Monday, October 31, 2016

Into the Woods...

Karen Grencik

... in search of red foxes.

I graduated from the graduate program at Vermont College of Fine Arts Writing for Children and Young Adults (VCFA) with a four-book contract for picture books that highlighted my love of American folklore and history. But, as much as I knew about writing and story, I knew nothing of the business of children’s publishing. And it is, foremost, a business.

I signed on with the first agent who would help me with the multi-contracts. This relationship wasn't a hard find. I already had the contract in hand, or rather contracts. This meant, I already did the hard work. This is never a good idea. Like any relationship, you want to get to know each other, ask questions, and make sure it's a good fit. You don't get married after only a first date. And an agent-writer relationship is akin to a marriage. ( See Mary Ann's wonderful discussion on her relationship with agents!) This agent sealed the deal with the contracts, but a couple of significant  issues arose. She had signed the boiler plate contract. The contracts included a couple of damaging, very strict clauses:  the option clause, which gives the publisher the privilege of publishing your next book, and the non-compete clause, which restricts the author from publishing another book that competes with the work in question. This first agent didn't negotiate to reword or remove them, and I didn't know enough to ask what they meant. Needless to say, that relationship ended in a quick divorce. I found another agent, via one of the agent's clients, but more problems arose.  According to this new agent, because of these clauses, I couldn’t submit work elsewhere, and she couldn’t renegotiate the clauses because she wasn't the agent on record.

 In other words, my career was not only stalled, it was completely derailed.

 That relationship also quickly, of course. Determined, I went to Author’s Guild, learned what I had to in order to understand these clauses, and then I renegotiated the particular clauses myself.

My first two picture books came out in 2009, eight years after signing the contract. The second book was published a year later. The third book came out in 2012, eleven years after signing the contract. The fourth contract was cancelled. Thankfully, I had a strong circle of friends, in particular Eric Kimmel and Marion Dane Bauer, who understood that business side of things and shared their wisdom and support through those many years.

But there was yet another, stronger riptide I had to steer through. Beginning in 2001, the children’s market was changing dramatically. The folklore picture book market was bottoming out. The very genre that I had studied, loved, and sought as my career was no longer an option. What the heck do I do now? Where do I go from here?

Writers have to find a way to adapt. 

Into the woods I went, searching for a place where I belong. 

The challenge became in combining all that I had learned and loved in folklore and history. For a long while, it was a hit-and-miss effort. Finally I had this manuscript, Big River’s Daughter. It was a middle grade novel, an historical American fantasy. By now, I was unsure if it even fit in a market that no longer viewed folklore as relevant. Even historical fiction was having a hard time.

And that’s when I learned my greatest lesson: the importance of patience and perseverance.

I met Emma Dryden via Facebook, when she was describing her experience as a passenger on a Windjammer cruise – the very one I had gone on as I was researching my book, Big River’s Daughter! I’ve known about Emma for decades; she’s legendary in the field. It turns out, she had just started her own business, drydenbks. I signed up, asking her a crucial question: Where do I fit in now?

And of course, Dumbledore that she is, she helped clarify my thinking and create a plan that would help me achieve my goals. Not only do writers have to adapt to the shifting markets, sometimes they have to make their own place.

Part of that plan included an introduction to agent Karen Grencik, who it turns out had just started a new agency, Red Fox Literary. And this time, I wasn’t shy about asking questions – even dumb ones. And we talked, and talked, and talked. I was cautious given my previous experience. Still, it didn’t take long before I knew: She was the one! One month after we teamed up, Karen sold Big River’s Daughter. Three months after that, she sold my second middle grade novel, Girls of Gettysburg.

All things happens for a reason at the time they are supposed to happen. As River plunges into the wilds of the frontier, taking on the Pirates Laffite and the extraordinary landscape of the mighty river herself in the rough-and-tumble Big River’s Daughter, there is that truth of River’s journey: if one perseveres, life can be full of possible imaginations.

