Cynsations

Writer Links: Children’s-YA Book Agent Interviews

Agent Ginger Knowlton and author Cynthia Leitich Smith
Agent Ginger Knowlton and author Cynthia Leitich Smith

This selection of agent interviews may help you in identifying candidates to query or invite to your writing conference. Keep in mind that sometimes agents retire or move to a new literary agency. Double check before proceeding.

Keep in mind that agents’ tastes evolve on a personal level and in response to the industry. Take note of the date of the post in weighing on much reliance to place on certain comments.

Please also note that this is in no way a comprehensive list but rather a place to begin and/or continue ongoing research.

Agent Interviews

Agent Interview: Josh Adams by Rosalyn Eves from Thinking Through Our Fingers. PEEK: “Even if I love a project, if I don’t find myself with a clear vision for how to position the work in the market, or how I could make a meaningful impact on the author’s career, then I will pass.”

Agent Interview: Josh Adams by Anita Loughrey from Cynsations. PEEK: “One of the reasons I don’t line-edit is that we could send a manuscript out to five editors, and get five totally different responses, since tastes are subjective. Of course, if we get five responses all citing the same issues I’d mentioned, then I’d ask the client to revisit those issues before submitting further.”

Agent Interview: Tracey Adams by Nathalie Mvondo from Multiculturalism Rocks! PEEK: “We have many books with characters whose parents are from another culture, books full of diverse characters in our own country, but honestly I would love to see more submissions featuring characters in foreign settings – this is something we don’t see often enough.”

Agent Interview: Tracey Adams by Anita Loughrey from Cynsations. PEEK: “Some books will take off immediately, others will slowly find an audience, and others, sadly, don’t catch on. Since there is so much uncertainly in this industry, my best advice to authors is to let an agent do the business work for you–the author’s job is to do what she is best at: write. Keep writing.”

Agent Interview: Emily Van Beek by Cynthia Leitich Smith from Cynsations. PEEK: “…if an author is presented with an offer to publish the work, an agent acts as the author’s delegate, someone who is well-versed in the art of negotiation and contracts, and who will make certain the author’s best interests are protected.”

Agent Interview: Emily Van Beek by Robert Kent from Middle Grade Ninja. PEEK: “I’m dying to find a funny young adult or middle-grade novel. Comedic writing is a challenge to pull-off and a rare find. I’d be on cloud nine to receive a manuscript big on laughs while also serving up a story full of heart.”

Agent Interview: Emily van Beek from Literary Rambles. PEEK: “It’s really important for aspiring writers to do their research when it comes to selecting an agent. It’s useful to know about an agent’s current roster of clients and the types of projects they feel passionately about (in terms of genre, format, and audience). Are your tastes compatible?”

Agent Interview: Stefanie Von Borstel from Literary Rambles. PEEK: “Clients include: Monica Brown, Jennifer Ward, Toni Buzzeo, Carmen Tafolla, Rafael Lopez, Heather Montgomery, Cindy Jenson-Elliott, and SCBWI Grand Prize Portfolio Award Winner Juana Martinez-Neal, to name a few.”

Agent Linda Camacho

Agent Interview: Linda Camacho by Cynthia Leitich Smith from Cynsations. PEEK: “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.”

Agent Interview Jamie Weiss Chilton from Uma Krishnaswami. PEEK: ” I’m happy to see more risks being taken in the picture book genre, with wordless picture books, graphic novel-inspired picture books, and new formats. I love to see innovation in the genre.”

Agent Interview: Steven Chudney by Cynthia Leitich Smith from Cynsations. PEEK: “I am definitely a career builder. Most agents typically like to know that there’s more than one book in author. But sometimes there is only that first novel by a new writer–and that’s all the material I have to judge their talents on. But I always ask if they’re at least thinking or working on something else as well.”

Agent Interview: Steven Chudney by Cynthia Leitich Smith from Cynsations. PEEK: “I have held various sales and marketing positions at Viking Penguin, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, and Simon & Schuster where I was the marketing director for the children’s division and then director of licensing development. My last publishing position was with the (now defunct) Winslow Press where I held the position of Senior Director of Marketing, Sales & Subsidiary Rights.”

Agent Interview: Ginger Clark by Cynthia Leitich Smith from Cynsations. PEEK: “You have to be a career builder with clients in order to be a good agent, because if you just focus on selling each book you aren’t giving them long-term guidance.”

Agent Interview: Ginger Clark by Anita Loughrey from Cynsations. PEEK: “Publishing in general is a smaller market than it used to be, so writers need to be realistic about how much money they can make, and how long it could take to build an audience successfully.”

