Guest Post: Author Deborah Lytton & Agent Stacey Glick on Middle Grade Series Proposals

By Deborah Lytton
for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

Thanks to Gayleen and Cyn for having us on Cynsations. It’s always such a pleasure to be here!

Today, I have asked my agent and friend, Stacey Glick to join me to discuss the Middle Grade series proposal.

Stacey is Vice President at Dystel, Goderich & Bourret Literary Management and has been my agent for over 12 years. Stacey and I share a background as child actors, although we never worked together as kids because she was on the East Coast and I was on the West Coast. 
Hi Stacey, thanks for chatting with me today.

Stacey: So happy to be here! I’m thrilled to talk about Debby, one of my favorite people, and her books!

Deborah: Thanks, Stacey. You’re one of my favorite people, too. Before we discuss books though, we have to talk about being child actors. (I’m including our acting headshots here. I really love my 80’s red vest and tie!)

How do you think your acting background helped you become a literary agent?

Deborah’s acting headshot

Stacey: I think my ability to network and schmooze with almost anyone stems from my experiences as a child actor.

That skill has served me very well in my almost 20 years as a book agent!


Deborah: That’s so true! Speaking about books, it’s so exciting to see the first book in the Ruby Starr (Sourcebooks, 2017) series released.

Creating the series proposal was such a collaborative process between us and the proposal was an effective selling tool for the manuscript.

Why do you think it helps so much?

Stacey: I think when you are talking about a series with a protagonist who has a big personality, like Ruby or Junie B. Jones (by Barbara Park, illustrated by Denise Brunkus, Random House), it’s important to map out not only the plots for the proposed books in the series, but also the characters and the arcs they will follow throughout the series.

Deborah: The first step was to come up with an idea for a book that could extend into multiple stand-alone books.

My other published books have been stand-alone titles, and I have also written some manuscripts for trilogies, but a series is really different from a trilogy where you leave certain storylines unfinished to extend the threads through the second and third books. With a series, each book stands alone and is connected through the character and the setting.

What do you think the important differences are?

Stacey: I think it’s just what you said. A series like Ruby Starr is really about a group of characters working through a very different story and set of circumstances in each book. A duology or trilogy is really one story that continues over the course of two or three books.

Stacey’s acting headshot

Deborah: Once I had the idea for the series, I wrote the complete manuscript for Book 1.

Then after you read it, you suggested writing a proposal as well. I remember it was really helpful when you sent me an outline for the proposal because it gave me an idea of what I needed to include.

There was a short synopsis of the series, a character list, a list of multiple other stories, and then a section about me.

If we were pitching the series again, would you add anything to the proposal?

Stacey: No, I think the proposal we put together was really perfect to show the scope of the series and your ability to write it. All of the components put together made for a very strong sales pitch for the series.

Deborah: You told me that I could be creative within the format and change things around if I wanted to convey the personality of my series but still create something that editors would be able to read easily.

The most flexible section was the information about the book. I used some of the wording from the manuscript and then shared my vision for the market age range for the book. I also added a section about similar books.

Why do editors and agents like to hear comparisons in order to consider a book?

Stacey: It’s so important for agents and editors to get a sense of how you see your work in the marketplace. You need to highlight books that will appeal to the same audience as your book. This will help you and your agent and publishing partner work together to effectively market and promote the books to the right audience.

Deborah: We spent a lot of time working on the books to follow the first so that the theme of the series was really consistent and the whole package focused.

What is your tip for writers who are working on a proposal without an agent to guide them?

Stacey: Do your research and find resources online. There are a lot of sample proposals available and, if you follow the guidelines you suggested above for a series proposal, including the manuscript for Book 1, it should be more than enough for agents to be able to consider the work.

Deborah: Stacey, thanks so much for chatting with me today!

Stacey: I loved it too. And hope you all have a chance to read the Ruby Star series. She’s adorable and so much fun!

Cynsations Notes


Kirkus Reviews wrote: “Peppered with references to her favorite books, Ruby’s fresh, humorous, first-person, present-tense account of her fifth-grade traumas, her real and imaginary friendships, and her supportive family rings true…amusing saga of primary-school friendships with a clever pro-reading subtext.”

Book 2 in the Ruby Starr series, The Fantastic Library Rescue and Other Major Plot Twists, is now available for pre-order and will be released May 1, 2018. Ruby and the other Unicorns are involved in a new adventure to save the school library.

Deborah Lytton is the author of Jane In Bloom (Dutton Children’s Books, 2009), which was selected for several state reading lists and chosen by Chicago Public Library as one of the Best of the Best Books of 2009. See Deborah’s Cynsations Interview About Jane in Bloom.

Her YA novel, Silence (Shadow Mountain) was a nominee for the Florida Teens Read Program. See Deborah on What’s True to You from Cynsations.

Deborah resides in Los Angeles, California with her two daughters and their Papillon, Faith. She is active in the writing and blogging community and is a member of SCBWI.

Stacey Glick joined Dystel, Goderich & Bourret in 1999 after working in film and television development for five years.

Stacey grew up just outside of Manhattan and is a former child actress who appeared on television, in theater, and in feature films. She now lives in New Jersey with her husband and four daughters (the youngest are identical twins), and enjoys cooking and baking, sipping wine and cocktails, taking pictures, shopping, theater, going to Mets games and eating chocolate, cheese and spicy tuna hand rolls (not necessarily in that order) when she can find the time.

She represents young adult, middle grade, nonfiction and picture books.

Guest Post: Traci Sorell on Signing with a Literary Agent

Kansas State U. Powwow with son Carlos & cousin Matthew Lester (senior)

By Traci Sorell
for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

I had no idea how beneficial an agent could be when I attended my first SCBWI conference in October 2013.

I quickly realized how much about the industry I did not know.

I began to network with other children’s writers, especially fellow Native Americans, and when it came time to look for an agent, I utilized that network extensively.

I questioned fellow writers with representation, especially those from Native/people of color backgrounds, about their experience. I asked how agents had presented themselves at conferences or other events. I read agent online interviews and social media posts.

