Saturday, November 22, 2008

GumboWriters Interview with Literary Agent, Jeff Kleinman from Folio Literary Management




How long have you been agent and how did you get your start, Jeff ?

I've been agenting for about 10 years.  I worked at an art and publishing law-firm which was affiliated with a literary agency, and I began reading and editing manuscripts for them.  When the law-firm and literary agency simultaneously split up and recombined, a couple of the literary agents asked me to come with them and agent full-time.  I've never looked back.

What makes your agency different than any others?

I think we're looking for different and sometimes more creative solutions to publishing than other agents – so, for instance, we have, on-staff, a marketing director and a speakers bureau director, and have a close affiliation with a licensing agent for merchandising rights.  We have a great group of people who, more or less, seem to play well in the sandbox together – and I think we've really formed a team approach to agenting (but many agencies have this, I admit.)

What are you looking for specifically that you wish you would see more of?

Extraordinary, unbelievably terrifically written, "literary lite" novels with unusual or remarkable premises – i.e., beautifully written novels that can appeal to a large demographic.  A few of the ones I've done over the past few years are

THE ART OF RACING IN THE RAIN (Harper) by Garth Stein [a heartbreakingly funny novel told from the perspective of a family dog];

THE WIDOW OF THE SOUTH (Grand Central) by Robert Hicks [an epic saga of how the Civil War swept into a defeated woman's life and gave her meaning and hope];

FINN (Random House) by Jon Clinch [the incredibly dark story of Huckleberry Finn's father]; and

THE MEMORY OF RUNNING (Viking) by Ron McLarty [a book about an overweight loser who falls back into life and love by biking across the U.S.].

Jeff, what are you tired of receiving?

Books that aren't very well-written or well-conceived; or, especially with nonfiction, books that are written by people who don't have the national credentials to write them.

How can a new writer get your attention in a good way?

Write me a compelling, brief, smart email about their book, and paste the opening page or so at the bottom.  I read all queries myself, and am always looking for something fabulous.

How can a signed writer stay in your radar without driving you insane?

Writers I work with tend not to drive me insane.  Usually I like hearing from them and working closely with them.  I'm part of the team.

What do you wish more writers understood about you as an agent, Jeff, that they don't seem to?

That I'm really serious when I say that most writers approach agents far too early, before the writing and/or concept is really honed and polished.  It's really incredibly difficult to find books that are ready to go.