Book Broker – an interview with Emily S. Keyes
Agent: 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.
Bio: Emily is the Founder of Keyes Agency, LLC. She was an Agent at Fuse Literary from 2013 to 2021. She has represented many award-winning titles mainly (but not exclusively) in the realm of children’s literature. She loves finding and nurturing new talent, as well as reading and representing projects that will get readers excited to go to the bookstore. Emily is actively searching for all kinds of children’s literature, as well as select adult projects in genre fiction—so long as it’s not “serious” literature. She is searching for authors and illustrators who will be her coworker for a long career.
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.
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.