Literary Agent Interview: Katie Shea of Donald Maass Literary (formerly Caren Johnson Literary)

This installment features Katie Shea of Caren Johnson Literary Agency. A published writer herself, Katie began working in the literary industry in 2008 as a reader with FinePrint Literary Management. She also assisted agents at Folio Literary Management and Langtons International Agency. She holds BA from Marist College and is now ecstatic to be building her own client list at CJLA. She also Tweets. She is seeking: nonfiction in the areas of diet, health & wellness, travel, narrative nonfiction, and memoir. She also holds a strong interest in beautifully written literary fiction, commercial adult fiction, and women's fiction.
Author:
Publish date:

“Agent Advice” (this installment featuring agent Katie Shea) 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 agencies.

This installment features Katie Shea of Donald Maass Literary (formerly Caren Johnson Literary Agency). A published writer herself, Katie began working in the literary industry in 2008 as a reader with FinePrint Literary Management. She also assisted agents at Folio Literary Management and Langtons International Agency. She holds BA from Marist College. She also Tweets.

She is seeking: nonfiction in the areas of diet, health & wellness, travel, narrative nonfiction, and memoir. She also holds a strong interest in beautifully written literary fiction, commercial adult fiction, and women's fiction.

Image placeholder title

GLA: How (and why) did you become an agent?

KS: I took an internship position at FinePrint Literary Management as a reader to get "the inside" of how to get published. I graduated from college with a Journalism/Creative Writing degree and dreamed of becoming a writer. Soon, however, I began to realize how much I loved "the other side" of the publishing business. After six months at FinePrint, I moved to Folio Literary Management where I worked under Erin C. Niumata. With over a year's work in NYC literary offices, I wanted more. I sent out a mass amount of résumés to different agencies in New York City to get my name and my experience out there. I was looking for a full time position as an agent. I soon met with the wonderful Caren Estesen, owner of the Johnson Lit Agency, who was willing to give me a chance. And here I am! Wasn't the easiest way, but it worked.

GLA: What are you looking for right now in commercial fiction? What do you pray for when tackling the slush pile?

KS: When I think of commercial fiction, I think mainstream. Will everyone want to read this? How will this appeal to the general audience? I want a hook and a compelling plot that will jump out at me.
I love to see one sentence pitches in query letters. This shows me that the writer knows exactly what the story is about and how to grab his/her reader in one phrase. This screams commercial. Keep in mind that commercial fiction often incorporates other genre types, such as women's issues, food, family drama, adventure, etc.

For me, I like to see stories with a niche I like. I am a huge foodie, so if I see a query letter about a chef, I am going to want to read it. I have recently been engaged, therefore, this will draw me closer to stories about weddings. And as everyone knows (for those who have researched me), I am greatly into family dynamics. Give me a story from a unique perspective involving a detailed family saga, and I am on my toes!

Screen Shot 2016-08-08 at 2.57.50 PM

The biggest literary agent database anywhere
is the Guide to Literary Agents. Pick up the
most recent updated edition online at a discount.


GLA
: One of the areas you seek is literary fiction. It seems as though, typically, literary works are thought of as “important” works with beautiful writing and envelope-pushing or groundbreaking subjects. What, to you, constitutes a piece of literary fiction? Something different? Anything more specific?

KS: Literary fiction involves serious and personal themes, while creating a beautifully written story. First off, I want something I can connect to. I am most interested in stories about family dynamics, motherhood, fatherhood, personal overcome, unexpected relationships, and self-discovery. I truly look for a story that has it all—love, hate, good, bad, tears, laughter, success, failure—showing me that the writer can connect with a vast audience on many levels.

The tone of the book is also extremely interesting to me. The main character must always set the mood of the story. I like sadness and darkness, but I also like to see positivity and happiness somewhere in the plot. I want to feel the story in my veins.

GLA: While we’re on the subject, what are some of your favorite literary titles? Perhaps list 2-3 you wish you’d repped, so potential queriers can get a sense of your tastes?

