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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!
I asked the kidlit agents participating in PiBoIdMo as your “grand prizes” to tell us why they love picture books. Their answers are sure to inspire!
Heather Alexander, Pippin Properties
Picture books are easy to love because they are tiny little windows that offer beautiful glimpses out into the whole, wide, wonderful world, and into hearts like and unlike our own.
Stephen Fraser, Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency
I do love picture books! There is nothing more satisfying than to find a picture book manuscript which has been carefully crafted to share a story with the youngest readers. The Impressionist painter Pierre Auguste Renoir said that painting is “making love visible” and I can’t help thinking that is why some picture books are so endearing and everlasting. They make the love we feel for our children, our grandchildren, and the children within us very visible. It is a true craft which needs to be learned and practiced. And I honor those who learn this craft and honor children.
Kirsten Hall, Catbird Agency
Picture books pretty much have me wrapped around their finger. I’m obsessed by the story-telling opportunities offered by this highly-visual genre! Picture books (as a format) seem simple at first blush, but they are often in fact quite layered and even poetic, displaying an elegant interplay between text and art. Best of all, picture books are accessible to everyone. You don’t have to be able to read in order to love them. They can be savored for what they offer visually, and when read aloud, until a reader has command over the written word. Simply, what format is better than the first one that takes children by the hand and turns them into book-lovers?
Susan Hawk, The Bent Agency
The best part of picture books, for me, is way words and illustration marry together to create a sum greater than its parts. I love the way art builds meaning in the story, and how the simplest of texts can be full of emotion and heart. I remember so well the picture books that I poured over as a child — mystified and delighted to be invited into the world of reading and books. For me, it’s an honor to represent picture books!
Tricia Lawrence, Erin Murphy Literary Agency
I love picture books because they celebrate a time in our life we all look back on so fondly. I love being a part of helping to create them because we’re creating books for kids who will look back on them for the rest of their lives.
Erin Murphy, Erin Murphy Literary Agency
I became a reader because of picture books, and I became an agent because of picture books. They are one of the richest and most influential forms of literature. So much feeling, so many laughs, in so few pages, meant to be read over and over again!
Ammi-Joan Paquette, Erin Murphy Literary Agency
I love picture books because they speak to the quintessential child in each of us. They reach across the gaps of age and culture and language and bring us under their spell. A perfectly-crafted picture book is a full-senses experience that can last a lifetime.
Rachel Orr, Prospect Agency
I love the breadth of story and emotion—from clever and comical, to poetic and pondering—that can be found within the framework of a 32-page picture book. I love the right prose, the visual subplots, the rhythm and rhyme and repetition (and repetition, and repetition). But, most of all, I love them because they’re short.
Kathleen Rushall, Marsal Lyon Literary Agency
I love working with picture books because they remind me that the earliest literature we read in life can be some of the most memorable (and the most fun!).
Joanna Volpe, New Leaf Literary & Media, Inc.
I love picture books because they’re fun to read aloud, and they’re meant to be read with someone else.They can’t not be shared! Even now, I don’t have kids, but when I read a good picturebook, my husband gets to be the audience. He’s very understanding. 🙂
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.
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?
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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Wow, that’s kinda unheard of, isn’t it? A debut deal for TWO picture books?! I’m blown away. I know you are, too. So let’s meet the NOT UNTALENTED Maria Gianferrari!
I met Maria online a couple years ago when she signed up for PiBoIdMo. She’s also purchased my jewelry. And now she’s represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette, which makes us agent-mates. I mean, we’re practically sisters at this point, right?
OK, I will stop asking questions and give answers now. How did Maria land her agent? What is the two-book deal about? (Oh wait, that’s more questions, huh?)
Maria Gianferrari’s debut PENELOPE, UNTALENTED, focusing on a girl who’s having a difficult time deciding on what talent she might have (if any!) to put on display for her school talent show; with a little help from her dog, she tries out various talents with disastrous results — until she realizes that she and her dog have a talent to share that’s unique to them, to Cynthia Platt at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Children’s, for publication Spring 2014, in a two-book deal, by Ammi-Joan Paquette at Erin Murphy Literary Agency.
Now take it away, Maria!
