This year 12 x 12 Little GOLDen Book members will be able to choose one of two agents to submit their manuscript to each month. Jennifer Mattson from Andrea Brown Literary will be accepting picture book submissions from 12 x 12 Gold members August 1-15. Samantha Bremekamp from Corvisiero Literary Agency will be accepting picture book submissions from 12×12 Gold members August 16-30. Jennifer’s profile appears first, followed by Samantha’s. Please read BOTH and then decide who would be the best fit for your work.

 Jennifer Mattson of Andrea Brown LiteraryJENNIFER MATTSON

Jennifer was a featured agent in 2013. You can find our extensive profile post on her here. More recent interviews and resources appear at the end of this profile update

I am so delighted to welcome Jennifer back as a 12 x 12 featured agent. She is so generous and enthusiastic and totally ready to find new talent! We are lucky to have her.

The most up-to-date interviews with Jennifer:

SAMANTHA BREMEKAMP

Because Samantha Bremekamp is a newer agent, she hasn’t done too many interviews across the Internet yet. HOWEVER, I was fortunate enough to meet Samantha in person at the NJ-SCBWI conference last month. From our conversation, I gleaned that Samantha is extremely knowledgeable about the children’s book market, is effervescent in her love of picture books, and is eager to read submissions from 12 x 12 members. All this AND she looks spectacular in the color turquoise. 😉 

Samantha Bremekamp of Corvisiero LiteraryA little bit about Samantha from the Corvisiero Literary Agency website:

“Samantha Bremekamp started her career in publishing in 2008, and quickly realized that she preferred working directly with authors from the other side of the industry. She runs critique groups and writing groups for fun, as she also loves to write and help others to fulfill their writing ambitions. She is fully aware of how hard of an industry it really is in this day and age.

Her favorite writing is children’s, middle grade, young adult, and new adult. There is something so pure about each building block of life these book groups represent. Although there may be a difference between a three year old and a 33 year old, maybe, Samantha finds that all of life’s challenges in these age groups really show the potential for amazing growth in a character.

Samantha’s background is in English literature, communications, and Spanish. She really thinks that if a writer is confident and believes in their work, their work will show that without having to showboat to prove it via a pitch.

Samantha loves reading Children’s, MG, YA, and NA fiction. She is open to any genre within those age groups, but prefers speculative fiction, mystery, and quirky romance.”

Articles featuring Samantha Bremekamp:

Full submission guidelines for Jennifer and Samantha are posted in the Membership Forum. Please note Little GOLDen Book Members may only submit to ONE of these agents. Please choose the agent who is the best fit for you and your manuscript.

Submissions will only be accepted for Jennifer Mattson from August 1st – August 15th at 6pm EST/3pm PST.

Submissions will only be accepted for Samantha Bremekamp from August 16th – August 30th at 6pm EST/3pm PST.

Good Luck!
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Jennifer Mattson of the Andrea Brown Literary Agency will be accepting picture book submissions from 12 x 12 members in August.

jennifermI’ve had the pleasure of meeting Jennifer twice, at two different Big Sur workshops – one in the Rockies and one in, well, Big Sur. Both times I was impressed with her warmth, intelligence and genuine desire to help writers. I know she puts these qualities to good use because she represents my friend Linda Ashman, and I continue to hear nothing but good things. See for yourself when you read about Jennifer’s recent deals below! I was so pleased when she agreed to be a 12 x 12 featured agent, and anyone who snags her will be in good hands! Thank you, Jennifer!

A little bit about Jennifer from the Andrea Brown website:

Jennifer came to Andrea Brown Literary Agency after nearly five years of reviewing children’s literature as part of the Books for Youth staff of Booklist magazine. That adds up to close readings of around 1,000 books, lending Jennifer a wide-angle view of the tastes of individual houses.

Prior to Booklist, Jennifer was an Associate Editor at Dutton Children’s Books, where she acquired and edited titles that included CHICO, by retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor; and THE HEROIC ADVENTURES OF HERCULES AMSTERDAM, by Melissa Glenn Haber. (She also enjoyed an amusing turn on the other side of the desk as a coauthor of THE OFFICIAL EASY-BAKE COOKBOOK).

In the picture-book arena, Jennifer is interested in authors and author-illustrators who bring a distinctive, well-developed point of view to their work; at this time, she is not acquiring illustration-only clients. She loves picture books that are story time-ready stories (no one-joke tales or mood pieces) that resonate with universal childhood experiences and concerns; fables and folktales aren’t for her.

When I asked Jennifer what she is looking for in picture books these days, here is the response she sent me:

As for what’s interesting to me in PB manuscripts, I warm to idiosyncratic voices that don’t condescend (think William Steig and Russell Hoban); stories that are either hilarious, mind-expanding, or heart-melting (all three would be the holy grail); and clever premises that are well paced and pay off with a terrific ending. I tend to appreciate a narrative that’s a bit postmodern in its approach, expanding character or story with elements that break away from the body text. PB narrative nonfiction that’s not institutional in feel is okay.  Above all else, though, I look for concision, and a good understanding of the give-and-take between words and pictures that make for a seamless whole.

Recent picture book sales include three manuscripts by noted poet Linda Ashman: PEACE, BABY!, to be illustrated by Joanne Lew-Vriethoff (Chronicle); Linda Ashman’s nearly wordless, graphic novel influenced story, RAIN! (Houghton Mifflin/HMH); and a lyrical ode to the rhythms of the natural world, ALL WE KNOW (HarperCollins). Past sales include author-illustrator Gail Page’s HOW TO BE A GOOD CAT, the latest entry in her picture book series about Bobo the dog (Bloomsbury); and TEN ON THE SLED, a picture book written by Kim Norman (Sterling).

