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As many of you know, we have been expecting a baby, and are happy to announce that our second daughter Elyse Zivoin arrived this past weekend! Our 3 year old daughter is very proud of being a big sister. Elyse is doing very well, and we love having her in our family!
Also, the new MB Artists catalog, themed "School", has been released! Check out my page at the end for a sneak peak at my newest picture book to be released by Magination Press in 2015....
I had the pleasure last month of attending the Agents' Party at Foyles bookshop on Charing Cross Road, London, organised by the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI).
It was called a party, but I'd say that's stretching the term; despite the free wine and nibbles, gratefully received, this was a place to pay full attention.
The agents attending were a good cross-section. Those on the panel were:
Ella KahnDKW Literary Agency
Jo WilliamsonAntony Harwood Ltd
Julia ChurchillA.M. Heath Literary Agents
Lauren PearsonCurtis Brown
Penny HolroydeCaroline Sheldon Literary Agents
Yasmin StandenStanden Literary Agency.
There were also other agents in the room:
Alice WilliamsDavid Higham Associates
Bryony WoodsDKW Literary Agency
Elizabeth BriggsLAW Literary Agents
Eve White and Jack RammEve White Literary Agent
Hannah WhittyPlum Pudding Illustration
Louise BurnsAndrew Mann Literary Agency.
In the assembly were up to 80 of us writers and illustrators. On the way in we were handed two badges to fill in and stick onto our clothing: one saying our name, and the other our favourite children's character.
I spotted at least one person who'd chosen a character from their own book. There's confidence for you.
Who did I choose? – Skellig, the brilliant creation from David Almond's beautiful novel, a broken winged human found in a garden shed who, maybe, has miraculous powers. I thought he might bring me good luck.
Thus protected, I entered the airy new seminar room on the top floor of the wonderful new bookshop (they've moved a few doors down the hill away from the Crossrail engineering works. I went to the old bookshop first by mistake – shows how long since I was last there!)
(ASIDE: I remember the days when Foyles was completely disorganised, full of dusty piles of randomly assorted books that the overworked staff never got around to sorting out. If you wanted a book, it could take you days to burrow through them, like looking for a diamond in a snow drift, you'd have to take a whole week off work. While the old bookshop was definitely Dickensian, the new one is well into the 21st-century.)
Yes! There were a few familiar faces, very nice to see some old friends I hadn't seen for ages. (I confess I am a lapsed SCBWI-er, recently returned to the fold.)
So first of all there was a panel with Nick Cook as the ringleader, and lots of questions being asked about what agents are looking for, and how they make their choices, and then we could queue up to talk to them individually.
Here's what I took away from it:
In the younger age group, humour is popular and perhaps something with a strong literary bent. Others are looking for something more quirky, but above all they are looking for a powerful voice, something with attitude, strong and moving. Some of them were looking for a paranormal story, some for something with lots of twists.
Other keywords for older readers included dark, emotional, historical, with flow, written from the heart, and another interesting thing was said by Ella: "I know it's ready to be submitted to a publisher when I get lost in it".
That is really important in the context of answering the question: "When do I submit? – Either to a publisher or an agent". The answer is, don't send it in until you are absolutely sure it is ready for publication; is it in the form that you would like to see it in print? Because if it is, then the agent or editor receiving it will stop looking for mistakes and become absorbed, as if they were reading a book that had already been published.
And then all the agent has to do is send it straight off to their favourite editor. With absolutely no work for them. What could be better?
In connection with this, another piece of advice was: take your time. There's no rush to submit, not even when an agent gets back to you and suggests some changes. It's far better to get it right than to get right back.
That certainly good advice and probably the best thing I took away from it.
Website: davidthorpe.info. My new book, Stormteller, is out at the end of the month.
What I’d like to do is take that idea a step further and invite you into my brain. It’s fascinating to see what someone does, externally, on the daily. But what are they thinking while they do it? Well, below is what I’m thinking these days. Of course this shifts and morphs based on external situations and forces. For example, a few weeks ago I was thinking “Is summer almost over? How did that happen? I need to go on vacation, quick!” and about 6 months ago I was on the red carpet at the Divergent premiere and thinking “Theo James looks rather dashing in his suit!” But now that I’m back into the the swing of things for work, that’s on my mind most. So come on over and take a peek and what’s in this crazy thing I call a brain. These are not in order of priority. Thoughts don’t work that way!
1. What do I need to print to take home with me today? It’s Friday, and that means the weekend provides some serious reading time. I’ve been more cognizant of having a work/life balance, so I won’t take home 3 full manuscripts this weekend because it’s unrealistic and I will forget what my husband’s face looks like. I’m going to go for: 1 contract for review, 1.5 manuscripts (both which do not need line edits), and a synopsis that I’ve been working on. And yes, I still print my manuscripts. What’s it to you?
