Friday, March 24, 2006

Wait for Me by An Na

Wait for Me by An Na (Putnam, 2006). For Mina, it's Harvard or nothing--at least that's what Uhmma, her mother, demands. Plus, Mina has to work at her family's dry cleaning business and protect her younger sister, Suna, from Uhmma's disdain. But Mina's life is a lie. When Ysrael offers his heart and asks what she wants, what will happen next? Ages 12-up.

My Thoughts

An Na also is the author of the Printz Award winner of A Step from Heaven (Front Street, 2001); her latest novel, Wait for Me, was well worth the wait.

Mina is stuck, caught between her mother's expectations and reality, between Jonathan the manipulator and Ysrael the musician, between her younger sister Suna and the boy Mina loves, Ysrael, who represents her freedom and future.

It's both a family story and a love story that asks: Who are you for yourself, not someone else? What do you want? At first glance, the questions might seem easy to answer. But what if your desires, your goals, conflicted with your duty, the expectations you'd been raised with your entire life? What if they were contrary to the needs of someone you loved?

As Mina realizes, "There's never a clear cut, running from one life for another. There was always devastation."

The novel is told in alternating point of view, from Mina in first person and her younger sister Suna, who is hearing-impaired, in third. It's Mina's story, but Suna grounds it, and in many ways, her insights clarify the emotional stakes.

Wait for Me is a gentle, thoughtful, deeply-felt book. I found myself pausing periodically to let it sink in, to appreciate it. An Na's latest novel will speak to the hearts of teens (and adults) who feel trapped in one place and are longing for another.

Cynsational Notes

On Writing: Wait for Me from An Na from her author website.

See a December 2001 interview with An Na as well as additional interviews with authors, YA links, and recommended novels for young adults (note bibliography continues from navigation bar).

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Author Feature: Phyllis Root

Phyllis Root on Phyllis Root: "I have always loved stories. My father told me once that he remembered me reading in a high chair. I suspect this meant we were just short on regular chairs in our house, but it's true I don't remember a time when I didn't know how to read, and I read every story I could get my hands on. Although I wanted to write for children from college on, I figured if I couldn't sit down and write a story, I wasn't a writer (definitely pre-MFA in writing for children days). Finally a friend recommended a course in writing for children and young adults, and I signed up for the eight-week class, taught by Marion Dane Bauer. She told us we could all learn the tools of writing a story, but all we had to do after we had learned the tools was to write from our hearts. I'm still learning what that last part means, but I did start writing in her class, and I have never really stopped. I don't claim to know what I'm doing, but I'm grateful to still be doing it."

Although I was familiar with your work as a reader, the first time I heard it read aloud was by Kathi Appelt at a writing workshop she offered in College Station a few years ago. The book was Big Momma Makes The World, illustrated by Helen Oxenbury (Candlewick, 2003), and it's one of my all-time favorites. I'll never forget how immediate, warm, and convincing the voice was, how I thought to myself, Wow, this book could launch a whole new religion! Could you give us some insight into the story behind this story? What inspired you? What stood in your way?

Big Momma came out of playing around. I had been doing some work for hire writing phonics-based stories for young children and was frustrated by the paucity of words available at an early level. What would the writers of the Bible (whose rich and rolling language reverberated through my childhood religious experiences) do if they had only a few phonics sounds and sight words to work with? No long e, say, or double oo? I played around rewriting creation phonically, then played around some more, rewriting the whole creation story in the remembered voices of my relatives down on the farm in southern Illinois when I was very young. Stories my husband, my kids, and I used to make up while taking a road trip out west found their way into the tale, and there was Big Momma.

When an editor expressed interest, I panicked. I had just returned from a series of school visits in rural communities, in several of which I was told that I could not read from or talk about one of my books, Rosie's Fiddle, illustrated by Kevin O'Malley (HarperCollins, 1997)(illustrator interview), a retelling of a folk tale in which a woman outfiddles the devil. This was my first real experience of censorship, and it shook me. What if Big Momma got published and they never invited me back again? What if people came and threw things at my house because I had portrayed God as a single mother? So I guess you could say what stood in my way was my own fear. Luckily for me, I got over it. And when Helen Oxenbury agreed to do the art for the book, I thought I had died and gone to heaven, because I have always loved her art.

