Issue 35 - Agents and Authors, The Connection - Julie Powell, Noah Lukeman, Anita Shreve

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20 Questions Answered by Kim Lionetti, Bookends Literary Agent

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After eight years at Berkley Publishing, Kim Lionetti left her position as Senior Editor to join BookEnds Literary Agency in March 2004. In her editorial work, Kim enjoyed overseeing an eclectic list comprised of romances, westerns, mysteries, nonfiction, and general fiction. While she enjoys bringing some of that variety to her agenting life, her particular areas of interest are women's fiction, mystery, true crime, pop science, pop culture, and all areas of romance. Most important, Kim is looking for fresh voices in the fiction she takes on and fresh ideas in nonfiction. Given her extensive editorial background, she enjoys helping authors shape their work into more marketable products and seeing their writing as part of the "bigger picture."

Originally from Pennsylvania, Kim currently resides in New Jersey with her husband, children, and cat, Winston.

1.Thank you for taking time to answer our questions, Kim. Let’s start with industry trends. Are you seeing any current trends in publishing these days?

Well, obviously there still seems to be a demand for paranormals. Beyond that, I don’t see any obvious trends. Given the current market, I think houses are publishing less toward trends and editors are just looking for books that they absolutely love.

2.What about previous trends? Are there any you see dissipating?

Editors aren’t as hungry for erotic romance as they were a couple of years ago, but I think there’s still a readership there. I think the market just became rather glutted.

3.I’ve heard that as well. So what is your best advice for unpublished writers seeking representation?

Persistence. You have to have a thick skin in this business and you have to be willing to keep at it. Use rejections as motivation to keep trying harder, but even while you’re querying and querying, be working on that next book.

“Use rejections as motivation to keep trying harder...”

4.What is your best advice for writers who have been around awhile working with small presses, self-published, etc., and who would like to now go the more traditional, larger house publishing route?

I’d recommend getting an agent to help you build a career strategy. In addition to helping you create a plan, he or she will provide feedback on your ideas to guide you to a “bigger” book.

5.That’s good to know. So how is the best way for writers to approach you for possible representation? Do you prefer queries, queries with chapters, etc?

We prefer queries. I take them via snail mail or e-mail. If I’m intrigued, I’ll request chapters.

6.What are the most important aspects of a query to Kim Lionetti, literary agent?

I think your query needs to illustrate some kind of suspense. I’m not talking about the mystery/thriller kind. Every great novel has some kind of suspense. How could this man and woman possibly get past their differences and get together? How will this woman overcome these insurmountable odds? The tension needs to be evident.

For nonfiction, the idea just has to strike me as something that’s fresh and appealing to a wide audience.

7.Does that change in any way when querying publishers?

No, I think when querying it’s just important to hook the editor and the best way to do that is with strong conflict and tension.

8.What are your biggest query letter turn-offs?

Half the queries I receive every day are for things I don’t represent: screenplays, self-help, science fiction… That’s definitely my biggest pet peeve. Please do your homework first.

I’m also not a big fan of gimmicky queries (addressed to any of the BookEnds pets) or using rhetorical questions.

9.If you reject a writer’s query, is it okay for the writer to make changes to the query and resubmit it?

No. We’d prefer you didn’t. But please feel free to query us on your next project.

I’ve received 47 queries for the same book. I’ve rejected it 4 times and set up an auto-response that says “Please stop querying me.” I’ve spoken to many other editors that have experienced the same thing with this writer. He’s basically gotten himself blackballed.

10.Should writers have a completed book before seeking representation?

With fiction, yes. Unless you’re previously published with a major house.

If you’re writing nonfiction, only a proposal is necessary unless it’s narrative nonfiction/memoir.

11.Should writers have their manuscripts professionally edited before submitting them to you?

That’s entirely up to the writer. I don’t have a feeling about it one way or the other.

12.What is the main difference between fiction and nonfiction proposals?

With a fiction proposal, it’s all about the voice. Nonfiction is all about the idea and the author’s platform.

“I take on authors because I fall in love with their voices and because I’m confident that I can sell their work.”

13.What makes you refuse to represent someone? (subpar writing, no market for the work, etc.)

Well…sending me the same query 47 times. We know that’s one.

Honestly, the reasons are numerous. It’s easier to say why I’d agree to represent someone. I take on authors because I fall in love with their voices and because I’m confident that I can sell their work. If either of those pieces aren’t in place with a prospective client, I won’t offer representation.

14.Writers are constantly bombarded with word count impositions. How important are accurate word counts? Is there any leeway at all?

Word counts are an easy way for us to weed out queries, to be honest. But there’s a lot of leeway. That said, I won’t be requesting any 30,000-word or 200,000-word manuscripts anytime soon.

15.How do you feel about multiple submissions? Is it best if someone queries you on one specific project at a time?

I think it makes a better impression to only query one project at a time.  That way it appears you’re putting your strongest foot forward. But I think you can immediately query the agent/editor on your other project once you’ve received a response for the first.

“It wouldn’t be fair to ask an author to query one agent at a time.”

16.Speaking of multiple submissions, are you put off when you know writers are querying other agents at the same time they are querying you?

Not at all. I expect it. I know how agonizingly slow this business can be. It wouldn’t be fair to ask an author to query one agent at a time.

17.What advice do you give authors on marketing and promotion? I know some writers feel that “you don’t need to do that when you’re with a larger publisher.”

It’s very important that authors learn how to market themselves and their books. Publicists at the larger houses are stretched thin with too many books and too little time. It’s become increasingly important in the last few years for authors to become their own PR department.

18.What is sell-through, and what sell-through numbers should a writer aim for?

Sell-through is the number of books sold divided by the total number of books distributed. These numbers create the author’s track record and are looked at closely by publishers when deciding if an author should receive a new contract.

Authors should aim for above 50% in mass market paperback and above 65% in trade paperback and hardcover.

19.Will publishers let writers know what sell-through numbers are expected of them?

Probably not. That would put too much pressure on both sides.

20.What can authors working with Kim Lionetti expect in terms of manuscript submission, feedback, rights handling, career planning, etc.?

Given my editorial background, I tend to be very hands on. I have a lot of brainstorming sessions with my clients. I share all feedback from editors regarding my clients’ work—good and bad. Of course, we do everything we can to exploit any and all rights opportunities, whether it’s using our own contacts or working with a sub-agent.

I’m not interested in one-shot wonders. I’m interested in building careers, not just selling books. So my clients and I talk a lot about the direction they’re headed and what’s next. I think it’s important to make sure we’re always on the same page.

Thank you, Kim, for taking the time to chat with us today. What an informative interview!

To find out more about BookEnds Literary Agency visit their website,, and their blog,


Gayle Trent is a full-time freelance writer and cozy mystery author. Her latest book in the Daphne Martin Cake Decorating Mystery Series, Dead Pan, just came out; and her first book in a new embroidery cozy mystery series for NAL/Penguin written under the pseudonym Amanda Lee and titled The Quick and The Thread will be out in August of 2010. Visit her website at


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