I’m thrilled this week to be interviewing Ella Diamond Kahn and Bryony Woods from Diamond Kahn and Woods Literary Agency. A London-based agency, DKW is looking for adult and YA, both commercial and literary. Please take a moment to read their specific interests here.
Welcome to the YA Stands blog, ladies! We’re thrilled to have you here today.
How long have you been agenting, and what led you to being an agent?
BW: I’ve been working in publishing world for about three years now. Before that, I worked in libraries, and I’ve also worked as a bookseller. I was still in the library sector when I decided that I wanted to work as a literary agent – the idea of working so closely with authors, building careers, the discovery of bright new voices and talent and selling rights across the globe appealed very naturally to me. So I moved to London in 2009, got an MA in Publishing, completed a number of internships at top London literary agencies, and then landed my first job with an agency in 2010.
EDK: I’ve been in agenting for just over three years – before that, as an undergraduate I started researching careers in the publishing industry and did an internship in an agency, and I loved the idea of working with authors from the very first step right through the entire publishing process. It’s a very diverse role, which keeps it interesting!
Besides having written a book you love, what makes you know a particular author is someone you just have to represent- attitude, platform, ideas for future works?
EDK: Attitude (and personality) are very important. A client is someone you’re going to have a very close professional relationship, and it won’t work for either side if you don’t get on, or don’t have the right approach and attitude. And ideas for future works obviously helps – I want to work with authors to build their careers beyond just one book!
BW: All of those things count, to a certain degree. I’ll always try to meet with authors face to face before I sign them as I like to know what kind of person I’m potentially agreeing to work with – and attitude is a very big part of this, in particular an author’s response to editorial feedback. Ideas for future works are usually discussed and if an author has many more wonderful ideas, then that’s great! I don’t feel that authors have to already have a platform at that early stage in their career. If you don’t have one, we can help you build one. But the most important thing, always, is that I’m completely in love with a writer’s work.
What are you tired of seeing submitted right now? Is there any particular category, genre, or concept you'd love to see land in your inbox?
BW: I’m currently seeing a lot of YA that doesn’t have a strong enough concept or hook, and lacklustre paranormal romances. What I’d really love to see is a brilliant novel that straddles the literary/commercial divide. Right now I’d particularly love to see more ghost stories. I also love magic realism, and anything with a strong gothic or fairytale influence.
EDK: I have to say I’ve never been that keen on paranormal, and I think it’s getting harder and harder to come up with something original in that area. But it’s always more fun to think about what you do want – and I’d absolutely love some historical fiction inspired by a little-known corner of history, whether an unusual time, a far-flung place, or an intriguing archaeological artefact, whether the story is romance, crime, suspense, adventure or anything else – as long as it piques my fascination with the richness of the past.
What are three things you love, and one thing you can’t stand? (Hobbies, favorite TV shows, professional interests, etc.)
EDK: I recently did a weekend pottery course, and it was so much fun! I really enjoy doing art – from ceramics to drawing – but never seem to find the time. I’m fascinated by archaeology, the older the better – there’s an exhibition on the Iron Age coming up at the British Museum in London which I’m really excited about! And I love to cook, everything from Thai to Italian, I find it immensely relaxing. There’s not much I can’t stand, really, but I guess I’ve never really been that interested in sport?!
BW: Three things I love: Great stories (obviously), tea, thunderstorms.
I see that you both worked in UK-based agencies before launching DKW. Do you ever pitch to U.S. editors?
Both: Absolutely! We’re based in London in the UK, and our main focus will be on UK-based authors, but we plan to sell direct to US editors too.
Do you hesitate to take on clients from the US, or will you sign any author whose work you love?
BW: My focus is mainly on UK authors – but if a US author were to send something wonderful to me and I knew I was the right agent for that author, I would have no problem signing them up. Sometimes it will depend on the project – if I feel that an author would benefit more from having an agent based in the US then I will say so, even if I really love the project.
EDK: I will always be happy to consider submissions from US authors (or from anywhere else in the world for that matter!) if I feel it will have appeal on both sides of the Atlantic, as falling in love with their book is the most important thing and it’s very easy to work internationally now with email and Skype etc. Having said that, I would probably suggest that US authors focus their search on US-based agents in the first instance, as there are obvious advantages to having a ‘local’ agent.
DKW is a new agency, correct? Can you tell us a little about the agency philosophy and what makes DKW unique?
Both: Yes, we launched in November 2012. Our philosophy is to be as flexible and dynamic as possible – our small size means we can be really creative and personal in the way that we work with our clients. We can try out new approaches and react quickly to opportunities in a way that perhaps isn’t always possible in bigger, more corporate agencies, and we’re always open to fresh ideas. Publishing is a very relationships-based industry, so creating a very personal company brand was important for us – Bryony and I are the agency, and we want this to come across to both publishers and authors.
What one piece of advice would you give to aspiring writers?
Both: Be professional and do your research. It’s easier than ever before for authors to find a multitude of informative websites, blogs and books about how publishing works, how to get published, and how to find an agent – so there’s really no excuse for shoddy and unprofessional approaches. Remember an agent – and indeed an editor – is someone you will have to have a very close personal relationship with, so be targeted in who you approach to find the right fit. Make sure your online persona is friendly and approachable, so that we can get a sense of your personality, but keep it professional.
Keep writing. And if you don’t get anywhere with a project, put it to one side and try something new. To succeed, you have to have both beautiful prose and a great story – a trickier combination than you might think, but impossible if you don’t persevere, or if you get stuck on one project. You have to experiment before you find the writing voice and the idea that will work for you, but once you’ve found these, there’s no reason why you can’t succeed if you also have professionalism and perseverance!
Fabulous responses- thanks so much for taking the time to tell us about yourselves. It’s been a pleasure having you here today and hearing your responses. Best wishes for DKW in 2013!