Posted by: Kathy Temean | June 18, 2021

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



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 

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.



9. Would you have an example of a query letter that got your attention that you could share?

Here you go. This is from my client Kellye Crocker, whose MG novel now titled Dad’s Girlfriend, Ground Squirrels, and Other Anxieties is on track to be published in Spring 2022. It is a WONDERFUL book and I can’t wait to hold it in my hands!

Dear Kelly,

As a new agent, you’re looking for potential clients, and I’m looking for the right agent for me. Because of your interest in middle grade with a clear narrative arc and a strong emotional core, I hope you’ll be interested in Ava’s story.
Ten-year-old Ava isn’t a liar, a saboteur, or a wrecker of lives. At least, not usually. But when her dad forces her to travel to Colorado to meet his long-distance girlfriend—it’s kidnapping, practically—Ava is determined to keep herself safe. That’s not easy in a state brimming with deadly dangers, including mountains, costumed Mud Runs, and plague-infested ground squirrels. Plus, Colorado doesn’t have enough air.

As if that weren’t enough for Ava to worry about—and, as her newly diagnosed anxiety disorder confirms, she always has plenty to worry about—The Girlfriend has a daughter who’s eleven, a larger-than-life chatterbox, with her own cell phone and a famous dad. After Ava’s single-minded quest to avoid the mountains fails—and she reveals The Girlfriend’s secret pregnancy—Ava takes a hard look at her behavior and the fear driving it. But finding the courage to do the right thing can be hard, especially if it means she’ll likely move to Colorado.

“Dad’s Girlfriend and Other Colorado Catastrophes,” which includes occasional lists from Ava’s Very Important Notebook, is an #ownvoices story of anxiety, the most common (and growing) mental health disorder among children and teens, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. (And that was before the pandemic.) The novel offers a modern take on perfectly imperfect families—with a dash of yoga and a sprinkle of quantum physics. I hope it appeals to fans of Kate DiCamillo’s “Raymie Nightingale,” Lynda Mullaly Hunt’s “Fish in a Tree,” and Kate Beasley’s “Gertie’s Leap to Greatness.”
The only thing I knew about Colorado when I moved here five years ago was that my partner had a job in Denver. After twenty-six years in Iowa, I’d assumed I’d die happy there. In writing Ava’s story, I knew I’d never again see the state with new eyes—and Sarah Aronson encouraged me to play on the page.

Thank you for your time and consideration. I’d love to send you the full manuscript. I look forward to hearing from you.

This is a good one to share after the question about whether or not a writer should try to be funny in their letter. Dad’s Girlfriend is a really funny book–at times laugh out loud funny. There’s a hint of humor in this letter, but even moreso, the letter manages to capture Ava’s voice and worldview.
I’ve omitted a couple of personal sentences at the beginning for the sake of privacy. But one tidbit of info they gave was that Kellye was querying because of author and teacher Sarah Aronson, which showed me she’d done her homework on me. I’ve arranged workshops with and have sat under Sarah’s awesome teaching at Highlights. (FYI, Sarah always encourages writers to play on the page, hence the reference at the end of the letter and fabulous advice!)
After a couple of great paragraphs in the voice of the story telling what the story is about (note: Character’s desire and stakes are evident.), there’s a wonderful paragraph with comps that continues to not only give me more info on the book, but that pique my interest (quantum physics??). And then there’s a personal paragraph that ties Kellye to the work in important ways.
This is an excellent query: professional, personal, and showcasing the voice of the story while relaying important information about the book.

10. Have you ever read something that is not for you, but you feel another agent at your agency might like and pass it on?

Yes, this happens all the time.

11. Would you be interested in representing a writer/illustrator?


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

I always read the entire submission, but I can generally have an idea if something will hold my interest within the first few paragraphs. Occasionally, I’m surprised, though. Which is why I always keep reading.

13. Do you let people know if you are not interested?

Yes, always. If writers don’t hear from me, they’re welcome to reach out and check in. Very occasionally something falls through the cracks.

14. Lately, there seems to be various age groups for MG and YA novels. Is it acceptable to just say middle grade and leave it up to you and the editor to decide how to classify the book?

Yes, I think that’s fine.

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

Write a fantastic book! I know that’s not really helpful, but that’s really the truth.

Beyond that, do your research as to what the agent is looking for–and this research can be tricky, as it needs to stay current since lists and interests change. It’s also hard because agents and editors tend to talk in wide, sweeping generalisms because we’re afraid of missing something amazing that we don’t know we really want. So, that goes back to my first point. Write a fantastic book.

16. How long does it usually take to respond to requested material? And query letters?

My response time fluctuates a bit, based on my client workload. I do my best to get back to people within 2 months on queries. For fulls it can take a bit longer than that, but again, it’s very dependent on client workload.




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


Talk tomorrow,


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