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Recently I had the opportunity to interview Mark Gottlieb of Trident Media Group. He’s a second-generation literary agent whose family business inspired a love of literature and cultivated a talent for spotting great stories.
Mark, how did you get into agenting and why children’s literature?
Unlike many people who choose book publishing as somewhat of an accidental profession, it was always expected of me that I would one day work at Trident Media Group, a family-owned and operated literary agency. I think it comes as a comfort to many of my clients that I’m not leaving the literary agency, nor book publishing anytime soon. Anyway, you could say I was sort of groomed for the position at a young age. That’s why I chose Emerson College in Boston, as they were one of the only schools at the time offering an undergraduate study in publishing.
My company bio expresses my professional journey from my time at Emerson College, onward:
Mark Gottlieb attended Emerson College and was President of its Publishing Club, establishing the Wilde Press. After graduating with a degree in writing, literature & publishing, he began his career with Penguin’s VP. Mark’s first position at Publishers Marketplace’s #1-ranked literary agency, Trident Media Group, was in foreign rights. Mark was EA to Trident’s Chairman and ran the Audio Department. Mark is currently working with his own client list, helping to manage and grow author careers with the unique resources available to Trident. He has ranked #1 among Literary Agents on publishersmarketplace.com in Overall Deals and other categories.
And to answer your question about why children’s literature in particular? I am still relatively young and therefore feel more so in touch with my younger self that someone that might be a lot older and therefore have difficulty reaching their inner-child. I really subscribe to that belief of “Live Free and Die Young” as I want to live a full life and remain young at heart up until my dying day. Also, YA is particularly a good area of interest in book publishing as it is the fastest growing area in publishing.
So one could say you were born to be a children’s literature agent!
You must have been surrounded by books from an early age. What are some of your childhood favorites?
I certainly grew up surrounded by books and authors all my life.
Growing up, my favorite children’s book was THE LITTLE LUMP OF CLAY by Diana Engel. The book has gone out of print but it can viewed via a video reading at this YouTube link:
THE LITTLE LUMP OF CLAY taught me the importance of hope, a sense of belonging and what it means to be loved.
I also remember reading HOLES by Louis Sachar all in one evening, late at night. It was the first such book I had ever read in one sitting. It’s fun to remind myself that I now work at the literary agency that represents Louis Sachar! I smile when around our office I see the Disney movie poster for HOLES, starring Shia LeBoeuf and Sigourney Weaver.
So what do you typically look for in a picture book manuscript you want to represent? Do they share any similarities with THE LITTLE LUMP OF CLAY?
Many of the works I seek out nowadays share some kinship with THE LITTLE LUMP OF CLAY in that I enjoy reading manuscript with important social messages.
Those are some of the most difficult picture books to write. How does a writer successfully deliver an important message without being too didactic?
I agree that it is difficult to convey a moral or lesson within a 32-page children’s book. Especially with very sparse text, without sounding to “preachy” or “teachy,” but that doesn’t mean it can’t be done. For instance A BALL FOR DAISY by Chris Raschka was a recent winner of the Caldecott Medal and it is a wordless children’s picture book that I feel accomplished that conveyance of message, an impressive feat without the use of text. A big part of it is giving kids a lot more credit than we do in understanding a picture book, especially since they will often have a parent or teacher reading with them.
What else makes a PB manuscript something you want to represent?
I really prefer to lean on Maurice Sendak’s perspective of children and writing for them; children are brave, and things go wrong, and as adults, we can no longer understand the complex nature of what they are going through. So instead of reading a manuscript that attempts to speak to a child, and to relate to them, I prefer to see narratives that are written for a human being—a real person, with real fear, curiosity, and courage—that might possibly interest a child’s mind. This, in my opinion, is what makes for wonderful picture book stories.
Are there any recent titles you wished you could have represented?
Jory John’s PENGUIN PROBLEMS, any and all of Emily Winfield Martin’s books (THE WONDERFUL THINGS YOU WILL BE being her most recent) and FASCINATING: THE LIFE OF LEONARD NIMOY by Richard Michelson; illustrated by Edel Rodriguez because he was such a wonderful man and that book really did his life’s work justice in a delicate and beautiful way.
What is the best piece of advice you can give a picture book writer who is seeking representation?
Never underestimate the mind of a child and the meaning they are capable of gathering from a story. Children often see beyond words and pictures on paper, and give deep thought to nuances in a story that otherwise might be overlooked by an adult. So don’t be afraid to write a challenging story for a child; just make sure that you’re dedicating every word and image to their imagination, not just your own.
Thanks for speaking with me and sharing your love of children’s literature, Mark.
Mark Gottlieb is currently open to new clients.
You can review his profile and newest client releases at: http://www.tridentmediagroup.com/agents/mark-gottlieb.
Ooh, tantalizing title for a blog post!
Picture book writers eager to be represented scour the web for info about the tastes and preferences of kidlit agents. Well, stop searching and look no further.
I asked the picture book agents participating in PiBoIdMo as grand prizes to talk about a client’s new or upcoming release that they’re excited about.
And if you’re wondering about PiBoIdMo GRAND PRIZES, they will be announced on Monday, December 14th!
Lori Kilkelly, Rodeen Literary Management
I began representing my own clients 2.5 years ago and, as publishing has a long cycle from sale to publication, have only had two (EARLY BIRD and NIGHT OWL by Toni Yuly!) publish to date. Next calendar year will see 14 of “my” books publish. It’s hard to pick just one but HANNAH AND SUGAR (Abrams, 3/16) is author/illustrator Kate Berube’s debut, sold in a 2-book deal, at auction. I first read about Kate on the blog “7 Impossible Things Before Breakfast.” She and husband Mark live in Portland with their beloved one-eyed wonder-dog, Sugar, the book character’s namesake.
Every day after school, Hannah’s school bus is greeted by her classmate’s dog, Sugar. All the other kids love Sugar but Hannah just can’t conquer her fear of dogs. Then, one day, Sugar goes missing, so Hannah joins the search with her classmates. Will Hannah find a way to be brave, and make a new friend in the process?
Kate worked at Portland’s famous Indie bookstore Powell’s—please consider pre-ordering from your favorite Indie!
