On being a literary agent at book fairs: Ella Kahn interview

literary agent

Ella Kahn is co-founder and literary agent at Diamond Kahn & Woods, where she represents a wide range of children’s and YA fiction, and adult fiction and non-fiction. She was a winner of the inaugural The London Book Fair Trailblazers Award 2016, and on The Bookseller’s Rising Stars list in 2013. Here Norah Myers interviews her.

1) Which titles do you hope to sell this year at LBF?

I have a couple of very exciting debut novels on submission at the moment. One is a middle grade fantasy adventure with incredible voice and atmosphere; the other is a sci fi space opera with an epic plot and a gutsy heroine. We’ll also be focusing on selling the international rights for the titles we’ve recently placed in the UK, in conjunction with our foreign rights agents at ILA. On the adult side I have Becoming by Laura Jane Williams, a ‘survive and thrive’ heartbreak memoir publishing with Hodder & Stoughton in June; and City of Good Death and its sequel City of Buried Ghosts by Chris Lloyd are fantastic police procedural novels set in Catalonia, Spain published digitally by Canelo. On the children’s side, I have new projects from David Owen and Vanessa Curtis, both of whom were Carnegie-longlisted for their previous books Panther and The Earth is Singing. The Fallen Children by David Owen (Atom, Spring 2017) is a dark and provocative contemporary YA/crossover novel inspired by John Wyndham’s classic The Midwich Cuckoos; and The One Who Knows My Name by Vanessa Curtis (Usborne, Spring 2017) is a historical YA which explores the secretive and disturbing legacy of the Nazi’s Lebensborn programme.

2) What is the best approach to take when selling at a book fair?

It depends on the project. Sometimes I’ll have sent a book out on submission before the fair so when I meet editors I already have an idea of who’s keen on the book and I’m updating everyone on the progress so far. Sometimes I’ll pitch a new project at the fair so I can whip up enthusiasm before I send the manuscript out afterwards. And we’ll be telling international editors about the buzz for projects already sold in the UK – publicity, awards, exciting events planned and so on. We have a rights guide with information about all the titles we’re pitching to show to editors, which we find really useful for giving them a flavour of the book.

3) What advice would you give agents on preparing for a fair?

Start preparing well in advance – we had the majority of our meetings scheduled by the end of February – and be targeted about who you want to meet. It’s a pretty obvious thing to say, but focus on the people you think are most likely to be interested in the projects you’ve got to pitch at that time; even with the fullest possible schedule of over 50 meetings in three days, it’s not possible to meet every editor in town! The same goes for putting together the rights guide – we always end up making last minute tweaks as sometimes you can’t be sure until a week before the fair whether a project will be ready to pitch, but the further in advance you can start compiling and editing, the less stressful the week before the fair will be – and your sub-rights agents will appreciate it too!

4) What are the most effective ways to get a submission in front of an agent?

Simple: read the submission guidelines on their website and follow their instructions. We read all our submissions if they fit our guidelines, and a little bit of research about our taste goes a long way. It can also be worth attending literary festivals and author conferences where agents offer one-to-one pitch feedback sessions – I’m doing an event like this at The London Book Fair called ‘The Write Stuff’ as part of their Author HQ programme. Writing groups such as the London Writers Café also offer opportunities to meet agents and get their feedback on your work.

5) What are you currently looking for as an agent?

I’m particularly keen to build the adult fiction side of my list at the moment. I’d really love to find some wonderful historical fiction, as this is a genre I read a lot in – I adore authors like Tracy Chevalier, Anna Hope and Jessie Burton. Some more science/speculative fiction would be fantastic too, something pacey and fun with a clever and ambitious premise. I’m also starting to develop my non-fiction list with wonderful memoir authors Laura Jane Williams and Meg Fee, and I’ll never be able to resist really great YA and children’s fiction if it’s high-concept, plot driven, and has exceptional voice.