Friday, January 12, 2018

Ask the Industry Expert: Literary Agent Kate Burke

It's a pleasure to welcome literary agent Kate Burke to the RNA blog today for an interview with Helena Fairfax. Kate is with Diane Banks Associates and worked previously at Headline, Penguin, HarperCollins, and as Editorial Director at Century (Random House). Thanks so much for joining us, Kate!

Please tell us a little about Diane Banks Associates, how long the agency has been established, and how you came to join. 
helena fairfax, literary agent, kate burke, diane banks
Diane set up the agency in 2006 after a career in publishing on the rights side. I head up the fiction side of things for the agency and we also have a non-fiction agent, a children’s/YA agent and a broadcast agent, so we are a full-service agency, handling all rights (translation, film & TV, audio, speaking engagements, etc) in house.

I joined five years ago and also came from the publishing side – I had been an editor for ten years, publishing all types of commercial fiction and editing lots of bestselling authors (Marian Keyes, Fern Britton, Lisa Jewell, Jane Fallon, Jane Green, Cecelia Ahern, Penny Vincenzi to name but a few!) I loved my time as an editor but what I really wanted to do was seek out new writers, so switching sides and becoming an agent was the perfect solution. From my experience at four major publishers, I know what editors are looking to acquire, what they want to see in a submission letter, how they want a book to be pitched to them and, above all, I know that a manuscript needs to be up to scratch before an editor can consider it and share it with their team, so I offer my clients extensive editorial feedback before submitting their manuscripts to publishers.

What genres do you represent personally?
My main areas of fiction are women’s/contemporary romance, historical, psychological/domestic suspense, crime, thrillers and sagas. I’m always looking for new writers in these areas.

You've had extensive experience in commissioning and publishing commercial fiction. What is it about a book that makes you decide it will sell well? (Difficult question, I know…!)
This probably sounds a bit basic but I need to be gripped by the writing and want to read on! It’s all about engaging the reader – I can work with a writer to fix a plot, timeline or structure of a novel – but that writing quality – the flow of words, the telling of the story, characters that feel real – needs to be there from the outset. What’s also needed (for me to see its selling potential) is an original storyline/hook, one that I can pitch to editors in just a couple of sentences.

Have you noticed any particular trends in romance recently, and if so, what do you think is going to be big this year?
I wish I had a crystal ball to predict what will be big this year! Sadly, I don’t, but dark women’s fiction (often labelled domestic or psychological suspense) continues to sell well and I think that trend of exploring the darker side of relationships and romance isn’t going away. That said, I think there has been so much dark and thrillerish romance published over the past few years that readers are now ready for something more uplifting! I think we will see more romantic comedies coming out over the next year or so – warm, romantic, life-affirming reads that will provide a nice balance to all the darker, creepier novels out there.

Do you ever find authors outside the slush pile? If so, how?
Rarely but it does happen. Sometimes I’ll meet authors at literary festivals or conferences and they’ll pitch their novel to me or sometimes a friend or contact of one of my authors will send their manuscript in. The slush pile is usually where I find most of my clients though.

What advice would you give someone submitting to you?
Know your audience and read widely in the area in which you’re writing. It really helps to know who you’re writing for and which genre your novel would fit into. I like it when writers can position their novel in terms of genre and comparable authors, and they know who they are writing for.

I would also advise that writers check out our submission guidelines on our website before submitting and that they send over clean chapters (ie, not ones riddled with mistakes!) Also, it helps if they get my name right on their submission email (if I had a dollar for every time I received an email saying ‘Dear Katie’…!)

What’s your favourite romance novel of all time?
Oh, so hard to choose! Not strictly romances, I know, but it’s a tie between The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro and The History of Love by Nicole Krauss. Oh, and I love Jane Eyre. Sorry – this question is impossible to answer!

What do you like to do in your spare time?
I have two small children so very little spare time these days but reading is my favourite past-time and I love the cinema and theatre too. 

If you could describe your working day in just three words, what would they be?
Emails, edits and negotiations. (Sadly, there’s no time for reading at my desk so that gets done outside of the office!)

Thanks so much for taking time out of your busy schedule to answer our questions, Kate. It's been a great pleasure getting to know you. Wishing you and Diane Banks Associates all the best for 2018!

If you've enjoyed Kate's interview, or have any questions or comments at all, please let us know. We'd love to hear from you!


About Helena

Helena Fairfax is a romance author and freelance editor. Her latest novel – a feel good contemporary romance called Felicity at the Cross Hotel – is just the type of warm, romantic, life-affirming read Kate mentions in her interview. You can find out more about Helena's books and her editing services on her website


jill mansell said...

Really interesting interview - thanks for this!

Julie Vince said...

Enjoyed this interview enormously, thank you!

Julie Stock said...

Thank you both, for reading! Glad you enjoyed Helena's post :)

Rae Cowie said...

A useful interview. Thanks to both Kate and Helena for giving their time.

Colette Kebell said...

Thanks so much for your input and great blog post. I have a question many Indie authors do you consider, whether they be members of The Romantic Novelists Association or not? I'm lucky to have qualified to be a member but am interested none the less :) Have a fab weekend all :) x x

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