Agent Interview: Jill Cocoran by Alice Pope from Alice Pope’s SCBWI Children’s Market Blog. PEEK: “Regarding websites, I think websites are a must for unpublished and published illustrators. If I hear of you, I want to click and see your work immediately, while your name is still in my mind. So do editors and art directors.”

Agent Interview: Jill Corcoran from Kirkus Reviews. PEEK: “…there is a greater emphasis on unique and authentic concepts and voices than ever. Today, the trends are fresh ideas, characters, and plotting. Discoverability is a huge obstacle, so the more marketing hooks publishers can use to help readers find your book, the better.”

Agent Gemma Cooper

Agent Interview: Gemma Cooper by Melanie Rook Welfing from Cynsations. PEEK: “Nearly every part of the publishing process has the agent and author in discussion first before coming to a consensus on a response to external parties. We discuss edits, covers, publicity, marketing, events, next book deals, new ideas, foreign offers, etc.”

Agent Interview: Sara Crowe from Pub(lishig) Crawl. PEEK: “For a new writer I want to love it first, but I also want something new—something that one of my talented super clients is not already doing. I have to work for my clients first, and they give me a lot to read.”

Agent Interview: Sara Crowe by Cynthia Leitich Smith from Cynsations. PEEK: “The category is splitting–that there is young adult, both contemporary and fantasy, that is crossing over to the adult market, which I think is a great thing, as I know I read and enjoy so much young adult.”

Agent John Cusick

Agent Interview: John M. Cusick from Kirkus Reviews. PEEK: “Young adult and middle grade continue to be rapidly expanding markets. There is a push to publish diverse voices and characters, which makes kids’ and teen fiction one of the most exciting places to be. Every year I see new kinds of stories and authors pushing the boundaries when it comes to style and subject matter.”

Agent Interview: John M. Cusick by Jenny Desmond Walters from Cynsations. PEEK: “It shocked me to learn how many drafts a manuscript goes through before it’s acquired, let alone hits the shelves. Even authors with fabulous careers and awards still need at least one fresh pair of eyes after a first draft. It’s just part of the process.”

Agent Interview: Sarah Davies by Tami Lewis Brown from Through the Tollbooth. PEEK: “The more unsettling the themes, the more ‘important’ the story needs to be to justify that, especially perhaps if unpleasant things are happening to young characters. There’s a level of graphic violence that I would personally have problems with, and no doubt like most people I have some kind of instinctive threshold within me that I’m uncomfortable crossing.”

Agent Erzsi Deàk

Agent Interview: Erzsi Deak by Cynthia Leitich Smith from Cynsations. PEEK: “I’ve always been an advocate for others (in high school I actually wanted to be a labor negotiator!), so agenting is an extension of this. Being an agent allows me to shout about projects and people I love but to also work with said projects and people to get them to that ‘lovable’ point.”

Agent Interview: Jennifer DeChiara by Tina Morgan from Fiction Factor. PEEK: “Unless it’s directly pertinent to your book, agents don’t need to know that you’re a wife or father of three. Don’t tell me your life story; it reeks of amateurism.”

Agent Interview: Adriana Domínguez by Nilki Benitez from musings. PEEK: “Adriana is based on the East Coast (New York), and interested in building a strong list of children’s picture books, middle grade novels, and (literary) young adult novels.”

Agent Interview: Eddie Gamarra by Lee Wind from I’m Here. I’m Queer. What the Hell Do I Read? PEEK: “Eddie Gamarra is a literary manager/producer at The Gotham Group, specializing in representing works for TV, Film and Dramatic rights.”

Agent Interview: Barry Goldblatt by Cindy Pon from Diversity in YA. PEEK: “I’ve never had a book rejected because of LGBT content, or because of the race or religion of characters in the story. In fact, quite the opposite experience, really: editors are readers at heart, and they’re eager to find a new story, a new approach, a new worldview.”

Agent Interview: Barry Goldblatt by Cynthia Leitich Smith from Cynsations. PEEK: “I’m certainly more hands-on than many agents. I want to be able to send out a manuscript that simply can’t be refused, so I want it as polished as possible before I let anyone see it.”

Agent Interview: Karen Grencick by Kim Zachman from Middle Grade Mafia. PEEK: “Much like a wine connoisseur evaluates a glass of wine and looks for certain marks to be met, editors do the same thing.”

