My profile of him will be a bit personal because, perhaps unfortunately for Stephen, I
stalked met him in person this past June at the NJ-SCBWI conference. Here’s my story (and I’m sticking to it).
When I got the list of agents attending the conference, Stephen was at the tippy top of my list of those I wanted to meet. So when I signed up for my manuscript critique, pitch session and lunch table assignment, I put him as my top choice for all three, never considering the possibility that they all might come through. So in some ways it wasn’t totally my fault…
First came the manuscript critique. After initial hellos he said, “Do you realize you submitted two manuscripts?”
*Insert my internal reaction here.*
HONK! You see, submitting more than one manuscript critique was strictly verboten. After apologizing profusely, he set me at ease, said it was no problem and THEN pulled out the TWO critiques he’d written for me. He liked both stories, told me they weren’t quite “there” yet, and gave me great guidance on improving them.
Since those two manuscripts were the very ones I was going to pitch to him the next day, I asked if I should even bother coming. He said I should because pitching is a very fine art and it’s always good to get practice. He even said, if I was willing to do a revision on one of my stories and give it to him the next morning, he’d look at it and give me more comments in the pitch session.
Determined to look that gift horse right in the mouth, I feverishly worked on revisions and was still tweaking as the next morning’s general session began. I arrived, late, and saw Stephen sitting at the front of the auditorium. I ended up in the nosebleed seats with my chin on my knees, which required me to hurdle over hundreds of attendees at the end of the session in order to get my revisions to him before he left the auditorium.
But get it to him I did, then went off on my merry way. I arrived late for lunch, naturally, and raced to the board to get my table assignment. It was – you guessed it – Stephen’s table. What’s more, the ONLY chair still available was the one immediately to his left.
“Helloooo. Me again.”
Then I had to go all fangirl on him about Gregory Maguire, who is one of my favorite authors and whom Stephen used to edit. Our table as a whole was very animated though, and Stephen taught us all an important life lesson which has now become, symbolically at least, one of my mantras. “Eat Dessert First.”
“Well, I’ll see you in an hour,” I smiled as I left the table.
Then came the pitch session, more great feedback on one of my manuscripts, and the satisfaction of hearing that he thought I had a strong pitch for my other one. I left with an invitation to revise and submit.
Why am I telling you all this? Because as we begin the 12 x 12 submission rounds, I think it’s important for us all to remember that these folks are regular, nice people who adore children’s books – just like us. In Stephen’s case, he went out of his way to make me feel comfortable and went above and beyond the call of duty in giving me feedback. He operated, it seemed to me, from a genuine desire to encourage writers.
Then again, maybe he was just afraid I might follow him home…
One thing Stephen said more than once at the conference was that he needs to be able to “see” a picture book before he can take it on. That doesn’t mean you have to be an illustrator, but that he likes language that is so vivid that it creates a strong visual impression. When I asked him if he had any particular guidance to give 12 x 12 members in their submissions to him, this was his response:
“For me, I am always looking for craft in language. Beautiful language gets me every time. The picture book market is tough right now, so writers need to know that their picture books need to be one-of-a-kind, original, fresh, strong, and inventive. Most publishers these days are looking for character-driven stories. And, please keep in mind, as Maurice Sendak said, you need to ‘leave room for the pictures.”
Full submission guidelines and requirements for Stephen can be found in the Submission Station section of the 12 x 12 Membership Forum, accessible to Little GOLDen Book members. In the meantime, here are some links with more information about Stephen.
Interview with Judith L. Roth (a client)
Good Luck!Categories: 12 x 12 in 2012, Agents, Authors, Children's Books, Picture Books, Publishing, SCBWI, Works in Progress, Writing · Tags: 12 x 12, Agents, Author, Children's Books, Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency, Julie Hedlund, Literary Agent, NJ-SCBWI, Picture Books, Publishing, SCBWI, Stephen Fraser, Submissions, Works in Progress, Writing