Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Interactive Interview with an Agent: Ginger Knowlton

Hey, look, it's another interactive installment of "Interview with an Agent"! I'm so thrilled to welcome Ginger Knowlton of Curtis Brown, Ltd. As you're about to find out, Ms. Knowlton has a ton of experience and represents some fabulous authors, so get those questions ready! (As always, details on the interactive part are at the bottom.)

KV: How long have you been agenting, and how did you get into it?

GK: In 1986, I was living and working in Mendocino, California. I was taking some teacher education classes at a local college when I called my father to ask if he would be willing to help finance my full return to school to get my masters. He declined, and instead invited me to move back to the 'civilized coast' to work in the children's book department under the tutelage of Marilyn E. Marlow. His offer was well-timed, since my boyfriend and I had just broken up and I was ready for a change. My ex-boyfriend came back from Hawaii to drive across the country with me, and I started working for Marilyn on October 27, 1986.

KV: How would you summarize your personal agenting philosophy? What do you expect from an agent-author relationship?

GK: I can't say I have a personal agenting philosophy per se, but I do think it's important to remember that I work for my clients, not the other way around. That said, each party needs to respect the other, and I think open communication is vitally important.

KV: What client work do you have coming out soon? What drew you to those writers and/or projects?

GK: I'm looking forward to the publication of ROAD RASH by Mark Parsons. He is Wendelin Van Draanen's husband and I am so excited that he's writing young adult novels now, and that Nancy Siscoe, Wendelin's editor, will publish him, too. Speaking of Wendelin, her 17th Sammy Keyes book will be published soon. I just love Sammy, who has her own Facebook page.

Wendy Mass and her husband Michael Brawer are collaborating on a series (SPACE TAXI) for Little, Brown, which is also fantastic.

Helen Frost's SALT is coming soon from FSG, and I absolutely love Helen's writing. She and Rick Lieder are collaborating on another book for Candlewick. This one is called SWEEP UP THE SUN.

Kimberly Brubaker Bradley is hard at work revising ADA'S WAR for Liz Waniewski at Dial, and I can't wait for its release.

I've worked with all of these authors for years (with the exception of Mark), but what drew me to them in the first place was their wonderful writing and ability to make their characters come alive on the page. Honestly, that's what it's all about, isn't it?

KV: What genres do you represent? What genres do you definitely NOT represent?

GK: I represent all children's book genres because I have a wide variety of clients, but that doesn't mean I'm looking for all genres. I'm not actively looking for graphic novels or beginning readers. I'm open to just about everything, though, as long as I love the execution.

KV: What query pet peeves and/or pitfalls should writers avoid when querying you?

GK: It sounds so ridiculous because it should not happen, but to me, grammatical mistakes and spelling errors show a lack of proofreading/care. If you can't write an error-free letter, I worry that your manuscript will be full of errors, too. Blatant form letters (Dear Agent) are a turnoff.

KV: What are you looking for in a manuscript right now? What are you tired of seeing at the moment?

GK: I always want to see great writing with a compelling story that draws me in right away. I think that's really important in children's books, whether it be contemporary, historical, fantasy, sci-fi, etc. I am especially interested in funny, contemporary middle grade novels. I would love to find another mystery series. Wendelin's Sammy Keyes books have brought my daughter, mother, and me pleasure for many years (and we are all unhappy that #18 will be the last one!).

I'm not interested in seeing picture books that are too long or beginning readers (aka easy-to-read short chapter books).

KV: What's the best way to query you?

GK: At this point, I receive so many emails that I can't keep up with queries via email. So if you want to be sure I read your query, it's best to submit it the old-fashioned way, via post, with either one picture book or the first two or three chapters of a novel or nonfiction project included with a self-addressed stamped envelope. I know it's old school, but it seems all of us are drowning in email, and this will allow me to keep afloat.

Thank you, Ms. Knowlton, for these informative answers. I will definitely have to check out these Sammy Keyes books...

All right, readers, it's your turn! If you have a question for Ms. Knowlton, feel free to leave it in the comments below. She'll pop in later and leave her responses in the comments as well. You have until 4:00 p.m. EDT (or 1:00 p.m. PDT), so don't dilly-dally!

32 comments:

michelleimason said...

I don't have a question, but I've read a few of the Sammy Keyes books and love them. I intend to read the rest of the series eventually. You definitely should check them out, Krista!

Krista Van Dolzer said...

One more question from me: If a query catches your eye, do you e-mail the writer to request the manuscript, or do you always send your replies in those self-addressed stamped envelopes? And do you prefer hard-copy submissions on requested manuscripts, too?

Ginger said...

