Literary Agent Interview: Katie Kotchman of Don Congdon Associates

This installment features Katie Kotchman of Don Congdon Associates (no website available). She is seeking: a wide range of fiction and nonfiction, specializing in narrative nonfiction, business, YA, mystery/thriller, and upmarket women's fiction. In the fiction projects she represents, she looks for quirky characters, fast-paced plots, and, of course, quality writing. For nonfiction, she’s always looking for authors with ready-made platforms and unique ideas from whom she can learn something new.
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“Agent Advice” (this installment featuring agent Katie Kotchman of Don Congdon Associates) 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 featuresKatie Kotchman of Don Congdon Associates.

She is seeking: a wide range of fiction and nonfiction, specializing in narrative nonfiction, business, YA, mystery/thriller, and upmarket women's fiction. In the fiction projects she represents, she looks for quirky characters, fast-paced plots, and, of course, quality writing. For nonfiction, she’s always looking for authors with ready-made writer platforms and unique ideas from whom she can learn something new.

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GLA: How did you become a literary agent?

KK: I had one main goal upon graduating from Vassar: work in publishing. Having only a vague notion of the day-to-day processes of the publishing industry, I sought out an internship at Denise Marcil Literary Agency. Over the next few months, I turned that internship into full-time employment as Denise’s assistant and business manager. As my knowledge of the industry grew, I began to take on projects of my own. I was hooked—I knew that my place in the publishing industry was as a literary agent.

I’m now a full-time agent with a growing list under Don Congdon Associates.

GLA: What’s something coming out now that you repped and are excited about?

KK: I’m wildly enthusiastic about a project I’ve just sold: ALL WORK, NO PAY: THE INTERN QUEEN’S GUIDE TO FINDING AN INTERNSHIP, MAKING CONNECTIONS, AND BUILDING YOUR RESUME AND JOB EXPERIENCE by Lauren Berger. The author is incredibly driven and passionate. It’s a book I wish I had when I was in college—maybe then I would’ve completed an internship before I graduated!

GLA: What makes Don Congdon Associates stand out from other literary agencies?

KK: We’re a small office with diverse interests and experience. When you’re a client of DCA, you have the expertise of six agents to draw upon. We collaborate closely and we’re all involved in the day-to-day operation of the business as a whole.

GLA: Tell me about some cliches that you come across in partials that make you stop reading and start skimming.

(Read an article: How to Start Your Novel.)

KK: Many of the clichés I see are in query letters, and often have to do with the scope of the novel. I think writers often draw inspiration from previous bestsellers, but agents aren’t looking for something that’s already been done. We’re looking for the next big thing—something that surprises us or touches us or simply makes us think “Wow.”

When crafting the voice, I think many authors mistakenly rely on genre conventions, rather than create a voice that is natural, authentic, and appropriate for their character. Just because Raymond Chandler created a hardboiled noir style of clipped, sharp dialogue, that doesn’t make it the right stylistic choice for your PI novel.
Also, I don’t like to see rhetorical questions as a substitution for inner dialogue or as the primary method for getting inside a character’s head. There are more effective and nuanced ways to do so.

GLA: What do you expect from an agent-author relationship? Can you describe your ideal client?

KK: As an agent, I’m there to guide my authors throughout the entire publishing process while protecting their best interests. I love the creative aspect of the job, and I’m always eager to brainstorm ideas, give editorial feedback, and help authors shape and tighten their work. In working with my clients, I share my knowledge of the market in order to get the best deal possible.

My ideal client is one who’s professional, polite, and receptive to feedback.

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GLA: You’ll be at the Pitch Slam during the Writer’s Digest Conference on January 22, 2011. What do you think is the most common mistake writers make when they give a short in-person pitch to an agent?

KK: I would advise authors not to read from a script or note cards. It sounds awkward and forced, and it won’t allow your voice, passion, and enthusiasm to come through in your pitch. Instead, make eye contact with the agent, and talk about your book as though you’re describing it to a friend or family member. Keep it to the point, but give enough description to entice your listener. This is your chance to give the agent your version of the back cover copy.

GLA: Don Congdon Associates doesn’t have a website (2012 UPDATE: They do.), though the agency does accept e-mail queries. Are there any plans for an increased web presence, and how do you think an agency website or blog would affect your slush pile?

KK: We’re working on it! I anticipate that writers will appreciate having one central, definitive website with information about our agency. And I’m hoping that it will cut down on some confusion between Katie Grimm and Katie Kotchman—we’re two different agents at the same agency!

GLA: What publishing industry periodicals or blogs do you currently read that might also be helpful to prospective clients?

KK: The Shatzkin Files, GalleyCat, Shelf Awareness, eBooknewser, Publishers Lunch, J.A. Konrath’s blog …

GLA: Besides the upcoming Writers Digest Conference, will you be at any other upcoming writers conferences where people can meet/pitch you?

KK: I’ll be at the International Women’s Writing Guild conference in April 2011. And I’m considering Thrillerfest in July 2011.

GLA: Best way to contact you?

KK: Send an e-mail query to kkotchman[at]doncongdon.com. I won’t open attachments, but if you feel so inclined you can cut and paste the first 5 pages (no more) into the body of the e-mail.

GLA: Something personal about you writers may be surprised to know?

KK: I can breakdance … sort of.

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

KK: Write every day, read every day, and don’t be discouraged by rejection.

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Agent interview by Donna Gambale,
who works an office job by day, writes young
adult novels by night, and travels when possible.
She blogs at the First Novels Club and is the
author of a mini kit, Magnetic Kama Sutra.


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