Agent Interview: Kirsten Hall by Shelley Koon from As the Eraser Burns. Note: Kirsten represents authors, but her primary focus is illustrators.

Agent Interview: Elizabeth Harding by Valerie Peterson from The Balance. PEEK: “Where the retail booksellers have been the primary market for adult books, for children’s books, the school and library markets have always been really important to sales — and there’s been a recent resurgence.”

Agent Interview: Elizabeth Harding from Chasing the Crazies. PEEK: “Sometimes I ask for a manuscript because the genre is one that helps fill a hole on my list. Or the subject happens to be of personal interest to me. But always I have to feel like this is a writer who can tell a story and develop a character.”

Agent Interview: Alyssa Eisner Henkin from Denise Jaden. PEEK: “I am accepting new queries primarily for YA and MG novels. I am also looking to take on a very select number of new and returning author/illustrators with picture book dummies, as well as picture book manuscripts by previously published authors only.”

Agent Mandy Hubbard

Agent Interview: Mandy Hubbard from YA Misfits. PEEK: “I’m pretty editorial, I think. Many agents are, but with my background as an author, I think I can see things from a different point of view. I also get the angst and fears and everything that goes along with this career, so I try to dole out the pep talks as often as I can!”

Agent Interview: Mandy Hubbard by Cynthia Leitich Smith from Cynsations. PEEK: “Sometimes it’s an amazing hook, but other times the book’s concept is rather quiet and it’s the voice that sells me. Each book has it’s own special mix, and that’s what makes slush-reading so exciting. Every time I think I know what I want, I find something that totally breaks the mold.”

Agent Interview: Michelle Humphrey from Denise Jaden. PEEK: “I’m looking for YA (contemporary, historical, romance, quirky – not really genre fantasy, but I’m open to fantasy elements)–anything with a distinct voice. I am especially fond of subversive heroines–characters who break the rules and aren’t afraid to set themselves apart from the crowd.”

Agent Interview: Emily Keyes from Debbie Ridpath Ohi. PEEK: “Writing for kids is so much fun, but it’s also a lot of work. I think the shorter the book, the more each word matters, so the degree of difficulty actually goes up.”

Agent Interview: Emily Keyes by Jeffe Kennedy from Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers. PEEK: “I like to say the agent-author relationship is kind of like a coworker relationship. You’re the head of the writing department and I’m the head of the selling to publishers department. If we don’t see eye-to-eye it’s not going to work.”

Agent Interview: Ginger Knowlton from MiG Writers. PEEK: “Some attributes that I value are talent, honesty, trust, talent, a partnership mentality, forthrightness, talent, and faithfulness. And a sense of humor. Definitely a sense of humor helps. Did I mention talent?”

Agent Interview: Daniel Lazar from Scripts & Scribes. PEEK: ” I am always a sucker for the American Civil War, World War 1 or 2, French Revolution(ish), the Tudors(ish), the Renaissance. I would be curious to find a sweeping, majestic, universal story of the American Revolution — but I imagine one that is set not just in the Colonies, but across the ocean as well, seeing our storied history (the way we learn it in school) from a new, bigger, grittier perspective.”

Agent Interview: Tricia Lawrence (and Erin Murphy) from Cynsations. PEEK: “What book promotion boils down to is telling a really good story. Most all marketing (even if you’re selling toothbrushes) is about a good story. So authors have a particularly convenient head start on this. They already have the story!”

Agent Interview: Steve Malk from Literary Rambles. PEEK: “…the best thing you can do is to work incredibly hard on your craft and come across as someone who is serious, confident, and thoughtful.”

Agent Interview: Jim McCarthy from LitChat. Peek: “The best queries specifically address why I’m the one receiving them, give information in a clear and concise way, and don’t waste time with bells and whistles.”

Agents Interview: Holly McGhee, Elena Giovinazzo and Julie Just by Cynthia Leitich Smith from Cynsations. PEEK: “We embrace every artistic endeavor, from picture books to middle-grade novels, nonfiction, young adult, graphic, or adult projects. We don’t follow trends—we encourage our clients to follow their hearts. Our philosophy, the world owes you nothing, you owe the world your best work, hasn’t changed, but as an agency we have evolved to keep pace with our clients.”

Agent Interview: Tracy Marchini by Cynthia Leitich Smith from Cynsations. PEEK: “I was thinking this morning about how an author in bygone days might have been a creator first and a business person second. In this climate though, I think you have to wear both hats consistently.”

