The Children’s Writing Workshop at Big Sur was focused primarily on small critique group sessions rather than large general sessions. As a result, my notes are a smattering of tidbits heard and picked up throughout the weekend. There are some golden nuggets in there, though, so I share them now with you.
- “Picture books are the most difficult thing to write.” — Andrea Brown. I would love to tattoo this quote on my forehead so I’m prepared the next time someone asks me whether I’m going to start with picture books and then move into writing “real” books.
- “I know you’ve all heard the market for picture books is tough, but picture books are our bread and butter, so please don’t stop writing picture books.” — Andrea Brown
- “Picture books are an emotional medium. They need to make us feel something.” — Marla Frazee
- Chronicle is a medium-size publisher, and picture books outnumber both MG and YA — Melissa Manlove
- “Every word, every character in a picture book must count.” — Marla Frazee. This came in response to one of my manuscripts where characters were introduced for one scene and never came back again. Every character needs to move the story forward and be important to its outcome, especially when you have so little room to tell it. If you are taking the time to introduce them, they must play a critical role. Good examples are SOMEBODY LOVES YOU, MR. HATCH, BEAR SNORES ON, and STAND TALL, MOLLY LOU MELON
- An agent deciding whether to represent a picture book author might ask to see 3-4 manuscripts because they want to make sure you have more than one book. They are looking for career authors. — Jennifer Mattson. Take away? Once you start submitting, it’s good to have a couple of other polished pieces in your back pocket.
- HOWEVER, do submit only one manuscript at a time – whichever one you feel is the strongest and best representation of your work. — Mary Kole
- Because PB manuscripts are sent with the query, the actual query letter is not as important. Keep it short, simple and to the point. Agents will read at least part of the manuscript even if the query isn’t great. — Mary Kole
Be deliberate in your selection process. Do the research. Submit to agents you feel would be a good fit for your work, and then ASK THEM QUESTIONS.
Good questions to ask:
- How transparent is your submission process? Does the agent inform clients when and how many editors have received their manuscript? Do clients see the agents’ pitches? Are clients consulted about whether to submit to multiple editors or on an exclusive basis?
- What is your strategy for selling my book?
- What is your editorial philosophy? How much revision will an agent ask for/expect before submitting your work to editors. How hands-on is the process?
- What is your communication philosophy/style? Does the agent prefer email or phone? How soon can you expect answers to questions you may have? Does the agent prefer regular communication at all times or only when you are out on submission?
- What do you like about my book? Jennifer Laughran said she is amazed at how seldom that question gets asked. It’s important, she said, because you might find out that an agent sees your book completely differently than you do. That would be a good thing to know before signing a contract.
- What are your favorite books?
- Money questions. Including, what happens to your money if an agent moves to another agency, the agency closes, or God forbid, the agent dies? Morbid, but it’s your money, so you need to know.
- How are foreign, audio, digital, film and other rights handled?
Also, be prepared to demonstrate that you can accept editorial feedback. Great revising is hugely important. Mary Kole said she is looking for clients who “treat every BIC (Butt in Chair) session as a learning process.” Even when it gets hard, don’t just stop working on a piece and move onto something else. Take what you’ve learned or are learning and revise, revise, revise.
BUT, don’t be too quick to send revisions back to an agent who requests them. They want to know that you’ve taken the time to consider and incorporate the feedback. Make sure it’s your very best before sending it back. As Laura Rennert said, “You will have ample time to impress later.”
Interestingly enough, especially for us bloggers, marketing was hardly a whisper at this conference. I suppose it’s not surprising given its focus on the craft, but I left Big Sur finally believing that finding an agent really is, first and foremost, about the book. Even when asked the direct question as to whether an online platform would make a difference between two potential clients, Kelly Sonnack replied, “The decision is always 100% based on the book.”
Which is not to say that willingness and ability to do marketing isn’t helpful. It’s just not the deciding factor. In fact, the agents warned that bad marketing is worse than no marketing at all.
- Willingness = good
- Ability = even better
- Willy Nilly = worse than bad
A good agent will work with clients to accentuate their strengths with whatever the author feels comfortable doing marketing-wise. It’s also a good idea to work closely with the publisher, since they are also marketing the book. You want your own marketing efforts to be complementary to theirs – not duplicative or even worse, in conflict.
The usual comments of “do what you like to do and no more than that,” prevailed. If you like Twitter or Facebook or both – great. If you enjoy blogging, that’s great too. But don’t put yourself out there on any of those platforms without a strong knowledge of how to use them effectively. The worst thing you can do with social media is pop in once a month blasting everybody with sales pitches about your book and then disappear. A “phantom presence,” where you’ve set up accounts but they lie dormant for months, can also leave people with a worse impression than no presence at all.
That’s all, folks! Comments? Questions?Categories: Agents, Authors, Children's Books, Picture Books, Publishing, Social Media, Works in Progress, Writing · Tags: Agents, Andrea Brown, Big Sur Children's Writing Workshop, Chronicle Books, Jennifer Laughran, Jennifer Mattson, Kelly Sonnack, Marla Frazee, Mary Kole, Social Media