An Interview with Agent Kim Perel
Kim Perel joined Wendy Sherman Associates in 2009 and has since conceptualized, sold, and even ghost-written numerous books for major publishers. She is passionate about discovering fresh voices and championing debut writers. She holds an MFA degree in Creative Writing from The New School and an undergraduate Bachelor’s degree in Journalism from the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University.
Though Kim specializes in illustrated platform-driven lifestyle books in the areas of home décor, wellness and food, she also loves unique memoir that reads like fiction, in-depth journalistic non-fiction, business, “big idea” books about why we think and live the way we do, and fiction that straddles literary and commercial with a strong story and beautifully-crafted prose.
Kim Perel: WSA is super small, and we like it that way because it allows us to be very hands-on with our clients. We forge genuine relationships, which is really the most important aspect of agenting. The publishing process is long, winding, and can be very confusing (even scary), so it’s imperative that you have an agent by your side who understands you, your work, and makes you feel comfortable.
Scribe: If a potential client could do one thing to make the experience of working together even better, what would it be?
KP: I think it would be to trust us. We do this every single day and I like to think we know what we’re doing! Please believe we’re doing everything we possibly can for you and your book and exploring every channel of possibility. We only win if you do, and we want this to work as much (or sometimes more) than you do!
Scribe: What is your biggest pet peeve when it comes to receiving submissions, reading work, etc.
KP: This is tough, because it begs for negativity, but I guess I would say what bothers me most is a lack of polish. We’re not a sounding board for a first draft, and if an aspiring writer doesn’t understand that our time is precious, it shows us that he/she doesn’t understand publishing. That said, we carefully consider every query, so we expect you to put the hard work in too. You don’t get another shot at this, so you better think it’s perfect.
Scribe: You often hear that it’s the first ten pages—or even the first page that sells a story. Is there something particular that you look for in those first few pages?
KP: That’s such a good question, with a really simple answer: keep us interested. If I want to stop reading, I will. Think about the entire world of entertainment you’re competing with now—social media, hundreds of on-demand movies, really great television, games on your phone—it’s dizzying. That’s why your story must be utterly gripping and the voice truly unique to hold someone’s attention. I call the first few pages “prime real estate” so put all your money into that beachfront property on page 1.
Scribe: If you could give writers one piece of advice, what would it be?
KP: 1. Read. Everything. The more voraciously, the more you learn. 2. If you’re writing fiction, pay close attention to craft. I get way too many meandering plots, under-developed characters, and vague world-building. Writing is about art and storytelling, but it’s also about architecture. Your book should be beautiful, but also technical. Your characters should feel as if we know them and your world so rich we get lost in it. 3. Target the agents to which you send. Make your letters personal. Show us that you picked us because we’re the right fit, not because you papered the town with your work.
Scribe: Tell us about a project you took on, even though it wasn’t like projects you usually take on, because there was something special or unique about it that you couldn’t say no to. Or tell us about an exciting or proud moment in your career as an editor or agent.
KP: This is a tough one. Well, the first novel I ever took on was 40,000 words, which is insane. Please don’t send me anything with that word count because I know better now and won’t look at it. But at the time, I was so hooked on the language and her pitch hit every perfect note, that I couldn’t resist. We ended up publishing The Silence of Bonaventure Arrow with a brave and talented editor called Maya Ziv at Harper and it was one of the best stupid decisions I ever made because the end result (after about a million drafts) was so gorgeous, and the author so lovely, it felt like a triumph and reminded me why we do this.