Kate McKean joined the Howard Morhaim Literary Agency in 2006. She earned her Master’s degree in Fiction Writing at the University of Southern Mississippi and began her publishing career at the University Press of Florida. She is proud to work with New York Times best-selling authors in a wide variety of genres including Mallory Ortberg’s Texts From Jane Eyre, Madeleine Roux’s YA horror series Asylum, and Brittany Gibbons’ memoir Fat Girl Walking.
What path led you to becoming an agent?
I started, like many, as an English major. My genius sister suggested I get an internship at the university press at my school, and I did and that lead to a full time job as an editorial assistant after graduation. After working there a year, I went to graduate school for my MA in Fiction Writing and after having just about all I could take of being a student, I packed my things and drove to New York to become a literary agent. I knew it would suit my outgoing personality. That was almost thirteen years ago.
When you are reading a submission, what are the key elements it has to have to make you want to sign a client?
I first want to forget I'm reading a submission. I want to feel like I'm reading a full-blown book. That usually means I'm immersed in a world so much I forget what's going on around me. I want a submission to call to me, even when I have to do other things. It's hard, or near impossible, for an author to plan on that, but it boils down to writing an unforgettable book.
Off the page, I look for clients who are hardworking, realistic, who will roll with the punches, and who understand that publishing is a team effort.
Once you take on an author, what are your next steps for submission?
Every book is different. If I feel it needs a lot of editorial work, I'll discuss that with the author upfront and we'll devise a plan. I often don't know if I'll be line editing something or just writing an editorial letter until I'm knee deep in the book, but we figure out what the book needs and move toward that. Sometimes there can be more than one round of edits, but as my client list grows, I take on fewer and fewer projects that need that much work from the get-go.
When the project is ship shape, I create a submission list and discuss it with my client and I take their input and discuss any questions they might have. Then I write a pitch letter and start making calls and sending emails. Hopefully, it's not too long a wait until we have good news!
What’s on your manuscript wish list?
I'd like some fun YA romance and more contemporary YA of all stripes. I'd also like serious, literary middle grade that will break my heart into a million pieces. I am also desperate for nonfiction of all kinds for YA and MG audiences! Send me your nonfiction!
Three tips when querying an agent:
DO YOUR HOMEWORK. Submission guidelines are there to help you.
In your query letter, tell me what happens in your book!
Avoid all self-deprecating, cutesy, goofy, or sarcastic remarks about querying or publishing in your queries.
You can query Kate for the month of June firstname.lastname@example.org
Follow her on Twitter @kate_mckean