Deborah Warren, East/West Literary Agency
Some of East/West Literary’s clients have excelled in all three PB creator roles, as an illustrator, as an author, and as an author/illustrator. To that end—and in honor of PiBoIdMo—we are proud to highlight award-winning Jim Averbeck and his latest book ONE WORD FROM SOPHIA (Atheneum/S & S), a Kirkus Best Book of 2015, illustrated by Yasmeen Ismail.
Averbeck’s 2015 “must read” IndyNext Top 10 ONE WORD FROM SOPHIA, is about a girl who uses very creative means to ask for a pet giraffe–from her mother (a judge), father (a businessman), Uncle Conrad (a politician) and Grand-mama (who is very strict!). Yasmine’s illustrations brilliantly add another layer to the story. And Jim created a text that engages the audience with well-placed page turns, pacing and performance possibilities, creating a book that has been embraced for its celebration of words.
And it’s been embraced in more than one way! We’re more than thrilled that SOPHIA has just been extended to a 3-book series by his publisher (Margaret K. McElderry/S & S). Look for TWO PROBLEMS FOR SOPHIA and the third SOPHIA sequel, soon! Oh; and how incredibly cool is it that the Northern California Children’s Booksellers Alliance selected ONE WORD FROM SOPHIA as one of two titles to be included in their national, inaugural #Diversity, hand-selling initiative, #MirrorsAndWindows. [Thank you, indies—diverse books DO sell!]
Ammi-Joan Paquette, Erin Murphy Literary Agency
How do you pick just one of your authors’ projects to spotlight? I’m going to circumvent that decision by going with the book that’s been most recently released, Nancy Tupper Ling’s THE STORY I’LL TELL, which is exquisitely illustrated by Jessica Lanan. This book is really a love letter from parent to child, a poetic telling of how that child came to be part of their family.
Words and art alike are unforgettable, and mark my words—this is a book that’s going to be around a long, long time. Don’t miss it!
Kathleen Rushall, Marsal Lyon Literary Agency
I’m really looking forward to seeing Jess Keating’s PINK IS FOR BLOBLISH hit shelves this February 2nd, 2016 from Knopf Book for Young Readers. Jess’s voice and vision for this project had me excited about it from day one.
In this debut nonfiction picture book, Jess highlights all manner of unusual pink creatures that readers never knew existed. It’s fascinating and funny, but what also makes it so special is that it goes deep. Yes, PINK IS FOR BLOBFISH is full of incredible animal facts, but it also carries a subtle sociological message that pink is not just for girls—it’s for everyone and anyone.
Pink is often associated with princesses, and Jess’s book lets readers know that pink is also the color of monster slugs and poisonous insects. I don’t know about you, but I love that expanded world view!
I admire how Jess manages to engage readers with her humor and fresh voice, provide little-known animal facts, AND deconstruct outdated gender stereotypes—with a clear passion for the material and a wit all her own. And with the talented David DeGrand adding his dynamic, hilarious illustrations, what’s not to love?
Susan Hawk, The Bent Agency
I’m very excited about an upcoming project BABY LOVES SCIENCE by Ruth Spiro, with illustrations by Irene Chan. In the first two books of this picture book series, Ruth explains some complex ideas—Quarks and Aerospace Engineering—in terms so clear that even the very youngest listener can understand.
This is the first project that I sold for Ruth, and the one that she sent me with her initial query. I was very taken with the books, of course, but also with the savvy way Ruth approaches the picture book business; she’s continued to wow me ever since! These books are sweet, gentle and smart, and I can’t wait for them to be out in bookstores and libraries.
The first two are coming in fall 2016—keep your eyes out for them.
Tricia Lawrence, Erin Murphy Literary Agency
Well, I have to go with Penny Parker Klostermann’s THERE WAS AN OLD DRAGON WHO SWALLOWED A KNIGHT which just won The 2015 Best in Rhyme Award in NYC at the RPB Revolution Conference.
Why I think DRAGON is so special? It’s been a long road to publication for Penny. She’s been working tirelessly the past few years to really learn the picture book craft and to hone her skill. Adding to that, DRAGON is in rhyme, so Penny’s not only had to figure out picture book plot, she’s had to learn poetry and rhyme (not easy) and I think there’s been more days of no big success than there have been days with success.
DRAGON exists because Penny didn’t give up. And now DRAGON has a life of his own. I’m still a bit terrified of him, so here’s hoping he steers clear of me. 😉
Holly McGhee, Pippin Properties
One of our new-ish releases is Jennifer K. Mann’s TWO SPECKLED EGGS, winner of the Washington State Book Award this year; it’s the story of an unlikely friendship that’s sparked when two girls find they have more in common than they thought at first.
Jennifer K. Mann came to Pippin through the slush pile (it really happens!) and this is her second picture book. When her query came in, her artwork immediately caught our attention, and then her letter was so exquisitely written and charming and she had clearly done her research . . . it was a no brainer. Here’s to more well crafted slush-pile treasures!
Lisa Fleissig & Ginger Harris, Liza Royce Agency
We are both mothers of 1st graders; so, as much as they are moving onto chapter books, picture books are still alive and kicking in our homes. One particular recent publication that stands out is ADA BYRON LOVELACE AND THE THINKING MACHINE (Creston Books, 2015). It’s a biography of the world’s first computer programmer—and she’s a GIRL!
Ada was born two hundred years ago, long before the invention of the modern electronic computer. At a time when girls and women had few options outside the home, Ada followed her dreams and studied mathematics. Especially now with schools incorporating “STEM” in the classroom and empowering girls to develop into strong women, this book hits all the right notes. It is written by Laurie Wallmark and stunningly illustrated by April Chu. Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine is not only a remarkable story of triumph, but marks a turning point in our agency—it is our first book to receive THREE STARRED REVIEWS (Kirkus, PW & Booklist) along with NYT praise.
Jodell Sadler, Sadler Children’s Literary
A recent picture book publication would have to be a newer contract, a two-book deal, for Phil Gosier as an author-illustrator package: SNOW BEAST (Roaring Brook Press, 2017).
Phil marked the quickest pull from my submission bin so far. He’s a huge talent and his cover letter sported part unreliable narrator (sending only to you and will not send out until polished more) and part personality punch (I cry at most Tom Hank movies). But what really called me to his project and what is true of every submission: it’s all about the work, and in this case, his work stood on its own merits: breathtaking, amazing, and professional. SNOW BEAST will be published by Roaring Brook Press in 2017.
