Agent Day: Insight from Brenda Bowen

The final speaker at the SCBWI OC Agent Day was the lovely Ms. Brenda Bowen. In addition to her great talk about agent/editor negotiation she also shared the following tid-bits about herself, her agenting style, and what she’s looking for:

About Bit About Greenburger Associates:

  • We are a full service agency with a large back-list that includes The Little Prince, Simone De Beauvoir, Kafka, and Dan Brown. We like to joke that we are the agency that represents Fancy Nancy and Kafka!
  • We have 8 full agents, and a sub-rights dept. Each agent seems to cover a specific area/genre so we have less overlap than other agencies. I am the children’s literature rep!

A Bit About Brenda Bowen:

  • I graduated from college with an English and Art History degree.
  • I started out as a secretary at Basic Books. I became a reader, and worked my way up. I have worked in everything from Middlegrade, to Young Adult (both commercial and literary), Picture Books, Trashy Teen Romance, the whole gamut!
  • Harper Collins created their own Bowen Imprint in 2007, but it was shut down in 2009.
  • When I got canned I decided to become an agent, and I really felt I could compliment the Greenburger agency.
  • I am also a published author and I write under the pen name of Margaret McNamara.
  • Some of my clients include: Rosemary Wells (her first agent retired), Hillary Knight (Eloise books illustrator), Vladimir Redemski, Karen Berger, and Bryan Karas.

What Brenda Bowen Likes and Wants to See in Her Submissions:

  • I am very Catholic in my tastes, but I can like anything from the trashy to the literary.
  • I am not a fan of paranormal books, and in general I am not hugely into young adult novels.
  • I really like to focus on Picture Books through Middle Grade (including chap books and the educational market).
  • What I like is hard to define.
  • I also fear the “conference polish” as Mary Kole mentioned earlier. So I always ask for the first three chapters in a submission.
  • I want to work with people I love to be around! I want to be happy to see their name in my in-box.
  • I would like to do more fiction, I already have a lot of picture books on my plate. I represent both picture book authors alone, as well as author/illustrators.
  • I like boy oriented books that are funny.
  • I want a story that I have never read before.

What Gets Brenda’s Attention in a Query Letter:

  • A catchy title can be reason alone for me to request a manuscript. For example: The Masterwork of a Painting Elephant. This shows me that the author is confident enough to name his/her book this. It shows me the book is not a trend, and the title has a lyrical sound to it.
  • Please query me as Ms. Bowen and not Mrs. Bowen.
  • I like non-classical queries that are whimsical and share a confident story.
  • Have a query that shows your voice.

Other Bits of Advice:

  • If you don’t have an agent, but you do have a relationship with an editor or and offer from an editor, ask the editor to give you an agent recommendation.
  • I don’t have a favorite house that I like to submit to. Different houses offer different things and it is an agents job to know these things. One house may be great for contracts, another may have fantastic production (which is important for picture books), another may have great marketing. There are a lot of reasons to pick a house, it is not always about the editor.
  • If you have a blog, don’t just talk about yourself. Make your blog interesting. Make content that will be interesting to multiple types of readers – teens, writers, librarians, etc.
  • School visits are great for you and your book!
  • Advances always come in three installments. One on signing, second on delivering an accepted book, and third upon publication. Publishers will do their best to push back payment as late as possible, and an agent is always pushing for payment to be sooner.

Brenda Bowen has held a variety of positions during her twenty five-plus years in children’s publishing. She has been editorial director of Henry Holt & Co., Disney/Hyperion, Schoolastic Press, and Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing. Books Brenda has edited have been #1 New York Times bestsellers, and have won the National Book Award, The Newbery Medal, the Coretta Scott King Award, The Caldecott Honor, The Printz Honor, and the Eisner Award. She is now a literary agent with Stanford J. Greenburger and  Associates, and continues to work closely with clients on the editorial direction of their projects.

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2 thoughts on “Agent Day: Insight from Brenda Bowen

  1. Wow! What a GREAT blog posting. “Thanks Ingrid.”

    Brenda is now on my *A* query list for my upcoming middle grade novel titled: The Adventures of a Boy and his Creature.
    Thanks again for a Great posting.
    don

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