#50: Behind the Slice Literary Writers’ Conference: An Interview with Literary Agent Kirby Kim, by Maria Gagliano
June 18, 2014
With the Slice Literary Writers’ Conference less than three months away, we’re gearing up for some of the year’s most candid conversations about book publishing. And because we can’t wait until September, we’re chatting with panelists all summer about everything from pitching an agent to landing a book deal.
We recently caught up with Janklow & Nesbit agent Kirby Kim on his process of finding and working with clients. Kirby will be on our “What’s All This Talk About ‘Platform,’ and Do I Really Need One?” panel on September 6. The weekend’s complete panel schedule can be found here.
You’re participating in our panel “What’s All This Talk About Platform, and Do I Really Need One?” What advice do you usually give to your clients on the topic of platform? Does the advice differ for fiction vs. nonfiction authors?
For my novelists I generally let them decide how much they want to invest in their platform. I do like to encourage them to do shorter form pieces, both fiction and nonfiction, as I think it helps build relationships that are helpful for when their book(s) come out. I also like to encourage them to do what comes naturally as opposed to forcing them to adopt any particular social media platform or whatever. For nonfiction writers though, platform is crucial. I don’t do much prescriptive but that’s really where I think it’s all about platform.
What projects do you typically represent?
I probably do more fiction than nonfiction these days. I do both adult and children’s books. On the adult side I look for literary fiction, thrillers, suspense, speculative fiction, horror, some sci-fi. On the children’s side it’s just middle grade and young adult, fairly commercial. I do some pop culture, comedians and musicians in particular. I work with journalists and I’m always looking for good science.
How do you usually find your clients? Have you ever found a client in the slush pile?
Fiction is usually through referral or in the slush. I’ve found plenty in the slush. I like the slush. It’s been good to me. My nonfiction is generally a result of my reaching out to writers or people I think should do books.
What are some surprising, yet common, mistakes that writers make when pitching their work to you?
Typos in the query letter. That’s always surprising because agents are looking for any reason to say no and reduce their workload. The other thing is sending work out too early. I’ll ask for a manuscript then a couple weeks later the writer will send a revised manuscript saying they tweaked it or found some mistakes or what have you. I can’t help but check out at that point.
How much importance do you give to a writer’s query letter? If it’s not great, will you ever get to page one?
I’ve generally found that a good query is a fairly good indicator of how the book will read. So I put a lot of stock into that. I don’t know if it needs to be great per se, but I do think it should make me curious. It should understand what it’s pitching and how to set the stage to make me want to read it. Hopefully they’ve also done some research and understand what I’m looking for. It’s also nice when people get my sex right. I get a lot of Dear Ms. Kirby’s.
Kirby Kim is a literary agent at Janklow & Nesbit, where he represents fiction for children and adults, memoir, pop culture, and general nonfiction. Previously, he was an agent at William Morris Endeavor. Kirby is originally from California, where he attended Pomona College in Claremont and Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco. He also serves on the board of the Asian American Writers Workshop.
Maria Gagliano is a writer, editor, baker, and Business Director of Slice. Her writing has appeared in BUST magazine, the Huffington Post, and Salon, among other publications. You can find her on Twitter and at mariagagliano.com.