Pooja Menon Of Kimberley Cameron & Associates
Our next agent is the amazing Pooja Menon from Kimberley Cameron & Associates. Below is her bio and her very in-depth answers to the ten questions I set for her.
Pooja Menon joined Kimberley Cameron & Associates as an intern in the fall of 2011, with the aim of immersing herself in the elusive world of books and publishing. She soon realized that being an agent was what she was most drawn to as the job was varied and challenging. She represents both fiction and non-fiction for Adult and YA markets.
Her passion for reading inspired her to acquire a BA in Literature and Media from England. Her love for writing then took her to Los Angeles where she pursued an M.F.A in Fiction from the Otis School of Art and Design.
As a new agent, Pooja is looking to build her client list and is eager for submissions by debut novelists and veteran writers. She’s looking for writing that has an easy flow and a timely pacing, along with a unique perspective and a strong voice.
In fiction, she is interested in literary, historical, commercial, and high-end women’s fiction. However, she’s most drawn to stories with an international flavor, vibrant characters, multi-cultural themes, and lush settings.
In fantasy, she’s looking for original, layered plots with worlds as real and alive as the ones that were created by J.K Rowling and Tolkien.
In non-fiction, she’s looking for adventure & travel memoirs, journalism & human-interest stories, and self-help books addressing relationships and the human psychology from a fresh perspective.
In YA, she’s looking for stories that deal with the prevalent issues that face teenagers today. She is also interested in fantasy, magical-realism, and historical fiction.
Now down to the questions:
1. Why did you become a literary agent? I became a literary agent because of my love for books. A world without books to me sounds like the worst torture, and one of my greatest fears is that, one day, that might just happen, and people like me (writers, editors, publishers, agents, bloggers, etc) need to keep persevering and working hard to make sure that never does, no matter how tight publishing can get or the economy can get. The arts, all kinds, has to live and flourish for our future generations. They must get the opportunity to feel the same excitement I (and you) did when a new book arrived in the mail for me growing up. To get lost in stories.
My plan was always to write my own books and find an editorial job in publishing, but when I looked around for internships post-M.F.A, I came across this whole new career option in publishing I never knew about. Literary agent! I began to read blogs and books and all sorts of things to learn what this job entailed, and then I got an internship (with my present agency) and interned for a year, learning all the ropes of the job. This is the best job ever. True, my job has no set schedule and I work a lot on weekends and at night. True, this job doesn’t have you rolling in the dough and tests your mettle and spirit and ability to never give up to the hilt. But, once the ball gets rolling, this is the best job in the world. Finding books that blow you away, connecting with authors who have the same vision as you, selling a book and seeing your clients’ names in print, having that book being read by people all over the world, and them loving it… at the same time, having the freedom to wear a lot of hats: business hat, negotiator hat, brainstorming-ideas hat, editing hat, reading hat, networking hat… it’s absolutely wonderful. Where else do you get to do all of that?
2. What do you not like to see in a query? What do I NOT like. Ah, this one can change depending on the things I see each week. Generally, I have a couple of rules. When it comes to query-writing, the shorter the better. It is an art to keep it short AND make it sound intriguing. But it’s an art that’s worth spending time learning. A query letter should be no more than 250 words, and the pitch needs to sound intriguing enough for me to want to pick it up from the scores of other queries I get every week. It should also follow the prescribed format. I don’t like seeing queries that are two pages long with the pitch sounding more like a rambling synopsis that hasn’t been well-thought out.
I also think this is a professional business. The economy has hit everyone in the worst way possible. I sometimes get query letters from people who tell me they have a lot of issues (job loss, ill spouse, etc) and they want me to read their manuscript and represent them and help them get it published ASAP, otherwise they may not have the money to survive the next few months. I feel for them, I really do. But I’m not a therapist. Why would you tell a professional agent who is literally a stranger to you something so personal? How can you expect this person who is also trying to make ends meet and working her butt off to do this to help you if the quality of your manuscript is not up to par? Firstly, in my opinion, writing is an art that writers have been slogging to hone over the years. They spend long, solitary hours working the craft, feeling doubtful, frustrated, angry, hopeless, enlightened, excited, contented, etc. It’s not something you can take up like a hobby when you feel like you’ve run out of other options. I hate that attitude. It’s not an easy way to making money. Treating it like that belittles the craft and those that have been working so hard on it. Don’t come to writing because you think it’s an easy career and will solve your problems. It WILL show in the writing. It WILL show in the query letter you did not bother to write in the correct format. Do your research. Sometimes it can takes years for a book to get published, some never do. Even if you do make a book deal, chances of rolling in the dough are really slim until you satisfy a lot of other factors (the amount of advance you get, earning enough to pay out the advance before you make your own money, etc). Educate yourself. Learn about the industry. Join critique groups. Read a lot. Work hard. This is a genuine profession, and the resources to learn are endless.
