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Literary Agent Interview: Elizabeth Kracht of Kimberley Cameron & Associates

“Agent Advice” (more than 150 interviews so far!) is a series of quick interviews with literary and script agents who talk with Guide to Literary Agents about their thoughts on writing, publishing, and just about anything else. This installment features Elizabeth Kracht of Kimberley Cameron & Associates. Elizabeth's career in publishing took root in Puerto Rico where she completed her BA in English and worked as a copyeditor for an English-language newspaper. She joined Kimberley Cameron & Associates in the fall of 2010. She thrives on working closely with authors and researching the potential market for new books.

“Agent Advice” (this installment featuring agent Elizabeth Kracht of Kimberley Cameron & 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 agencies.

This installment features Elizabeth Kracht of Kimberley Cameron & Associates. Elizabeth's career in publishing took root in Puerto Rico where she completed her BA in English and worked as a copyeditor for an English-language newspaper. She joined Kimberley Cameron & Associates in the fall of 2010. She thrives on working closely with authors and researching the potential market for new books. You can find Elizabeth on Twitter or on her agency’s blog.

(In the middle of querying? Here are some helpful tips.)

She is seeking: Elizabeth's eclectic life experience drives her interests. She appreciates writing that has depth, an introspective voice or that offers wisdom for contemporary living. Having lived in cities such as New York, San Francisco and San Juan, Puerto Rico, she is compelled by urban and multicultural themes and loves settings that are characters unto themselves.

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GLA: How did you become an agent?

EK: Writing is something I have always done in my life, and I have wanted to publish a book since the fourth grade. While living in Puerto Rico, after getting a job as a proofreader/copyeditor for a newspaper, I realized that both writing and working with others’ writing, made me happy. When I returned to the mainland, I focused on finding work in book publishing. I started out as an acquisitions intern at Hunter House Publishers, a small publisher in California, and was hired after my internship ended.

While working for Hunter House, I decided I wanted to broaden my publishing perspective, so I applied to Kimberley Cameron & Associates as an intern after meeting one of Kimberley’s associates at a local writing conference. I interned with Kimberley for about six months and left the Agency in search of full-time work in the industry. I flew to New York and interviewed with the Frankfurt Book Fair team, and right when I returned I was offered a position at Kimberley Cameron & Associates. I didn’t hesitate to accept. Kimberley has a long legacy in the industry, and I am lucky to have her as a mentor. She’s an extremely generous person.

GLA: What’s something you’ve sold that comes out now/soon that you’re excited about?

EK: My most recent sale is a memoir by Heidi Cave, who I met at the Surrey International Writers’ Conference. Heidi’s memoir, Fancy Feet: How I Lost my Limbs and Gained a Life, was sold to Behler Publications in California, a small publisher focused on personal stories. Heidi was trapped in a burning vehicle after being struck by a reckless driver. She had both legs amputated below the knee and suffered burns over fifty percent of her body. She also lost her best friend, Betty, in the accident. Heidi spent a year in the hospital. Her recovery was brutal. Her doctors and family didn’t know if she would make it. Heidi had a strong support team by her side, including her now husband, and fought hard to survive her injuries. She is now the mother of two young children, and is a sought-after public speaker and support to burn survivor and amputee organizations. Heidi’s positive spirit is truly inspiring, and I’m honored to have the opportunity to represent her. You can see a short video of Heidi’s story here.

GLA: Besides “good writing,” what are you looking for right now and not getting? What do you pray for when tackling the slush pile?

EK: I want my very own John Krakauer! However in general, I’d like to see more quality nonfiction projects. And I’m still in search of a good animal story, like Homer’s Odyssey or Dewey. I recently found one on raising chickens (not for food) that I liked, but it was already represented when I contacted the author. I would like to see more women’s literary fiction projects. I’m always on the hunt for YA. I wouldn’t mind finding the next Carlos Castaneda or Dan Millman, and maybe a spirituality book with a fresh approach. I’d definitely like to see a lot more humor. And Kimberley is always in search of good horror.

GLA: You attend a lot of conferences. Tell us some of your thoughts on what writers are doing wrong when attending conferences—specifically, when pitching to agents.

(See a large list of writers conferences in the U.S.)

EK: I am a very approachable person, so I am not critical of writers at conferences, in general. There are some exceptions, but these usually include people pitching me when we are having dinner or lunch and not realizing I need downtime.

When someone sits down with me to pitch their work, I know they are nervous, and I know that pitching isn’t what they do best. But since time is limited, and other agents and editors may not be as forgiving, writers are wise to work on their pitch in advance of any conference since this is an opportunity to have their work requested. There is no doubt that making a personal connection with an agent or editor is a plus. It’s so much more difficult to pass on a project when you’ve met someone in person.

When pitching an agent or editor, writers should first distill their stories down to five or six sentences (max) on paper. Then, they should memorize the pitch and practice pitching to a friend or family member several times before the conference if possible. Lead the pitch with your title, genre, word count, and comparable titles. Then, pitch the four or five sentence distillation of your story: who is your main character, what is the source of conflict, what obstacles will he or she face and end it with a couple lines about yourself. Have you been published before? Why are you the best person to tell this story?

