Iwalani Kim

Can you tell us a bit about yourself and why you became an agent?

I’m an associate agent at Sanford J. Greenburger Associates, and I was born and raised in Honolulu, Hawai‘i. I decided to pursue agenting after interning with Kweli Journal in college. Working with the journal made clear to me just how historically under-represented BIPOC creators are in publishing as well as how that history contributes to a lack of knowledgeable advocates working on their behalf in the industry. After learning more about agenting (and for transparency’s sake, doing a couple of unpaid internships), I came to especially admire the author-agent relationship and the freedom that comes with choosing the kind of work that is important to me and that I’d like to see in the world. I also just love the challenge of the work and to wear many hats!

What is the most challenging/rewarding part of being an agent?

One of the most rewarding parts of my job is having the privilege of working with incredibly talented writers and celebrating their wins with them. One of the challenges, especially as a young agent, is maintaining a healthy work-life balance while building your list. 

How does being a BIPOC affect your job?

Being a BIPOC and being raised by BIPOC communities has affected the questions that I’m constantly asking myself about the way I move through the world and the way others like or unlike me do so. I tend to gravitate toward stories that value these questions. Beyond informing my reading tastes, it has also affected the way I navigate this industry, which is historically insular and overwhelmingly white. I’m often frustrated by how slowly change happens in publishing, how unimaginative gatekeepers can be, and how much work we as an industry still need to do in the way of support, mentorship, and retention of BIPOC. But I’m also deeply grateful for the kinship and community I’ve found in other BIPOC publishing professionals who feel the same way I do. I hope these experiences have made me a more conscientious and compassionate advocate to my clients, and I know they have made me more certain about why I’m here and why I do this work.

What is on your #MSWL? What kind of stories are you looking for, particularly from API creators? 

I’m looking for stories of all kinds from API creators, but especially from Pacific Islander creators writing for the adult market. In fiction, I would love to read a sweeping multigenerational family drama featuring PI characters or a coming-of-age story set in the Pacific. On the non-fiction side, I’d love to work with PI journalists reporting on the frontlines of climate change and exploring its effects on our islands’ fragile ecosystems. Narrative nonfiction that grapples with settler colonialism, sovereignty movements, or Kū Kiaʻi Mauna would absolutely interest me. But I also don’t want PI writers to feel pidgeonholed into identity-based stories and would welcome any writing that they feel resonates with the interests listed in my bio.

What’s the most important thing to you in a query letter? 

I value brevity, and I look for query letters that can clearly communicate the central conflict or questions that guide the story. I also appreciate when writers tell me why they think we’d be a good fit based on my reading interests. A little goes a long way when it comes to personalizing a query letter.

Do you have any advice for BIPOC creators when choosing an agent?

Have a sense of what your priorities are for your relationship with your agent and what kind of communication style you work best with. Look into their sales track record to make sure they have the experience to successfully sell your project. Ask to speak to some of their clients to get a sense of their experiences with the agent. If they’re new to agenting, do they have colleagues from whom they can seek guidance and mentorship? Does the agent understand your vision for your project and for your broader writing career? Is editorial care important to you? These are important questions to consider, and there are a lot of resources online to help you navigate this conversation.