Happy Friday all!
Today we have the pleasure of chatting with literary agent Peter Knapp from Park Literary Group!
Peter represents YA and Middle Grade, and stopped by to tell us what he's looking for (and what he's not), how to make your query catch his eye, and of course, talk ice cream and cookies. You can learn more about Peter by following him on his blog (peteknapp.blogspot.com) or on Twitter (@petejknapp) and reading the interview below!
First, thanks so much for stopping by the YA Misfits blog! We’re very excited to help our followers get to know you better and learn about what you’re looking for. So first question:
You’re currently looking for YA and Middle Grade submissions. What kinds of stories are you dying to see in your inbox?
I would love an edgy, tightly written thriller—either contemporary or historical. I always love bittersweet MG that pulls on the heartstrings. For young adult especially, I would love something with a really rich setting: in a ranch out west, on the coast of Alaska, during a semester at sea or a safari. I would love a book like Endangered that takes readers behind today’s headlines in a way that is both smart and entertaining. I would love a cute romance like Dash & Lily’s Book of Dares. I could go on all day…
Do you respond to all queries, or only those you’re interested in? About how long is your response time for queries and submissions, and do you offer personal feedback? (Sorry, you can tell I remember my querying days well. These were always the questions I wanted the answers to!)
I typically respond to all queries within 3 weeks, though it may be longer if I’m working on revisions or thinking through the sample pages. Obviously, if I’m interested I request more material (almost always the full—less hoops to jump through). But if I’m not interested, I send a form reply 99% of the time. The volume of material that comes through our office and my responsibility to the agency’s clients makes it impossible to give feedback individually to everyone. And as often as not, there’s nothing wrong with the query, it’s just not the right fit for me. That said, I do occasionally run “giveaways” through my blog where I offer personal feedback on all queries received within a certain window.
What kinds of things constitute an automatic no when you’re reading queries/submissions? And on the flip side, what compels you to keep reading?
Automatic no would be anything outside of the genres I’m looking for right now (so, no epic fantasy, dystopian, nonfiction, picture books, paranormal romance, anything for the adult market). A very long query letter or a query letter that gives me none of the actual story are also likely passes.
On the flipside: I like character-driven stories with a hook, so I love it when a query letter taps into a really interesting character dynamic. If you can combine a unique concept with a fascinating character story, there’s a good chance I’ll read on. Also, I’ve forgiven some weak queries when the comp titles really appeal to me. I’ll avoid specifically calling out those comp titles so that people don’t try to shoehorn them into their queries!
You mention in your bio that you studied Art History. What made you decide to pursue a career as a literary agent?
While in college, I interned at the movie studio New Line Cinema, where I worked (way) under the development executive in charge of many of the company’s book adaptations. That led to two more internships—one in film, the next in books—and ultimately to my first job out of college, working for a company that consulted on book-to-film adaptations for Los Angeles-based production companies. At the same time all of this was going on, my much younger sister—she is now going on ten—was beginning to fall in love with books for the first time. I began reading to and with her, and through this rediscovered my love for middle grade books. There is something magical about watching a book capture a kid’s imagination—but it’s of course about capturing my inner-kid’s imagination, too.
How important is online presence when considering prospective clients? Do you prefer clients to Tweet, blog, etc.?
Having an online platform isn’t that important when I’m considering new authors—but being comfortable with tweeting, blogging, etc, and being willing to embrace it is. My real fear is that if an author is totally unaware of all-things-Internet, he or she may lack proper online etiquette. The only reassurance I need is that an author will be able to rise to the occasion, that they won’t just spam the online reading community with constant “buy my book” messages, and that they understand the internet doesn’t give things back. Whatever they say will stick, so they have to be careful.
Excellent advice. You have a great blog of your own (http://peteknapp.blogspot.com/) that everyone should check out if they haven’t already. What other resources/advice would you recommend for authors seeking representation?
First, I think Twitter is a great resource. Even if you don’t feel comfortable Tweeting, follow agents; we’re often on giving advice or Tweeting our wish list out into the world. (But don’t pitch your book to agents on Twitter unless it’s for a specific pitching event where this is clearly welcome.) Agent blogs often have wish lists (mine does, and I update it regularly), which can help writers target the best agents rather than go through the anguish of waiting and rejection because they’ve sent their project to all the wrong people. And share your query with beta readers. They’ll be able to tell you that it makes sense and works—or not. Writing can be a solitary endeavor, but I’ve been really happy to discover what a wonderful community kids lit enthusiasts have formed. Be a part of it!
And now some fun questions...
What are some of your all-time favorite books and what do you love most about them?
Where the Red Fern Grows is definitely one of my favorites. I remember this book made me cry when I was little, and I absolutely loved that feeling of giving myself over to the book’s emotional power. I love Kate DiCamillo’s books—both the fables (like The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane) and the more grounded stories (like Because of Winn Dixie) have a rich, magical quality to them that I adore. And they definitely qualify as bittersweet. I read Perks of Being a Wallflower in high school, and it is definitely what converted me to contemporary YA. And one of my all-time favorites is Rebecca Stead’s When You Reach Me, which you just have to read if you haven’t already. The magic of that book is beyond description.
E-reader or die-hard paper book fan?
Recently I’ve been reading almost exclusively on my e-reader simply because my book shelves are at maximum capacity. And I also like that I can carry around dozens of books at once that way.
Favorite flavor of ice cream? Favorite kind of cookie? Any food you absolutely positively can't live without? (It’s not a Gina interview if I don’t ask this question.)
I’m glad you asked! I’ve been known to eat a pint of ice cream a day. I go through phases with favorite flavors, but cookies and cream is a reliable staple. My favorite cookie is oatmeal raisin—I hope that doesn’t make me dull! As for other foods I can’t live without: I think the movie adaptation of my life would be called Chipotle: a Love Story.
Cookies and Cream is my weakness! All fabulous choices :) And last but not least, my other favorite question. How would you fill in this blank? If I see _____ in one more YA novel, I will scream.
Insta-love. I understand fast physical attraction, but I hate when two characters fall in love for no apparent reason. It’s not that I don’t believe it ever happens; it’s that I find it boring to read about.
Thank you, Peter! We’ve really enjoyed having you and we wish you the best of luck with building your list and getting fantastic YA and Middle Grade stories out into the world!
**Special bulletin** Peter is also one of the judging agents in Brenda Drake's Pitch Madness Contest which opens for submissions today! Our very own Erica, Dahlia and Marieke will be reading/hosting entries, so shine up those pitches and go knock their socks off!