Sunday, December 19, 2010

Come meet The Gatekeeper

I am ever so pleased and lucky to have the author of Getting Past the Gatekeeper on my blog, or as she is referred on her blog, GK.

GK's blog is a must visit. She gives you little peeks into the world of agenting and why writers get rejections in nice, easy-to-read pie charts: here and here. If you aren't following, pop on over and make her one of your favorites.

Let's get to know GK.

First thing that pops into your mind time... No cheating.

Favorite dessert?

Nutella. With a spoon.

What is the first thing you notice on the opposite sex?

Shoulders. The men dress very well here.

Drinks at a club or drinks in a piano lounge?

Piano bar, definitely.

What did you do during your teen years?

I spent a lot of time writing. I’d come home every day (every day that I didn’t have rehearsal, that is—I was a big musical theatre geek), make myself a snack (like those frozen Amy’s pot pies), and write until my mom came in, exclaimed about how I’d forgotten to turn on a light, and told me I’d ruin my eyesight.

Life as an agent is busy, busy, busy. Would you care to share a typical day of what you do when you take your agent hat off?

I rarely take my agent hat off. It’s been a very long time since I’ve had a day where I didn’t read a manuscript, or at least check my work email, or wonder how a client is doing. But, yes. I love living in New York, and try to take advantage of that. I love trying out new restaurants, meeting new people (there are amazing conversations to be had in this city), hanging out in coffee shops and lounges, seeing live music and book talks, and generally saying “Yes” when someone says, “Hey, I heard about this cool new place”—which has led me to events in breweries, converted factories, underground eating clubs with passwords, and churches that were turned into lofts that now host concerts.

They say you can figure out what you should be doing in life by what shelves you automatically go to in a bookstore. I always go right for the food books and magazines. But I’m very down-to-earth about it. I’ll be much more impressed if you accomplish something brilliant with a microwave than with a sous-vide.

What is the most thrilling aspect of your job?

Finding something new, and falling in love with it. When I took on my most recent client—that is, when she told me she’d chosen me from all the interested agents—I literally got up and yelled, “[Book title] is mine! [Book title] is mine!”

Naturally, my intern looked at me a little strangely, and my boss came running in to make sure I wasn’t on fire or something, but it worked out okay.

What would you love to see cross your desk right now?

Personally, my tastes are getting much darker. I used to be the kid who couldn’t even watch a commercial for a scary movie without having nightmares. Now, though—well, I’d like some more witty YA thrillers, please.

I’d also love good historical fiction, dystopias, and stories of protagonists changing the world around them—whether that means taking down a corrupt regime or unearthing secrets that will change everything for their group of friends.

I’m also very interested in fiction for adults—women’s, literary, historical and surreal fiction all appeal to me. And, on the nonfiction side, psychology, parenting, memoirs, food books/cookbooks, travel and works that speak to life in this century.

You might not want to answer this and that is fine. I understand completely. But it is a question I always wanted to ask, but never have. So, I thought I would ask you....Tell us a book that is a best seller, but you wouldn't have offered representation. Why?

When I saw The Secret for the first time, I just couldn’t believe that someone would write a book saying, “You can have everything you want! You can have it NOW! You don’t have to do any work! All you have to do is imagine it!” It’s a work that, I fear, succeeded because it promises everything with no effort. And I wasn’t a huge fan of the writing, either.

I've read plenty of blogs where TWILIGHT has gotten bashed for poor writing and such but, yet, the book captured the minds of readers. What do you think the book had that accomplished such a following?

It’s a perfect example of an author who is book-by-book, or even series-by-series brilliant (according to some; I didn’t particularly care for it) versus chapter-by-chapter or line-by-line brilliant. The works come together in a way that tells a compelling story, and I think she’s generally good at creating tension, intrigue, and romantic interest.

What is your ratio of queries to requests?

I request about seven for every 100.

Without naming names, what is the funniest thing you ever read in a query?

A writer was pitching a very traditional, 1950s-style cookbook. This is all well and good, but then she went on to make X-rated jokes about Popeye. And spinach. I did not ask for more.

Do you usual request fulls or partials? And why?

Fulls. I hate being in the middle of something good and having to wait a few days to find out what happens.

When you request a manuscript and it is sent to you, about how long does it take for you to actually get started on reading it?