Remember, come back on Monday for the GRAND PRIZE announcements. There will be 13 PiBoIdMo Winners to be paired with one PB literary agent each for an email consult about their five best story ideas.
Good luck, everyone!
This week I’m doing something special–bringing you a boatload of notes from Florida’s recent SCBWI conference in Miami, courtesy of author Mindy Alyse Weiss. Why a boatload? Well, it’s freezing here in NJ, so I imagined Mindy on a catamaran, sipping a piña colada with the captain as she wrote this. (We all have dreams, and my dream is to attend a WARM conference! Or maybe that should be a HOT conference?)
I was thrilled when Tara asked me to blog about the 2014 SCBWI FL Regional Conference in Miami. She always gives so much to the kidlit community through her yearly PiBoIdMo challenge and thoughtful blog posts, and I hope this will help all of you, too. Since workshops are often repeated, I can’t share all the secrets…but I definitely have some juicy info, plus insight into what some agents and editors are hoping to find…
I attended the Agent Panel with Jen Rofé of Andrea Brown Literary Agency, Deborah Warren of East*West Literary Agency and Ammi-Joan Paquette of Erin Murphy Literary Agency, where they shared wish lists and do’s/don’ts with aspiring authors.
- When sending a query, make it clear you’re personalizing it to that agent.
- When asked how many editors she sends a manuscript to at a time and when she considers giving up, she said she won’t stop until she’s exhausted every opportunity.
- The fastest she sold a manuscript—three hours! The longest it took was four years.
- Wish list: commercial character-based picture books. A country song book for YA. Books based on childhood, like a girl who is getting into stuff she isn’t supposed to do, but nobody would expect that.
- If you write picture books, she would want at least four she could try to sell right away.
- Write the thing that scares you. It usually comes from some raw, painful place and that’s where the good stuff comes out.
- So many people say that it only takes one yes. But it’s not just one yes—you typically need lots of yeses, including the editor, publisher, marketing, etc.
- Don’t EVER write to the market!
- A personal note from an agent is a good sign! They don’t have time to send that to everyone. It might be the project/first page/query letter that isn’t quite right at the moment.
- Specializes in picture books. She’s known for building brands and loves finding new talent!
- She loves working with author/illustrators—it’s her sweet spot. She’s having trouble with chapter books (they’re usually franchises). Realistic fiction is really coming back and she’s excited about that.
- The client/agent relationship is like a marriage. She’ll never give up on a client—once you’re on the team, you’re there!
- Wish list: Author/illustrators, multicultural, books based on childhood, a book about singing, or kids overcoming their obstacles.
- She looks for a strong opening in the sample pages and is especially drawn to precise pitches in a query that are snappy and compelling.
- She usually takes three to four weeks to respond to queries. For longer requested manuscripts it was two months, but she’s backlogged right now.
- When working on promotion, authenticity and what feels natural to you is important. An awkward presence is actually worse than no presence. In the pre-published stage, the focus should be on craft.
- Wish list: books that do something really different, a different narrative structure, different POV. She loves unusual projects, books based on childhood—travel, unusual vacations, anything to do with food or baking or French food.
Thanks for the agent tips, Mindy. See you back here on Wednesday with more from the SCBWI FL Conference!
Mindy Alyse Weiss writes humorous middle-grade novels with heart and quirky picture books. She’s constantly inspired by her two daughters, an adventurous Bullmasador adopted from The Humane Society, and an adorable Beagle/Pointer mix who was rescued from the Everglades. Visit Mindy’s Twitter, Facebook, or blog to read more about her writing life, conference experiences, and writing tips.
by guest blogger Dr. Mira Reisberg
You’ve been pounding the keys for months or years, you’ve finally finished your manuscript and you’re ready to submit. You go to a publisher and they are only accepting agented submissions. You go to some agents and they are closed to submissions. You start pulling out the hair now that you didn’t pull out while writing your manuscript in utter frustration!! I want to explain a little about how this came to pass and what you can do about it.
A Little Publishing History
Back when I first started working in this industry, in the good old days of early 1988, first as an illustrator and then as just about everything else, it was a very different world. There were many publishing houses with many editors and art directors and many smaller independent publishers as well. It was fascinating to visit and editors had assistants and support staff that are rarely found these days. Publishing was wide-open and thriving.
But then over time, the corporatization of America started taking hold and larger publishing houses started buying smaller publishers, becoming larger corporations. Using economies of scale, they needed fewer editors, fewer art directors, and fewer assistants. Things started automating more with newer technologies stretching editors and ADs to do more. Many editors, ADs, and their assistants were let go, increasing the workload tremendously for those who remained or those who were newly hired. Big corporations started taking over or merging with other big companies increasing this economy of scale.
Enter September 11th and the Anthrax Scare
Following the 2001 September 11th attacks, there were numerous anthrax scares, as one NBC employee tested positive and a New York Times reporter received a suspicious envelope with white powder. An increase in submissions, partly enabled by changes in attitudes to self-expression, creativity, and access to education—plus access to improved writing technologies, fewer resources of staff to deal with the increase, combined with the anthrax scare—caused many New York children’s book publishers to close their doors to submissions and only accept new submissions from agents.
Then came Amazon with its deep discounts and the recession killing off more independent publishers, further narrowing the field. Fortunately, many smaller publishers did keep their doors open to what’s known as unsolicited submissions and quite a few wonderful independent publishers like Chronicle Books and Lee and Low remain.
Today there are 5 major publishers as well as a bunch of independent or semi-independent publishers. This is not to say that the major pubs aren’t producing wonderful work or that big publishers = bad, or small publishers = good (though most smaller publishers do need extra support). That’s overly simplistic and there are truly wonderful people working at all houses and imprints, big and small making equally wonderful children’s books. I’m just talking about the narrowing of the field for submissions. Some of the major publishers’ imprints still accept unsolicited manuscripts, but for many publishers, due to the overwhelming number of submissions and reasons explained earlier, they prefer the system of having an agent act as a kind of quality screener and gatekeeper.
Now It’s the Agents’ Time to Be Overwhelmed
These days we have a big problem with supply and demand where there are many more writers than there are agents, editors, or publishing opportunities. Also, many writers don’t do the work of learning the skills and techniques of being a professional writer, honing their craft over time, taking courses and learning the specific requirements of contemporary publishing and their specific genre. They submit their work and overwhelm agents who then close their submissions except through conferences, referrals and special circumstances.
