Agent Advice: Meredith Kaffel of Charlotte Sheedy Literary Agency

This installment features Meredith Kaffel of Charlotte Sheedy Literary Agency. She is seeking: “or children’s books, my first love is YA. And my YA tastes run the gamut from the highly literary (especially fish out of water tales, outsider stories told teetering from the edge, high concept novels taking on themes with gravity, up-market historical fantasy and stories involving the arts in some way), to the highly commercial (teen paranormal with a twist, high school dramas and friendship sagas, anything with sass and attitude, etc). I also enjoy smart middle-grade fiction, and I will take on the occasional quirky picture book manuscript. I’m actively looking for new illustrators as well — for both the picture book and graphic novel/comic markets. As for adult manuscripts, I’m primarily looking for narrative nonfiction (specifically books dealing with food, science, international themes, feminism, cultural trends, art and literary history, music, and general “juicy” history and biography), and the rare literary novel that steals my heart. I tend to be drawn more toward darkly wry and edgy fiction than novels brimming with sugar-and-sunshine, but my rule about taking on a project is that there are no set rules. I just have to love it.”
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“Agent Advice”(this installment featuring agent Meredith Kaffel of Charlotte Sheedy 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 Meredith Kaffel of Charlotte Sheedy Literary Agency.

She is seeking: "or children's books, my first love is YA. And my YA tastes run the gamut from the highly literary (especially fish out of water tales, outsider stories told teetering from the edge, high concept novels taking on themes with gravity, up-market historical fantasy and stories involving the arts in some way), to the highly commercial (teen paranormal with a twist, high school dramas and friendship sagas, anything with sass and attitude, etc). I also enjoy smart middle-grade fiction, and I will take on the occasional quirky picture book manuscript. I'm actively looking for new illustrators as well -- for both the picture book and graphic novel/comic markets. As for adult manuscripts, I'm primarily looking for narrative nonfiction (specifically books dealing with food, science, international themes, feminism, cultural trends, art and literary history, music, and general "juicy" history and biography), and the rare literary novel that steals my heart. I tend to be drawn more toward darkly wry and edgy fiction than novels brimming with sugar-and-sunshine, but my rule about taking on a project is that there are no set rules. I just have to love it." I accept both email and snail mail queries. For email, please send to meredith@sheedylit.com (NEW), and for snail mail, to: Meredith Kaffel Charlotte Sheedy Literary Agency, 65 Bleecker St., Ste. 12, New York, NY 10012. For initial queries, I prefer a query letter along with 1-3 sample chapters for fiction, or a proposal for nonfiction."

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GLA: How did you become an agent?

MK: I interned for agent Sarah Burnes one summer, when I was an undergrad at Yale. I watched the rhythm of her day, the intimate author and editor contact, the invigorating daily flurry, and thought "that's what I want to do." After that, I kept interning in publishing until I graduated, and then, after a brief stint as a writer's assistant, I joined the Charlotte Sheedy Literary Agency.

GLA: You have a Sterling e-mail, but you're not technically with Sterling, is that right?

MK: Good question. Charlotte Sheedy Literary Agency (CSLA) is an affiliate of Sterling Lord Literistic (SLL). Charlotte owns her own agency, but we're a sister company of SLL – a boutique agency within the larger agency. It’s really a best of both worlds situation: the intimacy of a small agency, complete with the wonderful SLL extended family.

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

MK: A hilarious, quirky middle grade novel called Flirt Club by Cathleen Daly. It went to Neal Porter at Roaring Brook exclusively, because I wanted Neal's gorgeous aesthetic on this book. Thankfully, he loved it as much as I did.

GLA: You look for a lot of children's stuff. Specifically, with "fish out of water" stories - do you gravitate toward multicultural tales? Or can it simply be "poor kid gets sent to a rich boarding school" story?

MK: Charlotte and I both are very interested in multicultural tales, yes. But I'm also interested in any character who feels like an outsider, a misfit, anyone struggling to figure out who he or she is or how to exist outside his or her comfort zone.

GLA: Does "tween" exist as a category? If you got a query for a tween book that clearly straddled the YA-MG line, would you take it on? Or is it too hard to market because it's neither one nor the other?

MK: Tween does exist, and various publishers even have specific tween imprints in place. As for queries, the same standard holds true for me in terms of tween as it does with YA or MG: if the voice is authentic, then I'm probably interested. However, I do look more at plot with tween novels: right now, it's not enough just to have a great tween voice -- the storyline also needs to be unique enough to stand out in the marketplace.

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GLA: What's more common? Seeing a juvenile ms that talks down the audience, or one that's a little too purple-prose and over their heads?

MK: Well, typically I'd say the former. But since CSLA is the agency of Lemony Snicket, we also see a lot of queries attempting to mimic Snicket's highly idiosyncratic voice – which sometimes unfortunately results in the latter!

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

MK: Things I cross my fingers for:
1) High-concept YA novels - especially something as brave as Jay Asher's Thirteen Reasons Why.
2) YA and adult novels that make me laugh out loud (either light comedy or something really dark and twisted, something that's 'I can't believe I'm allowing myself to laugh at this, I should be arrested' funny)
3) Science for the trade market, pop sociology, books regarding cultural trends, counterculture histories, books which weave food and/or travel in as a theme, books about escape, about things lost and found, music histories for the trade market, compelling biographies of undersung women in history
4) Books about the renaissance (fiction or non, and especially YA novels set in the renaissance)
5) Teen paranormals that subvert and reinvent the genre and aren’t just vampire knockoffs

GLA: Following up on that last question, you seek plenty of narrative nonfiction in a whole host of subjects? Which of these categories, in your opinion, is really under-mined, so to speak? Which category is wide open and hasn't been fully explored yet?

MK: CSLA has long represented works of African-American history, but I think this category remains under-mined. Less crucially, I'd also love to see a book on the internet's effect on radio from a cultural standpoint, having become a recent NPR pod-cast fanatic…!

GLA: Since you seek narrative nonfiction, do you want a book proposal, a full completed manuscript, or both when pitching you?

MK: A really bang-up proposal with a sample chapter or two is often enough for me when it comes to narrative nonfiction -- at least in terms of taking someone on. Though if you’re not submitting many chapters, your proposal should be in the same voice as your book would be – it should leap off the page in the same way and should not be dull just because it’s a proposal!

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

MK: Indeed, I'll be attending the Wyoming Writers, Inc. conference this year in June 2009, and also the Surrey International Writers’ Conference in October 2009.

GLA: Best piece(s) of advice we haven't covered?

MK: Try to educate yourself in terms of the current state of the publishing industry, and be ready and excited to help market and promote your own book as much as possible. To this point, having an already-established Web presence helps immensely – in finding an agent and ultimately a publisher.

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