written in the vein of” or “with a voice reminiscent of”). Comps also show that you’ve done your homework as an author and know the market. TIP: don’t comp to blockbuster hits (like Harry Potter or The Hunger Games), but do choose comps that have a solid sales record. For more info on comp titles, Jacqui Lipton has a great blog post on how writers can use comps to their best advantage on our RQLA A Conspiracy of Ravens Blog.

CHECK BACK NEXT FRIDAY TO READ PART TWO ON MY INTERVIEW WITH KELLY

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HERE ARE THE SUBMISSION GUIDELINES FOR JUNE 2021 FIRST PAGE CRITIQUES:

In the subject line, please write “JUNE 2021 FIRST PAGE CRITIQUE” Example: Paste the text in the email, plus attached it as a Word document to the email. Please make sure you put your name, the title of the piece, and genre: a picture book, chapter book, middle grade, or young adult, Non-fiction, contemporary, historical, Sci-fi, fantasy, 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 2021 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. Sending it to my hotmail account will probably keep me from seeing it and including you in the running.

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 25th. – noon EST

RESULTS: JULY 2nd.

Talk tomorrow,

Kathy


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