Get to Know an Agent in Attendance: Kayla Lightner of Ayesha Pande Literary

Kayla Lightner is a literary agent with Ayesha Pande Literary.

Kayla started her career at Liza Dawson Associates. She also managed APL’s subsidiary rights department for two years before transitioning to full-time agent. Her client list includes multi-award-winning actor, Delroy Lindo; multi-award-winning journalist and food writer, Annabelle Tometich; and Vice, Teen Vogue, and Longreads contributor, Minda Honey.

Kayla is an adventurous reader who loves stories (typically adult; though there are a select few middle-grade titles on her list) within upmarket fiction, literary fiction, and nonfiction. She’s looking for writers that can masterfully straddle the line between story-telling and teaching readers something new (about themselves, their communities, or the world we live in).

Kayla is a Georgia native and earned her B.A. in English from Vassar College. When Kayla’s not reading, she can be found writing, reminiscing on her rugby days, and trying to retain her (waning) fluency in French by watching French shows on Netflix.

I love discovering diverse and fresh new perspectives across adult literary + upmarket fiction and nonfiction. I’m particularly a fan of authors with singular voices that masterfully straddle the line between story-telling and teaching readers something new (about themselves, their communities, or the world we live in).

Within Fiction, I’m looking for…

Magical realism with southern gothic elements like Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward; books that use speculative elements as a means to examine history like These Ghosts Are Family by Maisy Card (no slave narratives, please.)

Book Club Fiction with an entertaining core premise and flawed characters we can’t help but root for, but still maintains sharp, incisive prose on a line-level like Such A Fun Age by Kiley Reid and The Maid by Nita Prose.

Family Sagas that turn the picket white-fence narrative on its head and/or are rooted in the immigrant experience like Zadie Smith’s White Teeth; or sit in the tensions of familial relationships (whether is be spouses, parent/child, or siblings) like American Marriage by Tayari Jones, With Teeth by Kristen Arnett, or The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett.

Within Nonfiction, I’m looking for…

Narrative Histories that are compelling, well-researched stories about forgotten / willfully overlooked moments in history and the ripple effects they have on our modern-day life like Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson.

Deeply reported narrative nonfiction that examines race, class, current events, arts, business, and technology like Anne Fadiman’s The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down

“Big Idea Books” that critique the different ways the internet and “internet culture” currently impact our lives, and that take pop culture seriously, like Lurking by Joanne McNeil, Butts: A Backstory by Heather Radke,and Trick Mirror by Jia Tolentino

Platform-driven Memoirs that take me inside a previously inaccessible community, a niche sub-culture, or a unique way of life like Uncanney Valley by Anna Weir.

Practical Nonfiction that taps into gen-z’s changing attitudes around work, money, and mental health.

True Crime that provides a fresh perspective on scams and multi-level-marketing schemes

Get to Know an Agent in Attendance: Makayla Tabron of HarperCollins

Makayla Tabron is part of the editorial team at HarperCollins Publishers & Amistad.

She was formerly an intern at the agency Defiore & Co.

At the 2024 in-person CWW, Makayla is using her one-on-one attendee meetings for editorial help and guidance, not for submissions. In other words, she cannot take pitches on behalf of her imprint. However, she can use her experience and knowledge to help writers on their path. Use a 10-minute meeting with her to ask questions about writing/publishing, or present your first page or query for her quick thoughts. She welcomes all types of writers writing all types of books to consult with her.

Get to Know an Agent in Attendance: Kirsten Neuhaus of Ultra Literary

Kirsten Neuhaus is a literary agent with Ultra Literary.

“My top nonfiction categories are memoir, business books, journalist authored issue driven or current events narratives, and parenting. On the fiction side I do occasionally represent young adult.” She represents primarily nonfiction, in the categories of: Business/Finance; Memoir; Advice/Relationships/Self-Help; Food/Beverage; Health/Medicine; Lifestyle; Culture/Pop Culture; Biography; How-To; Parenting; Science/Technology;  Body, Mind & Spirit;  Illustrated/Art; Reference.