 Speaking of perseverance and possible imaginations, don't forget to enter our Book Giveaway to win a copy of the Children’s Writers and Illustrators Market 2017!

--Bobbi Miller

Friday, October 28, 2016

The Great Agent Hunt: Eight Lessons Learned.

     I am fortunate.  In the past fifteen years, I've sold and published a dozen books, more or less. (Let's not talk about the one I sold five years ago and has yet to be published.) When I say I sold them, I mean exactly that. I do not have an agent.

     I would love to have an agent to take over the time consuming details of submission and contracts. A writer without an agent doesn't have a snowball's chance in July of getting any meaningful changes to a contract.

    In my search for the Right Agent, I've submitted and schmoozed and networked for ten years...and I still don't have an agent.

     Why not?

    It's a combination of personal taste (the agent's) and your potential to make the agent buckets of bucks. I've been told I'm too "literary" as opposed to a book that could become a cartoon series, complete with action figures.  I write historical fiction, which is a "hard sell." (At least the agents I queried felt that way.) Many agents do not like representing picture book authors who are not also illustrators. Guess who writes picture books but is not an illustrator?

    Let me tell you about my Quest for the Perfect Agent, and the lessons I learned.

    Lesson One:  It's harder to publish without an agent than it was in 2000.

    When I sold My Best Friend in 2001, there were still a number of major publishers who would read slush pile (unagented) submissions. This number has dwindled considerably over the years. I publish with three different houses; only one of them still takes unsolicited manuscripts.

     My Best Friend won two major picture book text awards. I've lost count of the number of reading lists and college courses that use this book.  Not too shabby for a book published eleven years ago. Today, it might never be read by an editor at all, without an agent pitching it.
At the Zolotow Awards for My Best Friend. I'm standing between Gretchen Will Mayo, and TA JoAnn Early Macken.
       Lesson Two:  Having a publishing track record does not guarantee you an agent.

      I sold my second book, Yankee Girl to another publisher after it was turned down by the company who bought My Best Friend.  Yankee Girl received a lot of attention for a first novel.  Publisher's Weekly made me one of their "Flying Start" authors. There were some starred reviews, as well as some not so stellar ones. In fact several library systems and schools banned the book.  It was long-listed as an ALA Notable Book, was an Outstanding Social Studies book, and nominated for a dozen state book awards.  The first printing sold out in six weeks, which is a rarity.

     With all this attention, I some how thought that an agent would arrive on my doorstep with balloons, roses and one of those giant cardboard checks, and a contract. Obviously I had seen too many Publisher's Clearing House ads.

      Lesson Three:  Literary agents don't recruit. You have to go looking for them.

      Once I stopped imagining hordes of agents clamoring for my attention, I began The Great Agent Hunt.  I queried, I pitched, I struck out.

      Lesson Four:  Agents' slush piles are not the same as an editor's slush pile.

      Sometimes, if you're lucky, an editor might say, "This book isn't right for us, but I like your style. Feel free to send me anything else you write.

      There are no second chances with agents. Send your most polished pitch/manuscript because once an agent has rejected you, you can't pitch to them again. They have already formed their opinion as to whether you are "their kind of author."

      After a solid year of trying, I had a long list of agents who had decided I was not their kind of author.

      Lesson Five: Agents rarely sign clients from the slush pile.

      After re-reading Guide to Literary Agents, I learned the vast majority of agents will only read pitches/queries/manuscripts "recommended by a current client of the agent."  I had lots of friends with agents, who all generously recommended me to their agencies.

     I submitted my next novel to Joe Agent the hip-hop-happening Rock Star of children's agents, recommended by multiple friends who were clients.
He read the first three chapters, then called me.

     "This is great!" he enthused so loudly I had to hold the phone away from my ear.  "Send me the rest, tout suite!"