I first met Joan in 2009 at the PEN New England Susan Bloom Discovery Award ceremony. I was lucky to have been chosen as one of the winners for one of my nonfiction picture book manuscripts, and she introduced herself to me. At the time, I only had two submission-ready picture book manuscripts (and several in progress) so the timing wasn’t right, but she told me to keep in touch.
In May 2011, I saw Joan briefly at the New England SCBWI conference and she encouraged me to send her some manuscripts. We were getting ready to drive cross-country and live in San Diego for a year for my husband’s sabbatical, so I told her I’d be in touch at the end of the summer. I sent her a bunch of picture book manuscripts in late August, and then I heard back in October that she liked several of them, and asked me to revise two of them. I did two rounds of revisions for Joan, with the able assistance of my online critique group (Go CP!), and in late August 2012, I became her client. I felt overjoyed, and very lucky again, because Joan took me on based on my picture book manuscripts, knowing it would be more work, because there would be multiple editors involved. Ultimately, she told me that she had to have them on her list, which was a very nice compliment.
Joan began sending out three of my manuscripts almost immediately, and I began to receive some lovely rejections, and even a couple of revision requests. I was coming home from picking up my daughter at school, when I heard a voice on the answering machine. I picked it up and to my great surprise and delight it was Joan telling me we had an offer from Houghton Mifflin for my fiction picture book PENELOPE, UNTALENTED! I must have sounded like a complete and total idiot. All I could say was “Oh My God” about a thousand times.
Meanwhile my 11 year-old-daughter, Anya, was screeching in the background—“Mom—what is it? Who is it?”—so I told her that I sold a book. Then if I’m remembering correctly, I think Joan asked me if I wanted to sit down, so I did, and then she started telling me that I got a two-book deal! I was completely flabbergasted. Most of the conversation was pretty hazy, but I do remember thanking her, and telling her that this was beyond my wildest dreams—it was & is! After we hung up the phone, Anya and I did a happy dance in our living room. Our dog, Becca, thought we were nuts. The hardest part was having to wait to share my news because Joan had a hard time getting in touch with the other two editors to whom it had been sent since both had been out sick—flu season!
The lovely Cynthia Platt is “my” editor at Houghton. I live in the Boston area, so we recently met for lunch, and I was also able to meet Mary Wilcox and Monica Perez. It was so surreal that they knew my MC Penelope, and were excited about the book! I’m really looking forward to working with Cynthia on both of these books, and to finding out who will be chosen as the illustrator!
Thanks for sharing your success story with us, Maria!
Now aspiring picture book authors, what does this teach us? Patience and perseverance is key! Maria first met Joan three years before she became her client. Make those connections and keep in touch! Take advantage of SCBWI events (like the NJ Chapter’s annual conference in June) to improve your craft and network with agents, editors and fellow kidlit professionals. It all pays off!
If you’re an un-agented writer, you might be thinking—do I even NEED a blog? What content should it contain? How often should I post? What SHOULDN’T I blog about?
Well, relax. Deep, cleansing breaths. I asked a few agents what they thought of writerly blogs. Their responses may surprise you.
Erin Murphy, Erin Murphy Literary Agency:
“I don’t have any strict rules or do’s and don’ts. I find blogs are perhaps less useful than they used to be, with the exception of those with large followings. Mostly I go to them, when considering signing someone new, to get a sense of their personality and how they present themselves (whether to fellow kidlit folks, gatekeepers or kids).”
Ammi-Joan Paquette, Erin Murphy Literary Agency:
“A writer’s blog wouldn’t be a deal-breaker for me unless it was wildly unprofessional. First and foremost, when I’m looking at a potential client, it’s all about the writing. But beyond that, a blog or website gives a sense of who that person is, how our tastes and interests might mesh, etc. So make sure your web presence reflects who you are, and that it looks clean and tight and polished. I don’t think they’re essential, but it is nice to put a face and background to the voice I’m reading on the screen.”
Jennifer Laughran, Andrea Brown Literary Agency:
“I don’t care if an author has a blog or not. But if they DO have a blog, I hope it is lively, interesting, informative, fun to read, and gives a sense of their “voice” and a glimpse into their lives.
Turnoffs: Lots of word-count posts. Constant self-promotion. Complaining about blogging, complaining about the publishing industry, complaining about specific people (your agent or editor, for example)—or “Humblebragging.” Overly political or “sexy” posts (unless you are a political or sexy writer).