Could you briefly highlight the books you've published since?

Since Big Momma I've published:

The Name Quilt, illustrated by Margot Apple (FSG, 2003), which is fiction but based on a quilt my grandmother had on her bed embroidered with names of friends.

If You Want to See A Caribou, illustrated by Jim Meyer (Houghton Mifflin, 2004), which is the closest to non-fiction of any story I've ever written since almost everything in this story happened, just as it's written, on an amazing sailing trip.

Ten Sleepy Sheep, illustrated by Susan Gaber (Candlewick, 2004), a backwards counting bedtime book about sheep who can't sleep -- like all my books this one had several sources but drew a lot from my daughter's and my farm-sitting experience when the sheep got loose at dusk and we had to try to count them to make sure we had them all back inside.

The House that Jill Built, illustrated by Delphine Durand (Candlewick, 2005), a story that went through endless revisions and only took shape when I sat down with construction paper and scissor and glue and trusted my hands to find their way to the story.

Quack! and Hop!, both illustrated by Holly Meade (Candlewick, 2005), two board books about baby animals, probably at least partly based on the time we fostered a baby duck.

Two books that will be coming out soon:

Lucia and the Light, my own take on the Saint Lucia day story of Lucia bringing light back to her family, a story I suspect has much deeper roots than the ones we know about.

Have You Ever Seen A Moose?, which is a romp based on all the times I've gone tromping around in the wilds looking for things and not finding them.

I'm particularly fascinated by The House That Jill Built, illustrated by Delphine Durand (Candlewick, 2005), which is a pop-up book. How did this come to be?

I kept trying to write a cumulative story for a series, and when I finally came up with one that seemed to sorta kinda work, I was given a contract.

The editor told me all I had to do was "fix the words." The story really needed all the words fixed, because it wasn't very fun or exciting or original or anything. But I couldn't figure out how to fix them until another editor (this is a couple of years later) said she thought we might want to make the book a manipulative book, with lift the flaps and pop-ups and things moving.

Since I'd been doing just this sort of book with my own kids and with their classes at school, I gladly sat down and started seeing what possibilities existed in the story for things to pop or lift up. In the process, the story changed completely, and the nursery rhyme characters started knocking at the door. I made my own version of the book, which I've since lost, that had pop-up strings of mittens hanging to dry, and a pop-up table with bowls of porridge. It was great fun and my doorway into the story as it's now written.

What was the writing and production process like? The challenges and thrills? Do you plan to do more books of this kind? Why or why not?

I'd love to do more of them if I get ideas that will work. I think books that invite a child to physically join in the story are just an extension of what every good picture book should do, which is make a place for the child to enter into the story and inhabit it.

What advice do you have for beginning writers and picture book writers specifically?

Realize that picture books can be very difficult to write well. Read lots and lots and lots and lots of picture books, read them aloud, type out the ones you like best to get a manual feel for how the words look on a page, dummy up your stories to get a feel for the shape of a picture book (not to tell an editor how the story should look), and write and write and write and rewrite and rewrite and rewrite. Don't worry about finding an illustrator but leave breathing room for illustrations to help tell the story. Do not include illustration notes unless they are absolutely necessary. Tell the stories you have to tell the best way you know how, always remembering for whom you are telling them: children. And write from your heart.

Cynsational Notes

Boston Globe-Horn Book Award Acceptance Speeches by Phyllis Root and Helen Oxenbury from The Horn Book.

Phyllis Root from Minnesota Authors and Illustrators.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Children's and YA Literary Agents

The Purple Crayon has updated and expanded its information on children's/YA literary agents, which got me thinking about the subject.

As a threshold issue, too many writers submit to agents/editors before their work is at a level of craft that would merit a close reading/revision request. I did this myself, and I understand that it can be difficult to evaluate one's own status. But critique groups, writing coaches and teachers, as well as simply being well read can offer a feel for the prevailing standards.

This early emphasis on submissions concerns me for a few reasons: (1) the beginning writers are spending time and energy on submissions that could be focused on improving their writing; (2) they're "using up" so many submissions opportunities for a particular work that they may be prematurely limiting their options (as well as those available to a future agent); (3) there seems to be an underappreciation of enjoying one's apprenticeship in the craft.

