Friday, June 25, 2010

Freestyle Friday: Interview With Literary Agent Kathleen Ortiz!

 Today on the Oasis we have the pleasure of our guest agent Kathleen Ortiz! 
Kathleen Ortiz began her career in publishing at Ballinger Publishing as an editorial assistant and interactive media designer for the young adult section, working to boost the magazine’s online presence through social networking. She then moved on to as online editor for the features, art & entertainment sections. She has also taught high school classes as a visual media instructor.

Kathleen is currently Associate Agent and Foreign Rights Manager at Lowenstein Associates. She is seeking children's books (chapter, middle grade, and young adult) and young adult non-fiction. While Kathleen enjoys everything from light-hearted and humorous to dark and edgy, she'd love to find an amazing romance from a male point of view or a steampunk with fantastic world building.

Lowenstein Associates believes with the continued demand for online marketing in publishing, a strong online platform is essential for today's authors. Kathleen uses her background in interactive media design to assist Lowenstein Associates’ clients with branding themselves. She maintains a blog on tips for querying and publishing at Neverending Page Turner and may also be found on Twitter.

How did you become an agent?

I was the one who knew exactly what she would do with her life since age four. I was going to be a veterinarian and work with marine mammals. ::strikes superman pose:: I worked at a veterinary clinic for six years (through college), moved up from secretary to assistant nurse to surgery nurse, attended a special high school magnet program for pre-veterinary students, took pre-veterinary courses at the local college while I was a senior in high school and skipped off to college to work toward my pre-veterinary B.S. I even volunteered regularly for the Clearwater Marine Aquarium in Florida in their food prep, sea turtle show (I was the girl who stood in the tank giving facts to the audience) and even got to work with an adorable dolphin named Nicholas.

I was convinced that was my track (did I mention since age four?) and did everything to gain experience. Then I had the most amazing composition teacher freshman year of college who flat out told me, “If you don’t go into some field of publishing, it’ll be a waste of talent.” I had always loved reading (I was the kid who always had a book in my purse) and editing (friends put up with a lot of my spelling corrections senior year), so I took some English electives, hated them (that whole poetry/classics thing? Not really for me) and thought she was crazy. She sent me to the journalism building to prove me wrong. I talked to the dean, signed up for some magazine/newspaper publishing electives and poof! I was in love.

Just like with veterinary medicine, I wanted to gain experience in publishing. In four years I worked (simultaneously, for the most part) as an online editor for’s arts/entertainment section (claim to fame: I interviewed Joss Whedon ::fist pump::), an editorial assistant in charge of the teen section of Ballinger Publishing, a tutor (and co-creator of the online portion) for our university’s writing lab, a writer for Get ‘Em Magazine, a resume/cover letter critiquer, and a writer for our university’s paper.

After that I moved back to my hometown, got my own place and started teaching. I knew I wanted to work in publishing, but I really wanted to take a few more classes on interactive media design before I broke into the book publishing industry. I had the most amazing mentors in college who told me flat out “in five years you’re going to be grateful you did this. You won’t have the time if you work now in the business so take a year or two, brush up on your interactive and online skills and then go for it.”

Best. Advice. Ever.

I taught high school for a couple of years (English, Web Design, Yearbook, TV Production, list goes on), LOVED my students, but had to keep true to my goal.

Applied for grad school and some internships. I landed two internships with the amazing Caren Johnson Literary Agency and Nancy Coffey Literary & Media Representation. Moved to NYC, worked my butt off at the internships and prepared for the new semester. Applied for a lot of jobs and was called in for three interviews. Got the job with Lowenstein Associates and am now Foreign Rights Manager and Associate Agent.

I think the most fascinating part, to me at least, is that every single job I had since high school has helped lead me to where I am today. Even working at a veterinary clinic helped, because I used to be an incredibly shy person and it forced me to interact with a variety of people on a daily basis. Agenting is a lot easier when you’re not shy :) 

Tell us about a recent project you’ve sold.

