Ask The Agent – Kerry-Ann Bentley

Writing Magazine – August 2024

Kerry-Ann Bentley graduated with a First-class degree in English and United States Literature from the University of Essex. Then she earned her Masters in Caribbean Literature and its Diasporas from Goldsmiths, University of London. Her agenting career began in 2020, in the New York office of Janklow & Nesbit. Since then, she’s moved to The Good Literary Agency, a social enterprise agency based in Bristol, which supports under-represented writers of colour, disability, LGBTQ+, working class and those who feel under-represented by the mainstream publishing industry. Kerry-Ann’s clients include Koushik Banerjea, Charlie Castelletti, Cailin Hargreaves, Dr Leanne Levers, Karla Neblett, Gemma Weekes, and Alex Wheatle.

What first led you to becoming a literary agent?

I knew I wanted to become a literary agent after a summer internship in New York City in 2017. I was studying abroad in New Hampshire and thought that I wanted to become an editor, but wasn’t successful in getting an editorial internship. My professor at the US college I attended was signed to a great literary agency based in Manhattan, and she helped me secure a job with her agent that summer. It was my first introduction to publishing, and I fell in love with the advocacy side of the job. My passion is helping writers realise their potential and ushering their work into the world.

What do you enjoy about being a literary agent?

When I was thinking of further education, I chose between psychology and literature because I wanted to be a therapist, but my passion for writing led me to choose literature. The close relationships I have with my clients is a rewarding part of agenting that motivates me in how I champion them in negotiations. I also love how the weeks are varied in the role. Sometimes it’s lots of reading, or writing, or meetings, and always lots of emails!

You represent selected poetry. What kind of poetry do you enjoy?

My favourite poets are Anne Sexton, Sylvia Plath, Wendy Cope, Safiya Sinclair, Michelle Cliff, Claude McKay, Yrsa Daley-Ward and Nikita Gill.

How difficult is it to sell poetry to publishers?

The market is definitely hard as poetry sales are low, but when a writer has a strong cult following, it can get a publisher’s attention.

At what point should a poet consider approaching a literary agent? Do they need to have achieved anything specific to be of interest?

Poets should have enough pieces to give an agent a sense of their voice and style, and enough to form a collection to send to publishers.

How can a literary agent help develop a poet’s career?

The best way is by selling their collection to a publisher! Their help can come from developing and editing pieces with the poet, and also looking at how they can make their poems reach an audience before publishers know of them. Instagram and Substack are spaces I see new poets utilise to get their work out there and connect with readers.

How challenging is it to sell translation rights for works of poetry? Is this a useful market for poets?

It can be challenging because the writer’s work has really got to be able to ‘travel’, but there are more and more cases of poetry in translation. Although I see the trend of foreign poets being made available in the English language. Getting published in a different market can help poets’ work reach wider audiences.

What are the common mistakes poets make when approaching you for representation?

I feel some writers turn to poetry because they think it is an ‘easier’ form than novels. They send agents some unpolished pieces that feel thrown together, and it’s always clear to tell as a reader.

What other genres do you represent, and what is it about those genres that appeals?

I represent fiction and nonfiction along the literary and commercial spectrum. I am looking to represent primarily people of colour and queer writers. Most of the poets I work with are multidisciplinary and work in long form fiction and nonfiction too. I like poets who can do prose because their sentences are usually so stunning. I think of Safiya Sinclair’s memoir How to Say Babylon or Eileen Myles and Yrsa Daley-Ward.

Kerry-Ann Bentley’s Top Tip

I suggest writers really take their time with cultivating a collection and get feedback from other writers and readers before submitting—so not that different to a submitting a novel or proposal to an agent.

Further Information

The Good Literary Agency prefers submissions to be made to the agency, rather than a specific agent. Submissions are open between 1st and 21st of every month. They are then evaluated by the team before a decision to represent is offered. For details of their submissions process and guidelines, visit