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Dec 8, 2020

Agent Spotlight Series: Jackie Williams

A warm welcome to associate agent Jackie Williams! Jackie joined The Knight Agency in July of 2020, after working as a Food & Lifestyle Editorial Fellow for Chronicle Books.

She began her career in government, graduating from Johns Hopkins University with a degree in Political Science and Latin American Studies, and subsequently assisted in consumer protection and international trade cases at the Federal Trade Commission. She enrolled at the George Washington School of Law, however realized she preferred the courtrooms of literary fiction to the actual courtroom. 

Jackie reads a broad range of commercial and genre fiction, especially stories with psychological suspense, dark, gritty voices, speculative elements, multi-generational plots, bleak, dystopian themes, and intricate world-building; even better if the stories are set in space. Some of her favorite authors include N.K. Jemisin, Haruki Murakami, Cixin Liu, Greek Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen, Blake Crouch, Daniel JosĂ© Older, Rachel Caine, and Carmen Maria Machado. In non-fiction, she looks for books that expand the reader’s empathy and self-awareness. Books like The Cooking Gene, Maybe You Should Talk to Someone, and When Breath Becomes Air come to mind.  She’s interested in collaborating closely with writers throughout all stages of their careers and bringing more multicultural representation to the publishing landscape. 

Jackie lives in Atlanta with her fiancĂ© and Shih-Tzu mix, Yuna. As a thriller writer, she’s also a member of the female-led, crime-fiction organization, Sisters in Crime (SINC). 

CM: Tell us two truths and one lie about you.
Jackie
- I was a Division III point guard and love all things basketball.
- I used to be on a hip-hop dance team
- I can sing (This is a lie! I couldn’t sing if my life depended on it.)

CM: Any noteworthy publishing trends in science fiction or fantasy in the last five years?
Jackie: Modern fantasy has definitely moved away from Tolkein-esque, medieval fantasy, especially in the last five years. There have been more fantastical cultures, races, and perspectives. Books like Children of Blood and Bone, Jade City, and The Broken Earth trilogy, for example, are beautifully written but also have these spectacularly original and immersive worlds. 

I’d say science fiction has become more accessible. Books like The Expanse and Remembrance of Earth's Past trilogy are expanding the genre, and as technology becomes even more ingrained in our lives, more readers will be interested in exploring the connections between society and technology. 

CM: What areas of the market do you think are oversaturated more recently?
Jackie: Interesting question! I think it's more challenging to stand out in the YA market, particularly YA fantasy nowadays. The concept needs to be super strong and fresh. I've seen a lot of great YA books not get the coverage they deserve, and more recently, editors who have the option of acquiring both YA and adult books shift more towards adult fiction.

CM: An agent-author relationship is all about the people. What attributes do your best client relationships share?
Jackie: For one, our ability to stay curious about the work. As an agent, I find that repeatedly asking 'why' helps me understand what the author is trying to accomplish and influences my actions—how I edit and provide feedback, the editors I engage with to potentially send the manuscript to, etc. Curiosity helps us gain more understanding, and I believe it results in a better outcome. 

Also, being transparent and communicative. I have a background in public policy, an industry that also relies heavily on relationships. From those experiences, I've learned that checking-in frequently, updating your colleagues on your progress, asking questions, and essentially, maintaining an open dialogue gets more things done. That applies to an agent-author partnership as well. 

CM: How hands-on are you in the editing process before you send the manuscript out to publishers?
Jackie: I'm very hands-on. I love supporting the author and creating a dialogue on how to improve the manuscript. 

And every manuscript needs something different. My editorial comments are entirely at the author's discretion, but it's one of the best parts of the job to get creative with the author and figure out the solutions needed for their book. 

CM: How do you pitch books to publishers in a world that requires social distancing?
Jackie: Like the rest of the publishing community, agents have reasonably adapted to the COVID landscape. I request more Zoom meetings and virtual chats. I give editors a bit more time to respond to emails before I check back in. I'll reach out through more unconventional platforms, like Twitter and LinkedIn to see what they’re looking for. 

But it also seems that editors haven't slowed down and are acquiring books at the same rate if not more so than before. So, while more patience is required, not too much has changed, especially for an agent or author.  

CM: Name a book you recently read and can’t stop thinking about.
Jackie: Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

CM: What is a common myth about agents? 
Jackie: A common myth is that agents are looking to reject queries and submissions. Agents don't exist without writers! We want writers to succeed, and with every query we read or pitch we hear, we are eagerly hoping to connect with the writer and their work. 

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Wish List

Genres/sub-genres you’re looking for:
  • Fiction: Book club, Crime, Fantasy, General, Horror, Literary, Mystery, Science Fiction, Thriller, Upmarket, Women’s Fiction, Young Adult
  • Non-fiction: Cookbooks, Crafts/DIY, Humor, Illustrated, Lifestyle, Memoir, Pop Culture, Sports, True Crime
What you’re not interested in:
  • Picture books, Chapter books, Graphic Novels, Short story, Erotica 
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2 Knight Agency Client Examples
Margaret K. McElderry Books - 2021
William Morrow - 2020
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Query Tips

Please provide a couple of tips for querying authors.

Dos:
  • Do highlight what’s interesting about your protagonist. 
  • Do include 10 pages of your work, as per my submission guidelines. 
  • Do address your query to me!
Don'ts:
  • Don’t query multiple agents from The Knight Agency at the same time. 
  • Don’t use generalized language or cliches that can apply to another book. Get specific about what makes your book stand out. 
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Submission Guidelines:
Please submit your query and first ten pages here: