Today I’m thrilled to have agent Katherine Wessbecher here. She is a literary agent at Bradford Literary Agency.
Hi Katherine! Thanks so much for joining us.
1. Tell us how you became an agent, how long you’ve been one, and what you’ve been doing as an agent.
I joined Bradford as an agent in 2020 (right before the pandemic!), but I’ve been working in publishing since 2011, and was formerly on the other side of the desk as an editor at Putnam (an imprint of Penguin Young Readers) where I worked with authors such as Sherri L. Smith, Keir Graff, and Maggie Hall.
When I left NYC a few years ago I wasn’t sure whether I’d find my way back to the world of book publishing, but found that I missed it: the thrill of getting swept up by an amazing story in my submissions pile, collaborating with authors to hone their writing, working behind the scenes to champion books to the people who could help get them in the hands of readers. I was fortunate to get plugged into the vibrant agenting community in San Diego when we moved here, and now have the privilege of being part of the Bradford team and partnering with talented authors and illustrators across genres.
About the Agency:
2. Share a bit about your agency and what it offers to its authors.
Bradford Literary Agency was founded by Laura Bradford in 2001. Bradford’s philosophy is to form lasting partnerships with authors that extend from writing the first draft through the length of the author’s career. We don’t just sell clients’ books to publishers but come alongside our authors as listeners, advisors, troubleshooters, and advocates.
As a boutique agency, we’re a flexible and collaborative group! We share resources and wisdom (and submissions when we come across projects that feel like a better fit for a colleague). We also partner with the intrepid Taryn Fagerness who handles foreign subrights for our clients.
What She’s Looking For:
3. What age groups do you represent—picture books, MG, and/or YA? What genres do you represent and what are you looking for in submissions for these genres?
I work with children’s authors and author-illustrators across the board (PB, MG, YA, graphic novel), and adult too! My genre interests are pretty broad—I’m a history geek, so I have a soft spot in my heart for historical fiction; fantasy was my favorite genre as a kid, so I’m constantly on the hunt for the next generation of fantasy and speculative writers. But I’m hungry for nonfiction, contemporary, magic, and everything in between.
The best way to narrow it down would be to say I’m looking for fresh, distinctive voices, for writing that surprises me somehow—this is probably not as helpful for queriers, but I know it when I see it.
4. Is there anything you would be especially excited to seeing in the genres you are interested in?
I was obsessed with the Dear America series as a kid (anyone else?) and I’ve been an epistolary novel enthusiast ever since. Pretty much any story that plays with format and unexpected narrative techniques—I want to see that. I’m also a fan of stories that blur the line between genres, or that tell stories the history books left out.
Also: humor! I’m an absolute sucker for a well-executed funny voice. I loved the dark comedy I, Tonya and would love to find stories that encapsulate that odd blend of subversive and over-the-top ridiculous. Insert humor into any of the above genres and I’m going to be intrigued (a.k.a. comedic, revisionist history in the vein of My Lady Jane or a goofy STEM picture book like I’m Trying to Love Spiders).
What She Isn’t Looking For:
5. What types of submissions are you not interested in?
In the picture book realm, I’m not the best fit for rhyming texts and I generally prefer shorter word counts. I like story/character-driven texts over concept-driven ones. Familiar genres like bedtime stories, picture book biographies, etc. really need to break the mold in some way for me to be able to take them on. (But please send your weird and/or nontraditional biographies my way!)
More generally, I would also say that I’m probably not the best fit for projects where the moral or the message overshadows the story and characters.
6. What is your philosophy as an agent both in terms of the authors you want to work with and the books you want to represent?
My story probably isn’t so different from a lot of those who write or work with children’s books: I was a voracious reader growing up, and I’m on a mission to turn more kids into voracious readers. I truly believe a lifelong love of reading is most often forged in childhood, and I’m forever chasing that high from the books swept me up when I was twelve, the ones kept me awake reading until 3am on a school night.
I hope to play a small part in cultivating the next generation of lifelong readers by championing books that cultivate empathy, awaken curiosity, challenge preconceptions, and offer an escape (from lame homework or boring summer vacations—just kidding). I’m looking for authors who share those goals.
7. Are you an editorial agent? If so, what is your process like when you’re working with your authors before submitting to editors?
Obviously, my number one goal is to help my clients find editors who will be that editorial partner to help them fully realize the story. So I don’t want to get in the way of that special editor-author relationship! But before we go out on submission, clients can expect to do a round (or more) of revision with me to give their project the best possible shot at finding a publisher.
Before offering representation, I always like to hop on the phone with prospective clients to gauge their openness to revisions, and go over some of my revision ideas to make sure we’re on roughly the same page.