3. Do you always read the attached material? I read the attached material if the pitch/query letter is interesting. I also read some of the attached material if the query letter, although not as sharply written as I’d like, sounds like it has potential. Otherwise I don’t read the attached materials. There’s so much to read, and so many of these amazing authors really get the whole process of the query letter and first pages down, I have to spend more time reading those kinds of submissions than the ones that don’t seem like it has been worked enough.
4. How many queries do you receive in a week and of those how many, would you say, result in a request for material? This varies according to the week. Sometimes it can be within 1-50, sometimes it can be a busy busy week and get up to 100 emails or more. Out of that, I will admit, I don’t ask for many pages. Maybe two or three people at the most, and this might fall depending on whether their middle is as good as their beginning. I see so many queries that sounds very similar, a fresh query stands out in a big way, these are the ones I ask for.
5. How hands on, editorially, are you with your clients? I tend to be a very hands-on, editorially. I have a two pronged method that I think is quite common with most agents. One, give general feedback once I’ve read the whole story, then allow my author to weed out the issues in a way that’s comfortable with her. Once she’s done with the big issues, then I give a more detailed feedback/line edits/page edits/etc so we can sort out the smaller issues. Again, this results in a lot of brainstorming of ideas that we’re both comfortable with, and this is another favorite aspect of the editing process for me. I’m constantly reminded how creative and imaginative and brilliant my authors are, and how I don’t need to freak about editing too much, as long as I can point out the problem areas, they are 200% capable of sorting it out themselves without me hovering over their shoulders.
6. What is on your wish list at the moment? Wish list, I love this question. In adult fiction, I’m looking for upmarket women’s fiction, literary/commercial fiction, historical fiction, mysteries/thrillers, horror, multicultural fiction. In YA, I’m looking for voice driven contemporary fiction (both the light/romantic kind as well as fiction that deals with darker subject matters), historical fiction, mysteries/thrillers, fantasy with a fresh concept, horror, steampunk, and multicultural fiction. In MG, I’m looking for voice-driven contemporary, adventure/action, and fantasy.
7. What qualities would your perfect client possess? My perfect client would be someone who has a constant well-spring of amazing ideas, loves writing for the sake of writing, who keeps abreast with the market trends and is constantly interested in learning more about the publishing industry, and networking with other writers. Someone who is willing to work with me on revisions, takes critiques as a helpful way to grow, and has a good sense of humor. Who respects my time as much as I respect hers/his. I’m blessed to say that all of my clients are my version of ‘perfect’.
8. If you could interview a favorite character, who would it be and why? Let’s see. Well, one would be my all-time favorite female protagonist, Bridget Jones. That woman cracks me up and is the best medicine on my down-days. She’s funny, vulnerable, honest, refreshingly witty and aware of her battles, and looking to fall in love/finding the perfect career, but she does it with such zest. I love that about her. My other favorite character is Eliza Sommers from Daughters of Fortune (Isabel Allende). The story is set in the 1840s and the protagonist is a young, hot-blooded girl from a rich Chilean family who falls in love with a poor man, gets pregnant (at 15 or 16, I think), then decides to follow after him to California (at the time of the gold rush). She uses her resources, stows away at the bottom of the vessel that takes her to California, and then dresses like a boy to survive in a time where being a women in California (because of the shortage of them) was considered dangerous, all for love. And how she grows and meets different people as her journey progresses. I just love her. Her vulnerability, willingness to seek adventure to find the man she loves, her ballsy-ness once she gets to this dangerous place where she knows no one and nothing. I read that book over and over and I still feel as blown away like I did the first time. I would love to interview both of these women.
9. Favorite food or drink while reading queries and manuscripts? Ah, much to my downfall: Junk. Pure and simple. Chocolates, the spicy Cheetos puffy chips, coke zero, nothing good, I promise you. 🙂
10. Favorite book and/or movie? Favorite movies: I can’t help it, Indiana Jones Series/The Mummy Series (I’ve watched them a MILLION times). Books (these keep changing all the time): Daughters of Fortune, Half of a Yellow Sun, Bridget Jones Diary, Janine Di Giovanni’s war correspondent journals, Daughter of Smoke and Bone, Speak/Fever, The Fault in Our Stars, The Historian, The Time-Travelers Wife, The Night Circus, State of Wonder, The Namesake, The Birth of Venus, Shadows and Bone, Graceling, 13 Reasons Why…I could go on and on.