Agent Advice: Kelly Sonnack of The Andrea Brown Literary Agency

“Agent Advice” (this installment featuring agent Kelly Sonnack of The Andrea Brown Literary Agency) 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 Kelly Sonnack of the Andrea Brown Literary Agency.  Kelly recently joined the ABLA after leaving the Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency.

She is seeking: all types of children’s literature (picture books, middle grade, young adult, and graphic novels). In picture books and middle grade fiction, Kelly looks for a good sense of humor, stories that stretch a young reader’s imagination, and an authentic voice. In young adult, she appreciates literary voices and character-driven stories with heart. In non-fiction for children, she enjoys projects that inspire and stimulate the minds of our younger generations. At this time, Kelly is not accepting unsolicited submissions in adult fiction or adult nonfiction.”

GLA: How did you become an agent?

KS: My career in publishing actually started in academic publishing.  Before I knew it, I was the editor of Soil, Plant, and Insect Science textbooks and while I worked with fantastic and brilliant authors, trade literature has always been my passion (with children’s literature my real dream). I found out about an entry-level job at the Dijkstra Agency and while it was entry-level (and meant a huge pay cut), I could see that there were a lot of opportunities I could take advantage of.  I started agenting my own books within my first year there and haven’t looked back!

GLA: You recently moved to Andrea Brown Literary.  What are you looking forward to about this new venture?  (Did you move to the Bay area?)

KS: I’m looking forward to working with such a dynamic team of super-smart and savvy colleagues who really know the children’s market.  Each member of the team has a really great and unique perspective on children’s literature so there’s a lot for us to learn from one another.  (And no, I’m still in San Diego.)

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

KS: I just sold a graphic novel by James Burks, titled Gabby and Gator to Yen Press, the graphic novel division of Hachette.  They’re starting to work on juvenile graphic novels, and this was one of their first acquisitions for this initiative. It’s a brilliant piece of work.

As for other notable news, during my first day at ABLA, I found out that my author Steve Watkins won the Golden Kite award for his novel Down Sand Mountain (Candlewick, 2008). His was one of my first projects and I’m thrilled that he’s receiving this honor. It’s a book that has a really special place in my heart.

GLA: You take all kinds of children’s works – young adult, middle grade, picture books, etc.  What are  you looking for right now and not getting?  What do you pray for when tackling the slush pile?

KS: I’d love to see more well-written and clever middle grade fiction. There’s a need for it right now and I see a lot of potential in this market.  I’d also love to see more memoir for kids – especially cultural memoir about growing up in different countries, identity, and living across cultures. We are a colorful world, and I’m not sure that’s reflected adequately in children’s lit quite yet.

GLA: You accept YA and MG.  Specifically, do you specialize in any subgenres?  Multicultural?  Edgy stuff? 

KS: I really don’t confine myself to one area; I enjoy having a variety. I will admit a particular soft spot for picture books but there’s only so many of those I can take on at a time. I really love literary, coming-of-age YA, as well as quirky and smart MG. I’m also particularly loving graphic novels for kids these days. We’re living in a time that is ripe for them, and it’s exciting to help shape that.


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GLA: With picture books, I suspect you get a lot of submissions and most of them get rejected.  Where are writers going wrong in picture book submissions?

KS: Rhyming! So many writers think picture books need to rhyme. There are some editors who won’t even look at books in rhyme, and a lot more who are extremely wary of them, so it limits an agent on where it can go and the likelihood of it selling.  It’s also particularly hard to execute perfectly.  Aside from rhyming, I see way too many picture books about a family pet or bedtime.

GLA: When you’re reviewing a juvenile fiction partial, what do you hate to see in Chapter 1?

KS: I hate to see a whiny character who’s in the middle of a fight with one of their parents, slamming doors, rolling eyes, and displaying all sorts of other stereotypical behavior. I hate seeing character “stats” (“Hi, I’m Brian, I’m 10 years and 35 days old with brown hair and green eyes”).  I also tend to have a hard time bonding with characters who talk to the reader (“Let me tell you about the summer when I…”).

GLA: When you get a graphic novel submission, what do you like to see in the submission itself?  Just the query?  10 pages?

KS: At the AB Agency, we only accept e-mail submissions, so I would want to see the query letter e-mailed to me (listing any credentials), and then the first 10 pages copied into the body of the e-mail. If there is accompanying sample art, that can be pasted into the message as well.

GLA: Do writers have to finish a graphic novel before querying you?  Or can they just have a good synopsis?

KS: The text needs to be completed but the art shouldn’t be since there are sure to be future changes suggested by myself or an editor.

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

KS: Yes! I’ll be at the Charlotte Huck Children’s Festival in Redlands next week, and then I’ll also be at the Western Washington SCBWI meeting in May, Comic-Con (I’m speaking at the Project Impact event before the Con starts) in July, SCBWI National in August, the Southern California Writers meeting in Irvine in Sept, and the La Jolla Writers Conference in November. Phew!

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

KS: Know who your competition is and read and study the books your intended readers will also be reading. During difficult economic times, support your fellow writers and buy books!


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