Jan 22, 2014

Natasha's Interview with Pooja Menon

As promised. This is the One on One interview that should have happened on the blog. As you know (and if you don't, check previous post) the interview had a few issues so was conducted over the phone. This is the transcript of the conversation between Natasha, winner of the One on One contest, and Pooja Menon, agent at Kimberley Cameron and Associates.
What are key attributes you like to see in a query that compel you to make a request for additional pages?
It should be one page. When I read the first paragraph, it should introduce me to the name of the book, the word count, the genre, and any themes you think I should know about up front. You should state why you think the agent you sent it to would be a good fit for this particular book.
Then, I look at the pitch and the bio. What makes me want to read more, is if it’s organized, that’s the most important thing, then I can find out all the pertinent information right up front. The pitch should be tight. Sometimes, people get creative and they ask a series of questions. That’s a huge no-no. Stick to the traditional format.
It’s good to have comparison titles, where you think if people enjoyed that book, they might enjoy your book, as well. For example, you share some themes or issues your antagonist deals with… This is important because when we pitch to editors, we have to give them comp titles so they can decide how they can market the book. And who knows comp titles better than the author who wrote the book?
You’re [MARKED] pitch right now is great, but if you have to include your bio it gets a little long. So, that’s something you need to work into compressing into one paragraph. You can end it on a little bit of a mysterious note.
If the query is good, we want to see the pages. If it’s not done well, agents wonder how well the pages will be done.
Your bio mentioned that in fiction, you’re currently looking for mystery/thrillers and YA fantasy. Can you tell us a little more about what you look for in those genres?
A good story. Crime issues and thrillers that’s done well, a fresh spin on what’s already out. Something intelligent and smart for adult mysteries and thrillers.
In YA, I’m open to all kinds of mystery and thrillers, as long as they are different. The same thing applies to YA fantasy. I see a lot of the queen/princess of a kingdom has to escape and do something to save her kingdom, she meets up with a prince… It’s a very common theme that I see a lot of. I’m looking for unique concepts.
I open to all kinds of fiction as long as they are different, they are unique, and they have a different plot line that I haven’t read before.
Are agents open to authors who have already pursued the indie route?
That’s a smart question. There’s no harm in going the indie route, as long as they’re not trying to get an agent for the indie book. If it’s an independent book by a small, reputable publisher, then agents are open to it.
Agents are open to negotiating contracts. However, there are a lot of small publishers no one has heard of, and sometimes writers come to agents because they have an offer for which they want an agent to negotiate the contract. Sometimes, we’ve never heard of the publisher, we don’t know how they market books and we don’t know how they work, so we have to be careful about it.
Publishing companies like Spencer Hill Press or Entangled are places most agents are aware of, so it would be fine. 
If you’ve already published an indie book, and you’re submitting a different query, it shouldn’t impact your present manuscript. 
With the rise of indie publishing, what do you see as the agent’s role in 2014?
The thing about indie publishing is that there are people who don’t do decent contracts, who don’t give you advances, who make you do most of the marketing. It’s important to pay attention to the details, the terms of the contract. You also have to keep in mind how well previous books have sold.
Most writers like to focus on writing books, and they find the whole social media and the business aspects to be very tedious. What we do as agents for our clients, is help the find strategies for social media, marketing their book, along with polishing their book to go on submission, we take a look at the contract…
Pretty much, instead of you spending 50% of their time trying to figure out things outside of writing, you have an agent who knows the business. Even with the rise of eBooks, you have agents negotiating eBook contracts, hard cover print contracts…
Self-published authors even come to agents and say, “Hey I published my book, it’s not taking off as much as I want, and now I want to go down the traditional route. Can you help me?”
Agents are still going to be a necessary part of publishing.
What do you want potential clients to know about you as a potential agent?
The most important thing for me is to have the same vision. If I want to take the book in a different direction and you don’t agree about it, that’s a relationship that’s going to be contentious as we move forward. For me, it’s always important for the author to know right up front what I have in mind, so we are on the same page. My way of working is like a 50/50 partnership; we brainstorm ideas and marketing, so client’s need to be open to the vision. Critiques are not easy to hear, but they are important.
I’m looking for clients who are open to working together, willing to brainstorm new ideas, communicative, and willing to put in the work. Authors should talk to me about their issues or concerns, if they have them.
It’s important for clients to have a realistic view of the industry and the timeframe agents work with, have patience. Things take time.
I’ve heard it mentioned that an author has other completed material in a query can put unintentional stress on an agent. When is the best time to mention other completed works?
That’s a question for a phone call or follow up emails. Mention that this is your debut novel or whether you’re published by an indie publisher. If an agent likes your work, she will ask you what kind of other books you write.
An agency looking for author relationships with a client is looking to build together.
Which do you prefer, a story that’s well-written or easily marketable?
First and foremost, is a story that’s well-written. You don’t have to write to market trends, but you do need to read widely and see what’s been done to the point it’s becomes no longer marketable. For example, people still like reading dystopian fiction, and writing dystopian. Unless the book is really different, editors aren’t looking for it anymore, unless I can bring something new to the table.
Writers should know what’s been overdone.
What qualities do you think an author needs to succeed?
Patience. A thick skin, this is a tough industry. You need to be positive, willing to re-work things. Authors need to keep writing, keep confidence that something is going to happen, keep learning about the industry, go to conferences, read widely, do critique workshops, be tenacious, stay positive.
 What advice do you have for unpublished authors?
Join a critique group. That’s really important. Always get your work critiqued by other people.
Get short stories out to as many places as you can, get as many credits as you can. It’s not mandatory, but it’s nice to see. Start with small magazines and anthologies, and then aim for the big ones.
Writing short stories is a good exercise because you have to economize your words.
Okay, now it’s time for some fun questions. Have you ever met a celebrity?
Not face to face. I saw Julian Moore and the Grumpy Cat at a book signing event.
What is your favorite food?
I love food, all kinds. I like Ethiopian food, Japanese food, and Indian. I eat everything.
What’s the last movie you watched?
The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty.
If you could eliminate one thing from your daily schedule, what would it be and why?
Someone who could help me go through my slush pile…. Otherwise, my schedule is just fine. Perhaps, more free time. 
Name something beautiful you’ve seen in nature.
I like the whole autumn thing. Where I come from in Dubai, you don’t really have different seasons. That’s something about nature that I love, especially the autumn season. It’s something I never had growing up.
What’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever eaten?
We have some Turkish friends who took us to this restaurant and mixed this dish with vinegar and chili. They told me to eat it. I asked them, “What am I eating?” and they said if I knew, I wouldn’t eat it. After I finished the soup, I told them it was delicious. It was sheep’s brain. But it was delicious, as long as I didn’t know it. That was the most recent weird thing I’ve had.
Thank you very much for taking the time to talk with me today. I really enjoyed our conversation.
This was absolutely fun for me. Great questions, by the way.

About The Agent

Pooja Menon joined Kimberley Cameron & Associates as an intern in the fall of 2011, with the aim of immersing herself in the elusive world of books and publishing. She soon realized that being an agent was what she was most drawn to as the job was varied and challenging. She represents both fiction and non-fiction for Adult and YA markets.
Find more here.
Once again, congrats to Natasha, and good luck on your partial request.

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