Full 12 x 12 submission guidelines and requirements for Jennifer will be posted in the Submission Station section of the 12 x 12 Membership Forum, accessible to Little GOLDen Book members by 6:00 p.m. EST/3:00 p.m. on August 31st. In the meantime, here are some links with more information about Jennifer.
Good Luck!
Jennifer’s Representative Deals
Paul Meisel announces representation by Jennifer Mattson – This post is short, but having a look around his blog might give you insight in to why Jennifer was interested in representing Paul and his work.
Categories: 12 x 12, Agents, Books, Children's Books, Picture Books, Publishing, Queries, SCBWI · Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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I am so excited to present my first-ever author/agent duo for the How I Got My Agent Series.  Thanks to Jennifer Mattson for agreeing to go under the microscope participate alongside Linda. I decided on a She Said/She Said format, with their pictures as the indicator for their responses.  Of course I couldn’t resist sprinkling in a few of my own comments, which appear in italics.

Linda Ashman is the award-winning author of more than two-dozen picture books.  She has had three books released in the past three months, and you can enter to win one of them (details below).  Yesterday’s post includes my reviews of the books, and you can earn double points in the giveaway if you also comment and share that one.  Linda lives right here in the great state of Colorado with her husband Jack, son Jackson, and dog daughters Stella and Sammy.

Jennifer Mattson is an Associate Agent at Andrea Brown Literary Agency.  Before joining ABLA, Jennifer spent nearly five years  reviewing children’s literature as part of the Books for Youth staff of Booklist magazine. Prior to Booklist, Jennifer was an Associate Editor at Dutton Children’s Books. She represents authors across all children’s genres – picture books, MG and YA.  Jennifer is also the co-author of THE OFFICIAL EASY-BAKE COOKBOOK, which we happen to own! (although I hide it because truthfully, I dread the days my daughter asks me if we can “Easy Bake.” Same thing with Play-Doh actually, but enough about me…)

Let’s dig into the questions shall we?

Linda, when did you seek an agent for the first time, and how/why did you know it was time to look for one?

I signed on with my first agent around 1999, after selling seven manuscripts on my own.  Although I wasn’t actively looking at the time, a writer friend spoke highly of her new agent and suggested I talk to him.  Since I’d been “negotiating” my own contracts (as in, “Where do I sign?”), it made sense to work with someone more knowledgeable about contracts — and the business in general — than I was, and who had relationships with more editors and knew their particular tastes.

Jennifer, the first question this audience will have is: Are you currently accepting submissions from picture book authors and/or illustrators?  If so, what kind of manuscripts are you looking for?

Yes, of course.  I am accepting text-only picture book queries and queries from author-illustrators, but at this time I’m not looking to sign up illustrator-only clients.

It impresses me when an author knows how to develop a character and tell a complete, satisfying story with extreme concision, with 750 words as a target maximum, and under 500 words much preferred.  I’m not looking for issue-driven/teachable moment stories, stories with historical settings, fairy tales or fairy tale retellings, nor, as a rule, nonfiction picture books – though I’ve been known to take a shine to nonfiction that illuminates some truly surprising corner of history or science with strong kid appeal (I loved The Day Glo Brothers, for instance – wish I could have represented it!)  What excites me most, though, are humorous stories that turn on universal conflicts resolved in memorable character-specific ways.

Since poetry is Linda Ashman’s specialty, it’s clear that I’m open to rhyming manuscripts. Having said that, I now have a few clients who primarily write in verse, so for the time being I’ll be most active about adding writers-in-narrative to my roster.

Note, in a few months I will be taking a hiatus from reading queries for a while because I’m going on maternity leave (my e-mail autoresponse will be clear about when that goes into effect).

What an excellent reason for a query hiatus. Many congratulations!! One more voracious reader of children’s books is about to enter the world…

Linda, Jennifer was not your first agent. What have you learned from working with three different agents?

I’ve learned that it’s really important to get a sense of how an agent works.  When you send her a story, will she read it within a matter of days, or does she, for example, devote one week a month to reading clients’ work?  Does he have an overall submission strategy for your manuscript, or does he send it to one editor at a time and wait for a response?  Does she notify you right away when she hears back from an editor, and — if it’s a decline — discuss with you the next plan of action?  Is the agent a one-person shop, or part of a larger organization?  (Neither is necessarily better than the other, but I really appreciate the support Jennifer gets from her colleagues at Andrea Brown.)

In order to avoid annoyance on one side and frustration on the other, expectations are everything.  Be very clear about communications.  How often should you expect to hear from him — only when there’s news, or will he check in periodically?  Is she accessible by phone or email if you have questions?   Beyond that, make sure you like this person, and feel comfortable asking questions.  This could be — hopefully will be — a very long relationship.   You don’t need to be best friends, but respect and compatibility are important.  And, above all, make sure the agent is genuinely enthusiastic about you and your work.  This is a tough business, and it helps to feel you have a professional ally looking out for your interests.

Wow, that is such a great answer.  I so often think that in this competitive market, writers think any agent is better than no agent and forget that it’s a business relationship that should benefit both the agent and the author.  Thanks for giving us some great questions to ask!

How did you find Jennifer and then come to the conclusion that she was “the one?”

I met Jennifer when we both were on the faculty at the “Big Sur in the Rockies” writing retreat in Boulder in May 2010.  I really liked her, and was impressed with her thoughtfulness and intelligence.  I knew she’d worked with Meredith Mundy, my Sterling editor, so I asked Meredith about her.  I really trust and respect Meredith, so when she gave Jennifer a ringing endorsement, I decided to contact her to discuss working together.  I’m so glad I did — Jennifer has been a dream to work with.

