A big heartfelt thank you to Kathleen Rushall for answering a few questions about her experience as a literary agent. Kathleen works for the Marsal Lyon Literary Agency located in Solana Beach, California. Her work is geared toward authors crafting tales for a younger audience, but she offers insight for all writers, especially new and debut voices. Thank you Kathleen!
To start, could you tell us how you landed in the publishing world?
I loved English throughout high school. I majored in English in college and then I went for my master’s. Throughout those classes I was told, “You can teach or you can write” but neither felt like my calling. I knew I wanted to work with stories and was interested in working in publishing. It wasn’t until I was in grad school that I discovered what role an agent played. I snagged an internship at a literary agency and from there I was hooked. After my internship I found a job as an assistant at a different agency and worked there for a couple years. Then I joined Marsal Lyon Literary Agency as an agent three years ago.
I know how important “debut fiction” is to the industry; it gets its own category in Publishers Marketplace, agent bios still mention debut authors as a category they’re actively seeking. Could you speak to the need for new voices?
It’s a thrill to work with debut authors. As an agent, it really feels like I get to see new voices emerge from ground zero: from a query letter in my inbox to hitting shelves in bookstores. There’s no better part of this job than getting to call a writer and tell her that she’s been offered a contract for her very first book. Readers will always need (and crave) new voices and different perspectives. It’s the heart of the reading experience.
Have you represented any first-time authors?
Yes! Actually, I’d say that 90% of the authors I sign are debut voices.
Do you have any advice for writers in the querying stage?
I do: Do your homework. For example, join a writing organization tailored to the genre in which you’re seeking to get published (such as RWA, SCBWI, or a local writers group). I think of groups like the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) as an author’s education in getting published. It really does give you an edge. A writers organization helps you perfect your craft: from connecting with critique partners to attending conferences and workshops to meeting agents and editors and becoming inspired by other authors—it’s paramount!
“Doing your homework” also applies to when you query agents. You’ll want to thoroughly research them and make sure you submit to those that are a good fit. Querytracker.com has a great (free!) catalogue of agents based on the types of books they represent.
Preditors and Editors is a stellar website where you can find out what agencies are legitimate and what to be wary of. And, if you’re able to pay for a subscription, Publishers Marketplace will keep you up-to-date with current book deals and enable you to research agents’ and editors’ past deals (and thus, what kind of books they work on).
Lastly, remember how subjective this industry is! It is incredibly subjective. What might not be right for one agent or editor may be another’s dream book. Never give up. Perseverance pays off. Sometimes it’s good to remember that every book in a bookstore has been rejected at some point.
Interviewed by Andrew Wetzel