Today, Jen Malone chats with Kaylee Davis of Dee Mura Literary Agency.
Growing up in The Middle of Nowhere, Ohio, (and just wait until you read below where her house was!) Kaylee’s lifeline to sanity was the local library where she nurtured her love of all things literary.
Kaylee received a B.A. in English Literature and a B.A. in Sociology from Miami University, and she is certified in Copyediting from Emerson College. Recognized for her obsessive-compulsive attention to detail and crazy-fast reading ability, Kaylee joined the team as a professional copyeditor, proofreader, and administrative assistant and is now an Associate Literary Agent actively building her list.
Kaylee, I love our own personal “how we met” story. We were at BEA, watching a panel on trendworthy YA releases for fall and fanning ourselves with our stacks of business cards because it was so darn hot in the room. You liked the graphic on mine, we ended up exchanging, and it wasn’t until after the show that we realized we both lived in the same city. Now you’ve introduced me to a great smoothie place and I’ve dragged you onto Twitter (I fear I’ve created a monster!) I know how great you are already and now I’d love to introduce you to our readers with some basic questions.
To start, what sort of projects do you represent?
In a nutshell, I currently represent sci-fi, fantasy, speculative fiction, and young adult. I am particularly interested in those projects with elements of coming-of-age, urban fantasy, steampunk, espionage, social commentary, or counter culture.
How do you think the agent/editor relationship should play out? Are you an editorial editor? How extensively will you work with your clients before submission? Okay, sorry, that was a lot of questions at once!
I am willing to work more on a project if the writer and I share the same vision for the direction of the edits. I enjoy being hands-on with my clients because we ultimately have the same goal—to make the manuscript the absolute best it can be. It’s incredibly rewarding and exciting to be part of that journey.
This question is torture to book lovers (because who can pick just one), but I’ll ask anyway. What was your favorite book as a child? And now?
When I was young, I read Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card, and the timing was just right. It was this big lightbulb moment for me, how powerful words could be. I was still too young to understand a lot of the nuances and broader commentary, but it was like a punch to the gut, the realization that books could move people so much to reorient their worldview (“The enemy’s gate is down!”).
Now I can appreciate that book for different reasons. The way it’s held up over the last few decades. Its sociopolitical commentary on war. Its exploration of what it means to have humanity, empathy, and love. The craft of the world-building and characters, which is strong enough to support a whole saga (that currently includes a dozen books, a dozen short stories, almost 50 comics, and a movie).
Those are the best books—the ones that entertain us and, when we’re ready, open our eyes to who we are and who we can become.
Great analysis. I’m curious to see how the movie version will be received. Back to the nitty gritty for our readers in the query trenches. How do you read submissions (for instance, pages first, query first, etc.)?
I look at the query and bio first, to orient myself to the project and writer. Then I go to the first pages.* If they engage me and I can tell I’m in for an awesome ride, I request. If not, I skip to the first major scene of dialogue. Usually by then I’ve decided one way or the other. But if for whatever reason I’m still feeling borderline, I go back to the synopsis and use the plot as the tiebreaker.
*I always skip prologues at this stage—even if they are executed well, they often differ in tone, character, etc., so aren’t a good indication of a writer’s typical style and the text as a whole.
Ah, the eternal love/hate relationship with prologues. So what would cause you to do cartwheels if it landed in your inbox right now?
There’s a lot I’d be excited to see, but the following will make me do cartwheels AND handstands:
1) Anything where the protagonist has interests/skills that break typical stereotypes. I.e., a girl who loves wearing stilettos and writing code.
2) A modern reincarnation of The Most Dangerous Game by Richard Connell, but with higher stakes. Where the protagonist’s survival depends on wits and ingenuity.
3) A fresh take on a really interesting, complex character pairing, like Sherlock with Watson or Sheldon Cooper with Leonard Hofstadter.
Ha! I’d actually love to see Sheldon and Leonard as Sherlock and Watson. On the flip side, what would make you stop reading a submission?
When I realize I’m just not convinced. Any reader wants to feel like they are in good hands, and it is your job as a writer to execute your concept in a way that can make your reader confident and engaged enough to keep turning pages. There has to be enough craft to make me excited about the project and able to see all its potential!
Now let’s get personal. Tell me something weird or funny about you that our readers might like to know!
Okay, but you asked for it!
I grew up in a funeral home. Like, literally there were dead bodies in my basement on a daily basis. My father is a funeral director, and until I was mostly through high school we lived in an apartment above the family business. I have fond memories of having sleepovers and everyone playing flashlight hide-and-seek among the caskets. I feel like I should be a twisted individual at this point, but mostly it’s just given me a greater appreciation for life. And at least I was never afraid of vampires or zombies growing up!
You guys, she slept above DEAD BODIES… I can’t even watch a scary movie. Hide and seek tag among caskets? *Shudder* I bow to you, Kaylee, and once again, thanks for taking the time to be here!
If you are interested in querying Kaylee or want to learn more about her and her agency, you can find her submission guidelines here.
And I have to add, since I was the one who convinced her to jump on Twitter (okay, she’d been contemplating already, she just needed a little push), the least I can do is send her some followers. Check out her feed @Kaylee_Davis