Kirsten believes that books provide an incredibly powerful method to deliver important messages to readers around the world. Those messages can and do change not just the conversations we have with each other, but also with ourselves. Her list of clients includes entrepreneurs, personalities, influencers and thought leaders across a wide range of industries. Her hands on, thoughtful approach to representation begins with helping her authors develop the right book concept to best highlight their stories and goals, in addition to connecting with and enhancing their existing platforms.

Once she’s procured the best possible deal and publisher for her clients, she remains a steady presence by their side, ensuring each step of the process is handled as seamlessly and carefully as possible. This approach helps her clients have successful books the first time around, and on subsequent books as well.

Get to Know an Agent in Attendance: Dean Krystek of Wordlink

Dean Krystek is a literary agent with Wordlink.

He works on book, TV, and film projects.

After retiring from a long military career, Dean put away his uniform and decided to follow his passion for books. He is an alumnus of the University of Maryland and the University of South Carolina with a B.A. in English. He’s a published novelist and short story writer. He currently resides in Pennsylvania with his wife Lynda.

He is seeking: Dean is looking for authors with distinctive voices whose narratives invoke a strong sense of time and place and whose stories create a memorable reading experience. He’d like to see mysteries (whodunit, cozy); sci-fi (space opera, dystopian, alternate history, time travel); psychological suspense; thrillers (looking for small town America setting vs international in scale); military fiction (character-driven pieces; favoring post-WWII, such as Vietnam).

In young adult and middle grade fiction, he would like to see mysteries, paranormal, sci-fi, coming of age, and suspense with writing that stirs the imagination and caters to the young reader’s sense of wonder and adventure.

Dean is also looking for film & television projects to develop in his areas of interest either as original works or adaptations of an author’s work (published or unpublished).

Get to Know an Agent in Attendance: Eric Smith of P.S. Literary

Eric Smith is a literary agent at P.S. Literary Agency, with a love for young adult books, literary fiction, science fiction, fantasy, and nonfiction.

He’s worked on award-winning and New York Times bestselling titles, and began his publishing career at Quirk Books. A frequent blogger, his ramblings about books and the publishing industry regularly appear on Book Riot, Paste Magazine, and Publishing Crawl. He also occasionally writes books when he finds the time, like his latest, Don’t Read the Comments (Inkyard Press).

Eric is eagerly acquiring fiction and nonfiction projects. He’s actively seeking out new, diverse voices in young adult (particularly sci-fi and fantasy), middle grade, and literary and commercial fiction (again, loves sci-fi and fantasy, but also thrillers and mysteries). In terms of non-fiction, he’s interested in cookbooks, pop culture, humor, middle grade, essay collections, and blog-to-book ideas.

Get to Know an Agent in Attendance: Gary Heidt of Signature Literary

Gary Heidt is a literary agent with Signature Literary Agency.

Gary represents authors of nonfiction and fiction.

In fiction, he seeks: high-quality literary fiction, science fiction and the occasional thriller.

He is interested in exceptional nonfiction proposals in the following areas: history, science, popular culture, narrative nonfiction, psychology, religion, reference,  spirituality, cultural criticism, memoir, politics, and Fortean/High Strangeness/paranormal.

“I am actively looking for scientists with writing skills who can explain new developments in science to a popular audience, as well as journalists who write about new developments in science and technology. In history and biography. I am looking for authors with credentials as academics, journalists or independent scholars with some publication credits.”

No historical fiction, mysteries, fantasy, cozies or romance.

Some of the agency’s books include:

Jeremy Bushnell, The Weirdness and The Insides
Carolyn Gilman, Hugo and Nebula Nominee, Dark Orbit
Jordan Green, Silent Sam is Down
Lori Handrahan, Epidemic
Rob Klara, The Hidden White House, The Devils’ Mercedes
Deji Olukotun, Nigerians in Space and After the Flare
Benjamin Whitmer, Cry Father, Escape (Evasion in France)

Get to Know an Agent in Attendance: Lori Steel of Red Fox Literary

Lori Steel is a literary agent with Red Fox Literary.