KS: By Nightfall by Michael Cunningham
Little Bee by Chris Cleave
The Help by Kathryn Stockett
Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

GLA: Where are people going wrong in their memoir submissions to you?

KS: One of the worst things I see with memoir is when the writer starts from the beginning of their life to where they are now. Memoir should be only a chapter of your life. I have been pitched memoirs that could be divided into three books!

For memoir writers, choose your strongest or favorite theme and then work from exactly when it started to exactly when it ended. Do not include the before and after. I do not want to be reading a book from when you were two years old up until you are 43. It just doesn't work.

GLA: Some agents require exclusivity when reviewing partial or full manuscripts. Do you? What’s your take on this?

KS: I never ask for an exclusive read when reviewing partials or full manuscripts. Sometimes, however, if I do feel there is great potential in the writer and I want to work on some edits (after I read the full), I will ask to work on an exclusive basis.

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

KS: Unfortunately, no. This year (2011) so far I have made it to two conferences, the Writer’s Digest Pitch Slam and the North East Texas Writer's Conference. I have no scheduled conferences as of now.

GLA: What is something personal about you writers would be surprised to hear?

KS: I am a writer myself. I have a few things hidden in my desk drawer, one that is a completed literary fiction title. I understand on many levels how hard edits can be and the process of getting your project to the place you want it. I hold compassion and deep love for writers who are serious about being published and who want it more than anything. Passion is something I can detect.

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

KS: Trust yourself. Trust your instincts.

Image placeholder title

This guest column by Ricki Schultz,
freelance writer and coordinator of
The Write-Brained Network. You can
Visit her blog
or follow her on Twitter.


Check Out These Great Upcoming Writers Conferences:

Other writing/publishing articles and links for you:

writer's digest wd presents

WD Presents: Final Competition Deadline, Short Story Virtual Conference, and more!

This week, we’re excited to announce the Self-Published Book Awards deadline for 2021, details on the upcoming Short Story Virtual Conference, and more!

John B. Thompson | Book Wars

John B. Thompson: On Researching Changes in the Book Publishing Industry

John B. Thompson, author of the new book Book Wars, shares the research that went into his account of how the digital revolution changed publishing for readers and writers.

From Script

Supporting AAPI Storytellers and Tapping into Mythical World Building (From Script)

In this week’s round-up from ScriptMag.com, meet South-East-Asian-American filmmakers and screenwriters, plus interviews with screenwriter Emma Needell and comic book writer/artist Matt Kindt, TV medical advisor Dr. Oren Gottfried, and more!

What Is a Personal Essay in Writing?

What Is a Personal Essay in Writing?

In this post, we look at what a personal essay (also known as the narrative essay) is, including what makes it different from other types of fiction and nonfiction writing, examples of effective personal essays, and more.

FightWrite™: How Do People Who Don’t Know How to Fight, Fight?

FightWrite™: How Do People Who Don’t Know How to Fight, Fight?

If your character isn't a trained fighter but the scene calls for a fight, how can you make the scene realistic? Author and trained fighter Carla Hoch has the answers for writers here.

April PAD Challenge

30 Poetry Prompts for the 2021 April PAD Challenge

Find all 30 poetry prompts for the 2021 April Poem-A-Day Challenge in this post.

The Problem of Solving a Mystery When You're the Prime Suspect

The Problem of Solving a Mystery When You're the Prime Suspect

Mia P. Manansala, author of Arsenic & Adobo, explains how writers can help their main character solve a mystery when they're the prime suspect.

Mistakes Writers Make: Not Using Your Spare 15 Minutes

Mistakes Writers Make: Not Using Your Spare 15 Minutes

The Writer's Digest team has witnessed many writing mistakes over the years, so we started this series to help identify them for other writers (along with correction strategies). This week's writing mistake writers make is not using your spare 15 minutes.

Plot Twist Story Prompts: Unexpected Visitor

Plot Twist Story Prompts: Unexpected Visitor

Every good story needs a nice (or not so nice) turn or two to keep it interesting. This week, invite an unexpected visitor into your story.