That varies. I know I’m not supposed to admit this, but I don’t read anything in the order it comes in. Not even close. I read what looks most interesting first. This isn’t to be evil, or even for my own amusement—it’s because I know some works are likely to be snapped up quickly.

There isn’t a good way to predict what the response time means. Sometimes I keep something longer because I’m sharing it with colleagues; sometimes I keep something longer because I’ve decided to reject it but can’t yet articulate why it isn’t working for me. And sometimes I just have an appalling number of manuscripts waiting.

When you are reading a manuscript that you have an interest in, do you make notes of things that you would like to change or editing remarks?

Like when people look at potential houses and say, “Oh, honey! Let’s put the couch there!”?

Yes, I do. I like the Kindle note-taking feature.

How soon do you expect to be hooked by requested material?

I know very soon. I’d never make an offer without finishing a work, but I’m about to make an offer on a piece that convinced me very quickly. By page twelve, I was sure I wanted it.

As an agent, do you mind doing edits?

Not at all. I actually find it very gratifying. I like watching the work take shape.

Do you help first-time authors with marketing strategies?

Yes, of course. Our agency is very good at making sure our authors are doing well overall—we’ve helped cookbook authors refine restaurant ideas, helped blogging writers create apps and web videos, and are generally here to think up new, cool ways of getting their work out there.

How do you resolve clashes in view points within your agency?

We actually don’t have many of those. Even though I’m the youngest in my office, I’ve been given a ridiculous amount of power and independence. We also tend to get along very well, and have a very similar aesthetic. The only major difference in viewpoint I can remember had to do with a YA work I took on. My boss liked the writing, and gave her blessing, but thought it was—her word—just weird. It is weird, but wonderfully so. It sold and is poised to do well. There will soon be Australian, Polish, Portuguese and German versions, too.

What do you see in the future of agent/writer's relationships?

If anything, I think there will be a trend toward a more friendly, less formal relationship. Authors can read our Twitter feeds and see what we’ve been eating for lunch—that doesn’t exactly lead to authors being intimidated by agents, and agents trying to pretend that they are perfectly polished creatures. For example, I’ve knocked over cups of tea in front of audiences, at conferences, and do so regularly in the office. It’s gotten to the point where I’m generally more amused than embarrassed--but I think agents in the past would try to hide that sort of thing.

Can you tell us one thing that is different in the world of agenting that is different than when you first started?

We’re much more careful about what we take on. Also, all of our submissions are now electronic, which is fabulously convenient for me.

What must-reads do you think an aspiring author should have on their bookshelf?

For finding agents: The Jeff Herman Guide. For writing book proposals: The Art of the Book Proposal by Eric Maisel. For writing queries, Making the Perfect Pitch. And for general pep-talk encouragement, Ariel Gore’s How to Become a Famous Writer Before You’re Dead.

Thank you so much for visiting GK. I hope you will stop by again.


  1. Wow, what a great interview! I visit her blog quite frequently and she gives even more insight here. :)

  2. Fantastic article! I <3 GK and make sure to visit her blog daily - I love knowing that she eats Nutella with a spoon!

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  4. Great interview. Thanks for giving us a glimpse into your busy life, GK.

  5. Love the interview! To see inside the minds of agents. This was rather informative.

  6. Thanks for introducing me to GK! I'm glad I stopped by and hope you'll visit over at my place ;-)

  7. Once again, GK makes me wish I actually knew her. :) Thanks for the interview, ebysswriter!

  8. Nice that agents get as excited about writers as writers do about agents.

  9. This was a big peach of an interview. Big thanks, ebysswriter, for conducting/posting. And thanks, naturally, to the interviewee. What I've read of her online presence never strikes a false note but rather sets writers of all stripes (I presume) more at ease about the whole agent search. Knock them teacups over, GK.

  10. I love agent interviews! How frustrating is it when you're trying to personalise a query and you have precisely nothing to go on?! Thanks for this one :)

  11. Two words: GK rocks. Great interview. OK, four words. Nine. Ten. Rgh!


  12. great interview! thanks for the insights.

  13. Fun, friendly and interesting interview!

    Everyone spills coffee on occasion. A student knocked my mug over on my desk last week. I cleaned it up while he got the overhead ready. Little mishaps are what make us human.