I’ve met Jennifer at two different ABLA events, and she is so knowledgeable, but also so friendly and approachable.  Readers, query her if you think your stories are a good fit!

Likewise, Jennifer, what drew you to Linda’s work and made you want to sign her as a client?

I’ve known Linda’s work for a long time, because when I was an associate editor at Dutton Children’s Books in the late 1990s, she would regularly submit (and be published by) the head of our imprint.  The publisher would bring promising manuscripts to an editorial board meeting, so I recall seeing Linda’s work and being impressed by her professionalism and her gift for poetry.  Later, Linda went on to publish with a former colleague and friend of mine, Meredith Mundy at Sterling.  The degrees of separation kept getting a bit smaller over time – and finally Linda and I were faculty members at the same writers’ workshop, Big Sur in the Rockies in Boulder, CO, cosponsored by our agency and the Rocky Mountain Chapter of SCBWI.  In a way, meeting Linda felt like greeting an old friend, partly due to our professional connections, and partly because I had spent so much time reading my daughter her board book, BABIES ON THE GO!  I was thrilled when, several months later, I received a note from her asking if I’d like to discuss working together.  Honestly, it didn’t take much thinking!

BABIES ON THE GO is great! But you guys have probably already figured out that we’re big Linda Ashman fans in this household.  By the way, at that very same Big Sur in the Rockies meeting, I was fortunate to have Linda as one of my faculty members.  From that experience, I can tell you that her manuscript critiquing service is well worth the price.

Linda, the picture book market is tough right now, and it seems many agents don’t take PB clients only.  I know your situation is a bit different because you had already sold many books before signing with Jennifer, but what advice would you give to a pre-published PB writer seeking an agent today?

Sometimes, in our eagerness to get published, we send our work out there before it’s ready.  I certainly was guilty of this when I first started writing, and I cringe when I come across old manuscripts which should have landed in the recycling bin instead of on an editor’s desk.  So before even thinking about editors and agents, I’d advise writers to become students of the picture book.  Reading them to your kids or your students — or recalling old favorites from childhood — isn’t enough.  Study the really good ones, especially those published in the last five years or so.  Start with year-end “best of the year” lists from ALA, School Library Journal, Bankstreet, the children’s blogging community, etc.  Really look at what makes these books successful and appealing (or not; this is highly subjective, after all).  Pay attention to the voice, the pacing, the escalation of the drama, and how the story is resolved.  Then make a dummy of your own manuscript and see if your story fits the picture book structure, if you’ve cut out every extraneous word, if your voice is distinctive, your story dramatic and visually interesting, and your ending satisfying.

Once you’ve got several strong stories, and you’ve followed the manuscript formatting requirements (and a meticulous friend has checked for typos), then you can turn your attention to agents.  Here again, research is key.  If you can go to conferences and meet agents in person, that’s great.  But it’s not necessary.  Fortunately, you can find tons of information on the internet.  Study agency websites, and make a list of agents who appeal to you and seem open to your writing style and interests.  Then google them.  Many have been interviewed on blogs, and a few have blogs of their own.  The more information you have, the easier it will be to target your submission and write an informed and personal query letter.

I’m chuckling as I read this because Linda shared one of her early manuscripts with us at a rhyming workshop she gave. Don’t worry Linda – I won’t name it here! Suffice it to say it’s inspiring to see how much a writer can grow if they truly commit to studying the craft.  And now, for a shameless plug of one of my own posts: If you want more information on how to research agents and editors, go here.

Jennifer, Linda writes almost exclusively in rhyme, yet we hear agents and editors say (often) that they don’t want to see rhyming manuscripts.  What separates a saleable rhyming story from one that is not?

That’s a great question.  I think that there is a note of inevitability communicated by the best rhyming manuscript – in other words, one barely notices the rhyming, except to be delighted by it, and one can’t imagine another way of expressing the same idea.  It’s a combination of perfect rhythm / scansion and absolutely perfect end rhymes:  I’m never fond of slant rhymes.  (When I was a kid, I used to hate reading British poems that rhymed things like “again” and “rain”!)

Apart from technical perfection, to be saleable in the picture book market, editors need poetry to be more than just gorgeousness and musicality.  Linda and I have had the same comment on a number of manuscripts recently, and it’s not uncommon at all:  “This needs a stronger story arc!”  So, writers of verse face an exceptionally high bar.  Their manuscripts must be technically flawless but also must advance a storyline.  It is so rare for a writer to have mastered all of those elements simultaneously that I think many editors and agents have simply found it more efficient to put the kibosh on rhyme preemptively.  For whatever reason (perhaps the prominence of Dr. Seuss?), it seems that amateur writers gravitate to verse before trying their hand at anything else.

This might be some of the best advice I’ve seen on what makes a rhyming manuscript work – thanks!

Given how tight the picture book market is these days, what advice would you give to PB writers looking for agents on how to stand out?

An exquisitely professional query letter that references specific, comparable, recent titles on the market always catches my eye.  We receive tons of queries from people who clearly don’t read much in the contemporary picture-book marketplace, so it’s nice to include any sign that you’re engaged in the industry in an active, ongoing way (it’s also nice to mention membership in SCBWI and critique groups).

Other aspects of your submission will convey the professional level of your work, too.  It helps when a project reflects the typical length of a frontlist picture book (rather than the typical length of a published-long-ago classic, like Robert McCloskey’s wonderful but 2000-words-long TIME OF WONDER…).  I also look for writers who know how to creatively anticipate the contribution of an illustrator, e.g., by not overwriting description and, when appropriate, leaving certain key beats of story development to the visuals.