    I dropped the phone and dashed down to Fed Ex with the remaining 250 pages. Overnighting the manuscript to New York cost me forty dollars. But who cared? I was going to be in Joe Rock Star's world.

   A week later, Joe RS called me back. I trembled as I answered the phone.

  "I gotta tell you, I was really disappointed with the rest of the book," he said.

     I stopped trembling.  At the end of an hour, I learned I'm too literary, nobody likes historical fiction and he didn't care that my first two books were successful. So much for the Rock Star.

     I was afraid to the submit to the next friend-recommended agent. If Joe had been The Rock Star, Josephine Agent was a Multimedia Superstar/Agent. She represented adult best sellers, and Newbery winners.  Her books were optioned for movies. I sent my pitch.

    Another phone call. In a five minute monologue, this woman rattled off her credentials.  Another request for the book "And I mean I want it on my desk tomorrow."

   Another Forty bucks to Fed Ex.  Then I waited.  And waited. I tried to contact her. Email, snail mail.  I even tried calling her. Whoever answered her phone had never heard of me, or my book, and no, Josephine was too busy to talk to this person who said she sent a book.  I never heard word one from Josephine, her agency or any of their minions.

    Lesson Five:  All agents are not created equal.

    Anyone can say they are an agent. I had a friend who found an agent in an LA bar. The "agent" was really an unemployed actor with no publishing experience at all. Fairy tales can come true. My friend's book became a best-seller and was optioned for a movie (that was never made.)  If this guy had not been my husband's life-long friend, I would not have believed any of it.  Until I saw the book on the New York Times bestsellers. I would say the whole thing never happened.

    Another friend mentioned her agent. After so much querying, I knew who was who at the agencies.  Her agent was unfamiliar to me.  My friend couldn't tell me what writers she represented or how many books she had sold.

    I looked up Unfamiliar Agent on the website Predators & Editors which used to call out the fakes, frauds and phonies in the publishing world. (Alas, this site is no longer operational, for lack of some to maintain the site. Please, someone, volunteer!) Sure enough, my friend's "agent" was on the Predator's list.  It gave her address as someplace like Pocatello, Idaho. Anyone with a cell phone can work anywhere, but most successful agents live near a major publishing center--NYC, LA, Boston.

    The coup de grace came when my friend told me she had been with this "agent" for five years, with nary a sale to show for it. Or even rejection letters. Just the "word" of this person that books had been submitted and rejected.

    Um...thanks but no thanks.

     Lesson Six:  Don't "marry" the first agent who asks you.

     You wouldn't marry the first person who asks you on a date. OK, maybe you did, but you didn't do it after the first date, right? And you asked questions, lots of questions before you said yes? You did, didn't you?

     An agent is your literary spouse. You're making a commitment "till death do you part." Or you decide, for whatever reason, this relationship just isn't working out. However, just like marriage, dissolving the partnership does not erase the past. Your ex-agent will continue to collect 15% of the royalties for the books he represented. The thrill is gone, but agent's payments are forever.

     Lesson Seven:  Agents work for you, not the other way around.

     Some of my friends go through agents like Kleenex. These authors didn't ask the right questions beforehand. Your agent should be compatible with your work style and expectations.  Here are some questions to consider.

     Will the agent represent a book he doesn't personally like?  The answer is usually no; it's hard to sell something you aren't totally sold on yourself. At this point, your agent has become another layer of possible rejection before an editor even sees the book.

     Does the agent help with revisions, or do they simply send out the book as received?

     How many clients do they handle and who are they? (There is no such thing as "literary confidentiality.) What books have they sold recently?

    How many times will your book be submitted, before the agent decides it's unsellable?
Some authors are unpleasantly surprised when their agent submits to three "big box publishers" and considers the job done. Why? Because smaller publishers offer smaller advances, which means a smaller 15% for the agent. It's not worth their time.

    Do you like and trust this person?  It's tough being "married" to someone you don't even like. And you would sure want to trust someone who is handling your money.

