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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.
Ready, Set, Events!
Hooray! Your book is about to release! You’re geared up and ready for some super fun book events. But what happens when you live in an area that has very few bookstores?
Answer: You think outside the bookstore!
The first thing any author thinks of when planning their book launch is bookstore . . . bookstore . . . bookstore. After all, you have a BOOK! Books belong in bookstores. Your book events need to take place in a bookstore. However, as I soon discovered while planning RACE CAR DREAMS’ book launch, not all events have to be inside a brick and mortar bookstore. In fact, they don’t have to take place inside a store at all.
What? Yes, that’s right. My second book event took place at our local Chick-Fil-A! And we had a vrooming good time! Check out the sign they even displayed weeks in advance!
One of the things that drew me to my local Chick-Fil-A was that they are always hosting events for kid related themes. They host a Kids Club, School Spirit contests, and many other fun-filled events that support the community and provide a wonderful experience for kids. Plus, it didn’t hurt that I already knew the owner (my husband and I deliver their buns on our bread route! Connections are good, right?).
Start your engines!
Once, I secured the only two bookstores in our community for events, I called up the owner of Chick-Fil-A to see if they would be interested in hosting an event. And he was! He connected me with the Marketing Director who not only was fantastic to work with but was phenomenal in creating an action-packed afternoon! She even secured TWO real live race cars to coincide with the race car theme of my book!
Doesn’t RACE CAR DREAMS look happy to be featured alongside real live race cars?
Plan, plan, plan! And let the good times roll!
Incorporating as many kid activities as possible (but stick to a budget!) will ensure a crowd pleasing event.
The happier the crowd, the longer they will stick around. Try to start planning for these events as far in advance as you can. My husband and I started a fun project in early spring that featured a battery powered toy car replica of my main character. He was tiny, so only the littlest of kids would be able to fit inside. For the older kids, I picked up a Hot Wheels race track during the Holiday season (at half price!) for the events. Both were huge successes! If possible, decorate your event with theme related items that tie into your book. I used racing banners, racing flags, a checkered rug, race tracks, and goodie bags with all sorts of racing themed items inside for giveaways. All of which I found on Amazon at great prices! And my publisher was kind enough to send me bookmarks and posters for the little ones to enjoy!
Vrooming into first place!
On the day of the event, show up early because setting up in a non-bookstore will take extra time, especially if you hold it outdoors. Thankfully, mother nature was on our side and it was a beautiful day, but it’s best to have a backup plan for a not-so-friendly mother nature because well, she does as she pleases. We were prepared to move the event indoors if needed.
As kids and their families arrive, chat with them, show them around, point out the fun activities for the kids to enjoy, talk about your book, and mention when story time will take place (decide this in advance and stick to a schedule). Also, include your own family and friends as much as possible in your events. This always makes for an extra special day not only for you but for them as well.
And throughout the day, be sure lots of pictures are being taken. You don’t get re-do’s on events, and capturing the day will make for great memories.
Now, it’s your time to rev up your own creative engines!
So, as you can see, bookstores are not the only places to have a successful book event. If you have a release coming up, or a book already out in the world, rev up your creative engine and see what happens. Don’t be afraid to reach out to a non-bookstore and ask if they’d like to host a book event for you — you just never know . . . it could lead to a vrooming good time!
Thank you, Sharon! Looks like you had a fun and memorable event!
Leave a comment below to be entered into the RACE CAR DREAMS Giveaway. The random winner will receive an autographed book, a poster, bookmarks, and a goodie bag stuffed with all sorts of racing themed items. Good luck!
Sharon Chriscoe may not vroom around a race track, but she does zip and zoom around in a bread truck with her husband, Ricky. Fueled with fresh bread, snacks, and writing tools, Sharon has made this her mobile office! She and her husband live in Pilot Mountain, North Carolina. They have three children and one grandchild on the way, as well as an assortment of dogs, cats, bunnies and occasionally a groundhog. In addition to RACE CAR DREAMS, she is the author of BULLDOZER DREAMS (a companion book to RACE CAR DREAMS, Running Press Kids, 2017), and THE SPARROW AND THE TREES (Arbordale Publishing, 2015). She is also a contributor to several magazines such as Highlights High Five, Highlights Hello, and The Old Farmer’s Almanac for Kids. She is a member of The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and is a graduate of The Institute of Children’s Literature. She is represented by Jessica Sinsheimer of the Sarah Jane Freymann Literary Agency. To learn more about Sharon, her books, and future events, visit her website: SharonChriscoeBooks.com.
The Katz is out of the bag!! Tomorrow’s the book birthday of my latest picture book, OFFICER KATZ & HOUNDINI: A TALE OF TWO TAILS, illustrated by Danny Chatzikonstantinou. Aladdin gets extra points for fitting two very long surnames on its spine!