I always recommend that authors of picture books line up three or four projects that they feel are ready to share with an agent before first submitting.   Agents usually ask queriers to focus on one manuscript, but if an agent is interested in continuing a discussion, normally he or she will ask to see more of your work.  You’ll want to be ready for that.

Linda, dogs are frequent characters in your books, including your latest release, No Dogs Allowed!  Can you tell us one of your favorite real dog stories based on one of your own pets?

Sammy, our Lab mix, is very smart and has an impressive repertoire of tricks.  When appropriately bribed, she’ll fetch the paper, wake Jackson (our son), deliver canned goods from the kitchen cabinet, jump like a kangaroo, roll over, speak, whisper, dance, spin (once, twice, or three times, as directed) and more.  But she has a lot of attitude, and feels that this sort of performing is really beneath her.  And she has a way of showing her resentment.  After every meal, she goes on a raid and finds a sock — on someone’s dresser, in the laundry basket, in a closet — and runs off with it.  She never actually chews it.  She just likes to hold it hostage for a while (usually until we tell her how funny and cute she is, thereby rewarding her for her naughtiness).

Awww, too cute! I want to give her a hug just reading this. If I’d thought ahead I would have asked you for a picture of her.  🙂

Jennifer, please complete this sentence:  “If I could take just one book with me to a remote desert island, it would be….”

I hate to compromise the children’s-lit focus of this blog, but I’d probably choose something lush and long-lasting, like George Eliot’s MIDDLEMARCH or Thackeray’s VANITY FAIR.

Nope. I totally get that.  If you’re stuck on a desert island, you need something a bit broader in scope than a children’s book.  My own choice would be A PRAYER FOR OWEN MEANY, by John Irving.

Let’s all give it up for these two lovely ladies for this great post!  I hope you learned as much as I did.  Also, don’t forget that Linda Ashman is giving away a personalized, signed copy of both SAMANTHA ON A ROLL and NO DOGS ALLOWED for two lucky winners. You must be a follower of the blog to enter (new followers welcome!).  Here are the ways you can enter:

  • Leave a comment on this post and/or yesterday’s post.  Be sure to say which book you’d prefer if you win. – 1 point
  • Tweet this post (include link in your comment) – 1 point
  • Like this post on Facebook (include link) – 1 point
  • Blog about the contest (include link) – 2 points

THANKS AGAIN to both Linda and Jennifer. I had so much fun putting this post together, and I hope you did too!

Categories: Agents, Authors, Children's Books, Giveaway, How I Got My Agent, Picture Books, Poetry, Publishing, Queries, Rhyming, Writing · Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

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*ETA – This list is a compilation of my thoughts after reading loads of articles and dozens of draft queries in different venues (including critiques of my own queries).  It is NOT based on any one particular query I may have seen in a particular venue.  🙂

That’s right.  I couldn’t stop at ten, so fifteen it is.

I’ve been thinking nonstop about queries lately, both because of WriteOnCon and because I am at that stage with a couple of my manuscripts. After reading many “how-to” articles and draft queries on countless blogs, forums and writing boards, I’ve come up with my own list of don’ts.  Some of these are common sense and you’ve probably seen them elsewhere.  Some of them are my own.  Keep in mind that querying is personal and subjective.  You may disagree with some of these or be able to point to examples of queries that led to contracts even though they made use of a “don’t” on this list.  That’s fine.  Always trust your gut.  These are the ones that work for me.