Great question, Krista. If a query catches my eye, I will send an email (or my assistant will) and go from there. No, I don't prefer hard copies of requested manuscripts. Once I'm interested, email is fine. I'm inundated with so much email that I know I miss some gems, but I have to live with that because my current clients have to take precedent. (Those thoughts may not seem related, but they are to me.)

H. Pinski said...

Ms. Knowlton:

I am particularly interested in your views on how new technologies for content creation and distribution will enhance storytelling, especially for MG readers. Serialization seems like a no-brainer to me, but I didn't get far when pitching one to agents. I received a few request to re-write it as a stand-alone because they didn't feel they could sell digital. Now digital only imprint are springing up everywhere. Considering how long it takes to go from acquiring a manuscript to publication, it feels like the industry is very behind on developing digital content for this age group.

Many thanks for your time,

Hilary

Hong said...

I have two questions:

1. Are you interested in MG multicultural fantasies and fairytale retellings?

2. If an editor from a big publisher has expressed an interest in working with an author, would you want to know about it in the query letter?

Teresa Robeson said...

Thank you both for a fun, and useful, interview! I've been a fan of the Sammy Keyes books since day 1 and it's the only series I keep up with, panting to get the next book in my hands! And I don't even read mysteries, usually. ;)

Helen Frost is amazing! She is in my IN SCBWI group. I took a workshop from her once and loved her so much I nominated her for the Indiana Authors Award last year (which she won!).

My question is something that a lot of other PB writers I know want to ask: how do you feel about rhyming picture books? Since you represent Helen, I know that you will take novels in verse. I am a published poet (Ladybug, Babybug magazines), though I don't usually write rhyming texts, but I'd like to know for future reference. Thanks!

angie jones said...

Hi Ms. Knowlton,

I have two questions for you...

1. Do you ever look on blogs/social media for talent? Would you ever not consider representing someone because they shared/overshared their work on their blog/social media?

2. Do you find it easier or harder to rep illustrator/writers than those that just write?

Thanks!

Elaine Kearns said...

Is it true that agents are looking for non- fiction picture books right now? It seems to be very popular at the moment.

Carrie F said...

Thanks for the great interview and for taking the time to answer our questions.

You mentioned beginning readers and my question relates to that. I have a story that I've written as an early reader (no chapters, but very simple, easy-to-read text) and I have ideas in mind for other books in the series. But I could also see the story working as a picture book and could develop it that way. My research has shown that early reader series are possibly even more difficult to sell than picture books, especially for an unknown author. Given that, do you advise that writers stay away from writing reader series? I'm a bit at a loss as to how to move forward with this. Thanks!

Ginger said...

H. Pinski, such a great question! You’ve reminded me that I’m eager and curious to learn more about Storybird, where Molly Oneill is heading. I think there will be more and more opportunities for authors and illustrators in this arena, which is exciting. On the other hand, it’s difficult for agents to know who will serve authors/illustrators best, when there are so many untested players/startups popping up, each with a lot of hype and excitement surrounding them. Agents may be approaching them with caution, waiting to see which ones are going to pass the test of time.

I don’t think I’ve really answered your question, though. I believe that the most important component is the content itself, not the new technologies, so while the new technologies can enhance a project, the content of the project is still key. Perhaps agents want to see you focus more on the content than the creative enhancements. That’s just my guess.

Ginger said...

Thanks for your questions, Hong. Yes, I’m interested in middle grade multicultural fantasies, but not fairytale retellings. And yes, please let me know if an editor has expressed an interest in working with you. The more details, the better, as long as it’s still a short query letter.

By the way, I should mention that I’m a Twitter-failure (and please note I say this without apology). I just don’t seem to have the time or inclination to tweet, so @CurtisBrownLtd speaks for me. So do the wrinkles on my face.

Natalie Aguirre said...

Thanks for the great interview. It's great to know what Ginger Knowlton is looking for. And it's so interesting to know that she prefers the query to be sent by mail.

Ginger said...

Elaine Kearns, in short: Yes.
I’m sure there are a lot of agents looking for nonfiction picture books. The trick is finding the right one at the right time with the right voice, etc., and then matching it with the right editor/agent. Sound familiar?

Ginger said...

Teresa Robeson, you’re most welcome. So happy you’re a Sammy Keyes fan, as well as a Helen Frost promoter. Thank you! As far as rhyming picture books go, I am a fan if they fit the story. In other words, if it’s a picture book that needs to be told in rhyme for some reason and the rhyme is perfect, then I’m a fan. If it is just a gimmick, though, and the rhyme seems forced, it is painful. Hope that helps.

Ginger said...

