Upcoming Agent Spotlight Interviews & Guest Posts

  • Sheila Fernley Agent Spotlight Interview, Critique Giveaway, and One-Hour Zoom Call on 7/29/2024
  • Erica McGrath Agent Spotlight Interview and Query Critique Giveaway on 8/12/2024
  • Alex Brown Agent Spotlight Interview and Query Critique Giveaway on 9/9/2024
  • Leslie Zampetti Agent Spotlight Interview and Query Critique Giveaway on 10/7/2024

Agent Spotlight & Agent Spotlight Updates

  • Agent Spotlights & Interviews have been updated through the letter "K" as of 3/28/2024 and many have been reviewed by the agents. Look for more information as I find the time to update more agent spotlights.


Today I’m thrilled to have agent Kelly Van Sant here. She is a literary agent at D4EO Literary Agency.

FYI, I’m taking over the agent spotlights from Casey. I will be providing all the same information we’ve shared in the past in an interview format. In addition, one lucky commenter will win a query critique from the agent being interviewed.

Status: 8/15/2020: Kelly is now at kt literary. You can find out more about how to submit to Kelly on the agency website.

Hi Kelly! Thanks so much for joining us.

Thanks so much for having me!

About Kelly:
1. Tell us how you became an agent, how long you’ve been one, and what you’ve been doing as an agent.

I’ve been working in the publishing industry for nearly a decade, which is hard to believe! My career began in earnest at Writers House in New York, where I was able to mentor under some of the best literary agents in the industry and gained significant experience in subrights and permissions. I spent much of my time working directly with authors to get manuscripts submission-ready. I cultivated an eye for compelling, emotionally resonant stories and was able to advise authors on both the big picture and small details that tighten and enrich the plot, making good books even better. From there I moved to Harold Ober Associates, where I worked under the Director of Foreign Rights and learned how to vet contracts and advocate for authors.

Just when exciting things were beginning to happen in my career, I left New York City for love and moved to Minnesota with my husband. I then took advantage of the vibrant Twin Cities literary community and switched to the publishing side of the fence.

At Llewellyn Worldwide I acted as a first set of eyes for the Acquisitions department. I evaluated both new author submissions and manuscripts turned in by established authors, made recommendations to the editorial team, and pitched projects at acquisitions meetings. I was quickly promoted to Contracts Manager across all three imprints, and drafted, negotiated, processed, and tracked all author contracts, and worked closely with our accounting department to generate all advance payments. I then moved to Quarto Publishing Group as their Contracts Administrator, where I oversaw drafting, negotiation, and record retention of all contracts including author contracts, vendor contracts, licensing agreements, and foreign publishing agreements.

In addition to blogging about contracts at the Pub(lishing) Crawl Blog and co-hosting their weekly podcast with S. Jae-Jones (JJ), I started teaching a course at the Loft Literary Center called Before You Sign: Dissecting Publishing Contracts. The purpose of the class is to empower writers to take control of their creative careers through education about publishing contracts. My overwhelmingly positive experiences teaching at the Loft helped me to realize that although I was grateful for the experiences I've had while at publishing houses in recent years, my true passion in the book industry has always been working on behalf of the author. I knew it was time to return to my roots and join a literary agency. When I spoke to Bob Diforio at the beginning of the year it was clear that we were a good fit, and I was thrilled to accept a position as an agent with D4EO.

About the Agency:
2. Share a bit about your agency and what it offers to its authors.

Bob Diforio launched D4EO Literary Agency in 1989 after a long career at New American Library. Today D4EO is a full-service, five-agent literary agency representing authors of a very broad range of commercial fiction and non-fiction for children, young adults, and adults. Books represented by the agency have topped the The New York Times and USA Today bestseller lists and agency authors have received awards that include the Daphne du Maurier Award for Excellence in Mystery/Suspense and the Nero Award.

With over 1,500 published books under contract, the agency has launched the writing careers of more than two hundred authors. The agency is based in Connecticut with associate agents in San Francisco (Pam Howell), Destin, FL (Joyce Holland), New York City (Quressa Robinson) and Minneapolis (Kelly Van Sant).

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 am seeking Middle Grade, Young Adult, and limited women's fiction across all genres, including fantasy, science fiction, adventure, historical, and contemporary. I love character-driven stories with intricate plots, and am always drawn to explorations of friendship and found family. I am especially interested in #ownvoices and inclusive narratives. I've expanded on my interests within each category below.