So Back to You. You Ask Yourself, “What Can I Do Now?”
We understand that this is frustrating. Here’s a little information about what you can do to get past these restrictions. One of the best ways to get access is by making personal connections with agents and editors at conferences or through courses. There is nothing like a personal connection in any aspect of life. But remember that editors and agents are mostly overworked and underpaid. They do this work because they love books and helping others. As society changes with events in the world, we have to change with it. The thing that doesn’t change is that first impressions make lasting impressions. If you meet an editor or agent make a great impression by being warm, helpful, kind, and positive. As the saying goes, “Your attitude determines your altitude.” Of course before you submit, make sure your work is wonderful, brilliant, original, professional and publishable. But this is a given. If you make meaningful connections, chances are they’ll want to help you if they can, and besides the possibility of publishing, you might just make a wonderful friend.
To learn more about Mira Reisberg and her agency, visit HummingbirdLiterary.com. To learn about her upcoming writing course, visit ChildrensBookAcademy.com/writing-childrens-picture-books.html.
I call the agents who participate in PiBoIdMo “agent prizes”, but let me make one thing clear: you do not get to bring them home with you.
Oh, sure, I know how you’d love to cuddle up with an agent, dress them in adorable footie pajamas and read them bedtime stories, but alas, they are remaining in their respective homes. For now. Who knows? If they really LOVE your ideas, maybe they’d like to snuggle beside you? But I digress…
At the conclusion of PiBoIdMo, on December 1st, I will post the “PiBo Pledge”. Leave a comment on the pledge post if you have completed the challenge with at least 30 ideas. You do not have to submit those ideas to prove that you have them. You’re on the honor system. It’s OK, I trust you.
If you have “signed” the pledge by commenting AND you had also registered, then you are eligible for an “agent prize”—a.k.a. THE GRAND POOBAH OF PRIZES. You will get your 5 best ideas evaluated by a kidlit agent. They’ll tell you which ideas might be the best ones to pursue as manuscripts. (Or not.)
Don’t worry–you’ll get a few days to pick your 5 best ideas and flesh them out before sending to your assigned agent.
This year we have NINE NOTABLE AGENTS participating! This means there are NINE GRAND PRIZES! I hope to add more, but these are who we have thus far.
Now…let me introduce you…let me make you smile… (wait, that’s let me entertain you…oopsie…but I bet you’re smiling anyway)…
Ammi-Joan Paquette, Erin Murphy Literary Agency (EMLA)
Joan is a Senior Agent with EMLA, working from her home office in Massachusetts as the “East Coast branch” of the agency. She represents all forms of children’s and young adult literature, but is most excited by a strong lyrical voice, tight plotting with surprising twists and turns, and stories told with heart and resonance that will stand the test of time.
An EMLA client herself, Joan is also the author of numerous books for children, most recently the picture books Ghost in the House (Candlewick, 2013) and Petey and Pru and the Hullabaloo (Clarion, 2013), and the novels Paradox (Random House, 2013) and Rules for Ghosting (Walker, 2013). When she is not on the phone, answering email, or writing, you will most likely find Joan curled up with a book. Or baking something delicious. Or talking about something delicious she’s baked. Really, after books and food, what else is there worth saying?
You can read more about Joan’s writing and agenting process here.
Tricia Lawrence, Erin Murphy Literary Agency (EMLA)
Tricia is the “Pacific Northwest branch” of EMLA—born and raised in Oregon, and now lives in Seattle. After 18 years of working as a developmental and production-based editor (from kids book to college textbooks, but mostly college textbooks), she joined the EMLA team in March 2011 as a social media strategist.
As associate agent, Tricia represents picture books/chapter books that look at the world in a unique and unusual way, with characters that are alive both on and off the page, and middle grade and young adult fiction and nonfiction that offers strong worldbuilding, wounded narrators, and stories that grab a reader and won’t let go.
Tricia loves hiking, camping out in the woods, and collecting rocks. She loves BBC America and anything British. She has way too many books and not enough bookshelves. You can find Tricia’s writing about blogging, Tweeting, Facebooking, and other social media topics (for authors and the publishing industry at large) here and here.
Marietta Zacker, Nancy Gallt Literary Agency
Marietta has experienced children’s books from every angle—teaching, marketing, publishing & bookselling. She thrives on working with authors who make readers feel their characters’ emotions and illustrators who add a different dimension to the story. She is also book curator at an independent toy store/bookstore. Read a recent publishing industry piece by Marietta here.
Danielle Smith, Foreword Literary
Danielle Smith began her agent career at Foreword Literary Agents in 2013 where she represents picture books and middle grade authors and illustrators. Her enthusiasm for children’s literature began as a young child, but grew exponentially when her own two children were born and shortly thereafter she began reviewing books at her top rated children’s book review site There’s A Book. For more than five years she’s been involved professionally with books through print and online publications such as Women’s World and Parenting Magazine, as a member of the judging panel for The Cybils awards for fiction picture books, as well as locally by serving on the board of The Central Coast Writer’s Conference.
Danielle is also a writer, represented by Pam van Hylckama Vlieg for her middle grade novel The Protectorate. She’s a member of SCBWI and can frequently be found on Twitter talking about anything from children’s books to the BBC’s Sherlock to her own parenting woes & joys.
Read more about Danielle here.
Mira Reisberg, Hummingbird Literary
Mira Reisberg came to launch Hummingbird Literary following a 25-year history in the field of children’s literature working as an award-winning illustrator, a writer, editor, art director, designer, a children’s literature and art education professor, and a teacher/mentor to many now successful children’s book creatives.
Her mission is to successfully represent all age-levels to create wonderful books that bring meaning and/or joy to children’s and young adult lives. Hummingbird Literary will have a limited number of clients so that Mira and her team can focus on building long-term careers and fruitful relationships.
Learn more about Mira and Hummingbird here.
Susan Hawk, The Bent Agency
Susan Hawk represents authors who write for children of all ages, babies to teenage.
Susan comes to TBA from Children’s Book Marketing, where she worked for over 15 years, most recently as the Marketing Director at Henry Holt Books for Young Readers, and previous to that as the Library Marketing Director at Penguin Young Readers Group. She’s also worked as a children’s librarian and a bookseller.