  1. DON’T misspell the name of the agent/editor.  Most agents say a misspelled name is not a deal-breaker for them, especially if their names have an unusual spelling.  Still, I say no excuses here.  Check, re-check and check again.  This information is readily available online.  You only have one shot to impress this person, and misspelling his or her name is not the way to do it.
  2. DON’T make any spelling, grammar or punctuation mistakes. Unlike #1, most agents are not as forgiving about careless mistakes.  If you make them in a one-page letter, they’ll assume you’ve made them in your manuscript too.  These people work long, long hours and read thousands of queries every year.  They are looking for a reason to reject you.  Don’t hand it to them on a silver platter.
  3. DON’T mention the fact that you are unpublished (if applicable).  They’ll assume you’re not if you don’t include pub creds in your bio.  If they love your writing, it won’t matter to them.  So why point it out?  Instead, focus on the credentials you do have that relate to your writing (writing associations, critique groups, awards, etc.)
  4. DON’T say “so and so” was the inspiration for this story unless it is a nonfiction biography.  The reason?  They don’t really care that your daughter said this cute thing one day and the rest is history.  They care about the story.  You’re wasting precious real-estate in your query letter to convey something that isn’t important to them.
  5. Likewise, DON’T mention anyone who loved your book unless that person or organization is highly respected and well-known in the industry.  Of course your kids love your book.  So might your second-grade class.  And your mom.  Unfortunately they don’t make publishing decisions, so their opinions don’t count for much (sorry!).  On the other hand, if you’ve written a book of poems for kids and Maya Angelou loves it and is willing to go on record and help promote it, then by all means…
  6. DON’T say how long you’ve been working on the manuscript.  Doing so is almost certain to hurt you either way.  If you admit it’s been ten years, an agent will wonder why it took so darned long and if you will ever be able to write a book again.  If you say it took ten days, they may assume you haven’t taken it as seriously as you should or you are querying prematurely.
  7. DON’T send gifts of any kind with the query letter.  Seriously.  Just don’t.  It’s creepy and it will make you stand out in all the wrong ways.
  8. Don’t say your story will be an instant best-seller or make any other promise that you don’t know for certain you can make good on.  Not only with the agent/editor not believe you, they probably won’t believe anything else you say about your manuscript either.
  9. Don’t say your book is awesome/thrilling/a page-turner.  This is similar to #8, but more nuanced.  Here you’re not making a claim about potential sales, but you’re breaking another cardinal rule of writing – “show, don’t tell.”  Your query needs to show the editor/agent how great your story is.  If you simply tell them it is, they have nothing to base it on but your opinion.  And I hate to say it, but you’re not exactly unbiased are you?
  10. DON’T use the words, “I believe…”  In my previous job, I did tons of persuasive writing, and using the words “I think, I believe, I hope you will find…” is the number one mistake writers make when they are trying to be convincing.  As writers, we are supposed to project confidence.  You want your readers – in this case agents or editors – to trust you.  Make sure they know they are in good hands.  Why should they believe what you say about your story if you’re not even sure yourself?  Luckily, this error is easy to fix.  Before:  “I believe this story is timely because the World Cup will take place in Brazil in 2014, which will spark interest in Brazilian culture.”  After: “This book is timely because the World Cup will take place in Brazil…”  Which one sounds stronger?  I know we’re all trying to be polite and respectful in these query letters, but that doesn’t mean you can’t be sure of yourself when it comes to your story and your writing.
  11. DON’T use a question in your pitch.  I once made this mistake in a query of mine, and when I got a critique from the awesome query-ninja Elana Johnson, she called it “weaksauce.”  When I asked why, she said something to the effect of, “People will either know the answer or not care, or maybe both.”  Example: “Will Prince Fancy Pants slay the dragon and make it back to the castle in time to save the princess before the hourglass runs out?”  Answer: “Yeah probably, but now I know how the story ends so why bother reading the book?”  MANY of the agents and editors commented on their distaste for questions as pitches during WriteOnCon, making me eternally grateful that Elana gave me this advice more than a year ago so I could stop making that rookie mistake.
  12. DON’T send form letters or mass mail.  The “Dear Agent” letter doesn’t work and it’s just plain lazy.  If you can’t come up with a reason why you want to query that specific agent, why would even want to be represented by that person?  Another reason to avoid mass mailing is that you also give everybody the opportunity to mass reject you.  Then what?
  13. DON’T discuss your ideas for marketing tie-ins like plush dolls, toys, etc.  Don’t we all wish our writing would lead to a TV/movie/retail franchise?  It’s not going to happen to most of us.  If you spend your precious space in a query letter going over all of your great ideas for just such a campaign, the agent will be left to wonder how important the writing is to you.  Here’s the other thing: the only stories/characters that turn into a franchise are from books that are bestsellers.  See #8 if you’re starting to think it’s a good idea to back up your marketing plans with the statement that your book will be a bestseller.
  14. DON’T lie or stretch the truth.  Just because you met one of your prospective agents’ clients or colleagues at a conference does not mean that person is a reference.  Don’t say, “I got your name from…” or “I was referred to you by…” unless it was crystal clear that person intended to refer you.  Otherwise, you will burn bridges both with the agent and with the author or colleague (because they will follow-up).  Unless a person actually says the words, “You can use my name,” or s/he makes the introduction for you, it is not a referral.  I once wrote a query where I mentioned that I had worked with one of this agent’s clients on the specific manuscript I was querying (true).  That was how I personalized the query.  I also made it very clear that I was not implying a referral.  Although that query was rejected, it came with a personal response and an invitation to query other projects.
  15. DON’T let all the dos and don’ts of querying paralyze you into never sending out any queries.  This is the most important and probably the most difficult “don’t” on the list.  It’s hard enough trying to decide when a manuscript is “finished,” much less add in the stress of writing the perfect query letter.  At some point, you just have to go for it.  I still get butterflies every time I hit the “Send” button on a query, but I also know the work isn’t doing any good sitting on my hard drive.  Sure, if I don’t send any queries, I’ll never get rejected.  But I’ll never get accepted either…

Now for a bonus round.  If you haven’t heard of the Query Shark (Janet Reid from FinePrint Literary), get thyself over to her site at once.  These two titles came from her and gave me a laugh (even though they’re based on actual queries!)

“Don’t quote rejection letters in a query.” Uhh.. okay?  *scratches head in bewilderment*

“Don’t query if you’re dead.”  I will surely try not to.  If I’m dead, I might have bigger problems than the fact that I’m unpublished.

And here’s an article worth reading from the title alone…

25 Reasons Your Query Letter SucksWrite It Sideways

Finally, some query resources you can’t afford to overlook:

Agent Query

Query Shark – The Shark does bite, but only if you deserve it.

Query Tracker

Writing a Query Letter – Posts from the aforementioned Elana Johnson, who is also the author of an e-book on the subject called From the Query to the Call.  I own it, and I can tell you it’s very helpful.

And a couple of my own posts on the subject:

How to Write a Winning Query – notes from Elena Mechlin’s (Pippin Properties) conference talk

A Good Query Letter is Like a Skirt – from Andrea Brown’s talk at Big Sur in the Rockies

And now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go compulsively check my inbox every five minutes check my email to see if I have any responses yet…

Agree or disagree with my don’ts?  Any other resources you want to share?  Let us know in the comments.

Categories: Agents, Authors, Publishing, Queries, Writing · Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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Often, when I attend conferences or workshops like the one in Big Sur last weekend, I end up coming away with a “lightbulb moment” that defines the experience for me.  This time, that moment was given to me by none other than the illustrious Mary Kole of the Andrea Brown Literary Agency, and of Kidlit.com fame.  It was:

“The Publisher is your first customer.”

