Thursday, November 18, 2010

Kathleen Ortiz

Welcome to another edition of Talk Back Thursdays. Today PoC welcomes Kathleen Ortiz to the series. Kathleen works as the Foreign Rights Manager and Assoicate Agent over at Lowenstein Associates Inc. (Yay! Our first agent!)

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Hello Kathleen, Sit down, pull up a chair. Welcome to Points of Clarification. Thank you for joining us and thank you for taking up the noble mantle of being an agent. Speaking of which, when did you decide that you wanted to be an agent, and how did you get to where you are now?

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 UWirePr.com’s arts/entertainment section (claim to fame: I interviewed Joss Whedon ::first 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 30-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 :)

My parents always told me that if you find something you love to do, you’ll never work a day in your life. While veterinary medicine was something I’d wanted to do since I was four, and even though I loved working with animals (and still do – friends and family still call for medical advice), I just couldn’t see myself doing it forever. It was more of a chore, and I didn’t enjoy it as much as I thought I would. Working in publishing is just amazing for me. I love what I do, and while it has its up’s and down’s like every other job, I can honestly say I can’t see myself working outside of this industry.

You’re a relatively new agent. What do you think are the benefits of being signed by a newer agent?

There are ups and downs to everything. I’m not going to say you should sign with a new agents just because they’re new. I definitely think you need to consider their experience – have they had sufficient time as an intern / assistant to get a feel for the industry and how it works? Have they dealt with contracts? Have they sold other permissions / subrights?

As Foreign Rights/Audio manager here at Lowenstein Associates, I have that experience with allows me to work with my own clients. I have more than 60 foreign sales, a handful of audio sales and close to a hundred permission sales for our clients here at LA. I know what it’s like to negotiate contracts, pitch projects and work with other publishing professionals. Add that with the fact I’m just starting to build my own list and I think it’s a great combination – experience that will help my clients and time available for me to devote to their work. Clients always come first – they should for every agent.

What do you provide for your clients? All agent sell books, but do you prefer a book as close to perfect as possible or are you willing to edit it to within an inch of its life?

I’m definitely an editorial agent. I’ve never seen something cross my inbox that was perfect as is. It doesn’t mean I’m going to work with someone to rewrite the entire manuscript, either.

Are you cool with your clients calling you at 3 am to tell you about a picture of Oprah Winfrey standing in a bookstore and the book by her elbow is so their debut novel?


I have an open communication policy with my clients – while I would obviously prefer they lump their questions together to send to me on a sporadic basis (rather than my phone ringing off the hook every day when they think of something new), I’m here to answer questions / help out if they need it. I prefer email communication, because it’s easiest, but I’ll definitely have a phone call if the situation deems necessary. They know that I’ll always reply within 24-48 hours though my response time is usually much quicker.

However – if their book is in the bookstore next to Oprah Winfrey’s cutout because she loves it, they better not wait until 3 a.m. to call me. They better take a pic with their phone and MMS that to me asap! :)

What kind of query in your inbox would make you so happy that you’d do the Thriller Dance right in the office? What kind of books are you looking for generally?
Genre-wish? A great YA thriller – something that keeps me up late at night or a YA romance from a male POV – something raw, edgy and real. Authentic teen guy voice.

Finish this sentence. “Writers, before you query me, please …”
…include cupcakes.
I’m kidding – seriously if you send me cupcakes, I’ll throw them out. That’s just creepy. But please PLEASE check submission guidelines. PLEASE.

Lastly, Star Trek or Star Wars?
For the win, is Star Wars.

Thank you again for taking time out of your busy schedule to join us here. (You are so on my list, even if you're a Star Wars fan. I’ll be querying in 7.5 years when my MS is ready. It’s the next Harry Potter! )


Looking forward to it! :)
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Also, since I sent this interview, Kathleen sold Jaime Reed's SOUL IMPULSE sold in a 3-book deal. Congrats, Jaime and Kathleen.

8 comments:

Chris Phillips said...

Great interview. I like that Kathleen was able to switch career paths like that. Must have been tough.

Nicole Zoltack said...

Awesome interview. I love Star Wars too. In Star Trek's defense, I never really gave it a chance.

Marsha Sigman said...

First of all, I am Star Trek all the way. I still don't fully understand Star Wars.

But Kathleen sounds awesome and this was a great interview!!!

Janet Reid said...

I'm sure it is your veterinary experience that allows you to swim around in the shark filled waters of my office!

Terrific interview..except for that part about not being serious about the cupcakes.

Marisa Birns said...

Wow, you have had some amazing experiences on your road to publishing!

Enjoyed the interview very much. Yes, I did like Stars Wars, but.. *whispers that she loves Star Trek*

I do have a Jack Russell Terrier and she...oh, never mind, wrong person to ask at moment.

Clarissa Draper said...

No, don't throw the cupcakes away! I'll eat them...

I loved the interview. I learned a lot about the industry, thank you.
CD

Elana Johnson said...

Fabulous interview! Kathleen is an awesome agent!!

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Oh, that was a fantastic read! And Kathleen interviewed Joss Whedon. *green with envy*