    Lesson Eight:  Don't give up hope.

    If you really, really want an agent (and I do) don't give up the hunt. I did, temporarily, but I'm ready to get back in the game. My WIP will be finished sometime next year.  There just has to an agent somewhere who loves historical fiction, and wouldn't mind representing picture book texts, no illustrations. As the Michael Buble song goes, "I just haven't met you yet."

And when I do, you will be the first to know.

Don't forget to sign up for our our current book giveaway for a copy of the latest CWIM.

Posted by Mary Ann Rodman

Monday, October 24, 2016

That Perennial Agent Question PLUS Book Giveaway!

That perennial Agent Question.
We’ve all been asked it, in some variation, while speaking at the podium or on a panel, and heard it asked while seated in an audience.
(Indeed, I’ve posed it myself in the middle of the night, in the throes of self-doubt.)
“Do I need an agent in order to publish?”
The variations are sure bets, too, in the following order.
So how do I GET an agent?” - and - “Can you share YOUR agent’s name and contact info?”

Like JoAnn, whose CWIM 2017 article “Be Your Own Literary Agent” sparked this blog conversation and Book Giveaway, I too am un-agented.  I submit my work, when appropriate, to editors with whom I’ve worked and/or connected via previous submissions, conference contacts and networking. My literary attorney oversees my contracts and is also available to negotiate on my behalf.

After a very long residency in the Children’s Book World that began with Jimmy Carter’s election (!), I now wonder if instead of asking that one Agent Question, writers might be better served by asking these six.

(1) WHEN is a writer ready to consider and/or query an agent for representation?

The esteemed Dorothy Markinko of McIntosh and Otis said it best. I’d won a conference competition at which she was presenting and she offered me representation! “Why now and not before?” I asked, reminding her I’d unsuccessfully queried years earlier.  She smiled wide.  “You weren’t soup yet."
If an agent is to sell your work, it must be ready.  Think: a good story, finely-crafted, appropriate for its format, its audience, the marketplace, able to distinguish itself from the competition and/or fill a niche. 
It’s foolhardy to send off work not quite ready for Prime Time, or work that doesn’t showcase our talent, our professionalism, our uniqueness and heart.

(2) WHAT is agency representation and (3) WHY might it matter?

As Carla shared and April poetically underscored, agency representation is NOT a ticket to fame and fortune.
Agent-interested writers can certainly check out the Association of Authors’ Representatives, Inc. and their Canon of Ethics.
However, not all agents are AAR members.
I like former Curtis Brown Ltd. agent and author Nathan Bransford’s agent job description, from determining likely editors and houses, pre-submission editing, negotiating contracts and subrights and tracking the publishing process  to career-shaping and ultimate advocacy.
Given today’s fast-changing publishing world, it’s advantageous to have an invested partner watching out for you, over you, eyeing your back.
Here’s another way to answer the above questions, especially once you’re offered representation: check out these suggestions from AgentQuery. 

(4)WHO might best serve my manuscripts, my career and me?

Lists of likely literary agents abound.
There’s SCBWI’s The Book, CWIM 2017 (Writer’s Digest), Chuck Sambuchino’s GUIDE TO LITERARY AGENTS 2017 (Writer’s Digest), Chuck’s agent blog, AgentQuery and Manuscript Wish List, as well as Cynthia Leitich Smith’s CYNSATIONS blog and Darcy Pattison’s just released list of Top Agents in 2016.

It goes without saying, writers must delve deeply into each agent’s agency, interests, authors, represented books, sales record and online interviews to determine a comfortable fit.  Google is your friend. Do your homework.  

Here’s another friend: Publishers Weekly’s Rights Report that appears each Tuesday and Thursday, for free, as a part of the Children’s Bookshelf.  This is the listing from this past Thursday.

