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Pitch to Kerry D’Agostino at MWW 2020 Agent Fest!

Get to Know an Agent in Attendance: Kerry D’Agostino

Kerry is one of eight literary agents coming to the  2020 MWW Agent Fest, March 13-14 at the Ball State Alumni Center, Muncie, Indiana.

Kerry D’Agostino is a literary agent at Curtis Brown, Ltd. She received her bachelor’s degree in English from Bowdoin College, her masters in Art in Education from Harvard Graduate School of Education, and her certificate in publishing from the Columbia Journalism School. She started at Curtis Brown in 2011 as assistant to Tim Knowlton and Holly Frederick in the Film and Television Department. After some time as a film and audio rights associate, she also began assisting Peter Ginsberg. In addition to her continued work with Peter, Kerry now represents authors of literary and commercial fiction, and select narrative nonfiction. She is particularly interested in work that is voice driven, accessible, and authentic. Above all, she is drawn to work that either introduces her to someone, somewhere, or something new, or makes her see something old in a new way. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband.

Kerry’s Wish List:

She is looking for literary and commercial fiction and select narrative nonfiction. She is particularly interested in work that is voice driven, accessible, and authentic.

MWW agent assistant Allison Akers interviewed Kerry about her life as an agent and about coming to MWW Agent Fest.

MWW: What are some do’s and don’t’s for authors who may be attending an agent pitch fest for the first time?

KD: The Midwest Writers Workshop website has some great advice for attending agent pitch fests, and I second all of it; it’s important to know who you are meeting with, and it’s also crucial to practice your pitch, on your own and also with those you can trust to share honest feedback. Be prepared to have a conversation about your work outside of the pitch, too: what brought you to the idea? What did your writing process involve? What do you consider to be good comp titles for your work? What kind of work might you want to pursue next? As far as “don’ts” go, it’s completely understandable that this can be a nerve-wracking experience, but don’t be too nervous. Agents work in publishing because they love books, and they attend these conferences because they’re excited to discover new talent. Both parties entering the conversation are hoping for a potential match! That said, another don’t is to not be too discouraged if your project is not a perfect match for the agent. Literature is so subjective, and just because the work is not right for one person does not mean it will not be a fit for the next. 

MWW: In your agent bio, you say you are interested in work that is “voice driven, accessible, and authentic,” as well as work that introduces you to new people, places, ideas, or gives a fresh take on an old concept. What work have you run across–either through your clients or leisure reading-that displays these qualifications?

KD: The best way to familiarize yourself with an agent’s taste is to study the books that they represent. My clients’ spring publications give a good sense of my interests: Leesa Cross-Smith’s  So We Can Glow is a gorgeous short story collection exploring the complicated hearts of girls and women; in Nancy Wayson Dinan’s  Things You Would Know if You Grew Up Around Here, a young woman sets out in the aftermath of the 2015 Memorial Day floods to find her missing friend; and with  Before She Was Helen, Caroline B. Cooney takes us to the heart of a retirement community to discover long-buried secrets in her first mystery for adults. Each of the protagonists across these books is deeply relatable in some way, but each also simultaneously brings me into a new landscape of some kind, whether physical or emotional.

MWW: Do you gravitate toward a particular genre or story/memoir structure within the categories of commercial fiction, literary fiction, and nonfiction?

KD: I would not say that I’m drawn to a particular structure, but across each of these categories I’m consistently looking for work that blends a deep examination of character with narrative momentum. I’m always intrigued when I see a writer playing with structure–Leslie Pietrzyk’s  Silver Girl is a great example of this, where we start with The Middle, move to The Beginning, then to the End, and then finally to Where Every Story Truly Begins–but the structure has to be purposeful, in service of the story rather than vice versa. In terms of genre, while much of my list does focus on upmarket/literary fiction for adult readers, I am also excited to be working with both authors of young adult literature and also authors of mystery/suspense.

MWW: What are some reasons that you reject a pitch, query letter, or manuscript?

