Agent Day: Insight from Kevan Lyon

Kevan Lyon of the Marsal Lyon Literary Agency was the second agent to speak at the SCBWI Agent Day in Newport Beach. As an agent who is not only represents young adult literature, she also reps adult lit as well and is always looking for young adult books that will breech both genres. The following is her take on the market, what she’s looking for, and insights into the agent/writer relationship.

A Bit about Kevan and Her Client List:

  • Kevan represents authors such as Louanne Johnston (Dangerous Minds, Muchacho), and Margaret Mallory ( Knight of Desire and Knight of Pleasure).
  • Kevan used to work in sales and has worked in a variety of areas including sales for Sam’s Club, Borders, and many other retailers.
  • Kevan has been a literary agent for seven years.
  • Kevan works from home.

What Kevan is Looking For:

  • Kevan only represents young adult novels and adult novels.
  • Young adult books with strong female characters.
  • She does represent middle grade novels, but usually these are books by clients who also write young adult or adult books.
  • Books that can make the jump and be both young adult and adult literature.
  • A great story! A fresh plot and a unique approach.
  • To be swept away and captivated by your submission!
  • I love historical books, I love history. But I have too much historical romance. I would love some historical young adult!
  • Paranormal or fantasy YA or Adult.

Things That Will Make Your Submission Stand Out:

  • Captivate me in the first ten pages!
  • Include action, drama, and emotion.
  • I want to feel the heat, the excitement, or the terror, with the character. Show!  Don’t tell.
  • I want to feel like I am in the character’s brain. I want to feel what they are experiencing with them.
  • I want to call you and interrupt you day because I need to have more pages to find out what will happen next!

What to Avoid with your Submission:

  • The book where I’ve turned sixteen and suddenly I’ve discovered I have powers that I didn’t know I had before. Oh, and look the hot guy at school suddenly notices me because he has these powers too and he’s the only one that understands me.
  • Barbie cheerleaders. In fact, remove the word Barbie from your vocabulary.
  • Dumb football players. Look through your manuscript for the clichés and take them out. Do something different and original! Follow a new instinct.
  • An overly complex “other” world. You may be trying too hard. Don’t make the world too weird. Make it just weird enough. If it’s too complex it can become too hard to follow, or hard for the audience to get involved. I want to feel like I am really there, and everything is really happening.
  • You need a happy ending for your young adult book (in her opinion). If you mention that you don’t have one then that is a red flag.
  • Do your homework on who the agents are that you are querying. Find an agent who will fit your needs.
  • Kevan represents mostly older YA and adult fiction so a character who is 12 or 13 is a red flag for her and could be a problem. On the other end, a 19 or 20 year old for a YA book is great in her opinion.

Queries and Response Time to Submissions:

  • I am behind on my queries! I have about two hundred in my que right now.
  • It will take seven weeks (or so) to respond to you. But be patient. I will respond!
  • If I’m interested I will ask for a partial request.
  • I often read queries at night, so you really need to WOW me because I’m usually tired.
  • I write pitch letters to editors (basically a letter very similar to a query). I spent a few days on this pitch letter. I show it to my friends, the author, etc. and get a lot of feedback on it before sending it out. You should do the same thing.
  • Read back cover copy or jacket flap copy to get a good idea of how to pitch your book.

The Crossover Between Young Adult and Adult Books:

  • Kevan really believes in a powerful young adult novel that will cross over and begin to speak to an adult audience as well. In fact, Kevan is really looking for that in her submissions – someone who can make that jump.
  • Editors are looking for books that can breach both audiences.
  • There is a gray area between YA and Adult Literature. For example her own daughter was obsessed with Jodi Poccult (an adult women’s fiction writer) as a teen.
  • If you are submitting to Kevan she is going to assume there is some sort of crossover potential in your book.

A Bit About the Agent/Client Relationship:

  • Working with a client is a highly collaborative process.
  • Kevan is very editorial, and really likes to give feedback on the work. She works very closely with the author to make sure the book is ready to go.
  • In addition to the book she will also work with the author to put together a pitch packet which will include a biography from the client.
  • She will then call and send a letter to potential editors for the project.
  • Kevan shares her editor submission list with her authors. Some agents don’t do this, but she does. She thinks it is important to know what kind of relationships the client may already have with an editor as well. She shares this list with the client on the honor system that the client will never contact the editor on his/her own.
  • She updates the author as to the passes or if someone wants to make an offer. She often doesn’t share the details of those who say “no” because it is often not productive in any way.
  • It only takes one editor to love it!
  • She contacts the author if they extend, and as they get closer and closer to closing a deal. She shares all deal numbers. It’s a very exciting process!
  • Selling your debut novel doesn’t change your life, like it used to. You shouldn’t quit your day job.
  • After you make a contract things slow down. It will take a year to  one and a half years to get a book on the shelf.

Other Notes of Mention:

  • An agent works off of commission. They will get 15% of everything the author makes. If an agent is charging you a fee, this is not good!
  • An experienced editor has lots of relationships already which can be an asset, however a new and hungry agent will work his/her butt off. So there are pros and cons to each.
  • E-Books and digital rights can be a deal breaker.
  • If you get an offer from another agent and you accept it, please send a courtesy message to the other agents that you have submitted to, so we don’t waste our time. If possible, try and let the other agents know you have an offer before accepting representation.

Kevan Lyon is an agent at the Marsal Lyon Literary Agency. With over 20 years in the publishing business, including 5 years as a Literary Agent with the Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency and 17+ years on the wholesale, retail and distribution side of the business, Kevan Lyon brings an informed and unique perspective to her work with clients. Kevan handles women’s fiction, with an emphasis on commercial women’s fiction, young adult fiction and all genres of romance. Her particular interest is historical fiction of all types. She looks for stories that draw the reader in and loves a sweeping, complex story with strong female characters. You can learn more about her and her tastes at: The Marsal Lyon Literary Agency Website


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3 thoughts on “Agent Day: Insight from Kevan Lyon

  1. Pingback: Great advice from the experts… « CHRISTINE FONSECA, AUTHOR

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