Susan handles books for children exclusively: picture books, chapter books, middle grade and YA, fiction and non-fiction. She wants a book to stay with her long after she finishes reading, and she’s looking for powerful, original writing. She’s open to mystery, scifi, humor, boy books, historical, contemporary (really any genre). Her favorite projects live at the intersection of literary and commercial. In non-fiction she’s looking for books that relate to kid’s daily lives and their concerns with the world. In picture books, she’s looking particularly for author-illustrators, succinct but expressive texts, and characters as indelible as her childhood favorites Ferdinand, Madeline and George and Martha.
Read more about Susan here.
Lori Kilkelly, Rodeen Literary Management
Lori Kilkelly is an agent with Rodeen Literary Management, founded by Paul Rodeen, formerly of Sterling Lord Literistic, in 2009. After working in sales for a number of years, Lori decided to follow her passion for books. She attended the Denver Publishing Institute, subsequently joining the agency as an intern in early 2010. Ascending the ranks from intern and reader to assistant, she worked with current and potential clients as well as editors and publishers. In early 2012 Lori took on the role of Social Media Manager, creating and maintaining the Rodeen Literary Facebook page as well as Twitter and Pinterest accounts, to provide promotional opportunities for RLM clients as well as keep interested parties informed about books, news and events involving RLM. In December 2012 she began representing her first client, Toni Yuly, and has subsequently taken on an additional four clients. She represents authors as well as illustrators and is actively seeking talented Middle Grade and Young Adult writers.
Please visit here for more on Lori and Rodeen Literary Management.
Sean McCarthy, McCarthy Literary
Sean McCarthy began his publishing career as an editorial intern at Overlook Press and then moved over to the Sheldon Fogelman Agency. He worked as the submissions coordinator and permissions manager before becoming a full-time literary agent. Sean graduated from Macalester College with a degree in English-Creative Writing, and is grateful that he no longer has to spend his winters in Minnesota.
He is drawn to flawed, multifaceted characters with devastatingly concise writing in YA, and boy-friendly mysteries or adventures in MG. In picture books, he looks more for unforgettable characters, off-beat humor, and especially clever endings. He is not currently interested in high fantasy, message-driven stories, or query letters that pose too many questions.
Jill Corcoran, Jill Corcoran Literary Agency
Prior to becoming an agent, Jill Corcoran worked at Mattel, LA Gear, Leo Burnett Advertising and her own company, LAUNCH! New Product Marketing. With an English degree from Stanford University and a Marketing and Finance MBA from the University of Chicago School of Business, Jill has marketed everything from Barbies to Disney toys, Kellogg’s cereal to LA Gear shoes. But when she started writing books for children, and then agenting them, she knew she found her true calling.
Jill represents Picture Books, Chapter Books, Middle Grade and Young Adult plus a select list of adult non-fiction. Visit her agency website here.
Interesting story—back in 2009, I met Jill in person at the NJ-SCBWI annual conference after chatting via social media for months. We never really got a chance to talk in depth, so I asked if I could email her some of my picture book ideas so she could give me feedback on which might be the best to pursue as manuscripts. She agreed and I sent her a bunch of ideas, one of which was for THE MONSTORE. And the rest, they say, is history.
My experience with Jill is how these “agent prizes” came to be. I know how valuable it is to receive guidance from someone who really knows the market. Now that I have an agent myself (Ammi-Joan Paquette), I’m lucky enough to bounce ideas off her before I do any writing. But if you don’t have an agent, just how can you discern a lukewarm idea from a HOT one? Hopefully these agent prizes will give you a head start in that department.
Yay! So those are our agents, folks.
Now I should end on a humorous note, but you know, running PiBoIdMo just wipes the witty right outta me sometimes.
Maybe…yabba dabba do?
Welcome back, Mira, now where were we? Oh yeah, that exclusive… Cookie and I have been real patient. Animal, well, not so much. Drum roll, please.
First off Tara, I’d like to respond to some of your comments regarding what can happen after you are published.
Oh, the suspense!
Getting a review in any of the top review journals is really tough because they get so many submissions and only have space for a few. Also the publisher’s marketing/publicity folks (often just one person) are so overworked and overwhelmed it really is up to the author and illustrator to get the word out these days. It also helps if you can make personal connections with their marketing/PR peeps to inspire them to help get the word out for you. Have you made a trailer for the movie? If you aren’t video savvy, Katie Davis’s video course, which I’ve taken, is terrific: VideoIdiotBootCamp.com. I’m also hoping that folks share the video of your book that we posted yesterday to help get the word out. It really is an exponential numbers game of people sharing.
I know how much heart and soul and time and sweat goes into writing a good manuscript and then the emotional ups and downs of actually getting it published only to have it fall through the cracks of the biggest retail chain because of negotiation issues that have nothing to do with you. Aaargh. It’s heartbreaking. Also I loved what you had to say about your relationship with your illustrator. You do have to trust and most times what they do far exceeds anyone’s imagination or expectations.
In terms of an exclusive offer… Here’s what I’d like to give your wonderful readers, many of whom I know ☺.
- I’d like to provide the opportunity to register with the early bird special price of only $249 (regular price $289) for the upcoming Craft and Business of Writing Children’s Picture Books e-course starting August 26th, with this link: https://www.e-junkie.com/ecom/gb.php?c=cart&i=1111301&cl=210181&ejc=2.
- …or the Big Bonus Craft and Business of Writing Children’s Picture Books for $279 (regular price $325) with this link: https://www.e-junkie.com/ecom/gb.php?c=cart&i=1156535&cl=210181&ejc=2. The e-course includes over 30 lessons and more goodies than you can shake a stick. The Big Bonus includes interactivity with our Facebook group and live webinars. The offer is time-sensitive, so you need to sign up before July 29th to take advantage of it.
- In addition, I’d like to offer an exclusive opportunity for 5 people to pitch a picture book manuscript to me at Hummingbird Literary. To win the pitch contest all you need to do is suggest some creative marketing strategies in the comments below and help to get the word out for THE MONSTORE (yes I love Tara and her book). And of course Tara gets to choose the winners ☺ (deadline July 29th). The winners will receive a special priority email address from Tara for you to send a manuscript and pitch letter describing your other projects. For ethical reasons, students who take any of my personally taught course have to wait 6 months following a course before submitting to Hummingbird Literary, but I will make an exception if any of my former or near future students win here. Also because I want to give my heart and soul to my new clients, I won’t be teaching many more of the PBA courses myself and they will either be self-paced or have guest instructors. I’ll be sad but my new venture is also VERY exciting.
