Children's & Fantasy/Sci-Fi Books

Interview with literary agent Kathleen Rushall


Kathleen Rushall is a agent with the Marsal Lyon Literary Agency. She represents writers for all age groups of children’s literature, including picture books (fiction and non-fiction), middle grade, and young adult novels. Kathleen also represents new adult, women’s fiction, and romance projects.


What types of books especially interest you?

First of all—thanks so much for having me on your blog! I’m excited about this interview and really appreciate the opportunity.

I represent children’s literature across all age groups: picture books, middle grade, and young adult.

I’m most interested in books that make me feel something. Whether it’s heart wrenching or something so funny that it makes me chuckle even when I think back on certain passages.

Books make me feel when I care about the characters. I’m especially interested in books with a strong voice, with characters you wish would crawl out of the pages and live in your world (although this doesn’t have to come across as creepy as I’m describing it here…).

In short, I could love a book if it takes place on the western prairie in 1850 or on a space shuttle in the future as long as I care about the characters.

I represent both commercial and literary novels, but character development and voice are always key.

Henry: Note to self: write a picture book about a space shuttle landing in a 1850 Kansas prairie.

How did you become a literary agent?

I found my first internship at the Sandra Dijkstra Agency while I was working on my master’s in children’s literature. That internship hooked me.

Previous to that I wasn’t familiar with what an agent did. Finding out what role an agent plays in the publishing process was thrilling. I admired the merge of the business side with the creative, and knew I wanted to become an advocate for new voices.

From there I went on to work as an assistant (and wear many hats) at another agency, Waterside Productions, and years later I was able to begin taking on my own projects. I joined Marsal Lyon Literary Agency in 2011.

Do you have any strange rituals that you observe when you work?

If a bucket of coffee and two big dogs under you desk count, then yes.

Henry: Sounds good to me. Just don’t let anyone challenge you to dump the bucket of coffee on your head. Even to raise funds for ALS.

If you could have one superpower, what would it be?

Literary Osmosis. For ALL the reasons.

Henry: A nice twist on the more commonly phrased answer, the ability to stop time.

What advice would you offer to writers hoping to become traditionally published?

Read everything you can get your hands on in the genre that you write. Be an avid reader and know your audience and your market as well as your craft.

Remember that as hard as it is to work through, rejection is a natural part of the process. Every book on shelves today has been rejected at some point. Sometimes it’s nice to remember that everyone’s been through it.

This business is subjective. Every agent has turned down a project because it didn’t feel like the right fit for her or him, but many of those “rejections” do go on to sell, and sell well. Remember that a rejection doesn’t necessarily mean the agent didn’t think the project is in good enough shape or isn’t right for the market. We reject simply because it might not be right for us. Those two reasons are not mutually exclusive.

You may have received a rejection and begin to doubt yourself but you actually have an amazing project on your hands. It’s simply still on its way to finding the right agent or editor—This is a subjective business built on opinion and taste and vision. Just because one agent might not have the right eye for your book doesn’t mean another won’t. Keep in mind that it only takes one “yes”. In short, don’t give up.

Henry: Great advice. Remember, a lion is the product of all the zebras it’s eaten. And many great books were repeatedly rejected. Drew Daywalt told me that his agent took six years to sell the New York Times bestselling picture book, THE DAY THE CRAYONS QUIT.

Do you read for pleasure, or does reading submissions wear out your reading muscle?

I do! I sometimes don’t know how I have the time to, but I do read and I think it’s very important to read for pleasure. I need to know what’s on shelves and what’s working in the current market. Also, I entered this profession because of my love for reading, so it wouldn’t make sense to me to pursue agenting if I sacrificed the original passion that led me here.

I read a variety of books for fun: from middle grade and YA to romance, new adult, and women’s fiction. I particularly love historical women’s fiction and have recently read some really great YA.

I just finished FAKING NORMAL by Courtney Stevens and enjoyed the voice and larger-than-life supportive relationship in that one. I absolutely loved THE WINNER’S CURSE by Marie Rutkoski. I savored the writing and admired that it portrayed a cunning calculating heroine with her own moral code vs. society’s. (Actually, it put me in mind of Lyra from the HIS DARK MATERIALS books, which are also some of my favorites).

ELEANOR AND PARK by Rainbow Rowell might be my favorite book I’ve read in the last year (I don’t care what anyone says, that one will always have my heart over FANGIRL, although that’s also amazing). SEX AND VIOLENCE by Carrie Mesrobian was incredible with a killer voice. ROSE UNDER FIRE by Elizabeth Wein really got to me—that is a powerful book.

For the younger set, I recently read and loved SPARKY! By Jenny Offill (I am a sucker for sloths…who isn’t?), FLORA & ULYSSES by Kate DiCamillo, and UNDER THE EGG by Laura Marx Fitzgerald (Ah, the sly humor in this one makes it!).

Henry: No one can resist sloths. I wrote an easy reader about a mechanically inclined sloth, Twignibble, who travels the world helping his endangered animal friends. 

If you could have three authors over for dinner, who would it be?

George R. R. Martin, Francesca Lia Block, and Maurice Sendak.

Henry: Most people know Martin (GAME OF THRONES) and Sendak (WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE). Wikipedia helpfully offers the following:

“Francesca Lia Block is an American writer of adult and young-adult literature: fiction, short stories, screenplays and poetry. She is known best for the WEETZIE BAT series — named after its first installment and her first novel, which she wrote while a UC Berkeley student. She is known for her use of imagery, especially in describing the city of Los Angeles. One New York Times Book Review critic said, “Block writes about the real Los Angeles better than anyone since Raymond Chandler.” She won the Margaret Edwards Award from the American Library Association in 2005 for her contribution in writing for teens.”

What is your favorite creature that exists only in literature?

Other than Martin’s version of a Direwolf (which, let’s be honest, I pretend my dogs are anyway), I adore the way dragons are portrayed in Susan Fletcher’s DRAGON CHRONICLES. I’d love to meet one of those little guys (preferably as a hatchling).

Henry: One of my favorite fictional dogs is Oberon, the Irish Wolfhound from Kevin Hearne’s IRON DRUID series. But remember Tolkien’s advice, “It does not do to leave a live dragon out of your calculations, if you live near him.”

What do you like to do when you’re not working?

Travel, eat, yoga, and spend time with animals and people who make me laugh.

This interview is also posted on the San Diego Children’s Books Examiner.

Click to Tweet: Interview with literary agent Kathleen Rushall at http://wp.me/p31Xf4-KU via @Nimpentoad

Author: Henry Herz

Children's book author

3 thoughts on “Interview with literary agent Kathleen Rushall

  1. Hello to both Henry and Kathleen,

    Thanks for this interview. I especially appreciated Kathleen’s comments about rejections. I’m sure that we all have an idea of what makes a wonderful book. As readers we can discuss and disagree about what constitutes “wonderful.” As authors we just have to find the right readers who love our work.

    I noticed that you, Kathleen, said that you’re an advocate for new voices. Are you interested in older, established (but not famous) voices also?

    Thanks again,

  2. Kathleen, you were SO generous with your meaty, wonderfully informative, entertaining answers! Henry, well—you’re ALways entertaining 🙂 I DO think you’d better get to work on that shuttle/1850s prairie book pronto! 😉 Thanks for this great interview, you two!

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