Tracey Keevan at Disney-Hyperion has acquired, in a four-house auction, Captain Superlative, J.S. Puller's debut middle grade novel. In this mystery, a quiet outsider becomes obsessed with the eccentric and enigmatic Captain Superlative, a masked superhero who runs through the halls of their middle school, performing radical acts of kindness. Publication is scheduled for fall 2018, Brianne Johnson at Writers House did the six-figure, two-book deal for world rights.

Which agents are selling books like yours – especially in format and genre?  Or, which editors/publishers are buying books like yours?  Note, color-code and record the editor/publisher, the one-sentence book description (your pitch) and the agent listed in each report.

 (5) HOW do I best connect with an agent?

Even more plentiful than lists of literary agents are instructions for how to query an agent and/or editor.
Check out Chuck Sambuchino’s blog
Knowing your one-sentence pitch is essential.
Here’s a link to Nathan Bransford's post on how to pitch.
Remember, though: successful querying and/or pitching often leads to a full manuscript request.  Make sure your query/pitch makes a promise your manuscript delivers. J

(6) WHERE are the best opportunities for connecting with agents?

Authors interviewed in JoAnn’s CWIM 2017 article share Conference success stories. Check out SCBWI – local, regional, national, international, Big Sur and The Rutgers One-on-One Children’s Literature Conference, to name a few.

But what about online?
CWIM 2017 also shares Lisa Katzenberger’s article “Pitch Agents Through Twitter.”
BrendaDrake offers Pitch War opportunities.
Don’t forget Manuscript Wish List.  
Chuck Sambuchino also offers Dear Lucky Agent ContestsTomorrow is the deadline for thriller and horror mss.!

So, think about the WHEN, WHAT, WHY, WHO, HOW and WHERE of seeking an agent.
Take plenty of B vitamins.  (The response time can prove stressful.)
And keep the Faith!
In the PW Rights Report above, I know for a fact the debut author, a former student, queried 106 agents before successfully gaining representation by the 107th.  And that agent was mentored by the first agent she’d ever queried; the two share an agency.

Faith – in yourself, your story, your writing, is essential.
Faith, as in my 2016 Chicago Cubs who Saturday night won the National League Pennant after a 71-year wait!

If both you and your manuscript are ready for prime time, I believe you can make today your someday.

Good Luck, no matter which submission a(venue) you choose!

Esther Hershenhorn

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Now, speaking of Winners, let’s make today the someday you enter our Book Giveaway to win a copy of the Children’s Writers and Illustrators Market 2017.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Agents: Why & Why Not (in 3-part harmony)

Howdy, Campers! Happy Poetry Friday!  My poem and the link to PF are below.

Pardon me while I st---re--tch for a moment...
...I'm climbing out of my first TeachingAuthors hibernation...I mean, I'm just off the plane from my first TeachingAuthors sabbatical! It was soooo nice to take a break--and I also missed my blogmates--(hi, gang!)

A sabbatical, you say?  Yes!  You see, because we make so much money blogging (thank you, loyal readers), each TeachingAuthor gets two free tickets to anywhere in world for six months. NO WE DON'T!--kidding!

But, I did just get back from nearly a week at Jane Yolen and Heidi Stemple's Picture Book Boot Camp on Jane's farm in Massachusetts. It was informative, warm and inspiring.  Each of ten (wonderful) published picture book writers submitted two manuscripts which were privately critiqued by both Heidi and Jane. Then we plunged into four days of lectures, poetry, philosophy, field trips (to the Eric Carle Museum!) and fabulous food (made by Heidi Stemple, an amazing chef).  Wow

Jane Yolen's Phoenix Farm
California girl holding her first bouquet of fall leaves
I'm thrilled to be back with you! On to my take on our topic--AGENTS: Why or why not--in three part harmony.

Carla started our new series with a dynamite post on this topic. Carla's a master at pulling out relevant points in her posts. On this topic, they are: 
1) An agent is not a magic door to fame and fortune
2) It is a business decision. Writers need to remember that.

