Sunday, May 29, 2011

Interview with Super Literary Agent, Kevan Lyon

Today, I am interviewing the fabulous Kevan Lyon of the Marsal Lyon Literary Agency, LLC. Kevan is not only my agent, but she is also the agent for several other members of our YA Fusion blog.

Hi Kevan! Thank you so much for taking the time to talk with us today.

What do you represent and what are you currently seeking?

I represent all types of women’s fiction, some non-fiction and young adult fiction. In the broad women’s fiction category I represent commercial women’s fiction both contemporary and historical, mystery and suspense, and all genres of romance. The only exception is I don’t do much in the Science Fiction or inspirational categories. I am always looking for fresh stories with a great voice that really draws the reader into the characters’ world and the story – both in women’s and young adult fiction. I am particularly looking to build my young adult author list as well as women’s commercial fiction.

How can our readers query you?

My preference is an email query with a brief description of your story and a bit about you – writing credentials, writing groups you are a member of, awards, etc.

The Romance Writers of America conference is quickly approaching and many writers will be preparing to meet agents such as yourself. Will you be attending and if so, will you be taking pitch appointments?

Yes, I will be there this year for the full week and I am scheduled for 2 hours of pitch appointments as well as a few panels at this point.

I'll admit, I've only pitched once in my life. I was so nervous that I walked the length of the hallway outside of the conference room at least a hundred times. Thankfully, my awesome friend entertained me by suggesting that I give a short finger puppet presentation of my story, Pushing The Limits. Solemn face, she added that I should draw red hair on one thumb to represent my character Echo and draw a cross tattoo on the other for Noah. She, of course, was joking, but she made me laugh which in turn helped ease the nerves.

You attend several conferences throughout the year and take pitch appointments. What advice can you give writers just as nervous as I was on pitch appointments?

I always try to put people at ease and just get them to tell me about their story – in the same way that they would tell a friend of theirs. We are listening to the pitch to get a sense of the story and if it might be something we are willing to read a sample of. I think most agents will err on the side of asking to see at least a sample of your story if it falls in an area that they represent. It is pretty rare that I tell someone their book doesn’t sound like it is right for me in a face to face setting, generally I will read sample pages. If someone really catches my attention with their pitch then I may read it sooner because I am excited about it, so it is important to practice and make sure you are prepared (and try not to read your pitch, but if you must that is o.k. with me too). Try to run through it with a friend or family member a few times to hopefully minimize the nerves. It is also important to make sure you are familiar with the person you are pitching too – make sure they represent the type of work you are pitching, that will definitely improve your chances of getting a sample page request! Then, realize the agent is there looking for prospective clients and wonderful new projects. They want to make a good impression on you as well – so try to relax and enjoy it!

What elements are you looking for in the perfect pitch?

I am first looking for a genre that I might be particularly interested in, and then I am hoping for a really compelling story hook – something that can be summed up in just a few sentences that immediately catches my attention. I usually am listening carefully to get a sense of the arc of the plot and whether or not it sounds like something I might like. I love that feeling when someone sits down with a story that I am intrigued by and can’t wait to read more!

Is there anything a writer should avoid during a pitch appointment?

Doing anything that doesn’t feel comfortable to you – i.e. don’t try to be memorable via costumes, or some other catchy idea – just be yourself. The pitch session is also about whether or not an agent and author believe that they can work together, sometimes in the short 5 or 10 minute pitch you can immediately tell that this is an individual you like talking to. So it is important to be yourself and for that few minutes you have with an agent make sure that you feel it is someone you could possibly work with.

A buzz word I heard while preparing for my first conference was the elevator pitch. Which for any of our readers not familiar, the elevator pitch is the 10 second version of your story. When at conferences, do you receive many elevator pitches?

Often in the hallways or public areas an author will approach me, and frankly it is often hard to really concentrate on what they are telling me, but occasionally it works, particularly if we are talking at a social event or other function. I don’t mind being approached usually, unless I am in the middle of another meeting – which has unfortunately happened, and then you really don’t have my full attention. It never hurts to be prepared for the quick pitch if we chat informally somewhere and I am generally open to listening.

What is the oddest thing that's ever happened at a conference?

Can’t think of anything odd….hmmmm. I can think of conferences where I was really excited to received someone’s work – and then we go on to sell it. Those become some of my more memorable conferences!

What is the thing you enjoy the most at a conference?

Finding a new project that I am particularly excited about – I will often think about it for days afterward, anxiously waiting to see the pages come through my email. I also really enjoy seeing my clients and meeting them in person whenever possible at conferences. Conferences have a way of getting me rejuvenated and reminding me of how much I love what I do.

In any of the genres you represent, do you see anything currently trending?

