I’m thrilled to have picture book author Corey Schwartz (HOP PLOP, 2006, THREE NINJA PIGS, 2012 and GOLDI ROCKS, tbd) here today to launch my new blog series, How I Got My Agent, (for PB writers).**  I “met” Corey through the blogosphere and have been fortunate enough to exchange work with her now and then.  She gave me some great feedback on one of my WIPs.  She is a very talented writer who is here to tell us the story of how she found her agent.

Take it away Corey!

Thanks, Julie.  So glad to be the inaugural interviewee for this series!

How long had you been writing picture books before seeking an agent, and what made you decide it was time to look for one?

My first agent pretty much fell into my lap. I had gotten one PB contract by being pulled from the slush at Walker (Hop Plop, 2006), and I wasn’t really looking for representation. I figured, “It’s just as hard to find an agent as it is to get an offer, so why bother?”   But then my parents went to some sort of family reunion and it turns out that a cousin’s son was dating an assistant at a big literary agency.  “Would she be willing to look at a manuscript?” my Mom asked. (My mom has the assertive genes in the family!)

So that is how I lucked out and found myself represented by someone with a great reputation.  But I quickly found out that not every agent is right for every author.  She was initially very enthusiastic.  We subbed out two PB manuscripts in the first year, but after a few close calls and no sales, it was clear she lost her passion for my work.  In the second year, we didn’t sub anything at all.  I realized it was not a good fit and we parted ways.  By then (end of 2008), things had changed.  More and more houses had closed to unsolicited submissions and at that point, I felt it was critical to have an agent.

What kind of research did you do before submitting?

I read Casey McCormick’s amazing Agent Spotlights.  I checked out agent blogs, followed a bunch of industry professionals on Twitter, and began going to conferences.  I networked as much as I could.

How long did it take from submission to contract? Any rejections?

I subbed a manuscript to agent “SB” in November of 2008. (I now refer to him in code because he uses Google Alerts and thinks I am stalking him).  He wrote back the same day!  He said that I clearly had talent as writer, but did I have anything “bigger”?  I didn’t.  But…  I wanted him.  (Okay, that does sound stalkerish!)   I loved his quick response time and his general attitude.  So, I waited for a “big idea”…

A month later, I got lucky again.  My son made a comment at dinner.  He told the Spanish speaking waitress, “I speak a little karate.”  I knew there had to be a story there!   Kids love karate.  I went home and researched what martial arts books were on the market.  Not many.  I thought it over for a few weeks. And then it hit me…THE THREE NINJA PIGS!   The three little pigs get fed up with the big bad wolf, so they go to ninja school!  I knew this was the kind of big concept that SB wanted.  I wrote it, tweaked it and sent it off to him.  Again, he responded the same day!  “It’s brilliant!  I have no doubt it will sell, but I don’t want to rep it.”

Okay, I had to move on.  By then it was early April.  I tried a small handful of other agents.  One, I had met at a conference.  Two or three others were referrals.

Kendra Marcus, founder of Book Stop Literary wrote back in early June, “I love the concept, but I think it still needs some work.  If you want to talk revisions, call me.”  I was scared to call.  But she had given me some specific feedback, so I revised and sent it back in July. She loved the changes and offered to rep me.

After your previous experience, how did you know Kendra was “the one?”

Okay, at that point, Kendra was the only agent who had my manuscript.  I would not say that I knew she was “the one.”  I think you can’t possibly know if an agent is right for you until you try working with them.   I like email.  She prefers the phone.  I am insecure and need lots of reassurances.  She is blunt and doesn’t sugarcoat her feedback.  But… Kendra LOVED my manuscript and was incredibly confident she could sell it.   That alone made it worth a try.  And in the year that I have worked with her, we have sold two fractured fairy tales.   So, I’d say we have been successful together.

It seems so many agents today are looking primarily for Middle Grade and YA. Was it difficult to find an agent who wanted to represent a “Picture Book” writer?

Yes.  I was surprised at how few options I had.  Some children’s lit agents will only rep PB authors if they illustrate as well.  Others won’t rep PB writers at all.   I understand the reasoning behind it (PBs are tough to sell and are not profitable), but it is still disheartening.  However, I do have a number of friends who have found representation. So, it is definitely possible to find an agent if you have a very strong manuscript.

It’s a tough market for picture books right now.  How much of a difference do you think it makes to have an agent?

I think having an agent makes a huge difference.  An agent gets you looked at. (Fast!)  Kendra sent THREE NINJA PIGS to two houses in August.  She also agreed to follow up at Walker where I had already sent it.  By October, we had two offers!   The other two houses where I had subbed on my own sent me form rejections the following spring!  (a full year after subbing)

What advice would you give to picture book writers looking for agents today?

Network, network, network!   Connections mean a lot in this industry.   An agent is not going to rep you just because you know one of her clients. BUT agents may take the time to give you comments (as opposed to a form rejection) if they have a personal connection to you.  Both “SB” and Kendra were referrals.  Both gave me specific feedback and the opportunity to submit to them again.  Those small “courtesies” can make all the difference.

What’s up next/what are you working on now?

After selling THE THREE NINJA PIGS to Putnam (2012), Kendra urged me to write another fractured fairy tale.  I collaborated with my friend, Beth Coulton, and we wrote GOLDI ROCKS AND THE THREE BEARS.   Once upon a musical time, three bears had a rock and roll band, but… they needed a lead singer!   This story also sold to Putnam.

Kendra’s advice now is to write a story that is NOT a fractured fairy tale.  But during PiBoIdMo, I got such a good idea for a new one, that she said “Go for it!”   (The title is “top secret” at the moment.)

You enjoy scuba diving in your spare time.  What was your best dive?

