By Jeffe Kennedy
I had the opportunity to chat a bit with Emily S. Keyes, an agent with my agency, Fuse Literary. Read on to learn a bit more about her before you meet her at the Colorado Gold Conference!
Jeffe: Hi from Mountain Time! Are you in NYC?
Emily Keyes: Yes!
Jeffe: Are you a local girl or did you move to the city to be an agent?
Emily Keyes: Sort of both? I am from Connecticut, which is pretty close to NYC. I moved to New York to start the NYU Publishing program. I knew I wanted to work with books. When I was a kid I guess I thought the only book job was author. Or maybe I didn't even think of that as a job. Because I knew Carolyn Keene wasn't a real person and Francine Pascal didn't write the books with her name on them. I vividly remember seeing Ann M. Martin on TV once and I was like, "Oh so some of them are real people!"
Jeffe: That's so fun! I vividly recall that moment of discovering books came from actual people
Emily Keyes: I know - it's weird, right? How did you discover it if you don't mind me asking?
Jeffe: I was a huge fan of Marguerite Henry's horse books. My aunt suggested that I write her a letter, which was an extraordinary thought to me. I did - and she wrote me back!
Emily Keyes: THAT'S SO COOL! I loved horse books. I worked on some of her old contracts a bit at Simon & Schuster.
Emily Keyes: Anyway, I learned more about publishing in college. My university had a publishing class. I was like, "This is what I want to do." But I didn't know how to break into publishing at all. No one in my family had worked in publishing and I didn't know anyone who did. I would send resumes to the internship programs and never hear back. So I decided to take the plunge and go to NYC without a job, but I did the NYU program because they said I could have on campus housing for a semester. I think my mom thought I was going to get stabbed in the face. New York is scary at first.
Jeffe: So did you go to work for Simon & Schuster after NYU?
Emily Keyes: After I moved to NYC I got an internship at the World Almanac. Which was good for my trivia skills. And then about a year after that I started at Simon & Schuster in the contracts department.
Jeffe: And then you moved from publishing to agenting?
Emily Keyes: I left S&S in 2011. I wasn't sure exactly what I was going to do. I wanted to do more creative/editorial work but I also had this contracts background that I wanted to use. I applied to some agencies. I got hired as a foreign rights and contracts manager at another agency. Then I moved to Fuse!
Jeffe: Why did you pick Fuse? (Besides the fact that it's the best!)
Emily Keyes: It is the best! I started to build my own list at my previous agency and I really wanted to focus on being an agent fulltime. Fuse allowed me to come on as an agent and really go for it! Everyone was very supportive and enthusiastic. The main office is in California, and I was their first hire in NYC. Then Connor Goldsmith (Jeffe’s agent!) and Michelle Richter came aboard so now we're pretty evenly split East vs. West.
We're a virtual agency, which I like. If I could live without paper I would. Well, not paper books, but just loose sheets of paper.
Jeffe: LOL! I'm very much a virtual girl. I totally take eBooks over paper every time, but then my day job is with an environmental consulting firm.
Emily Keyes: I like pop-up books. When they make e-pop-up books I will be set for life.
Jeffe: Ha! I would love that! So what about Fuse do you think makes it a great agency for authors?
Emily Keyes: Fuse is a great agency because everyone is very supportive and collaborative. I think we're very forward-looking compared to some other agencies. We're trying to adapt to the future of publishing. And everyone brings their own knowledge base to the team. It's kind of a Captain Planet-let-our-powers-combine situation.
Jeffe: You have weekly conference calls with all the agents?
Emily Keyes: Yes we have weekly staff meetings, so we know what's going on with everyone and can brainstorm and such. Sometimes we talk for hours and hours.
Jeffe: One thing I really like about Fuse is how you all - not just Connor - make a point of engaging with me and supporting what I'm doing. I feel like you know about me and my books. I love that you all share posts of mine and so forth. Feels very much like being on a team to me.
So, the inevitable question - what are you looking for right now? What kind of authors would you like to add to your list?
