Q&A with Literary Agent Katie Shea Boutillier of the Donald Maass Literary Agency

January 21, 2016 | By | 13 Replies More

Katie Shea Boutillier is the Rights Director for DMLA handling the agency’s translation and audio rights and selected film/TV and electronic rights. In addition, Katie focuses on her own client list of smart contemporary women’s fiction/book club; edgy/dark realistic YA; commercial-scale literary fiction; and celebrity memoir. She looks for projects with the perfect balance of plot and emotion. She loves novels that seek big truths, touch on important social issues, and explore unique family dynamics and unlikely friendships.

Some of her clients include WomenWritersWomen[‘s]Books’ own contributors Leah Ferguson, Kathryn Craft, and myself, MM Finck.

Of course, our first Literary Agent Q&A is with my own agent! I know where my bread is buttered. J Plus, she’s freaking fantastic, and I’m so excited to share her with you.

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


Katie's headshotHow many queries do you get in a typical week?

About 50.

What makes a query stand out to you?

The premise and character descriptions are unique to me – something I relate to yet something I haven’t read before.

Are there any aspects of a query (as opposed to the work itself) that are deal breakers for you or most agents? Things that get a query rejected on the letter alone?

Attachments (although if the body of the email sounds interesting enough, I might open it). When writers send the query to multiple agents all at once. “Dear Agent” – can’t stand that! And when the first line says something along the lines of “This is a bestseller.”

What is the most important part of a query – the comp titles, the pitch, the author bio, or something else?

The pitch. Simply the HOOK. Why do I want to read this? How might it change my perspective, and why do I want to learn more about this character?

Are there better or worse times of the year (or even of week or the day) to query?

I can’t really say because the wave of “hungriness” with each agent varies. Sometimes we might dig through our queries when publishing is slow (hence, the holiday season + summer) because we have more time on our hands. Or maybe we are in-between projects and just sent out a bunch of edits or pitched our latest hot projects, and now we are looking for the next project take on, so really, I would say no. BUT! Try not to send a query on the day of a major holiday like Christmas or New Year’s Eve because most of us have our emails on our phone so we might see the query come in, and, to me, it’s a little strange.

Should you say in your query letter that your full manuscript is out with other agents (if it is, of course)?
This is appropriate when the agent requests the FULL manuscript. But not in the query letter.


Do have a number of clients in mind that you’d like to acquire in any given year?

Not really. I have goals. But not necessarily the number of clients I want to sign – I don’t think I could ever really put my finger on that one. I more have an idea of what projects I want to finish or go out with.

What percentage of your clients come from slush, social media forums (e.g., #pitmad), contests you judge, and referral?

I still dig through my slush. But I am starting to work more through referrals. Social media is big too because you get to have an eye on certain writers who you might reach out to. So I would have to say referrals are my top, then slush, then social media.

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

I probably do this at least 3-5 times a year. However, sometimes I put more energy into projects that I think have more potential and may ask for an exclusive working relationship. But this is rare.

Does an R&R have to be an explicit offer or if the agent passes but says complimentary things, can the author resubmit after revision?

If I had a connection with your project and I asked for the full, there was something there. So I am ALWAYS open to seeing the novel again. You never know if it might be the right time and before the time wasn’t right. Or maybe I have a certain editor who just asked for something like this at my last lunch. But then again, I must see major improvement on the novel in order for me to move forward.

On what schedule do you prefer your clients to finish writing their books? One a year? Every eighteen months? When the spirit moves them?

I would love all my clients to be able to write a book a year. But I know that’s not always possible. But the ideas must keep flowing!

Is there a role for literary agents in self-publishing? Say, selling international rights?

I don’t have a ton of experience with self-publishing yet. However, if one of my clients was interested in self-publishing and wanted my help, I would surely guide them in whatever ways possible. For self-published books that need international attention, this is something that comes about a lot. I see success in self-published books for translation that have sold very well – in the hundreds of thousands range. Also, I believe that genre-specific self-published books (romance, SFF, horror, erotica, etc.) do better in translation than others might. But again, without the sales, it’s tough!


What is your style as an agent?

As agents we all have different styles. I’m very upfront and honest about my thoughts on editorial and marketing. All my clients know this about me. And I push them to their furthest limit. So they need to be tough. But they all know I believe in their work, and I will advocate to my best ability to place it. I love to collaborate, and I love a long editorial phone call or even a long brainstorming session. So as long as my client and I have a deep rooted trust in each other, then I believe we will be successful.

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

It completely depends. I love storytelling, and I love early development, so if I am welcomed into the process, then I will happily join!

In editing the manuscript?

I am heavily involved in the editing process before the manuscript goes out on submission. However, of course, some manuscripts are in better shape than others, but I almost always have something to tweak before submission to editors.

What is an author branding and how important is it?

Author branding happens after you sell your first novel. Once you do this, then you want to make sure that you are building your readership. Your next book should always compliment your debut. However, once you have gained a major following, then you might be able to explore other genres and your audience will still follow.