Agent Interview: Tracy Marchini from Johnell DeWitt. PEEK: “…maybe the biggest surprise is how emotional I can feel over queries. It’s still disappointing when I see a great idea but the writing isn’t strong enough to carry it. I’m always sad to turn those books down.”

Agent Interview: Elena Mechlin from the Writers’ League of Texas. PEEK: “I love the creative process and seeing what our brilliant clients and querying authors will come up with next! You never know what sort of gems are going to be in your inbox when you come in in the morning.”

Agent Interview: Natascha Morris from Johnell DeWitt. PEEK: “As an editor, you have to have a vision for a project to edit it, and it’s my firm belief that an agent should also have a vision. If I don’t have a vision for your manuscript, I can’t be the best agent for you. And you deserve the best agent and the agent who gets it.”

Agent Interview: Erin Murphy from the Class of 2k8. PEEK: “If we’re uncertain which direction to go with revisions, we might test the waters with just one to three editors to start with, so we can try a different version if needed.”

Agent Interview: Emily Mitchell from Writers’ Rumpus. PEEK: “Since my job at Charlesbridge included contract negotiation and management, switching to the agent side of the desk is not much different at all. I still divide my time between editorial work (reading and responding to submissions, offering editorial comments and suggestions to authors) and contract work (negotiating and reviewing contracts, pitching work to editors and third parties).”

Agent Interview: Emily Mitchell from Middle Grade Ninja. PEEK: “I like working with people who are patient, flexible, and positive: all are qualities necessary for survival in this business. If we happen to share a common interest (Musical theatre! Baseball! Shakespeare!), even better – but I love learning about new things from my clients as well.”

Agent Interview: Erin Murphy by Natalie Dias Lorenzi from EMU’s Debuts. PEEK: “Ask questions. You’d be amazed how many questions clients have been afraid to ask that take me just 10 seconds to answer, and they feel so much better afterward.”

Agent Interview: Erin Murphy by Cynthia Leitich Smith from Cynsations. PEEK: “An editor is the publisher’s representative to the author and the author’s representative to the publisher, sandwiched in the middle in many ways. I knew where my paycheck came from when I was an editor, but I often felt more loyal to my authors than to my company.”

Agent Interview: Kathleen Ortiz by Mindy McGinnis from Writer, Writer, Pants on Fire. CYN NOTE: This interview focuses on Kathleen’s personality, not her approach to submissions.

Agent Interview: Anna Oswanger by Cynthia Leitich Smith from Cynsations. PEEK: “Frankly, I’m not much interested in an author’s credentials or marketing ideas. I just want a piece of writing that feels individualistic and tells a good story.”

Agent Interview: Ammi-Joan Paquette by Cynthia Leitich Smith from Cynsations. PEEK: “The road to publication is long and winding, and while it’s different for each person, I think at some point every writer has to just resolve to enjoy the ride, no matter how long or crazy the road gets.”

Agent Interview: Alexandra Penfolds by Anna Jordan from Sporty Girl Books. PEEK: “I’ll fall for an authentic voice in a heartbeat. Give me a fresh, real voice and I’ll put everything aside to finish that manuscript.”

Agent Interview: Beth Phelan from CBC Diversity. PEEK: “The most precious thing I’ve learned over the years is that it’s okay to be wrong. I see a lot of things on submission and it’s easy to start thinking I’m supposed to be able to recognize greatness as if it’s a black-and-white thing. But that’s not true”

Agent Interview: Rubin Pfeffer from Johnell DeWitt. PEEK: “I look for characters who are vulnerable yet brave, wise, and/or clever. I love a good yarn. You’re going to hear this from everyone, of course. I love when I can really, really believe the voice.”

Agent Interview: Jessica Regel from Realm Lovejoy. PEEK: “Of course I’d love for a book to come in 100% polished and ready to submit to editors—but that very rarely happens. Typically, I go through one or two rounds of edits with an author. You only get one shot with an editor, so whatever I submit out needs to be as perfect as possible.”

Agent Laura Rennert

Agent Interview: Laura Rennert by Jenny Desmond Walters from Cynsations. PEEK: “For already established clients, I am typically working to strengthen their position within an existing house–assuming of course that we’re happy with the publisher. Certainly, I want to negotiate for the best deal terms possible and, ideally, want the terms to improve for each book.”

Agent Interview: Chris Richman from Alice Pope’s SCBWI Children’s Market Blog. PEEK: “In terms of what I’m seeking, I’m beginning to get a reputation for the ‘funny boy’ books. Part of that is my own background in comedy, and part of it’s because I truly believe there’s a place in the market for these types of projects.”

