SPOTLIGHT FEATURE: Natalie Kimber from The Rights Factory

SPOTLIGHT FEATURE: Natalie Kimber from The Rights Factory

This interview was originally posted on August 2nd 2022.

Natalie Kimber is a New York-based literary agent at The Rights Factory, which she joined in 2014. She has previously worked with Muriel Nellis at Literary and Creative Artists Inc and with the Georgetown University Booklab. She represents both fiction and non-fiction across a wide range of genres, including YA and essay collections.

Some of the authors Natalie represents include Sean Martines (Please Wear Headphones: ASMR Guide and Coloring Book, coming October 2022) and Gogo Germaine (Glory Guitars: Memoir of a ’90s Teenage Punk Rock Grrrl, coming October 2022).

Natalie is active on Twitter where you can learn more about her and the writers she represents. She also does Agent One-to-One sessions with Jericho Writers, so don’t miss out on a chance to get her feedback on your work by booking your session here.

Check out some highlights from our interview with Natalie below.

Natalie Kimber
Natalie Kimber

“No matter who you are, you’ll always have a circle of friends in the writing community.”

Hello Natalie, thank you so much for taking the time to talk with us today! We would love to know more about your history as an agent, your wishlist, and your advice for querying authors.

Q. What brought you to agenting?

I found a job as a literary assistant somewhat by accident when I moved to Washington DC in 2007. I found a role on Craigslist with Muriel Nellis who runs Literary and Creative Artists Inc, a boutique agency that Muriel has had since the 1980s. Pretty much as soon as I learned what agenting was all about, I knew it was for me. I like to say that it was like a hundred lightbulbs going off in my head and in my heart – I knew this was going to be my career.

I’ve also always wanted to support creative arts from behind the scenes. I’ve never wanted to be the talent in the spotlight. And so supporting authors was immediately appealing. The dignity of shaping the literary landscape and being in touch with talented writers before they make it big is a huge bonus. It’s a magical and exciting prospect, the idea that I can discover new talent and help it along in the industry.

Q. Any authors or books that have inspired you?

I read along a vast spectrum of interests. When I was growing up, I read a lot of classic children’s literature from Black Beauty to everything Roald Dahl ever wrote.

As I got a little bit older, I started to get really interested in spirituality, theology and historical literature, and that’s what I ended up studying at Georgetown. Anything that falls in that realm of mythology or history, or anything that brings those topics to a modern place is exciting to me. Later, the intersection of theology and literature really swept me away. I love writers who explore the world, nature, and history with an honest, even emotional perspective, like Annie Dillard or Jorge Luis Borges.

I’m very inspired now by writers doing hybrid works – like essay collections that are also memoir, or literary novels that exploit genres, and story collections that play creatively with form. I think the most modern authors are blending forms, and it may take time for the industry and huge audiences to catch up, but that’s where I think we’re moving, and it gives me that “shazam” kind of joy.

Q. What’s at the top of your fiction wish-list? 

I’m interested in beautiful storytelling that captures realistic life perspectives rather than, for example, superhero stories or really preposterous horror. Speculative fiction is a great genre because it takes real life and makes it weirder.

I like both literary and commercial works. I’m especially looking for LGBTQ storytelling, international diversity stories, and any books that show me the world in an escapist kind of way. Action and adventure are also great. I’m open to YA as long as it has a realistic, contemporary perspective.

Finally, modern mythology is a huge interest of mine. I love books that take popular myths, or cult classics, and give them a spin, or books that create their own myths or parables.

I loved novels about animals as a kid (think Redwall or Watership Down), and I really want a novel about urban wildlife in our times. I witness hawks soaring over the Hudson River palisades almost every day, and I wonder what adventures they’re having and what challenges they face living alongside humanity.

Q. What’s at the top of your non-fiction wish-list?

In non-fiction, my list is wide, but it includes lifestyle, spirituality, personal growth and health. Sustainability is important right now – I’m on the hunt for books about changing one’s habits and making better choices, or books on how communities can be more sustainability-minded and disaster-prepared.

I also represent essay collections. I love personal writing that also deepens our understanding of broad subjects, and I like collections that have a nice, clear theme or narrative arc. Beyond that, I look for narrative nonfiction about history and literature, biographies, nature, music, pop culture, film history, writing craft, literary criticism, spiritual studies, occult books, food/cooking, and travel. Creative nonfiction that plays with form and expectation is exciting, but it has to be carefully executed.