KD: The most common reason that I reject a pitch, query letter, or manuscript is that I simply do not feel enough of a connection with it to feel confident that I would be that work’s most passionate advocate. There can always be unforeseen challenges in publishing, and when faced with those challenges an author deserves both an agent and an editor who shares their complete enthusiasm and their complete vision for their work. If I don’t have that vision, then I am not the right match for that work.

MWW: What are you most excited about for the Midwest Writers Workshop?

KD: I am looking forward to meeting with writers and learning about their projects! It would of course be particularly exciting to connect with a potential match, but either way I always enjoy feeling immersed in a creative community and the conversations such a community fosters.

In addition to hearing pitches and critiquing query letters, Kerry will present these sessions at the 2020 MWW Agent Fest:

  • “Six Steps from Query to Publication” – This session provides a general overview of the publication process, with steps that are broken down into the following: The Query; Signing with an Agent; Submission to Editors; Negotiating the Contract; Preparing for Publication; and finally, Publication itself. Tips for understanding and navigating each stage are included
  • “Subsidiary Rights” – This session explores the range of rights that can be involved in any one publishing contract, including print rights, digital rights, foreign language rights, UK rights, audio rights, and dramatic rights. Learn what each of these rights represent, and learn about the advantages of granting them to a publisher versus the advantages of reserving them.

Come and meet Kerry!

Register soon for the Early Bird Registration Cost! (Limited number of Query Letter Critiques available)

MWW 2020 Agent Fest, March 13-14

The 2nd Annual MWW Agent Fest: March 13-14, 2020

Friday 12:30 pm through Saturday 5:00 pm. {EARLY BIRD COST: $259 / $299 after 12/31/19}

Prepare. Pitch. Publish. #preppitchpub

Our first MWW Agent Fest was a big success! What attendees said:

To have one-on-one time with an agent is invaluable. The agents were all great and attentive. The conference was packed with useful information and opportunities.

A caring, professional organization for debut authors as well as accomplished authors.

A great and welcoming event with enthusiastic people and agents ready to give you real feedback.

I love how relaxed it was. The agents were friendly and engaged and it did wonders to calm my nerves. I really felt that they wanted to see me succeed.

So helpful! Really tangible and practical advice.

So, now MWW 2020 Agent Fest is another wonderful opportunity to get intense instruction over the course of two days, pitch a literary agent, get your query letter evaluated, get your questions answered, and more.

With 15 sessions, plus an All-Agent Panel Q&A, participants will learn how to write a dynamite query letter and tackle a one-page synopsis. The instructing literary agents will also explain the author experience and how to navigate the agent/author relationship, and the etiquette in dealing with an agent and manuscript basics.

BONUS: You can register for a Query Letter Critique! For an additional fee of $50, you will meet for a 10-minute one-on-one consultation with an agent/editor to discuss your query letter AND the first page of your manuscript. NOTE: ONLY 40 critique spots left! Register soon!

You’ll meet one-on-one with two agents and possibly three, depending on the number of registrants. Each pitch lasts three minutes, composed of a 90-second pitch and a 90-second response from the agent with feedback.

  • Ian Bonaparte, Janklow & Nesbit Associates
  • Kerry D’Agostino, Curtis Brown, Ltd.
  • Jennifer Grimaldi, Charlberg & Sussman
  • Amanda Luedeke, MacGregor & Luedeke
  • Eric Myers, Myers Literary Management
  • Patricia Nelson, Marsal Lyon Literary Agency
  • Abby Saul, The Lark Group
  • Dani Segelbaum, New Leaf Literary & Media
  • EDITOR: Erin Calligan Mooney, Senior Editor, Lake Union Publishing, Amazon Publishing
 
