SCBWI Bologna 2006 Agent Interview: Rosemary Stimola

Children’s/YA literary agent Rosemary Stimola will be speaking at SCBWI Bologna 2006. Other speakers include: Authors and illustrators Scott Westerfeld (author interview), Justine Larbalestier (author interview), Sara Rojo, Doug Cushman. Editors: Victoria Arms/Bloomsbury, Judy Zylstra/Eerdmans, Anne McNeil of Hodder UK, Mary Rodgers/Lerner. Agents: Rosemary Canter/PFD, Barry Goldblatt/Barry Goldblatt Literary. Hands-on workshops and roundtable discussions: SCBWI Bologna, 25-26 March 2006.

What inspired you to become an agent of children’s and young adult authors?

Children’s books have always been at the core of my evolution as a person and a professional. My first work life as a Ph.D. linguist, teaching Language and Literature, with a specialization in Children’s Literature, steeped me in the aesthetics of narrative and the written word. My second work life, as the owner of an independent children’s bookstore, educated me in the business of children’s books. Now, in my role as an agent, I combine the fruits of my previous work lives focusing on a body of literature that has pleased and sustained me from day one. I do believe it was my destiny to become a children’s literary agent.

What do you love about it? What are the challenges?

The thing I love best about it is the very thing that poses the greatest challenges. That is, publishing is not a science. For every rule you can create, there is an exception. As such, no matter how planned and calculated you may be, there is always a dimension of unpredictability that looms. One never really knows what is going to be in the next submission envelope. One never really knows what is going to happen to a book once it published. You can’t “control” it all, but the possibilities are very exciting.

Why do you think it is important for authors to have such representation?

First, with so many publishers today not accepting unsolicited manuscripts, the number of houses to which a writer can directly submit is very limited. An agent, who knows the personal likes and dislikes of various editors, can put a manuscript in front of those people most likely to acquire it. Beyond that, an agent is an advocate, representing the writer’s interests from acquisition, to production, to marketing and promotion, to bookkeeping. Writers should do what they do best…writing; and look to agents to do what they do best…attend to the business of writing, which, in this world of global publishing, grows more complex by the day.

What should writers look for in identifying prospective agents?

I often liken the selection of an agent to the selection of a spouse (without the romance, of course!). All writers deserve to work with a person they like and trust, a person with whom they communicate easily and share sensibilities and goals. Reputations exist for a reason, so I always recommend to potential clients that they interview editors and clients with whom the agent has worked. Some writers prefer being part of a large house; others prefer the intimacy of a small, independent agency. No matter which, there is a level of attention and follow-through that should be expected and delivered.

Are you open to new clients/receiving submissions?

I always welcome submissions. At different times, I may be looking for different things…more YA, fewer picturebooks; less fantasy, more contemporary realism. But with a very well-established client base, no matter what the genre or age group, I have to be blown away by the writing, the story, the characters.

What do you look for in prospective clients?

Certainly, a demonstrated (and not necessarily published) ability to write in a way that provokes, inspires, excites. I must see that the writer is capable of the kind of flexibility and patience that will be needed as we move through the publishing processes. I look for a person who understands the value of collaboration, when to compromise and when to stand strong. And most importantly, I look for a person who is a deep well of stories, with the first one representing just the tip of the iceberg.

Is your list made up of writers or illustrators or both?

I represent writers. I also represent writers who are illustrators. I do not represent illustrators only. It is a very different kind of representation, requiring different sensibilities and business approaches. There are others out there who specialize in such representation and do it far better than I ever could.

Do you find you are stronger in one area (say, fiction or non-fiction or picture books) than another?

While market trends may dictate what sells better at any given time, my previous backgrounds in education and bookselling have helped me to be eclectic in taste and strong in all areas of trade publishing for children. I represent, and feel equally comfortable with everything from preschool to upper YA that pushes the boundaries of the adult realm, in both fiction and nonfiction.

The picture book market has been depressed for some time. Do you see any improvement on the horizon? Why or why not?

I do see the wheel turning a bit, which is not to say we are on the way back to where we were. Nor should we be. We were publishing far too many picture books, many of them not very good. A correction was needed. True, the pendulum swung to the opposite end for a period, with very few acquisitions in a very tentative market. But with creative approaches to formatting and design, greater selectivity, and a focus on texts very spare in language, we are seeing glimmers of a comeback. Certainly, the creation of a new imprint at Random House devoted to picture books is symbolic of this renewed market.

Do you have a website? If so, what is the URL?

I do not. There is one in the works, but I can’t say I really feel the need for it. All one need do is Google my name and there is lots of web-presence for the Stimola Literary Studio.

Which international book fairs do you attend?

I went to London last year. I am going to Bologna this year. Trying to figure out if I need to be present at both.

Do you take care of your clients’ foreign rights or work through an intermediary?

I generally hold on to the rights for fiction and work with subagents to represent foreign rights in different territories. They attend Frankfurt, as well as the conferences above as I do. Picturebook rights are often best handled via publisher, in light of illustration issues.

With which countries have you had the best luck selling your US clients’ work? Why do you think that is?

I must say, I find the German market has been a welcoming and active territory. Part of it, is certainly due to the efforts and knowledge of my German subagent. But, I also think it is simply a vibrant market looking for good juvenile and YA fiction at this time.

Do you attend Book Expo?

I always go to Book Expo when it is in NY, which lately, has been every other year. I find the film and international people are in greater attendance when the convention is in the Big Apple, making my time there more productive as well. I will travel to other venues if one of my authors is being celebrated or featured and my presence is warranted.

Would you like to highlight some of the backlist and new books you have ushered into the market?

I love all the titles I have helped to find homes on bookshelves out there. If I had to single out a few…

On the fantasy front, I’m very excited to see the Underland Chronicles fantasy series (Scholastic Press) by Suzanne Collins building so beautifully. With Book I receiving First Runner Up in this year’s Texas Blue Bonnet, and enjoying awards from just about every state in the union, we have set the stage for later books and a gripping and powerful denouement in the life of young Gregor and his adventures in the Underland.

On the Young Adult front, there have been a number of striking debuts. Black and White (Viking Press/Penguin) by Paul Volponi was a BBYA selection, a top-ten Quick Picks selection, and winner of the IRA Award for Young Adult Fiction. Teach Me (Razorbill/Penguin), by R. A. Nelson (author interview), was featured in a segment of NBC Nightly News and acknowledged in many fine reviews for its treatment of a subject many find a bit unsettling. There are more wonderful books in the making by these two fine writers.

And, as careers build and develop, Mary Pearson’s, A Room on Lorelei Street (Henry Holt)(author interview), was a BBYA selection. Brava!

On the picture book front, I am particularly excited about two books coming out this coming year. The first, A Raisin and a Grape (Dial Books/Penguin), co-authored by Tom Amico and James Proimos and illustrated by Andy Snair, gives a whole new look to intergenerational stories for the very young. The second, An Egg Is Quiet (Chronicle Books) by Dianna Hutts Aston (author interview) and illustrated by Sylvia Long, is a joyfully informative and poetically illustrated look at one of nature’s most miraculous creations.

In the tubes, there are some exciting new talents and debuts coming down the road, so stay tuned!

Is there anything else you would like to add?

Only that, I love my job and the people I work with, clients, editors, everyone who makes children’s publishing their world. It’s a joy and a blessing, and I am grateful for the opportunities I have had to contribute to such an important and prestigious body of literature.