Q&A with Literary Agent Katie Kotchman of Don Congdon Associates

January 29, 2017 | By | 1 Reply More

 

In non-fiction, Katie Kotchman specializes in business (all areas); narrative non-fiction such as popular science and books about social/cultural issues; self-help that focuses on success, motivation, and psychology; and pop culture. Katie is actively seeking new non-fiction clients with built-in platforms from whom she can learn something new. In fiction, she’s interested in representing women’s fiction, realistic young adult, literary fiction, and psychological thrillers.

In all areas, she’s particularly interested in characters who struggle with dualities of nature and/or culture, as the topics of cognitive dissonance and those who straddle two different worlds fascinate her. She has soft spots for the Midwest, family secrets, Southern Gothic, and a good underdog story. Katie tends to shy away from terrorist plots, medical thrillers, high fantasy, and anything paranormal. As an agent, she guide her authors throughout the entire publishing process while protecting their best interests.

She enjoys the creative aspect of the job and is always eager to brainstorm ideas, give editorial feedback, and help authors shape and tighten their work. She uses her knowledge of the market to get the best deal possible for her clients.

Thank you, Katie, for joining us here at WomenWritersWomen[‘s]Books and taking the time to answer our readers’ questions. We’re very grateful to have you.

ON THE LETTER –

How many queries do you get in a typical week?

Usually it’s around 100.

What makes a query stand out to you?

A distinct voice, a pithy description, and a concept that feels fresh. Your query should function much like the back cover copy of a published book—tell me just enough about the story and who you are to pique my curiosity.

What common mistakes do you see in query letters? Do you have any querying pet peeves? Anything that will make you stop reading all together?

Common mistakes:

1) Either too much or too little information. I do not need your life story, but I do need to know the content and genre of your book.

2) Failure to proofread. You’d be surprised by the number of queries I’ve received that are either addressed to another agent in the salutation or have the name of another agency in the body of the query. I can overlook a typo or perhaps two (that’s why copyeditors exist!), but an error-ridden or grammatically suspect letter goes straight to the rejection pile.

3) Vague, thematic descriptions that lack actual substance. So, you’ve told me that it’s a coming of age story, focusing on a surprising development in the protagonist’s life when she’s confronted by tragedy. But what actually happens?! I need specifics.

Pet peeves:

I’m sure I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating. Please do not open with a rhetorical question. And don’t write the query from a character’s POV. Neither are as clever as they may seem at midnight after three hours of revisions and that second glass of wine.

There’s one detail that always stops me from reading further: a manuscript of more than 150,000 words. Even 150,000 is pushing it. It’s not that I have an irrational hatred for long books, but it’s a red flag that the book will need substantial editing.

Query writing is a skill in itself. If the writer’s query letter is unimpressive but the material sounds interesting will you still request pages?

I ask authors to submit a query letter along with the first chapter, so if a query isn’t catching my attention, I generally skip straight to the opening pages.

How many query letters to recommend a writer have out at any one time?

If you mean letters for different projects, I’d say focus on one project at a time. I find it overwhelming when the same writer queries me for 3 or 4 projects at once. On the other hand, if you mean how many agents should a writer query at any one time, I expect that an author has multiple inquiries and submissions out unless I’m explicitly told this an exclusive query. With certain exceptions, it’s generally to the author’s benefit to cast a wide net—to carefully research agents who represent their genre(s), make a wish list of their top 25 or 50 agents, and create a personal pitch for each one.     

Should querying authors mention this interview?

Certainly! I always like to know how and why someone chose to contact me.

DCA website says it accepts paper queries. Do you personally prefer paper or email queries?

Email—it’s simply easier and more efficient.

ON CLIENTS & MANUSCRIPTS –

How would you describe your ideal client?

Mutual respect and trust are the basis for any strong relationship, and the agent-client dynamic is no exception. I look for authors who welcome constructive feedback and like to be pushed to reach their full potential. And my best clients are very good at communicating the expectations they have for me, which ensures we remain on the same page as the client’s career grows.

You often find non-fiction clients you’d like and ask to represent them. Where and how do you do this?