I wanted my agent to be a steadfast partner with a strong work ethic. It is a long-term relationship, so both people have to be dedicated to maintaining it. I required someone who was excited about my work and associated with a well-respected agency.

Traci’s Reading Chair

Ideally, I wanted someone who had editorial experience that reflects what I write—fiction, nonfiction, and Native/POC subjects. To be honest, this makes for a small submission list, so I did expand beyond that.

When I communicated with agents via email and telephone, I tracked whether what they shared reflected my list.

My gut got an extreme workout when I received two offers of representation on the same day. I cannot stress enough the importance of developing and checking in with trusted mentors.

Ultimately, I accepted Emily Mitchell‘s offer of representation with Wernick & Pratt Agency. She met every single item on my list. Her clients contacted me quickly and gave their honest feedback about her representation.

Emily had vetted me with my editor at Charlesbridge, her former employer. We had both done our homework.

To me, it is kismet that Emily presented at that first conference I attended—and in my home state of Oklahoma too! That day, she shared her desired client attributes—voice, authority, pragmatism and flexibility. I’d like to think I resemble her list, too.

Cynsational Notes

Follow @TraciSorell 

Traci Sorell writes fiction and nonfiction for children featuring contemporary characters and compelling biographies. She has been an active member of SCBWI since August 2013.

In April 2016, Charlesbridge acquired her first nonfiction picture book, We are Grateful: Otsaliheliga, from the slush pile.

The story features a panorama of modern-day Cherokee cultural practices and experiences, presented through the four seasons. It conveys a universal spirit of gratitude common in many cultures.

Traci is an enrolled citizen of the Cherokee Nation. She grew up in northeastern Oklahoma, where her tribe is located.

She is a first-generation college graduate with a bachelor’s degree in Native American Studies from the University of California, Berkeley, where she graduated Phi Beta Kappa.

She also has a Master’s degree in American Indian Studies from the University of Arizona and a law degree from the University of Wisconsin. Previously, she taught at the University of North Dakota School of Law and the University of New Mexico.

She also worked as an attorney assisting tribal courts nationwide, advocated for national Native American health care, and directed a national nonprofit serving American Indian and Alaska Native elders. She now lives in the Kansas City area.

See also Story to Contract: Traci Sorell’s Incredible Journey by Suzanne Slade from Picture Book Builders. Peek: “Be grateful. Every day. If you approach your creativity and the process of writing from a place of gratitude, it opens you up. You will be more aware of story ideas, available to hear critiques that improve your craft, and connected to others around you in the kidlit world. Gratitude opens up receptivity.”

Emily Mitchell began her career at Sheldon Fogelman Agency, handling submissions, subsidiary rights, and coffee. She spent eleven years at Charlesbridge Publishing as senior editor, contracts manager, and director of corporate strategy. After a brief post-MBA stint in the non-publishing world, Emily returned to children’s books at Wernick & Pratt.

Her clients include Geisel Honor winner April Pulley Sayre, author/photographer of Best In Snow (Beach Lane, 2016); Caron Levis, author of Ida, Always (Atheneum, 2016); and Frank W. Dormer, author/illustrator of The Sword in the Stove (Atheneum, 2016) and Click! (Viking, 2016).

Emily holds a bachelor’s degree in English from Harvard University, a master’s in secondary English education from Syracuse University, and an MBA from Babson College. She lives outside Boston.

2016 SCBWI Bologna Illustrator Interview: Dorothia Rohner

By Angela Cerrito
for SCBWI Bologna 2016
and Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

From an early age, Dorothia Rohner knew she was an artist. Inheriting her artistic parent’s fascination with art and nature, she was encouraged to pursue and refine her skills. She studied technical illustration, fine art, art history and graphic design. 

Eventually, she earned her degree in Biological Pre-medical Illustration from Iowa State University—a curriculum that allowed her to combine her love of illustration and science. 

As an artist, she has worked in various fields: scientific illustration, animation, graphic design, nature painting, licensing and gift design. She now works from her studio, surrounded by woods, overlooking a small pond where she writes and illustrates stories for children; inspired by nature, imagination and a tad bit of humor. She also enjoys creating pop-up and moveable books.


Her illustrated children’s books include: Numbers in a Row, An Iowa Number Book (Sleeping Bear Press) and Effie’s Image (Prairieland Press). 

Her work for children has also been published in Cricket Magazine

Her illustration, Firefly Forest, was the Grand Prize Winner at 2014 SCBWI Bologna Illustrator Gallery, Bologna Children’s Book Fair

That same year, she was selected for the 2014 SCBWI Portfolio Mentorship Award at the SCBWI Summer Conference. 

Her portfolio was one of six chosen out of two-hundred. Follow Dorthia: Instagram & Twitter: @dorothiar and Facebook.

What inspired you to begin creating illustrations for children?

When I was small, my mother wrote stories for my six siblings and me. She created believable worlds and illustrations to go with them. They were never published, but I remember how magical an ordinary day became when she shared her stories with us—inviting us into her imaginative worlds.

My mother’s influence first inspired me to want to create books for children. Years later, while studying scientific illustration, the class assignment was to make a spread for a children’s book. That studio project sparked my childhood memories and rekindled that desire to make books for kids. It took a little while, but eventually I illustrated my first children’s book.

How has your experience with scientific illustration influenced your work for children?

Good question! The transition from creating scientific to children’s illustration has been interesting journey for me. Because of my scientific training, I wanted to add every detail into an illustration. For children’s illustrations, I’ve had to un-learn some of that training in order to leave emotional room for the viewer, exaggerated expressions, emotion and motion. I’m still working on that.

My training has influenced me to enjoy drawing animals, plants, birds and insects living in the natural world. However, with my illustrations for kids, I find it much more fun to add in a few fairies, and other whimsical critters.

What was the inspiration for the illustration Firefly Forest, winner of the 2014 SCBWI Bologna Illustrators’ Gallery?

I’ve always been fascinated with fireflies because of the magic they bring to summer nights. Years ago, like most children, we used to chase and capture them to fill our jars with light.

