We’re told “dream” agents don’t exist (though nightmare agents are out there, apparently). So I won’t say Nephele Tempest of The Knight Agency is a dream agent. But with her track record, you’d be pretty darn lucky to have her representing your work. Nephele’s clients include Gemma Halliday and Shannon K. Butcher. She generously gave her time to answer questions about her modus operandi.
1. Tell us about the first project you sold.
The first project I sold was a two-book deal for a paranormal romance series by author Nalini Singh, to Berkley Sensation, an imprint of the Penguin Group. It ended up selling in an auction, which was rather exciting, and also a little crazy since, obviously, I had never orchestrated one before. I ended getting up very early that morning, because of the time difference with New York, and drinking a lot of coffee. Nalini was living in Japan at the time (she currently lives in New Zealand), which made it that much stranger, going back and forth with the difference offers. God bless e-mail. It was a heady feeling, though, when we finally hammered out the deal. The books are both available now: SLAVE TO SENSATION and VISIONS OF HEAT.
2. What types of books do you represent?
I represent a pretty wide range of books, though I do stick to fiction. Currently, I’m representing commercial literary fiction, women’s fiction, romance, young adult, and sf/f.
3. Are you actively seeking new clients?
Yes! I’ve been an agent for about two and a half years now, and currently have around fifteen clients, so there’s definitely room for more. Submissions guidelines are available at our web site: The Knight Agency.
4. What kinds of projects are editors begging to see right now?
It’s an ever-changing market, and I try to encourage my clients to write the book they want to write, and not worry so much about what editors are looking for specifically. By the time you write the book, the editors will be looking for something else. Concentrate on honing your craft, and writing something with a very strong, unique voice and a solid sense of place. But, that said, urban fantasy is big still, in romance, YA, and straight up fantasy. Children’s editors are always looking for books with good male protagonists that appeal to both the reluctant boy readers and the die-hard girl readers. Literary historical novels, of the sort that include actual historical figures along with fictional ones (think THE OTHER BOLEYN GIRL by Philippa Gregory) are still doing well.
5. On average, how many new clients do you take on each year?
This really varies. When I was starting out, and had lots of time, I made much more headway with my submissions and took on clients more quickly–maybe 6 or 7 a year. Now, I’m probably in the range of 2 to 4 a year, as I’m spending more time actually working for my existing clients and less time reading submissions.
6. What’s your average response time for queries, partials and fulls?
I don’t see too much in the way of queries, as we have someone screening them for the entire agency, but we generally get back to people within a week or two. On partials, I aim for within a month, but that varies depending on how busy I am with existing clients. Full manuscripts, again, I’m far more behind than I would like. I aim for within 3-4 months, but I’m cleaning up things that are older than that this week. I do tend to read submissions in waves; when things are a bit calmer, I take a couple of days and read through manuscript after manuscript to get back up to date.
7. Do you provide your clients with editorial feedback?
Definitely. I think it’s important, since I’m the last set of eyes to go over everything before the manuscript goes to an editor. When we’re shopping a project, I will give fairly detailed notes, particularly regarding any plot holes or inconsistencies in character development, and I’ll proofread. We’ll go back and forth until I think the manuscript is ready to go out. But I also try to read all of my clients’ manuscripts before they get turned in on deadline, assuming there’s time before they’re due to the editors.
8. What hurts a writer’s chances of getting an agent?
A lot of time, sad to say, it’s attitude. Sloppy queries, not following guidelines, being rude. I can’t tell you how many e-mails I get saying, “I know that you don’t take such and such, but if you would just read this…” They’re so busy telling me they know better, that they forget that they shouldn’t want an agent who doesn’t represent the kind of book they write.
But on a more general level, I see a lot of partials or even full manuscripts for great ideas where the work just isn’t quite there yet–it needs another couple of rewrites. And sometimes, if I am really interested in the concept, I’ll ask to see it again after those rewrites, but more often, I’ll just reject with a note stating it’s not sufficiently polished. If those writers just move on to the next agent and don’t rethink their work, they’re going to stay stuck at that plateau.
9. How does it feel to be on your side of the table during a conference pitch?
Honestly, I hate conference pitches. I understand the appeal, and I do love meeting writers, but ultimately, the pitch tells me little more than what the story is about, and how nervous the writer is to be sitting there. I still need to see something written to get an idea of the person’s talent. I’d rather they raffle off a half dozen critiques with me instead, and then set up some sort of round robin Q&A, where a group of writers each get a few minutes to ask me about the agency and my working style. It would be more practical and more useful in the long run.
10. With the rest of your Knight Agency colleagues based in Georgia, what are the advantages of working in your own branch in L.A.?
Actually, the biggest advantage to being alone in L.A. is that I don’t have any distractions. I’m a chatter box, and if I were in the office with the rest of the gang, I have a feeling I’d get a lot less accomplished. Practically speaking, I do get the chance to meet producers and other film industry people living in Los Angeles, which makes it easy to set up meetings and to share our projects with people who might be interested in the film or television rights. The film industry is very different from the publishing industry–much slower moving, and far more about who you know and catching the right person at the right time–so that access is great.
Thanks so much for your time, Nephele!