I'm in favor of writers not only successfully publishing, but, if at all possible, making a living off their writing. However, writing is about process, not product. Publishing comes with its own pressures and responsibilities, which, again, compete with the process. Better to take your time and debut strong than just sell a book to prove you can.

[Note that I'm not talking at skilled writers who've committed themselves over the years to reading and writing with an emphasis on craft. I understand that many great writers struggle for that first contract. When I speak of "early emphasis," I'm referring to true beginners.]

For those ready to submit to an agent, as Harold Underdown of The Purple Crayon notes in Finding and Choosing Literary Agents, the best venues for research include writer's groups. He also mentions meeting agents at conferences. Building on this, I'd suggest prospective clients make every effort to talk to current and former clients about the agent and his/her style, reputation, etc.

It's not the kind of thing, though, that you can walk into a SCBWI meeting and just start chatting up. Candid information is often shared between folks with more of a relationship. An established author is going to shy away from a stranger who pounces her in the bathroom or rushes her after a speech with a request to "give me your agent's name;" "read my manuscript and send it to your agent;" or, say, "let me use your name with your agent in my cover letter."

Harold also rightly notes in his newly updated Children's Book Agents and Artist's Representatives: A Primer that the "big six" New York publishers (HarperCollins, Random House, Simon & Schuster, Scholastic, Penguin Putnam, and Disney/Hyperion) only consider manuscripts from published authors or agents. I'd guess that, though the lists are smaller, in targeting other nationally competitive literary trade houses like Candlewick, FSG, Henry Holt, Little Brown, Roaring Brook, and so forth, an agent would be equally useful. However, in addition to published authors and agents, attendees at writing conferences (especially SCBWI conferences) are frequently invited by editor-speakers to submit to them, usually for a limited period of time afterward. This is sometimes called a "get-out-of-the-slush" card. That said, my Dutton editor mentioned at a recent Austin SCBWI conference that he'd spoken to thousands of writers at such conferences and the resulting sales were statistically insignificant.

Yet I wouldn't automatically count out those ultra-competitive houses. In my circle of colleagues, a first sale to HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster, Random House, Candlewick, etc., is not uncommon (though writers typically secure an agent first). This isn't to suggest that there aren't additional specialty or regionally-based houses that one shouldn't consider. For certain books, they may be the hands-down best bet. But do look at the quality of the books publishered and market strength of the list because the house's reputation will effect yours and the odds of your book succeeding.

As for what an agent does, I'd add to Harold's overview that the sale of secondary (paper, audio, foreign, film, textbook, etc.) rights is likely best left in the hands of an agent. They're in a position to seek out such deals, and they'll take a substantially less significant percentage than a publisher would. Secondary rights sales can, financially speaking, add up and facilitate more readers connecting with your stories.

In addition, I tend to think of agents in two categories: editorial or thumbs-up, thumbs-down. Some highly respected agents do work with their clients on the texts themselves, and their clients greatly appreciate the help. This is especially true for those living in locales remote from a writing community who're perhaps lacking in good critiquers prior to sending off. Those considering an editorial agent, though, should consider that agent's strength in this area (or lack thereof). Other agents simply decide to send the manuscript or not and proceed accordingly. My agent is the latter kind. I prefer to wait for the editor's comments.

Again, as Harold emphasizes, research matters. If such qualities are important to the prospective client, he or she should make an effort to ask about them.

Cynsational Notes

Harold Underdown is a children's book editor and the author of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Publishing Children's Books, Second Edition (Alpha, 2004). Check out some materials from the second edition, and read an interview with Harold.

Children's Book Agents and Artist's Representatives: A Primer by Harold Underdown from The Purple Crayon. See also Finding and Choosing Literary Agents, also by Harold. The Purple Crayon is a highly recommended resource site for those writing or illustrating for children and young adults.

Children's & YA Writers' Reading List: Links: Agents from my website. Includes links to official agent websites, interviews, and related overview resources. See also recent interviews with U.S. agents Barry Goldblatt of Barry Goldblatt Literary and Rosemary Stimola of Stimola Literary Agency as well as Italian agents Costanza Fabbri and Gabriella Ambrosioni of Gabriella Ambrosioni Literary Agency from Cynsations and SCBWI Bologna 2006.