For more information on the courses, check out http://www.picturebookacademy.com/writing-childrens-picture-books.html.
Mira, that’s a terrific offer, thank you! You are so generous! Thank you so much for helping me get the word out about my book, and for helping other authors polish and sell their work. This really demonstrates what a big-hearted community we have in kidlit.
Before you go, Mira, I think one of the most interesting and telling things about an agent is their list of favorite all-time children’s books. Which PBs really stand out for you and why? What about them makes them special and inspiring?
This is such a hard question to answer. I have tons of video reviews over at the Picture Book Academy in the Blog section of books that I love, but all time favorites… Wow!!
I love Yuyi Morales’s JUST A MINUTE because it’s fun, soulful, and has a fabulously powerful elderly female protagonist who outsmarts Señor Death. Besides being a counting book, it has many other layers of meaning and importance. I also love how despite being repeatedly told that no-one would ever publish a picture book with death as a main character, Yuyi believed in her story, persisted, and eventually went on to win all sorts of awards for it. The book launched her career.
I’m a huge fan of Nicoletta Ceccholi’s art, which is positively luminous in A DIGNITY OF DRAGONS: Plural Nouns for Mythological Beasts, which has minimal, elegant text in a non-fiction format. It also has a multicultural aspect, which I love and is just so exquisitely done.
Another favorite is VOICES IN THE PARK by Anthony Browne, which I consider a perfect book for way too many reasons to describe, Mo Willems’ LEONARDO THE TERRIBLE MONSTER for its simplicity, cleverness and underlying meaning, I SEE THE RHYTHM, another near perfect book that works on multiple layers.
I think I’m quite promiscuous when it comes to having favorite books as there are so many more that I adore.
And these are some of the many books by my super talented former students!
Also, I’m doing a free writing workshop/webinar this Wednesday with Mark Mitchell of Make Your Splashes at 6PM Pacific Standard time here: http://makeyoursplashes.com/a-writing-workshop-with-mira/. I’ll try and include these books and other favorites as part of it. If you are interested, do sign up for it soon as the webinar space can only hold a limited number of people.
Tara, what are some of your faves? I know you have a wicked sense of humor so I imagine there will be some funny ones in there from you.
Yes, I love the quirky picture books. I adore THIS RABBIT BELONGS TO EMILY BROWN by Cressida Cowell, ARNIE THE DOUGHNUT by Laurie Keller and OTTO GROWS DOWN by Michael Sussman. They are all funny, layered stories with smart kid sensibilities that are a bit longer in length than some of the more recent hits. I like more meat in my picture books. One of my favorite non-fiction picture books is by Shana Corey—THE MERMAID QUEEN. Corey, also an editor at Penguin Random House, focuses her stories on little-known but important women in history.
And finally, Mira, how would you describe your ideal client?
My ideal client with be tall and tan and young and lovely, wait, that’s a song. No. I love working with people who are smart, fun, soulful, in touch with the emotional core of their stories or art (i.e. character-driven), able to let go of their egos to work gently and collaboratively doing whatever it takes to make the story or art be the best it can be if needed, playful, culturally sensitive, warm, loving, diverse, interested in all sorts of things including non-fiction, either non-rhyming or a professional poet, a skilled artist open to possibly writing, a skilled writer open to possibly illustrating, and someone who really wants to work with me and has the patience to see the long term goals. Another quality that my ideal client will have is an appreciation for community as Hummingbird Literary will also be a community for its clients with our own group blog, our own secret social media space where folks can critique each others work and support each other with a spirit of camaraderie and celebration of creativity and life!
Before I go, I wanted to share something from my office.
On Saturday I refinished this file cabinet with rice paper to hold Hummingbird Literary files and it’s named “The Karen” after my mentor, Karen Grencik. With time, I’ll be collaging images from our client’s books all over it. It was exciting to make.
Wow, Tara, this post turned out a bit epic. I sure had fun doing it with you and send my love to you and your readers. I look forward to see the practical and creative approaches to promoting THE MONSTORE ☺!
Thank you, thank you, Mira! I know you’re going to have a long and successful career as an agent, and I know so many people who would benefit greatly from your guidance. My best wishes to you in all your endeavors!
Do you know Mira Reisberg? You should! She’s the brainchild behind The Picture Book Academy, teaching kidlit writers the finer points of the craft. And now, Mira’s got exciting news. She’s launching Hummingbird Literary next week!
Mira, why did you decide to become a children’s book agent?
Well Tara, it’s kind of a wild story. I started off on the creative production end—illustrating and writing picture books—and had some success. Then I started teaching children’s book illustrating and writing at UC Berkeley Extension and San Francisco City College Extension. Some of my students ended up becoming very successful and my own books continued to sell well. I was invited to Washington State University to give some presentations and school visits and then got talked into moving there to do a PhD. It was truly the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but it prepared me for everything that has come since. After teaching children’s literature, writing and illustrating, and art education in universities for 7 years, I realized I hated the grading and how confining institutions can be and left. I decided to start my own school, The Picture Book Academy, which has turned out to be very successful with 11 students receiving 15 contracts so far just in the last 10 months. It’s been pretty amazing.
Wow, 15 contracts in under a year is pretty amazing! That success cannot be ignored. What happened next?
The beautiful Karen Grencik from Red Fox Literary and I got talking and she told me that she thought I’d make a great agent and offered to mentor me. Her agency is closed to submissions except through referrals and conferences etc., so she decided to invest in me so that more people could have a shot at getting quality work out to publishers and into children’s hands. I feel like a series of doors have opened for me that I’ve walked through. Karen has been an incredibly generous door opener for me and as this is most likely the only time that she will put this much time and effort into training someone, I want to make her proud. It helps that I also see myself as a door opener too. I also see you as a huge door opener with PiBoIdMo. Tara, can you talk about how you came to start your own journey as a children’s book author leading up to the publication of your wonderful book, THE MONSTORE, and how you came to launch Picture Book Idea Month (PiBoIdMo)?
