SCBWI Bologna 2006 Agent Interview: Gabriella Ambrosioni

From SCBWI Bologna 2006:

Gabriella Ambrosioni 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), Anne McNeil/Hodder (publishing director interview); agents: Rosemary Canter/PDF (agent interview), Barry Goldblatt/Barry Goldblatt Literary (agent interview), Costanza Fabbri/Gabriella Ambrosioni Literary Agency (agent interview), and Rosemary Stimola/Stimola Literary Studio (agent interview). Hands-on workshops and roundtable discussions. See registration information. Note: there have been some changes in the speaker roster since the schedule was first posted; check the website for latest breaking details.

Gabriella Ambrosioni has worked in publishing as an editor, translator, reader, and now as a literary agent. She opened Gabriella Ambrosioni Literary in March 2002 and represents such clients as Jessica Angiulli (illustrator), Irish Braschi, Fabio Bucciardini, Raffaella Cataldo Miglietta, Alberto Cottignoli (illustrator), Mauro Mandolini, Manuela Marchesan (illustrator), Clementina Mingozzi (illustrator), Christina Nicastri McKenzie, Elisabetta Pasquali, Fabrizio Ponti (illustrator), Andrea Rivola (illustrator), Nikoleta Sekulovic, Carthusia Edizioni; and from abroad such clients as Adams Literary (USA), Andersen Press (UK), Ia Atterholm Agency (Sweden), Margaret Connolly Agency (Australia), Criterion/Storyland (UK), Everest Group (Children Division) (Spain), The Gyldendal Group Agency (Denmark), Hachette Livres Australia (Children Division), Larousse (France)(Children Division), Milly Molly (New Zealand), Scott Treimel (Agency, USA), Working Title Press (Australia). She is participating in the panel discussion, “A is for Agent,” at the SCBWI Bologna 2006 Conference, March 25-26, 2006. Erzsi Deàk interviewed her in March 2006.

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

Gabriella Ambrosioni: First of all I like children’s books very much, and I think this is the first reason why I decided to work in this field. I think to be an agent is a job one does because one is enthusiastic about it.

Moreover, before launching my agency, I worked as an agent in a big agency in Milan, and we represented several authors who wrote for children; and then I learned how to deal with them, professionally speaking.

Also, I think children’s books have a future in Italy, as children often read more than adults in Italy. Actually, many publishers have started publishing more books for children in the last few years, as they are more and more successful.

As for my career, before working in a literary agency in Milan, I worked for several publishers in Milan and Florence, as a reader, as a translator, and also as a member of the editorial staff of a literary review of short stories (I helped choose the stories to publish).

(Beforehand, I was awarded a Fulbright scholarship and I had the opportunity to take a MA in comparative literature at New York University. Then, I took a PhD in comparative literature at the University of Cagliari, Italy.)

ED: Do your represent authors and illustrators?

GA: Yes, we represent both authors and illustrators.

While with authors everything is working well, as we can submit their work to publishers and expect publishers to offer an advance and royalties, with illustrators everything is difficult. We are trying to change the Italian system, but we find a lot of resistance.

Illustrators are only rarely represented by agents in Italy, and publishers often make them accept agreements which could be much better. As they pay royalties to illustrators of books coming from abroad for which they have bought rights (as foreign publishers and agents put it as a condition), we are struggling in order to obtain the same attitude towards Italian illustrators too, but it is difficult, unless they are already very famous.

As for authors, it is very pleasant to represent them, even if I have to say that English, American and Australian authors get a lot of attention from publishers while it is very difficult to sell authors writing in other languages, even if they are very good.

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

GA: I think every children’s book creator needs an agent. Agents try and get the best conditions for them, both from Italian publishers and from foreign publishers, in case they succeed in selling foreign rights. Authors/illustrators and agents are a team and we work to reach the same goal. I think that we help them a lot getting good conditions and getting visibility in the publishing world.

ED: What grabs your attention and makes you want to represent someone after the first “hit” of the person’s work?

GA: I have to believe in the high level of their work in order to convince publishers, in order to feel confident and ask publishers for that which I think the author’s or illustrator’s work deserves. Also, I have to believe the work has all the characteristics to be successful in the publishing market, in order to accept and represent the author or illustrator.

Still, even if a writer/illustrator is very good, but he/she is too difficult, I prefer to let him/her go, as I think it is very important that we trust each other; otherwise the “team” I mentioned beforehand doesn’t not exist (from the very beginning) and we can’t work well together.