Inspired by these memories and the forest we now live near, I sketched out the trees that speak only truth, an angry council of fireflies that rule the forest and a little girl carrying a jar full of fireflies, searching for her brother. I intentionally left the narrative open for the viewer to interpret.

I created this illustration in two days and I really enjoyed working on it. However, I almost didn’t enter the BIG contest because I thought it was too odd of an illustration. However, I ended up sending it anyway. I’m glad I did.

What are you working on right now?

With the input of my agent, Laura Biagi, I am revising a manuscript that is almost ready for submission. Yay! I’m finishing up the character sketches and illustrations that will accompany this story.

While I was in New York at the winter SCBWI conference, I was able to meet with Laura to discuss my other projects. She asked about the story behind Firefly Forest, so I am brainstorming and diving into that next. I also received helpful input from an art director in New York on a novelty fairy book, so I will be revising that too. I also have a sketchbook filled with ideas that could be potential stories.

Dorothia & Laura

What advice would you offer illustrators who are just starting out in the field of children’s literature?

The advice I try to remember is patience, practice and perseverance. It’s hasn’t been that long since I began focusing on making books for children, so I still feel new to this, too.

In any field of creating art, I believe it is essential to honor your individuality and create from the inner voice. This helps to quiet the inner critic that so often leads to comparison and competition with other artists. It is important to study other artists work, get involved with online picture book communities, and celebrate other’s successes.

I would suggest joining SCBWI, going to conferences, getting portfolio and manuscript critiques, joining local critique groups and finding like minded people who you can learn from, share with and enjoy the journey. Lastly, read lots and lots of kids books!

Cynsational Notes

Angela Cerrito is a pediatric physical therapist by day and a writer by night. She thinks she has the two best jobs in the world.

Her latest novel, The Safest Lie
(Holiday House), was named a finalist for the 2015 Jewish Book Award, a
Sydney Taylor Notable Book for Older Readers and a Notable Social
Studies Book for Young People.

Angela Coordinates the SCBWI Bologna Interview series, volunteers as SCBWI’s Assistant International Advisor and is a Cynsational reporter in Europe and beyond.

Guest Post: Parker Peevyhouse on Where Futures End

Excerpt

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Parker Peevyhouse
is the first-time author of Where Futures End
(Penguin/Kathy Dawson Books, 2016). From the promotional copy:

Five teens.


Five futures.


Two worlds.


One ending.


One year from now, Dylan develops a sixth sense that allows him to glimpse another world.


Ten years from now, Brixney must get more hits on her social media feed or risk being stuck in a debtors’ colony.


Thirty years from now, Epony scrubs her entire online profile from the web and goes “High Concept.”


Sixty years from now, Reef struggles to survive in a city turned virtual gameboard.


And more than a hundred years from now, Quinn uncovers the alarming secret that links them all.


Five people, divided by time, will determine the fate of us all. These are stories of a world bent on destroying itself, and of the alternate world that might be its savior–unless it’s too late.

Could you describe both your pre-and-post contract revision process? What did you learn along the way? How did you feel at each stage? What advice do you have for other writers on the subject of revision?

Parker Peevyhouse

I set myself up for a tricky revision process when I wrote Where Futures End as a series of interconnected stories. I had to make sure that the stories connected well to each other, even though each is mostly self-contained.

My agent, Ammi-Joan Paquette, also pointed out that the first story in the book had to be really gripping. Of course, every novel has to have an opening that grabs the reader, but that had to be especially true of Where Futures End, since the reader would only continue to the second story if s/he loved the first.

I worked really hard to revise the opening story before we sent out the manuscript on submission. But the feedback we got was that the first story still wasn’t working. The tone was too sad and dark, since the story dealt with a boy (Dylan) wrestling with the death of his brother; and Dylan was confusing, since he kept going back and forth on whether he had the ability to visit another world. I was pretty bummed about this feedback because I loved Dylan and his story, but I could see that the manuscript wouldn’t sell as-is.

I scrapped that first story and started over. I brought the dead brother back to life and made the plot focus on sibling rivalry. I created a more linear progression for Dylan’s investigation into whether he had the ability to visit another world, and I had the brother play a larger part in this mystery. To my surprise, this new version of the story felt even closer to what I had originally want to achieve. And it got a lot more interest from editors.

The editor who bought the novel, Kathy Dawson (who has her own imprint at Penguin), wanted me to make even deeper cuts. In the original version of the manuscript, Dylan is obsessed with a series of fantasy novels about the Lookingland, a magical realm Dylan thinks he can visit. Throughout the novel, other characters also try to access the Lookingland, so it became an element that tied together the separate stories that make up Where Futures End. Kathy suggested I cut out the Lookingland entirely; she thought it was too confusing, one more thing for the reader to keep track of in an already intricate novel. But how in the world would I then tie all of Where Futures End together?

Parker’s assistant, Arya

We figured out that Dylan, instead of reading novels about the magical land he longed to escape to, should write stories about that land himself. This set up a new way to connect the stories that comprise Where Futures End.

In the second part of Where Futures End, Dylan’s stories come to the public’s attention. In the third part, we see that books and movies have been made from Dylan’s stories. In the fourth part, a main character makes his living playing a video game based on Dylan’s stories. And in the fifth part, the stories take on a life of their own…

It was painful to make all of those deep cuts. I wasn’t always sure I should make such huge changes to my original vision! But I took the advice of my agent and did my revisions in a separate document so that I always had the option of reverting to the original manuscript.

That helped me make bold changes, and in the end, I felt the new versions of the manuscript were better than the old versions.

It helps to have an agent and an editor who are so insightful with their revision suggestions, but I also recommend taking chances with revisions, knowing you can always go back to what you originally wrote if those revisions don’t work for you.

As a science fiction writer, what first attracted you to that literary tradition? Have you been a long-time sci-fi reader?

Does anyone else remember “poot” from My Teacher Fried My Brains by Bruce Coville (Aladdin, 1991)? I loved that crazy-weird stretchable pet when I was in grade school. And I was fascinated by the tesseracts in A Wrinkle In Time by Madeleine L’Engle (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1963).

