Book Broker – an interview with Kimberley Cameron
Agent: Kimberley Cameron
Preferred genres: In fiction: mystery, thriller, women’s fiction, historical fiction, science fiction, horror. In non-fiction: history, memoir, science.
Bio: Kimberley Cameron is president of Kimberley Cameron & Associates and has been a literary agent for almost 30 years. Her most recent successes are THE CHANEL SISTERS by Judithe Little (Graydon House), the Willie Mays book, 24: LIFE LESSONS AND STORIES FROM THE SAY HEY KID (St. Martin’s Press), and Barbara Boxer’s memoir, THE ART OF TOUGH (Hachette). She also loves to start the careers of debut authors.
She resides and works from Tiburon, California and France, with many visits to New York to make the rounds of editorial offices. She is also a mentor to five other agents who are successful in selling their own books at her agency.
1) What stands out in a good submission?
Voice! I’m always looking to be drawn into a story by voice. And I never say the writing is “bad.” It’s just not “ready" in the process of rewriting, usually. One can easily tell the author is confident with their characters when the voice rings true.
2) What's a typical warning sign that a manuscript isn't ready for representation?
Again, when the voice is inconsistent, or not strong. Sometimes it’s a matter of too many punctuation problems, typos, etc. which causes distraction, but a manuscript can be clean, and if the characters are not strong, I lose attention.
3) How do you feel about personalization in query letters?
Personalization can be a good thing :-)
When an author has taken the time to read one of the books I’ve sold, and is complimentary, that gets my attention. Of course, there are those… Once an author started his letter with “Hey Knuckle-head.” Seriously!
Can you give an example of effective personalization?
Dear Ms. Cameron,
I just read “_____” by “_____” and thoroughly enjoyed it. And I’d like to query you for my novel, “_____.”
4) What are the three most overused opening scenes that you encounter in submissions?
- I see a lot of submissions with blood splattered all over the place. We need time to develop tension.
- Waking up from a dream and starting the day is used too often.
- I often see physical descriptions as the character is looking in the mirror—there are other, more subtle ways to describe what a character looks like.
5) For writers without prior publications, what can they say in their "about me" query paragraph to catch your attention?
Any award means something, and also the fact that they’ve been published lets me know they are a “seasoned” author and know how the business of publishing works. That always helps, but if they are a debut author and they’ve written a clear, concise, and polite query letter, that catches my attention too.
6) If you could change one thing about the publishing industry, what would it be and why?
I would ask for more politeness, on the side of everyone, including the editors we deal with. In this age of internet correspondence, it would be nice to have a response. Most editors are good at that, but some never bother to respond to our queries. We keep a database that tracks that, so we know who is unresponsive. And that is why our agency tries to answer every query, even though it might take some time.
7) What's the best (non-client) book you've read recently, and how did it hook you?
I read every page of Michelle Obama’s BECOMING. Her voice is strong and consistent throughout. Obama’s book, A PROMISED LAND, is next. I lament the fact that there are SO many books I would like to read, but as I have SO many manuscripts at all times in my queue, I’d feel guilty making the authors wait another day! (Sometimes it takes months, especially as prolific writers have become during this pandemic).
8) Can you tell us about an exciting author you're working with at the moment?
Yes! THE CHANEL SISTERS by Judithe Little, released on December 29th, 2020. It’s told from the point of view of Coco Chanel’s younger sister Antoinette, and few people even knew of her. "It’s a novel of survival, love, loss, triumph—and the sisters who changed fashion forever.”
“Beautifully Told.” —Susan Meissner, author of THE LAST YEAR OF THE WAR.