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Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Relative Peace and the Right List: 3 Questions for Literary Agent Kirby Kim of William Morris Endeavor

It's been less than ten years since Kirby Kim ditched law school with the idea that books would be more fun than settlement figures. He started out with Charlotte Sheedy, did an educational stint with Vigliano Associates, navigated some rough reorganizational waters at Endeavor, and is now growing a list at William Morris Endeavor. Repping both fiction and nonfiction, Kirby's forged some major deals, including bestselling memoirs by Kristin Chenoweth, Jennifer Love Hewitt, and Motley Crue frontman Vince Neil, without overlooking terrific little novels and less obvious nonfiction. Last month, he sold Z. Rinehardt Linmark's Leche, "a meta-travelogue which follows a gay Asian-American pageant winner through a ten-day trip back to his native home - the chaotic '80s-era Philippines - that unearths forgotten memories and forces him to confront long-neglected issues of dispossession and self-identity," to Coffee House Press.

Kirby, as a young agent building a list at a major agency, you're plowing through piles of queries every week. What does it take to excite you enough to request a full manuscript? And what percentage of queries make that first cut?
Well with a query letter I think it's important to be able to get at the heart of what makes a story special quickly, and to state it succinctly. If the letter's too long or if I'm getting a plot summary and it kind of rambles then I feel like the author doesn't have a firm grasp of their story or the marketplace. Of course, even when an author can execute a great query letter there are times that I don't request the manuscript and that's just me not feeling I'm the right agent.

I think I take a look at one out of every 40. 50?

When you've finally established the author stable of your sweet agent dreams, what will that list look like?
Hard to say, mainly because I imagine that list evolving as my tastes and the market change. Generally speaking though, some narrative nonfiction, some humor, some literary fiction for children and adults, and maybe a little prescriptive non fiction based on my current hobbies or interests.

Since we became acquainted two years ago, I've observed you being Kipling's "if you can keep your head while all about you are losing theirs" guy. What keeps you on track as you roll with the changes?
Ha! I'm not totally sure I'm necessarily that guy. You - nor do my clients generally - see those times when the hair's being pulled out by the fistfulls. If I do have any relative peace of mind it's probably just from accepting that there are so few things I can control I'd lose my mind if I got too worked up over all the things I can't.

3 comments:

Colleen Thompson said...

Thanks for the interview, Kirby! It's great hearing from you. Joni's spoken highly of you for years.

Kathryn Paterson said...

Welcome, Kirby! I love your perspective and think it's great that you're committed to bringing on some literary fiction! Sounds like you're working very hard to establish your list. As a few friends of mine are about to start querying, it would be great to see an example of what you like in an excellent query, especially for literary fiction. It always strikes me as especially difficult to convey what a literary novel is about.

Good to have you here!

Mylène said...

Thanks, Kirby, for hanging out at the Octo today.