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miraagentby 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.

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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.

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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.

You’ve been waiting a long time…but here they finally are: the Mira Reisberg contest winners! I will contact those of you listed here with an exclusive email address to submit to Mira’s Hummmingbird Literary.

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Donna Earnhardt
Mary Uhles
Vivian Kirkfield
Laura Renauld
Angie Karcher

There were SO MANY great marketing suggestions, I wanted to pick EVERYONE. You can imagine why it took me so long. Once again I want to thank the lovely and talented Mira Reisberg for sponsoring this contest, and best wishes to all the winners.

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Next, the winner of Kristi Valiant’s PENGUIN CHA-CHA Prize Pack! It’s…

Pam Brunskill!

Be on the lookout for my email, Pam. And congrats!

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And while I have your attention, NJ-SCBWI just opened registration for a flurry of inspiring and entertaining fall events. I’ll be hosting a PiBoIdMo Kick-Off on October 1st in Manville, plus there’s two other PiBo and NaNoWriMo parties. I’ll also be teaching a picture book workshop at the Fall Craft Weekend on November 10th.

Check it all out at NJSCBWI.com and click “follow blog” so you don’t miss any future event announcements!

Happy writing to everyone! And stay tuned…some PiBoIdMo announcements are coming soon!

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.

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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!!

justaminuteI 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.

adignityofdragonsAnother 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!

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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.

The_Karen (1)

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!

mirareisbergDo 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.

PBA-logo

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 PiBoIdMoTara, 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.

hummingbirdliterary

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.

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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.

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7ate9
Winner of the 2018 Irma S. Black Award and the SCBWI Crystal Kite!
black kite

As a children's book author and mother of two, I'm pushing a stroller along the path to publication. I collect shiny doodads on the journey and share them here. You've found a kidlit treasure box.

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My Picture Books

COMING SOON:


illus by Melissa Crowton
Tundra/PRH Canada
June 4, 2019


illus by Ross MacDonald
Disney*Hyperion
October 15, 2019

THREE WAYS TO TRAP A LEPRECHAUN
illus by Vivienne To
HarperCollins
Spring 2020

THE WHIZBANG WORDBOOK
illustrator TBA
Sourcebooks Jabberwocky
August 2020

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