Much easier to think of my worst dive!  (That would be the one where I almost died!  Ha!)  Best dive?  Hmmm… I’ll go with the Orange Canyon off Grand Cayman. 

(Um, yeah. Dying is no good!)

Favorite book of 2010 (any genre)

I am not a big reader of dystopia, but I think I would have to say The Hunger Games.  I had to ask my husband to take the kids and leave the house, so I could read undisturbed!

Many, many thanks to Corey for sharing her story with us! I personally can’t wait to get my hands on THREE NINJA PIGS and GOLDI ROCKS when they come out (not to mention the double-top secret new title when it’s finished :-))

**If you are a picture book writer with an agent or an agent with picture book writer clients and would like to be featured in this series, please email me at jhedlund33 (at) yahoo (dot) com.

Categories: Agents, Authors, Children's Books, How I Got My Agent, Picture Books, Publishing · Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

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26 Comments

  1. What a terrific interview! And I love the idea for your new series. Thanks for sharing this, Julie.

  2. This is an awesome series. It’s inspiring and gives hope. I love hearing how people acquire what they desire. 😀

  3. Great interview, Julie! Great tale, Corey! (And just between you and me, every time I see “SB,” I get this terrifically intense urge to mess up his hair and then run away. Would this be horribly unprofessional?)

  4. Julie, I am loving this series! I’ve been reading around (a lot!) and have all but given up on the idea of trying to find an agent before I get my first picture book published. Like Corey (fabulous, sweet Corey!) I totally understand that Literary Agencies aren’t charities, but given that most big houses only accept agented queries, I find the whole scene a bit disheartening. (A bit, not completely!)

    Thanks Corey for your frank talk. It’s what we need. There’s so much rib out there regarding picture books, when what we really need is meat! I’ve been dying to read THREE NINJA PIGS for some time now, but didn’t know about GOLDI ROCKS – soooo exciting! xo

  5. Great interview! Corey is the best! I can’t wait to hear more about her double top secret title…

  6. Wonderful interview! Lots of good encouraging information in there, Corey. Thank you! And I think this series is going to appeal to a lot of writers, Julie. Excellent!

  7. Wonderful interview ~ questions and answers!

  8. Julie, what a great interview! I’m looking forward to reading more from this blog series!

    And Corey, thanks for sharing your experience with us! Very eye-opening, especially the part about having two offers within two months of the agent-sub, and then receiving two form rejections a year later from the unagented subs. Amazing. (I can’t even imagine turning down a story titled The Three Ninja Pigs! It sounds hilarious!) 🙂

    Oh, and I love the inspiration for your Ninja Pig book. I’ve already told that story a couple times today. 🙂

  9. Great new series. What a way to kick it off, with the amazing Corey!

  10. Great interview Julie. Nice idea for a series.

    I love the idea of the The Three Ninja Pigs since I’m a bit of a ninja myself. I’ve been dying to write a pb about karate but no inspiration so far. That does sound hilarious Corey, can’t wait to read it.

    Very interesting about waiting a year for a reply. That could sort out the swayers who one day want an agent and the next day want to go it alone. I’m so glad I’m writing MG aswell. Back up!

  11. Oh, Julie, this post was everything I dreamed it would be and more. Will it be monthly? Just fabulous! Be sure to check out my interview tomorrow with Heather Ayris Burnell. I can’t wait for your next interview in this series.

  12. What a great interview! It’s fun to read the experiences of other writers. It sounds like Corey’s persistence and great writing is what got her where she is today. Thanks!

  13. Such an interesting interview.

    And I bet I know who SB is….but I won’t put his name here or it will show up in the Google Alerts!

    Wow. Two pb’s in one year! Corey, that is just awesome!

    Shelley

  14. I dont write PB, MG or YA but I have kids and might i say, your advice is helpful for every writer out there. networking and connection is the absolute key.

  15. Thanks, everyone. Shelley, you have probably seen me mention him on my blog! (before I realized how dangerous it was 🙂

  16. Hi everyone! So glad you liked the first post in the series (not that I’m surprised – Corey did an amazing job!).

    Sorry I left the comments thread unattended, but I was at a writing workshop this weekend without Internet access. Such a joy to come back to all of these enthusiastic responses!

    Christie – to answer your question, I am aiming to run posts in this series bi-monthly, although there might only be one in December depending on whether my 3rd scheduled author would rather wait until after the holidays.

    Who are these authors? Well, it wouldn’t be any fun if there was no suspense, would there? 😉

  17. I’m a bit behind in my blog reading, so I just got here today.

    Wonderful interview!

  18. Fabulous interview, Julie and Corey! This is going to be a great series!

  19. Great interview! Shared this interview on our Austin SCBWI Facebook page.

  20. LOVE this interview! Corey’s personality just sparkles through and it was so much fun getting to know more about her.

  21. Absolutely love reading about how writers got their agent. It inspires and reminds us all that we are not alone in our journey to publication! I recently got my agent this past Spring (she’s reps MG & Pic Book) and I am just thrilled. Can’t wait to read more here! Great site by the way, the writing resources you share are quite useful, I’m always scouting this type of info for the Restless Writers’ Blog; keep up the great work here, Julie!

  22. Thank you for sharing your experiences. I guess I will have to practice being brave and brazen, and connect. You did it and
    I am proud that you got that break, and I congratulate you.

    I wish other writers would share their first agent relationships. Again, thanks.

  23. I just discovered this series and have really enjoyed it, Julie, especially since they are pb writers!! Looking forward to hearing more!

  24. This is exactly what I needed. Thank you for starting this blog series. My problem is I really don’t know where to start looking for an agent. Any suggestions?

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