Q. Is there any genre you’d rather not receive? 

In fiction, I stay away from fantasy and sci-fi with complex worlds or governments on other planets. I always find myself asking: but why? I prefer things that are home-based and familiar in their worldbuilding. I don’t represent picture books or middle grade either. 

I’m not going to rep political books, unless they are particularly anti-establishment. Politics (in the US especially) is so fraught and chaotic right now, so that’s not for me. I probably wouldn’t represent very heavy science or medical non-fiction, and I’m not into memoirs about heavy trauma, addiction, or abuse. I don’t find myself being caught up in really sad, awful personal stories, although I believe there’s a market and audience for that. If someone can balance an outstanding, humorous voice with such a thing, it might shine through and pique my interest.

Q: What is a day in the life of an agent like for you?

I usually start my day reading new material from clients, or news and other updates on the publishing industry, and I love reading short form writing in lit and poetry journals. This helps get me into the right mindset for the day ahead. 

The middle of the day is usually for meetings and communication. I’ll have a number of calls with editors, authors or publishers. The Rights Factory does a lot of mentoring, so I’ll also be involved in regular meetings with our staff and with the two editorial assistants I work with.

Then the rest of the day is filled with researching, creating submission lists, working on submission packages, doing developmental edits and creating proposals. By the afternoon, I hope to be properly in the zone where I have no distractions and can focus on submissions.

Q. What do you want to see in a query letter? And what do you hate?

I appreciate a query letter that goes right into what the book is about. One tip I give authors is to pick out one of the most compelling quotes from their manuscript and put it in italics at the top of their query letter. Start with “Dear Natalie,” and then hit me with that compelling line, followed by your pitch.

I also appreciate letters that tell me enough about the author. I think a huge mistake authors make is not providing enough information about themselves, maybe because they’re a first-time author without previous publications. But even then, there’s a lot that can fill in the gaps: maybe what your hobbies are or your favourite literary influences. 

I like it when I don’t have to hunt down an author on the Internet. I always look into this – if I’m interested in a writer, I’ll search them up and see what their internet presence is like – do they have an author website, are they on social media, do they have articles or short pieces published, are they who they say they are? But I’d rather be given that information upfront. It shows me that an author isn’t hiding, and that they’re willing to put themselves out there and get involved in the writing community and find their readers.

One thing I discourage authors from doing is padding out their query letter by stating the obvious. If they start with “I am writing to seek representation from you,” my response is going to be: “Well, yes, I know that!” It doesn’t necessarily mean I’ll turn down the query on that basis, but I’d prefer authors to skip the obvious language and get straight to the point.

Q. Same question when it comes to the synopsis. What should writers do? What should they avoid?

I generally don’t like to review synopses because I don’t like spoilers, but I don’t mind if an author wants to include one. I’ll usually look at it later if I feel that I want more information.

Q. What are you looking for in the opening pages of a novel? What really excites you?

I want to be immediately pulled into the action or the crisis of a book. For me, that’s always better than setting up a lot of backstory. If I reach page 20 of a book and I don’t know what the central conflict is, it makes it really difficult for me to keep going.

Authors can get really worried about how to do this effectively and the advice I usually give is to go with a prologue! Take some of the action from later in the book when the crisis is heavier, and present it upfront so the reader can become interested in how the story is going to reach that point.

One thing that’s an instant turn-off for me is a bad first sentence. I’ve read beautiful query letters that made me so excited to jump into the book, and then the first sentence was something like: “It was a cloudy day and the rain fell on the street.” I will sometimes turn away from a submission if I find those opening lines boring. On the other side of that, there’ve been times when I’ve prioritized a manuscript because the opening lines were so fantastic and gave me such a rush.

Q. What makes for a successful author-agent relationship? How can both parties get the most out of the relationship?

A relationship of trust and great communication is always necessary, and that means being able to check in with each other at any stage of the process and being open about any questions or conflict which may arise. I like to be in communication with an author and their editor throughout the production process. I always ask to be copied into emails discussing the material so that if any problems come up, I’m right there, I know what’s been happening and what’s supposed to happen, and I can offer the best support possible. There are a lot of points in the process where an author might get anxious or stressed, and it’s important for them to know that I’m there for them and that we can work through those issues together.

Before I sign a new client, it’s important for me to understand their vision. If I love a book but I don’t quite understand the author’s goals, whether for that book specifically or for their wider career, then I’m probably not going to represent them. 

This can create a more personal relationship than one might expect, but we’re going to be working together to produce art that’s going to go into the world and of course an author is going to have intense personal feelings about what they’re creating. It’s my role to act as a friend and as a guide in that relationship, but it’s also important to have clear boundaries: I have a general rule of not picking up unscheduled phone calls, or preferring that authors email instead of text, that sort of thing. It’s all about maintaining respect for each other’s space and time and accepting that often, things move slowly in publishing.   