2. Where are we with XX contracts? These days contracts are taking longer and longer to negotiate with publishers. With all of the industry upheaval, each side is trying to look into their crystal ball and figure out the new and vitally important things we need to ensure are in the contracts to cover our needs. In my case, the needs are the needs of my authors. Right now I have 7 outstanding contracts on my personal list that I wake up thinking about almost every day, even if it’s just for a minute or two. Of course I have a badass contracts person handling them, but we go over them together weekly.
3. Damn. B&N didn’t take any (or very little) copies of title X. What can we do to help the book get the exposure it needs for readers to find it? I can only speak for my agency, though I know colleagues at other companies have the same worries about this. In this ever-changing industry, it’s getting harder and harder for new voices to be discovered. We’ve cultivated a Client Care program that focuses on: publicity & marketing (both traditional as well as school & library) as well as educating authors/illustrators to give them the tools they need in today’s publishing world.
4. This work is just not at the level it needs to be for me to take it on submission. This happens more frequently than I think people talk about, and not just with queried project. Even with clients I’ve worked with for a long time. We can both do a ton of work on it, but it Just. Isn’t. There. And I have to be the one to break that news. But I wouldn’t be doing my job if I was sending out work that wasn’t up to snuff with the competitive market. It would be doing a disservice.
5. This manuscript is amazing! Where am I going to submit? This is always, always going on in the back of my head as I start to approach submission time for a project. It’s like I’ll be reading and email and suddenly think “ya know who would be perfect for project X….” and I jot it down. This goes on over and over until submission time comes, and then I’ll sometimes share my sublist with the team to see if they have any thoughts or ideas to add. I love this part of the process. It’s all about sharing a great story with the right person.
6. I should tweet/FB/pin/post about that. “That” is referring to whatever awesome thing one of our clients is doing. But of course, I don’t want to be just a self-promoter online, so I also try to balance it with enough social media that’s simply for funsies. It’s a lot of work to be mindful of that balance!
7. What is the next big industry thing to happen? Of course I don’t always have a prediction here, but sometimes I do. And in either case, we’re always touching on the big items in our weekly meetings (at the very least) and how they affect our clients. Right now, it’s the Amazon-Hachette business. We have Hachette authors, and this whole ordeal has really affected their sales. This is the kind of thought that will lead me back to thought #3! And of course we’re discussing who is going to be the next publisher that will be in this situation.
8. I can’t make the email stop; make it stop! Yes, I actually have this thought. Sometimes the sheer volume of email becomes so heavy that all I can think is “stop!” At that point I usually take a walk, have a coffee, come back and plow through. But with it being so easy to stay connected these days, the workload has shifted with a heavy emphasis on email.
9. I wonder if there’s a book in this? I’ll be reading an article, having a discussion, reading a script, a web comic, watching a youtube video…whatever! And usually somewhere in the back of my mind there is something connecting dots and thinking about book potential. If I’m still thinking about it a week later, that’s usually when I’ll bring it up in our weekly meeting.
10. I need to follow up with X person on Y thing. There is a lovely app called Mailbox, and without it, I would go crazy. It will pop something back into my inbox when it’s time for me to follow up, based on a pre-determined date/time that I set. I don’t even remember what I did pre-Mailbox. I think I always had 10 or so To-do lists going at a time (I still do this a little). Either way, there is ALWAYS things to follow up on. Where are our cover comps? What’s the eta on the publicity and marketing materials? Where is our payment? Did you lock in that date with the venue? Have you had a chance to review our contract notes? How are revisions going? etc, etc. A lot of the work I do is about keeping things moving. I don’t want anything to slip through the cracks for our clients. And also, I have an amazing, godsend of an assistant who takes over most of this follow-up so I can focus on bigger picture items. Like “how many books are selling for title X?” And yes, I just snuck in an 11th thought to this top ten list!
There you have it. And that’s just the Top Ten (11)! I’d love to hear about what goes through your mind on the daily, too. Please share in the comments!
Joanna Volpe is a literary agent who represents all brands of fiction, from picture books to adult. When she’s not reading, she’s either cooking, playing video games, or hanging out with her husband and chihuahua.
Agent shopping can be daunting. But recently, and who knows how, I connected agent-shopping with shoe-shopping, and the process is taking on new meaning (and making me want a new pair of pumps).
Here’s how I pair my shoe and agent preferences . . .