Being a children’s book author is what I always wanted to do, but I didn’t have the timing right until my second daughter was born. There were other things dominating my time before then—competing in figure skating on the National level, establishing a career in high-tech—but once I had my girls and I was staying home, I was immersed in children’s literature and my old feelings bubbled to the surface. I read to my kids constantly! And I finally made the time to write seriously. So I started by joining a critique group. I read hundreds of books, attended SCBWI events, studied craft guides, and began this blog in late 2007.
So when November 2008 rolled around, I read blogs of writer friends and got all jealous over NaNoWriMo. I didn’t write novels! Where was the inspirational event for picture book writers?
Well, there were none in November. So I created one. Honestly I thought only a handful of people would participate, but I suppose other PB writers were as eager as I was to have our own month-long event, because by 2012, PiBoIdMo had 750 participants! There’s also been more than a dozen contracts signed from participants’ PiBoIdMo ideas, and I’m so happy to have played a role in getting great books for kids into the world.
So Mira, what is the name of your new literary agency, and, speaking of doors, when do yours swing open? And what specifically are you seeking in submissions?
First off, Tara, yay to PiBoIdMo, where you host a month of inspiration and support for people to write a month’s worth of picture book ideas! It’s a wonderful group on Facebook and via your website and one that I love being a part of. Thank you.
The agency is called Hummingbird Literary. After wrestling with myself about doing this, I came up with a whole bunch of names including this one but didn’t want to use it because it’s a long name and I wanted something short. At the same time, an exquisite hummingbird kept coming right up to my window over and over, being extremely insistent, so it pretty much named itself. I also love the symbolism of hummingbirds as bringers of joy and good news and as small miracles able to travel great distances very fast, despite their tiny size. I’m also very small in size. Right now, I am particularly interested in author/illustrators, stunning illustrators, and non-fiction that hooks me in and keeps me there. Doors are opening July 28th on Beatrix Potter’s birthday (please read the submissions policy). Beatrix Potter was not only a wonderful children’s book author and illustrator, but she was also an early environmentalist, which is reflected in her books. I have a sweet spot for books that help make a better world in playful ways.
Tara, I recently did a video review of The Monstore where I spoke about how well you’ve done at keeping the text smart, fun, and succinct and let the illustrations convey a lot of information. How was this process for you and did you have any illustrator notes for James or have a say in who illustrated your book? Also another thing that I wanted to talk with you about is how your book is doing given Barnes and Nobles political situation and how it affects your book. I wanted to find out because a) I’m curious and b) I thought it might be helpful to give your peeps a peek at what can happen even after you get a contract.
There were exactly two illustration notes, both in the very beginning, describing the eat-your-food-under-the-table monster and the glow-in-the-dark monster. Never a note about what they looked like, just about what they did. You’ve got to trust the illustrator because their visual interpretations are far more perfect that we can ever imagine.
I did have a say in who illustrated the book. And the say was, “OMG, YES! HIRE JAMES BURKS!” after my editor and art director showed me his online portfolio.
The Barnes & Noble thing is a real sore spot. Like a bruise. If I don’t touch it, I don’t notice it’s there. But when I press it, I feel all OUCHIE.
When I signed the contract with Aladdin—the “commercial” imprint at Simon & Schuster—there was never a doubt in my mind that B&N and Borders would carry THE MONSTORE. Of course, Borders is now gone, and the B&N/S&S dispute is extremely unfortunate timing. I know sales must be suffering, despite my best efforts to promote the book online and off.
Lots of strange things happen once a book is out. You’re so happy when you sign the contract, you don’t think about this post-release stuff. Professional reviewers don’t review your book for unknown reasons, some pan it, and those pubs who give positive reviews write them like plot summaries.
I realize I should be grateful for any reviews, but I’m beginning to believe the professional reviews don’t matter as much as general public opinion. And the feedback for the book has been tremendous. Readers really love it. That’s all I ever hoped for. I’ve already received fan mail! When I hear a kid is asking their parents to read it over and over (and the parent obliges without being annoyed), I get all warm and fuzzy inside, like being tucked into a down blanket on a snow day. Knowing a book I created is welcomed in someone’s home is a pretty cool feeling.
Hopefully word of mouth will negate any damage from the B&N situation. Maybe B&N will realize they NEED this book for the Halloween and end-of-year gift-giving season. There’s still hope, right?
Mira, I promised my blog readers an exclusive offer from you. What did you have in mind?
I’d love to Tara but our conversation is so juicy—can we continue it tomorrow?
Oh, what a cliffhanger! OK, I’ll just sit here and wait. Good thing I’ve got Cookie Monster here to keep me company.
LAT: THE MONSTORE is Tara’s debut book. Was it also the first manuscript you saw from Tara?
AJP: Yes! Tara queried me with this picture book, also mentioning that she had several other projects in the works. I read and loved THE MONSTORE, and asked Tara if any of her other works were complete and available to send me. She did! The more I read, the more I loved Tara’s effusive writing, dynamic characters, and wildly inventive imagination. I was hooked.
LAT: What was it about THE MONSTORE that really made you sit up and take notice?
AJP: I think THE MONSTORE is the definition of high-concept. Right from the title you know…
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Knowing I have blog followers who are eager to snag a picture book agent, I sat down with Susan (after we bumped—yes—right there on the floor) and asked her some questions about picture books, agenting, and the surreal softness of the carpet. Was it Turkish cotton? Or do they only use that for robes and towels? (Um, scratch those last couple questions.)
Susan, what led to your decision to become a kidlit agent? Can you tell us about your professional background?
I’m lucky to have worn a number of hats within the children’s book world. I’ve been a bookseller; I have a degree in Library Science and have worked in an elementary school library as well as the Brooklyn Public Library; I acquired a few book projects for Dutton Children’s Books. But most of my background is in Children’s Book Marketing, gathered at Penguin, Henry Holt and North-South Books. All of that led to my decision to make the jump to agenting three years ago, which feels like the perfect way to put these experiences to work. But, really, I think it all began with this: I’m a reader. I love reading books, I love meeting new characters and going new places in the pages of a book, and that’s always been true for me.
Ah, a great question. It’s hard to stop!