ED: 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?

GA: I usually have a creative role in my relationship with Italian authors, and I usually edit their texts and read them again and again until I think it works. I would not mind dealing with the business of publishing, but, strange as it may sound, in Italy it is very difficult to sell Italian authors. Publishers are more eager to buy rights for the works of authors who have already been published abroad and have proved to be successful. This is the reason why I think it is very important to present the publishers with works as edited as possible, because this way works have a stronger of being considered…

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

GA: I study which publishers may be interested in their works with attention, according to their catalogue and last publications. I write a presentation of their work so that the editor can immediately know what we are speaking about and I usually call editors right after sending them the material, so that I highlight authors’ work and the editor feels compelled to give me an answer. I also send reminder letters, or call them to know how things are going.

Moreover, I usually submit author’s work to at least two publishers at the same time in order to have the opportunity to make them compete.

ED: 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?”

GA: Usually, in Italy, the books which travel best are fiction books. Whether for small children, middle-grade, or young adults. The “how to” books are difficult for our market: it is difficult to find readers for them. For a change, picture books are difficult to sell when they come from abroad, as it is much cheaper for Italian publishers to have Italian illustrators make the illustrations of a picture book.

I try to encourage writers to write in their own special style, but we discuss subjects and style, and I suggest they write something which may have a public even if it is literary. I try to guide their writing in a direction that can bring them success.

I think a writer has to write what he/she feels and believes, as a starting point, but if a publisher is looking for something in particular, I talk with the author whose writing is more suitable to the publisher’s idea.

ED: What is the role of agents in the co-edition world?

GA: Actually, as an agent, I do not to encourage co-editions, as I think the authors gain more when they just sell rights. If I have no choice, though, I try to obtain the best conditions for them.

ED: Are you ever involved in the marketing campaigns for your clients’ work, once published (or once sold to the publisher)?

GA: Yes, even if not always. If I have the opportunity to invite them to events, presentations or fairs that can promote their work and give it visibility, I am happy to do it.

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

GA: I would say that I can represent works I would not chose and buy in bookstores, if it is only a question of taste and if I regard the work as very good.

On the other hand, I cannot represent science fiction books, as it is a genre I am not able to evaluate.

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

GA: I have a lot of work to get done, but if a writer is really talented he/she is very welcome. Great stories and good writing are always welcome.

I suggest writers and illustrators to be nice and to understand that if they chose to be represented by an agent, his/her agent is going to do his or her best in order to make him/her successful. There is no reason to call every other day or to complain if their agent has not found a publisher yet.

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

GA: I think that the most remarkable note is that more and more publishers who have been publishing books for adults only have started publishing books for children lately and many have a good catalogue for children now. The good point is that the market is more dynamic and interesting; the bad point is that sometimes quantity suffocates quality.

Also in Italy we cannot ignore that, after the great success of Harry Potter, fantasy and magic books have become very popular.

ED: Anything you’d like to add?

GA: In 1987, only 900 new titles were published in Italy, while in 2003, 2000 new titles were published; these are good figures for Italy. From the year 2003, statistics report a slight downturn. Nonetheless I think children’s books have a growing future in Italy.

Cynsational Notes

Erzsi Deàk, along with Kristin Litchman, was an editor of Period Pieces: Stories for Girls (HarperCollins, 2003)(co-editors interview), which included my short story, “The Gentleman Cowboy” as well as stories by Dian Curtis Regan; Linda Sue Park; Jane Kurtz; Rita Williams Garcia; Bobbi Katz; April Halprin Wayland; Johanna Hurwitz; Uma Krishnaswami; Carmen Bernier-Grand; Kristin Litchman; and Erzsi Deàk.

Cynsational News & Links

The SLJ Blog: “get the buzz about libraries, learning and technology.”

Author David R. Davis has written to say his website is now at, and he celebrates the release of a new book, Texas Zeke and the Longhorn, illustrated by Alan Fearl Stacy (Pelican, 2006). David also is the author of Jazz Cats (Pelican, 2001).

“Reappropriation of Language” by Uma Krishnaswami from Writing with a Broken Tusk. Find out why she says: “I’m taking the term ‘monkey god’ back from the racists, and making it my own.”

Lisa Yee’s Blog: if you haven’t surfed by lately, go now! Funny and energetic–a must read!