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By Traci Sorell
for Cynthia Leitich Smith
I had no idea how beneficial an agent could be when I attended my first SCBWI
conference in October 2013.
I quickly realized how much about the industry I did not know.
I began to network with other children's writers, especially fellow Native Americans, and when it came time to look for an agent, I utilized that network extensively.
I questioned fellow writers with representation, especially those from Native/people of color backgrounds, about their experience. I asked how agents had presented themselves at conferences or other events. I read agent online interviews and social media posts.
I wanted my agent to be a steadfast partner with a strong work ethic. It is a long-term relationship, so both people have to be dedicated to maintaining it. I required someone who was excited about my work and associated with a well-respected agency.
|Traci's Reading Chair|
Ideally, I wanted someone who had editorial experience that reflects what I write—fiction, nonfiction, and Native/POC subjects. To be honest, this makes for a small submission list, so I did expand beyond that.
When I communicated with agents via email and telephone, I tracked whether what they shared reflected my list.
My gut got an extreme workout when I received two offers of representation on the same day. I cannot stress enough the importance of developing and checking in with trusted mentors.
Ultimately, I accepted Emily Mitchell
's offer of representation with Wernick & Pratt Agency
. She met every single item on my list. Her clients contacted me quickly and gave their honest feedback about her representation.
Emily had vetted me with my editor at Charlesbridge, her former employer. We had both done our homework.
To me, it is kismet that Emily presented at that first conference I attended—and in my home state of Oklahoma too! That day, she shared her desired client attributes—voice, authority, pragmatism and flexibility. I'd like to think I resemble her list, too. Cynsational NotesTraci Sorell
writes fiction and nonfiction for children featuring contemporary characters and compelling biographies. She has been an active member of SCBWI since August 2013.
In April 2016, Charlesbridge acquired her first nonfiction picture book, We are Grateful: Otsaliheliga, from the slush pile.
The story features a panorama of modern-day Cherokee cultural practices and experiences, presented through the four seasons. It conveys a universal spirit of gratitude common in many cultures.
Traci is an enrolled citizen of the Cherokee Nation. She grew up in northeastern Oklahoma, where her tribe is located.
She is a first-generation college graduate with a bachelor's degree in Native American Studies from the University of California, Berkeley
, where she graduated Phi Beta Kappa.
She also has a Master's degree in American Indian Studies from the University of Arizona
and a law degree from the University of Wisconsin
. Previously, she taught at the University of North Dakota School of Law
and the University of New Mexico
She also worked as an attorney assisting tribal courts nationwide, advocated for national Native American health care, and directed a national nonprofit serving American Indian and Alaska Native elders. She now lives in the Kansas City area.
See also Story to Contract: Traci Sorell’s Incredible Journey
by Suzanne Slade from Picture Book Builders. Peek: "Be grateful. Every day. If you approach your creativity and the process of writing from a place of gratitude, it opens you up. You will be more aware of story ideas, available to hear critiques that improve your craft, and connected to others around you in the kidlit world. Gratitude opens up receptivity."Emily Mitchell
began her career at Sheldon Fogelman Agency, handling submissions, subsidiary rights, and coffee. She spent eleven years at Charlesbridge Publishing as senior editor, contracts manager, and director of corporate strategy. After a brief post-MBA stint in the non-publishing world, Emily returned to children's books at Wernick & Pratt
Her clients include Geisel Honor winner April Pulley Sayre
, author/photographer of Best In Snow
(Beach Lane, 2016); Caron Levis
, author of Ida, Always
(Atheneum, 2016); and Frank W. Dormer
, author/illustrator of The Sword in the Stove
(Atheneum, 2016) and Click! (Viking, 2016).
Emily holds a bachelor's degree in English from Harvard University
, a master's in secondary English education from Syracuse University
, and an MBA from Babson College
. She lives outside Boston.
By: LAURIE WALLMARK,
Blog: Just the Facts, Ma'am
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If you choose to submit on your own before getting an agent, what do you need to consider?
Hi everyone! Check out MB Artists' new promotional catalog, themed "Landscape." What a great collection of new pieces from this group of artists!
Maybe not, but here are some reasons you might want an agent.
Erica Rand Silverman is an agent at Stimola Literary Studio primarily interested in books for and about children. Prior to being an agent she was a high school teacher, working with at-risk kids. Stimola Literary is a small, boutique agency with a passionate team and a family feel. They are very selective, representing picture books through young adult.
How you decide to take on a new client:
Erica is very picky about what's she's looking for. She wants to work with clients who have a true sense of purpose in their work. She wants to fall in love with their work, and to connect with the people she chooses to work with. Erica wants to clients who know who they are trying to reach, what they are trying to say, and why.
What is it in a query that makes you want to see the work?
Be professional. Don't send out blanket queries. Erica appreciates it when people are personal in their queries, and coming to her for a reason. People can focus too much on the query, but it really all comes down to the work. Erica has to love it.
How editorial are you?
Erica loves the process of talking to an author about something that's not working and figuring out together. There's magic in that.
How would you characterize the climate for sales?
It's great to see independent book stores coming back to life. It's wonderful to see small, independent publishers being recognized for their work.