Since the blog tour’s kicking off right here at Writing for Kids (While Raising Them), I thought I’d celebrate its release with a sneak peek at some of my favorite images from the book.
There are two kinds of magic in the book. The first is a kind of practical magic. Officer Katz is an inventor. This is his most prized and pawsome invention, the Katzapult:
Houndini’s magic is more elusive. Like his namesake, Houdini, he’s an escape artiste, practiced in the art of disappearance. I love his exuberance as he bursts out of a box here:
Officer Katz and Houndini have sidekicks, Deputy Catbird and Squirrel.
And I absolutely adore the hilarious endpapers:
Which place would you like to visit, New Pork, or perhaps Mane?
Leave a comment, and you will be eligible for one of THREE prizes:
- A query pass from agent extraordinaire, Ammi-Joan Paquette of Erin Murphy Literary (either a query plus a whole PB manuscript or a query plus first five novel pages).
- A picture book critique from Maria—either fiction or nonfiction.
- Your own copy of OFFICER KATZ & HOUNDINI (US residents only—sorry!).
Thanks again for having me here, Tara! It was pawsitively purrfect!
The prizes will be given away in early November.
OFFICER KATZ & HOUNDINI BLOG TOUR! BOOK GIVEAWAYS EVERY DAY!
Tuesday, Oct. 18th: Librarian’s Quest
Wednesday, Oct. 19th: Bildebok
Thursday, Oct. 20th: Mamabelly’s Lunches with Love
Friday, Oct. 21st: Pragmaticmom + THREE book giveaway
Monday, Oct. 24th: Homemade City
Tuesday, Oct. 25th: ReFoReMo THINK QUICK Interview with Carrie Charley Brown
Back in 2014, a picture book idea popped into my head. Luckily I jotted it down in my handy, dandy PiBoIdMo notebook. Gradually, the idea grew into a story about a girl named Chana who was miffed that everyone was mangling her name (“Shayna-China-Shawna-Kahana”). “I’m changing my name to Sue!” Chana cried to her grandmother.
“Sue’s a nice name,” said Grandma. “But did you know there was another Chana who came before you?” Grandma proceeded to tell her granddaughter all about Great Grandma Chana, her voyage to America, and her amazing qualities. Guess which name Chana chooses in the end? I titled the book THAT’S NOT MY NAME, and sent a draft to my critique group.
The critiques I received were lukewarm. My writing partners liked that the book drew on my personal experience. (Not a day goes by without someone bungling my name. The “Ch” is a throat clearing kh sound, like Challah bread or Chanukah, + Ah +Nah.) I had a feeling that all the Sibhoans, Seans, Xaviers, and Chiaras, of the world could relate. The book also emphasized the meanings of names and the importance of maintaining family traditions. Some of my critique partners found the story relatable, BUT . . . they didn’t like that Grandma solved Chana’s problem for her, which made the story fall flat as a pancake run over by a Zamboni.
How could Chana solve her own problem? I made about 10 different attempts at revision. In one draft, Chana scrutinized old photographs. In another she studied a family quilt. She even tried on Grandma Chana’s name necklace. But all of these ideas were BORING! I was stuck.
Then, in the summer of 2015, I read a guest post by my agent, John Cusick, on the Kidlit Summer School blog. John offered “Three Ways to Jumpstart Your Draft When the Plot Starts to Sag.” Tip #1 was a field trip. “In life, if you’re in a funk, you might need a change of scenery,” John wrote. “Chances are your characters feel the same way. Try switching up the setting.”
I love field trips. (Anything to get away from my desk.) Around that time, I went hiking on vacation with my husband in the Canadian Rockies. We were trudging two miles up a mountain in the rain to get to the Lake Agnes Tea House when BAM! It hit me.
What if I drop my character into a whole new setting and a whole new era? Inspired by the rocks around me I thought: What if Chana is a cave girl named…
(See how I kept the Ch?) And what if she’s really steamed that her friends Oog, Boog, and Goog keep bungling her name? And what if she can’t find a T-shirt with her name on it? And what if she’s inspired to solve her own problem after looking at cave paintings of her great, great, great grandmother, the Mighty Wakawakaloch?
By placing my character in a whole new time and place, I had a fresh, new story with more action, more layers, and lots of humor. My critique partners gave it a thumbs up. I shared it at last year’s NJ-SCBWI Fall Craft Weekend and got rave reviews. When John read it, he tweeted:
Making your agent cry is a good thing (sometimes). We submitted the book to publishers at the start of 2016 and got the obligatory pile of rejections. And then, sometime during Round 2, the wonderful Kate O’Sullivan at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt said yes! She signed with the hilarious illustrator Mary Sullivan (author/illustrator of BALL, TREAT, and more!).
