Today we are interviewing literary agent Steve Kasdin of Curtis Brown Literary. Thanks so much for being her today, Steve!
Me: How did you become an agent?
Steve: I started by working in a bookstore, then became a buyer at Barnes & Noble. I was a marketing director at three publishing houses, and worked with the Kindle group at Amazon. I’ve always loved that feeling of discovering a great new talent, so becoming an agent seemed an inevitable next step
Me: What are three things that elicit automatic rejections from you when reading the first 50 pages of a manuscript?
- The “Dark and stormy night” syndrome—if a book starts with the weather I won’t get past the first sentence. Sorry, it’s just a personal thing.
- Opening with dazzling prose that doesn’t say anything except “look at my writing!” The writing doesn’t have to be brilliant, just intelligent. The story is more important, get right to it.
- A clone of something that’s currently popular but won’t be in two years—vampire romances, boy wizards, etc.
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?
Steve: Knowledge. Most writers are passionate, but few are really knowledgeable. I like to learn something when I’m reading a novel; it could be about beekeeping, pole vaulting or how to turn your microwave oven into a bomb. Teach me something. Also, teach me something deeper, what you’ve learned about life, relationships, human nature.
I don’t handle traditional Romance or Sci-Fi/Fantasy but I’m open to most anything else.
What I’m seeing too much of are very traditional, rigidly defined genre works, the grandmother whose cats help her solve cozy crimes, the world-weary CIA agent. I’d like to see more inter-genre mashing up. If you have to write about a werewolf, put him in Paris in the 1920s (ok, that’s a bad idea, but you get the picture).
Me: What is one thing about you that a writer would be surprised to learn?
Steve: I sometimes ask my teenage daughters to look at YA submissions. They have a very low boredom threshold. If they can’t get through those 50 pages that’s not a good sign
Me: Best piece(s) of advice you can give a writer we haven’t talked about yet?
Steve: New writers are often told, “Write what you know.” I disagree; if that were true there’d be almost no mysteries (unless the author had been a cop, a detective or a murderer), and certainly no science fiction (unless the author had been to another planet!).
I would invert that and say: Know what you write! Do your research, and then integrate it subtly into the story.
Me: Are you open to submissions? If so, how should a writer go about submitting?
Steve: I am open to submissions, but you’re going to have to give me 4-6 weeks to respond. Send me a query letter about what makes your book unique, a 1-3 page synopsis, a brief bio with publishing history if any, and the first 50 pages or so of the manuscript attached as a Word document. Send it to email@example.com.
You can find Steve’s agent bio here: http://www.curtisbrown.com/kasdin.php