Agent Spotlight: Lori Kilkelly
Jan. 7, 2015
As the final day of Kidlit 411's Birthday Bash, we are pleased to feature Lori Kilkelly, agent at Rodeen Literary Management, an agency representing children's writers and illustrators, in the Agent Spotlight.
If you have a completed PB or MG, be sure to enter into her giveaway to bypass the slush pile and query her!
When did you decide to become an agent?
I wish I could sum this up in a short and sweet kind of way but sadly, I'm going to bore the heck out of all your readers right off the bat.
In '08 I was a Chicago sales rep covering a seven-state territory and I traveled a LOT. The kind of travel where you fly to a place and then drive to 5 cities while there, organizing 10-15 appointments along the way. I adored my clients but I was exhausted of this tedious travel (one flight cancellation and your whole schedule needed to be rebooked!)
I've always been a crazy obsessed fan-girl kind of reader so as I began researching other job opportunities, I also began contemplating other careers. In my research I stumbled across information about the Denver Publishing Institute (DPI), founded in the '70s at University of Denver by publishing legend Elizabeth Geiser. I applied and was accepted. Unlike most attendees I wasn't 23 and I wasn't planning to move to NY and be an editor.
The role of agent seemed to perfectly fulfill my love for my clients, my obsession with reading and my background in marketing. As luck would have it, Paul Rodeen was also a Chicago DPI alum and took me under his wing. I'm now in my fifth year with RLM.
Many writers are on a quest to find an agent. If you could have the perfect client, what characteristics would that client have?
I love that all of my clients are very different - even if I could, I wouldn't have them all be the same. In addition to being unique people, because I take on my clients at a very measured pace, they are each in a different place in their career. I strive to provide each client with attention personalized to their specific needs.
The one characteristic that I'd say all of my clients have is a willingness and desire to continue honing their craft driven by the belief that growing and learning continues throughout a career, whether writing, illustrating or both.
What do you look for when considering a potential client? Does online presence help? Hinder?
I'm interested in representing someone's career, not in selling a single manuscript. So, after the submission ms intrigues me, I'll ask to see more work.
I believe online presence is essential in today's marketplace. All of my clients have an online presence and I prefer a website as well, though writers have to be a bit more creative in concept until they have a book published.
Of course most people realize that in the somewhat anonymous world of social media, it can be easy to over-share. Funny story - one of our long-married clients had his FB status listed as "open-relationship" so I approached him gently and said, look, that's cool, it's your life, but maybe, you know, since this is children's lit, we just leave that blank or else lock down your FB account so it's not so public. Turns out he had no idea this was selected and received many an enthusiastic congratulations when he corrected the setting to "Married"!
What do you look for in evaluating picture books? What is your taste? What are your favorite PBs?
First and foremost, a story that will interest a child, not a story that an adult wants to tell to a child.
I love humor but I also love heartwarming.
Generally rhyming isn't for me.
I love when a story that's been told a million times in a million different ways surprises me.
Too many favorites so I'll just pick one classic from my youth - CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF MEATBALLS by Judi and Ronald Barrett. If you haven't read it; it's not the movie.
What genres do you represent, and do you prefer to see one over another?
While Paul represents almost exclusively picture book and graphic novel author/illustrators and illustrators, generally taking on established authors and illustrators, I'm on the lookout for author/illustrators as well as MG and YA authors.
What are some of your personal dos and don’ts for those writers trying to get an agent?
DO: Your research - read submission guidelines for each agency to which you submit - look on FB pages and agency websites.
DON'T: Assume every agency's guidelines are the same.
DO: Find an agent's name to put at the top of your email but indicate if you're willing to have other agents within in the agency review your sub.
DON'T: Submit without knowing what type of work the agency represents (I can't tell you how many adult submissions we receive!)
DO: Have a friend/spouse/child proof your email and turn on spellcheck! And DO remember to update the agency name if you've included it in the body of the email.
DON'T: (This one might upset a few people, but hear me out.) Tell me in your query that your child inspired you to write this ms. I realize Judith Viorst's son inspired her to write ALEXANDER AND THE TERRIBLE, HORRIBLE, NO GOOD, VERY BAD DAY. And it's awesome (I read it 1 million times, according to my mother and pbs were a LOT longer back then!) And lots of people are inspired to write wonderful books because of their children.
However, you have limited space in a query, and I personally don't feel that having a child uniquely qualifies a person to write a great ms; so leave it out! Tell me about your qualifications in terms of field(s) of study, occupation, how long you've been writing, whether you participate in SCBWI, awards, other books published, etc.
I'm looking first and foremost for someone who has made writing a priority and has usually cranked out lots of crummy mss along with some fairly awesome stuff over a number years of hard work. Later, when we know each other, we'll happily chat about how your child(ren) inspired you to become a writer.
What are the best and worst parts of being an agent?
- Only being able to fit a certain amount of reading into each day and wishing I had more time to read and review submissions.
- Seeing my clients cope with the waiting (oh the patience necessary in this field!) and the "rejection"; although there's also a satisfaction to knowing a client is growing and accepting that it's not personal when a project just isn't right for a particular editor. And of course, having the context of rejection makes a project being acquired that much sweeter - that's a "BEST."
- When an editor who really wants to acquire your client's ms loses in auction; calling that person to tell them they didn't get it. Not a fan.
Absolutely everything else:
- My amazingly awesome clients.
- Brilliant editors who help make the work the best it can be.
- The children's publishing community, which I've found to be fantastically tight-knit. There's so much collaboration and promotion of their colleagues' work on a daily basis.
- Seeing a book in print for the first time, when it began as a spark of an idea in your client's mind.
Can you explain how your author/agent relationship works?
My overarching approach is that my client and I are partners in their publishing career. I believe my role as an agent is to be what my client needs me to be, for them. I tend toward being very hands on, but I represent some clients who have been doing this on their own for years and don't need me to walk them through each step.
All of my clients run story ideas by me of course, and Paul and I each review every client ms that comes in the door, then we discuss our thoughts and provide feedback.
Beyond that we strive to make all of our clients feel that they are part of the RLM team. Being a writer/illustrator can be lonely - not everyone has a multi-person art studio to go to each day - so, I encourage my clients to "friend" each other on FB, to reach out to their colleagues and ask about watercolors and paper, to join writing groups. And, of course, it's always nice to get the group together over a glass of wine.
What’s your best piece of advice for writers?
(Just one?!) Write as frequently as possible - every day if you can - and don't wait for ideal conditions and don't expect every word to be revolutionary - some days are all about the delete key.
Join a writer's group with brutally honest, (but constructively so) members.
And read everything you can get your hands on in the genre/age range you want to publish.
Thanks much for your interest and happy creating!
Thank you so much for the interview, Lori!
Find out more about Rodeen Literary Management by following their Facebook page, Twitter feed (@RodeenLiterary) or website, Rodeenliterary.com (where submission guidelines are found).
Giveaway: If you have a completed PB or MG manuscript, you may enter this giveaway. If you win, you will be invited to submit your completed PB or the first 10 pages of your MG manuscript with a pitch summary.
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