Kelly Dyksterhouse, Raven Quill Literary Kidlit Agent
I would especially love to know how you found your way to becoming a kidlit agent.
Really, the way I found myself as an agent at Raven Quill Literary Agency goes back to what we’ve always tried to teach our kids: whatever you do, do to the best of your ability with a constant willingness to learn, and doors will be opened to you. That is how I’ve tried to live, and while my road to Raven Quill Literary Agency was unexpected, each step led organically to the next, landing me where I am today.
So what were those steps?
I knew I loved kidlit, both reading and writing it, so in 2014, I got my MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts. My goal was to both hone my writing craft and to earn a degree that would give me a skill so that I could work once my kids were out of the house. At the time, I was thinking I’d write and teach writing and children’s literature at the college level. While at VCFA, I interned at The Bent Agency, reading slush, full manuscripts and refining my editorial skills. I later followed Susan Hawk to Upstart Crow, where I worked as an assistant and editorial reader and really learned all things agent-y. I was very content working for Susan—I was doing everything I loved: editing, teaching, reading, working with people. I got to work with writers, help them develop their manuscripts from idea to polished draft, and eventually saw their books on the shelves. The job was (is) a perfect blend of left brain/right brain, which suits me great!
But I still hadn’t considered agenting myself until Jacqui approached me and asked me to join her at Raven Quill. At this point, I’d had several years working in literary agencies, and Susan was incredibly encouraging that it was time I made the leap to taking on my own clients. I took a couple of months to think and interview agents whose practices I really admired, and in February I joined Jacqui at Raven Quill. I think the move surprised no one other than myself.
Are you enjoying it?
I’m having the time of my life. So there you have it: proof that good things have happened in 2020!
I think the books I am most drawn to walk the line between commercial and literary. In other words, they have a big hook and ask big questions. I love books that have that holy trinity of amazing character/engaging plot/compelling voice. All of that can happen in any genre for any age group. I have clients that achieve it in PB, CB, MG and YA, both fiction and non-fiction in all genres.
In terms of clients, my ideal client is someone who is never done learning and who is willing to take a risk and try new things--whether that be in yet another draft of the same book or in taking the leap into another kind of writing. I think that a true writer is someone who is always growing their craft.
As a children's book writer, what type of books do you enjoy penning? How do you juggle the role of writer and agent?
Oh, this is a great question! One I am still trying to find the answer to. I have several of my own projects in the works at various stages. I write mostly MG, I think because that’s the age I was when books really made a big impression on me. I will get into a great writing groove--I’m most productive first thing in the morning--and then a client project will come in, or be ready to go out on sub, and I will lose my own momentum. I have a very hard time focusing on myself if someone I’ve committed to needs my attention. But I am learning to give a bit of grace to myself and find productivity in that ebb and flow.
I think your clients would understand! Does one skill set (writer/agent) inform the other?
Yes, I do think that writing informs my skill as an editor. Absolutely. It’s the difference between understanding something at a purely academic level and the deeper understanding that comes from truly experiencing it. Also, I think it helps me relate to my clients better. I understand what it means to be stuck, how hard it is to cut a character you love, how messy that middle can be. And mostly, how excruciating the waiting game is and demoralizing rejection can be. I think this deeper understanding makes me a better advocate and cheerleader.
That you do amazingly well! Thanks for stopping by, Kelly. I really enjoyed your visit.
I enjoyed being here!
Oh, before you go. Do you know how a raven is like a writing desk?
Perhaps I do. You'll just nevar know.