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: Agents, Authors, Book Stop Literary Agency, Corey Schwartz, Goldi Rocks, Hop Plop, How I Got My Agent, Picture Books, Publishing, Putnam, Three Ninja Pigs, Walker