Lori began her career in young people’s literature first as an educator and school librarian, and later as a freelance editor and writing instructor. She is also a writer and earned an MFA in Writing for Children & Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. As a Red Fox Literary Agent, Lori approaches her work from these diverse industry experiences and perspectives. She’s a long-time member of SCBWI and ALA, and passionately believes all readers deserve equal access to stories, no matter their age.
Lori’s clients include both debut and award-winning authors, and she continues to seek diverse perspectives, literary approaches, and unique story experiences to add to her list. Lyrical language, compelling settings, and stories told with heart are areas of particular interest in any genre/audience. 
Originally from the Washington DC area, Lori has also called Appalachia and England home. When not at her desk, you can often find her plotting her next travel adventure, testing out a new recipe, or pottering in her Washington DC garden with her English husband and their secret-agent pup sidekick, Juice. 

She is seeking:

For all projects, I seek stories with authentic, unforgettable voices that reflect the diverse world we inhabit, instill the possibility of hope and change, and illuminate the shared human experience.

More specifically for YA, I would love to find a fresh take on fantasy tropes, contemporary stories that flip conventional scripts, unexpected historical and/or historical fantasy mash-ups that disrupt entrenched notions. I’m always on the look-out for genre-bending writing in the vein of A.S. King!

Middle Grade contemporary, historical, and fantasy fiction stories that demonstrate deep understanding of readers’ age, voice, and growing awareness of themselves and the world around them is paramount.

For Graphic Novels, I’m looking for writer-illustrators crafting accessible contemporary and select nonfiction stories.

For Picture Books, I’m eager to find writer-illustrators who craft stories with spare text and rich art, creators who play with structure, utilize collusion to engage participation, and don’t underestimate young readers. Nonfiction stories that surprise and instill a sense of wonder are always welcome. Whimsical, lyrical, and/or humorous stories that young readers will beg to read over and over again always top the list.

Themes/ideas/atmospheres that intrigue me:

  • Nonfiction picture books about ecology/environmentalism written from unusual perspectives
  • Regional setting/voices
  • Found families
  • Endearing meet-cute stories
  • Musical motifs
  • Verse, multiple POV and/or interpolated/mixed media novels
  • Setting as character and/or antagonist
  • In all seriousness: Stories that are important and extend the conversation.

I’m NOT the right agent for:

  • Horror of any kind
  • YA Nonfiction
  • Hard sci-fi
  • Didactic, overly sentimental, and message-driven books
  • Stand-alone board books, early readers, and chapter books
  • Boarding school settings
  • Vampires, werewolves, zombies
  • Stories devoid of hope
  • Rhyming PBs in the vein of Seuss or Silverstein

Get to Know an Agent in Attendance: Lauren Albury of Holloway Literary

Lauren Albury is an literary agent with Holloway Literary.

After graduating Magna Cum Laude with a bachelor’s in English from The College at Southeastern, Lauren interned with FinePrint Literary Agency in New York City. Prior to becoming a literary agent, Lauren was with Holloway Literary for two years as an intern and literary assistant.

She is seeking:

  • Literary fiction
  • Historical fiction
  • Book club/Women’s
  • Upmarket fiction

Wishlist specifics:

  • Caribbean stories and voices
  • Southern settings
  • Romantic themes
  • Rich immersive settings like Where the Crawdads Sing and lyrical prose like All the Light We Cannot See

Not a good fit for:

  • Erotica
  • Political or pandemic themes
  • Sci-fi/fantasy/dystopian/magical realism
  • Please no ghosts or aliens or torture

“I enjoy all kinds of literary and upmarket fiction. Show me how beautiful and lyrical the English language can be. Give me compelling characters with unexpected story arcs. Immerse me in another culture so I feel like I grew up there. Make me laugh with sharp wit and cry at poignant subtleties. Teach me something new about the human experience and what it means to be alive. I love when art parallels life, so I’m a sucker for gritty, raw, and realistic writing with an achingly bittersweet/unhappy ending a la Gone with the Wind or La La Land (non-sappy happy endings are OK too though). My favorite kinds of stories happen when romance exists as a compliment to a killer plot. Religious themes are ok as long as they aren’t cheesy and self-righteous or over the top.

“I’m looking for well-researched historical novels from all time periods and settings. As a multi-generational citizen of The Bahamas, I am particularly keen to find stories set in the Caribbean and/or by Caribbean authors.”