Query Methods and Submission Guidelines: (Always verify before submitting)
8. How should authors query you and what do you want to see with the query letter?
Ideally, your query letter will quickly give me a sense of the flavorof your project. The online form I use breaks out a lot of the key information into separate fields (e.g. word count, your publishing history, etc), but if this information is also incorporated in your query letter, that’s totally fine.
Most importantly, the query letter needs to tell me: what’s the hook of this story? How will it make me feel? Feel free to use books, movies, and pop culture as a kind of shorthand here (“my MG novel combines the family dynamics of The Incredibles with the tragic irony of A Series of Unfortunate Events…”)
At the end of the day, it comes down to the pages. At any given time, I have several hundred queries in my inbox, so I’m not just looking for “flawless” query letters; I’m looking for pages that feel truly fresh and exceptional.
9. Do you have any specific dislikes in query letters or the first pages submitted to you?
Not really! My number one advice: send me your very best work. Ask yourself: if I were browsing in the bookstore, would this excerpt make me want to keep reading? Does my query letter give the reader an accurate and enticing sense of what to expect from the story?
Also - the Query Shark blog (https://queryshark.blogspot.com) is a helpful (slash funny, if blunt) resource for writers looking for query letter tips.
10. What’s your response time to queries and requests for more pages of a manuscript?
Getting responses out within 8 weeks is my goal, but sometimes life gets in the way, and I’m always grateful for a querier’s patience! You can expect a response from me even if it’s a pass.
Self-Published and Small Press Authors:
11. Are you open to representing authors who have self-published or been published by smaller presses? What advice do you have for them if they want to try to find an agent to represent them?
Certainly! With small press– or self-published books, unless we’re talking mega-huge sales, the number of copies sold isn’t going to be persuasive (or discouraging) to an agent. Also, I wouldn’t recommend querying agents with, say, book 2 or 3 of a series where the first installment is already published. And please don’t query me with already-self-published projects. You really need to be going out with something new.
12. With all the changes in publishing—self-publishing, hybrid authors, more small publishers—do you see the role of agents changing at all? Why?
One thing is certain—between consolidations, new publishers, and the ongoing digital revolution, publishing isn’t getting any simpler. Authors have many options and paths to publication that don’t require a traditional publishing deal.
But in my opinion, for authors looking to be traditionally published, agents are as vital as ever in navigating this complicated world—the book deal and beyond. There are a few independent publishers that accept unsolicited submissions but if your goal is to work with a traditional publisher, your best bet is still going to be finding an agent first.
13. Who are some of the authors you represent?
I’m new enough to agenting that my clients’ books aren’t out yet, but they are all stars! The Bradford website has an up-to-date list.
Interviews and Guest Posts:
14. Please share the links to any interviews and guest posts you think would be helpful to writers interested in querying you.
You can read an interview and first pages critique at Kathy Temean’s blog: https://kathytemean.wordpress.com/2020/06/12/agent-of-the-month-interview-part-one/
If you want to see even more of what my thought process is like when I evaluate first pages, check out the Authoress—I was a Secret Agent on the blog in August 2020: http://misssnarksfirstvictim.blogspot.com/2020/08/secret-agent-unveiled.html
Links and Contact Info:
15. Please share how writers should contact you to submit a query and your links on the Web.
I take queries exclusively via Querymanager (please don’t query me via email). Check out my profile on the agency website for instructions: https://bradfordlit.com/about/katherine-wessbecher/
More details about what I’m looking for can be found at my manuscript wish list profile: https://www.manuscriptwishlist.com/mswl-post/katherine-wessbecher/
Finally, I tweet (rarely) @KatWessbecher, and you can find news about all of Bradford’s team @Bradford_Agents.
16. Is there any other advice you’d like to share with aspiring authors that we haven’t covered?
Write because you love it! At the end of the day, you don’t have to have a book deal with a traditional publisher to be a writer. And find your community—whether online or IRL—the people you can meet up with to write and critique each others’ writing. Writing and querying can be lonely work, but having friends in the trenches can help keep you sane (and make you a better writer) in the process.
Thanks for sharing all your advice, Katherine.
Katherine is generously offering a query critique to one lucky winner. To enter, all you need to do is be a follower (via the follower gadget, email, or bloglovin’ on the right sidebar) and leave a comment through June 19th. FYI Katherine will not contact you until sometime the first two weeks of July because she will be out-of-town the end of June. If your e-mail is not on your Google Profile, you must leave it in the comments to enter the contest. If you do not want to enter the contest, that's okay. Just let me know in the comments.
If you mention this contest on Twitter, Facebook, or your blog, mention this in the comments and I'll give you an extra entry. This is an international giveaway.
Have any experience with this agent? See something that needs updating? Please leave a comment or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Note: These agent profiles and interviews presently focus on agents who accept children's fiction. Please take the time to verify anything you might use here before querying an agent. The information found here is subject to change.