Agent Interview: Emily Masters on Keen Literary

Emily Masters has an MA in English Literature and worked for Humanities Tennessee for more than eight years. While there she helped to organize the Southern Festival of Books, one of the nation’s top book events and she established various contacts in the children’s and young adult publishing market. She is now transitioning into a career as a literary agent and looks forward to exploring new horizons in the literary world.

What led you to specialize in youth literature? Could you give us a snapshot of your career?

I spent the past eight years of my career directing youth programs for Humanities Tennessee. I worked with children and teens interested in writing and with authors writing specifically for those age groups. During that time I believe I developed a knack for recognizing outstanding children’s and YA literature.

I’m an avid reader anyway, and I love to read picture books and middle grade and YA as much as I love to read the latest adult literary fiction sensation. But I feel the most confident in my ability to recognize outstanding writing for young people and figure out where those works might fit best in the publishing world.

What sort of work are you interested in representing?

I’m looking primarily for inventive and creative picture books and middle grade and YA fiction (from realistic to fantasy and everything in between), but I would also be interested in looking at teen-oriented memoir and poetry collections for children and youth.

I am passionate about poetry, so I get really excited when I see something I enjoy.

More globally, what is your attitude/approach toward today’s challenging economic market?

I see that more families are looking for fun ways to spend time together at home without the usual “I’m bored” reaction from kids. I think publicity/marketing departments are going to rise to the occasion and turn our economic woes into opportunities for more inexpensive and traditional forms of entertainment to flourish.

What could be better than a family sitting around together looking at a beautiful picture book of poems while listening to those poems being read on a CD?

Would you describe yourself as an “editorial agent,” one who comments on manuscripts, or one who concentrates more exclusively on publishing issues? Why?

I can’t help but comment. I have an MA in English, and I’m pretty opinionated when it comes to my reading preferences. I won’t take on a project if I’m not passionate about it, but that doesn’t mean I won’t still make suggestions where I see fit.

Having said that, I see the main strength I can bring to my clients in my ability to navigate the sometimes difficult waters of the publishing world.

Are you accepting unsolicited submissions? What is the best way for a prospective client to get in touch with you?

Yes! I am looking at many, many queries (all via e-mail). I ask that writers wait to send manuscripts after I’ve specifically made that request, but I will look at a query from anyone.

I’m on Publishers Marketplace right now, but as of June 30 I will be a partner in a new firm called Keen Literary. Along with Julie Schoerke (a firecracker of a book publicist) and Susan Abel (formerly with Ingram Book Group and extremely knowledgeable about publishing), I will work to help authors find “homes” for their work.

Note: Julie is pictured in pink.

Do you have any particular submissions preferences or pet peeves?

When a query is just very poorly written, that sends up a red flag. Editors are wonderful, but they aren’t going to want to have to create something basically from scratch. If the query is grammatically flawed, boring, too wordy or even just plain weird I’m turned off immediately.

How much contact will you have with your clients?

I am very accessible via e-mail, and I am available to meet with local clients. I’m based in Nashville, which some would say is a publishing industry hub. Nashville is built on the music business, the health care industry, and book publishing. That’s surprising to some, but it really is a book town!

What do you anticipate as the greatest challenges of being an agent?

I know that I’m taking something very personal and import to someone (their written work) and trying to turn it into a commodity. I think that could be difficult for some writers to wrap their minds around, but I also know that what they really want is to be published and widely distributed, so I hope my advice and guidance will be taken to heart.

What do you think you’ll love about it?

I am so excited every time I get a new query in my IN box! It’s fun to see what’s out there (and some of it is really “out there”), and it’s fun to see how much creativity and promise there is still to be discovered.

So far, what are your favorite children’s/YA books of 2009 and why?

I just reviewed If I Stay by Gayle Forman (Dutton) for BookPage, and it was an absolutely thrilling read.

I’m excited to snag a copy of Goldilicious by Victoria Kann, as my five-year-old daughter and I are big fans of Pinkalicious (2006) and Purplicious (2007). HarperCollins puts out such fun and bright picture books.

I haven’t yet read–but am looking forward to–Candlewick’s Punkzilla by Adam Rapp. I could go on for a while on this one….

What do you do outside the world of youth literature?

I own a dance studio in East Nashville. Dance has always been one of my great loves, and I still teach ballroom and tap at the studio and in other venues in Nashville “on the side.”

For now though, developing my career as a literary agent and spending as much time as possible with my husband and two children (ages 5 and 1) are my main passions.

Is there anything you’d like to add?

I’m very excited to be partnering with two of my talented colleagues here in Nashville to launch Keen Literary on June 30. Julie Schoerke is a talented book publicist and Susan Abel knows the ins and outs of the publishing world very well.

While I concentrate on children’s-YA submissions, Susan will focus on adult literature submissions.

We’ll be working with Julie to offer more comprehensive assistance packages to our clients in the form of “publicity included” agent agreements, wherein clients can sign on for assistance with book publicity from Julie after their book is in publication.

I think this new approach to publicity (putting the cart before the horse in a way–but we’re hoping in a good way) will appeal to authors and publishers alike.

Cynsational Notes

Read a Cynsations interview with Julie, and learn more about Keen Literary, launching June 30, 2009.