"Do I Need An Agent, and How Will I Know If I Do?" from Cynsations; thoughts inspired by a chat by the same title with Sharene Martin, co-founder of the Wylie-Merrick Literary Agency from the Institute of Children's Literature. See also Wylie-Merrick Literary Agency.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

SCBWI Bologna 2006 Agent Interview: Gabriella Ambrosioni

From SCBWI Bologna 2006:

Gabriella Ambrosioni will be speaking at the SCBWI Bologna 2006 conference in Bologna, Italy, March 25-26, 2006. Other speakers include: authors and illustrators Scott Westerfeld (author interview), Sara Rojo Pérez (illustrator interview), Justine Larbalestier (author interview), Doug Cushman (author-illustrator interview); editors: Victoria Arms/Bloomsbury (editorial director interview), Melanie Cecka/Bloomsbury, Shannon Barefield of Carolrhoda (editorial director interview), Anne McNeil/Hodder (publishing director interview); agents: Rosemary Canter/PDF (agent interview), Barry Goldblatt/Barry Goldblatt Literary (agent interview), Costanza Fabbri/Gabriella Ambrosioni Literary Agency (agent interview), and Rosemary Stimola/Stimola Literary Studio (agent interview). Hands-on workshops and roundtable discussions. See registration information. Note: there have been some changes in the speaker roster since the schedule was first posted; check the website for latest breaking details.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ED: Do your represent authors and illustrators?

GA: Yes, we represent both authors and illustrators.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ED: What kinds of books do you think travel best? Which books don't? Do you encourage your artists and writers to adapt to the "global marketplace?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ED: Anything you'd like to add?

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

Cynsational Notes

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

Cynsational News & Links

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

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

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

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

Monday, March 20, 2006

SCBWI Bologna 2006 Agent Interview: Barry Goldblatt

From SCBWI Bologna 2006:

Barry Goldblatt of Barry Goldblatt Literary Agency will be speaking at the SCBWI Bologna 2006 conference in Bologna, Italy, March 25-26, 2006. Other speakers include: authors and illustrators Scott Westerfeld (author interview), Sara Rojo Pérez (illustrator interview), Justine Larbalestier (author interview), Doug Cushman (author-illustrator interview); editors: Victoria Arms/Bloomsbury (editorial director interview), Melanie Cecka/Bloomsbury, Shannon Barefield of Carolrhoda (editorial director interview), Anne McNeil/Hodder (publishing director interview); agents: Rosemary Canter/PDF (agent interview), Costanza Fabbri/Gabriella Ambrosioni Literary Agency (agent interview), Gabriella Ambrosioni/Gabriella Ambrosioni Literary Agency, and Rosemary Stimola/Stimola Literary Studio (agent interview). Hands-on workshops and roundtable discussions. See registration information. Note: there have been some changes in the speaker roster since the schedule was first posted; check the website for latest details.

In addition to the likes of Holly Black (The Spiderwick Chronicles, Tithe (Simon & Schuster, 2002), Valiant (Simon & Schuster, 2005))(author interview) and Libba Bray (A Great and Terrible Beauty (Delacorte, 2003), Rebel Angels (Delacorte, 2005))(author interview), Barry Goldblatt represents 2006 Newbery Honor winner Shannon Hale, who won for Princess Academy (Bloomsbury, 2005). Barry Goldblatt joins agents Gabriella Ambrosioni, Rosemary Canter, and Costanza Fabbri on the panel, “A is for Agent,” at the SCBWI Bologna 2006 Conference. Erzsi Deàk interviewed Barry in March 2006.

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

Barry Goldblatt: I stumbled into children’s books accidentally, really. I was interviewing for a job in New York, only had two days left before I had to go back home and pack, and was feeling more than a little desperate. Along came the fabulous Donne Forrest, Rights Director at Dutton Children’s Books/Dial Books for Young Readers, who convinced me that a job was better than no job, and hey, maybe I’d even like it. Needless to say, I did, and here I’ve stayed.

It goes like this: rights assistant, later rights associate at Dutton/Dial, laid off, rights manager at the then-named Putnam & Grosset Group, and finally rights and contracts director at Orchard Books. Once Orchard was bought by Scholastic, I took a deep breath and leapt...into self-employment. So was born Barry Goldblatt Literary, now almost six years old.