I’m a new agent (started signing clients in November 2009), so all of my projects are currently on submission.
Note from the Oasis: That’s great for the aspiring authors out there then.  New agents, mean good opportunities, folks. 

Are there any books coming out that have you excited?

There are three main books I’m super excited to see when they’re finally on the shelves:  MOCKINGJAY for sure – who ISN’T excited about that release? J ; THE DUFF by Kody Keplinger (I have my signed copy!  ::snuggles::); and DELUSIONS OF GENDER by Cordelia Fine, which is a book our agency represents.  She’s brilliant, and it’s non-fiction, but it delves into how it’s society, not science, that causes the difference between men and women.  Very smart book with good info to ponder.

What are you looking for right now when tackling the slush pile?

I'm currently looking for children's books, specifically young adult, middle grade and chapter books. I'm open to both fiction and non-fiction. While I enjoy a variety of genres, I'd especially love for one of the following to cross my desk:
Young adult: I tend to skew toward darker/edgy YA. I'd love to see a romance from a male POV. I'm all about voice and an authentic teen voice. I'd pretty much do a happy dance if an awesome thriller were to come by - especially if it's creepy enough to keep me up at night, afraid to turn out the lights.*
Middle grade / Chapter books: I'm a sucker for light-hearted, funny or adventure. Family/sibling relationships (think RAMONA) or slightly serious (think MANIAC MAGEE).*
Non-fiction: Something different than what's already out there. Not really into "how to find the perfect guy" or "how to apply makeup" or "100 awesome things of being a teen." Anything with technology thrown in is a bonus. You must have a strong platform or be considered an expert in your field for me to consider a non-fiction project.*
*Note that these are just items I'm really hoping cross my desk. I have a variety of tastes, so if you're unsure if it's something for me, feel free to query me anyway (be sure, however, it's a children's book). 

What are you sick of seeing in queries that come across your desk?

I’m not really sick of any genres, specifically. If there’s a unique twist, strong writing and captivating plot, then I’m sold; however, there are a few items in queries I’m seeing a lot of that are just not professional.
·      You don’t follow submission guidelines: if you e-mail me a query instead of filling out that form we require, you’re getting deleted. I get at least five a day, and it just makes me shake my head because there isn’t a web site out there that says “e-mail me your query!” (and if you find one, let me know).
·       You query me with a genre I don’t represent: it really amazes me how many screenplay and picture book queries I get. I don’t represent either of those and I’m not looking for either of them. Do you want an agent to take on your work if they’re not only not passionate about your genre but also completely out of the loop on the world of your genre? If an agent says “middle grade, only,” then it means their connections are in that age range only. They probably don’t have editor contacts or know what the market is for your non-fiction historical proposal. Go for agents who represent what you write – you want them to not only like it but also be up-to-date on what’s going on.
·       Calling me “sir.” Last I checked, I’m female. I’m quite VERY certain there’s no question to that. If the fact that “Kathleen” is a female name doesn’t tip you off, at least do your research. Check out my blog, Twitter, Publisher’s Marketplace page or agency’s web site. All pronouns about me are “she.”

Seriously, though, while I know the “Dear Sir” isn’t meant as an insult, it’s a red flag you were too lazy to type in my first or last name. I’m not looking for lazy clients. I want hard-working, I’m-gonna-do-my-research, passionate clients who want to reach their publishing goals. If you’re not willing to start at the query stage, then I’m not the agent for you. 

Name three things that make you stop reading every time they crop up in a submission.

Wrong audience: writing a YA in an MG voice or vice versa. It shows me that not only are you confused about who your audience is, but you’re also not very well read in that age group.

Unoriginal beginning: tons of backstory, waking up from a dream, looking at yourself in a mirror are all ways to open a story that have been done time and time again. While I’m not saying it’ll *never* work, I am saying that I much rather you be creative and unique with the way you open your story.