- ME, JANE by Patrick McDonnell
- SPOON by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Scott Magoon
- I’M NOT by Pam Smallcomb and Robert Weinstock
- THE HELLO, GOODBYE WINDOW by Norton Juster and Chris Raschka
- SO YOU WANT TO BE PRESIDENT by Judith St George and David Small
- OFFICER BUCKLE AND GLORIA by Peggy Rathmann
- “MORE, MORE, MORE,” SAID THE BABY by Vera B Williams
- BLUEBERRIES FOR SAL by Robert McCloskey
- GEORGE AND MARTHA, or anything by James Marshall
- SYLVESTER AND THE MAGIC PEBBLE by William Steig
- MISS RUMPHIUS by Barbara Cooney
- LILLY’S PURPLE PLASTIC PURSE by Kevin Henkes
- BREAD AND JAME FOR FRANCES by Russell Hoban
- FREDERICK by Leo Lionni
What about those books make them special?
Three things: character, humor, and each of these is a very satisfying book.
In most of them, the main character is someone I love. Like, obsessively love. ME, JANE—I already think Jane Goodall is amazing, but in the pages of this book, we’re introduced to a real little girl who’s so true to her own interests, that you can’t help but be entirely charmed. Spoon features the most adorable spoon you’d ever want to meet, not to mention his smart, reassuring parents. And it goes on—every one of these books holds a real, textured person, brought to life in just a few words and pages.
Almost all of them are funny. Some of them are more broadly so, in some of them the humor lies more in a clever twist, but with all of them, I find myself smiling. A lot.
You know the feeling when you close a book and think, I can’t wait to read that again? That happens when the author and artist, together, create a perfect symphony of voice, character and plot. When everything works in concert, you finish the story feeling somehow more whole, and will want to come back to that story again. Obviously, which books do this will be different for different people, but for me, these books all give me that sense.
What do you look for in a picture book submission?
Pretty much what I described above!
Also, shorter text (about 500-600 words), and I’m not usually a fan of rhyming text.
What makes you stop reading a submission?
Predictably, longer texts, rhyming texts—I usually stop reading those. There are also quite a few “evergreen” stories, themes or subjects out there—making a new friend is one. (Here’s a list of a few others.) These can be tricky because in the right hands, they can feel fresh and new, so I’d never say that I’d automatically stop reading a story like this. Still, these texts will be competing with quite a few others out there, so I’m cautious with these.
Is there anything you see too much of in your submission pile?
I see quite a few projects that want to teach kids a lesson. I’m not particularly interested in this, though there are quite a few picture books that want kids to understand some values—fairness, for instance—and do this quite skillfully. I guess that, in terms of message books, I want to see this emerge from the character’s journey, rather than leading the story.
What is the word from picture book editors these days? What are they seeking in picture books?
The main thing editors ask me for is strong, original characters with a compelling, meaty story. If that character has the potential to build a series, all the better. Length should be shorter (see word count above). Most editors will find something funny very appealing and are often looking for something quirky. This is harder to quantify—one gal’s quirky is another gal’s odd—but in general, I think this is about looking for something that feels new and different.
What factors go into your decision to offer a picture book author representation? (Do you offer representation based on only one picture book, or do you prefer that the author have a few ready to submit?)
Two things—I need to love the work, and I need to feel that I can sell it. Easy to explain, hard to find! Mainly that’s because it’s ultimately personal and what I may love is so different than what someone else may love. It’s best if the writer has a few books in the bag, so to speak, but not 100% necessary.
Do your rep author-illustrators? Is it best for them to query with a full dummy, or just a story and a portfolio?
I do! In fact, I’m very eager to take more author-illustrators on. I love seeing a full dummy, but querying either way is fine. My submissions information is here: http://www.thebentagency.com/submission.php.
Could you describe your ideal client?
Someone who loves their work. Writing and illustrating is amazing work, and I feel super lucky to work with children’s book creators, but it requires dedication, patience, flexibility, and some grit. You’re probably going to hear no a few times before you hear yes. Being able to balance all that against a deep love for your work, and a real pleasure in doing it, is key.
Are you open to submissions? How can writers reach you?
Very much so. Please visit The Bent Agency website to learn more about being in touch.
Thank you, Susan! I hope to bump into you again soon! Without dumping us both onto the floor. Although, it sparked a lovely, informative conversation, didn’t it?
Three is a magic number. Not only because it’s the age when tiny toy parts no longer pose a choking hazard to your toddler, but because the universe is full of threebies.
Three square meals a day.
Three strikes and you’re out.
Three ring circus. And three ring government. (Excellent analogy, Schoolhouse Rock.)
Then there’s the “rule of thirds” design principle for composing visual images with tension and interest.
Ever heard of the FOUR LITTLE PIGS? Of course not. There’s just three, like THREE BLIND MICE and THREE BILLY GOATS GRUFF. Heck, there’s even THREE STOOGES.
In picture books, you’ll often find the protagonist struggling to solve their problem three times before finally succeeding. This technique encourages the reader to become invested in the hero’s journey. If the character were to try once and triumph, what fun is that? There’s no time to root for her!
Likewise, you’ll often see groups of three drawings on one picture book page. Three offers a nice balance because two is too few and four is too many. Like Goldilocks and the THREE Bears know, three is “just right”.
So today I’m going to extend “The Rule of Three” to you, the aspiring author. How so? I encourage you to have THREE polished manuscripts ready before submitting to an agent or editor.
Three manuscripts means that you’ve been writing for a while. Not a month or two, but most likely a year or two…or yes, even three. You’ve taken the time to hone your craft. Three manuscripts also means you’ve got a body of work an agent can review. If they don’t like your first story, but they see potential, they will ask for some more. Wouldn’t it be a missed opportunity if you didn’t have more?
In fact, even if they LOVE your first story, they will ask to see more. Picture books are a difficult sell, so if the first manuscript doesn’t find a home, they’ll want something else to submit. Three stories lets the agent know that your body of work, your style, resonates with them. On the flip side, they may LOVE your first book but not see a market for your other stories, or personally dislike them. Their lack of enthusiasm means they are not the right agent for you. You want to know this BEFORE you sign with someone, not AFTER….’cause breaking up? It’s hard to do.
And listen, if you have three manuscripts ready, I’m going to go a bit further and suggest you get FIVE ready. Because five is shiny, like “five golden rings” or “The Jackson Five”.
Yeah, it’s easy as A B C, 1 2 THREE.