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

BG: I definitely have an editorial role with my clients, as well as the more typical agent one. It’s not so much that I edit—certainly not in the way a real editor will—but I definitely will talk with a client about a manuscript, about what works for me and what doesn’t, and I’ll often send them back for a revision before submitting to editors. The reason is very simple: editors expect submissions from agents to be that much more polished, that much closer to being ready to go, and I have to meet that expectation if I want my clients to be successful.

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. I talk through work with my clients, tell him/her what did and didn't work for me, where I think it could be improved. Sometimes we agree, sometimes we don't, but the discussion always helps to improve a piece. Once we both feel the piece is in the best shape, then we start submissions.

ED: Do you see yourself as primarily an agent for authors or illustrators? For “older” works (v. picture books, for example), or...?

BG: I mostly work with authors, and right now my focus is on older work, primarily YA. However, I have several illustrators who I keep busy, I’ve got some wonderful picture book writers, and I’ve had some success with some middle-grade fiction as well. The only thing I don’t handle at all is non-fiction.

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

BG: The first thing I do after I read something I love is call the author. I've spent two or three hours with writers discussing their work, their goals, their favorite movies. I'm looking for a connection, a meeting of like minds, someone I can comfortably and without hesitation support and cheer on for twenty years or more. If I find that, I'll offer representation. If I don't feel that connection, odds are we're not going to be a good fit.

ED: What kinds of books have you had the most success with?

BG: Young adult fiction is so hot right now, and that’s where I’ve put a lot of my efforts, but I've also got several highly successful picture book and middle-grade writers. I like to keep my hands in everything, if I can; I don't want to get boring or one-note.

ED: What kinds of books do you think travel [between countries/cultures] best? Which books don't? Do you encourage your artists and writers to adapt to the "global marketplace"?

BG: I think good fiction has the best chance of traveling. Picture books face so many challenges, not just with text but with art, that often prevent a book from truly speaking to the marketplace in another country or culture. But a novel, well, except for historical fiction (which presents its own unique problems), kids are kids, teens are teens, no matter where they live, and there are always themes and feelings that will speak across borders.

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

BG: Well, my role is nil, really. I rarely retain rights to picture books, unless I represent both the author and the artist, and even then, I'll often leave rights in the hands of the publishers. They're better equipped to handle the expense of shopping picture books around, and if there are going to be co-editions, the publisher is going to have to do the manufacturing, so in my mind, too many cooks and all that.

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

BG: Absolutely. I have lots of marketing brainstorming sessions with clients, trying to come up with things that s/he can do on his/her own to best get the word out about a new book. I also try to have these discussions with publishers, but I recognize that they're the experts and also have limited budgets, so I rarely try and force anything. But the more proactive an author and his/her agent are, the better. Sometimes there are ideas that are incredibly simply and cost- effective that the overtaxed marketing departments just didn't have time to think of, but when presented correctly, can really get behind and support.

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

BG: I think everyone needs an agent, but I'm biased of course. Okay, if you're totally comfortable negotiating deals and contracts, asking your editor for more money, being tough when things aren't going smoothly, and generally have a good, levelheaded business sense, you probably don't need an agent (but it still wouldn't hurt). The simple fact is that you're a creator, and the best thing you can do for your career is concentrate on creating, and the best way to do that is to have someone else handling the business side of things on your behalf. Writing and illustrating also tends to be a pretty lonely business, so having a dedicated person in your corner is a nice plus too.

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

BG: I certainly think it helps. I don’t know that I could sell something very effectively if I didn’t love it, couldn’t put my support behind it 120%. It’s not really fair to the author if I don’t.

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

BG: I'm always looking for new talent...complacency is death. There are always holes in my client list I'm looking to fill, types of work I don't represent but would like to. As for advice, well, it all starts with the creating: make your work as perfect as possible, and present yourself and it in a professional manner. Do your homework! The Internet makes finding out about an agent so simple, at least the basics, and there are plenty of resources online to find out detailed info as well. SCBWI of course offers things, and there are several publications on the market that also have in-depth info. Don’t send work that’s not appropriate for the agent you’re contacting, make sure you follow submission guidelines, and don’t expect an answer overnight!