Get to Know an Agent in Attendance: Max Sinsheimer of Sinsheimer Literary

Max Sinsheimer is a literary agent and founder of Sinsheimer Literary.

I exclusively represent nonfiction works across a range of subjects, but particularly history, social issues, popular science, food & culture, and cookery. Both published and unpublished authors are welcome to submit their work, just bear in mind that I can only agree to represent a very small number of new clients in any given year, and I will gravitate towards authors who are well established in their field.

I represent a range of adult nonfiction, with a particular interest in food, science, and society. Sometimes those interests intersect, as in Larissa Zimberoff’s Technically Food (Abrams Press, 2021), about the lab-driven future of food. Many of my books have a policy or advocacy angle, including Marion Nestle’s Unsavory Truth (Basic Books, 2018), Michael Jacobson’s Salt Wars (MIT Press, 2020), and Catherine Donnelly’s Ending the War on Artisan Cheese (Chelsea Green, 2019). I’m on the lookout for more great place-specific food narratives, having sold a sake travelogue called Exploring the World of Japanese Craft Sake (Tuttle, 2022).

There’s more on my plate (pun!) than just food and drink. I’m arguably representing the opposite of food and drink with a book about fasting called The Oldest Cure in the World (Abrams Press, 2022). I love working with investigative and longform journalists like Steve Hendricks. I’m also keen to represent more environmental and social issues books like Mario Ariza’s Disposable City (Nation Books, 2020), about Miami’s sea level rise crisis, and If I Don’t Make It, I Love You (Skyhorse, 2019), a collection of narratives from school shooting survivors.

I’ve taken an interest lately in memoirs and memoir-ish projects, including Slow Cooked (University of California Press, 2022), in which Marion Nestle reflects on how she achieved late-in-life success as a leading advocate for healthier and more sustainable diets, and Missed Conceptions (Broadleaf Books, 2022), in which Karen Stollznow illuminates the shadow nation of the infertile throughout time and across cultures, and relates her own decade-long struggle to conceive.

Prior to founding my agency I managed Oxford University Press’s influential food and drink Companion series, multi-authored, subject-defining works that included The Oxford Companion to Beer (2011), The Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets (2015), Savoring Gotham (2015), The Oxford Companion to Cheese (2016), and The Oxford Companion to Spirits and Cocktails (2021). The series has won or been nominated for James Beard, IACP, Gourmand, and other food writing awards. While I enjoyed my time at OUP immensely, I wanted to represent my authors’ interests more completely. Since founding my agency in 2016, I can!

I have a BA in English lit from Middlebury College and an MA in liberal studies from Duke University. I live with my fiancé in Washington, D.C., and travel back and forth to NYC often to meet with editors and visit family. In my free time I play an unhealthy amount of online chess.


Get to Know an Agent in Attendance: Michelle Jackson of LCS Literary

Originally from Jamaica West Indies, Michelle Jackson is a literary agent with LCS Literary.

An educator for over 20 years, Michelle is also a published author, writing professionally as Michelle Lindo-Rice for Mira and Harlequin Special Edition and Zoey Marie Jackson for Harlequin Love Inspired. She has earned educational degrees from New York University, SUNY at StonyBrook, Teachers College Columbia University and Argosy University.

“I look forward to bringing adult fiction and select non-fiction of new authors work out there, especially BIPOC and underrepresented authors. I am also a content editor and love developing and working with new authors to help them hone their craft. I am looking for stories with strong character arcs and hooks. Intriguing plot lines that keep me up at night until I get to the last page. Romances that make my heart swoon, thrillers that keep me guessing and heartwarming, uplifting tales. Stories about sister friends, mother-daughter relationships. Stories with themes of friendship, forgiveness, love and second chances. I have a soft spot for fellow educators who are writers and for stories featuring educators. I also am looking for those who want to write category romances – I also love Amish romances!”

Fiction: Commercial, Historical, Humor, New Adult, Romance, Science Fiction, Fantasy, Thriller, Women’s Fiction.

​Sub-genres: Contemporary Romance, Multicultural, Psychological Thrillers, Romantic Comedy, Romantic Suspense.

Nonfiction: Biography, True Crime, Self-Help, Relationships, Cookbooks, Narrative, Spirituality.