It’s also a good idea to research the agent or editor you plan to pitch to. Pitch to the agents and editors who represent your genre. If the agents and editors at the conference you’ll be attending don’t represent your genre, let them know you’d still like to use the time to get their professional feedback on your pitch or story. Or use the time to ask specific questions about the industry.

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GLA: Will you accept queries from those who don’t meet you at conferences? Or is it best to meet you first or have a connection?

EK: Kimberley Cameron & Associates accepts unsolicited manuscripts, although we have a difficult time managing the volume of submissions we receive. It’s always best to make that personal connection with me if you can, but it’s not necessary.

GLA: What are some common problems you see in synopsis and what do you suggest writers absolutely include?

EK: The most crucial thing for a writer to capture in the synopsis is the story arc and theme. A synopsis should also be limited to one page (single spaced). We understand that queries and synopses are difficult for writers. For our clients, we usually do need to do some editing on them.

(Hear a dozen agents explain exactly what they want to see the slush pile right now. See if your work is a match.)

GLA: You like, “untrustworthy narrators, tragic tales of class and circumstance, and you identify with flawed yet sterling characters.” Would you say that the character Grey in Fifty Shades of Grey fits this description?

EK: Is it legal to say I’ve read Fifty Shades of Grey? Since I was asked a question about Grey for this interview, I felt compelled to pick up the book at the airport on my way home from the Idaho Writers & Readers Rendezvous conference [May 2012]. Wow, I sure read that fast! Erotica aside, the relationship between Mr. Grey and Ms. Steele is like a psychological study. I am fascinated by people’s psychology, so on this level these two characters interest me quite a bit. E L James sets up a very believable dynamic between these two characters; a relationship that seems doomed from the start--impossible. The ending was dramatic and tragic in many ways, which I love. I’d much rather a tragic ending than a mediocre one. Lily Bart is also one of my favorite tragic characters, The House of Mirth (also one of my favorite books). And Poe comes to mind when I think of untrustworthy narrators.

GLA: Regarding your interest in nonfiction heroic pet stories, are you more of a dog or cat person? Tell us about what draws you to this category.

EK: I’m both a cat and dog lover, but my lifestyle and nature is better suited to cats. While living in Puerto Rico, I rescued thousands of cats and dogs from the streets while working for a newspaper and running a nonprofit animal welfare organization. I spearheaded the rescue of dogs from a place called Dead Dog Beach, a story that went on to make international headlines. I would love to tell my story someday.

Working with so many animals, I was able to see their heroism in how they survived or began the long journey to recovery and adoption. One story in particular that comes to mind is a Chihuahua mix I rescued named “Beba.” I nominated her as Puerto Rico’s candidate for First Dog when Obama said he wanted a “mutt” for his daughters. Beba’s photo was flashed on Jane Velez-Mitchell’s HLN show “Issues with Jane Velez-Mitchell.” She was an overnight sensation in Puerto Rico and was invited on daytime and late night talk shows, radio, and the news. Beba cheated death three times before she finally found a great home in NYC. I pay a lot of attention to the natural world, and the animals I see on a day-to-day basis. I think we have something to learn from animals. Humans don’t surprise me as much as animals do. Homer in Homer’s Odyssey is a case in point. And Dewey. These are (were in Dewey’s case) very special animals.

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

EK: That I have read Fifty Shades of Grey? Lol! There are so many things about me that writers might be surprised to hear, such as once being the handler on a boat of a successful English Channel swimmer, owning a café in New York, or allowing my dreams to be a guiding force in my life. Also, I was a pretty fearful kid. My top three fears were JAWS, killer bees, and spontaneous combustion. But something more directly related to work? When I read too many manuscripts in one day, and it’s too close to bedtime, my dreams are sometimes narrated to me in third person. A friend recently suggested it would be excellent if I could choose someone to do the narration. He said he’d choose someone like Morgan Freeman. I’m still debating.

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

EK: My upcoming conferences include: Chuckanut Writers Conference in Bellingham, WA [June 2012]; Pacific Northwest Writers Conference in Seattle, WA [July 2012]; Matera Writers’ Conference in Matera, Italy [September 2012]. I am also faculty for the Algonkian San Francisco Write to Market conferences.

GLA: Best pieces of advice we haven’t talked about yet?

EK: I think there is a gap between what writers think is market ready and what an agent or editor does. Without getting professional feedback, it’s difficult to bridge that gap. If you want to be traditionally published, don’t be ashamed of using freelance book editors, preferably who have industry experience, to polish your work before approaching an agent or editor. Freelance editors can be costly, but I think they save writers time and money in the long run, especially if a writer attends many conference and pitch sessions to get feedback. Also, be flexible and fluid around your work when you do get feedback. Last, Kimberley’s favorite saying, don’t give up!

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This agent interview is by Brittany Roshelle Davis, a
freelance writer and aspiring author. You can visit her
blog, The Write Stuff, or follow her on Facebook.

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