Anything we should know about?
The Common Core has created a need for more informational books. It's creating more narrative nonfiction and the mash-up between nonfiction and fiction. It's all new, causing bookstores, etc. are trying to figure out where they fit and where to shelve them.
What is one common question that you hear from people and what's the answer to it?
Are you accepting queries?
Have you read my query yet?
Since Erica is new to Stimola Literary, she has a lot of queries. She will read all of them. If she hasn't gotten to it yet, she will.
Victoria Wells Arms started as an editor at Dial Books for Young Readers, and then Putnam. One day, she spotted an ad for an editorial director at Bloomsbury and was chosen to set up Bloomsbury USA’s children’s division. Starting with three people (and a dog), Bloomsbury grew quickly, soon hitting the bestseller lists and acquiring major awards. In 2013, Victoria opened her own agency, Wells Arms Literary, where she represents authors and illustrators for the full range of children’s books, from board books to young adult, as well as some nonfiction. Visit: www.wellsarms.com and follow her on Twitter: @VWArms and @WALiterary
|Agent Victoria Wells Arms|
Victoria shares that in addition to being sure that asking "do I love it?" and "can I sell it?" that she wants to know who a potential client is as a human being. She says
"I want to know there's depth to what you're doing, and that you're in it for the long hall."
explaining that she doesn't represent single project, but people, for their careers.
She adds, "It feels like every one of my clients is a friend" and she wants to sign someone she wants to be friends with. No divas or those wrapped up in their egos.
Victoria says that she is an editorial agent, "I always work with them [her clients] on making it better." If she can help her clients make it better, it's that much easier for editors to take it on.
"I think it's a great time. It IS really competitive. ...But I think editors are wanting to find interesting books."
Victoria reps artists and writers.
Kirsten Hall is President of Catbird, a boutique children’s literary and illustration agency. She has brokered many hundreds of children’s book deals between authors, illustrators, and all of the major American publishers. She is also the author of many books for kids. Her first trade picture book, The Jacket, was a 2014 New York Times Notable). Kirsten opened Catbird's wings in March 2014, and she likens her agency to a creative playground. Her focus is debut talent, and she works intimately with her clients to create and develop original story pitches—especially picture books. According to Publishers Marketplace, Kirsten reported more new picture book deals in 2015 than any other agent. Visit: www.catbirdagency.com
|Agent Kirsten Hall|
Kirsten tells us about how she specializes in picture books.
"I can look at something and very quickly know… if it speaks to me."
She keeps it small, curated, and everyone on her team does something different.
As to queries, Kirsten loves jokes and personal and human and hates standard query letters.
How editorial is Kirsten? "I'm not." If I see something, and that there's something completely golden about it, "I present them (editors) with something they should do their job on."
Kirsten also spoke about the new hybrid titles that are merging fiction and nonfiction, called "informational" books.
"Publishing, at least in picture book land…I feel like everyone's upping their game." There's so much out there already that's good, so we authors and illustrators have to mine what's unique about what we're offering.
"That's the only way your light's going to shine in this pretty bright room."
Kirsten reps artists and writers.
"I'm really heart-based. I rely on my instincts, I think they're sharp."
By: Lee Wind, M.Ed.,
Blog: The Official SCBWI 10th Annual New York Conference Blog
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, agent panel
, Brooks Sherman
, Erica Rand Silverman
, Ginger Clark
, Kirsten Hall
, Lin Oliver
, Tina Wexler
, Victoria Wells Arms
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Moderated by Lin Oliver (standing, far left), the agent panelists are, left to right: Victoria Wells Arms (Victoria Wells Arms Agency), Ginger Clark (Curtis Brown, Ltd.), Kirsten Hall (her own agency, Catbird), Brooks Sherman (The Bent Agency), Erica Ran Silverman (Stimola Literary Studio), and Tina Wexler (ICM Partners.)
Tina Wexler is a literary agent ICM Partners.
Tina shares tips that will help us find success.
You need a strong story idea. An idea that will sustain you through the drafting and writing process. Do you have unfinished manuscripts in a drawer? It might be because it didn't have enough to sustain you.
Your manuscript needs to be researched. Read 3 other recently published books in your same genre and age range. Look up the things you don't know. Not all of your research will make it in, but it will inform your story.
Your manuscript needs to be revised. No one gets it right the first time.
Your manuscript needs a strong voice.
Your manuscript needs a vacation. Set it aside. Work on something else. Take time away so you can come back with fresh eyes. When you return to it, revise it again.
Your manuscript needs to be loved. Finishing is not a reason to send it out on submission. You need to love it. It needs to be ready.
Great reads from the session:
If you're planning to query agents, should you be also be submitting to editors?
Selling your manuscript is only one of the many ways an agent helps your writing career.
Should you be participating in twitter pitch sessions if you're looking for an agent?
Contracts can be overwhelming, so here are some things to look for in your agency contract.
It's important to check out prospective agents before submitting to them.
Ahoy! This quarter's theme was "Superheroes, Pirates and Princesses!" Check out all of the beautiful and action-packed artwork!
