Agent Advice: Kate McKean of Howard Morhaim Literary Agency, Inc.

“Agent Advice” (this installment featuring agent Kate McKean of Howard Morhaim Literary Agency, Inc.) is a series of quick interviews with literary agents and script agents who talk with Guide to Literary Agents about their thoughts on writing, publishing, and just about anything else. This series has more than 170 interviews so far with reps from great literary agencies. This collection of interviews is a great place to start if you are just starting your research on literary agents.

This installment features Kate McKean of Howard Morhaim Literary Agency, Inc. A native Southerner, Kate earned her Master’s degree in Fiction Writing from the University of Southern Mississippi before starting her career as a literary agent.

She is seeking: Her interests lie in literary fiction, contemporary women’s fiction, paranormal romance, urban fantasy, mystery, young adult and middle grade fiction, narrative nonfiction, sports related books, food writing, pop culture, and craft. She prefers email queries and can be reached at kmckean@morhaimliterary.com. She is not accepting any epic fantasy, science fiction, or children’s picture books.


 


GLA: Briefly, how did you become an agent?

KM: I’ve always loved writing and books, but I’m also a very outgoing person. As an agent, I get the best of both worlds–the creative aspect of helping my clients craft great novels and proposals, and the social aspect of networking with potential clients and editors. There are editors, teachers, writers, and salesmen in my family. Being an agent is like all of those professions put together.

GLA: What’s the most recent thing you’ve sold?

KM: Most recently, I’ve sold audio rights for some agency clients, which is always fun, but the last book I sold was the sequel to the New York Times bestselling I Can Has Cheezburger called How to Take Over Teh Wurld.

GLA: To me, at least, it seems like a lot of fiction stories that writers are pitching at conferences are about middle-aged women who break out of their unsatisfying life to live a life of adventure and/or excitement.  As someone who looks for contemporary women’s fiction, do you see a lot of these queries? And if so, what advice can you give writers on standing out from the crowd?

KM: I see a TON of novels like these, and haven’t signed up any of them. The advice I would give to writers working on this subject would be to focus less on the WHY the characters are changing their lives and more on WHAT they’re doing to change their lives. The emotional reasons behind these stories are familiar to readers, but what they do with it can be new, different, and interesting. Bottom line, though, writing trumps all. A well-written novel with this subject matter would catch my eye.

GLA: What are you looking for right now and not getting?  In other words, what do you pray for when tackling the slush pile?

KM: I’m looking for a novel to fall in love with. I’m looking for excellent writing, with a plot that keeps me turning pages. I’m looking for the diamond in the rough. I know that that’s not a helpful answer to writers looking to query me, but I find that if there’s a certain topic I’m looking for, I know how to go out and find it. I’m now just looking for that serendipitous connection of a great story and impeccable writing—just like every other agent and editor on the planet.

GLA: It says you seek paranormal romance, but nothing about any other type of romance.  What attracts you to this specific subgenre?

KM: I’m a finicky genre reader, especially in fantasy. I don’t want to learn a new language when I read a book, or have to create a completely new universe in my imagination, but I do want to escape my mundane existence. I particularly like that paranormal romance is equal parts a new and interesting, but takes place in a setting that I’m usually familiar with (you know, with the same laws of gravity and such). In the end, I’m a sucker for a romantic story, so paranormal romance satisfies both those cravings for me as a reader.

 

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GLA: No agent has ever really talked about urban fantasy before.  If someone asked you for your “Three Tips if Writing and Submitting an Urban Fantasy,” what would you tell them?

KM: Frankly, those tips would be just about the same for a writer writing in any genre.
1. Give me characters I can care about.
2. Give those characters something to DO.
3. Be aware of the genre, so you know if you’re treading the same path as other authors.

GLA: People say fantasy books tend to be longer than most books and don’t abide by normal word counts.  Is this true with urban fantasy?

KM: Any story that requires the author to create a new world different from our own is going to need some extra pages to flesh that out. As long as this is done in a way that keeps the plot going and keeps the reader turning pages, the final word count doesn’t really matter to me. But yes, fantasy does tend to be a little longer.

GLA: You seek young adult works.  You don’t want picture books.  Do you accept middle grade?

KM: Yes, I will consider MG. 

GLA: You seek sports-related books.  Can this be anything?  Coaching?  Memoir?  Weird statistics?  Anything?

KM: I’m a huge college football fan and I’m making it my mission to prove to the publishing world that football fans will buy books. (Whether or not I’m tilting at windmills here is another matter.) But I am interested in all sports, and all topics.  I have one client writing a memoir as told through baseball cards, and another working on ideas about the NFL in it’s early years.  Practical nonfiction on sports topics is harder, because the writer needs a major platform to sell books.

GLA: Will you be at any upcoming writers’ conferences where writers can meet and pitch you?

KM: I’ll be in Denver at the Romancing the Rockies conference May 1-2, 2009.

GLA: Best piece(s) of advice we haven’t discussed?

KM: I believe that all writers who hope to be published should remind themselves daily that they’re writing for their readers, not for themselves. Writing is definitely a personally gratifying experience and can have wonderful therapeutic and self-esteem building results–but if your reader isn’t compelled to turn the page because of something the writer is *trying* to do with the narration or theme, then what good does it do? One of my writing professors used to say: “Mean less.” To me, that means don’t set out for your book to be *about* something, especially an abstraction (love, trauma, homesickness). Just find some characters in your imagination. Make them do something. Make the reader care about what they do.

 

 

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One thought on “Agent Advice: Kate McKean of Howard Morhaim Literary Agency, Inc.

  1. Terry

    This Agent Advice series is particularly helpful. It gives insight into what agents are thinking at the moment. And writers need to keep up with the moment. Thank you.

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