Book Broker – an interview with Elizabeth K. Kracht
Agent: Elizabeth K. Kracht
Bio: Elizabeth Kracht is a literary agent with Kimberley Cameron & Associates and the author of The Author’s Checklist: An Agent’s Guide to Developing and Editing Your Manuscript. She also works as a freelance developmental editor coaching writers. Elizabeth represents both literary and commercial fiction as well as nonfiction, and brings to the agency experience as a former acquisitions editor, freelance publicist, and writer. In fiction, she represents thrillers, mysteries, literary, commercial, women’s, and historical. In nonfiction, she is interested in finding true crime, investigative journalism, narrative/creative nonfiction, prescriptive, voice- or adventure-driven memoir, high concept, science, spirituality, sexuality, self-help, and pet stories.
Elizabeth is not looking for children’s, poetry or short story collections, screenplays, or previously published works.
1) What stands out in a good submission?
A straightforward approach is what stands out to me. Oftentimes authors either undersell or oversell themselves, so a straightforward approach catches my attention. Submission materials are hard for writers because they’re technical pieces of writing not creative. I am sympathetic to this, so I open the submission and look at the writing sample regardless. But other agencies do not necessarily have this approach (most don’t). Treat your submission materials like business correspondence. I have a technical writing degree, so it’s easy for me to look at a technical piece of writing, pick the elements apart, and reproduce something similar. There are a lot of resources on the web for submission materials and consultants who can help. Don’t underestimate the importance of these materials. Like writers, my projects can get rejected by editors based on pitch as well. A straightforward, well-executed query or in-person pitch is compelling; it shows the author has done their homework.
2) What's a typical warning sign that a manuscript isn't ready for representation?
Most manuscripts that come across my desk are about four revisions from being ready for representation, which is why I wrote my book, The Author’s Checklist. Some typical warning signs that a manuscript isn’t ready for representation include:
- Under or over word count for the genre
- Sent by chain email
- Writer oversells or undersells themselves
- Poor manuscript formatting
- Too many typos per page
- No inciting incident in the first chapter
- Unsympathetic protagonist
- Pacing is too slow
- Dialogue is full of pleasantries
- Disparity in chapter length
- Don’t know where I am in time and place
- The real start to the story is further in
- Poor execution of alternating point-of-view characters
…to name a few. So many things go through our minds as we begin reading your early pages. Every manuscript has different problems. Your manuscript may be guilty of only one or two things on the above list, but this may be enough for a rejection. A good developmental editor can be effective at helping you get perspective on whether some of the red flags mentioned above apply to your work. My book was also designed to help with this by giving authors more objectivity in how they look at the different elements of their writing.
3) How do you feel about personalization in query letters? Can you give an example of effective personalization?
Many agents like it when a writer personalizes the query to say why the writer thinks their work might be a good fit for them. You can mention this in the first line of your query. This can be a thoughtful, personal touch that makes a good impression. However, I personally don’t hold it against a writer if they don’t personalize the query in this way. Like writers, agents are all different from one another; what some find important in a submission, others don’t. This is why it’s important to study the agency guidelines before submitting your work. Personalizing your query won’t hurt and could help. A typical personalization of a query letter is mentioning you met the agent at a conference, watched or read their interviews, have read one of their author’s books, or noticed one of their deals and why it made you think your book might be a good fit.
4) How much importance do you give to comparable titles in a query letter? How do they help you assess whether a manuscript is a good fit for your list?
Comparable titles in fiction submissions give the agent a quick snapshot of your work from another angle. They add layering to the query letter. Sometimes authors will use a movie title as well. An author should be able to compare some aspect of their writing to another author’s. The approach shouldn’t be a broad one but focused specifically on how the project is similar: pacing, voice, narrative style, literary quality of the writing, characterization, exploration of themes, subject matter, alternating points of view, or in some other way.
Though you don’t want to oversell yourself, a simple example might be: the edginess of The Kite Runner, the voice of The Catcher in the Rye, and the setting of The Help. From the above examples you get a quick snapshot of what this project might be: an edgy, voice-driven project set in the South.
5) For writers without prior publications, what can they say in their "about me" query paragraph to catch your attention?
They don’t have to say much. Agents and editors are always on the lookout for the next “debut author.” A fiction author bio can simply be something like, “Elizabeth K. Kracht is a debut author living in Queens, New York. She has a degree in forensic psychology. She is active on social media, and her website can be found at www.elizabethkracht.com.”
This said, I’m always trying to get fiction authors to write nonfiction essays to cross-promote their work based on some research they’ve done for their book or current events and the subject matter of their book. You never know how your success will come, and viral essays don’t hurt.
6) If you could change one thing about the publishing industry, what would it be and why?
There are so many things I would probably change. But one thing I’ve always had a pet peeve about is artists not being paid for their work. Poe was a good historical example of this. The industry has grown so much, but this aspect doesn’t feel like it’s changed. When there is a disturbance in the industry, advances go down, but they never seem to recover when the industry does. Writers should be paid for their work. I’d like to see more transparency in royalty statements, larger advances, and better royalty percentages.
7) What's the best (non-client) book you've read recently, and how did it hook you?
The last book I read (listened to) was H is for Hawk. I listened to this up and down my steep hikes at Harvey Bear County Park, where I could see hawks as I was learning about them. Though the subject matter was almost too dark or stark for me at times (hit a little too close to home in some aspects), what pulled me in was the literary quality of the writing, the honesty, and the layered way in which Helen Macdonald weaves her personal narrative as well as explores history.
8) Can you tell us about an exciting author you're working with at the moment?
I’m excited about a nonfiction science project by fetal behavior specialist Dr. Scott Robinson tentatively titled SECRETS OF LIFE IN THE WOMB: HOW EXPERIENCE AND LEARNING BEFORE BIRTH SHAPE THE ORIGIN OF BEHAVIOR. I’m also excited about another nonfiction project that is a new approach to Marcus Aurelius’s Meditations. I think we can all use stoic wisdom right about now. I’m also hoping to find a great thriller or mystery, something twisty and complex.