Most frequently, I’ll stumble across an article that really resonates with me. It may be a blog post or a magazine article, but sometimes it’s simply an engaging voice on social media, whether that’s Twitter or LinkedIn. I’ll do my research, asking questions such as: what else has this person written, is there any listing for a prior book sale on Publishers Marketplace, does the person indicate that they’re already working on a book, how can I reach them if their email isn’t publicly available?

If I can’t find evidence that they’re already working with an agent, I’ll write them a letter, which is sort of a reverse query. In this letter, I tell them what resonated with me about their work, ask if they’re interested in writing a book (and sometimes outline a book idea that I think would interest publishers), and tell them a bit about myself and how we might work together. I then ask to set up a call to discuss my interest further.   

You want clients with “built-in platforms.” What is that? How large would you like it to be?

A platform is the writer’s current audience, which can come from many different sources—print and online media, TV, radio, speaking events, email newsletters, social media following, and the like. For nonfiction, it’s crucial to prove to the publisher that you have an audience that’s ready to purchase your book the moment it’s published.

The best platforms are diversified—the person has followers in a few different mediums—as well as engaged, meaning the audience doesn’t just passively follow you, but they actively engage with you and your work. When a publisher is considering whether to make an offer for a book, they’ll use comp titles to gauge how many copies of your book they could expect to sell and this data helps inform the level of advance the publisher can offer.

But you don’t want someone else’s performance (or lack thereof) to be the sole factor, and that’s where your platform comes in. Because it can be qualified, (e.g. 5,000 followers on Facebook, a regular column in a magazine with a circulation of 250,000, a blog that garners 25,000 unique hits per month), the publisher can look to the size of one’s platform during the decision making process. I’ve heard that 10-20% is an average estimate for the percentage of your following that will go out and purchase your book.

With this is mind, I like to see a platform that has 50,000+ followers/impressions across all mediums.  For those that might not have that large of a number, demonstrating engagement is key (e.g. perhaps you have an email list of 7,500 subscribers, but they are all engaged, as demonstrated by an abnormally high click through rate). 

How do you and other agents know what editors have on their #MSWLs (manuscript wish lists)?

We do lunch, or have coffee/drinks to catch up, and this is one of the main topics of conversation. I get to know their tastes and interests on both a professional and personal level, so I know how to target submissions to the appropriate editor.

How often do you respond to a manuscript you really want to take on with an R&R (revise and resubmit) first?

Occasionally. If I’m enthusiastic about a concept, but it needs significant revisions, I’ll give high-level feedback and encourage the author to be in touch with me if they choose to rework the project. But if it’s something I’m really passionate about, I’ll likely set up a phone call to talk through my concerns and get a sense of whether my feedback aligns with the author’s goals for the book. If they do, I’ll usually offer to work through the revision process with them, because I don’t like to risk losing out to another agent down the road.

ON BEING AN AGENT –

What is the culture and environment of Don Congdon Associates?

We’re a small office and a tight-knit group. It’s collegial, laid back, and we’re often seeking ideas and advice from one another in order to offer the best service to our clients.

What drew to your job? What do you like about what you do? What has surprised you?

I had this misguided, romanticized notion—like many do—that to work in publishing is to sit around your office and read all day. That’s not the case. I’m often answering emails, trouble-shooting, following up on various matters, scouting for new clients, composing editorial feedback, and pitching projects.

It’s rare that I have time to read manuscripts during the day, so that’s reserved for evenings and weekends. So while I got into the business because the notion that someone would pay me to read was irresistible, I’ve stayed in the business because of the scope of the work. Each day’s work is different from the last, and I get to use both creative and analytical skills in order to improve my clients’ (and the agencies’) bottom-line. 

How involved do you like to get in the early development of a client’s project?

It depends on the needs of the particular client, but in general I do a fair amount of editorial work on all of my projects—both fiction and non-fiction. And with non-fiction, I’m often involved in conceptualization talks—before the proposal and manuscript has been written.

What role do you play after a book is placed with a publisher? After it’s been released? Do you help your clients with marketing, promotion, awards, blurbs, or reviews?

