Our local SCBWI chapter really outdid itself with this year’s fall conference, otherwise known as AGENTS’ DAY. We heard from three dynamic agents who are actively acquiring and who, during the query letter panel, offered their collective knowledge and helpful suggestions that gave all in attendance unique insight into the publishing industry. That alone was more than worth the price of admission, and yet there was more. Two fine local literary stars shared their personal publishing journeys. Both were inspiring, reminding us all to keep pursuing our dreams.
What I learned from Hannah’s talk:
Hannah started out the day with the story of her incredible journey to publication. She’s so amazingly talented you wouldn’t think the road would’ve been arduous at all, but she revealed many surprises in her talk entitled The Least Efficient Way to Get Published. One recurring theme that resonated with me was how often she got in her own way. Not following up on leads – when houses asked her to keep her work on file, she only updated every few years instead of every few months. Not having a strong web presence – she digressed from her talk to emphasize that all artists should have a website. Not submitting, not submitting, not submitting! (She only submitted her manuscript two times in five years.) She turned down an offer of representation because she didn’t think she needed an agent. Her reasoning? Illustrator Kevin Hawkes said her work spoke for itself. Hannah had apprenticed under Hawkes and had helped with some illustration work for the book Handel, Who Knew What He Liked. In the end, she realized she did need an agent. We’ll go more in-depth into Hannah’s story when she stops by for an interview in a few weeks.
- “If it doesn’t mean anything to you, it’s not going to mean something to anyone else.”
- You have to be your work’s strongest advocate and submit it when it’s ready. And keep submitting. As good as it may be, it won’t get published on its own.
What I learned from Gwen’s talk:
Gwen was inspired to become a writer after she saw a play that a relative had written. Then Gwen set off to do what she does best; educate herself. She joined several writing groups and attended conferences to learn how to be a writer. One early critique comment said her story “didn’t have any spark.” Gwen set off on a new quest – to find spark. She studied and wrote and improved, still she had moments of self-doubt. A friend called her one night with a fantastic idea and told her she had to write the story. Gwen told her she’d think about it. After doing her own research, she agreed the story needed to be told, but she thought, “I can’t write it; I’m not good enough.” Her friend was relentless in her insistence that Gwen had to be the one to write it. Gwen gave it a try, but still didn’t think it was right. She kept writing and rewriting until the spark appeared. The result of all this effort is the inspirational story of Vivien Thomas, the Man Who Saved the Blue Babies which will be published by Lee and Low in 2015.
- “If something is near and dear to your heart, it doesn’t belong in the drawer. Keep working on it.”
- When a critique points out weaknesses in your writing, use these moments as learning opportunities and educate yourself to make your writing better.
The three agents :
What I learned from Natalie’s talk:
Unlike most agents who arrive at their careers through alternate routes, Natalie knew she wanted to be an agent when she was thirteen years-old. She’s an editorial agent with a wide range of interests and a wide range of clients. She represents picture books to young adult to adult fiction, with an emphasis in children’s literature as her client list is 75% children’s publishing. She’s interested in historical, multicultural, sci-fi, fantasy, gritty, darker contemporary, horror, Victorian literature, magical realism, middle grade with heart, short quirky picture books (around 600 words), and adult romance.
What she’s looking for:
- Voice. She described voice as being almost autobiographical. She said it has place, a taste of where you came from, what’s shaped you, the author in life. The best voices reveal a piece of the writer and are immediately connectable.
- A desire to keep reading.
- Query hook: What is your book about? The hook should answer this question in a way that intrigues the reader in EXACTLY THREE SECONDS! That’s it.
- Natalie’s Top Three Reasons to Say No: Poor pacing, unoriginal plot, and not connecting to voice.
To learn more about Natalie Lakosil, visit her agency website above.
Follow her blog Adventures in Agentland.
Follow Natalie on Twitter @Natalie_Lakosil.
What I learned from Emily’s talk:
Agents no longer need to live in New York City to be in the heart of the publishing world. Emily works from home, like all the agents at her agency. They Skype frequently and physically meet at the office several times a year. This way, she gets to live in Massachusetts, send her kids off to school, and then attend to her agenting work. This mostly entails sitting in front of one type of computer screen or another and reading; reading and thinking. She began her agenting career at the Sheldon Fogelman Agency where Mo Willems was one of the agency’s first clients. They tried for over two years to sell Don’t Let the Pigeon Ride the Bus. It was something new and didn’t have much of a story arc; no one knew what to do with it, yet they never gave up on it. That’s persistence.
Emily firmly believes in the rules of grammar and feels writers should, too. She wants to trust you know what you’re doing. “Don’t give me a reason as a reader not to trust you.” This is where grammar and usage come into play.
What she’s looking for:
Somebody who loves the work, who gets the process, who loves creating.
She read from a few books she doesn’t represent, but wished she did including Prisoner 88 by Leah Pileggi, Counting by Sevens by Holly Goldberg Sloan, and Clementine by Sara Pennypacker.
- Not everyone can be a best-selling writer. Be okay with being a mid-list writer.
- Nobody is too good for an editor.
To learn more about Emily Mitchell, visit her agency’s website above.
Follow her blog emilyreads.
Follow Emily on Twitter @emilyreads
What I learned from Danielle’s talk:
Danielle is also part of an agency where everyone works from home. Foreword Literary is a new agency that just opened in March of 2013 servicing children’s through adult books. It’s a hybrid agency that marries traditional publishing with digital publishing possibilities. Danielle started her agent journey as a popular children’s book review blogger at There’s a Book. Her award-winning site is still held in high regard, and continues on even as she pursues her agenting career. Danielle represents picture books, early readers and chapter books, middle grade, and the rare young adult. She has a soft spot for middle grade. She has her two kids who help her review books on her blog read manuscripts with her when they come in.
What she’s looking for:
- Picture books like Creepy Carrots by Aaron Reynolds and Peter Brown , I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen, Mustache Baby by Bridget Heos and Joy Ang, and Trucks, Trucks, Trucks by Peter Sis.
- Middle Grade books like Bigger Than a Bread Box by Laurel Snyder, When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead, In a Glass Grimly by Adam Gidwitz, and The Real Boy by Anne Ursu.
- Young Adult books like The Replacement by Brenna Yovanoff, Small Damages by Beth Kephart, Twelve Minutes to Midnight by Christopher Edge, Everybody Sees the Ants by AS King, and Don’t Breathe a Word by Jennifer McMahon.
- Make sure you’re always reading. It can help you in your craft.
- Have kids read your work as a litmus test.
To learn more about Danielle Smith, visit her agency’s website above.
Follow her blog There’s a Book.
Follow Danielle on Twitter @thefirstdaughter.
Thanks so much to all of our speakers for being so generous with their time and knowledge. It was a delightful
In Part Two, I’ll be sharing some of the nuggets of wisdom the agents shared during the afternoon panels.
DISCLAIMER: If you are interested in submitting to any of these fine agents, please be sure to visit their respective agency websites and follow their submission guidelines. They mean business, and if you’re serious about writing, you should, too.