I was seeking clarification from Mary on what constitutes a compelling hook, especially since it seems one of my manuscripts is in need of a stronger one.  I came with the belief that if the story/topic/message had obvious appeal to parents and/or kids, that = hook.  Not necessarily so.  For lack of a better way to explain it, I left with the understanding that a story (mine being a picture book) can’t just be well-written, entertaining, funny or poignant (even though those are all great too).  In order to rise above the ordinary, a story must have an element of magic – not in a literal sense, but in a literary sense.

Marla Frazee, who was also on faculty, said picture books need “emotional resonance.”  Meaning they need to make us feel something deeply when we read them.  It’s that feeling, that hook, that magic that makes a child and a parent want to read that book over and over again, versus just gleaning the message and putting it down forever.  That’s what publishers are looking for.

This notion of the publisher as the first customer may not be fair.  We might not agree.  Our friends and families might not agree.  Even our agents might not agree.  But it is reality if we’re looking to be traditionally published.

Does that mean we should always write with a little mini-publisher sitting on our shoulders shouting, “What’s the big idea?”  No.  Of course not.  I’m pretty sure that as soon as you “try” to write a knockout bestseller you won’t.  Because that magic is also sometimes called heart.  It has to come from yours or it won’t have the emotional resonance.  I personally believe the only way to find that heart, that magic is to keep writing until it shows up naturally – then revise the hell out of it so that the magic shines through.  So that’s what I’m going to work on now as I approach the next set of revisions to my WIPs.

Mary goes into much more detail about this topic in her post, Picture Book or Short Story? That post is a good place to start if I’ve confused you more than helped you!

P.S.  Mary also said that publishers, not surprisingly, are all looking for the next Fancy Nancy.  So let’s all get on that, shall we?  🙂

 

Categories: Agents, Authors, Children's Books, Picture Books, Publishing, Works in Progress, Writing · Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

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I know it’s a day late, but I was in Big Sur all weekend for a children’s writing workshop, hosted by the Andrea Brown Literary Agency, and there was no Internet access (unless you were one of the lucky few with an iPad with 3G).  I will be writing much more about the workshop in the coming week or so, but for now, let me just express my overwhelming gratitude for everyone at ABLit for making those workshops happen.  I attended Big Sur in the Rockies last May, and it was so invaluable I decided I couldn’t wait another year to go again.  I am at the stage where I feel myself getting traction, moving in the right direction but also needing some nudging to take my writing to the next level.  The faculty at Big Sur includes not only AB agents, but also editors and authors.  I am still starstruck over getting two critique group sessions with Marla Frazee!!!

BUT, now I find myself writing about the conference rather than gratitude.  So thank you to the folks at ABLit and all of the amazing Big Sur faculty.  I so appreciate them taking the time to not just assist writers, but to nourish them.  I came away from the weekend exhausted, but inspired, excited and invigorated – not feelings commonly associated with writing, where the plague of self-doubt and frustration often take center stage.  Once again, THANK YOU!

No quotes this week, just the rest of my list and a few photos:

  1. Driving Highway 1 through Big Sur – there are no words for its beauty
  2. The flourless chocolate almond cake I had in Capitola on the way homeStoking the creative fires
  3. Meeting so many amazing writers – I hope you all keep in touch!
  4. The chance to submit a manuscript in a few months
  5. The Big Sur River
  6. The giant Redwoods – I’d forgotten trees could get so big!
  7. Falling asleep at night with the duel sounds of rain on the roof and a crackling cedar fire
  8. The smell of the ocean, the bracing wind, the clifftop views
  9. A carpet of leaves fallen on the grass under a tree
  10. Honestly, just to be able to live in such a beautiful world.  I really mean that.

What are you grateful for this week?

Somewhere Over the Rainbow is a place like this!

Categories: Agents, Authors, Children's Books, Gratitude Sunday, Picture Books, Writing · Tags: , , , , , ,

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I flaked on author Christine Fonseca’s Thankful Tuesday series and forgot to write my post.  So I’ve christened today Thankful Thursday instead.  The topic this week is agents.  Before I get to that, however, I would be remiss on this day if I failed to thank all the veterans who have served our country honorably and have made many sacrifices to protect our freedom and keep us safe.  God Bless You!

Now, I wish I had a specific agent to thank, but I am still in the query phase.  If this post prompted a mad rush of agents to contact me, that would be perfectly fine…

Used with permission from Debbie Ridpath Ohi at Inkygirl.com

Okay back to the real world.  I read somewhere that a well-respected agent can get more than 10,000 queries a year.  Of those, they request material from a small percentage, and end up signing an even smaller percentage of clients based on the requested material.  Just reading queries and requested material, it seems to me, would be enough for a full-time job (which is why many have interns I suppose).  But then they have their actual clients to serve by helping them shape-up their manuscripts, selling said manuscripts to editors, negotiating contracts, rights and permissions, keeping up on the new digital world order of publishing, etc. etc. etc.  On top of all this, many of these agents take additional time to assist and educate writers, most of whom are not and never will be their clients.  They do this by speaking at conferences, providing critiques, listening to pitches, teaching workshops, and – my personal favorite – blogging.

As a blogger, I know how much time and dedication it takes to keep it fresh and interesting, and I have no pressure whatsoever other than what I put on myself.  But these agents all have more than full-time jobs and still take the time to educate writers through their blogs.  I feel lucky to be a writer in a time when so much information is given gladly and freely online, making it much easier to be a student of the craft and the business.