Must match. Having one fabulous flat isn’t so fab, is it? Sure, it looks pretty and fits like a dream, but unless I’m leaving a ball in a hurry, going half shoeless is no way to go. And just like shoes, I want to be paired with an agent whose genre preferences and approach match my own.
Must be the right fit. This is a biggie, isn’t it? I may have written the most charming picture book or witty MG novel, but if it doesn’t “click” with an agent, it just doesn’t. Agents are people with tastes and personalities just like anyone else. An agent needs to be flipped over my work in order to be its best champion. Much as I’d like to, I can’t cram my size 10 dogs into a pair of six 6 mules. I can’t, and wouldn’t want to, force an agent-client relationship either.
Must compliment what’s already in my wardrobe. I wouldn’t pick a pair of chartreuse polka dot flats that only go with one outfit. Ideally, I want an agent who can embrace all of my ambitions and not just one part of my writerly “wardrobe.” (It absolutely can work on a one-genre basis, but it’s not the best option.)
Must be supportive. Oui. Oui. I know. It makes me sound like I’ve become what the French call a woman of a “certain age,” but I want shoes that not only look stylish, but feel comfy too. And while I don’t think an agent has to be my best ever friend, I do want someone who can support not only my project in progress, but encourage me as an author as well.
Must receive good reviews. This is a deal breaker category for me. I sometimes buy shoes online, but I never, ever click “Complete Order” until I’ve read customer reviews. I work in marketing and I know that while the description may be beguiling–and hopefully accurate–it doesn’t tell the whole story. I want to hear from those who have walked in those shoes. It’s no different with agents. Whenever possible, I talk with current clients of the agent–politely and discreetly of course–about their experience before I send click “Send” on that shiny query letter.
Must be able to go the distance. Nothing’s worse than trudging half-way across a mall or reaching the half-mile on a hike and realizing I wore the wrong shoes. I want shoes that offer the right fit and support so that I can feel comfortable and confident. As far as agents go, I want someone who would be there for me for the long haul too.
Here’s wishing all of us in search of an agent a perfect pairing soon (and yes, maybe some new sling-backs too).
Give a girl the right shoes, and she can conquer the world. ~ Marilyn Monroe
She has deep experience in this business, both as an editor and an agent. For more than 25 years, she was a publisher in London, working with the likes of Judy Blume, Meg Cabot, and Karen Cushman. Her agency, launched in 2008, is based in both the U.S. and London. She considers both the U.S. and U.K. her domestic market, and represents writers in both places, although most clients live in the United States.
Greenhouse's affiliate Rights People is the top seller of international rights in the business. Being international is part of the agency's DNA.
She gave us a detailed talk about the international aspects of publishing, which she finds "quite exciting." She also walked us through the anatomy of a complicated deal simultaneously struck on both sides of the Atlantic.
Some excerpts from her remarks:
Why care about foreign sales?
These sales mean more income for writers. The biggest contenders are Brazil, France, and Germany. Your advance can equal or exceed a U.S. advance. They can also lend prestige and profile.
"Success breeds more success," she said.
Territory is where all negotiations begin, she said. Publishers want as much exclusive territory as they can get for as little money as possible. Her agenda as an agent is different, but there are three types of territorial contracts she can make:
One for North American rights (usually U.S. and Canada) - the publisher can publish in English in those two places, their dependents, and the Philippines.
World English language - the publisher can sell your book anywhere in the world in the English language.
World rights in all languages. Subsidiary rights are potentially very valuable. There are good reasons for your agent to sell them to your publisher, e.g. if your publisher has a good track record of selling your rights. These count to erode your American advance, which is good for the writer. There are also good reasons to retain those rights, and Greenhouse tries to do just this.
When a sale happens, percentages are divided. If Greenhouse sells for you, as opposed to your publisher, you will end up with a bigger percentage.
In terms of book publishing, all sales play into making your brand and your book bigger, she said. Buzz goes on internationally and nationally. And the book business is a small, interconnected world.
A book called HALF BAD by Sally Green holds the record for foreign sales: 40 countries before it was even published. On how books get buzz (a few of her observations):
She told us about some "shadowy figures" known as book scouts who live in NYC and London network with agents to find the hottest upcoming properties. They usually represent foreign publishers and film clients. "They are desperate for early information and hot tips," she said.
Book fairs also spread buzz—Bologna and Frankfurt (which is all books, not just children's books).
Heather Alexander has been hired as a literary agent at Pippin Properties, Inc.
For six years, Alexander served as an editor at Dial Books for Young Readers. Some of the authors and illustrators she has worked with include Anne C. Voorhoeve, Jeanne Ryan, and Sophie Blackall.
According to the agency's email announcement, Alexander "is looking for new talent from a broad range of children’s book authors and illustrators, from picture books through young adult, including graphic novels. She’s most interested in unique characters, strong voices, and quirky humor."
