SCBWI Bologna 2006 Agent Interview: Rosemary Canter of PDF

From SCBWI Bologna 2006:

Agent Rosemary Canter of PFD will be speaking at the SCBWI Bologna 2006 conference in Bologna, Italy, March 25-26, 2006. Other speakers include: authors and illustrators Scott Westerfeld (author interview), Sara Rojo Pérez (illustrator interview), Justine Larbalestier (author interview), Doug Cushman (author-illustrator interview); editors: Victoria Arms/Bloomsbury (editorial director interview), Melanie Cecka/Bloomsbury, Shannon Barefield of Carolrhoda (editorial director interview), Judy Zylstra/Eerdmans, Anne McNeil/Hodder (publishing director interview); agents: Barry Goldblatt/Barry Goldblatt Literary, Rosemary Stimola/Stimola Literary Studio (agent interview), and Costanza Fabbri/Gabriella Ambrosioni Agency. Hands-on workshops and roundtable discussions. See registration information.

Rosemary Canter is head of the Children’s Department at PFD, one of Europe’s leading literary and talent agencies. She is based in London. According to Erzsi Deàk (who offered the text below), Rosemary has stated that the information in this 2002 interview remains current in 2006.

What led you to work in the field of children’s books? Can you give us a brief outline of your career?

I fell into children’s books by accident, and stayed by enchantment. I was working in publishing as an editor, and acquired skills enabling me to put together illustrated books. On the strength of this, I found a job with Macmillan Children’s Books: and I was hooked.

I spent the first 17 years of my career as an editor in a variety of publishing houses, including Penguin, Hutchinson, Reed, editing adult and children’s work. One of the most exciting ventures I was involved in was setting up the Teens list for Methuen, one of the first paperback lists for teenagers. That was in 1987. In 1989, I left Reed and became an agent, with a brief to develop a list of children’s writers and illustrators for PFD. I can’t imagine ever wanting to leave.

Some agents like to have a creative role in the relationship between their authors, illustrators and editors while others prefer to deal with the business of publishing. How do you see your role?

I enjoy the many facets of being an agent. I like to help writers develop saleable material for publishers, but not get further involved in the editorial process. I think it is my job to be a businesswoman, to get the best possible deals and contracts for my clients, and to help with legal advice, where necessary. But giving strategic advice on careers and making suggestions on individual projects is also an essential part of what I do.

Can you describe what strategies you use for submitting your artists’ and authors’ work to publishers?

There are lots of answers! We have a brilliant website, which we keep updated and which we advertise. I talk to publishers a lot about my clients, new ideas, etc. I arrange for writers and illustrators to meet editors or designers I think will like their work. Of course I send out material all the time, whether particular texts or projects, or general material on spec. The short answer is, whatever method is the best solution at the time.

What kinds of books do you think travel best? Which books don’t? Do you encourage your artists and writers to adapt to the “global marketplace?”

There are several kinds of books that travel well. There’s fantasy, which crosses cultural boundaries more easily than other genres, and the experience of being a teenager clearly also rings bells across nations. It’s pleasing that funny books on this subject appeal so widely. Picture books also work well in many countries. Again, the experiences of young children have universal similarities. Where there is often a gulf is the literature for children between picture books and older childhood, the time where children are just growing up into their individuality out of the home, spending time in school, learning how their own society works. This seems to be an intensely local experience, so it is much harder for books for, say, seven year olds to travel.

I don’t encourage writers or illustrators to consider the “global marketplace.” I think it is much more important that they produce work rooted in the world they know. If it is good enough, it will work in the home market, and if its concerns are deep and wide, then it will travel too.

Would you advise every professionally-minded children’s book creator to be represented by an agent?

What a good question! Almost all creative people need professional advice, I think, because they don’t have the time or contacts to understand all the different facets that make up the marketplace. Nor do they have the expertise to deal with contracts and bigger problems that may arise when companies change hands or go bankrupt. Most people simply don’t want to deal with these subjects. But, on a quieter level, I think some people can deal competently with contracts as well as their creative work.

Do you have to actually like all your clients’ work to be able to represent it successfully?

I’m enthusiastic about my clients’ work, or I would not have taken them on in the first place. But of course work can vary. The essential element is that I like and respect their work overall, and then selling it is not a problem.

Are you still looking for new talent? Can you give any advice for an author or illustrator looking for an agent to represent them?

I am always, always looking for new talent. Finding it is one of the most seductive aspects of a fascinating job. I’d like to give one piece of advice to writers looking for an agent: the letter you send is also a piece of writing.

Are there any trends or new developments in children’s publishing at the moment that you would like to say a few words about?

I’ve been working in the world of children’s books for 24 years now, and I think this is the most exciting of times. Children’s writers have a higher status now, perhaps higher than they have ever had, and the real possibility of earning a good living. Historical fiction and fantasy are, once again, hugely popular, and there is a glorious vitality about fiction overall. There have always been remarkably talented illustrators, and there is a mass of clever talent around. It’s a wonderful time to be involved.

You can check out the PFD website at for details of submissions policies for children’s authors and illustrators.

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