Kerry D’Agostino, Curtis Brown, Ltd.
  • “Six Steps from Query to Publication”
  • “Subsidiary Rights”
Jennifer Grimaldi, Charlberg & Sussman
  • “Common Pitching Mistakes”
  • “360 view of the path to publication”
Amanda Luedeke, MacGregor & Luedeke
  • “When to Self-Publish”
  • “When You Can’t Find Time to Write”
Eric Myers, Myers Literary Management
  • “How Much Is Too Much in YA And Middle Grade?”
  • “Working With Your Agent”
Patricia Nelson, Marsal Lyon Literary Agency
  • “Rookie Submission Mistakes (and how to avoid them)”
  • “Capturing the YA and MG Voice”
Abby Saul, The Lark Group
  • “Please Read My Manuscript: Quick Tips for Query Questions”
  • “Finding, Working with, and Keeping an Agent”
Dani Segelbaum, New Leaf Literary & Media
  • “How to Write A Non-Fiction Proposal”
  • “The Do’s and Don’ts of Querying Agents”
Erin Calligan Mooney, Senior Editor, Lake Union Publishing
  • “Trust Falls: The Editor/Author Relationship”

Friday Evening Program:

“First Paragraph Read – Love It or Leave It, “Okay, Stop” – with all agents. “A Paragraph One Critique-Fest.” This is a chance to get your first page read (anonymously – no bylines given) with our 9 attending faculty commenting on what was liked or not liked about the submission. Get expert feedback on your incredibly important first page, and know if your writing has what it needs to keep readers’ attention. (All attendees are welcome to bring pages to the event for this session, and we will choose pages at random for the workshop for as long as time lasts.)

You Will Get:

  • Immediate feedback on the merits of your book directly from agents working in that genre or category
  • Actionable advice on perfecting your pitch, and/or ways to improve your storyline or nonfiction premise
  • The opportunity to land representation and start on your path to a publishing deal.

Keys to Agent Fest Success:

  • Do your research. There will be eight agents attending and some will be a better fit for your writing than others. Be sure to study the list of agents and target those who handle your genre or interest.
  • Practice makes perfect. This is your chance to sell your book, so write it out, practice it and perfect your pitch. Use a stopwatch so you can keep time-and their attention!
  • Get expert advice. To help you prepare, we have a room with willing volunteers where you can practice. You can hone your pitch and get more comfortable with presenting live. You’ll also gain the confidence you need to make a great impression.

By Saturday evening, you will have added more tools to help you move forward on your writing journey.

Come join us!

REGISTER HERE!

Pitch to Joanna MacKenzie at the MWW Agent Fest

Meet Joanna MacKenzie, literary agent with Nelson Literary Agency  

Joanna MacKenzie joined Nelson Literary Agency in 2017 and is building a list of adult titles in the areas of mystery, thriller, and commercial women’s fiction as well as select young adult passion projects. She loves creepy islands, mysteries set in close-knit communities (if those communities happen to be in the Midwest, all the better), and fierce mom heroines. Joanna is looking for smart and timely women’s fiction where the personal intersects with the world at large, think Emily Giffin’s All We Ever Wanted or Camille Perri’s The Assistants.

Joanna’s Wish List:

Her list includes: mysteries, atmospheric thrillers, women’s fiction, moms with secret lives, anything set on a creepy island (or any island, really), midwestern-set mysteries/thrillers/fiction, re-invention stories (She’d love to find more about women in their 40s and 50s reinventing themselves following tragedy or break-ups). She’d also love to find a Beaches redux (aka friendship stories).

MWW Board Member Dianne Drake interviewed Joanna about her life as an agent and about coming to MWW Agent Fest.

MWW: Could you give us a little background of the agency you represent and the overall philosophy or focus of your agency?

JM: Nelson Literary Agency was found by Kristin Nelson in 2002. We are a full-service agency and though we may look like a boutique agency, we don’t operate like one. We have amazing support staff who, for example, tackle things like royalty statement review and contracts, so agents can focus on their authors.

 

MWW: Because you primarily represent fiction, what makes fiction masterful in your eyes? 

JM: For me, masterful fiction has voice and a sense of place. I want to get swept away, no matter what the genre, and transported to a new locale and I want to go on that adventure with a fascinating host.

 

MWW: Besides “good writing,” what are you looking for right now and not getting? What do you pray for when tackling the slush pile? Conversely, what are you tired of seeing? 

