Agent Advice: Katie Grimm of Don Congdon Associates, Inc.

This installment features Katie Grimm of Don Congdon Associates, Inc. Katie has been an agent for two years. She seeks: literary fiction, mystery, women's fiction, historical fiction, thrillers/suspense, short stories, multi-cultural, offbeat/quirky, young adult, middle-grade, and children's literature. Her nonfiction interests are: history, biography, religion, science, drama/music, multi-cultural, memoirs, travel, adventure/true story, pop culture, narrative, photography, film & entertainment, cultural/social issues, and juvenile.
Publish date:

Agent Interview by

contributor Ricki Schultz.

“Agent Advice” (this installment featuring agent Katie Grimm of Don Congdon Associates, 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. Katie has been an agent for two years. (No website.)

She seeks: literary fiction, mystery, women's fiction, historical fiction, thrillers/suspense, short stories, multi-cultural, offbeat/quirky, young adult, middle-grade, and children's literature. Her nonfiction interests are: history, biography, religion, science, drama/music, multi-cultural, memoirs, travel, adventure/true story, pop culture, narrative, photography, film & entertainment, cultural/social issues, and juvenile.

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: How did you become an agent?

KG: I’m an insatiable reader—I’m always on the hunt for the next life-changing read, but as soon as I finish a rare find like that, I think, “yes, wonderful, but I want more!” I think it is important never to be fully satisfied with what’s on the shelves—when you’re complacent, the spark is gone. That drive brought me to agenting, and now I discover and nurture these books professionally. I also get to find other people who cherish these works as much as I do and are willing to fight alongside me to get them in reader’s hands. While books can be intensely personal, turning them into a shared experience is one of the joys of the job.

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

KG: I’ve been receiving and requesting a lot of young adult and middle grade, but I also want more historical fiction. The key to historical fiction is creating characters and plots that are engrossing no matter what the era, and the historical setting should inform the story and not overwhelm it. I am also looking for historical mysteries and lurid thrillers that aren’t in the terrorist or conspiracy theory mold—in my opinion, you don’t need far-reaching plotlines and global masterminds to deliver excitement.

I need more nonfiction that isn’t misery driven or inspirational—I want to learn something new! I’m always interested in well-researched, personal, and enlightening nonfiction, but having a strong writing platform is at the forefront of everyone’s mind, especially since much of marketing and publicity is placed on the shoulders of the author from the beginning.

As agents, we are constantly dealing with the conundrum of publishers only throwing marketing dollars into something that is already wildly popular, and authors need to be well aware of this as well.

GLA: You actively seek kids’ literature. What draws you to this category?

KG: There is an infectious enthusiasm in children’s and young adult literature, and I think it is because the desire to inspire readers is much more palpable than it is in adult, which tends to cater to a market instead of creating it anew. Perhaps that’s one of the shortcomings of the way we view books today—we are less zealous about reading into adulthood—and some books can feel more like medicine than magic.

GLA: Within juvenile lit, do you accept everything from picture books through young adult lit?

KG: I am especially interested in young adult and middle grade, but I do consider picture books as well. Illustrated books are such a specialized market—it requires a completely different skill set to be able to parse out the prose and the artwork—but I welcome the challenge.

GLA: You are drawn to “surprising protagonists.” Can you give us a few examples of what constitutes such a protagonist to you?

KG: Agents and editors are always trying to find different ways to intelligently express the phrase: “I want something new.” True innovation is difficult, but you can give yourself a head start by building a story around a protagonist that we’ve never heard from before and is unpredictable. Although it is a memoir, David Small’s exploration of his childhood throat cancer in Stitches is a wonderful example of a main character that is inherently interesting. Understanding why characters make the hard choices is also integral to building them into a truthful entity—and if your protagonist isn’t worrying over any difficult choices, that’s a problem. Bolaño’s Savage Detectives is populated with a rogue cast, and trying to figure out why they do the things they do is a mystery unto itself.

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GLA: Talk to us a bit more about your interest in short story projects.

KG: I am absolutely enamored with the short story as a prose form. When done well, short fiction can be transportive, revealing, and deeply satisfying. Because writers have to be much more economical with their words, writers must get to the crux of the issue without padding, and I find short stories much more truthful for this reason. Unfortunately, there are very few places where short stories are published, let alone allowed to flourish, so it can be very frustrating to try to sell. I think we all brace ourselves for the inevitable, “This is great, but what about a novel?”

GLA: You are not interested in high fantasy, straight science fiction, or paranormal. Are writers better off not sending you manuscripts with any elements of the fantastic at all, or are there specific subgenres of sci-fi and fantasy that do grab you?

KG: I don’t represent adult speculative fiction, but I love literary fiction with fantastical or dystopian elements. I think it is fascinating to see a glitch or twist in reality taken out to its logical conclusion and the dilemmas this presents for the characters. I am much more open to fantasy and sci-fi in YA and MG, but I have somehow escaped the pull of the vampire or vampire spin-offs, so no dragon slaying angel faeries for me!
Regardless of the mind-bending elements, the story must reveal something about humanity itself. I’ve recently become smitten with Patrick Ness’s Chaos Walking trilogy (and especially The Ask and the Answer) because he shows us how sometimes sending people to alien planets can reveal more truths about human nature than you would ever see on Earth.

GLA: What are your three biggest pet peeves that most commonly crop up in the first chapters of a partial?

KG: 1. I don’t enjoy frequent changes in perspective or the point of view with no delineation between sections. If you are writing in multiple voices, they all must be strong, distinct, and have their own chapters. It’s also frustrating to jump between multiple characters even in third person—with no anchor to the story, it is hard to create that bond with the reader and build momentum. I also don’t like it when a mystery switches to the point of view of the killer—where’s the fun in that? Also annoying is when a children’s story switches to perspective of the adults.

2. Nothing happens—no dead bodies, no problems, no momentum, no reason for me to read any further.

3. For nonfiction, a vague and ultimately unconvincing proposal. There are so many resources out there for how to write nonfiction proposals that it is maddening when a proposal doesn’t include a beefy marketing section or a competition discussion—including some of these things can be an easy fix, but it is also very revealing if the author hasn’t yet created a marketing game plan.

GLA: How do you prefer to be contacted by writers seeking representation?

KG: I prefer e-mail queries (dca[at]doncongdon[dot]com; put "Query for Katie" in the subject line) with the first chapter included in the body of the e-mail (we don’t open email attachments). I think authors lament the fact they have to create a pitch-perfect query letter, but sometimes an inability to convey concisely a project can demonstrate an inherent problem with it. At the same time, queries can sometimes be misleading and fail to demonstrate the writing voice, so it’s immensely helpful to have a chapter, too. Please only query one agent here at the agency.

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

KG: I’m still putting together a schedule for next year, but I’m planning on the Writer's Digest BEA Pitch Slam on May 24, 2010 (2009 site here) and Thrillerfest.

GLA: Best piece(s) of advice we haven’t talked about yet?

KG: Read and write every single day, and be evangelical about what you’re reading and loving. No amount of marketing or publicity dollars will ever trump the power of word-of-mouth, and sharing the emotional experience is why we’re all here.

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This agent interview by Ricki Schultz,
freelance writer and coordinator of
Shenandoah Writers in VA. Visit her blog
or follow her on Twitter.

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