Today we are interviewing literary agent Ethan Vaughan of Kimberley Cameron & Associates. Thanks so much for being here, Ethan! We appreciate it!
Me: How did you become an agent?
Ethan: It was sort of by happenstance, actually. I was approaching my last summer in college and wanted to do something different than the journalism internships I’d had for the previous three years, so on a whim I took a summer position with Jeff Kleinman of Folio in New York. I loved the work more than anything I’d ever done, and when I graduated from GeorgeMasonUniversity in December 2011 I started another internship with Kimberley Cameron & Associates. They hired me in August 2012.
Me: What are three things that elicit automatic rejections from you when reading the first 50 pages of a manuscript?
Ethan: Really bad writing would be the first. We can work with writing that needs improvement provided that the premise is cool, but if the writing quality makes the manuscript incoherent we pretty much have to turn it down. Too much exposition—what your English teacher would call “telling”—and not enough plot movement is another red flag. If the first 50 pages don’t fly, it’s hard to justify taking the whole manuscript. And I guess the third would be a premise or characters the agent just doesn’t connect with. That one is subjective and will vary a lot by agent.
Me: What are you looking for right now in fiction submissions and not getting? Are there any subjects or genres that are near and dear to your heart? And on the flip side, what are you getting too much of?
Ethan: This is an awesome question! I often find myself wishing I got more overarching narrative historical non-fiction (of the Susan Wise Bauer variety). I love that stuff. Huge history buff. I wouldn’t mind getting more literary fiction, either. And I’d like to see more innovative fantasy, stuff that varies from the standard formula but still pops. Right now I get a lot of formulaic fantasy. Much of it is well written and pretty interesting, but you can only read so many times about an awkward young man who learns he is the chosen one of an ancient prophecy before it starts to blur together. That’s not to say formula is a bad thing—Harry Potter, after all, was foretold by a seer—but if you’re going to write by the formula then the other elements need to be incredible.
Oh, and women’s fiction. Send me women’s fiction. Yeah, I’m a bookworm.
Me: What is one thing about you that a writer would be surprised to learn?
Ethan: That I sent out some truly horrific queries as a college student and wrote things I would now reject if I received them.
Me: Best piece(s) of advice you can give a writer we haven’t talked about yet?
Less is more. Let your characters’ actions tell as much of your story as possible. And keep your plot moving at a good pace. If the reader is bored, not enough is happening.
Me: Are you open to submissions? If so, how should a writer go about submitting?
Ethan: I am absolutely open to submissions! You can send your query and the first 50 pages of your manuscript to firstname.lastname@example.org