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Agent Interview #3

Hey all you beautiful guys and dolls! How was your weekend? I hope you all stayed warm and toasty:)

Today the schedule says we are to start on Preparing the partial for submission. I do hope you'll forgive me for putting it another day. We have one more REALLY nice interview I wanted to share with you.

Ms. Pooja Menon with Kimberley Cameron & Associates

She's been a true joy to work with during the workshop. I'm sure you will love the answers she given to the interview questions.

Ready? Let's go!

When did you decide you wanted to be a literary agent? What helped you make that decision?

1) Becoming a literary agent happened to me by chance. To be honest, it was my determination to find a publishing job in San Francisco that led me to agenting. I always knew I wanted to work in the book industry, that was without question. Reading books are my passion, and no other activity fills me up with a similar sense of comfort and calm. When I began interning at Kimberley Cameron & Associates in 2011, I realized agenting not only allowed me to work with books right from when they were born to when they were ready to take flight, but also gave me a certain freedom that a career at a publishing house could not have done. In the sense, I could pick and choose the books I wanted to represent and the people I wanted to work with. I would also get to be involved in a variety of things, so it was hard for me to be burned out from just one aspect of being an agent. If editing was too tiring, I could go through my slush pile, or research new marketing and social media strategies, or stalk the new trends, or ponder over a contract, etc. It was a job with a lot of variety and was incredibly challenging. I interned for a year, learning the ropes from Kimberley and Liz, and in the fall of 2012, Kimberley asked me to come on aboard. That was the most exciting day of my life, because how many people get to gush about a job they truly love?  

What's your favorite book? Why? Who's your favorite author? Again, why?
2) This is a tricky question. Growing up in Dubai, I did not have the vast access to books and authors as children in America did at the time. Sure, there were plenty of books, and I read everything I could get my hands on, but that made picking a favorite really hard. Because I treasured everything! Little Women, Mallory Towers, Nancy Drew, the adventure books by Enid Blyton, Sweet Valley, random books from the library whose names I cannot remember anymore. Of course, now the bookshops in Dubai have just blossomed and there are tons of books for kids and adults of all ages. 

Some of my favorite books within the last 6 to 7 years are: Half Of A Yellow Sun by Adiche Chimamande (her writing is fresh, raw, delicious, incredibly evocative, and really grips your heart), Daughter of Fortune by Isabel Allende (this is another book that I pick up from time to time. Every time I do, her brilliant writing and strong storytelling transports me to the time of the Gold Rush in California), The Birth of Venus & In the Company of the Courtesan by Sarah Dunant (historical fiction that really submerges you in the time period without drowning you in it), non-fiction war accounts by Janine Di Giovanni, The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri, Peony in Love by Lisa See, The Lotus Eaters by Tatiana Soli (not an easy book to get through, but the writing was so haunting and moody, it was brilliant)...really, I could go on. I have a whole shelf of books I love and return to from time to time to center myself and sharpen my mind before I dive into writing or editing or reading a new book. 

Do you see a common mistake among new authors in their submission package?
3) Common mistake: I think one of the mistakes I see is the whole concept of starting in media res. Some writers begin their story with a lot of mundane details and backstory that bog the story down. On the other hand, some writers begin their story in the midst of a giant explosive scene that does not mean much to me since I haven't yet gotten to know the characters or connected with them emotionally. They need to find a balance, starting with a scene that is active (not passive) and building up with similar scenes until they reach the final one. The explosive ending that leads to the conclusion. The other mistake, quite common actually, is to send me query letters that are long and convoluted. Query letters are the basic foot in the door, so they need to be concise, to the point, and have all the necessary details.

Do you have a favorite genre?
4) Not really. I look for good, strong writing,  voice I can connect with, a motivation I can understand or go with, and conflicts that really cause me to stress out for the characters. If these elements are fleshed out well in the story, the genre does not really matter.
How important is it to you for an unpublished author to have an established platform and brand? Is social media a real must for a writer?

5) Today, it is pretty important to be active with regards to social media. I think it's more important for non-fiction writers to have a platform. But for fiction writers, it is a way to connect with the rest of the writing community. Not only does this help them keep sane in a profession that is mostly solitary, it'll also help them feel supported during times of doubt and frustration, which is something that goes hand in hand with writing. Social media can be tons of fun! I think if writers view it as a medium through which they can discuss and share ideas with other writers, get inspired, keep tabs on the latest trends in the market, and discover new books, they'll be much more inclined to be a part of it. It isn't as tedious and time-consuming as one would think. 
And last, but certainly not least, please let us know what you would love to find during the pitch opportunity?

6) I would like to find good stories with strong writing, original plots, and characters that are layered and complicated.  I could throw out a bunch of genres, but the bottom line is, I'm looking for sharp, evocative writing with gripping plots that will keep me turning the pages until the end. Of course, I will throw out one find I'm hoping to come across. In YA, I do not really see many contemporary stories with multi-cultural elements. A story set in a different place, or a character living in America but belonging to a different community, etc. I'm definitely on a look out for something along these lines.


  1. "The Namesake" and "Peony in Love" are two of my favorites as well. I'll have to check out some of the others you have mentioned. great interview

  2. That's an interesting interview. I haven't read any of those books she mentions but I'll check them out.

  3. Among my main grouping of characters I've got an interracial married couple and a gay man who will ultimately have his own happy-ever-after (I've consulted people in these marriages and in the LGBT community to make sure the characters are handled with the appropriate respect). Both of these are sorely lacking. In addition, there is a lot of interracial hooking up and different faiths. The lack of diversity in contemporary settings is a wall that keeps me from immersing myself in many books that would otherwise be fantastic.

    Openings are difficult. Striking the balance between too much and both enough took months. My final opening doesn't require knowing a single thing about anyone. I rely on the schema most people have about the subject matter, and it works.

    I'd love to see more of what agents don't want in books. These interviews are an excellent chance to evaluate our manuscripts and compare the to what agents want, but what about what they don't? Also I'd love to hear agent opinions on if a writer can go overboard on social media. Um, I've been kinda sorta told to lay off it lately. So this question is purely for my own benefit.

    Daughter of Fortune is a wonderful book. This comment is long enough, so you're spared a review. Just read it if you get your hands on it.

  4. A lovely interview! I did so enjoy getting to know Pooja :)

  5. This is a another wonderful interview, thank you.


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