Middle Grade
I am seeking Upper MG only. Chapter books or early readers are not for me. My ideal middle grade needs to be whimsical, funny, and full of adventure. My tastes lean away from contemporary in this genre, and more toward fantasy, speculative, science-fiction, or magical realism. I like intricate world-building and MCs with gumption. Give me a quest, give me steadfast friendships, give me insightful, magical parallels with the real world, and make me laugh. No books with an educational thrust; I want to have fun!

Young Adult
I dearly love fantasy, science-fiction, speculative, and other magical elements in YA stories. Even better if mixed and matched with other genres. YA historical fantasy? Yes, please. Alternate universes, fictional worlds, your very own hometown with a secret or sinister twist. If the world-building is original and intricate, if you're either dismantling existing tropes or executing them exceptionally well, if your characters are complex and come alive on the page then what are you waiting for? Send me your query.

Let's talk about romance in YA. I prefer romance in my YA to be an undercurrent (even an urgent one) but not the main point. Something needs to be going on in universe and in your characters' lives beyond their love story. Instant love is not for me; I appreciate when characters grow together over the course of a book. Attraction can happen instantly, but intimacy takes time.

I am selective about YA contemporary. A strong voice is vital, and again, I love to see a complex web of relationships beyond just romantic (though romance can be included): especially friendships and family relationships. More often than not you need to break my heart or make me fall head over heels in love with your characters in order for me to be the right agent to rep a contemporary book. But my heart longs to love and be broken! These books above all else must absolutely be character-driven.

4. Is there anything you would be especially excited to see in the genres you are interested in?

I am excited about unique and compelling voices, morally complex characters, and consequences that prompt growth. I always want the characters to be changed by what’s happened to them over the course of a book.

What She Isn’t Looking For:
5. What types of submissions are you not interested in?

I am not currently looking for picture books, early readers or chapter books, graphic novels, short stories, poetry, plays, or screenplays.

Agent Philosophy:
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?

Transparency. I believe that I work for my clients, and they should have access to all of the information regarding the work I do on their behalf. I strive to maintain clear lines of communication so that my clients always know the status of their projects, and where they are in my workload. I always tell authors where I’m submitting their work and when, and will continue to lead with transparency as we move through the publication process.

I believe that books change lives. In my role as a gatekeeper, I am committed to giving access and opportunity to people of color and Native people, disabled and neurodiverse people, LGBTQIA+ , people from underrepresented cultures, religious minorities and other marginalized and oppressed groups. I want to hear from #ownvoices and marginalized writers. And I want to ensure that ALL of my writers are striving to Do No Harm. I want to represent books that are well-researched, that include positive portrayals of a diverse array of people, and that avoid harmful representation. This also applies to being a gatekeeper for the industry, not just a gatekeeper for authors. When I’m ready to hire interns, I’ll be making sure that my calls are open enough to allow remote work and flexible schedules, so that people whose circumstances deny them the ability to get a typical internship in New York have the opportunity to get the work experience that the industry demands.

Editorial Agent:
7. Are you an editorial agent? If so, what is your process like when you’re working with your authors before submitting to editors?

I am definitely an editorial agent and believe strongly in sending out the most polished manuscript possible to editors. The market is competitive, and I think it’s vital these days to go out with your very best work.

When editing for a client I go through the manuscript and insert comments into the margins. I do some light line editing, but the bulk of my commentary is big picture stuff. I like to ask a lot of questions, point out inconsistencies, and highlight areas of the manuscript that either need to be fleshed out or cut down. While I’m doing this critical read-through and inserting comments for the author, I also keep a pad of paper on hand and jot down notes for myself. These notes become the bones of the editorial letter that I write. I usually break my edit letters into sections, focusing on big picture elements like plot, character development, and structure. In addition to pointing out the weaknesses of a manuscript, I also use edit letters to really gush about the things I love. Reading a manuscript through a second time, with a close, critical eye for edits reminds me why I fell in love with the book in the first place.

I like to give my authors a couple of days to absorb my notes before we discuss revisions. Even if the edits are light, it can still be overwhelming to receive an onslaught of feedback, and I think that giving authors a few days to read through both the letter and the notes in the manuscript and sit with everything helps bring defenses down and let the creative juices start flowing. I like to schedule a call for a few days out so we can talk through everything together and determine how to proceed.