When I was a kid, if there was a book in my library about something strange, I took it home.

Those books inspired me to write my own weird stories about kids visiting alternate realities and wielding supernatural powers.

Reading and writing science fiction was the only thing that could feed my ever-hungry imagination.

What drew me to science fiction as a kid were the strange ideas, the mind-benders, like Meg Murray talking about how time is the fourth dimension.

Where Futures End makes use of the tropes I’ve loved reading about from a young age: alternate universes, time distortion, psychic abilities. But I’ve also grown to love how science fiction explores personal interactions and cultural changes. I wanted Where Futures End to explore culture in the same way Feed by M. T. Anderson (Candlewick, 2002) does, and to explore relationships in the same way that How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff (Penguin, 2004) does.

Science fiction, more than any other genre, lends enough distance to gain new perspectives, and that’s the main reason I still love the genre.

Former Editor Stephanie Fretwell-Hill Joins West Coast–Based Red Fox Literary

From Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

Former editor and foreign rights manager Stephanie Fretwell-Hill has joined boutique agency Red Fox Literary.

“Stephanie approaches the children’s book business with the same thoughtfulness and concern for authors and illustrators that we at Red Fox Literary strive to be known for,” says agency co-founder Karen Grencik.

Fretwell-Hill began her publishing career in 2004 at Walker Books Ltd. in London, where she sold foreign language rights for projects by legendary artists such as Helen Oxenbury and Lucy Cousins. Though she worked across a broad range of territories including Eastern Europe, and Spanish speaking countries across the world, she specialized in developing new markets, selling the first Walker Group titles into Russian and Arabic territories.

In 2011, Fretwell-Hill joined Atlanta-based Peachtree Publishers, where she edited board books through young adult titles. Her acquisitions received such honors as YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults, Bank Street Best Children’s Books of the Year, Parents’ Choice Awards, and numerous starred reviews.

“She has a careful and well-considered approach to editing, plus an excellent eye for illustration,” says co-founder Abigail Samoun.

For Fretwell-Hill, becoming an agent is the culmination of ten years’ experience in children’s book publishing. Her new role combines the buzz of sales and negotiation with the creativity of editing and acquisitions, but mostly hinges on building strong relationships. “I’m really looking forward to working closely with authors and illustrators,” she says. “Kind, passionate, and creative people are my favorite part of this business.”

Red Fox Literary, founded by Grencik and Samoun in 2011, was recently named one of the top ten children’s book agencies ranked by Publishers Marketplace sales.

The agency represents over eighty authors and illustrators, including Dan Krall, Julie Falatko, Lee Wind, Sarah Watts, Masha D’yans, Hannah Harrison, Miranda Paul, and other stand-out talent.

In 2014, Red Fox brought on board award-winning blogger Danielle Smith, who recently signed National Book Award finalist Beth Kephart.

2015 saw the agency’s clients receive nearly a dozen starred reviews on titles such as Snappsy the Alligator (Did Not Ask to Be In This Book) (Viking), One Plastic Bag: Isatou Ceesay and the Recycling Women of the Gambia (Millbrook/Lerner), and Mary Cassatt: Extraordinary Impressionist Painter (Christy Ottaviano/Holt).

“We’re delighted to have Stephanie become the fourth agent at Red Fox,” says Samoun.

Stephanie Fretwell-Hill will be open to submissions for six months. Interested authors and illustrators can send art samples, complete picture book text, or the first three chapters of a novel to querystephanie@redfoxliterary.com.

Agent Interview: Linda Camacho on Prospect Agency

Linda at Cliffs of Moher

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

You’re a writer and an agent. Let’s start with Writer You. How did you come to literature for young readers?

When I was in middle school, I was obsessed with YA, like R.L. Stine’s Fear Street series (St. Martin’s Griffin), Francine Pascal’s Sweet Valley High books (Bantam), and L.J. Smith’s Night World series (Simon Pulse).

The YA section used to be a lot smaller, so I think I burned through most of them at Walden Books way back when! I tried my hand at typing up my own stories set in the wilds of high school, but never finished them.

I soon moved into the adult section of the store, and years later, got my first job on the adult side at Penguin. I enjoyed my time there, but one day I found myself going through my childhood book collection and wondering why I hadn’t even considered children’s book publishing. I loved the books I was working with, but children’s books were more special to me. Once that train of thought started, there was no stopping it!

After much job hunting and waiting, Random House children’s books called and I made the jump.

Describe your apprenticeship and the types of stories that call to you.

My tastes are broad and I have a varied background at different houses. My first job at Penguin was in production under the Berkley/Jove/Ace/Riverhead imprints, so that was a healthy dose of genre fiction with some literary fiction. After some time, I left Penguin when I briefly toyed with the idea of law school. I missed publishing, however, so to get back in, I interned and rotated through the departments at Dorchester, Simon and Schuster, Random House, and Writers House literary agency.

Luckily, Random House children’s eventually took pity and hired me to work on marketing picture books all the way through young adult titles, which is where I’ve been the last five years.

I have to say, I do skew toward darker books, ones that reflect the human condition in all its ugliness and beauty. Ones that make my heart pound or tear it right out in the telling. Patrick Ness’s A Monster Calls (Walker, 2012), Meg Rosoff’s How I Live Now (Wendy Lamb, 2004), Leigh Bardugo’s Shadow and Bone (Henry Holt, 2012), and Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief (Knopf, 2006), come to mind as examples.

You are a graduate of the MFA program in Writing for Children and Young Adults at Vermont College of Fine Arts. Why did you pursue an MFA?

I knew I wanted to get my graduate degree in something I was really passionate about. I considered getting my MFA to continue building my editing skills, but wasn’t interested in pursuing one at a program that denigrated genre fiction (which, unfortunately, most do).

It wasn’t until I picked up a copy of Keturah and Lord Death by Martine Leavitt (Front Street, 2006) that I noticed her author bio mentioned the Vermont College of Fine Arts.

