Literary Agent Interview: Peter Knapp of New Leaf Literary & Media

Note from Chuck: As of August 2016, Peter Knapp is no longer an agent with New Leaf Literary. He is now an agent with The Park Literary Group. Please query him there. 

This is an interview with Pete Knapp, formerly an agent at New Leaf Literary & Media, is now an agent at The Park Literary Group. Knapp began his career as a story editor at Floren Shieh Productions, consulting on book-to-film adaptations for Los Angeles-based movie and TV entities. His clients include Melanie Conklin (COUNTING THYME, Putnam/Penguin), Soman Chainani (author of the New York Times bestselling THE SCHOOL FOR GOOD AND EVIL series), Lucy Keating (DREAMOLOGY, HarperTeen), Brenda Drake (THIEF OF LIES, Entangled Teen), Anna Michels (26 KISSES, Simon Pulse) and Will Walton (ANYTHING COULD HAPPEN, Scholastic). He graduated from NYU summa cum laude and lives in Brooklyn. You can find him online and on Twitter, @petejknapp.

He is looking for middle-grade and young adult fiction and high-concept adult fiction. For middle-grade, he prefers high-action, epic adventures, and spooky and irreverent fiction. For young adult, he likes stories that are character-driven, magical realism, epic fantasy, or stories that are highly realistic. For adult fiction, he is looking for high-concept, voice-driven stories.

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How—and why—did you become an agent? (maybe the why should come first!)

My first job out of college was at a scouting agency that consulted on book-to-film adaptations for Los Angeles-based film companies, and a huge part of that job was talking to agents and editors to see what manuscripts they were selling and buying. Almost immediately, I gravitated toward the job of an agent: agents hunt for exciting new voices, work closely with authors to develop material, and then have the fun of pitching and selling the books they love. They get to work closely with publishers, but they largely have a great deal of autonomy: while we can’t control what the market is buying, we do ultimately get to decide what we want to take on, and that ability to act on a creative instinct definitely appeals to me. Plus, I love the business side of it, particularly the big picture stuff: long term career strategy, author branding, web strategies and the like. Agents get to work across so many different disciplines, so it really never gets boring!

(Tips on how to find more agents who seek your genre/category.)

Can you tell us a more about something that’s recently sold for one of your clients?

Most recently I’ve sold a YA fantasy series and a YA historical mystery with a magical twist…but neither are announced yet, so that’s all I can say for now.

My clients have a few books coming out in the first half of 2016. In January, Brenda Drake’s THIEF OF LIES, the first in a fun new YA romantic fantasy series, publishes. Melanie Conklin’s debut  COUNTING THYME and Lucy Keating’s debut DREAMOLOGY both publish on April 12th. Melanie’s book is a beautiful, voice-driven middle grade contemporary about a girl whose younger brother has cancer. Lucy’s debut is about a teen girl who has fallen in love with a boy she only sees in her dreams—until one day she starts at a new school and finds the boy of her literal dreams sitting in her classroom. After that, Anna Michels’ debut 26 KISSES comes out in May—this is a really fun, smart summer romance about a girl who tries to get over recent heartbreak by kissing her way through the alphabet; it’s great.


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You recently moved agencies—what it’s like now to be on the New Leaf team?

The New Leaf team is fantastic—and truly a team. Though there are now fifteen of us, we all work extremely closely with one another, constantly comparing notes on industry trends and changes, discussing marketing plans for each other’s clients, talking about web strategy and branding initiatives, and so much more. It’s truly a collaborative environment, and I think this is a huge part of the success the agency has had since opening.

When agents discuss career moves with their clients, what do they want/need them to know? 

Each situation will be different, depending on the agreement between both the author and the original agency and between the agent and the original agency. One of the important things I communicated to my clients, all of whom I’m still working with at New Leaf, is that I hoped and planned to continue working with them at my new position, and that the new agency is excited to bring them on board. There is, understandably, nervousness around the transition, and so a huge part for me was just walking each client through the transition, what they could expect in terms of formally moving over to New Leaf, and what to expect once they landed. I was sure to be available at all odd hours to answer any questions or otherwise make myself available to the clients. And then, of course, I communicated why I was making the change and how I felt it might benefit my clients given their particular needs.

(Querying? Read advice on how to find the most target agents to query.)

What kind of work are you interested in taking on right now? Are you open for submissions?

Yes—I am open for submissions. At New Leaf, am continuing to look for exciting new voices in middle grade and young adult, across all genres. I am looking for cool ideas, big worlds, and voices that standout—things that feel new, unexpected, or unfamiliar. I want stories that feel specific to the author–that express an author’s unique viewpoint and sensibility. On the adult side, I’m looking for smart, high-concept manuscripts: character-driven stories with cool premises and cinematic plotting. You can learn how to query me here. And you can find more about my wish list here.

Are you attending an upcoming writers conferences this fall where writers can meet/pitch you?

I will be at SCBWI Austin in May 2016!

And finally, any last piece of advice for writes seeking an agent?

While you are waiting to hear from agents, start working on the next project. Some authors sign with an agent for the first book they send out, others won’t sign with an agent until the second, third, fourth, or more. When in your journey you sign with an agent has no bearing on how successful the book will be—but if you get stuck on one book, you can lose your forward momentum. It doesn’t mean you have to give up on that book, but sometimes it is best to get some distance and then come back to it later. In this business, there is so much you can’t control, but what you do control is your output, so keep working on your craft, and keep writing new stories.

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This interview conducted by Gail Werner, a freelance writer 
and committee member of the Midwest Writers Workshop. 
You can visit her website or follow her on Twitter.


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