There are only a few weeks until our 2017 Pocono Retreat! Today we have another amazing interview to help you get to know our faculty. Taylor Martindale Kean joins us in the Eastern Penn Points café!
Taylor Martindale Kean is a literary agent with Full Circle Literary, actively acquiring fiction and non-fiction projects. She is a graduate of The College of William and Mary, where she studied English and Hispanic Studies. Taylor is looking for young adult fiction, literary middle grade fiction, and young adult and middle grade nonfiction. She is interested in finding unique and unforgettable voices in contemporary, fantasy, historical and magical realism novels. She is looking for books that demand to be read. More than anything, Taylor is looking for diverse, character-driven stories that bring their worlds vividly to life, and voices that are honest, original and interesting. When considering non-fiction projects, Taylor uses much the same approach, and hopes to find authors with fresh ideas and perspectives, with writing that is accessible, entertaining, and compelling. Clients include: Annie Cardi, Emery Lord, Anna-Marie McLemore, Sally J. Pla, Aisha Saeed, Diana Rodriguez Wallach, Lois Miner Huey, Tim Bradley, and more. When not working, Taylor can be found traveling, cooking, spending time with loved ones, or (surprise!) lost in a good book.
Hi Taylor! Thanks so much for joining us before we meet you in the Poconos next month! Whenever we welcome a guest to our virtual Eastern Penn Points café, we like to offer you your favorite beverage. What can we get for you?
Hi, Lori Ann! Thank you so much for having me! I am thrilled to be participating in this year’s retreat. I’d love to have a soy latte (aka, my lifeblood), thank you.
One soy latte/lifeblood coming right up! And now to another passion of yours: children’s literature!
When I speak with literary agents who primarily represents books in the MG and YA categories, I like to ask what attracted you to this specific segment of books. Have you always been drawn to children’s literature over adult fiction/non-fiction?
I absolutely love working in MG and YA. While I read broadly in fiction, yes, I was always drawn to these categories. I could talk for hours about adult fiction projects I love, but what speaks to me in MG and YA is the immediacy of experience, the way characters (and therefore readers) must interact with their worlds without the benefit of adult wisdom. They often don’t have the ability to contextualize big life moments with prior experiences, because it’s happening for the first time. No matter what genre, I find these narratives so compelling. The questions of “where do I belong, who are my people, and who do I want to be?” are timeless.
The fantasy genre within YA is still going strong as far as agent requests and reader interest, but how has this market changed in the past few years? What should writers think about when approaching fantasy stories?
I am *such* a big fantasy fan. I have been so excited to see the market really respond to epic fantasy, but even more excited to see how authors are really pushing boundaries and expectations. We’re seeing YA writers create the most compelling fantasy, the most inventive and dynamic worlds. When writing fantasy, writers really need to be thinking about world building. That’s a pretty basic answer, but immersive worlds are make or break in fantasy. It needs to be fleshed out, the rules need to be consistent, and the characters need to reflect that world (rather than feeling like a contemporary teen plopped into a fantasy world). I want to see how a character’s mindset, goals and relationships are shaped by their environment, like the setting is a character itself. Additionally, you need to make sure the stakes are high enough, and will keep the reader connected to the characters’ emotional arcs.
Along with fantasy, contemporary is a big genre in YA. With contemporary YA pushing past the boundary of books and into television and films, do you think it will see a downtick in the coming years, just as dystopian fiction has?
I do think there will be a downtick, but not from lack of interest. Most houses have bought up a ton of contemporary YA, and so the market is saturated. But in terms of strategizing your own writing, never let trends overly influence you. It’s a fine balance to be aware of the market without writing toward it, but it’s an important thing to practice. Learn what’s working, but don’t obsess over making your book fit any particular mold. Agents and editors are always wanting to see the project that’s unique to you, that only you could write. Contemporary YA will always be a cornerstone of the category, but the sales may just slow down until publishers are needing to refill those lists again. No matter what genre you’re writing in, focus on making it the absolute best it can be, rather than changing to fit a sales trend.
In the MG area, you’ve mentioned that you prefer upper MG with more serious themes. Can you provide an example to illustrate your preference?
I do love upper MG, but that’s not to say I’m only looking for heavy books! I absolutely love books that are light, have humor, and aren’t dealing with any particular issue. But I’m also hands down a devoted fan of family and friendship stories, with characters looking for answers to big questions. A great example of my taste in MG is a recently published book by my client Sally J. Pla, THE SOMEDAY BIRDS. This novel is hilarious, emotional, deep, fun and engaging. It has a little bit of everything, and is the kind of book that makes an imprint on your life. That’s what I love to find.
Many agents talk about wanting to see a fresh perspective or unique voice. Can you explain what this means to you?
I’m actually giving my talk on this at the retreat! I won’t spoil the takeaways, but I will ask a related question as food for thought: What is the book that only you can write? What is the book in your soul?
Come to my session for my breakdown and advice on voice!
I can’t wait for this session! It’s such a great topic since all writers will struggle with voice at some point in their writing career.
And speaking of careers, for writers seeking traditional publishing, there’s a lot of mystery surrounding what an agent does. Can you tell us what your typical day is like?
There really is no typical day for an agent. On any given day, I’ll be working on contract negotiations, reading/editing client manuscripts, sending new projects on submission to editors, chasing those submissions, working with co-agents to license sub rights, emailing editors/publicists/marketing directors, etc. about a book in production, doing career strategizing with clients… and any combination thereof before reading queries at night! I love the variety of roles to play as an agent, and I love being my clients’ advocate.
You’ve shared your manuscript wishlist with us in your Pocono Retreat faculty bio, but do you have any additions that are at the top of your list?
I am actively signing authors right now, and I’m really just looking to be swept up in a project! I’d love to rep more fantasy and magical realism. But truly, I want to find anything that feels immersive and compelling, regardless of genre.
Most agents don’t have a lot of time for personal reading, but is there a book you recently read (that’s not one your client list!) that you couldn’t put down?
I just read BULL by David Elliott and could *not* put it down!! I read it in one sitting and was blown away. You have never read anything like this, and I can’t recommend it highly enough.
Lastly, are there any upcoming projects you’re super excited to talk about?
I represent Emery Lord and her new novel THE NAMES THEY GAVE US publishes in May! I am so excited to see this book out in the world! As always, Emery’s characters and story are intensely compelling. It’s about so many things, but in many aspects it’s about what and how we believe when belief fails us. I mentioned earlier how I am always drawn to books that look for the answers to big questions, and this book is no exception. I hope you love it as I do.
Thanks so much for chatting with me, Taylor! Looking forward to meeting you in person in a few weeks!
If you’d like to read more about Taylor, please visit the Full Circle Literary website.