With that said, here are some of my favorite agent blogs, in no particular order except for Nathan’s.  He upped the ante with his Harry Potter themed posts this week. 😉

Did I miss anyone?  Do you have favorites I should add to the list?

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Reposted on October 25, 2010 to include lots of new information and links

So you’ve finally written your masterpiece and you’re ready to submit.  How are you going to find the perfect editor or agent for your paranormal, dystopian, steampunk, urban fantasy novel?

If I learned one thing at the Big Sur in the Rockies conference, it’s that a large part of the acquisitions process for both editors and agents is a “gut feel.”  They not only think your story will sell, but they love it themselves.  That’s why you do yourself a big disservice by submitting it to an editor/agent that can’t stand paranormal, dystopian, steampunk, urban fantasy novels.  Tastes can vary widely even among editors and agents within the same publishing house/agency.  But how do we find out whose taste is whose?

Research.  All of the editors and agents at the Big Sur workshop agreed that writers hurt everyone – including other aspiring writers – when they blindly send manuscripts to editors and agents without regard to their guidelines and preferences.  Sorting through hundreds of submissions takes away valuable time and often causes them to close the doors on unsolicited manuscripts.  So let’s do the research and take the time to submit only to editors/agents we think will be truly interested in our work.  With all of the information available online, there is really no excuse to skip this all-important step.  Here are six ways to research publishers, editors and agents.

1.    Company websites – Start by searching the websites of the publishers and/or agents you think might be a fit for your book.  Publishers put their booklists, submission guidelines (if they take unsolicited submissions), and sometimes a list of their editors on their sites.  Most agency websites state very clearly what types of books they represent and how to submit, often down to specific agents.  Take the Andrea Brown Literary Agency as an example.  Their website includes a list of their nine agents, the types of manuscripts each agent is looking for and her representative deals.  Why send a picture book to one of the agents that only represents MG or YA when just a few clicks will point you to one of their agents who does?  They are trying to help us target our submissions. Think Jerry Maguire and help them help us!

2.    Social Media – This includes everything from Facebook, Twitter, (see #3), MySpace, blogs, industry networking sites, etc.  Most big publishing houses and literary agencies have a presence on these sites, as do individual editors and agents. You can pick up a great deal of insider information by following them.  I’m continually amazed, too, by the number of editors and agents who give of their time by providing tips and feedback to writers via their blogs.  Some even host contests where you can “win” a critique or a chance to submit to a house that’s otherwise closed to unsolicited submissions.  Besides the biggies like Facebook and Twitter, here are a few social networking sites that connect readers, authors, illustrators, editors and agents, plus a couple of agent/editor blogs that are very helpful (see my blogroll for more).

•    JacketFlap
•    Children’s Book Insider
•    LibraryThing
•    Goodreads
•    Kidlit.com
•    Nathan Bransford

3.    Twitter – If you commit to participating in just one social media site, make it Twitter, which is an absolute gold mine of information.  Many agents and

Comic courtesy of http://www.inkygirl.com

editors and TONS of writers utilize Twitter.  Following key people in your genre will lead you to other websites, blogs and industry announcements, including who is editing which books and why.  Even better, you’ll make “friends.”  I am in awe of how much information I’ve gleaned and how many awesome people I’ve “met” since I joined Twitter.  Are you a Twitter newbie?  Check out this Twitter Guide for Writers from Inkygirl and this post from Elizabeth Craig on how writers can use Twitter. Here are a few other reasons to love Twitter:
•    Tweetchats – live chats where the tweets are focused on a particular topic.  Good ones for children’s writers are #pblitchat (picture books), #kidlitchat (all kidlit genres) and #yalitchat (for young adult writers)
•    Tweetups – Real life, in-person gathering of people who follow each other on Twitter.  I went to my first one at the SCBWI conference in New York.  It’s a great way to meet people and make contacts.
•    Lists – You can create lists on Twitter to categorize people you follow.  I have a kidlit list, and agent list, and editor list and so on.  This way, you can quickly filter tweets by topic.  Even better, most “tweeps” make their own lists public so you can follow their lists too.

4.    Join industry organizations and attend events – Writing is a mostly solitary pursuit, so joining writing associations and groups can help get you out there networking and meeting other people in the business, including editors and agents.  Since joining SCBWI, for example, I’ve attended regional and national conferences, writing workshops, and “schmoozes.”  I’ve had the chance to get my work critiqued by some big-name agents and editors at these events.  Meeting them in person helps me remember what kind of books they like.  I also read their monthly newsletters and the annual “Edited by…” list they make available to members.  All of these events, tools and resources have accelerated my growth as a writer.

5.    Use Market Guides – Even with the Internet, having a few good old-fashioned market guidebooks at your fingertips is essential.  Here are a few to consider:
•    Children’s Writer’s & Illustrator’s Market
•    Guide to Literary Agents
•    The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Publishing Children’s Books
•    Writer’s Market (includes all publishing, not just children’s)

6.    Find out who edits or represents books that you like or that are like yours – This one is a little trickier, but it is often possible to find out who edits which books by Googling, “Who edited X by So and So?”  Sometimes, too, you can find this information on the author’s website.  Often they thank their agent and/or editor.  If you think that editor or agent would like your manuscript, you can now say why in a query letter.  Here are a few great sources for this information, although some, like Publisher’s Marketplace, charge a monthly fee.

