SCBWI Bologna 2010 Agent Interview: Rosemary Stimola

Interview by Jenny Desmond Walters for SCBWI Bologna 2010.

First, Rosemary, thank you for taking the time to answer some questions for our attendees at the 2010 SCBWI Bologna conference.

I should probably admit, up front, that I spent so much time smiling alone in my office while reading about you on the Internet that I began checking to make sure no one was watching me in the process.

I was blown away by the enthusiastic comments being shared about you, and it was impossible not to feel good reading other peoples’ inspiring words of praise. Even writers who had been turned down by you were big fans, repeating phrases like “rock-star agent” and “super-star agent.” My favorite quote from one of your clients–“Ro is made of awesome.”

Ah, that would be Ms. [Leah] Clifford and her lovely “Agents’ Appreciation Day” YouTube video. I quite adored that description, made me blush!

What do you feel are some of the most successful attributes of your approach to agenting that inspire such approval from your clients?

I am ethical, honest, reasonable, responsible, timely and experienced, working always with my eye on the longer term and the best interests of my clients in mind. All serves to establish the kind of author-agent trust wanted and needed in this very important relationship.

Before becoming a literary agent you were a professor of language and literature at the City University of New York, and later you opened and operated a successful children’s bookstore. How do you think these two experiences influenced you as a literary agent, and what was it that spurred you to move into the field of literary agenting?

Oh, had it not been for these two previous lives, I would not be able to do what I do today. I loved teaching and always found children’s literature particularly exciting (but was not a fan of academia). Then I loved book selling and thought I would be a bookseller for eternity. We had a fabulous and exciting ten years, but the market changed and it was not as supportive of independents as it had been.

After my store closed, an editor friend suggested I consider agenting. With the aesthetic intuitions I honed as an academic and the business smarts I developed as a bookseller, I was well-armed, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Sometimes as a writer, it’s too easy to get lost in the thinking of “what can I do to make this story appealing to a publisher” rather than “what do I want children to experience when reading this story.” With your PhD in linguistics, specializing in children’s literature, what can you tell us about how writing should connect to children in a meaningful way?

Well, I do tend to think of language as rather musical, so, the language of a text plays a melody that must strike the right notes for me and, in my opinion, for its intended audience. It’s all about how words are strung together, creating a voice and that sense of “signature” that speaks a compelling story.

On the Stimola Literary Studio website [submissions], you mention the agency “is committed to finding and nurturing new talents and, as such, remains open to unsolicited queries.” Can you tell us more about what kinds of queries you’re hoping might come across your desk in 2010?

I look for the “stand out” in a concise and well-written query: a premise that intrigues, a character that appeals, an approach that breaks new ground. There is a wide spectrum for YA these days, pushing to boundaries of adult fiction and even crossing that boundary from time to time, so I am always looking for something new and wonderful in that realm.

And then, I never walk away from a pitch-perfect, character-driven middle grade with the right blend of humor and pathos.

You further elaborated in a 2006 interview with Cynthia Leitich Smith that you always welcome submissions, but, “have to be blown away by the writing, the story, the characters.” Can you tell us some specific qualities you look for in the story or characters that are sure to blow you away?

Would that I could! It is the intangibles here, those gut feelings and responses that come into play. When I am compelled to read on, when I can’t put a manuscript down, I know I have something special. And sometimes, you can tell from the very first paragraph.

Would you say that there is a primary method by which most of your clients approach you? For example, through an unsolicited query, at a conference, or by a recommendation?

E-queries are most common these days, and I am sorry to say, there are so many unsolicited on a daily basis, that we can only respond to those we wish to consider further. We do, however, strive to respond to all that come via referral or conference connections.

For an author who may have more than one manuscript to submit, how would you suggest he or she best communicate that to a prospective agent? Should a writer limit his or her submission to only one, or will agents want to see a sampling of an author’s work?

A query should focus on one work, at least for me. A writer might note there are other works done or in progress. Listing more than one overwhelms.

You’ve stated previously that market trends often dictate what sells better at certain times. Do you notice any current trends in the market right now for a particular type of work?

Well, all things paranormal are alive and well in young adult. You would think we would have had our fill of vampires and such, but nothing could be farther from the truth.

Graphic middle grades seem to have found their moment in the sun, and in a weak picture book market, most being acquired these days are spare of language, character-driven, and have commercial appeal.

One of the things I most enjoyed about the Stimola Literary Studio website is the comprehensive and appealing “clients” page. You’ve gone to a lot of effort to shine the spotlight on each of your clients while also providing links and easy access to their own blogs or websites.

In this emerging environment of social networking, blogging and online connectivity, what are your thoughts about the relevance of an online presence for both emerging and established writers? Is an author’s web presence something that you might include in a pitch to a publisher or editor?

A web presence is essential, and the social networking of facebook, bloggers, and the like offer an opportunity to promote and literally “go viral” like never before. If web presence is a solid one, I do include link to author info in a submission, so publisher can gain an early sense of how this author may serve as his/her own best marketing tool.

What kinds of promotions or activities, if any, do you like to find your clients involved in before, while, and after you have contacted an editor about a manuscript?

Writers’ conferences are always a plus, at any time.

Lastly, what advice can you give to a writer who is interested in finding an agent, but who has not, as yet, begun approaching any? What are some of the first steps on the road to finding representation?

Do your homework! Visit their websites to get a sense of who they already represent and what kinds of books fall under their realm of expertise. You want to work with someone who shares your goals, short-term and long-term. Speak to existing clients to get their take on their agent-author relationship.

And don’t jump at just any offer! Make sure your agent is reputable, known, and practices business in accordance with the Association of Authors’ Representatives canon of ethics.

Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts on these questions. We look forward to learning more from you in Bologna!

See you there!

Cynsational Notes

Rosemary Stimola, a former professor of language and literature and an award-winning children’s bookseller, formalized the Stimola Literary Studio in 1997, offering representation to writers and writer-illustrators of children’s books.

Representing both fiction and nonfiction from preschool through young adult, she is honored to count among her clients many New York Times bestselling and award-winning authors, including Suzanne Collins, Jodi Lynne Anderson, Lisa Papademetriou, Mary E. Pearson, Tanya Lee Stone and Matt Tavares.

Jenny Desmond Walters is the founding regional advisor of the SCBWI Korea chapter. She is an experienced education professional with a love of learning and literature. She has worked in public television developing curriculum and promoting instructional programs, as well as worked extensively with educational publishers and learning materials companies. For the last several years, Jenny has lived in east Asia where she has become an avid writer and observer of life in Japan and Korea. Her articles have been published in national children’s magazines and writing journals, and she has been a member of SCBWI for more than 10 years. Jenny currently resides in Seoul with her husband and three daughters, and she rarely runs out of interesting stories to write.

The SCBWI Bologna 2010 interview series is brought to you by the SCBWI Bologna Biennial Conference in conjunction with Cynsations. To register, visit the SCBWI Bologna Biennial Conference 2010. Note: Special thanks to Angela Cerrito for coordinating this series with SCBWI Bologna and Cynsations.