Like Carla, I, too, have sold books on my own and have had several agents. I love my current agent and I'm sticking with her--but I also enjoyed selling my own work.'s today's poem:

AGENTS ~ in three part harmony
by April Halprin Wayland

Horace, Sid and Doris—
our Greek chorus—do proclaim:
An agent's not a magic door to fortune or to fame.  

The spotlight's on our hero,
who is doubled up in pain.
"Shall I saddle up and gallop o'er the hills across the plain?

If I ride along alone again
There's no one else to blame.
An agent's not a magic door to fortune or to fame.  

Is it best to take an agent
and adopt an author name?
Or better I should wait a while? (I'm not sure I am game...)

Or maybe...
I will fill my quill...
stay steady...then...take aim?

Horace, Sid and Doris—our Greek chorus—still contend:
An agent's not a magic door to fortune or to fame.  
It's up to her. They take their bows. G'bye—this is

The end.

poem (c) 2016 April Halprin Wayland. All rights reserved.

Greek Chorus?
As JoAnn noted, hundreds of new children's books published in 2016, both traditionally and independently published, are celebrated in the SCBWI Book Blast. You can search for specific titles and authors and even buy books. Among other treasures, you'll find Carmela's new edition of Rosa, Sola (in paperback and ebook) with discussion questions for classroom use.

And be sure to enter the giveaway for Children's Writer's and Illustrator's Market 2017!  It ends on October 31 and is open to U.S. 
For more details see the following post by JoAnn Early Maken.

Poetry Friday is hosted by Tricia at The MissRumphius Effect Thank you, Tricia!

posted with love (and in a jet-laggy mist) by April Halprin Wayland and her trusty dog, Eli who is glad his mom is home 

Monday, October 17, 2016

Do I Need an Agent?

This TA series of posts is about agents.  There isn’t a right or wrong answer about agents.  Like everything else in this business the benefit of having an agent is subjective.  As most writers can attest, it is almost as hard to get an agent, as it is a publishing house. 

An agent is not a magic door to fame and fortune.  

Just because a writer signs with an agent doesn’t mean instant success.  There are many times when an agent sells nothing for a particular writer. 

I began writing without an agent.  I wrote my first four books, found publishers, and negotiated the contracts without any help.  It can be done. 

By my the time I negotiated my fourth book contract, the third with Farrar, Straus and Giroux, they would not budge on some of the contract details they changed on earlier contracts.  They refused to change a lot of things saying this and that was now “boilerplate” in the contract.  I suspect they would not have done the same with an agent representing me. 

I decided an agent could get better contracts for me in the future.  So I signed with an agent before my next book.  I changed publishers for the next two books with a different publisher. Having an agent took some of the pressure off of contract negotiations.  But for that, I will pay her 15% of every dollar I ever earn on that book.  And every other book she sells for me, as long as any money is ever made on those books.    

Every author must decide if the agent can help him or her make 15% more money than they could have negotiated for themselves.  Or is their help worth 15% to them?  

It is a business decision.  Writers need to remember that.

That said, I am happy with my agent.  It was only through my agent that I was asked to write a book for Scholastic titled Tech Titans.  It was a work for hire book that paid well.  I never would have gotten that chance without her.  So for me, she has been a great help to me for that book alone.  Plus she has negotiated good contracts.  And when she calls the editor or contracts department to ask a question, she gets an answer right away.  Then a few months ago, my agent handled all the details when my new book went to auction-which would not have happened without her. 

Can you succeed without an agent?  Yes. 

Are there times when having an agent really helps?  Yes.

Is having an agent a guarantee for a successful writing career?  No. 

Like I said, everything is subjective. 

Carla Killough McClafferty

Enter the giveaway for Children's Writer's and Illustrator's Market 2017!  It ends on October 31 and is open to U.S. 
For more details see the following post by JoAnn Early Maken.