Like our workshop, these faculty interviews focus on youth novels. To read all years’ faculty interviews, see our Directory.
EMILY SYLVAN KIM
If you have lovingly and painstakingly crafted a novel, few rewards rank higher than that of attracting a dream agent—one who will champion and eventually sell your book. Our faculty agent Emily Sylvan Kim offers top-notch representation to talented writers, including a large percentage of debuts. She’s “excited” to meet writers at our 2012 seminar, whether they bring several polished chapters or a full-novel manuscript.
Emily’s agenting career started at Writers House. When she founded her own agency in 2005, she took inspiration from nearby Prospect Park, with its urban beauty and the diversity of those who run its paths. Her goal was to create “a community-centered haven for authors and illustrators... taking a leadership role in creating bold, innovative literature.”Now she is actively looking for new clients in both YA and middle grade, in a wide variety of genres. She adds, “I’m a great agent to meet if you’re seeking someone experienced who is also eager to discover new talent.”
I. GENERAL TOPICS
How would you characterize your agenting focus and goals? What’s your philosophy or mission in agenting children’s books?
Prospect Agency values literature that surprises, breaks conventions, transports the reader to a new world, but never forgets the basics of storytelling: strong characters and a gripping narrative.
You’re very receptive to finding new talent. Which genres are you seeking to represent?
I’m drawn to a wide range of genres, from realistic stories of any time period to fantasies grounded in everyday reality. Above all else, I admire well-crafted writing. (Examples: See Emily’s bio.)
What’s the outlook on youth novel trends—is YA evolving past trends? Which kind of controversial novels will you represent?
YA is certainly evolving as a genre, but I don’t think it is moving past trends. We just saw a very sustained interest in paranormal stories, and I believe we’re now moving into a period of interest in more realistic fiction. What remains from our love affair with paranormal is a desire to read big, sweeping stories. Books I think will work well in today’s market will be reality based, but contain larger-than-life situations and emotions.
(Queries, Synopses, Manuscripts)
Some agents give preferential treatment to conference attendees’ submissions for one to three months after the event. What is your time frame?
Usually, one year.
Some agents say they hardly read queries; others say queries are an important reflection on the author and the story. Which is true for you; why?
I do find queries very useful because they show me if authors are professional and able to talk about their projects in a compelling way.
What’s your usual response time to queries?
I always read queries [including three sample chapters] within a few days of their arrival. If I want to request a manuscript, you’ll usually hear from me within a week. If I am passing on a project, it may take a bit longer to receive a response.
Today, many agencies are “closed.” Do you consider unsolicited queries or those submitted without a referral?
Yes, Prospect Agency is actively looking for new clients.
What makes a query irresistible to you—or not?
A strong confident writing style makes a query irresistible to me. Just like a good book, there is no one format or style I am seeking. Rather, I am looking for an idea that captivates me and a friendly professional style. Keep in mind that when I am reading the query letter, I am looking not just for the germ of a great book, but am also assessing whether or not I think I could communicate and work successfully with the author of the letter.
One of my pet peeves is when query writers claim that friends, students, or family members love their book. Though this is lovely, it is not something you need to talk about in your letter. Another thing that really irks me is when authors mention that they never read books themselves. I am almost convinced that you cannot be a successful writer without being an avid reader.
Should writers include a brief “pitch” (such as how their novel might fill a marketing niche), or will a succinct plot summary show you the story’s potential value?
The problem with explaining how a book will fill a marketing niche is that the market conditions are almost certainly going to be different when the novel is released. An “elevator pitch” that really captivates is always a plus, but a succinct and gripping plot summary is preferable.
Do you read the synopsis before or after reading a manuscript—or do you sometimes bypass the synopsis entirely?
I always read the synopsis after considering the manuscript. If I don’t like the writing in the sample, I will bypass the synopsis altogether. Similarly, if I love the chapters, I will also often skip the synopsis in favor of quickly reading the manuscript in its entirety!