I then started seeing that VCFA name in the dedication pages of other books, a few of which Random House published. I reached out the admissions folks, and after that, VCFA was the only place I wanted to go. It was a happy day when they accepted me!

What did you gain from the experience?

Like all writers, I was a reader first. I had a gut instinct for what worked in a story, especially as I got hands-on experience in the publishing world; however, I wasn’t always great at articulating those impressions. VCFA really pushed me me to pinpoint what was working (or not) in a manuscript.

It was an intensive two years of craft boot camp. I became much stronger in providing editorial feedback—not to mention, I became a much better writer in the process.

Beyond that practical aspect, I made the most wonderful colleagues and friends at VCFA, ones that I know will be with me for the rest of my life.

What would you say to someone considering an MFA in writing for young readers?

Depending on your goals and means, I would encourage it. Is an MFA necessary for publication? Definitely not. If publication is your only aim, I’d steer clear of the MFA.

If, however, you’re also looking to improve your craft and/or teach writing, I highly recommend it.

And if you didn’t already have it, you’ll gain a supportive writing community and build confidence in yourself as a writer.

In terms of financial means, I found the low-residency format beneficial because I could continue working while I studied. Some programs offer financial assistance and scholarships, so potential applicants should reach out to admissions to learn their options.

How about Agent You? What inspired you to take on this additional career?

I did an internship at Writers House years ago and that was the beginning, really. Before that, I had only been interested in editorial (like many people trying to break into the industry).

I didn’t know much about agenting, but boy did I learn! I took any job I could to get my foot in the door and learned so much about the different publishing departments, but ultimately, I always knew I would settle into an editorial/agenting role. Agenting feels like a better fit for me because I’m not tied to an imprint like editors are. I can acquire anything that catches my eye.

Could you tell us about the history of the Prospect Agency? How has the agency changed over time?

Emily Sylvan Kim is the owner who, after working six wonderful years at Writers House literary agency, decided to hang up her own shingle. Her mission was to provide top-notch representation and a warm community for authors and illustrators, and she has certainly done that these past ten years.

Prospect Agency has grown tremendously and I anticipate that upward trajectory continuing.

What types of clients do you represent—in terms of body of work, art vs. text, age levels, genres and more? Are you looking for a certain kind of book that says “Prospect” or for a widely diversified body of work from your client base?

Prospect is very open-minded in terms of representation, so I’m looking for a high quality, diversified body of work. My tastes range from picture books to young adult, from clean and lighthearted contemporary to edgy and dark fantasy. And I’d love to see diverse stories of all types (ethnicity, disability, sexuality, etc.).

My focus is on genre fiction (romance, horror, fantasy, realistic, light sci-fi, and graphic novels), namely in the middle grade and YA age ranges. I’ll also be taking on literary fiction with commercial appeal (à la Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein (Hyperion 2012), I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson (Dial, 2014), or When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead (Wendy Lamb, 2009)), along with very select picture book projects (both writers and illustrators).

I’m not looking for early readers/chapter books or standalone short stories.

To get a better idea of what I like, on my Prospect Agency page, I’ve included a list of titles that are dream representations.


What makes Prospect different from other literary agencies?

Prospect is a boutique agency of six women who really do embody Emily’s mission statement of creating a warm community. The agents not only advocate strongly for their clients, but they do so in a positive way.

When the editors at Penguin Random House learned I was going to be an agent at Prospect, I only heard wonderful things said about the agents there. And that says a lot—not only are they successful, but they’re actually a pleasure to work with.

Why should an unpublished but competitive writer consider querying Prospect (and you specifically)?

Linda’s Bookshelf

Prospect Agency is staffed with publishing professionals who are very experienced and open to a broad range of genres. They all have either big five publishing experience or Writers House experience (owner Emily Sylvan Kim used to be agent there).

I’m a new agent, but I’ve been in the business a decade and am being mentored every step of the way.

I’ve seen publishing from just about every angle—publicity, marketing, production, editorial, writing—and it will help me advise my clients about the process.

Want to know what goes on in an acquisitions or launch meeting? Want to know what a standard marketing plan is? Want to know about NetGalley, metadata, or the annoyingly complicated process of cover reveals? If so, I’m your girl! I can give them the inside look at what occurs even beyond the editorial and marketing screens.


How about established authors who, for whatever reasons, finds themselves without representation?

I’d repeat everything I said above. It really depends on what an established author is seeking out of their next partnership, but I’m flexible and can devote the time in helping take his/her career to the next level.

From my years in publishing, I have many editor friends to whom I can already reach out personally, so I’m not coming into this without support.

There was a time when children’s-YA authors and illustrators debated the need for an agent at all. Do you think that time has passed? Why or why not? What considerations should be weighed?

Lucy

It’s understandable that children’s-YA authors and illustrators used to question the need, especially since they might wonder if agents are worth the 15% domestic commission. I would advise getting an agent, especially if an author would prefer to be traditionally published.

At the big publishing houses, editors don’t generally accept manuscripts that aren’t submitted by an agent (there are exceptions, but even if it results in an offer, you’d need to go back and get an agent to proceed with publication).

An author can certainly score a publishing contract at an indie press without an agent, but is he sure that he’s getting the best deal possible when signing on the dotted line?

Publishing houses aren’t actively trying to take advantage of authors, but they are part of big business and do want to get the best deal possible on their end, sometimes to the detriment of the author.

Now, an agentless author can hire a publishing attorney to look over the contract for each deal. If the author wants to do it that way, there isn’t anything wrong with it. It’s just that (and clearly I’m biased) a good agent is a counselor/manager that can help guide the author throughout the course of his career.

A good agent can also be the bad cop who crosses the I’s and dots the T’s while the author gets to be the good cop who smiles and focuses on the creative aspects.

Still, there are those authors who are more hands on and want to handle every single aspect of their career and publishing process. If that’s the case, I encourage smart self-publishing and indie press publishing. It might work better for some than others (I would say that it works best depending on genre—romance writers do better with this, at least on the self-publishing end.)

