Kelly Sonnack is a Senior Literary Agent with the Andrea Brown Literary Agency. She represents works for all age ranges and a wide assortment of genres. Some of the novels Kelly has represented include SCBWI Sue Alexander winner and NYT bestselling Sharon Cameron's The Forgetting and its companion novel The Knowing (both Scholastic), David Elliott's novel-in-verse Bull which received 7 starred-reviews (HMH/Houghton), and Steve Watkins' middle grade series The Ghosts of War (Scholastic). Picture books she's sold include Mustache Baby written by Bridget Heos and illustrated by Joy Ang (HMH/Clarion), Ashlyn Anstee's Are We There Yeti? (S&S), and Alastair Heim's No Tooting At Tea (HMH/Clarion). She also represents graphic novels including James Burks' graphic novel series Bird and Squirrel (Scholastic/Graphix) and Mike Lawrence's Star Scouts (Macmillan/First Second). She has a strong list of illustrator clients including Joy Ang, Kimberly Gee, Simone Shin, and Kim Smith. Kelly teaches, and is on the Advisory Board, for UC San Diego's certificate in Writing and Illustrating for Children and is the founder of the City Heights Young Writers Workshop. @ksonnack agentsonnack
What was your path to becoming an agent? I started my publishing career working for Academic Press, a company specializing in post-graduate level textbooks and monographs. I started as an editorial assistant for the Life Sciences editor and, ultimately, ended up taking his job a few years later after he and his replacement both left. Some of my scintillating titles included Advances in Agronomy; Plant Pathology, 5th edition; and Insect Ecology, 3rd edition! I worked with some of the most brilliant scientists who were all really cool people but, unfortunately, I could digest very little of the content I was working on. It was really more of a managerial role and since the academic side of publishing is so different than the trade side, I was keen to transition. So when an assistant position opened up at a local literary agency in San Diego (the Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency), I took a big pay cut and a leap of faith. I found out that agenting was 100% the right mix of the creative brain and the business brain for me, but I wanted to concentrate on kids books. I called some of the ABLA women I’d met over the years and asked them how I could get a job with them. They set me up with Andrea and the rest is history!
When you are reading a manuscript, what reels you in and makes you say that you have to represent the author and/or illustrator? For fiction – when I can’t put it down or I “get all the feels.” Whether the story prompts anxiety, giggles, or gets me all choked up. I like to “fall" into a manuscript and feel that compulsion to push everything else (food, children, oxygen) away. For art – it’s a little harder to describe. It usually starts with an instantaneous feeling of joy, or a smile being brought to my face either from a smart composition or an unusual angle or character representation, or something unusual and distinct but on-trend with what I consider successful in the market today. This is all, of course, dependent on a portfolio that is well-polished and robust and focused enough for me to feel they’re “ready” for prime-time.
Once you offer representation, what can your clients expect from you? A lifetime advocate for their work. An honest editorial partner. Transparency. Someone who is going to have their eye on their long term career. For me, it’s not just about selling a client’s next book. It’s about setting them up for the career they want to have 10 years from now. That means being methodical and thoughtful about the choices we make together.
What’s on your manuscript wish list? I’d love a new big, juicy YA fantasy project with possibly dark themes. It’s no secret that I’m obsessed with Laini Taylor’s fantasy; I’d love to find someone who thinks up stories as original and creative as hers, with the same high caliber of writing. I’d also love to find some contemporary MG. And I’d love to find some #ownvoices fiction with Southeast Asian characters (I called Singapore home for most of my childhood). I’m also a huge fan of graphic novels and always love getting new GNs in my inbox.
If you have a manuscript that’s a match for Kelly, you can query her for the month of November. Go to andreabrownlit.com for submission instructions.