Doing What You Love: Agent Emily Keyes


emily keyes agent feature

Authors are always advised to find the agent that has the right enthusiasm, the right talent and the right skills to promote the books they champion – and Emily Keyes embodies every single criterion.

“I like being a literary agent because I like working in books, and I like to feel like I’m contributing to them,” confided Keyes. “There was definitely a time I thought working in publishing meant I had to read super serious, adult literary books, and that made my soul sad. I wanted to read Tamora Pierce!”

Fortunately, Keyes happened to enter the business at the right time. “This was about the time that Twilight was being published, and the young adult market was really expanding. So I feel pretty lucky that I get to work on the kind of books I like.”

Recently, Keyes took another step forward for herself and her clients, joining the talented roster of agents at Foreword Literary. Though relatively new as an agency, Foreword has an amazing client line-up – including Julie Kagawa (Talon) and Alexandra Adornetto (Halo) – and, like Keyes, is eager to grow with changes in the publishing world, and continue to provide the right support and options to its authors.

“I think some agencies were really scared by things like e-books and social media. Foreword is trying to be more nimble, so our clients can thrive in a changing marketplace. So I’m really excited to have my first year with Foreword. I want to keep growing as an agent. I want to know all the things,” said Keyes.

Keyes’ own clientele reflects her enthusiasm for fresh new talent. Amy Zhang will be her first debut in September, with Falling Into Place releasing from Greenwillow. Falling Into Place is a contemporary tale of a girl who attempts suicide, as told from the perspective of her childhood imaginary friend.

In early 2015, Keyes will introduce Katie M. Stout’s Hello, I Love You, releasing from Thomas Dunne/St. Martin’s Press.

“It’s a really fun teen romance about a country music gal who moves to Korea and meets a K-Pop idol. I got to watch K-Pop videos on YouTube to ‘research’ that one!” laughed Keyes.

Keyes is open to queries, and shared details on what she is currently looking for.

“I’m really focused on young adult and middle grade. That’s not the only type of projects I’m looking for, but as I mentioned before, my soul starts to hurt if I read too many grown-up books. I don’t know exactly what I want to see more of, until I see it. I’ve signed up mostly contemporary YA recently. I do love genre stuff as well but lately I haven’t seen that many that stand out in a good way,” said Keyes.

Keyes does note that she is particularly interested in diversity. “I want to see diverse characters, and also, stories we haven’t seen before. All YA is about this shared experience we all have, of growing up. So I think that means you should be able to alter some elements – character, setting, etc. – while still speaking to everyone.”

Unfortunately for supernatural authors, the days of vampires and shape shifters have passed. “I’m pretty much over stories about a girl falling for a sexy insert mythological creature. Or anything that’s been done really successfully already, really. I don’t know why you’d want to write, like, the second best book about teens killing each other on TV. You’d put all that work into it and always be over-shadowed!”

Emily Keyes. Photo credit Ellen Brady Wright.

Emily Keyes. Photo by Ellen Brady Wright; courtesy of Emily Keyes.

When asked about what she thought was the most important thing a person could do while writing a YA novel, Keyes kept it short and sweet.

“When writing the first draft, just get it down. Don’t psych yourself out. And when you’re revising, be detail-oriented.”

She also offered advice for writers in general.

“Be professional. Treat all your queries and e-mails like business correspondence. That’s not to say you have to be stodgy or can’t be creative, but remember, this is a business relationship. If it’s not something you would send to a coworker, then I would rethink.”

For those in the querying trenches, Keyes added, “Follow the submission guidelines, and don’t give up hope. There’s never been a debut novel that didn’t get rejected by some agent or some editor. I’ve certainly rejected authors that went on to sell manuscripts for a lot of money.”

For more information on Emily Keyes and Foreword Literary, visit the agency’s website.

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About Author

Hebah Uddin

Hebah is a 21-year-old Muslim girl who reads a lot of books, writes a lot more, and wears a lot of (figurative) hats. As a result of being raised on a steady diet of foreign films and BBC period dramas, she now likes to think of herself as Charlotte Bronte + one of Akira Kurosawa’s samurai women. She’ll rap your fingers with her katana if you don’t mind your manners - or your grammar.