Personally, if I ever decide to publish, I’m getting an agent of my own. But that’s because I know my own needs. Authors and illustrators need to know themselves as they figure out the best course to take. Word of caution, though: No agent is better than a bad agent. so do your research!

To what degree do you do career framing and consultation with your clients?

Sweet treats from Linda’s pantry!

I anticipate working closely with my clients, so beyond editorial feedback and submission check-ins, I’m absolutely available for career consultation. I’m ideally taking on a client for the course of his career, not on a project-by-project basis. I’m available for project brainstorming sessions, marketing tips, and encouragement as they traverse the wilds of publishing.

Do you promote your client list? If so, how? Or do you think that the agency should be more behind the scenes? Why or why not?

I’m on Facebook and Twitter, so I would be promoting my clients on those platforms. Other than that, I’m not in this business to be a star. My clients are the stars and I’m there to support and foster them in the background.


We’ve corresponded about your strong interest in the current discussion around diversity in youth literature. What are your thoughts about where we are now, where we’re going, and how we can best get there? How do you see yourself fitting in the conversation?

I’m so excited about the ongoing discussion! I’m aware that it isn’t a new one, but it’s really cresting and I’m proud to be part of the wave of diverse people in the publishing realm. Things are improving, slowly but surely (and certainly not without a few missteps), and I remain optimistic about the future.

It’s a complicated issue with no clear cut method of engagement, considering that the disparity affects industry folks and consumers at every level—the writers, agents, editors, marketers, publicists, production staff, sales reps, booksellers, readers, and everyone else in between. Still, so long as there is increasing awareness about the lack of diversity, steps can be taken and matters can only improve.

There really needs to be recruitment outside of the typical channels (nepotism or people in the know) and outreach to people in diverse communities. I’m a Puerto Rican girl from the Bronx and I never had any exposure to writers or publishing people. And I was a big reader who frequented the library constantly!

Still, I was completely unaware of publishing as a career. Even in college, I didn’t quite connect my love of reading into a job beyond writing, and even that didn’t seem feasible. If a human resources person (a person of color and fellow Cornellian) hadn’t taken an interest and steered me towards publishing, I wouldn’t be where I am today.

Matt

To be clear, I understand that diversity goes beyond ethnicity. It spans religion, sexuality, gender, and physicality, extending to anyone who finds himself underrepresented in the stories being told.

As a matter of fact, my masters thesis was related to my desire as a plus-sized woman to see characters of size portrayed without the stereotypical weight loss journey, titled “The Anti-Ugly Duckling Tale: Fat Protagonists Who…Stay Fat?”

I’m looking to get even more diverse writers published, so I’m keeping a weather eye out for those narratives. And they don’t need to be issue books. As Matt de la Peña wondered in his 2014 CNN.com article “Where’s the African-American Harry Potter or the Mexican Katniss,” that’s what I’d like to know!

How do Writer You and Agent You inform each other?

Before my MFA program, my marketing brain dominated.

Now, though? I have more sympathy for the difficult writing process and better comprehend the need to tell the story you’re burning to tell. As I read submissions, I’m not only asking myself: Will this sell? That’s an important question I do take into account, but it it’s no longer the question since I’ve already turned down some marketable projects.

An even bigger question for me is: Do I love it?

Trends change with the wind, but the projects I love? Those grab hold of me for good.

New Voice: Stacey Lee on Under a Painted Sky

Stacey Lee

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Stacey Lee is the first-time author of Under a Painted Sky (Putnam, 2015)(author blog). From the promotional copy:

An unforgettable story of friendship and sacrifice.


Missouri, 1849: Samantha dreams of moving back to New York to be a
professional musician—not an easy thing if you’re a girl, and harder
still if you’re Chinese. But a tragic accident dashes any hopes of
fulfilling her dream, and instead, leaves her fearing for her life.



With
the help of a runaway slave named Annamae, Samantha flees town for the
unknown frontier. But life on the Oregon Trail is unsafe for two girls,
so they disguise themselves as Sammy and Andy, two boys headed for the
California gold rush.



Sammy and Andy forge a powerful
bond as they each search for a link to their past, and struggle to avoid
any unwanted attention. But when they cross paths with a band of
cowboys, the light-hearted troupe turn out to be unexpected allies. 

With
the law closing in on them and new setbacks coming each day, the girls
quickly learn that there are not many places to hide on the open trail.

When and where do you write? Why does that time and space work for you?

Stacey’s office

I write in the evening into the wee hours of night, and go to bed typically at 1:30 am.

With two kids, I’m too distracted to do much during the day, so I must wait until everyone is in bed. It’s hard for me to write with any noise around me, so I rarely listen to music when I’m at my desk.

As a historical fiction writer, how did you capture the voices of the era? What resources did you turn to? What advice do you have for other authors along these lines?

I read a lot of pioneer diaries! I always gravitated toward books/film from the 19th century, so the voices weren’t hard for me to hear. I love the ‘formal’ way they spoke during that time period.

The trick is to immerse yourself in the ‘culture’ you’re writing about as much as possible, the way you would learning another language. You can’t help picking things up.


How did you go about connecting with your agent? What was your search process like? Who did you decide to sign with? What about that person and/or agency seemed like the best fit for you? What advice do you have for other writers in seeking the right agent for them?

Under a Painted Sky

I researched agents through Writer’s Digest, and identified Kristin Nelson as someone who might be a good fit. I was looking for someone who knew her stuff, and she ran a popular blog called Pub Rants that many writers, including myself, used to understand the in’s and out’s of publishing. She actually rejected the first book I subbed to her.

Several years later, I wrote Under a Painted Sky, and she was one of the first agents I queried.

I think it’s important that writers find an agent who not only can make a sale, but someone who will continually advocate for their writers during the entire process.

Publishing is not just about selling the book. You want someone who takes a holistic view of your writing career.

Cynsational Notes

Stacey Lee is a fourth generation Chinese-American whose people came to
California during the heydays of the cowboys. She believes she still
has a bit of cowboy dust in her soul.

