Pub Rants

Reminiscing The Early Days

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STATUS: TGIF! Here in Denver, it can decide whether it wants to be sunshiney or snow. I’m being serious…

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? SAILING by Christopher Cross

When I first started my agency, feels like eons ago now, I remember how hard it was to land clients in those initial 2-3 years. After all, I was just some new agent and out in Denver to boot. Now there are so many good agents outside of New York, folks don’t really blink an eye but then, it was a bit of hurdle. I certainly wasn’t high on anyone’s radar. In fact, the previous agency I worked for did nothing but nonfiction.

I was on my own when it came to signing up fiction clients.

So in thinking back, I remember what I did to build my list.

1. I read queries and sample pages in record time. Seriously, I could turn around anything in like two weeks. I figured if I got there first, I might have a chance to convince an author to sign with my newbie but growing agency. I actually aspire to get back to that model—some day. When I catch up. Grin.

2. I did fiction and nonfiction in those early days. Huge mistake. I have no innate ability for good nonfiction (excluding the memoir which I love but is hard to find). Prescriptive nonfiction is definitely not my bailiwick!

3. I took on authors with a voice—even if they needed a ton of editing work. Other agents weren’t fighting for those projects (or not as much). I got those novels into shape and ready to shop. These days, I’m not sure I’d have the time to put in that amount of editorial work. Just to be clear, I still do intense editing if needed but we turn it around in one draft rather than three or four. But the three, four, or fifth draft wasn’t unusual back in the early days. Should I return to that model? I don’t think I’d have enough time to really manage my current client list if I did that and they come first. But this might be one reason to look for a newer, hungrier agent—like Sara Megibow. She’s definitely putting in a little elbow grease and it’s paying off.

On this blog, I’ve also previously mentioned agents like Holly Root and Barbara Poelle who are actively building lists. I just recently met Joanna Stampfel-Volpe and Suzie Townsend at the Missouri Writers Guild Conference. If they aren’t on your radar, they should be. They are going to be my stiff competition in the near future—if they aren’t there already. Grin.

4. I lost any number of possible clients to more established agents. I was always gracious and encouraging when that happened. Good Karma and all. I’ve gotten writer recommends from some of those folks that didn’t sign with me but remembered that. It did pay off but not in the way I had originally imagined.

5. I started my blog Pubrants back in 2006 as a way to maybe get a leg up over the competition. Writers would know me from my blog. This, by far, has had the biggest impact on my success. I owe the blog to getting such wonderful clients as Sherry Thomas, Sarah Rees Brennan, Jamie Ford, and Courtney Milan (and probably others but I can’t think of them right now….)

ps. Lala is shutting down so sadly, I can no longer embed songs onto my blogs until I find a new medium. Any suggestions? I’m bummed.

24 Responses

  1. Candyland said:

    I’m sad as well:( No tunage for the read…)

    I admire all the hard work that goes into building a client list and wish I’d gotten in on the ground level, querying, with you.

  2. Chazley Dotson said:

    Wow, what a journey. I can’t even imagine. So now that you’re everyone’s dream agent, what next? Do you have a dream project? A plan to write a novel of your own?

  3. Ann Marie Wraight said:

    Greetings Agent Kristin!

    I have just become a follower of your blog – the name is exceedingly enticing I must admit! As a Brit and Catholic (kind of) any mention of that sacred place – pub,ah – really warms my heart!

    Seriously though, many of my bloggy buddies have told me that your blog is A MUST – I’m really looking forward to reading your posts. I’ve just finished reading some older ones.

    Thank you for your lovely sense of humour,too!
    I wish you a creative weekend!

    Ooops – almost forgot! About the musical thing. I hear that there are some exquisite Japanese song birds which can charm you almost to sleep. Perhaps you could get one and entice it with a few sips of Guiness (going back to the pub theme) – you wouldn’t even have to put it in a cage then…

  4. Evangeline Holland said:

    Oh wow, has it been that long ago? I remember finding your agency through Paula Reed’s historical romances waaay back in 2004, and have followed your blog off and on since it began. Unfortunately, I was always too chicken to submit, and now you’re no longer a hidden treasure and are now highly sought-after! *g*

  5. Amanda J. said:

    You were one of the first agents I found when I started blogging, and you’re still one of my faves. I hope to be able to query you one of these days. 🙂

    And it’s really cool to know that agents get something out of having an online blog presence too.

  6. Gary Corby said:

    I put in a big vote for the awesomeness of Joanna Stampfel-Volpe and Suzie Townsend!

    My agent is someone of a more sharkish disposition. Joanna worked with the shark at the time I signed, and so does Suzie. I can tell you from personal experience they’re both brilliant.

  7. Krista V. said:

    It was interesting to see this perspective, because I definitely think of you as one of the big kids on the block:) I guess we all have to start somewhere.