JM: I’m actually getting a lot of great stuff right now! So please keep it coming. I’m always down to confident voice, even if, and sometimes especially if, that voice is unexpected and new to me.  When I pray to the slush pile deity, I specifically ask for the next Tana French.  Or the next  All We Ever Wanted by Emily Giffin or the next  Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. Personally, I’m a little tired of drunk cops down on their luck. I think there’s a fresh way to approach this character.

 

MWW: As an agent who’s being pitched, what do you want to hear in the allotted time? What don’t you want to hear?

JM: I want to hear a clear statement on what I’m being pitched, even if it’s wrong. Tell me you’ve written an 80,000 word thriller that will appeal to fans of Gone Girl, rather than an 80,000 word novel that might be a thriller, but could be women’s fiction and will appeal to everyone who has ever picked up a book. It’s up to me, ultimately, to decide if your comps are right, but I want to hear the clear idea.

 

MWW: What, in general, should a person do to make a good impression during a pitch session and what, specifically, should she/he do to impress you? And, if you like, what doesn’t impress you at all?  

JM: I love it when authors can place their manuscripts on a shelf for me, when they tell me of comparable titles.

 

MWW: Any other advice?

JM: Practice and don’t be nervous. Easier said than done, I know, but I’m here to help and to listen. And I’m a nice Canadian, now Midwestern, person. Also, don’t be afraid to ask questions. It’s rare to have face to face time with an agent.

 

MWW: Also, what do you represent, and do you have preferences within that list? 

JM: I represent commercial adult fiction in the areas of women’s fiction, mysteries and thrillers, as well as select young adult projects. Right now, I’m drawn to female stories of reinvention (women on their second or third acts or finding new direction after a life-altering event); moms with secret lives (think Weeds); and women pushed to the limit who push back (think Widows).  I’m also a fan of Midwest stories as well as creepy islands.

 

Come to the Agent Fest and pitch to Joanna!

Read more about the MWW Agent Fest: May 10-11, 2019.

Register Today!

Click here to register.

Friday 1:00 pm through Saturday 5:00 pm. {$249 / $289 after 4/1/19}

Prepare. Pitch. Publish. #preppitchpub

You want agents. We’ve got agents.

Pitch to literary agent Noah Ballard at the MWW Agent Fest!

Meet Noah Ballard, literary agent with Curtis Brown, Ltd. 

Noah Ballard is an agent at Curtis Brown, Ltd. He studied creative writing at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and began his career in publishing at Emma Sweeney Agency. Noah focuses on literary fiction, short story collections and narrative non-fiction, including memoir, journalism and pop culture. Noah has appeared at graduate writing programs and writers’ conferences across the country speaking about query letters, building nonfiction platforms and submission etiquette. A New Jersey native, Noah currently lives in Brooklyn.

MWW Board Member Larry Sweazy interviewed Noah about his life as an agent and what he’s looking for on his Manuscript Wish List.

MWW: All writers were voracious readers before they became writers. It seems this would be true of agents, too. Can you tell us about a book, or books, that affected you, and influenced your choice to become an agent?

NB: I don’t know that I agree with the premise of the question, that writers are all voracious readers. I think all successful writers are voracious readers, especially of contemporary authors. It’s pretty amazing, however, the amount of writers who pitch me work who haven’t read a book that’s been published in the past ten years.

As a college student, I was drawn to so-called transgressive fiction. From Charles Bukowski to John Fante up to Bret Easton Ellis and Jay McInerney. That’s a pretty easy space to be excited by as a middle-class, White student, when bad behavior (by White men) seems controversial. And I suppose it is, compared to the boring (White, male) authors I read in high school. But as I reached the end of college, I also discovered James Baldwin and Evan S. Connell and Bernard Malamud and Joan Didion, etc., etc. That’s where the real controversy of American late 20th century literature lives, and I am inspired by authors who seem themselves as following in those traditions.

MWW: What makes a query stand out?