What is the role of the agent after the book is sold and under development at the publishing house?

Making sure everything is on schedule and that your client and editor have good communication. Helping with any kind of marketing and promotion. Being a mediator if needed. And, most importantly, making sure your client is happy.

What about during the launch and after?

During launch – promoting as much as you can. After launch — making sure client is working on the next project!

And finally

NY Bagel or NY Pizza?         Whole wheat bagel, toasted, with veggie cream cheese.

Mets or Yankees?                Tough one. I’m a football fan (Go Giants!), so I guess I’ll go with the Yankees.

Cake or Ice Cream?              Ice cream! Soft-serve vanilla with rainbow sprinkles in a cone, please!

Facial or Massage?                Definitely, massage.

Vintage or Modern?              I’m a complete mix! You can find antiques next to contemporary pieces all over my home.

We can’t thank you enough, Katie, for dropping in. Welcome to the WWWB family! I’ll get back to my WIP now, I promise.


Katie is looking for commercial women’s fiction, book club fiction, realistic young adult, literary fiction, memoir of writers with a strong platform and narrative non-fiction in relation to pop-culture, lifestyle, and humor.

She is NOT looking for science fiction, fantasy, paranormal, cozy mysteries, or dystopian.

To query, email Katie at ksboutillier@maassagency.com with query, a short synopsis, and the first five pages pasted into the body of the email, no attachments please.

Response times:
Query letters — up to 3 months from receipt.
Partial manuscripts — up to 3 months.
Full manuscripts — overnight to a few months.

You can also find Katie on:

Website                                     Twitter

Interviewed by –

MMF Blog picMM Finck is a writer, essayist, and book reviewer. She is represented by Katie Shea Boutillier of the Donald Maass Literary Agency. She is a regular contributor WWWB as well as overseeing the Author and Literary Agent & Editor Interview segments. She is a member of the Women’s Fiction Writers Association and the 2016 contest chair for the Women’s Fiction Writers Association Rising Star writing contest for unpublished authors.

Her work has appeared in national and regional publications. When she isn’t editing her novel-in-progress, #LOVEIN140, she can be found belting out Broadway tunes (off key and with the wrong words), cheering herself hoarse over a soccer match (USWNT! – 2015 WORLD CUP CHAMPIONS!!!!), learning to play piano (truly pitifully), and trying to squeeze more than twenty-four hours out of every day. She is active on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads. Say hi. http://www.mmfinck.com


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Category: Agents, Contemporary Women Writers

Comments (13)

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  1. Hi Katie, I have published my first novel in Amazon. I have received 95% 5 star reviews. But still, my book is stagnating. I’m having problems marketing it correctly. I don’t know if it’s even possible, but what are the chances for an agent to be interested in a book that has just been recently self-published?
    Best regards,
    Angelika Schwarz

    • MM Finck says:

      Hi Angelika,
      Hi Tracy,
      Unfortunately, it’s not feasible for agents to come back and answer additional questions. HOWEVER, this segment is an ongoing thing so your question will get answered! I’m adding it to my list now. It will come up in a future Q&A so check back. We post new interviews in our facebook group and on twitter when they are published, so make sure you are following.
      Thanks for posting your question!

  2. Tracy Stopler says:

    This was educational and entertaining 🙂
    I hope it’s possible to answer another question.
    Is it frowned upon to submit the same manuscript under two different genres? Of course submitted at separate times. Thank you.

    • MM Finck says:

      Hi Tracy,
      Unfortunately, it’s not feasible for agents to come back and answer additional questions. HOWEVER, this segment is an ongoing thing so your question will get answered! 🙂 I’m adding it to my list now. It will come up in a future Q&A so check back. We post new interviews in our facebook group and on twitter when they are published, so make sure you are following, ok?

      I do need to understand your question a little better. Did you think your ms was one genre and then realized it was another? Or is it cross genre, ie romantic suspense, contemporary commercial with elements of magical realism, etc. If it’s cross genre, you simply put that in your query letter. If you queried once to the same agent using one genre, you don’t need to query it again to the same agent when you want to pub it under a different genre. They take what genre we think our stories are as a suggestion. They know make their own determination when they read the pitch.

      If that doesn’t answer your question, can you explain it to me a little more?


  3. Zan Marie says:

    Wonderful interview! Thanks, MM and Katie.

  4. Jan Rider Newman says:

    Interviews like this are helpful to know what an agent is interested in and what she wants to see in the query, what hooks her or turns her off. Thank you MM and Katie.

  5. Good interview. Thanks for the insights, MM and Katie.

  6. MM Finck says:

    I’m so glad you found the interview helpful, Carol! Thanks for taking the time to leave a note. 🙂


  7. Thanks Katie, there’s a lot of great insight here.
    “The premise and character descriptions are unique to me – something I relate to yet something I haven’t read before.”
    I’ve often thought it would be a lot easier to write blurbs about premise and character “before” we write the novel. Once it’s done, we know so much, I found it a real challenge to boil it down.

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