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

BG: YA isn't showing any signs of slowing, though it is evolving, which is good. There's room for so many different kinds of books, for challenging, boundary-pushing books. Fantasy still remains hot, in spite of many editors saying they think it's over (said editors who then promptly go out and try and acquire the latest hot fantasy). I see signs of real recovery in the picture book market, which is quite a relief; it's never going to be the boom market it was in the 80s, but I think picture book writers and artists are going to be pretty happy over the next five years or so. And I am beginning to see a strong surge for middle-grade, or at least I've got a lot of editors asking for it, which is a good sign.

Cynsational Notes

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

Cynsational News & Links

April Lurie: Children's and Young Adult Author: new official website from the author of Dancing in the Streets of Brooklyn (Delacorte, 2002) and the forthcoming Brothers, Boyfriends, and Other Criminal Minds (Delacorte, 2007)(excerpt). See her writing tips and school-visit information. April was born and raised in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn and now makes her home in Round Rock, Texas, just outside of Austin. Read a Cynsations interview with April. Note: I heard April read from the manuscript of her upcoming YA novel, Brothers, Boyfriends, and Other Criminal Minds, this past summer and was wowed.

April's Blog from author April Lurie. Surf over to the blog and (via comments) welcome April to the online children's/YA book creator community! Please also consider linking to her blog and website.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Cynsational News & Links

Janet S. Fox: new official author website. Congratulations to Janet on the release of her debut book, Get Organized Without Losing It (Free Spirit, 2005). (She has been previously published by Highlights and Spider). Janet offers Hot Tips to Get Organized and a Homework Checklist (PDF file). She provides information on her speaking programs. In addition to being an author, Janet is a 9th grade English and middle and high school study skills teacher. She was born in New York City, grew up in Illinois, and makes her home in Texas. Find out more.

"Fundamental is Fun: Reading Gets a Boost from School Book Fairs" by Karina Bland from The Arizona Republic. Find out which books are hot for the book fair crowd. Don't miss the sidebar on "Mrs. Ayala's favorites." Featured authors include David Lubar (author interview).

Notes from the Windowsill: Celebrating Children's Books Loved By Adult Readers from Wendy E. Betts. March 2006.

Katherine Paterson Wins International Award, $640,000 Prize by Robin Palmer from the Barre Montpelier Times Argus. Katherine has won the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award for Literature. It was established by the Swedish government and is considered "biggest international honor for writers of children's books."

Roxane Beauclair Salonen: new official website from the debut author of P Is for Peace Garden (Sleeping Bear Press, April 2005) and First Salmon (Boyds Mills Press, October 2005). Roxane was raised on the Fort Peck Indian Reservation in Poplar Montana and now lives in Fargo, North Dakota.

Subverting Beauty Aesthetics in African American Young Adult Literature by KaaVonia Hinton-Johnson from Multicultural Review.

New teacher's guides from Tracie Vaughn Zimmer include: poetry: Thanks A Million by Niki Grimes; illustrated by Cozbi A. Cabrera; picture books: The Cat Who Liked Potato Soup by Terry Farish, illustrated by Barry Root; Cha Cha Chimps by Julia Durango, illustrated by Eleanor Taylor; The Night Is Singing by Jacqueline Davies, illustrated by Kyrsten Brooker; This Is the Dream by Diane C. Shore and Jessica Alexander, illustrated by James Ransome; middle grade: Abduction! by Peg Kehret; Confessions of a Closet Catholic by Sarah Darer Littman; Free Baseball by Sue Corbett (author interview); On My Honor by Marion Dane Bauer; young adult: Anyone But You by Lara M. Zeises (author interview); A Bad Boy Can Be Good for a Girl by Tanya Lee Stone (author interview); Born to Rock by Gordon Korman; Hard Love by Ellen Wittlinger (author interview); It's Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini; Last Dance on Holladay Street by Elisa Carbone (author interview); My Not-So-Terrible Time at the Hippie Hotel by Rosemary Graham (author interview); and Teach Me by R.A. Nelson (author interview). Tracie is the author of Sketches From A Spy Tree, illustrated by Andrew Glass (Clarion, 2005).
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