Two-and-a-half years ago I queried agent Julia Kenny after reading an interview of her on another blog. In that interview she said she was looking for “beautiful writing, fully developed characters, and a storyline that keeps you reading.” I was so relieved that she hadn’t mentioned the words dystopian, fantasy, paranormal, or futuristic (because my work is none of the above) that I audaciously sent her my manuscript. Of course it was a thrill of a lifetime to receive that magical phone call from Julia, saying that she wanted to take on my manuscript.
Equally thrilling for me was a trip to NYC recently when I got to meet Julia in person. It is my pleasure to introduce her to you here and to share part of the conversation we had over coffee.
Linda: We writers are always interested in how an agent becomes an agent. Share with us the twists and turns that led to your career.
Julia: I attended Sarah Lawrence College, where my concentration was fiction writing. One of my professors set up an internship for me with her agent, Wendy Weil. I ended up staying on for quite a while during school, and when I moved to New York City, after graduation, they brought me on as a reader. I ended up joining the Elaine Markson Literary Agency, which eventually became Markson Thoma, where I worked for nearly 10 years as an agent, and the director of foreign rights. As a writer, it was fascinating – and sometimes terrifying – to get a behind-the-scenes look at the publishing industry. Before I worked at an agency, I had a pretty glamorous view of the life of a writer, but seeing how incredibly difficult getting published can be was truly eye opening.
Linda: You’ve recently joined Dunow, Carlson, and Lerner Literary Agency after ten years with Markson Thoma. Talk about your focus at Markson, some highlights of that position, and how it compares to your new role.
Julia: At Markson Thoma, I wore many hats. I was an agent and I handled foreign rights for the agency. At DCL, I will be focused solely on agenting, which is quite exciting.
Linda: All authors reading this want to know what type of work you will be looking for and accepting going forward.
Julia: I am especially interested in fiction for all ages (with the exception of picture books which feel like a whole different world to me). These days I’ve taken a special interest in the dark stuff – I’ve found myself drawn to suspense and thrillers lately. I’m also interested in non-fiction, including memoir and lifestyle projects. Email is the best way to reach me, including a pitch letter and a few sample chapters. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Linda: What about your own writing? Is it on the back burner with all your responsibilities, or something you still want to pursue.
Julia: My writing has definitely been put on the backburner, though I toy with the idea of diving back in from time to time. I’ve got an idea or two for middle grade and young adult novels floating around in my mind, and hopefully, someday, I’ll have the time (and will power) to sit down and get to work!
Linda: What’s the best advice you can give an aspiring author of young adult and/or middle grade work in today’s market?
Julia: I think it’s very important for aspiring writers to read, read, read! The middle grade and young adult markets are about the fastest growing in publishing, and I think it’s important to keep an eye on what’s selling. I’m excited that the trend lately is towards realistic fiction. As much as I love a great fantasy, sci-fi or dystopian novel, for me, there is nothing more thrilling than finding a novel that transports me to another world – but a world that closely resembles my own and often teaches me something about other people and their experiences.
Linda: How important is it for writers to have an agent in today’s publishing world?
Julia: Publishing is an ever changing industry and to have someone who understands it is invaluable. While there are exceptions to every rule, I do think that it’s important for authors to have literary agents advocating for them, both in business related matters and editorially.
Linda: Thank you, Julia, for sharing your thoughts with us today and we wish you every success in your new position. And to anyone reading this interview, I can say without a doubt that if you are one who gets that magical phone call from Julia you will be blessed by her diligent, patient, and professional advocacy.