Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Ask the Industry Expert: Literary Agent Sara Keane

Today we're delighted to welcome literary agent Sara Keane, of the Keane Kataria Literary Agency. Sara has more than 25 years' experience in the publishing industry, in roles including editorial and rights in book, video, audiobook and magazine publishing. Sara is kindly giving up her time today to talk with Helena Fairfax.

Welcome, Sara!

Please tell us a little about the Keane Kataria Literary Agency, how long it’s been established, and how you became involved in setting it up.
Keane Kataria Literary Agency is a small, boutique agency based in Bath, specialising mainly in women’s fiction, historical fiction and crime, and was founded by myself and Kiran Kataria in 2014. We decided to pool our combined 50+ years of editorial and rights experience and set up our agency after the publisher where we both worked as commissioning editors suddenly went bust. We have a growing portfolio of authors, both debut and established, with whom we work very closely on developing their manuscripts before submitting their work to publishers. Our agency is now going from strength to strength, and we have had particular success with commercial women’s fiction, negotiating multi-book deals with UK and international publishers for our authors.

What is it you are looking for when a manuscript lands on your desk? Are there any specific plots or themes you’d like to see?
As a literary agent, I am obviously looking for manuscripts I can sell to publishers, which means I very much have the requirements of commissioning editors in mind. The most important consideration is whether I absolutely love a manuscript and really believe in it, as whenever I submit a manuscript to a publisher I am putting my own reputation on the line. So it is the combination of a strong commercial hook, quality writing and my personal response as I read that makes a manuscript stand out. Specifically, commercial women’s fiction, sagas, dual narrative, psychological thrillers and contemporary crime are what we are looking for at present.

Do you ever find authors outside the slush pile? If so, how?
The slush pile is fundamental and we do find many of our authors that way, but I have also been fortunate enough to find some fantastic authors outside the slush pile. Some through personal recommendation, others we meet at publishing events. Possibly the most unexpected was when I was put in touch with an author by a lady I got chatting to in the changing rooms at my health club. That’s what’s so great about being an agent: you never know exactly when and how the next wonderful author is going to magically appear in your life.

What advice would you give someone submitting to you?
Spend a long time editing your manuscript and be ruthless! Get feedback from other writers, or even from a professional editor. Submissions from authors who have received mentoring on the RNA New Writers’ Scheme would really stand out. Know the market you are writing for and where your book would fit into that market. Please read and follow our submission guidelines (on our website) and don’t submit genres we specifically say we do not work with.

Are you seeing any particular trends in commercial women's fiction/romance at the moment?
We’ve been seeing a shift away from billionaires and bondage, and in these troubling times readers are turning to sagas and feel-good commercial women’s fiction, with escapist, aspirational settings like tea shops in Cornwall. Seasonal books are a big trend, with the emphasis on summer and Christmas. I also think we are seeing more novels about romance in later life: we’ve recently sold one about a woman in her seventies starting over. I’ve heard this referred to as ‘Gran Lit’, but I prefer to call it ‘the Judi Dench effect’.

What’s your favourite romance novel of all time?
No marks for originality, but my favourite of all time would have to be Pride and Prejudice. I first read it in my early teens (well before the Colin Firth/wet shirt BBC adaptation), and it has been my comfort read ever since. And where would romantic fiction be without P&P? Here in Bath we have just had the annual Jane Austen festival, which attracts Austen devotees from all over the world who parade around the city in gorgeous Regency costumes. I’m planning on dressing up myself next year.

Apart from your own authors, which book have you enjoyed the most in the past twelve months, and why?
I re-read The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood after the TV serialisation, and got so much more out of it than when I first read it. It seems more relevant than ever, and reminded me that women in many parts of the world are still victims of misogyny and biological determinism - and there is no guarantee that our own society will never experience a backlash against feminism and the freedoms women take for granted in a modern liberal secular democracy. One of those freedoms being reading and writing romantic fiction, of course.

What do you like to do in your spare time?
I enjoy amateur dramatics, and usually perform in two or three productions a year. It’s fun, challenging and learning lines is very good for the brain. I also enjoy swimming, walking, gardening, upcycling furniture and visiting my family who are dotted around the world. Plus, I’ve recently started learning Italian.

If you could describe your working-day in just three words, what would they be?

Reading, editing, negotiating.

Thank you so much for taking the time to drop in, Sara, and for your thoughtful answers. It's been fascinating and a pleasure getting to know you.

If you've enjoyed Sara'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 editor. Her latest release is a feel good romance called Felicity at the Cross Hotel, set in a hotel in the Lake District (the type of the escapist, aspirational setting Sara mentions!) You can find out more about Helena's books and her editing services on her website

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Unknown said...

What a lovely straightforward interview. You asked just the right questions, Helena and Sara's answers were both interesting and informative to authors thinking of submitting their mss.

Anonymous said...

Thank you very much, Cathy. Sara was a pleasure to interview!

Michele Clack said...

I'm a bit confused. Does commercial women's fiction cover romance?

Sara Keane said...

Thanks for your comments. Yes, commercial women’s fiction very much includes romantic fiction, and the categories and contenders for the RoNAs demonstrate what a wide-ranging genre this is (and how hard to label). However, Category Romance would be considered a separate genre.

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