NB: In terms of the actual letter: professionalism. Many authors make the mistake of writing the letter with a lot of voice, or waxing unnecessarily poetic or, worse, attempting to appeal to my sympathy. I’m looking for a writer who will collaborate and be a savvy business partner, not someone who doesn’t know how to write a professional e-mail. Why would I risk my reputation for such a person?

In terms of the writing sample, which I always ask be included in the query, there I’m looking for voice and confidence. Tell me a story in a way I haven’t heard it before and be brave in the telling.

MWW: What are the most important questions should a new writer ask an agent?

NB: “What is your vision for the publication of my book?” “What editorial work do I need to do before the book can be submitted to editors?” “Which editors do you have in mind?” “What is your working style?” “Does your agency represent translation and film/TV rights?” “Are you a member of the Association of Authors’ Representatives?” “Do you only expect payment once you’ve sold my book?” (The latter must an unconditional YES!)

MWW: With the publishing industry in a constant state of change, are you encouraged about the future of publishing?

NB: Publishing has allegedly been dying for 100 years. (The novel is dead; long live the novel!) But the truth is people need stories, and the medium continues to grow and change and evolve. Authors have to be bigger advocates for themselves than ever before, but I don’t know that that’s a bad thing. There are things that frustrate me, for sure. Mostly the myopia of how books are marketed and publicized. But a generation of young people-both on the business side and on the creative side-are rallying to celebrate more diverse authors, more controversial ideas, more unexplored stories. That’s as exciting and as scary as our current political moment.

MWW: What kind of projects will you be looking for at MWW Agent Fest?

NB: Intelligent, diverse, ruthless, unapologetic literary fiction. Plucky, confrontational, progressive, emotionally-driven non-fiction, especially memoir and pop culture.

Come pitch to Noah!

Read more about the MWW Agent Fest: May 10-11, 2019.

Register Today!

Click here to register.

Friday 1:00 pm through Saturday 5:00 pm. {$249 / $289 after 4/1/19}

Prepare. Pitch. Publish. #preppitchpub

You want agents. We’ve got agents.

MWW Agent Fest, May 10-11, 2019

Prepare. Pitch. Publish. #preppitchpub
You want agents. We’ve got agents.

MWW Agent Fest: May 10-11, 2019

Friday 1:00 pm through Saturday 4:30 pm. {$249 / $289 after 4/1/19}

Here’s an opportunity to pitch your book directly to vaunted agents in search of new voices! Advocate for your book in a high-energy environment, and you might just become another MWW success story.

Connect with literary agents who are actively searching for the next big thing across all genres including fiction, nonfiction, children’s, young adult and more. During the Agent Fest, you’ll have a chance to meet agents one-on-one and capture their attention with the basic concept of your book.

We’ve assembled a dynamic roster of top-tier agents to participate in our new MWW Agent Fest. We have two days of valuable sessions on how to write a query letter and a synopsis, what agents are looking for, what makes an agent/editor stop reading your manuscript, and more. No matter what you’re writing – fiction or nonfiction – the sessions will help point you in the right direction. Writers of all genres are welcome.

Our Agent Fest is designed to squeeze as much into two days of learning as possible. You can ask any questions you like during the sessions, and get your specific concerns addressed. The literary agents will give feedback and take pitches from writers. Our faculty includes: (Read their bios & wish lists)

  • Noah Ballard (Curtis Brown, Ltd.)
  • Elizabeth Bewley (Sterling Lord Literistic)
  • Savannah Brooks (Jennifer De Chiara)
  • Brenna English-Loeb (Transatlantic Agency)
  • Joanna MacKenzie (Nelson Literary)
  • Devin Ross (New Leaf Literary)
  • JL Stermer (New Leaf Literary)

You’ll meet one-on-one with at least one agent and possibly two depending on the number of registrants. Each pitch lasts three minutes, composed of a 90-second pitch and a 90-second response from the agent with feedback.

By Saturday evening, you will have added more tools to help you move forward on your writing journey.

Secure your spot today. Register HERE.