Stephanie Fretwell-Hill of Red Fox Literary is looking for picture books, middle-grade, and young adult titles.
During the excitement of "the call," don't forget to ask questions of your prospective agent.
New agent Stephanie Fretwell-Hill represents everything from picture books to young adult.
The new MB Artists catalog is here! Check out all of the new "Animals" themed artwork from our artists!
If you ask a prospective agent these very basic questions, it shows you're not read to get an agent.
By Angela Cerrito
for SCBWI Bologna 2016
and Cynthia Leitich Smith
's CynsationsFrom an early age, Dorothia Rohner knew she was an artist. Inheriting her artistic parent's fascination with art and nature, she was encouraged to pursue and refine her skills. She studied technical illustration, fine art, art history and graphic design. Eventually, she earned her degree in Biological Pre-medical Illustration from Iowa State University—a curriculum that allowed her to combine her love of illustration and science. As an artist, she has worked in various fields: scientific illustration, animation, graphic design, nature painting, licensing and gift design. She now works from her studio, surrounded by woods, overlooking a small pond where she writes and illustrates stories for children; inspired by nature, imagination and a tad bit of humor. She also enjoys creating pop-up and moveable books.Her illustrated children’s books include: Numbers in a Row, An Iowa Number Book (Sleeping Bear Press) and Effie's Image (Prairieland Press). Her work for children has also been published in Cricket Magazine. Her illustration, Firefly Forest, was the Grand Prize Winner at 2014 SCBWI Bologna Illustrator Gallery, Bologna Children’s Book Fair. That same year, she was selected for the 2014 SCBWI Portfolio Mentorship Award at the SCBWI Summer Conference. Her portfolio was one of six chosen out of two-hundred. Follow Dorthia: Instagram & Twitter: @dorothiar and Facebook. What inspired you to begin creating illustrations for children?
When I was small, my mother wrote stories for my six siblings and me. She created believable worlds and illustrations to go with them. They were never published, but I remember how magical an ordinary day became when she shared her stories with us—inviting us into her imaginative worlds.
My mother’s influence first inspired me to want to create books for children. Years later, while studying scientific illustration, the class assignment was to make a spread for a children’s book. That studio project sparked my childhood memories and rekindled that desire to make books for kids. It took a little while, but eventually I illustrated my first children’s book. How has your experience with scientific illustration influenced your work for children?
Good question! The transition from creating scientific to children’s illustration has been interesting journey for me. Because of my scientific training, I wanted to add every detail into an illustration. For children’s illustrations, I’ve had to un-learn some of that training in order to leave emotional room for the viewer, exaggerated expressions, emotion and motion. I’m still working on that.
My training has influenced me to enjoy drawing animals, plants, birds and insects living in the natural world. However, with my illustrations for kids, I find it much more fun to add in a few fairies, and other whimsical critters. What was the inspiration for the illustration Firefly Forest, winner of the 2014 SCBWI Bologna Illustrators’ Gallery?
I’ve always been fascinated with fireflies because of the magic they bring to summer nights. Years ago, like most children, we used to chase and capture them to fill our jars with light.
Inspired by these memories and the forest we now live near, I sketched out the trees that speak only truth, an angry council of fireflies that rule the forest and a little girl carrying a jar full of fireflies, searching for her brother. I intentionally left the narrative open for the viewer to interpret.
I created this illustration in two days and I really enjoyed working on it. However, I almost didn’t enter the BIG contest because I thought it was too odd of an illustration. However, I ended up sending it anyway. I’m glad I did. What are you working on right now?
With the input of my agent, Laura Biagi
, I am revising a manuscript that is almost ready for submission. Yay! I’m finishing up the character sketches and illustrations that will accompany this story.
While I was in New York at the winter SCBWI conference, I was able to meet with Laura to discuss my other projects. She asked about the story behind Firefly Forest, so I am brainstorming and diving into that next. I also received helpful input from an art director in New York on a novelty fairy book, so I will be revising that too. I also have a sketchbook filled with ideas that could be potential stories.
What advice would you offer illustrators who are just starting out in the field of children’s literature?
|Dorothia & Laura|
The advice I try to remember is patience, practice and perseverance. It’s hasn’t been that long since I began focusing on making books for children, so I still feel new to this, too.
In any field of creating art, I believe it is essential to honor your individuality and create from the inner voice. This helps to quiet the inner critic that so often leads to comparison and competition with other artists. It is important to study other artists work, get involved with online picture book communities, and celebrate other’s successes.
I would suggest joining SCBWI, going to conferences, getting portfolio and manuscript critiques, joining local critique groups and finding like minded people who you can learn from, share with and enjoy the journey. Lastly, read lots and lots of kids books! Cynsational NotesAngela Cerrito
is a pediatric physical therapist by day and a writer by night. She thinks she has the two best jobs in the world.
Her latest novel, The Safest Lie
(Holiday House), was named a finalist for the 2015 Jewish Book Award, a Sydney Taylor Notable Book for Older Readers and a Notable Social Studies Book for Young People.
Angela Coordinates the SCBWI Bologna Interview series
, volunteers as SCBWI’s Assistant International Advisor and is a Cynsational
reporter in Europe and beyond.
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