  • Literary Rambles — Casey McCormick’s blog has a MUST READ Agent Spotlight series.  Always check to see if she’s covered the agent(s) you are submitting to.  Casey combs the web to find as much material on each agent as she can, and it’s FREE.
  • Publisher’s Marketplace — For $20/month you can find out who agents represent, which editors have published certain books, who represents specific authors, etc.  They also have daily e-newsletters that you can sign up for covering recent deals in all genres.
  • QueryTracker.net — Here you can look up agents and editors, see how many queries they have gotten and what their responses look like (assuming the agent/editor reports them).  You can also find out what genres they represent, submission guidelines and client information.  You can also track queries sent at the site.  The basic service is free.
  • AgentQuery.com — Comprehensive searchable database of literary agents in all genres.  You can search by agent, genre, or by agency.  The site also has great resources on writing query letters.  Best of all, it’s free!
  • AbsoluteWrite.com — Besides providing a treasure trove of resources for all types of writers, the AR Forums provide lots of scoop on agents and editors based on writers’ experiences.  There is a whole “Beware” forum to help authors identify and avoid pitfalls in their searches and relationships.
  • Publisher’s Weekly — They have a section completely devoted to children’s publishing.

So let us go forth and first do the research, then submit to a targeted list.  Good luck and happy submitting!

Done your research and now you’re ready to query?  Go visit Angela Ackerman at The Bookshelf Muse for tips on “Personalizing” Queries using the info you’ve gleaned from your research.

Any other resources you can’t live without?  Leave them in the comments!

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Nancy Mercado, executive editor at Roaring Brook Press and a faculty member at Big Sur in the Rockies, said she sometimes receives submissions where the writing is great, the hook is good but the “voiciness” isn’t quite right – at least for her.  I like that – voiciness.  Kind of the writer’s answer to Stephen Colbert’s “truthiness.”  People can sense when it’s off, but they can’t always say why.  Kind of like listening to a recording of your own voice I guess.  Mine always seems to sound like the grownups in the Charlie Brown T.V. specials.  But I digress…

Voice.  We all have one in real life.  As writers, we must find a way to translate that voice to the page.  That voice is the one thing that makes us unique from all other writers.  Polished writing, strong characters, compelling plot, good pacing, satisfying ending – all of those things are important, but without a unique voice to take the reader on that journey, editors and agents are likely to take a pass on that piece.  Furthermore, they want to “hear” your voice from the first line on the first page.  Andrea Brown, president of the Andrea Brown Literary Agency, said there are only so many universal themes in literature.  They’ve all been used – over and over again.  She stressed that there is no such thing as a fresh idea, only a fresh voice.  Elana Roth of the Caren Johnson Literary Agency, tweeted this on #kidlitchat last night: “Hook gets me to request [the manuscript]. Voice gets me to sign it.”

It can be difficult for pre-published writers to project voice because it requires confidence, authority and authenticity, three things that are hard to come by while you’re piling up the rejections.  Trust and patience are also factors, however.  After a while (so I’m told), your voice will make its appearance on the page if you keep writing.

If there is a “dark side” to voice, it is that by its very nature, voice is personal.  Some people will love your voice; some people will hate it.  I think of writers like Cormac McCarthy.  He has a definite, unique, and compelling voice.  Just don’t ask me to read any of his books.  His voice doesn’t “speak” to me.  Does that make him a bad writer?  Uh – obviously not.  It just means that much of success in publishing comes from getting your work to an agent or editor that hears your voice, loves it and wants to share it with the world.  Researching agents’ and editors’ tastes before submitting is essential (that will be the subject of my next post).  However, we must avoid writing in a voice we think editors and agents are looking for because it will lack authenticy and they will recognize that right away.  The best we can do is to find our own voices and be as true to them as possible.  The rest will follow.

So how do we cultivate voice as writers? Writing, writing and more writing.  In the meantime, all writers of every genre should read agent Nathan Bransford‘s brilliant post on voice from last week.  It’s certainly the best I’ve ever read on the subject.  There is great insight in the comments too.

Writing voices are, to put it in Julia Roberts’ words from Pretty Woman, “slippery little suckers.”  Once you find yours, hold on tight!

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Comic courtesy of http://www.inkygirl.com

Andrea Brown, president of the Andrea Brown Literary Agency won the award at the Big Sur in the Rockies workshop for giving the funniest advice on queries:

“It should be like a skirt.  Long enough to cover everything, but short enough to be exciting.”

As we writers know, sending a great query letter is every bit as important as sending a great manuscript.  Maybe even more, since the query letter often dictates whether your manuscript will even be read.

Here are a few other tips I picked up on queries over the weekend besides the obvious ones like avoiding grammatical errors and typos.

  1. State the genre, length and targeted age range of your story immediately after the salutation.  Then go straight to your story pitch.
  2. Keep queries short and to the point. Andrea advised taking all the adjectives and adverbs out of your letter.  They should be action-oriented.
  3. Don’t editorialize. Making a statement like, “this is sure to appeal to…” does not belong in a query letter.  HOWEVER,
  4. It’s okay to compare your book to other popular books on the market. Just MAKE SURE THAT STATEMENT IS ACCURATE.
  5. Don’t state the obvious. If you’re submitting to them, they know you’re looking for representation.  If you included a SASE, they’ll see it.  They’re smart people.
  6. If you are submitting to multiple agents, let them know. If they like your submission, the fact that you have sent it to others might move yours higher in the priority list.
  7. You can say that you have other manuscripts, but only query/pitch one.

These tips are just a tiny slice of the advice we received on queries, so rich was the workshop on all aspects of the craft and the business.  I’ll post more about the workshop as the week progresses, so keep checking back.

In the meantime, consider this piece of advice from Andrea on how to improve your writing:

  1. Read
  2. Read More
  3. Keep Reading
  4. Write
  5. Write More
  6. Keep Revising

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