Amy Burkhardt joined Kimberley Cameron & Associates in 2007 and represents fiction and nonfiction projects for the adult market. In fiction, she looks for literary and commercial fiction, women’s fiction, thrillers, mysteries, and historical fiction. In nonfiction, she seeks narrative nonfiction, memoirs, and prescriptive nonfiction written by experts in their field. She has a soft spot for lifestyle, humor, food, and current events topics. In any genre, she looks for accomplished writing, compelling characters, fresh voices, and timely themes. Burkhardt shares why authors need to have two hats, what she looks for in a work and why being a dreamer works for her. She will be attending Killer Nashville 2010 this weekend.
PC: As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
AB: When I was in first grade, I was asked by my teacher to draw a picture of what I wanted to be when I grew up. My picture was a bigger version of me wearing pointe shoes (dancer) and mixing test tubes (scientist) next to a baby in a crib (mother). And I’m probably forgetting some of it. I also wanted to be an astronaut, a dolphin trainer, and a movie star at various points in childhood. Basically, I’ve always been a dreamer. Either that or I really just wanted to multi-task.
PC: What do you think makes a good story?
AB: Complex characters who want something. Fascinating people who sit around the house are boring. They need to want and do things to be compelling and sympathetic to the reader.
PC: What do you look for when you’re considering representing a work?
AB: I look for strength in everything — characters, plot, voice, structure, pacing, tension (and author platform for nonfiction books). As an agent who accepts unsolicited submissions, I am bombarded by queries every day. A manuscript or book proposal really needs to have everything to stand out. If I had to choose one element, though, I’d say voice is what hooks me the most. If the writing has a strong voice, it’s hard to put it down.
PC: What drew you into the world of agenting?
AB: I first worked as an intern for a literary agency when I was in college. Though it was a positive experience, for personal reasons, I decided not to enter the business when I graduated. Several years later, I went back to school for my MFA in creative writing, and I found an internship with a local literary agency. I was just hoping to learn about the industry, but I ended up working there until a position opened up. Gradually, I picked up more and more responsibilities until I was ready to start my own list. I couldn’t resist the opportunity to be part of making books!
PC: Do you write yourself?
AB: Yes. I write mostly fiction — short stories and a novel — but I’ve also written personal essays.
PC: What is your favorite part of being an agent?
AB: As a writer myself, I’d have to say that working with writers is my favorite part. I work with almost all of my clients on development and editing before I try to sell their books. It’s exciting to be a part of that process, and it’s extremely rewarding to see the final book in print.
PC: What is the most challenging aspect of being an agent?
AB: The rejection. Aspiring writers often think that finding an agent is the key to seeing their work in print, but it’s only one step in the process. Many of the projects I send out are rejected by lots of editors before an offer comes in. I really invest in the books that I take on, so it’s disheartening for me personally when they are rejected. Plus, it means that I need to find more editors who might be interested in the book and pitch to them.
PC: What advice would you share for aspiring writers? (What tools do you feel are
must-haves for writers?)
AB: As a writer, you need to have two hats — your writing hat and your publishing hat. Each hat is associated with distinct ambitions and obstacles, and you can only wear one at a time. When you wear your writing hat, you have to write and read and revise. You need to worry about characters, plot, voice, tension, pacing, and dialogue. You have to ask yourself (and your writing group or trusted readers) if your manuscript is compelling. When you wear your publishing hat, you have to write query letters, synopses, and proposals. You need to research agents or publishers that work on the kind of book you are writing and then follow each agent’s or publisher’s submission guidelines. There’s also pressure to use social media to build an audience for your writing and promote your books after they’ve been published.
It’s easy for writers to get caught up in the worries of navigating the publishing industry and forget about polishing the content of their manuscripts. It’s also easy for writers to work only on their writing and put little effort into writing a query letter or finding the right agents or publishers for their manuscript. So, you really need to take time to do both and do them well.
PC: Would you share any cautionary advice for writers – some definite don’ts of
AB: I think there is a lot of information available on the internet about the do’s and don’ts of the business. I blog about this on our agency website, and I know many other agents do too. One don’t that should be obvious, but sometimes isn’t (evidently): Don’t forget that agents are people and that publishing is a business. Kindness, humanity, and professionalism go a long way in communicating with agents and editors, whether you are corresponding via email or meeting them face-to-face.
PC: What are you reading now?
AB: Pastoralia by George Saunders. I’m a big Saunders fan.
PC: You’re attending Killer Nashville this year – is there a specific event you
are most excited about?
AB: All of them!
To learn more about Amy Burkhardt visit: http://www.kimberleycameron.com