This is always hard to say – but I am sensing the market is tightening up on the acquisitions side with particular genres of romance at the moment – historical romances come to mind as something that feels ever more difficult lately. On the YA side, it feels like the market is fairly full when it comes to new dystopian type stories, something needs to be completely new to catch an editor’s attention. Now, that could change tomorrow, but that is my sense lately.

Thank you so much for talking to us, Kevan!

Now, for my readers. What are your thoughts at pitching at conferences? Do we have any success stories? Was anyone just as nervous as I was about pitching? Tell us about your conference experiences.


Kurt Hampe said...

Good interview Katie, and thanks to Kevan for sharing her insights.

I've done one pitch at a conference, and it was... odd. The agent sent the person before me packing, and she interrupted me at literally every sentence. I would start, she would tell me--very dismissively and incorrectly--what I was about to say. We did that for ten minutes. At the end of this strange exchange, she threw her business card at me and asked for 50 pages. That experience only reinforces Kevan's point about how a few minutes of conversation can tell you if there's any hope of a working relationship.

Katie McGarry said...

Thanks for commenting Kurt. I agree, I think the pitching session works on both sides. To see if the agent wants you...and to see if you want to work with them.

Jus Accardo said...

Awesome interview, Katie! And thanks to Kevan for popping by :)

I'm in awe of anyone brave enough to pitch in person. Just the thought of it freaks me out!

And now I'm really many people try pitching in a COSTUME??

Vicky Alvear Shecter said...

Great post. I did my pitching with my agent through email and can't imagine doing it face to face. VERY brave!

Katie McGarry said...

Jus - I kinda want to watch people go into pitch sessions to see how many show up in costume.

Vicky - Oh, pitch by e-mail. I've never heard of that before. I would have read my e-mail a million times before I sent it.

Kristin Lenz said...

I've heard funny stories of agents/editors getting pitched at inappropriate times - like from the adjoining bathroom stall!

Instead of pitch appointments, the SCBWI-MI conferences usually have critique appointments. The agent/editor reads approx. 10 pages of your manuscript in advance. They tell you not to come to the appointment with expectations of a manuscript request, but to simply listen/ask questions and learn from the critique in order to improve your story. Even so, it's hard not to dream of making that perfect connection...

Kevan said, "Conferences have a way of getting me rejuvenated and reminding me of how much I love what I do." I feel the same way! The last SCBWI conference I attended was just the inspiration I needed.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Katie, for bringing Kevan to our forum. And thanks to Kevan for joining us. I've pitched at conferences. It was intimidating - especially while waiting. But I kept reminding myself that both agent and I were working toward the same goal, although coming from different sides. That helped ease the anxiety.

Veronica Blade said...

Thanks, Katie!!

I pitched Kevan last April at the Romantic Times convention and I'm sure it was the 2nd worst pitch in history. (The first worst in history was the day before when I pitched Alicia Condon - who was very nice, btw). Kevan was like an angel sent to me to make everything right with the world. For those of you pitching her, don't worry. She's as nice as can be - the perfect agent for first-timers who've never pitched before.

Great post, Katie!!

Katie McGarry said...

Hi Kristin - I've heard the stalking stories too.

Anonymous - thanks for posting! I also think waiting is the worst part of pitching!

Veronica - Hey girl! I'm thrilled to see you here! I agree with you - Kevan is super nice!

Kristen Simmons said...

I agree with Jus - I am so curious how many people show up in costume. I'm totally picturing the first round of American Idol auditions.

Katie, your puppet pitch is hilarious. Thanks for this great information. And thanks to Kevan!

Stina Lindenblatt said...

Thanks, Kevan, for the great advice about pitching at a conference. :D

Colette Ballard said...

Katie, great post! Veronica, I'm pretty sure I gave you some stiff competition for the worst pitch it history. My first time was at a conference in a group pitch session with one editor and about six other writers at a round table. Nothing like seven sets of eyes waiting for you to babble out a single coherent sentence. I felt like i was at an AA meeting: Hello my name is Colette, and despite what my finalist ribbon says, I have no freaking idea what i'm doing!
And thanks to Kevan who can attest to my poor pitch skills!

Katie McGarry said...

Hi Stina - thanks for stopping by!

Colette - I felt the same way at my pitch session!

Natalie Aguirre said...

Great interview. It's always great to get some tips on how to do a pitch session at a conference. I've never done one and would be really nervous. Thanks.

Katie McGarry said...

Hi Natalie! Thanks for stopping by. Kevan did give some fabulous tips on pitching!

Heather Bitzer said...

Great interview, Katie. And thanks to Kevan for putting us at ease!
"I will often think about it for days afterward, anxiously waiting to see the pages come through my email."
This was my favorite part! I'm glad to know obsessive email checking is not always one sided. See you in a few weeks ladies!