If an author HATES blogging and is struggling to find the time or energy…if it is taking away from their work or making them miserable…then they should absolutely not do it. An unused blog, or a blog that is just complaints or self-PR, is so much worse than no blog at all.”
Teresa Kietlinski, Prospect Agency:
“Blogs are absolutely important in my decision making. When submissions come in, I tend to visit blogs first because they give me a taste of the writer’s (and illustrator’s) personality, voice and interests. It also lets me see how dedicated they are to the craft of writing or illustrating. Do they post frequently? Do they talk about topics of interest in the children’s book world? Are they honing his/her skills? What books is he/she reading? Would I like to join him/her for lunch or tea? (the last question for me is the most important). If I do not instantly connect with a blog, chances are I will not connect with the blog’s writer.
My goal as an agent is to work with clients who I like working with. Clients who are funny, interesting, and interpret the mundane stuff in a surprising way. Blogs can give me insight on these qualities. And while websites are important, especially for seasoned authors, they are not always personal.
I would suggest not limiting your blog to “kids stuff only.” Talk about what interests you—but keep it professional in tone. Readers are looking to connect with your personality. Who are you?
Do remember that anyone can read your posts so keep them professional in tone. Do update your blog regularly.”
So it’s clear: if an agent is interested in your work, they WILL Google you. So avoid posting:
- Samples of works in progress (they might be considered “published”)
- A tally of submissions/rejections
- Complaints about rejections, the industry or specific professionals
- Long, rambling posts
- Overly political, religious or controversial topics (unless that is the focus of your professional writing)
Before you start a blog, realize there’s millions of them out there already. What are you bringing to the table? Do you have a unique perspective? Just like thinking of the hook before you write the book, you might want to think of the hook for your blog before you launch into it. (Relatively-newish blogs with compelling hooks: Literary Friendships by Audrey Vernick and Design of the Picture Book by Carter Higgins.)
Or, you can just go for it and post whatever you like. After a few dozen posts, you might discover your niche. Check your blog stats and determine which posts bring in the most visitors. Work in that direction.
And remember, the story’s the thing. No blog will snag you a book deal if your submission is sub-par. So get the manuscript right first, then worry about blogging later…
Or, maybe, not at all.
Thanks to all the children who participated in Ammi-Joan Paquette’s THE TIPTOE GUIDE cover contest! We asked you to draw the cover of what you imagined could be the next book in the series, and we received some very creative entries. Since they were all so good, we randomly selected a winner. So…
Congratulations, Annika, age 9!
Annika wins a signed copy of THE TIPTOE GUIDE TO TRACKING MERMAIDS! And who knows, maybe sometime soon we’ll see a TIPTOE GUIDE TO TRACKING PEGASUSES! (PEGASI? PEGASU? Just what *is* the plural?!)
And here are the runners up…
Grace, age 9!
Katie, age 5! (With my personal favorite, MONSTERS!)
Lili, age 4! (Wow, nice lettering, Lili!)
And Molly, age 9, with a very colorful entry!
Thanks to all the kids who entered! It’s so much fun to see your creativity at work.
I promise to have more cover contests soon, including one for my upcoming book, THE MONSTORE!
Thanks to everyone who visited Salina Yoon’s post about her newest and most challenging novelty book, KALEIDOSCOPE. The winner of the signed copy is:
Congratulations, Donna! Be on the lookout for an email from me…
Didn’t win? No worries. There’s more giveaways coming in the next two weeks. Yes, it’s a busy Spring over here! Here’s a sneaky peekie (what my five-year-old calls it):
Ame Dyckman and Dan Yaccarino’s BOY + BOT
Sarah Frances Hardy’s PUZZLED BY PINK
Carolyn Crimi and Stephanie Buscema’s PUGS IN A BUG
Ammi-Joan Paquette & Marie Letourneau’s THE TIPTOE GUIDE TO TRACKING MERMAIDS
It’s a Picture Book Palooza!
Plus, don’t forget, if you’re not already subscribed to my blog via email, join today to be entered into a SEPARATE “new follower” three-picture-book-prize-pack giveaway on April 1st (EXTRA YARN, BOY + BOT, ARNIE THE DOUGHNUT). I’m not foolin’! Just enter your email address in the left column.