I’m forever grateful to Tara Lazar & the soon-to-be-renamed PiBoIdMo for giving me the spark to get this story started. Without my handy, dandy PiBoIdMo notebook—and the lessons I’ve learned over the years about freely jotting down ideas & then fine-tuning them—none of this would ever have happened. Stay tuned for WAKAWAKALOCH’s debut in 2019!
Chana Stiefel (back of the throat Ch-ah-nah STEE-ful) is the author of more than 20 non-fiction books for kids on topics like exploding volcanoes and stinky castles. Her debut picture book, DADDY DEPOT, will be published by Feiwel & Friends in May 2017. WAKAWAKALOCH will be published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in 2019. Chana is represented by John M. Cusick at Folio Literary. Check out Chana’s work at chanastiefel.com and on her authors’ blog, which she co-writes with her writing partner Donna Cangelosi, at kidlittakeaways.com.
by Anika Denise
Tis the Season!
What’s in the secret sauce of a successful seasonal title? Anika Denise, author of Monster Trucks, a high-octane Halloween tale of vroom and doom, divulges tips on crafting seasonal stories that SELL!
First, what’s a seasonal title? (It may seem obvious, but indulge me a moment, kidlit peeps.) A seasonal title is any book that relates to a season or holiday, be it Halloween, Hanukah, Easter, Earth Day, Back-to-School or Black History Month. (Think table displays in bookstores and libraries.)
So, why am I singling them out? I mean, shouldn’t we all just write good stories, and if they happen to have a holiday hook, all the better?
Yes! But this might get your attention: At a recent SCBWI retreat, Christian Trimmer, Executive Editor at Simon & Schuster, revealed seven factors that help get a picture book acquired. Number one was: “Be a Celebrity!” (Unless you’re Kelly Clarkson, read on.) Number two: “Get that Promotion!” In other words, books with potential for holiday placement are more likely to catch an editor’s eye.
Excellent! So how do you write a seasonal story that sells?
BE SEASONAL, BUT NOT OVERLY SPECIFIC
My editor on MONSTER TRUCKS, Nancy Inteli, pointed out that while she frequently acquires seasonal titles, she especially seeks books that aren’t so narrowly holiday focused that their shelf life is limited. “Monster Trucks has a clear Halloween hook,” she explained. “But it also appeals to the truck-loving crowd, which makes it a perennial.”
That’s not to say you should abandon that Arbor Day book you’re writing, just keep in mind that a broader seasonal story might have a better shot at finding a home.
Another great example of a not-so-specific seasonal book: Creepy Carrots by Aaron Reynolds and Peter Brown. Although Creepy Carrots is quite likely on every Halloween book display table in America, it’s not strictly a Halloween book. Quirky and funny, it and can be read and shared all year round.
And speaking of quirky and funny…
ORIGINALITY IS KEY!
It’s always key. But when traversing well-trodden territory like “Back to School,” you better come packing a twist. Take School’s First Day of School by Adam Rex and Christian Robinson, for example. It explores first day jitters from the SCHOOL BUILDING’s perspective. Genius! And delightfully original.
RAMP UP THE READ-ALOUD APPEAL
One happy outcome of writing a seasonal title is, booksellers, librarians, teachers and parents are going to want to incorporate your book into story times. It helps to keep this in mind as you polish your manuscript. Humor, action, poetic techniques, evocative language and relatable characters will ramp up your read aloud appeal.
In BAKING DAY AT GRANDMA’S, bouncy rhymes, rhythmic refrains, and descriptions of sweet scents filling the air (hopefully) engage and entertain the read-aloud crowd. And although the new board book edition is being marketed for Christmas—at its heart—BAKING DAY AT GRANDMA’S is a cozy wintertime tale about spending time with family.
So if you’ve got an idea for a seasonal story simmering on the back burner, fire it up and submit! Tis the season!
Thank you for the useful information on selling a seasonal book, Anika. As the first stop in Anika’s MONSTER TRUCKS blog tour, we are giving away a copy to a random commenter. One comment per person, US addresses only, please. Good luck!
Anika Denise is the author of several critically acclaimed books for young readers including three illustrated by her husband Christopher Denise: Baking Day at Grandma’s, Bella and Stella Come Home, and Pigs Love Potatoes. Publishers Weekly hailed her latest picture book Monster Trucks, illustrated by Nate Wragg, “a mash-up made in heaven” in a recent starred review. When not writing tales of vroom and doom, Anika can be found zipping around her hometown of Barrington, Rhode Island in her monster minivan, or reading not-so-scary stories with her husband and three kids. Visit her online at AnikaDenise.com, or on Twitter @AnikaDenise.
You heard right, PiBoIdMo, your beloved Picture Book Idea Month, is growing up and making some moves.
First–it will take place in JANUARY 2017 instead of NOVEMBER 2016.
Next–it will have a NEW NAME.
Finally–the focus will become broader, welcoming all kinds of writers and creative folk, from students to professionals.
MORE INFO SOON!!!