I’m the author’s advocate throughout the entire process, not just the contractual stage. I guide my client through the timeline, what to expect at each stage in production, and provide ideation and help them keep on top of their marketing and publicity plan (both their obligations and the publisher’s).

During this time, I’m also pitching any retained rights (audio, translation, film), which is a process that often lasts long after the book is released. As the author begins working on their next project, I’ll be handling certain administrative tasks, such as ensuring that the royalty accounting is correct, keeping on top of any new opportunities to market the book and suggesting these to the publisher, staying current with industry trends or new innovations that might be beneficial for this book or future works by my client, and so on.     

Who are some of the well-known clients of Don Congdon Associates?

The agency represents many bestselling and award-winning authors and estates, such as Ray Bradbury, Joan Johnston, Richard Matheson, David Sedaris, and Kathryn Stockett, to name a few.

What client-work is out now or coming soon that we can be on the look for?

Joan Johnston’s BLACKTHORNE’S BRIDE, the final, much-anticipated installment in the Bitter Creek Mail-Order Brides series will be published in July 2017.

Coming in January 2018 is Jeff Haden’s THE MOTIVATION MYTH, a counterintuitive—but highly practical—guide to achieving your biggest, most audacious goals, written by Inc.com’s most popular columnist.

And while the publication date isn’t set, I’m beyond excited about Darnell Moore’s NO ASHES IN THE FIRE, a beautifully-written and moving memoir of the making of a Black Lives Matter activist. It’s an intimate coming-of-age story as well as a blueprint for the future of the fight to end oppression in the U.S.

And finally…

Tea or Coffee?
Coffee in the morning; tea in the afternoon.

Dresses or pants?

I’ll always choose pants. I grew up as a tomboy in rural North Dakota; dresses weren’t really conducive to that environment.  

Mashed potatoes or Mac & Cheese?

Both! I love carbs almost as much as I love caffeine.

We can’t thank you enough, Katie, for dropping in. Welcome to the WWWB family!

SUBMISSION GUIDELINES –

Don Congdon Associates are currently accepting queries from new and established authors via regular mail and email.  A query letter consists of a one-page description or synopsis of your work and your relevant background information.

You may also include the first chapter.  We do not accept unsolicited manuscripts.

If you are sending your query via regular mail, please enclose a self-addressed stamped envelope for our reply.  If you would like us to return your materials, please make sure your postage will cover their return.  For international mail, please use US postage or provide your email address for a reply, as we do not accept international postal coupons.  We are not responsible for material lost in the mail.

For queries via email, you must include the word “Query” and the agent’s full name in your subject heading.  Please also include your query and sample chapter in the body of the email, as we do not open attachments for security reasons.

Please query only one agent within the Agency at a time. 

CONTACT US –

Don Congdon Associates, Inc.

110 William St. Suite 2202

New York, NY 10038

212 645 1229 phone

212 727 2688 fax

dca@doncongdon.com

Website

Interviewed by –

MM Finck

MM Finck is a writer, essayist, and offers query letter coaching and early pages editing as The Query Quill. She leads WWWB’s Interviews and Agents’ Corner segments. Her women’s fiction is represented by Katie Shea Boutillier of the Donald Maass Literary Agency.

She is a member of the Women’s Fiction Writers Association and the contest chair for the Women’s Fiction Writers Association 2016 Rising Star writing contest for unpublished authors. Her work has appeared in national and regional publications, including skirt! magazine.

When she isn’t editing her novel, #LOVEIN140, you can find her belting out Broadway tunes (off key and with the wrong words), cheering herself hoarse over a soccer match (USWNT!), learning to play piano (truly pitifully), building or fixing household things, and trying to squeeze more than twenty-four hours out of every day. She is active on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, and Litsy (@MMF). Say hi!  http://www.mmfinck.com

 

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Category: Agents, Interviews

Comments (1)

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  1. Dee Willson says:

    Great interview, thanks for sharing!

    Dee Willson
    Author of A Keeper’s Truth and GOT (Gift of Travel)

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