Too much telling, not enough showing.

How do you know when you’ve got “the one” sitting in front of you?

When I want to forget about everything else on my to-do list so I can finish reading it right then and there. If you trigger some form of emotional reaction from me then it’s an extra bonus – my clients’ manuscripts have made me laugh out loud on the subway (scared the woman next to me), shut my laptop from being angry at the plot – then rushed to open it again so I could finish reading, and actually made me cry just a little.

Will you be at any upcoming writers’ conferences where writers can meet and pitch you?

I’ll be at the Rutger’s University Council on Children’s Literature on October 16; the Backspace Writers’ Conference in NYC on November 11 and 12 (I’ll be teaching a 2 hour course the evening of the 11th); and the Missouri Writers Guild Conference April 8-10 in St. Louis (I’ll be teaching a 3 hour course).

Do you have any advice on how writers can maximize their success in this changing industry?

If this is what you want, don’t stop practicing your craft and gaining experience. Conferences, critique groups (sometimes), even Twitter chats like #kidtlitchat and #yalitchat can be SO much help when you’re starting out. Use all the tools available to you to help improve your craft. 
However, take care to always remember that this is a very subjective business. Opinions vary widely so seek advice/tips from a variety of credible resources.  
I think, for a writer, social media is a huge advantage. Too many writers focus on “must build my audience!”, which is important but not necessarily the first thing you should go for – especially if you haven’t landed an agent or sold your book, yet. Social media is great for networking with others who are in the same boat you are and also who can become a support system for you. 
If you find your normal writing process interrupted by the need to Tweet, blog, check a discussion board obsessively or Google random, non-writing related things, then either give your Ethernet cord to someone to hide (if it’s a desktop) or ask someone to lock the wifi function on your laptop. It’s good to network and connect, but if it affects your job (writing), then it’s doing you a disservice.  Reading all the blogs and Tweets in the world on how to get published won’t help you if you’re not actually writing something to publish. 

What is something about you writers would be surprised to hear?

I’ve been the same height since 5th grade J

Best piece(s) of advice we haven’t talked about yet?

Critique groups aren’t always a good support team. It takes people you trust, people who are well read in your genre, and people who are going to give you the most transparent feedback possible to be an effective team. However, they must be willing to receive the same type of constructive criticism; if they can’t take it, they shouldn’t be dishing it.

How hands-on are you in terms of editing? How much input do you expect to have with your clients’ work?

I've never signed, or seen for that matter, an MS that is ready to go from the start. I don't believe a manuscript like that will ever cross my inbox, and that's ok. It's a really subjective business and even if it's something as minor as a few comma issues, everyone's going to read it differently and have input. 
Short answer: yes. I edit. 

Best way for writers to submit to you? 

Go to and click on my name. There’s a form at the bottom of the page. You may submit via USPS, but I prefer electronic queries. Please do not query me directly via my email address.

Bonus Question: If you could live any where in the world(ie your Oasis), where would it be?

Ireland. I have some amazing family members who live there; I love the rich history; I love the weather; I love the open spaces; and I love the food!


  1. What a wonderful interview (and blog!)

    I, too, was a veterinarian since childhood. Until the day someone walked out of the office with an empty collar, crying. My empathetic soul would never have survived. And I also quit growing early, but only externally!

    New reasons to love the T-Rex!

  2. I seriously <3 Kathleen, and if I wasn't under representation, I'd throw myself at her feet.

    Thanks for being here, Kathleen!

  3. Loved this interview & how even trying to be a marine biologist led her to where she is today. Her clients are lucky to have her!

  4. I'm with AE. Kathleen is awesome. I pitched an unfinished book to her little over a month ago (SORRY KATHLEEN) and I swear her enthusiasm is what prompted me to finish it so quickly. It went to the agent who I was already working with in the end, but I would've been just as thrilled had things gone the other way.

    Good luck with your submissions, Kathleen!


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