Kerry Sparks is a literary agent with Levine Greenberg Literary Agency, Inc. in New York, having joined their team in 2008. In addition to being an agent, Kerry is the co-author (with colleague Miek Bruno Coccia) of the upcoming book Hello, My Name Is Pabst: Baby Names for Nonconformist, Indie, Geeky, DIY, Hipster, and Alterna-Parents of All Kinds which will be published by Random House in October 2012 (Hello, Random House sister!). She is also an avid film connoisseur, frequent traveler, and super fan of Powell's Books in her home state of Oregon.
And get this, readers—Kerry is looking for Young Adult and Middle-Grade fiction. She tends to shy away from werewolves, zombies, faeries, and the like, but she’ll read anything with a fresh voice and compelling characters. She is particularly keen on contemporary YA, quirky MG, books with a strong cinematic element and she loves to work with debut authors as well as seasoned veterans. And if you believe her colleague Danielle Svetcov (I do), Kerry is ‘killing it” with YA/MG. Translation: Kerry rules and you need her.
Michelle: Thank you so much for agreeing to this interview, Kerry! My first question: How did you get your start in the literary agenting biz?
Kerry: When I was living in Los Angeles and still in college, I interned for a literary agent who then worked for Levine Greenberg (she worked remotely from her home in California). It was a very editorial internship in that it was mostly reading, writing reviews and keeping on top of her large submissions pile. It was really then that I fell in love with YA and knew that I would enjoy agenting.
A year or so after the internship ended I decided to take a trip to visit a friend in New York and thought I would set up an informational meeting with someone at the NY office. I met with the lovely Lindsay Edgecombe who then introduced me to Jim Levine and we all just clicked right away. I was flying back to California the next day but Jim asked if I would come back in before my flight and meet the whole team. I agreed, of course, and the next day when I showed up and there were ten people gathered around the conference room table, I realized that this was a real interview. It was a bit intense, but totally wonderful as my colleagues have turned into some of my favorite people. It was really about the right timing and a little bit of luck.
Michelle: Is there anything you’re sick of seeing in the slush pile right now?
Kerry: I wouldn’t say there is any one type of genre I’m sick of seeing, but it is interesting that people tend to send very similar things at the same time. A week of mermaids, a month of angels, a year of dystopian, a lifetime of vampires—but honestly, I love the slush pile and have found many of my clients that way. Like everyone, I’m always looking for stellar writing and compelling characters, so if that is within a specific world you’ve created or you’ve got a great hook too, all the better.
Michelle: What are the biggest mistakes you see first time authors making?
Kerry: Though I’m not sure it’s a mistake I see first time authors always doing, I think authors really have to do so much for their own books these days so it’s certainly a mistake to completely depend on your publisher for all book promotion. Publishing can be a very disappointing business so having a tough skin is necessary but I do think that having a basic understanding of publishing (and a good agent to have your back!) will keep first time authors from making big mistakes.
It’s been a great experience being an author myself because I’ve had the chance to be on the other side of things. I now totally get that feeling of “My agent/editor hasn’t responded to my email for 24 hours, she/he must hate me and all my ideas!” because when you share your writing with someone, you really feel like you are putting yourself out there. While I have the good fortune to sit next to my agent every day (the amazing Monika Verma) I do realize how nerve wracking it is for authors when they have something on submission!
Michelle: How do you decide whether or not to offer representation to an author?
Kerry: If I love the writing, think I can sell it, and know that I’ll enjoy reading the book at least three times, I’ll take it on. I put a lot of work into each project that I represent so there might be several months of back and forth editing between an author and me before we submit to publishers. Sometimes submissions are in really great shape when they come in and we’ll just clean up the manuscript a bit, but often times I sign something up because I see that there is a great nugget of a book in there that just has to be developed—and this is a really fun part of the job. But it’s also the unpaid part of the job, so I really, really have to love something to take a chance on it.
Michelle: Can you give us the scoop: what are editors looking for right now? (I know, I know, writing to trend=bad. This one’s for funnies)
Kerry: I think editors are always looking for something fresh, exciting, surprising—just like readers. I know a lot of editors are sick of the dystopian, paranormal, fantasy and yet, it is still selling and selling. I think that in YA, high-concept books with a great romance will always be on the top of editor’s lists and since I represent a lot of contemporary YA, I’m hoping that that will keep selling!
Michelle: Are you working on any projects right now that you’re excited about/would like to share?
Kerry: I’m really excited about so many projects right now but a few of my debut authors have books coming out in 2012 that I’m really rooting for and which I hope you will all rush out and buy or pre-order now:
Jenny Lundquist’s fantastic magical middle grade novel SEEING CINDERELLA came out in March with Aladdin Books and is doing well.
Jenny Torres Sanchez’s YA about an ex-fat boy with a less-than-stable mother THE DOWNSIDE OF BEING CHARLIE will be published by Running Press in May.
Carrie Arcos’s YA titled OUT OF REACH about a teen girl who has to find her missing meth-addict brother will be released by Simon Pulse in October this year.
Michelle: What is the best way for authors to contact you?
Kerry: We have a great online submissions form through our website at www.levinegreenberg.com but authors are also free to email me queries directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. If it’s something I’m interested in, I’ll be in touch. Best to avoid calling the agency to pitch an idea because it’s all in the writing!
Again, thank you so much for agreeing to this interview, Kerry. It was an absolute pleasure!