An Interview with … Kortney Price

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?

cd16ce_c14ea2c81bb3437d9ff416aaa7595411My 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? book-pile

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?

noraHow 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.


Kortney is an associate agent with Holloway Literary.  Learn more about her and then follow her on Twitter @kortney_price.

Rachel Burkot’s Manuscript Wish List

By Rachel Burkot

Holloway Literary’s motto is We love a good story! And I think this sums up, in a very broad way, what all agents are looking to represent: a good story. I thought it might be useful to sum up in more detail what I’m looking for right now—what I’d love to see cross my inbox. Consider this a shout-out to any writers who are looking to pitch me at the moment. If your book falls into any of these categories, do not stop, drop and roll; do not pass go. Send me your manuscript instead!

  • Women’s fiction that slants lighter in tone: I don’t want to say “chick lit” because it’s a scary term in the industry. But I’m talking about stories where the characters are a bit younger, the themes less weighty and the voice a little more youthful. Some of my favorite authors who write lighter women’s fiction are Emily Giffin (my all-time favorite!!), Jennifer Weiner and Sophie Kinsella. These are books for and about twenty-somethings or early thirty-somethings figuring it all out. The plots and topics addressed aren’t super dramatic or complex—the premise can be quite simple, actually—but they are about real-life questions and crossroads, and the dilemmas faced on the page are relatable, the characters flawed but trying.
  • Women’s fiction that leans heavier in tone and tackles weighty issues: These types of stories often focus on moral or ethical issues. A perfect example is Liane Moriarty. (Her plot twists are awesome!) Jodi Picoult is also a great one. (Her characters are fabulous!) Maybe there’s a hint of suspense. Often the characters are caught in a questionable moral situation. A good person who does/did something bad. Someone caught between a real rock and a hard place. A story that makes you look at a period of history or a situation or a type of person in a new way.mswishlist
  • A complex family saga that perhaps spans generations of family members: Diane Chamberlain is one of my favorite authors for the way she’s able to wind together these sort of fantastically complex and deep family stories. Multiple POV’s work well in these sorts of stories. Check out Before the Storm for an example of this done really well; it’s my favorite of her books and one of my favorite novels in general.
  • Thrillers: If you are the next Gillian Flynn, I will adore you. I’m a big fan of “unexpected witness” stories such as The Girl on the Train or The Woman in Cabin 10. I don’t like traditional suspense stories as much; I’m not looking for formulaic authors who write detective stories, but something more out of the box, fresh and with a twist that makes your hair stand up on end or gives you goose bumps. Unreliable narrators are juicy, as are unlikeable narrators, such as Amy from Gone Girl and Ani from Luckiest Girl Alive, one of the best books I’ve read recently. Mary Kubica and Heather Gudenkauf are two great authors in this genre; check ‘em out!
  • Literary or historic period piece: I would be open to something similar to The Dollhouse by Fiona Davis, or Empire Girls by Suzanne Hayes and Loretta Nyhan. Especially ones set in New York City or the South, in the 1920’s or 1950’s (two of my favorite eras!) that are rich in setting and period details.
  • unnamedA beautiful, moving young adult book: Something as emotionally powerful as The Sky Is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson or The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. Call me a masochist, but the sadder the better. It’s very competitive out there for young adult authors, so anything that comes along right now has to really stand out. Larger-than-life premise and characters. Books about really big issues that teenagers today face. Broken homes, diversity, LGBTQ, all of this is really good. I’m okay with death and darkness. Terminal illness, eating disorders, mental health disorders, gender identity—bring it on!


If any of this strikes a chord with you, please think of me for your submissions! Or maybe I’ve inspired you to write something in one of these genres. Even better, maybe you already have something cooking or complete that sounds like I might be into based on this. If so, waste no time hitting send—I’d love to see it!

Rachel is an agent with Holloway Literary. Learn more about her here and then follow her on Twitter @Rachel_Burkot.