A native of southern California,
she graduated from UCLA then got her law degree at UC Davis King Hall.
After practicing law in the Silicon Valley for several years, she
finally took up the pen because she wanted the perks of being able to
nap during the day, and it was easier than moving to Spain. She plays
classical piano, wrangles children, and writes YA fiction.

Find Stacey at Twitter @staceyleeauthor, Facebook and Pinterest.

Stacey contemplates her plot as she walks along this path.

Austin SCBWI Mentor Award Winner Laney Nielson Signs with Greenburger Associates

Follow @LaneyNielson

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Hooray! Laney Nielson, recipient of the 2014 Austin SCBWI Cynthia Leitich Smith Mentor Award, has signed with literary agent Bethany Buck of Greenburger Associates.

Laney Nielson is a writer who lives in Plano, Texas.

A former upper elementary school teacher, Laney has taught in both suburban Virginia and inner city Boston. She has her Masters in Education.

Laney is a member of a critique group formed through the North Texas Chapter of SCBWI. She has attended the Highlights Foundation Whole Novel Workshop and many regional events, including the Austin SCBWI regional conference for the past three years.

I am delighted that Laney has signed with Bethany. Laney has a lovely sense of story and character, heart and humor. I look forward to many terrific books from them.

Register for the 2015 Con!

Laney says: “I want to thank Austin SCBWI and Cynthia for offering this mentorship. It was an incredible opportunity to learn from one of the best. Cynthia provided me with the guidance and expertise I needed to take my writing to the next level.”

(She is so gracious. Laney came in strong, worked hard, and deserves all the credit for her success. Learn more about Laney’s experience and the mentorship from Austin SCBWI.)

Bethany says: “I am thrilled to represent Laney Nielson, a great new debut whose writing is smart and sparkly.” (Yes, it is!)

From the Greenburger Associates website:

Bethany Buck represents teen fiction, middle-grade fiction, and chapter books, as well as a select list of picture books…

Before becoming an agent, Bethany held editorial positions in children’s book publishing for thirty years. Previously she was Vice President and Publisher of the Aladdin and Simon Pulse imprints of Simon & Schuster’s Children’s Publishing Division, where she was the editor of Scott Westerfeld’s #1 New York Times best-selling Uglies series, as well as his other teen books. Bethany began her career at Scholastic Inc., where she was a longtime editor of The Baby-Sitters Club by Ann M. Martin, and rose to be an editorial director in the trade division.

2015 SCBWI Europolitan Con: Agent Brooks Sherman


By Elisabeth Norton
for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations 

Brooks Sherman is an agent with The Bent Agency.

He represents picture books, fiction for young adult and middle-grade-readers, select literary and commercial adult fiction, and nonfiction in the areas of humor, pop culture, and narrative nonfiction.

He was interviewed by Elisabeth Norton for the SCBWI Europolitan Conference.

You’ll be presenting in Amsterdam about using social media effectively. This is a topic most creators wrestle with at some point in their career.

ON SOCIAL MEDIA…

Does a writer have to be on social media these days?

No. It could be argued that it is more essential for nonfiction writers than for those who write fiction, as nonfiction usually requires author platform.

Here’s the thing: Social media can be useful to a writer, if they are good at it. If you are uncomfortable communicating via social media, it will show, and it will actually have a negative effect. So, if you absolutely loathe using Twitter or Facebook or Instagram, don’t do it!

That said, if you do want to learn how to use it, it can be an invaluable tool for following industry news and trends, as well as networking with other writers and industry professionals.

Do you think the target reader age influences whether a writer needs to be on social media? Is it more important for a writer of young adult fiction to be on social media than say, someone who illustrates picture books?

Again, I don’t think anyone needs to be on social media. I will say that the young adult reading and publishing communities are quite active on social media, so it’s certainly worth considering if you write in that area.

Also, I found my first picture book client, Sam Garton, on Twitter; he had created a Twitter profile for his character Otter that included a link to his website.

Once I clicked onto his site and saw his wonderful humor and amazing artwork, I decided to reach out to him to see if he was working on any picture books.

So if you are an illustrator, keep in mind that social media can be a great way to advertise your artwork and online portfolio.

What’s your advice to the writer who has no social media presence at the moment?

I would encourage every writer to at least explore a few social media platforms, to see if any of them hold appeal. Twitter is a different experience from Facebook, as are Instagram, Pinterest, etc.

Try them out before you decide you don’t want to use them.

Before I got into publishing, I thought Twitter was a useless, narcissistic tool. Since I’ve become an agent, I’ve found it incredibly useful for keeping up with world news, publishing news, promoting my clients’ work, and building my own professional reputation.

Is there such a thing as too much social media presence?

I think so. While I think it’s great if writers and publishing professionals are active on social media, if you are too active, it can become exhausting for those who are following you, and you might turn people off.

Also, keep in mind that social media should be a tool, not a goal; if you are using it nonstop every day, when are you going to find the time for your real work? (Or your family, friends, and health?)

What are some of the biggest mistakes you see by writers/illustrators using social media?

The biggest mistake I see people make on social media is forgetting that everything they do is public.

Again, social media is a tool; don’t use it when your emotions are running high, or say, after you’ve had a few glasses of wine. Social media is an excellent way to build a public persona, but it is not you — it is the you that you want to share publicly.

Also, no need to overshare: you don’t need to share every single thought that pops into your head!

ON GRIPPING OPENINGS…


Can you give a couple of examples of what you think are gripping openings, and tell us why they work?

Certainly. Here is the opening line from my client Emma Trevayne’s middle-grade fantasy Flights and Chimes and Mysterious Times:

“There are doorways, and there are doorways.” 

Right away, this sentence establishes atmosphere and style. There is a classic feel to this narration, and it compels you to keep reading.

There is also the opening line from my client Heidi Schulz’s middle-grade adventure Hook’s Revenge:

“There have always been pirates. Why, even as far back as Eve, on the day she was considering whether or not to eat that apple, a pirate was most certainly planning to sail in and take it from her.” 

Again, atmosphere and style are immediately apparent. There is some wonderfully wry humor here, and really, who doesn’t love reading about pirates?

