An Interview with Agent Kirby Kim
A native of Los Angeles, California, Kirby moved to New York in the spring of 2004 and got his first job in publishing working for Charlotte Sheedy Literary, then moved on to Vigliano Associates, WME, and is now at Janklow & Nesbit. Kirby represents both literary and commercial authors. When it comes to literary work, he’s alternatively drawn to rich, sweeping stories that try to encompass a time or a place or tightly written, narratively innovative stories that bridge genres. His commercial interests include thriller, horror, speculative and science fiction, young adult, and middle grade. He also represents a range of nonfiction working with leaders and journalists in the areas of science, culture and current affairs as well as pop culture, in particular music and comedy.
Kirby Kim: I think my primary job is to place my writer’s work as a book and then do whatever I can to make that book successful. That includes trying to get a film or television show made, or place stories or articles to help build my writer’s platform and raise their profile. That also includes conveying what I know of the market and not sugarcoating things. What kind of book is it? Where does it best fit? What are you doing that prevents this book from doing what you want and being where you want to be? I think I generally try to give my writer as much information as possible so they can make an informed choice about the directions they take with their writing.
Scribe: If a potential client could do one thing to make the experience of working together even better, what would it be?
KK: Take their own work as far as they can before showing it to me. There are exceptions to this, particularly at idea stage, but in general that saves time and energy.
Scribe: What is your biggest pet peeve when it comes to receiving submissions, reading work, etc.
KK: See #2. You can generally see that in a query and in the manuscript itself. Things not to say: “I just finished this novel”; “This is a cross between [mega-successful book] and [mega-successful book]”; “Dear Ms. Kirby”.
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?
KK: A distinct voice and a unique way of expressing something familiar. And rhythm.
Scribe: If you could give writers one piece of advice, what would it be?
KK: There are things about the craft itself that I think I’ve said before and that have probably already been said a million times. So to say something a little different, here’s some advice for writers after the book deal: be an engaged and supportive member of the writing community, but don’t focus or be too concerned with what your peers are doing or getting. Any book deal is cause for celebration and when that happens it’s easy to take it for granted and start looking around and seeing what’s happening next to you. That’s a compulsion that can be motivating in some but I find generally leads to frustration which in turn stands in the way of someone doing their best 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.
KK: Sometimes you’re not just working on a book, but a cause. That’s not every day for me, and when it all works out it puts a lot of things in perspective. Deadly Spin by Wendell Potter was one of those experiences. Wendell spent decades working in the healthcare industry and left behind a serious salary and a jet-setting lifestyle to blow the whistle on health insurers. He is and will always be a personal hero of mine.