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Author & Agent Interview: Kealani Netane and Ellen Goff

Today, we are thrilled to be interviewing Kealani Netane, a Kanaka Maoli and Samoan children’s writer and author of the picture book, TALA LEARNS TO SIVA, and her literary agent, Ellen Goff. You can learn more about Kealani on her website, Twitter, Tiktok, and Instagram, and more about Ellen can be found on her agency's website.

You can add Kealani's picture book, TALA LEARNS TO SIVA, to your Goodreads here, or to your Storygraph here. You can also buy Kealani's book from these retailers.

We started this Author & Agent blog series to spotlight Pacific Islander creators and their agents for Asian and Pacific Islander month. Our hope is that this series will inspire other Pacific Islanders interested in pursuing traditional publishing as creators or as agents. As we learned in the creation of our website, there is not a single Pacific Islander agent, and we hope to see that change.

Thank you for joining us!

Interview with Kealani

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself, and the project for which you've found representation? What inspired you to write it?

I am Kealani Netane, the author of Tala Learns to Siva. I am Native Hawaiian and Samoan and I live in Hawaiʻi. I queried TALA in 2021 and that is the book in which I found representation. TALA was the third picture book I wrote. The first two were not good and will never be published. While writing and editing TALA, I had a feeling that this was the book that could go far. I was originally inspired by the idea of a child falling in love with dance for the first time. I remember the feeling of being in awe of a taualuga dancer and I wanted to capture that moment. 

What resources did you use to compile your list of agents to query? What criteria did you use to build your list? 

To compile my list of agents, I looked at, Query Tracker, and Twitter. I searched for those who were looking for diverse picture books. I compiled a list who I thought might be a good fit and I grouped them into batches. Then, I sent my first batch of queries. Not long after that, I found out about APIpit, a twitter pitch event where Asian and Pacific Islander writers collectively pitch their projects on twitter. If agents like their tweet, then the creator is invited to query them. Ellen was one of the agents who liked my tweet and a week or so after the event, I sent her my query. 

What advice would you give creators looking for representation?

I trust my naʻau (gut) in pretty much everything I do. If something feels right, then I do it and if it doesnʻt feel right, then I don’t. Even in these types of situations, we can rely on our indigenous knowledge. So, I think the best way to know if you should query an agent is to do a gut check. 

When Ellen offered, what made you decide to sign with her? What criteria did you consider?

Ellen was a newer agent when I queried her so there wasn’t a lot to research. But, she did have a couple book sales under her belt and she was mentored by the head of her literary agency, HG Literary. Her mentor had amazing clients and her literary agency had a great catalog of authors and illustrators in the children’s book space so I felt confident that Ellen had a strong support system within her agency. 

When we met on video chat, she was just as excited about my work as I was. She had a strong submission strategy and she had great notes on how I could elevate my work. We also just had great vibes. I felt so comfortable with her. Whenever we communicated via email, she was quick to reply. She asked if I would do a revise and resubmit (R&R) with her and I agreed. For those who don’t know what that is, it means that an agent gives you feedback and if you accept the feedback, then you make changes to your manuscript and send it back to them. This is all before they make an offer of representation. There are many reasons agents will ask for an R&R. Looking back at my work, I can definitely see why I needed an R&R. The plot was strong, but my book was long with too many details. 

After implementing most of her feedback, I sent my manuscript back to her and she loved the changes. She offered to represent me and itʻs been great. 

How long have you been signed together? What’s your favorite thing about Ellen?

We have been together for about three years. Ellen is an amazing champion for her clients. She’s very knowledgeable about the industry and if she needs help, she’s not afraid to reach out to other people at her agency. I also love her feedback on my manuscripts. I have included almost every note sheʻs suggested. And I will say that editorial notes are suggestions. Authors donʻt have to agree with every suggested change. With Ellen, I agree with her on most things. 

What advice would you give to Pacific Islander creators looking for agents?

The best thing I ever did was find a writing community. Thereʻs a huge learning curve at the beginning and thereʻs a ton of websites and companies that charge money for information. Iʻve found that the best resources to elevate my writing and to learn about the publishing industry are actually free. People who are in this industry are very willing to share information and resources. So, before you start querying, I encourage you to find a community. 

I’m in a critique group with other diverse writers and I have a strong community of Pacific Islander writers. Those two groups have been great resources. Once you find your community, get feedback on your work. Make sure that the manuscripts you are submitting to agents are quality work. Tighten your word count. Every word should be necessary to your story. Cover your plot holes. And most importantly, get feedback on your query letter. One of my favorite places on the internet for query letter feedback is on Reddit in the r/PubTips subreddit. 

Interview with Ellen


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