Agent Interview: Jennifer Rofe by Michelle Hauch from Michelle4Laughs. PEEK: “I like knowing that a writer is querying me for a specific reason — because of my interests, because of certain authors or illustrators I represent, etc. It’s also helpful to know if I’ve met the writer before or if s/he has seen me present at a conference.”

Agent Interview: Holly Root by Hebah Uddin from YA Interrobang. PEEK: “I think at their heart, the unifying element in the YA books that sparked the boom is that they were ripe with the flush of firsts–the immediacy and power of stepping out into the wider world, tackling questions of identity and coming of age, surviving your first love and first heartbreak–so it’s exciting to see what the next iteration of those stories will be.”

Agent Interview: Holly Root from LitChat. PEEK: “I will say some of the most fun things I’ve done have come out of authors diverging from what I originally signed them for. I really respond to voices, which means I’m usually pretty game to go wherever an author I love wants to roam.”

Agent Interview: Elana Roth by Alice Pope from Alice’s CWIM Blog. PEEK: “Editors have to be pickier and pickier, and it’s in everyone’s best interest to iron out any issues that might give an editor pause before acquiring the book.”

Agent Interview: John Rudolph from Literary Rambles. PEEK: “…he is keenly interested in middle-grade and young adult fiction and would love to find the next great picture book author/illustrator.”

Agent Interview: Jennifer Rofé from The Brown Bookshelf: United in Story. PEEK: “Ten percent of my clients are ‘people of color.’ Though this isn’t a primary factor in my selection process, I do find myself attracted to stories featuring multicultural characters where race isn’t the issue.”

Agent Interview: Rebecca Sherman from Literary Rambles. PEEK: “…it’s my job to represent an author’s career, not just one book. That is a huge investment and I hope clients will recognize and appreciate that.”

Agent Interview: Rebecca Sherman by Cynthia Leitich Smith from Cynsations. PEEK: ” I see the client, editor and agent as three integral members of a team. The agent should not be seen as the middleman between the editor and author. The editor and author should maintain a direct relationship. Instead the agent is there to handle business matter (negotiations of offers, contracts, subsidiary rights, etc) freeing the client to focus on creative matters with her editor and publisher.”

Agent Interview: Kelly Sonnack by Chuck Sambuchino from Writer’s Digest. PEEK: “I’d love to see more well-written and clever middle grade fiction. There’s a need for it right now and I see a lot of potential in this market.  I’d also love to see more memoir for kids – especially cultural memoir about growing up in different countries, identity, and living across cultures.”

Agent Interview: Rosemary Stimola by Cynthia Leitich Smith from Cynsations. PEEK: “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.”

Agent Interview: Ann Tobias by Harold Underdown from The Purple Crayon. PEEK: ” It takes a lot of energy just to exist in New York, and to exist in a field where there is pressure and time constraints. People are being agents all over the United States now, and if you are paying attention to the field, you learn everything you need to know plenty soon.”

Agent Interview: Susie Townsend from Anna Banks. PEEK: “When I was a kid, I used to imagine myself as a character in my favorite books. That’s what I want: a manuscript that’s going to make me tempted to write fan fiction so I can be a part of that world.” See also A Day in the Life of Agent Susie Townsend from Pub Crawl.

Agent Interview: Tina Wexler by Alice Pope from Alice’s CWIM Blog. PEEK: “I represent mostly YA and MG (and adult non-fiction too). Within those categories, I’m interested in most everything: magical realism/paranormal, mysteries, adventure, suspense, contemporary, and some non-fiction for teens. I tend to shy away from high fantasy and poetry collections, but I love novels in verse.”

Agent Interview: Caryn Wiseman by Michelle Hauch from Michelle4Laughs. PEEK: “It’s not required by any stretch of the imagination, but a writer with “the whole package” (great manuscript plus strong promotional skills) has an advantage.”

Agent Marietta Zacker

Agent Interview: Ken Wright (and Authors Steve Sheinkin, Marc Aronson, and Deborah Heiligman) by Barbara Krasner from The Whole Megillah. PEEK: “When I was at Scholastic I was the editorial director for nonfiction books. When I left to become an agent, it seemed to me that many of the nonfiction authors I’d worked with as an editor, or I knew of by reputation, were either unrepresented or under-represented, and it seemed like a good opportunity for them, and for me, to focus on trying to help them with their careers.”

Agent Interview: Marietta Zacker by Elisabeth Norton from Cynsations. PEEK: “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.”