  8. Ted Cross said:

    Thanks for naming some hungry agents. If any are looking for epic fantasy I may try them out once I finish a query letter I am happy with.

  9. Joseph L. Selby said:

    Thank you for the suggestions. Queries away!

    I will point out that this is a topic that I don’t see mentioned as often. Yes, authors are wasting their times chasing fads, but they’re not the only people that do this. Agents chase fads too. It’s frustrating to the point of pulling out my hair how many agents that used to rep fantasy now only want urban or steampunk. I’ve had to cross a bunch of people off my list who I was querying only a year ago.

    Sure it’s a business and you need to sign what sells, but it’s almost self-fulfilling prophecy. If you only rep trending genres, authors will follow that trend. To then tell them not to is silly.

    Not that you do that, Kristin. Just venting. Between closed for submissions and urban fantasy/steampunk only, my query list is considerably shorter than it was last year.

  10. Buffy Andrews said:

    I highly respect those who have achieved success but haven’t forgotten how difficult the journey was. It sounds as though you haven’t. Too often, people become stars and they fail to give back, to remember how hard it was. Sadly, some think they’re entitled. And I think it’s so important to remember and give back when you can. I feel this way not only about agents, but everyone. It doesn’t matter if you’re a professional football player or an actor or a singer. Or the local vet or school principal. Or a mom or a dad. We all work hard to achieve our dreams, whatever they might be. But there’s something extra special about those who achieve and give back. They understand the larger role they play in society, the difference they can make. I always tell my staff and friends and family that if I ever “make it” as a published author and don’t give back to kick me in the ass. I know that you can’t help everyone all of the time or you would never have time to do the very thing that brought you success. But we should give what we can when we can. At least that’s what I believe. So to all of your blog readers, I hope you each achieve great success and remember the climb and help others up the mountain if you can.

  11. Aurelia said:

    Thanks for sharing how your process has changed over the years.

    As for the music-embedding troubles, might meet your needs – the Grooveshark library seems pretty complete, and they have Widgets exactly for putting songs or playlists in blogs and whatnot.

  12. ICQB said:

    You seem like a great agent and a very nice person. Your hard work and your top-notch blog has paid off.

    I only wish I could write something you’d be interested in 🙂 I’ll keep trying!

    Congrats, too, on all of your recent successes – things like that don’t just fall into your lap – you’ve earned them!

  13. Claudia said:

    Hey, I remember when you were starting out and coming to Pike’s Peak and other conferences (did you come to RMC-SCBWI? You might have). Everyone loved your energy and thought you were so nice… yeah, we all wanted NYC agents, but you were such a firebrand, no one had any doubts you were going to go far, and everyone wanted you on their side. I remember wishing you were a better fit for my work for all those reasons…I had a YA project then and thought I might send it to you though overall I’m just probably too literary for your tastes. But I was so tempted because I just *liked* you. 🙂 So even waaay back in the day everyone wanted it to work for you and wanted to take a chance with you and wanted to make it fit. You were doing it right from the start and it’s been really fun to watch. I get your rants even though I probably won’t send you anything just because I remember you when and still wish you well. 😀

  14. Samantha said:

    You may also want to try The song can be embed in your post.

    Thanks for sharing your progress. I’ve been following you since your early days and it’s been amazing.

    Congratulations on all your successes and I hope you have many more.

  15. Liz Heinecke said:

    I was just reading the comments and saw someone mention “steampunk.” At the Children’s & YA Lit.conference I just attended at The Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis, Krista Marino of Delacorte press was speaking to the futility of chasing trends. She said that you should write what you love (and that steampunk has become almost a dirty word in the publishing industry.)

    As for music, just pull out your flip cam, make some youtube videos of yourself singing your favorite tunes, and embed them on your blog. Who knows? You could end up on American Idol.

  16. error7zero said:

    1) Dude, always opt for sunshine.

    2) You’re already using Blogger. Upload your song to
    Get the page player from either or

    Query if you get baffled.

  17. Tricia said:


    Hi! I just became a big reader of your blog. I am currently ending my first year of college and I am majoring in English to become a Literary Agent. I have a couple questions for you. First, I’ve always wanted to live in North Carolina. This is where I planned on moving when I finished college. But if I’m a Literary Agent, don’t I need to stay in New York? Are there Literary Agencies that are located outside of New York? Is there a way I could find out if there are any agencies in North Carolina around the Chapel Hill area?
    I love your blog and it is so helpful to me because I still have so much to learn about the publishing industry. I would love if you could help me out, but I understand you’re very busy. Thanks!


  18. Anonymous said:

    I hate to ask… but what’s with the “grin” thing? Is it like a not-emoticon? Because internet etiquette (yes, it exists) would dictate that any written expression of emotion that is not an emoticon should be within two asterisks. Example:



    *run screaming*

    Just FYI.