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Agent Spotlight: Kate McKean

Agent Spotlight: Kate McKean


Happy Tuesday and welcome back to Picture Book Spotlight!

I say welcome back assuming of course you have previously perused the flowing waters of this serene yet silly corner of the internet. If you are a fellow kidlit warrior in the thick of the query battle, on an epic quest for traditional publication and picture book glory, you're in the right place. Picture Book Spotlight celebrates picture books, their creators, and all who champion them.

We feature author and illustrator interviews. Agent interviews. And basically everything in between. Sometimes there are giveaways. Sometimes there are not. But there is always something relevant to picture books...and hopefully something entertaining along the way. If that sounds like your jam, subscribe here.

On with our Agent Spotlight.

Kate McKean is the Vice President of the Howard Morhaim Literary Agency and is currently accepting picture book submissions. If you haven't queried her yet, consider adding her to your list.

Kate probably doesn't remember this, but I had the privilege of attending her workshop on writing effective query letters at the SCBWI Middle of the Map Conference in Kansas City back in 2016. I asked a dumb question about yetis and if puns were appropriate in queries. I made her laugh. She said some puns are okay...but don't try to be too cute.

Oh, 2016 much you had to learn.

Here's Kate!


The internet, my notebook with my to do lists, a laptop stand (ouch my neck).

What’s something you absolutely must have in your refrigerator or pantry?


Where do you feel most inspired and why?

Walking the streets of Brooklyn and New York. Even when it's crowded, there's still a certain amount of anonymity, and that gives me time and space to think.

HMLA is unique because there's practically nothing we haven't seen. Howard started the agency almost 40 years ago, and publishing has changed so much since then. We've handled it all.

If you aren’t crazy about a particular project and you decide to pass, do you encourage authors and illustrators to resubmit after significant revision? If so, how much time is appropriate before a re-submission?

If I have specific revision thoughts and want to see a project again, I will specifically tell the author that. Otherwise, I don't accept revised submissions. It usually takes a couple months for an author to revise their work, but it varies from project to project.

If authors and illustrators have multiple projects that they want to share with you, what is a respectful amount of time in between submissions?

There isn't a specific time frame here, but I do think it's annoying to get another submission right after sending out a rejection. This doesn't mean it's bad or I'm going to auto-reject another submission. It just means my slush pile never gets smaller and I never get "caught up." :)

I want to read through the text without stumbling over the rhyme or meter. I don't think all picture book must rhyme but I don't want to stumble over words as I'm reading it out loud.

What types of picture books would you like to see more of?


What are some picture book submissions that may be a waste of time for you?

I am not particularly drawn to character-based picture books that purport to be the next big franchise. Write one good book. If it becomes the next Peppa Pig, so be it.

One that explains what happens in the book, over the themes or the reasons why the author wrote it.

Share a few common query mistakes that you see in picture book submissions.

Queries that talk more about how much their kids like the book than what the book is about are not helpful. Of course your kids like it! They like you! But that is not relevant "market research."

Is there a particular query format that seems to appeal to you more than others?

As long as it includes the title and word count, a short summary, and the author bio, then we're good!

Have you edited the book to the best of your ability? Have you considered what you need to explain in the text and what parts of the story can or should be told with illustrations? Have you read many, many other picture books so you understand the mechanics and the market?

What is something upcoming you are excited about or would like to promote? Any travel plans or upcoming conferences that you’ll be attending?

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understands both the writing and the selling of books.

Thank you so much for your time and inside scoop, Kate!

And thank YOU for reading, kidlit fam! If you are a querying author, be sure to check out Kate's Manuscript Wish List and consider her and Howard Morhaim Literary Agency for your next querying venture. Feel free to mention this interview in your query! Happy hunting!

Don't want to miss out on awesome Picture Book Spotlight interviews and giveaway opportunities? Subscribe here to receive email notifications each time we post.

About Kate McKean

Kate McKean joined HMLA in 2006. She earned her master’s degree in fiction writing at the University of Southern Mississippi and began her publishing career at the University Press of Florida. She is proud to work with New York Times best selling authors in a wide variety of genres including Daniel Mallory Ortberg’s TEXTS FROM JANE EYRE, Madeleine Roux’s YA horror series ASYLUM, and Brittany Gibbons’ memoir FAT GIRL WALKING. In addition to working with clients, she is an adjunct professor at New York University.