The opening lines from my client Becky Albertalli’s young adult contemporary novel Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda:

“It’s a weirdly subtle conversation. I almost don’t notice I’m being blackmailed.” 

Here is an example of the story starting right away — as a reader, I definitely want to know what’s happening, because my interest has been piqued with the word “blackmailed.”

Who is blackmailing our narrator, and why?


In the submissions you see, what percentage would you say grab you with their openings?

I receive somewhere between 50 to 100 queries (with opening pages) during an average week. Of these, I would say perhaps 10 percent of these intrigue me enough to request the full manuscript.

Do any of those stories with gripping openings lose you later?

Learn more!

Unfortunately, this does happen.

Sometimes it is simply a case of my loving the story’s premise but not connecting with the way the story is told.

Other times, it feels like the writer has worked very hard on the opening pages, but not as much on the rest of the manuscript.

While it is important for you to have a gripping opening, don’t forget to give the same attention to the rest of your story! Make sure your story is as tight and strong as possible before you query agents and editors; you want to put your best foot forward.

Thank you, Brooks. See you in Amsterdam.

Cynsational Notes

Learn more!

Elisabeth Norton was first
published at age 16 when she had no idea what an “unsolicited
submission” was. Seeing her byline on the subsequently published
magazine article ignited her desire for a career as an author.

Once she realized she wanted to write for children, she joined SCBWI and now serves as Regional Advisor for the Swiss region.

Originally from Alaska, she now lives in Switzerland between the Alps and the Jura and writes for middle graders.

2015 SCBWI Europolitan Con: Agent Marietta Zacker

By Elisabeth Norton
for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations 

Marietta Zacker is an agent at Nancy Galt Literary Agency.

Marietta has experienced children’s books from every angle – teaching, marketing, publishing and bookselling.

She thrives on working with authors who make readers feel their characters’ emotions and illustrators who add a different dimension to the story.

Some of the books she is championing in 2015 include The Lost Track of Time by Paige Britt (Scholastic), Something Extraordinary by Ben Clanton (Simon & Schuster), Just a Duck? by Carin Bramsen (Random House), The Struggles of Johnny Cannon by Isaiah Campbell (Simon & Schuster), Ruby on the Outside by Nora Raleigh Baskin (Simon & Schuster), Percy Jackson’s Greek Heroes by Rick Riordan (Hyperion).

Among other things, she is a proud Latina and the Agent Liaison for the We Need Diverse Books campaign. Marietta is active on Twitter under the name @AgentZacker

She is interviewed on Cynsations today by Elisabeth Norton for SCBWI Europolitan conference

At Europolitan, you’ll be presenting “Finding Seeds of Gold” and you will present about how to determine if your work is ready to submit. From your point of view as an agent, are most of the submissions you receive “ready?” What would you say is the biggest difference between the submissions you see that are “ready” vs. those that are not?

I believe that most people truly believe that they are ready to submit when they do, but one of the questions I typically suggest writers and artists ask themselves is: “If someone were to offer to publish this text or illustration tomorrow, would I be proud of seeing it ‘as is’ on the pages of a book?”

Since essentially eradicating the need to print submissions in order to take to the post office, many send queries via e-mail to ‘test’ whether or not their work is good enough.

It’s true, the business is subjective and we have all passed on projects that went on to get published, but we read too many queries and can usually see, feel and read right through queries that, even if technically masterful, are missing the heart and the essence of the storytelling. And so we pass.

I highly recommend printing your work and holding it in your hands (whether it’s text or an illustration). It makes it more official, it’s tougher to convince yourself that it’s ready to go when it’s not, it also allows you to see the work in ways you never have before.

Hit PRINT first, review it, let it sit, review it again.

If you would be proud to see it published ‘as is’ the very next day, then go ahead and click SEND.

You’ll also be leading a session about “How and Why Characters Bloom” with a discussion of “character-driven” projects. Does “character-driven” mean “not action packed?” Would you say that “character-driven” projects are “quiet” projects? Where do “character-driven” projects fit in to today’s market landscape?

You’ll have to come to Amsterdam to get most of these answers.

In all seriousness, though, the key to remember is that there is no magic bullet. One description does not negate the other, nor should anyone feel that their work must be described in one singular way.

Ideally, there are multiple layers within each project and a variety of ways to describe any story. I firmly believe that the stories that resonate most with readers are ones that are as complex, as diverse and as multi-layered as the children and young adults who made the choice to keep the book open and continue to read and explore.

The theme of Europolitan 2015 is “Creativity in Bloom: Growing Beyond Boundaries,” and we will be exploring the topic of diversity in children’s literature. Some authors express reservations about writing diverse characters because they themselves are not a member of the same community or group that their character is. They fear backlash if, despite their best attempts at research and having proof-readers from the represented community, they get something “wrong.”


Do you have any thoughts as an agent for writers who may be anxious about getting diversity “wrong” in their project? 

You have to be humble, you have to be willing to learn, you have to be empathetic. You wouldn’t want someone writing an account of your life without getting to know you very well first, understanding the depth of the life you’ve lived, attempting to walk in your shoes and comprehending how you felt during key moments.

The same applies when writing about someone or a group of people whose life or lives you have not lived.

It’s not about getting the facts right (or certainly, what you believe to be the facts). It’s about scratching deep beneath the surface and understanding the things that links us as beings on this planet – the feelings and emotions that make us each individuals, the way we are affected by being de facto members of any one group.

Understanding that this world is diverse and believing that this makes the world a better place is simply not enough to include characters whose experiences are different from yours.

Being willing to empathize with others is the first step.

 Again, we’ll talk more in Amsterdam.

Cynsational Notes

Learn more!

Elisabeth Norton
was first published at age 16 when she had no idea what an “unsolicited
submission” was. Seeing her byline on the subsequently published
magazine article ignited her desire for a career as an author.

Once she realized she wanted to write for children, she joined SCBWI and now serves as Regional Advisor for the Swiss region.

Originally from Alaska, she now lives in Switzerland between the Alps and the Jura and writes for middle graders.