Welcome to another interactive installment of “Interview with an Agent,” this one featuring Meredith Kaffel of DeFiore and Company! As always, enjoy Ms. Kaffel’s answers to the usual questions, then check out the details on the interactive part (which are located at the bottom).
KV: How long have you been agenting, and how did you get
MK: After six years with the Charlotte Sheedy Literary
Agency, I’ve now been with DeFiore & Co. since early 2012. I always knew I
wanted to be in publishing. This knowledge stemmed mostly from my truly geeky
passion for writing and books since childhood, but also from the fun fact that
I grew up in a publishing family of sorts--my grandfather, Mort Weisinger, was
the story editor of Superman for DC Comics for thirty years and before that,
co-founded with Julie Schwartz the first science fiction & fantasy literary
agency, Solar Sales Service. So, in a sense, I had an existing template of what
a life lived in publishing might entail; it seemed possible.
As an undergraduate at Yale, I interned for four years in
the Sales Department of Yale University Press and spent one college summer
interning in the Sales Dept. of Harry Abrams. But it wasn’t until the summer I
interned for an amazing literary agent--Sarah Burnes--that I discovered just
what a literary agent did and fell head-first in love with the agent’s role in
the publishing universe.
KV: How would you summarize your personal agenting
philosophy? What do you expect from an agent-author relationship?
MK: I’ve come to think of the agent-author relationship in
terms of SIGHT, above all else. I think seeing is what I do best. My job is to
see my clients and their work as clearly as possible, so as to best present and
sell them to publishers, as well as to make said clients feel seen throughout
the process. In fact, I think it’s possible to break down the author-agent
relationship into four sight-related components: it is the agent’s duty to
provide for a client INSIGHT, FORESIGHT, SECOND SIGHT, and HINDSIGHT--throughout
the development, submission, negotiation, publishing and managerial/maintenance
stages of the agent-author experience. And of course, we as agents must be advocates, as well as futurists.
As for what I expect from my client relationships: hard
work, honesty, fierceness, open lines of communication, talent, due diligence,
trust, decency and respect from both sides.
KV: What client work do you have coming out soon? What drew
you to those writers and/or projects?
MK: Books I have coming up: the tentatively titled and
elegantly sexy POSH GIRL’S GUIDE TO PLAY by Alexis Lass, a prep-school bred
dominatrix (!) (Seal Press); YA veteran Terra McVoy’s latest young adult novel,
CRIMINAL (Simon Pulse), which is about a girl who discovers just how far she
will go for love and which sizzles its way onto shelves this May; genius
indie-darling comic illustrator Lisa Hanawalt’s raunchily beautiful MY DIRTY
DUMB EYES (Drawn & Quarterly); a groundbreaking biography of Celia Sanchez,
Cuban Revolutionary, called ONE DAY IN DECEMBER (Monthly Review Press); a
heartwarming modern classic “bedtime” picture book from mixed media artist Ida
Pearl called THE MOON IS GOING TO ADDY’S HOUSE (Dial BFYR); a gorgeous literary
historical debut about unrequited love and the inventor of the theremin (a
strange and haunting musical instrument), from Canadian writer Sean Michaels
KV: What genres do you represent? What genres do you
definitely NOT represent?
MK: I DO seek projects in a wide range of genres, including
but not limited to:
--Debut literary fiction
--Upmarket commercial fiction (especially historical)
--Narrative nonfiction (especially on aesthetically-oriented
subjects, as well as narratives of place, love and relationships, cultural and
--Quirky platform-driven nonfiction in the realms of pop
psychology, media, business, sociology, sex, science/the environment, tech and “how
--Children’s middle grade
--Children’s YA and Teen
--Limited list of Children’s picture books
--The rare illustrator
I DO NOT seek projects in the following genres:
Western, Adventure, High Fantasy, Religious, Rhyming Picture
KV: What query pet peeves and/or pitfalls should writers
avoid when querying you?
MK: I find myself most uncomfortable reading queries that
feel overly familiar. This pitfall often goes hand in hand with a
miscalibration of how confident one ought to appear in a query letter in order
to garner an agent’s interest.
A basic rule: don’t tell me how fabulous or accomplished you
are; let your accomplishments speak for themselves, and if you don’t happen to
have a prize-studded bio, then let the ingenuity of your work speak for itself.
I always look for an author who has the good sense to at least strive for a
degree for humility and demonstrates a good grasp of reality. In other words,
your query should read neither like an infomercial nor an acceptance speech!
Just try to be your good, calm, smart self.
I’m also personally less engaged by extensive plot synopses;
remember that agents want to see that you know how to talk about your book in a
compelling and distilled manner. And for heavens’ sake, when an agent rejects
your query, don’t turn around and send them another one for a different book
within five minutes of having received the first rejection! Doing so completely
devalues your work and makes you sound like a traveling salesman. And that’s my
rant for the day.
KV: What are you looking for in a manuscript right now? What
are you tired of seeing at the moment?
MK: I would love to find a
delicious and dark upmarket thriller or mystery, ideally a series, or several.
And I’m actively seeking more upmarket commercial historical fiction; I majored
in Renaissance Studies in college and have a serious penchant for anything
historical at all, from most any period but particularly the glamorous ones--and
especially novels which take a well-known event or moment in time and re-tell
it from a peripheral character’s perspective, making it new again.
I’m also always seeking more
humor, more cultural history, and more teen contemporary realistic fiction. In the adult literary realm, I am eager to
find more magical realism and variations thereof. Finally, I’d love to
find more high-concept middle grade, as well--both projects for boys and also
All I ask: no more picture books
KV: What’s the best way to query you?
MK: Via e-mail: email@example.com. Query + first 5
pages pasted in the body of the e-mail; no attachments in initial query. Thank
Thank YOU, Ms. Kaffel, for these insightful answers. I
especially loved what you had to say about your personal agenting philosophy. I’ve
never heard anyone put it quite that way before, and yet it’s so true.
And now for the fun part: If you have a question for Ms.
Kaffel, feel free to leave it in the comments below. She’ll pop in a few times
throughout the day to answer any questions she finds down there, leaving her
answers in the comments, too. We’ll wrap things up at 5:00 p.m. EST (or 2:00
p.m. PST), but until then, have at it!