Kerry Sparks is an agent at Levine Greenberg Literary where she has worked since 2008. She is looking for Young Adult and Middle-Grade fiction, both commercial and literary, with the perfect combination of a great hook and solid writing. In addition to being an agent, Kerry is the co-author (with colleague Miek Bruno Coccia) of the upcoming book Hello, My Name Is Pabst: How to Find the Perfect Nonconformist Baby Name for Indie, Geeky, DIY, Hipster, and Alterna-Parents of Every Kind which will be published by Random House in October 2012. Kerry grew up in Southern California and rural Oregon.
Now on to the FIVE QUESTIONS
1. How important is a platform for new and established authors in the 21st century?
Platform is certainly important for new and established authors but it depends on what type of book you are writing. If you are writing a business book or diet book, your platform will need to really back up your well-written book proposal. But if you are a debut fiction author, it’s really about what’s on the page. Not to say platform doesn’t matter at all for fiction (and of course it’s fabulous if you have 40k followers on Twitter!) but it’s certainly not the same as needing to have a platform for non-fiction. I have sold many debut authors who started with no platform at all and over time have really built up an audience.
2. You indicate that you’re interested in contemporary YA, quirky MG, and books with a strong cinematic element. What does the story need to win you over?
I really have to find the voice and characters compelling and I look for the book that I am so absorbed in that I miss my stop on the train. This has happened to me on several occasions! I do tend to be a visual person, so I love when I can already imagine the television or film version of the book. But it really is about finding that perfect combination of great hook and great character.
3. What is the most common mistake most authors make when pitching an agent at a conference?
I’ve found that a lot of authors have a hard time summarizing their story and positioning it in a way that quickly and memorably gets the main ideas of the book across. This, of course, is what agents should know how to do—but it helps if the author has an idea of the market they are writing for and knows how to clearly and confidently communicate that in a short pitch.
4. What advice do you have for aspiring authors?
Having just said that authors should know how to pitch their work, I should add that it really only matters if you have great work to pitch. So I would advise authors to always work on your craft first. Get your book in the absolute best shape before you even pitch agents or start writing your query letter or worrying about the market. It’s true that it helps to be publishing business savvy as well, but first and foremost, the writing is your job. Even with all the changes in publishing trends, good content still wins and that’s what authors should be most concerned with.
5. Finally, Beatles or Rolling Stones?