This week we’re talking with associate agent Kortney Price of Holloway Literary and we’re talking special needs characters, favorite books, and how she became an agent.
When was the moment that you knew you wanted to become an agent?
If I had to mark a specific moment, I’d say my first day of my first agency internship. I was assigned to the query inbox and allowed to request any material that caught my eye. I mean, who wouldn’t fall in love with the job? It’s like browsing in a bookstore where you don’t actually have to pay for the books you want to read!
How did you become a literary agent based in Missouri?
My first internship was remote with a company out in Seattle, but my advisor decided to leave agenting and I had to move on. I started searching closer to home and found a small press and a remote agent in Saint Louis. I actually landed internships with both places within a couple of days of each other. I knew there weren’t advancement opportunities with either company, but I got a ton of experience, which led me to a place in Holloway’s Intern2Agent program as an assistant. And now, here we are!
What advice would you give to others who are looking to break into the industry, either as an author or as an industry professional? Especially those not located in a major city like NYC?
For future industry professionals, remote internships are key. Follow the people you want to work with on social media and keep up with what they’re doing. Remote internships don’t typically run on a semester rotation and so you’ll need to watch social media to see when these openings appear. While you’re waiting, look for anything and everything related to reading, writing and editing that you can do to build your resume.
Connections are vital. Heading to conferences in your area can help authors can get their manuscript out of the slush pile and hopeful industry professionals can meet future employers. It might be a bit of a drive, but it’s totally worth it.
What is the most interesting thing you’ve learned working at an agency?
I know it’s going to sound totally cliché but absolutely everything I’ve learned has been fascinating to me. I remember thinking I was pretty cool when I leaned about standard word counts and so I wouldn’t shut up about them for a few weeks. My poor Dad has read maybe two books in his life, but knows the standard word count for a YA Thriller off the top of his head.
What about YA and MG books do you love?
I love the adventures MG stories will take you on. There’s a simplicity to the stories that I find utterly refreshing. At the same time, I feel like authors can tackle some pretty heavy themes in these books and affect positive change in the reader. This is why I especially love seeing special needs characters and themes such as acceptance in these books.
YA stories are at a really cool time in life, when the characters entire lives are open in front of them and anything can happen. The characters are somewhere between thinking they’re mature adults and still doing the stupid things that teenagers will do. They’re working on figuring out who they are, what they want and where they stand. It’s a lot of turmoil to pack into one book, nonetheless one character.
What was your favorite book as a young reader?
The first book I absolutely fell in love with was Black Beauty by Anna Sewell. I vaguely remember begging other people to read it to me and then, once I figured out the whole reading thing, reading it myself over and over again. By the time I got to fifth grade I was pretty obsessed with Dog by Daniel Pennac, Harry Potter, A Series of Unfortunate Events, and all of Gordon Korman’s survival/adventure series (On the Run, Island, Everest, Kidnapped). A couple of years later I discovered Lois Duncan, Jane Austen, and Kenneth Oppel.
If you could describe your perfect book to represent, what elements would it have in it?
Probably a plot centered around something artsy. I love to paint so I like to see art and artists incorporated in stories. I’m a big fan of books that make me smile whether it be through comedy or witty banter. On the flip side of that coin, I’m mildly obsessed with psychological thrillers and dark contemporary YA stories featuring a diverse cast of characters, high stakes and a fast pace.
What are major turn-offs for you when you are reviewing a manuscript?
Probably the biggest reasons I’ll stop reading are boredom and flat or unlikeable characters. I’m looking for books that I can’t put down, so if I’m bored in the beginning of a manuscript, it’s going to be an issue for me. If the pace doesn’t pick up by page 50, I’m not going to keep reading past that point.
A main character who has some sort of superiority complex and is lacking in the flaw department is the absolute best way to lose my interest. I just end up frustrated. However, dynamic and three dimensional characters are one of those craft elements that can push me to make an offer even if there are other issues.
What’s the worst mistake you’ve seen in a query?
I once read a query where the author spent the first two paragraphs telling me that I wasn’t smart, informed, enlightened, etc. In the third paragraph he explained that I could fix that by reading his book. I’m not a fan of that approach lol.
What is the best way for a writer to connect with you when writing their query?
Personalized queries are awesome! I love it when the author is actually talking to me and not copying and pasting the letter and adding my name. I get really excited when an author talks about loving the same books I love. Whether it’s mentioning Lois Duncan’s books or happening to have a comp title I was obsessed with at some point or another, it gives me something to connect with and get excited about right from the start.
You have a soft-spot for special needs characters due to your work with special needs kids. Would you tell us more about your experience with that community?
How much time do we have? Lol Thanks to my amazing aunt, who founded a special needs sports nonprofit (TASK) in 1996, I’ve been around the special needs community for almost my entire life. I started helping at programs when I was around nine years old and started volunteering every summer when I was 13. I’ve gotten to work with the most amazing kids who have grown up to be some pretty awesome teenagers.
Since moving to Saint Louis I’ve been volunteering at least one night a week every week, and I’m hoping to head back for at least a few days of TASK Camp this summer. TASK is my therapy. It doesn’t matter what’s happening in your life, you can’t stay in a bad mood when you are with these kids. They’re amazing inside and out!
Can you name a book or two that features a character with special needs that “gets it right”?
I’d have to go with Wonder and Out of My Mind. If you’re looking to incorporate special needs characters into your story I highly suggest researching whatever disorder or disability you’re character has after getting a pretty good idea of who they are in your mind. One of the most difficult things about crafting special needs characters is making sure they aren’t a textbook example of their disorder/disability, defined by that disability, and lacking personality.
What types of submissions are you specifically looking for that feature characters with special needs?
I’m always excited to see a special needs character in a manuscript, no matter where it lands on my wish list. I get particularly excited when a special needs character pops up in a genre I wasn’t expecting, like in fantasy.
When I ask for special needs, sometimes people get hung up on developmental disabilities such as Downs Syndrome, autism, Asperger’s, and the like. Special needs can refer to any physical or developmental disability. I’m looking for everything from amputees to the Deaf community, autism to albinism. To me, it’s about helping people to understand people who may look or act differently than they do and giving the kids I work with a chance to see themselves in a book.