Interview: Literary Agent Katelyn Detweiler

Hi everyone! I've got a special treat for you: an interview with a fabulous agent, Katelyn Detweiler at Jill Grinberg Literary!  Find out what she's looking for, which authors excite her, and how best to catch her attention!

Hello, Katelyn! Thanks so much for taking time out from agenting for this interview! What was your background prior to joining Jill Grinberg Literary Management?

I was an English major in college, emphasis in creative writing, and had the vague notion from the end of freshmen year or so on that I wanted (needed, really, since no other career seemed fathomable to me) to be in publishing – though “publishing” to me at that time meant being an editor, because it was hard to really have a sense of the opportunities and roles much beyond that. 

I worked as an intern at Penn State University Press for two years, and then moved to New York City a few weeks after graduation for the Columbia Publishing Course, a fairly intensive 6 week program that throws you into the ins and outs of the book biz and leaves you, hopefully, with a real job at the end – or at the very least, a whole lot of acquaintances in the field. 

I threw my resume at all sorts of openings, and was lucky enough to get my first job shortly after the course ended, a marketing assistant position at Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group, where I stayed for almost two years before moving on to Jill Grinberg Literary Management. Marketing was a really fabulous way to start out—there’s a lot of coordinating with publicity, editorial, sales, etc. that has given invaluable perspective to work here at the agency.

What drew you into becoming an agent?

I craved the close, personal relationship with the author, and the close, personal relationship with the writing. I wanted to work on projects that I felt strongly drawn to—projects that really spoke to me on an intimate level.

I was also attracted by the many hats an agent wears, especially at a small agency. Agents have so many roles on any given day, from working with an author on early edits to selling projects to foreign publishers to putting out little fires as they break out—a bad cover design, a late payment, an editorial letter with one too many requests. No day is predictable, no challenge is the same. There’s a real sense of reward that comes with even the smallest of accomplishments.

Since you've joined the Grinberg Agency, what is the most important thing you've learned?

Reading is so subjective—so completely, maddeningly, bafflingly subjective. I may love something—really, passionately love something—but that doesn’t mean that all of the editors we submit to will agree, let alone one or two of them. But no matter how many rejections come in, you have to keep believing—for yourself, and for the author—that the right editor will come along as long as you keep on trying to find them. The right editor will appreciate the work just as much as you do. You can’t give up on something you love, and something that you know deep down deserves to be out in the world.

What do you think is unique about the Grinberg Agency?

We’re small—boutique and hands on—but still quite diverse. Our authors are novelists, historians, scientists, memoirists, journalists, illustrators, musicians, cultural critics—the list goes on. But despite these differences, at the core our authors are all passionate about what they write, and they have strong, authentic voices, whether they are writing fiction or writing nonfiction.

Are you actively seeking new clients at this time?

Yes, definitely! I am actively looking to build my list at the moment, though I’m doing so gradually and carefully. I am much more concerned with quality than quantity, and above all else I want to make sure I can fully dedicate myself to new authors and new manuscripts. I have my hand in a lot of different projects around the agency, so I am focused on not spreading myself too thin—that’s simply not fair to the author or to their work. If I’m representing you, I am ready and prepared to be behind you 100%.

What genres/sub-genres do you represent?

I’m especially focused on finding YA and MG at the moment, but I would be open to considering anything that strikes a personal chord with me. It’s hard to know exactly what you’re looking for sometimes until it jumps at you straight off the page. But a strong voice and a strong sense of setting are a must. Whether it’s contemporary or fantasy, I want to really connect with the world the writer is creating—no matter how different it may be from our real world, the story needs to be grounded in its characters and emotional arc.

What are some of the typical mistakes you see writers make?

Sending a manuscript too soon in the process—before they’ve had time to really step back and take some time away to get a fresh perspective. There’s no rush. If it’s a good, solid story, it’ll be even better after some dedicated, focused revising.

Do you have any querying advice for aspiring writers?

Show an agent that you’ve researched them and their agency. While it’s perfectly acceptable (and advisable) to send multiple submissions, it’s still important to show that you’ve done your homework, and that there’s a reason you’re targeting this specific agent or agency. (And whatever you do, please don’t send a mass email with all of the agents you’ve selected cc’ed. And maybe also try not to misspell the agent’s name in the greeting—it happens more times than you’d believe.)

What general advice do you have for aspiring writers?

Write because you love your story, and because you feel deep down it needs to be told. Write because you enjoy the act of it, and because you can’t imagine not writing it. Don’t write with the intention of being a bestseller, or making lots of money, or being famous. Write because you want other people beyond yourself—whether it’s one reader or one million readers—to feel changed or inspired or better somehow because of what you wrote. Because of your words.

What client books do you have coming out in the near future, and what excites you about these projects?

The first project I sold directly—SPIN, by Jenn Marie Thorne—will be published by Dial / Penguin in Fall 2014, and I am incredibly (incredibly!) excited for that to be out in the world. SPIN is a fantastic contemporary by a fantastic new YA voice, and the whole process—from that first magic moment of finding Jenn’s voice in the slush, to submitting, to negotiating—was a thrill from start to finish.

Who are some of your favorite authors who are not clients?

Oh, the list is ridiculously long and winding and never-ending. There’s never enough space on my night stand or hours in the day for everything I want / need to be reading. But to name a few of the big ones: John Green, J.K. Rowling, Stephanie Perkins, Lauren Oliver, Gayle Foreman, David Levithan, Kate Morton (I do read adult books occasionally!), R.J. Palacio.

Many of my favorites too! Thanks again, Katelyn!

To learn more about Katelyn, follow her on Twitter @katedetweiler.  For submission guidelines and to learn more about the agency, check out their page on Publishers Marketplace.