You’ve seen those wedding dress shows, right? A bride-to-be goes on a chiffon frenzied quest for the perfect gown while a group of her BFFs sit semi-circled in the salon, waiting to boo-hoo or just boo over her selection. Once in a while, though, the hunter is simply a bride-wanna-be who is willing to throw gobs of moola at a dress, despite her groomlessness. To me, that seems sad, desperate, and at the very least, poorly timed.
When it comes to writers in search of an agent, sometimes it’s really not that different. There’s a time to focus solely on craft, to learning about the industry, reading and networking. But, if this has not yet resulted in a solid, polished product to sell, why would you spend time looking for an agent to represent you?
Let’s say, however, maybe you’re like me, and you’ve been polishing, learning and preparing for quite a spell and you’re wondering if seeking an agent would be a wise next step.Take this quiz to help you decide if you’re agent-ready:
True or False?
____I have at least one thoroughly polished, market-ready manuscript and more in progress.
____I am an active member of a professional organization for writers, such as SCBWI, and follow industry-related blogs, tweets and newsletters to stay current.
____I have a good understanding of the inner-workings of the children’s publishing industry (e.g., the role of publishers, editors, agents, reviewers and authors, the editorial and submission process, how a manuscript becomes a published book, etc.).
____I have sold articles or stories to respected children’s magazines, such as Highlights for Children and/or perhaps even come close to selling a book to a traditional publisher on my own.
____I am actively building a platform via my own web site or blog, as well as social media.
____I am a member of a critique group and/or have a critique partner and/or have received professional critiques from agents or editors.
____I have gone from receiving unsigned form rejection letters to more of the “champagne” variety (personalized notes or letters offering a specific explanation as to why the editor chose to pass on my submission or perhaps offering constructive feedback or an invitation to submit more in the future).
____I understand the role and benefits of an agent, as well as my role as a client.
____I have compiled a list of the qualities and qualifications I am seeking in an agent.
____I have done marketing research to determine where my book fits in the current market and what makes it stand out from similar works. I can explain this in my “elevator pitch” (and I know what an elevator pitch is!)
____I am prepared and enthusiastic to shift from solo writer mode into the role of a professional with a business partner (an agent) so that I can pursue all aspects of a writing career.
____I understand agents, while amazing, do not possess supernatural powers and cannot be expected to read minds, make me stinking rich or fulfill every literary success fantasy I can conjure.
How’d you do?
If you answered with 10 or more “True” responses, consider seeking a literary agent to represent you.
If you answered with 6 to 9 “True” responses, you’re getting closer!
If you answered with 5 or fewer “True” responses, that’s okay. Keep writing, seeking feedback, and using this list as a guide to help prepare yourself to become agent material.
Photo by Vicky Lorencen
All things are ready, if our mind be so. ~ William Shakespeare, Henry V
Check out the great new artwork in my agent's newest promotional catalog! All artists created pieces with a "Food" theme. I highly recommend sitting down with a bowl of ice cream or a cup of hot chocolate while browsing! Enjoy!
I am not a risk-taker, generally speaking. I wear my seat belt, hand sanitizer and sunscreen. Brush twice a day. Eat my burgers fully cooked and avoid stepping on sidewalk cracks.
Yes, I’ve been on the back of a motorcycle (once). I floated in the gondola of a hot air balloon, sat in the front seat of a whirling helicopter, cuddled with a Burmese python, sang an original song to hundreds while wearing a helmet with horns and even walked the streets of Chicago’s north side, but those were exceptions to my usual play-it-safe life. Oh, and once, I even used a public restroom without putting one of those paper doilies on the seat first. So, yep, I guess you could say I’ve sauntered on the wild side a time or two. (I saw you roll your eyes, by the way!)
But here’s what I know: you get what you risk for (or at the very least, you up your chances exponentially).
This spring, comedian Jim Carrey addressed the graduating class of Maharishi School of Management in Iowa. In a rare moment of transparency, Carrey shared how his father had the potential to be professional comedian, but opted to become an accountant because he thought it was the safer choice. It was not. He lost his job.
“So many of us choose our path out of fear disguised as practicality,” Carrey said. “I learned many great lessons from my father, not the least of which, was that you can fail at what you don’t want, so you might as well take a chance on doing what you love.”
Is there a polished manuscript that’s “circling the airport” because you’re afraid of rejection? Submit it.
Is there an agent you want to query? Do it.
Feel the fear, but do what you want to do anyway. You can do this. (And I will join you.)
A ship is always safe at the shore, but that is not what it is built for. ~ Albert Einstein