Although I feel confident that the suggestions I make will lead to a better book, I always make sure my clients know that they retain creative control over their work. It’s not my book—it’s theirs. And if I make a suggestion that doesn’t ring true to them I always want them to be comfortable telling me so. We’ll work together to find another solution that feels right.

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?

I accept email submissions at a dedicated email address: kvs.submissions@gmail.com

Please include a traditional query letter and the first chapter of your novel in the body of the email. I do not open attachments. If you’re new to the query trenches I strongly suggest that you do your research. Writing a successful query letter is hard. It’s an entirely different skillset than that required for writing a novel. But it’s your one chance to make an impression, so don’t waste it.

9. Do you have any specific dislikes in query letters or the first pages submitted to you?

It’s frustrating when queries waste time talking about everything except the story. I’m less interested in the themes of your work and what readers will learn from it than I am about the story: who, what, where, when, how. In terms of first pages, I find that so many writers are starting their story in the wrong place. Getting this right is crucial if you want me to be interested enough to read more.

Response Time:
10. What’s your response time to queries and requests for more pages of a manuscript?

I respond to all queries within 4 weeks and full manuscripts within 12 weeks.

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?

Yes! In fact, the first client I signed previously self-published a YA series. But she queried me with new work, and that’s the number one thing I’d advise self-published or authors published by small presses to do: query with new work. Don’t try to land an agent with a previously published book. Additionally, think seriously about why you want to make the switch from self-publishing to traditional publishing, and why you want an agent. I always ask those questions when on calls with previously published authors I’m interested in representing, so be prepared to answer then.

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?

I’m sure the responsibilities of agents will evolve with the industry at large, although I’m not sure what that might look like. Ultimate an agent is the author’s advocate, and in that respect I always see a place for agents within the publishing industry. What we’re advocating for or what methods we use may change, but we are always going to be working on behalf of authors, to ensure that they make sound business decisions, achieve career stability, and retain the maximum amount of creative control possible over their work.

13. Who are some of the authors you represent?

I’m getting ready to go out on submission with some amazing projects and I hope to be able to announce sales soon! In the meantime, you can find spotlights on each of my clients on my blog: penandparsley.com

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.

Honestly, I think the best way for writers to get to know me is to listen to episodes of the PubCrawl Podcast. . JJ and I have been friends for many, many years, so our conversations are casual and probably give an accurate glimpse into my personality. Beyond just snippets of my personality, listeners of the podcast will find out a lot about the way I work as an agent, the types of things that I’m looking for in queries and manuscripts, and what I love about stories. It’s probably the next best thing to sitting down with me over coffee.

7/8/2022: Agent of the Month at Writing and Illustrating General Information, Part 1, Part 2

Links and Contact Info:
15. Please share how writers should contact you to submit a query and your links on the Web.

Besides the D4EO website, I have a personal site called Pen and Parsley where I blog about all things agenting, including giving monthly query stats. I am also a contributor at Pub(lishing) Crawl where I blog about the publishing industry alongside a group of talented authors and publishing professionals. And of course, I’m on twitter and instagram: @bookishchick

Additional Advice:
16. Is there any other advice you’d like to share with aspiring authors that we haven’t covered?

Publishing is a long game, so settle in. Find your community, do your research, read widely, and have something to work on.

Thanks for sharing all your advice, Kelly.

Kelly is generously offering a query critique to one lucky winner. To enter, all you need to do is be a follower (just click the follower button if you're not a follower) and leave a comment through July 8th. If your e-mail is not on your Google Profile, you must leave it in the comments to enter either 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.

Profile Details:
Last updated: 8/15/2020.
Agent Contacted for Review? Yes.
Last Reviewed By Agent: N/A

Have any experience with this agent? See something that needs updating? Please leave a comment or e-mail me at natalieiaguirre7@gmail.com

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.


S.P. Bowers said...

Nice to meet you Ms. Van Sant! I enjoyed getting to know about your agency.

Don't put me in for the query critique.

Unknown said...

Awesome interview! I posted this giveaway/interview in my twitter feed and would like to participate in the query critique giveaway. My email is moniquesanchiz@gmail.com

Patchi said...

