Agent Interview: Kurestin Armada
What was your path to becoming an agent?
My path was pretty straightforward, luckily enough. Once I realized that publishing as an industry existed, that people actually got paid to make books happen, I knew that was the road for me. I completed a publishing program at Columbia, which was a fantastic bootcamp in all the different roles available in publishing. A lot of people just think of editors when they think of publishing, when really there are so many different departments all playing a critical role in both creating a book and introducing it to the world.
So that was a very valuable introduction to the business, and from there I tried my hand at publicity for a short while before realizing I wanted to be on the exact opposite end of the process. I spent some time as an assistant at The Lotts Agency, which has a fantastic roster of established talent, so I got a chance to learn a lot of the old-school approach to agenting. When I moved on to P.S. Literary to start building my own list in 2015, it was definitely useful to compare the different styles and pick and choose what fit my own approach to agenting.
Why agenting, specifically?
Agenting is one of the rare roles in publishing where you only have to work on books you really care about. Of course everyone hopes to like their projects, but in publicity for example, every book needs to get its fair share even if none of the publicists are particularly excited about it. It can be very draining to pour in all the work necessary to champion a book without truly loving it and getting that satisfaction back from your work, and I didn’t think I could do that long term.
Not only do agents only have to work on books they love, but they also have the privilege of being able to bring on whatever it is they love. That’s a small distinction, but it’s an important one in my opinion! Unlike editors, we don’t usually need anyone’s approval to sign a client; after all, we’re not spending company money, we’re just spending our own time and energy for future returns. That gives agents the unique opportunity to be the first champion for works that are undiscovered gems, ones that marketing might describe as a “tough sell.” This allows us to also be the first to throw industry support behind marginalized authors, underrepresented voices, and unexpected stories.
The more of these works we champion to success, the more collective clout we can put behind our authors in the future. It’s a long game to really diversify publishing, but I think it starts here, between the author and the agent.
What's at the top of your wishlist right now?
Two very different things! Right now I’m dying for:
1. Sprawling fantasy and science fiction I can really sink my teeth into, something meaty and ambitious with beautiful writing. Think REVELATION SPACE or ANCILLARY JUSTICE or THE FIFTH SEASON (but of course with the author’s own unique voice).
2. Fun, commercial stories about POC and LGBTQ teens celebrating life and feeling joy. I think big, “important” books are valuable, but so often they’re just about the suffering of marginalized youth as a lesson. I’d love to make more space for the rom-coms and the youthful hijinks and the spells gone wrong in awkward and hilarious ways!