Kiana Nguyen

After dropping out of University of Albany in 2015, Kiki Nguyen had her first publishing internship with Wunderkind PR. There, she discovered a practical industry for her codependent love of fiction. In 2016, Kiki went on to intern with DMLA where she soon joined the team full-time as an assistant literary agent.
Kiki is now building her client list within young adult and adult fiction with a focus on queer and BIPOC authors. When not working, she is playing Among Us or shouting about film/tv on Twitter.
In addition to agenting, Kiki is also pursuing a secondary career in writing comedy for television. DATING INDIA, Kiki’s half-hour comedy, was listed in the first round of Liz Alper’s staffing grid and was a quarter-finalist in 2020’s Finish Line Script Competition. Her literary debut will be featured in the upcoming YA Anthology, ALL SIGNS POINT TO YES, publishing in 2022.
Why did you become an agent?

As I continued my internship at my agency, agenting was the most appealing track for me. It allows me to work on the books and with the clients I want with absolute freedom. Rather than having to bring a book to a team for approval, which is how editorial works. I also really love the developmental nature of growing writers and their work.

What does daily life look for you as an agent?

 It depends on what I have in the pipeline; do I have writers revising to go on submission, do I have writers on submission, do I have offers to negotiate? It’s a lot of juggling and re-prioritizing throughout the day as emails and news comes in.

What do you like the most about being an agent? What is most challenging about being an agent? 

I really love working with writers in developing their book to meet their vision and having the ability to take our time with that.

How does being a BIPOC affect your job?

What’s directly effecting me, personally, is having to constantly field micro-aggressive racism, sexism, homophobic, and ableism in queries. Additionally, publishing can sometimes feel like there’s not a lot of room to level up as a woman of color.

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

That they include their name! I want to be able to respond to people on the same level, and I can’t do that if I don’t know their name.

What do you look for in a Twitter pitch?

Elevated character stakes. Leave themes for longer conversations.

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

I really want stories that highlight kids that aren’t rule followers on the honor roll. I think there is an important need for stories about kids who fuck up, who don’t always make the best decisions, who have edges. And this is something that’s incredibly important to see from API creators and for young API creators. We are more than our productivity and societally/academically driven achievements. 

How many authors do you sign annually?

There isn’t a set number, but I am very selective in my tastes, so it tends to be around a couple a year. And by picky, I just mean that there are a lot of narrative styles that aren’t for me, even if the premise is. I also am highly conscious of growing my list at a pace that allows me to extend my energy sustainably across clients.

What are the trends in the industry at the moment? How do you think creators should navigate these trends?

I’ll answer this by saying that unless you write fast and can elevate a trend, it’s not worth it. Books publishing presently were sold at least a year and a half before they’re published, so you’re already behind by the time you see the announcement. I’m going to be real in that there are realistic business choices you can make to write to what is more sellable, but if you don’t have the heart or drive for it it’s not worth it. Your work will suffer. 

How do you see the Big 5 becoming the Big 4 impacting BIPOC creators? Smaller publishers have produced many blockbusters this summer; do you foresee the merger changing that?

I personally don’t feel that I’m versed enough to speak at length about this, but my biggest worry is that this will affect how many imprints can be submitted to therefore decreasing competition which drives what leverage an agent has for their author. 

Advice for Creators

What are the Dos and Don’ts for creators when querying an agent?

Don’t over assume familiarity. 
Do make sure you’re pitching the events/arc of your book rather than themes and reader impact.

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

Though this may take energy and digging, make sure to look beyond an agent’s diversity lip service. Are they constantly tweeting about being inclusive and anti-racist but not showing any real action within their local community sphere? Do they retain their BIPOC clients over years?

After signing, what does the relationship look like between you and a client? How often/how do you communicate? What can a client expect?

The agent/client relationship is mostly dictated by each client and what works best for them. But generally, I am as hands on as needed and a very editorial agent; so I love working collaboratively through revising and brainstorming. I do want to stress that each agent’s communication style is not a knock on another’s and it’s very important to distinguish every agent’s through that initial call. I also think that it is harmful to expect 24/7 access to your agent.

What is one thing you wish querying BIPOC creators knew before sending their query letter?

It is not on you to convince anyone your worthiness as a BIPOC person and creator. You already have your value as a person and a creator, and if that’s not being recognized that is on the agent, not you.