What a wonderful interview! I'm a follower of the Pub(lishing) Crawl Blog, so I was familiar with Ms. Van Sant's insights. But this was the first time I've seen her interests and agenting philosophy described. Thanks, Natalie, for the interview and the chance to win a query critique.

mshatch said...

Very nice interview and I would LOVE a query critique.

Crystal Collier said...

Nice to meet Kelly. She sounds fabulous. If I was in the market for an agent right now, she'd be on the list for sure.

dglee said...

Loved the interview. I wouldn't mind a query critique either. :)

Alison said...

Great interview! I've mentioned this on Twitter (and shared with my SCBWI critique group). Query critiques are ALWAYS helpful, even as I'm in the hunt new representation. Thanks!

Michael Di Gesu said...

Hi Natalie... Hi Kelly. Terrific interview ladies. I certainly learned so much about you, Kelly. You are a woman who know what she wants and isn't afraid to go for it. You have an amazing variety of work accomplished, and it is so interesting that you have worked in all aspects of publishing. All agents should be that savvy.

Thanks so much for doing the query critique.

And, THANKS Natalie for featuring Kelly today. I will twitter about the contest. It is an amazing opportunity for some one.

Susan Thumm Paxton said...

Kelly sounds like a great agent. I love what she says about her editorial process. Would love to win a critique!

L. Diane Wolfe said...

She's gained a lot of diverse experience. It's wonderful she can work for an agency there in Minnesota.

I love the query letters that tell me about the book without an actual synopsis. LOL It's sad how few writers even know how to write a proper query letter.

Stephanie Faris said...

That's awesome. I have an agent already, but good luck to all the commenters. There are a lot of writers who write in the area of her specialty, though, so I know this is a great opportunity!

Abigail said...

Kelly, what an interesting career path! I love that your blog is Pen and Parsley. :)

I'm embarrassed to say I couldn't find the "follow" button for the blog. o.0 I'll keep trying, though.

Abigail said...

I think I figured it out. :)

Angie Dickinson said...

Kelly sounds like an awesome agent, I really appreciated the thorough responses in this interview! I would love a query critique. I've tweeted the interview :)

Natalie Aguirre said...

It's on the right sidebar, but you can follow by however else you follow blogs like e-mail, etc.

MeganC said...

Very impressive, thorough interview. It was fun to check out her blog and see all the query stats. I'm not sure if that was encouraging or not to see how many queries agents get on paper. I would love to win a query critique with what looks like a great agent.

Unknown said...

Kelly's blog is terrific! Thanks for this chance at a critique!

Bonni Goldberg said...

I wish that there wasn't so much emphasis placed on the query letter, especially beacuse --as Kelly points out-- writing one is a different skill set. Thankfully, LR and others offer these opportunities for critique by the experts!

Rosi said...

Thanks for another rich and interesting interview. Thanks also for a chance to win a query critique. That would be really helpful for me.

Gifford MacShane said...

Another very informative agent interview. I'd love a chance for the query review.

giffmacshane (at) gmail (dot) com

Shanah Salter said...

Another great and informative interview. I'd love the chance for a query review. I have shared this on twitter.

Julie Abe said...

Thanks for the great interview, Kelly and Natalie!

caroline yu said...

I would love to be entered in the query critique giveaway contest and have mentioned it on facebook. Thanks! My email is c.roberts.yu@gmaildotcom.

Melodie Wright said...

Sharing on Twitter - thanks for offering the query critique, Kelly and Natalie!

Unknown said...

I'd love the chance for a query review. monicachess26(@)gmail(.)com

Beverly Stowe McClure said...

Interesting interview. It's nice to know the kinds of stories Kelly is looking for. Thanks.

BranwenOShea said...

What a great interview. I love the idea of waiting a few days after the author receives feedback before discussing it.

Patricia T. said...

Wow, Kelly sounds like an author's dream agent. She really cares about her clients and promoting their work. Very interesting interview!

Unknown said...

Love the chance for a query review!


Jill said...

Please enter me for the critique -- thanks! I also tweeted about this post.

K. said...

Thanks for the great interview and the chance to win a critique! :)

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said...

Great interview. I so appreciate when agents take the time to do this. And thank you very much for the query giveaway, sign me up, please!
My email address is thessolaknight at g-mail and I followed under that address.