Q. What’s your favourite thing about being an agent?

Being able to navigate any sort of crisis and stand up for an author when they need you. It’s not just about discovering talent and telling an author that they’re good enough, that their writing is good enough, that people want to read it – it’s also about going through the process and experiencing the magic of creating something with them. When you hold a copy of the book for the first time or you see it in a bookstore or notice someone reading it on the subway, that’s such an amazing outcome.

I think of authors in terms of their full careers. I’m unlikely to bring someone on for just one book; the idea is that I’ll be representing authors who will be writing for life. It’s really wonderful to be a part of someone’s career in that way.

People often criticise the book industry for being fraught with mystery and complications but it’s a huge industry filled with wonderful people who love what they do, and it’s a fantastic community to be involved with. That goes for anyone at any stage, whether you’re starting reading and poetry groups at your local café, you’re working for a small literary journal, or you’re a big-name editor at a major publishing company. No matter who you are, you’ll always have a circle of friends in the writing community.

Q. Tell us about a recent deal (or three) that really delighted you. 

I have a couple of them! Firstly, there’s Glory Guitars: Memoir of a `90s Teenage Punk Rock Grrrl, which is a memoir about being a rebellious teenage girl and all of the debaucherous things teenage girls do, but also about the agency and awareness we have while doing those things. Gogo Germaine brings the most amazing humour and an explosive, youthful voice to her story which makes it feel universal to anybody who was rebellious growing up, to anyone who likes punk rock or grew up in the ‘90s. It’s vibrant and hilarious and a little sad at points, but delivered with so much hope. We had a lot of editors who were really excited about Gogo’s voice and we found the perfect match in the indie press University of Hell. Glory Guitars will be coming out this Fall and I’m so delighted to see it completed – it really was a dream process for me.

The other book I’m excited for this Fall is Please Wear Headphones: ASMR Guide & Coloring Book by Sean Martines. There’s a modern phenomenon and wellness technique called ASMR that’s sweeping the globe, and this is a book that’s written both for people who know what it is and people who don’t. It’s a colouring book with beautiful art matched to the different triggers of ASMR – there’s a chapter for tapping, a chapter for whispering voices, a chapter for nature sounds – and the book points you to recommended ASMR videos to listen to as you color along. It’s a really fun book that’s all about mindfulness, self-care and creativity, and I think it’s got a global appeal that’s really exciting for me as an agent.

Q. What interests or passions do you have beyond the world of books? What do you love?

I recently started a sconery! I got into baking during the pandemic and scones became my favourite thing, so now I bake scones out of my tiny kitchen and sell them mostly to friends and family.

I’m a gardener too. I live in New Jersey so I’m lucky to have a garden; it’s an absolute joy to get everything into the ground early and then spend the summer tending to the plants and watching them grow.

I also joined a film club at the start of the pandemic where we watched a movie every week, and a lot of those films have been silver screen classics. Getting into the history of film has been life-changing for me – I’ve been introduced to so many films I would never have watched otherwise. Some favourites are Picture Snatcher, The Scarlet Pimpernel, Key Largo… anything with Edward G. Robinson is almost always amazing, from Double Indemnity and Little Caesar, all the way through to Soylent Green in the ‘70s. I think you can learn so much about that time period of film just by watching his career.

Q. Any final words of advice for querying authors interested in a one-to-one?

My top tips would be:

  1. Use a compelling quote in your query letter so I can immediately get a sense of your prose.
  2. Be careful not to self-praise your own book.
  3. Provide enough bio information to give a sense of who you are, what your social media and web presence is like, and whether you have any previous publications or experience with the industry. Use hyperlinks where possible!
  4. Be brief. Brevity is everything in this business. Try to distil your pitch to a short paragraph that tells me the main conflict of your book.

Lastly, I think a lot of writers can be so nervous when going through this part of the process. When you read about agents on the Internet, we can seem like mean gatekeepers, but that’s just not the case – we’re humans! Even if I don’t go on to take on an author’s work, I love being able to speak to them personally and help them understand that this is a friendly, collaborative community.

The full interview can be found on Natalie’s AgentMatch profile.

In the meantime, if you’re struggling with your query letter and synopsis, do check out our free resources on our website. We have lots of info to help you on your way. Or, better still, if you’re a member with us, our lovely Writers Support team will be happy to offer you a free query letter review!

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