For adults, she is primarily interested in contemporary women's fiction, literary fiction, historical fiction set in the 20th Century, fantasy, magical realism, and science fiction. For children, she is looking for projects in middle grade and young adult in the areas of horror, romance, LGBTQ issues, contemporary fiction, sports, magical realism, fantasy, and science fiction, as well as picture books of all kinds, especially non-fiction picture books. In non-fiction, for adults or children/teens, she represents books by authors with demonstrable platforms in the areas of pop-culture, memoir, sports, food writing, humor, design, creativity, and craft. She is also interested in graphic novels and memoirs for all ages--adult and children.

She is NOT actively looking for, among other areas not listed above, novellas, poetry, or screenplays.

Kate's Manuscript Wish List

I am hungry for:

Non-fiction for kids. Please send me your biography, history, science, technology, creativity, memoir, or narrative non-fiction for middle grade or YA readers. Please, no gross-out middle grade (i.e. The Best Farts in History, or the like).

Young Social Media Stars: If you are a young adult with a large following online, please reach out.

Graphic Novels: YA especially, but I'm looking for all ages. More love, less war.

Big-idea, big-hook YA. It should be hard to come up with comp titles for your YA, because there's nothing out there like it. I don't want "the next [huge YA novel] because that's already been done. Gimme something new.

Historical YA and MG, especially if it is NOT about WWII or other well-trod areas of historical fiction

Chapter books, especially with girl protagonists. I'm especially interested in chapter books with a strong engine, which means a hook or catalyst in the story that spins off into many storylines, like The Babysitters Club. That set up spawned hundreds of books. I am not looking for one-off chapter books.

Middle grade of all stripes, except wacky, zany, gross out middle grade. If you're writing the MG version of Rick & Morty or Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy I DO NOT want it.

Picture books. I like them funny or heartfelt, but they must have a top notch read-aloud quality.

In all genres, I'm looking for authors from under-represented groups.

In general, I represent authors writing for children in the areas of thriller, horror, romance, LGBTQ issues, contemporary fiction, sports, magical realism, fantasy, and science fiction. In non-fiction, for adults or children/teens, I represent books by authors with demonstrable platforms in the areas of pop-culture, memoir, sports, food writing, humor, design, creativity, and craft.

For adults I am primarily interested in contemporary romance, contemporary women's fiction, literary fiction, historical fiction set in the 20th Century, high fantasy, magical realism, science fiction.

I DO NOT represent thrillers or mysteries for adults. I do not gravitate to stories that feature dragons, vampires, angels/demons, werewolves, cops, lawyers, FBI agents, or amateur sleuths.

I don't like farce or satire in fiction. Give me sincerity over sarcasm.

Fun facts about me:

Contrary to popular misconception, I'm not from Mississippi. I just went to school there for 18 months. I'm from Florida-ish. (We moved around a lot as a kid.)

I love competitive cheerleading.

Submission Guidelines

Please email your query letter and the first three chapters of your novel or your full non-fiction book proposal. Email attachments are acceptable. No snail mail submissions will be considered. You may only query one agent at our agency per project, and please only query one project at a time. Our response time to most queries is 8-12 weeks.

Other interviews featuring Kate McKean


Brian Gehrlein is an educator and youth services librarian living in Kansas City with his wife, Katherine, and son, Peter. He is represented by Melissa Richeson of Apokedak Literary Agency. He thanks you for reading this post. He thanks you for reading this sentence. He thanks you for seeking that which cannot be found. Ye shall not find thine hidden emoji code within these runes. Alas, there not be a giveaway with this Spotlight. But soon the emoji game will return. And so will the fun. And so will the legendary inter-dimensional tyrant lizard king, Gmosh. Oh, Gmosh. You think you can just bully your way through our dimension like we are some sort of baby dimension. You are so...correct. Spare us, oh Gmosh. May your cleansing flames of death and destruction burn us not. May you torment other universes. Other dimensions. And above all...may you please brush your teeth. Oh, mighty Gmosh...your breath is a most foul beast unto itself. Probably from all the souls and galaxies you eat and whatnot. Spare us thy toxic breath of doom. Keep far from our realm. And also shower. K thanks.

October 19, 2021 (34)_edited.jpg
October 19, 2021 (34)_edited.jpg
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