Book Broker – an interview with Emily S. Keyes

Book Broker—an interview with literary agent Emily S. Keyes

Agent: Emily S. Keyes

Website: fuseliterary.com/emily-s-keyes

Preferred genres: Young adult, middle grade, some picture books, fantasy, science fiction, women's fiction, pop culture, humor, and anything not too serious.

Emily S. Keyes, literary agent with Fuse Literary AgencyBio: Emily S. Keyes joined Fuse Literary in 2013. Previously she worked at the L. Perkins Agency as a contracts manager and associate agent. Before entering the world of agenting, she worked in the contracts department of Simon & Schuster, Inc where she handled copyright, reversion of rights, and assisted with author contracts. In 2008, she graduated from New York University’s Center for Publishing. She uses her knowledge of contracts, copyright, and the publishing business to benefit her clients and the Fuse team.


1) What stands out in a good submission?

The writing. Even in the query letter you can often tell if an author can create vivid pictures in your mind. For the actual pages, if I want to know what happens next, that always stands out.

2) What's a typical warning sign that a manuscript isn't ready for representation?

I think the majority of manuscripts I see are not ready for representation. I like to say I take on things that are publishable and my edits and such help make it sell for more. But I am not a talented enough editor (my background is in contracts) to fix a lot of manuscripts I see, even if they have a good idea. A typical warning sign might be that it starts with a lot of exposition, which is stuff the author needs to figure out in the early stages of drafting, but isn't what a reader needs. A reader needs to be pulled in, not lectured to. That's a huge red flag that it hasn't been seen by enough people yet. 

3) What advice can you give to writers who are submitting their work?

A good critique group is worth its weight in gold. You can often get better advice from people who read widely in your genre and share your interest in craft than you can paying for a professional edit.

4) What are the three most overused opening scenes that you encounter in submissions?

Waking up is a big one, either from a dream or just starting the day. I also see a lot of manuscripts that start with onomatopoeia (like "thump" of... something or "brrrrrring" of the phone ringing). I often think the writer would be better served to describe the sound because I have no context for what was going on before the sound, or if the sound is welcomed ("Yay the phone is ringing!" or "Oh no, not this guy again.") I can't really think of a third—probably starting out in a battle scene where I don't know who anyone is.

5) Approximately how many query letters do you receive per year? Of those, how many will you respond to with a request for a full manuscript? And of those, how many are likely to receive an offer of representation?

It varies greatly month by month. But I recently started using QueryManager and it says I have received 2,000 since September 2019, so that's eleven months. QueryManager also says I requested 228 of those 2,000 (it does not differentiate between full and partial requests, but I mostly do partial requests first). I offered on 7.

6) What is your strategy for a client whose manuscript isn't selling?

I usually have a conversation with the client. Either revisions need to happen (and often if we are getting a lot of the same feedback the path can be clear), but more likely than not, it's time to move onto something new. I always want my clients to be working on something.

7) What's the best (non-client) book you've read recently, and how did it hook you?

I loved This is My America by Kim Johnson. I bought it because I met her at a con and she was lovely, but what hooked me was the story of wrongful conviction. I am very interested in social justice issues like that.

Hide and Seeker By:  Daka Hermon

8) Can you tell us about an exciting author you're working with at the moment?

I am very excited for Daka Hermon's debut middle grade novel HIDE AND SEEKER to come out from Scholastic. Not only is it a great book, and spooky in time for Halloween, but I squealed when I found out it was going to be in the Scholastic Book Fair. Those were real staples of my childhood.

 

 

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2 comments

  • I love this interview with Emily!

    I find it so interesting that after receiving almost a year of queries, you requested pages from about 11% of them, and ended up offering representation to only about .35% of those authors.

    When I was an agent, my numbers were exactly the same! I think it’s so important that people see these numbers. The takeaway for me is that this is the reason it’s SO important to 1) Do your homework on submitting to appropriate agents, and 2) Polish you manuscript until you believe it cannot possibly shine more, and subjective readers agree. The vast majority of submissions agents receive are either not in line with what they rep, or not sufficiently revised yet. If you follow these two rules, you increase your chances of gaining representation by quite a bit!

    Thank you for the words of wisdom, Emily!

    Eve Porinchak
  • I love this interview with Emily!

    I find it so interesting that after receiving almost a year of queries, you requested pages from about 11% of them, and ended up offering representation to only about .35% of those authors.

    When I was an agent, my numbers were exactly the same! I think it’s so important that people see these numbers. The takeaway for me is that this is the reason it’s SO important to 1) Do your homework on submitting to appropriate agents, and 2) Polish you manuscript until you believe it cannot possibly shine more, and subjective readers agree. The vast majority of submissions agents receive are either not in line with what they rep, or not sufficiently revised yet. If you follow these two rules, you increase your chances of gaining representation by quite a bit!

    Thank you for the words of wisdom, Emily!

    Eve Porinchak

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