Today we’re kicking off a mini-series of agent interviews with the lovely Hannah Fergeson of KT Literary. Hannah recently joined KT as a literary agent after working as an assistant at Trident Media, a bookseller at Books of Wonder, and several internships for a reputable, rock-star agent.
Tell us a little about your background and what drew you to publishing:
I’ve been a writer my entire life, but when I was querying my first book, it was the first time I really had to look into agents and what agents did. I’d been beta-reading for my friends as long as I could remember, and agenting sounded like a dash of that, mixed with a lot of other cool stuff. I was very intrigued, to the point where I told a lot of people that if I didn’t end up becoming a TV writer, I’d want to be a literary agent. But I thought, “I could never do that – I’d have to have an English degree (I was getting a degree in Writing for Film and Television at that point, and had NO interest in staying for several more years to get another degree)”. This is, of course, NOT the case – a varied background is actually quite helpful in the business, and internships are where industry hopefuls seem to gain the most experience before joining an agency or publishing house. When a sudden life-change turned me toward New York instead of LA, I thought it was time to actually look into what it would take, and got my first internship, which, of course, led to everything else!
What do you most want to find in your slush pile right now? Anything you’re really not that into?
I want to find unique, speculative fiction about diverse characters. I am not getting enough, and it’s very important to me and KT Literary to support #ownvoices. For example, a Latinx “Buffy” character/story would make my day.
I am NOT the right person for medieval fantasy, dragons, fairies, Atlantis, elves….you get the idea. Unless you have a really strange (hopefully dark) take on these, I am simply not that interested. In this vein: Arthurian stories. Unless you have an interesting take on the myths I know (and love) very well, I’m not interested in stories that simply take the names of the characters and run with them.
I also seem to get a lot of romantic fantasy, which just isn’t my thing. I like fantasy, with romantic subplots if the story calls for it, but NOT the other way around.
What’s your favorite part of being an agent? What do you find most challenging?
Working with authors. I love editing their books, talking to them on the phone, seeing how their career moves. It’s fascinating and rewarding, and never the same, even though the process doesn’t really change.
I think the most challenging part is the process of matchmaking the book with an editor – you have to consider a lot of things before doing so, and sometimes, even though you were sure it would be, it’s not to an editor’s tastes. This is the part where the agent experiences the rejection right along with the writer, even for the most amazing books, and when you love a book and worked hard on it with the writer, it can be tough if it doesn’t sell right away, or at all. And the only thing you can do at that point is be there for the writer and start working on the next thing.
KT Literary seems like an amazing agency to work with. What sets it apart from other agencies?
KT is so warm, open, knowledgeable, and connected. We (the agents and the agency’s fearless assistant, Hilary!) talk a lot, so we have a lot of support from one another within the agency. This means clients also have the full support of everyone at KT. Each client is cheered on by everyone, and it’s really lovely to watch and be a part of.
Are you participating in any upcoming contests/conferences where authors might meet you in person?
I am still working out details on some in 2017! I will very likely be talking about it on Twitter, so if you follow me there, you’ll get the updates!
What are your top three favorite books?
Oh my gosh, I have WAY more than three from the past few years (see my manuscript wishlist!) so I’m gonna go with classics: SABRIEL by Garth Nix, THE FIONAVAR TAPESTRY by Guy Gavriel Kay (which is technically three but shhhh), And THE ONCE AND FUTURE KING by T.H. White.
What are your top three favorite films?
Again, SO MANY. Some that really shaped my sensibilities (and this will come to NO ONE’S surprise): The Lord of the Rings trilogy, Moulin Rouge, Donnie Darko.
Any nuggets of wisdom for querying writers?
Keep it short – you don’t have to give me your whole story in the query. Give me your hook, your inciting incident, the conflict in a sentence or two, and what is at stake for the character.
I also really like a sentence or two about why you chose to query me, either at the top or bottom of your query. This will help set you apart and make me seriously consider the reasons you picked me.
Any query pet peeves or format styles you particularly prefer?
Peeves: Rhetorical questions. Rhetorical questions. Rhetorical questions. Also, not including your first three pages. I need them. I love them. Give them to me.
I love the Hello Hannah, Hook > Inciting incident > conflict > what’s at stake for your character > here’s a few lines about me > why I queried you > Thanks for your time Format. I don’t want a bio first, or a paragraph on why you wrote the book – those are conversations we’ll have in time, if I choose to represent you. Right now, I’m looking at the book. And the longer you delay talking about the actual book, the more likely I am to get tired of your query.
What’s one little-known (and preferably rather odd) fact about you, just to keep things interesting?
When I lived in Toronto (I was in middle school), I lived down the street from Ed Robertson of the Bare Naked Ladies. So of course, I was obsessed with them, and their album at the time was Maroon. I think it really helped to inform who I am today. Once I put a hand-drawn babysitting flier in his mailbox, but I never heard from him, which, of course, crushed me.
Hannah, thank you so much for taking the time to share a little bit about yourself, your agenting style, and about KT Literary! For all you querying writers, Hannah is open to queries and if your project is a good fit for her, she’d love to hear from you. Please send a query letter and the first three pages of your manuscript to email@example.com. Additional information about KT Literary can be found here.
HILARY HARWELL writes dark, whimsical fantasy and atmospheric horror for kids and teens. She makes her home in Colorado where she’s also a literary assistant at KT Literary. You can connect with her on Twitter.