June 6, 2017
Kayla Olson lives in Texas, and can usually be found in near proximity to black coffee, the darkest chocolate, Scrivener, and an army of Sharpie highlighters.
Several years ago, I read manuscripts for a literary agent; I’ve critiqued a ton of full manuscripts over the years, consistently striving to give thoughtful feedback that is timely, thorough, honest, and kind.
Over the years, there have been a handful of (very different) manuscripts that made me wish I were a literary agent—and after referrals, two went on to sign with the agent I’d referred them to. (I should add, too, that I don’t guarantee a referral; that really depends on multiple factors, not just whether I personally think the book is strong.) I’m looking for THAT sort of spark, the kind that makes me want to immediately sift through my mental list of agent friends to see if the book might potentially suit any of their sweet spots. As far as what makes that spark happen, I’d say to make sure your first pages and first chapter are as clean as possible—if I connect with your voice *and* you’ve given me a reason to feel invested in the character/story, that’s a great sign! And with the rest of the book, it makes me feel like I’m in good hands if a) the book’s structure is solid, and b) the various elements of plot/subplot/details/character arcs are woven together in a cohesive way. I can often tell on the very first page, and usually within the first chapter, if I’m going to connect with something.
I also have a sweet spot for contemporary books that are lighthearted on the surface, but with tons of depth and heart—think Stephanie Perkins or Jennifer E. Smith; also check out Goodreads descriptions for upcoming 2017 debuts like Jilly Gagnon’s #famous, Carlie Sorosiak’s IF BIRDS FLY BACK, and Rebecca Denton’s THIS BEATS PERFECT. I obviously enjoy sci-fi, since I write it, but usually prefer sci-fi that intersects with another genre, somehow. I’m not the best fit for super-sad or super-serious books, and am hit or miss with epic fantasy.
My critiques usually look like this: I make chapter-by-chapter notes as I go in a single word doc (*not* in track changes/margins), then compile overall thoughts after I’ve finished reading the entire book. Depending on deadlines/other writing- and family-related commitments, we might have to get creative on *when* I can do the full critique, but once I’ve started the read, I prioritize it and aim to get thoughts back within a two-week turnaround. After doing this for a lot of years, I think my feedback is most useful for those who are two seconds from querying their manuscripts—because I tend to give a LOT of thoughts, it helps if the writer has already put the book through multiple critique partners; that way, they can weigh my thoughts against their own strong vision for the book and decide what advice to take/what might not be the best fit for their specific vision. I’m never offended if people decide not to take my feedback—it’s the author’s book, and I’m just one opinion. My goal is to offer a fresh perspective and stir the creative well, not necessarily that the author will take any or all of the notes.
Someone who cares most about the craft of their writing and not necessarily the tangible success that may or may not come along with it; someone who cares about finishing, about follow-through, and is excited to do the work even when the process gets hard. There isn’t a lot about publishing that’s within our control, but I will do my very best to help with the part that is: creating a finished product you’re proud to put out there.
Favorite shows: LOST, Parks & Rec, Jane the Virgin, Survivor; Favorite movies: Waiting for Guffman, Inception, The Devil Wears Prada; Favorite singer/songwriter: Patty Griffin (check out her albums “Living with Ghosts” and “1000 Kisses” for an excellent example of telling short, powerful stories—her music is amazing); Favorite books/authors: Laini Taylor, Sara Zarr, Stephanie Perkins, obvious favorites like The Hunger Games and Harry Potter, Caraval by Stephanie Garber, The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma, too many more to name…!.