Emily Keyes: I still want to add a lot to my list. I'm pretty selective about clients. I don't take on things I don't love (I know everyone says that but not everyone means it--ha!). I've got mostly YA authors right now, and a lot of what I sold was YA contemporary. I still love that area and would like a couple more. But I also want to do YA fantasy, science fiction, mystery, thriller--all the subgenres. I also really, really want middle grade books. Because I remember the books I read when I was 12 way better than the books I read a month ago.
I tend toward contemporary and quirky in MG. But adventure and light fantasy/SF would be fine too.
Jeffe: So people shouldn't pitch you anything older than YA?
Emily Keyes: I do some adult as well. I have a couple adult fantasy clients. I also look for women's fiction right now. I say pitch me stuff that's commercial on the adult side. I'm not really a literary fiction reader. I can always refer you to another agent at my agency if it doesn't feel right for me.
Jeffe: What is Fuse's policy on people pitching more than one agent at the agency? For some agencies, that' s big no-no.
Emily Keyes: Only one at a time. So if you have something with Connor, don't send to me too. but if he passes you could still send to me. Sometimes when more than one of us is at a conference it gets confusing because people don't really look, they just try to talk to all the agents.
Jeffe: Do you believe in the concept of the "dream agent"?
Emily Keyes: I don't know. Things I dream about tend to not go as planned. I think it's about finding someone who you can work with. Obviously, also one who is not a scam artist. I like to say the agent-author relationship is kind of like a coworker relationship. You're the head of the writing department and I'm the head of the selling to publishers department. If we don't see eye-to-eye it's not going to work. Or if you treat me like a servant. So you should talk to an agent to see if you click before deciding that they are "the dream agent."
Jeffe: Good to know! How about a book you love and wish you'd repped?
Emily Keyes: In adult or children's or both?
Jeffe: How about both?
Emily Keyes: Okay. Some recent ones (I won't say I wished I repped books from when I was a kid because I doubt I would've been an effective agent in elementary school) I really loved are NOGGIN by John Corey Whaley. I liked the voice and the realistic feel of the science fiction premise. I also really like accessible fantasy books like Naomi Novik's TEMERAIRE series. And nerdy/fun humor in nonfiction. I wish I'd thought of GEEK GIRL'S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY.
Jeffe: Your Twitter handle - which I love - is @esc_key - I figure it comes from your initials and last name, but how did that come about?
Emily Keyes: Yes it's my initials. My name is Emily Suzanne. But my sister, Elizabeth, has the same initials as me so I started including my confirmation name which is Catherine. And it was ESCK - and I was like "Hey, wait a minute."
Jeffe: It's such a great metaphor!
How about conference protocol? At Colorado Gold, will you want people to chat you up? Pitch anytime or save it for the official sessions?
Emily Keyes: It's fine to come up to me at pitch sessions if you're scheduled, obviously. Also after any panels or something. Even at networking events if you come up and say, "Hey, do you have a minute?" I probably will. Just don't pitch me in the bathroom or, like, when I'm trying to eat lunch.
Jeffe: This question comes up a lot - what if an author has self-published one or more books and would like to pitch a project to you? What guidelines would you suggest there?
Emily Keyes: For self-published projects, it has to have sold a lot for me to want to take that project on. But if you have self-published and have a new project feel free to come and talk to me. I am going to ask you how it did though.
Jeffe: How much do you like to get your fingers into planning your writers' projects? Do you brainstorm with them? Suggest directions? Edit?
Emily Keyes: I've pretty much always done edits with new clients I sign up. For planning the next project, I like to know what's on an author's mind. I can tell you what might be more marketable at the moment or what genre is a bit over-saturated and all that. So yes I do get my fingers in.
Jeffe: Part of the fun?
Emily Keyes: yes!
Jeffe: Anything else to add?
Emily Keyes: I don't think so? That I'm looking forward to the conference. I've never been to Colorado!
Jeffe: We’re looking forward to your visit!