Angie Jones, I wrote a note above in a response to Hong about being a Twitter-fail. I’m afraid I don’t make the time to look on blogs/social media for talent either. I'm going to turn your question around and say that I would probably consider representing someone who has shared/overshared their work, but I would want to know more about it. I think the appropriate answer here is, “It depends.” Sorry if that’s not helpful.

Ginger said...

You’re welcome, Carrie F. The reason I’m not looking for beginning readers is because I’ve found them to be more difficult to sell than picture books. That said, publishers do publish them, so there may be a market for the right author. Wishy-washy answer, I know, but you may be the best ever author of an early reader series and I don’t want to be the one to tell you to hang it up, sight unseen. Are you in a trusted critique group, or know a published author who will give you an unbiased opinion? If not, you might consider joining the SCBWI (if you aren’t a member already). The networking that’s available via SCBWI can be very helpful.

Rebecca said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rebecca said...

Hi Ms. Knowlton,

I recently made my first sale, a co-written picture book. But I also write verse novels for older readers. So, I'm wondering how you feel about representing authors who write for more than one age group.

Thanks!

Eric Steinberg said...

Ms. Knowlton,

Thanks so much for taking the time to do this (and to Ms. Van Dolzer for setting it up).

I have two questions.

1. You mentioned science fiction among many other genres. I've noticed that for some agents, science fiction is a definite no, while for others, it's an area they really like. Where do you fall?

2. How do you feel about male protagonists in YA novels?

H. Pinski said...

Molly O'Neill went to Storybird? Wow...

That is a very interesting perspective, the sheer number of start-ups and their success rates. I am also mindful of the expense and risk incurred by the publisher with enhanced storytelling, which is why I try to write form agnostic (term coined by Eric Huang formerly of Penguin UK).

Don't get me wrong, I got plenty of rejections based on content alone, it was the agents that were drawn to the story but rejected based on the digital serialization that perplexed me. Or maybe they were just being nice. :)

Thank you for such a thoughtful answer. You've got me thinking...

Cathy Ballou Mealey said...

Thank you for your thoughtful answers to these interesting questions!

I'm curious whether you prefer working with authors who write in more than one genre (PB and MG for example) or to represent authors who have a strong identity in just one genre where they build a loyal audience.

Thank you!

Ginger said...

Hi Rebecca. Congratulations on your first sale! I have many clients who write for various age groups. I mentioned Helen Frost and Kim Bradley in my interview above, and both of them have written picture books as well as novels. Gail Carson Levine and Linda Sue Park have done the same. Bring it on!

Ginger said...

Eric Steinberg, I sold The Ear, the Eye, and the Arm by Nancy Farmer to Dick Jackson many years ago, and have sold other science fiction, so I’m not a ‘definite no’ but neither am I searching for a lot more science fiction. Ginger Clark at Curtis Brown is more interested in that genre than I am. I’m not sure I understand your second question about male protagonists in YA novels. Boys do read YA, and girls will read books with boy protagonists, and publishers publish them, so I have no problem with it.

Ginger said...

Cathy Ballou Mealey, you're welcome! Writing in more than one genre is fine with me. After an author and I have agreed to work together, we may discuss long-term goals and how best to reach them. It seems that every situation is different and can be answered with the dependable, "It depends." It's also why I sometimes describe my job as chameleon-like--adjusting a bit to meet the different needs of different clients.

Megan Reyes said...

Thank you so much for taking the time to do this interview!

Ms. Knowlton,

In regards to MG, do you have a preference of first-person narrative verses third-person narrative? I enjoy writing in third-person, but I wonder if MG readers (especially the younger MG) identify with first-person better? What are your thoughts on this? Do you see one more successful than the other, or are they equal?

Thank you for your time!

Krista Van Dolzer said...

And that's it! Thank you, Ginger, for spending the day with us, and thank you, everyone else, for giving us something to talk about. (Megan, I'm sure she'll be back to answer this last question shortly!)

Meet me back here this Friday for details on next week's round of "An Agent's Inbox" with Bridget Smith of Dunham Literary!

Ginger said...

Megan, I don't have a preference. Each project is unique (one hopes) so it really depends on the voice and the story and how best to tell it. I haven't noticed that one is more successful than the other, but it's a great question that someone else might be able to answer. I'm afraid I just don't know.

Ginger said...

Thanks, Krista! I hope it was helpful.

Elaine Kearns said...

Thank you! I've learned so much!

Krista Van Dolzer said...

Happy to hear it, Elaine!

Karen Clayton said...

So good to know about how best to query now.

Krista Van Dolzer said...

Glad you found the interview helpful, Karen!