The Silent Treatment

Empty MailboxIf you’ve every queried an agent you’re probably familiar with the no response = not interested policy. This is when an agent/agency says if you haven’t heard from them within X-amount of time, they’re passing on your project. This isn’t a new policy. It’s been around for years.

Writers hate this policy. We get a little neurotic about it. Waiting to see if someone likes us – Ahem! I mean, likes our project – is hard. How can we know if an agent “just isn’t into us” if all we get is the silent treatment?

On the other hand, agents are busy. I mean busy! One agent reported getting 20 queries a day, and at the time of the blog-post, had 967 queries in her in-box. Is she supposed to send a personal email to all of them?

This has been a controversy for a while now, and there seem to be great points on both sides of the debate.

too much spamThe agents say:

  • Not having to send rejection letters means they can actually read more query letters, request more materials, and find YOU sooner!
  • An agent’s time is valuable! They’re busy. They have their normal day-to-day duties to tend to – like selling their client’s books!
  • It’s a business transaction. Do you get a response from every job you apply to? No.
  • There’s negative karma with sending out rejection letters.
  • Agents have the right to create whatever submission policy they like.

But… some agents also say:

  • Responding to queries gives them a “leg up” on other agents. Now they have the “kindness factor.”
  • They like to send responses because it allows them to feel like they have no loose ends.

Patience ImageMeanwhile the writers…

  • Find it discouraging. A no-response can feel harsher than a rejection letter. Does the agent not respect them or their time?
  • It can make a writer feel like they are in limbo. Did the query letter even get to the agent? Was it ever considered? Did it get stuck in the SPAM filter? (To combat this problem, some agents have created auto responders which let a writer know the query was received).
  • May the mass-querying begin! If a writer knows they aren’t going to hear from an agent for months (and possibly never at all), they may start to send out mass queries. Of course, this creates more letters in an agents in-box, and the cycle begins.

Is there an easy answer to this? No.

I think an agent has every right to conduct business any way they see fit. But I do have respect for those who have sent me a rejection letter in the past. It shows me they’re a professional and they respect me. Personally, I am more likely to recommend that agent to my writer friends (even though I was rejected).

As for us writers, I think we all need to take a step back and practice our skills of patience and perseverance. The right agent is out there waiting for us – and they will contact us when the time is right.

Patience

Want to read more about this subject? Check out these other interesting articles:

SCBWI Open Letter to the Industry

Agent Natalie Lakosil’s Opinion

Agent Rachelle Gardner’s Opinion

Agent Janet Reid’s Opinion

How to Think Like a Publisher

At the 2010 SCBWI LA Conference, senior editor Stephanie Owens Lurie shared her point of view of the publishing process. Her intention was to get the audience to think about publishing from the eyes of those on the other side. So here is what the publishers are think and how you can fit into the process:

1. Considering Books Submissions

  • One must ask what are the book’s merits? How well does the book fit with our list? Do we already have too much paranormal romance? Etc. What is the ideal publishing season for this book? How soon can we get it to market?
  • A publisher’s goal is to fill a hole as soon as we possibly can.

Tips for Authors Submitting:

  • Keep in mind a publisher’s strengths when you submit to them.
  • Familiarize yourself with the formats and age groups.
  • Research publisher’s lists. Go to the library or book store and look at what one particular publisher publishes.
  • Beware of something that is too similar to another book already on their list.
  • Don’t submit a book to a publisher in a category that they don’t publish.
  • Look at great resources like publisher’s marketplace online.
  • Polish your work! Get it ready to be put into publication as soon as possible.
  • Be flexible about your publication date.

2. The Pitch

  • In today’s market a lot depends upon your pitch.
  • The pitch helps the editor to get other people on board for your book.
  • The pitch helps marketing, publicity and sales have an edge.
  • The pitch helps book sellers to hand sell your book.
  • The pitch is how readers will spread the word about your book.
  • A sales rep has about 30 seconds to get a buyer interested in your book.

What An Author Can Do:

  • Develop a log line or elevator pitch for your book. Use TV guide movie blurbs as a way to figure out what makes a good log line.
  • Focus on story. Put your story into one sentence.
  • Example: __________ (Character) is so ______________(personality trait) that _________________ (such and such happens). This is a good way to start your query letter.

3. The Franchise

  • Your book is not just a story, it is a franchise. We want to produce multiple books from your story.
  • We are not looking for just one idea. We are looking for authors that can continue to produce books. (This doesn’t have to be a series). We are looking for authors that we can develop relationships with over time.
  • Chain stores like authors that have books coming out every year.
  • Getting a movie deal for your book is great! It helps to sell more books.

 

What An Author Can Do:

  • Help your publisher see you as a creator of a franchise, but don’t come on too strong. We want to see that you have ideas, but that you are also flexible.
  • Show that you have other ideas within the same age group, if you don’t write series. Your following will leave you if you go too long without publishing a book. Remember that the age group grows up fast and moves on to the next age group.

4. The Deal

  • Books seem to fall into three categories. There are the huge blockbusters (Harry Potter, Twilight, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Hunger Games, etc.). Then there are six-figure books (Shiver, Fallen). And then there is everything else.
  • Publishing is a gamble. Not every book works.
  • Authors can be dropped when an advance doesn’t pay out, and often editors get canned as well.
  • Publishers are under a lot of pressure to find top talent.

 

Tips for Authors With an Offer:

  • If you are in a position where you have multiple offers consider the amount of money being offered. Is it enough to pay your bills? How will it affect the way the publisher markets the book?
  • Consider the marketing plan. Do you get to be a part of it? Do you like what the publisher makes?
  • Does the editor share your vision for the book? Does the editor have time for you? Do you have chemistry?
  • The speed in which a deal is made and the amount of money being offered are not the only important parts of a book deal.

5. The Media

  • You need to help sell your book!
  • Make noise to get your book attention!
  • Try and make personal connections with your audience.
  • Publishers want an author that they can promote. Having a fascinating back story can make you marketable.
  • You need to think about what inspired you to write your story. Does that help to market the book? If so, mention it in your query letter.
  • Your credentials can help sell books if they relate to the story in some way.
  • Do you have an active platform?  An active platform can sometimes be more interesting to a publisher than your publishing or writing credits.
  • Do you enjoy “pressing the flesh” – meaning meeting the people who will sell/buy your book – librarians, kids, etc.
  • Are you willing to promote your book online? Authors are expected to help spread the word in today’s marketplace.
  • Do you have an interesting presentation for school visits or book tours?
  • Share all of the above with your publisher and together you can build a marketing plan for your book.
  • Remember, editors have expertise in the market, so don’t be too demanding or disappointed if they shoot down an idea.

6. The Gatekeeper

  • The gatekeeper is the bookseller. These are the stores, outlets, chains, etc.
  • Books sell for two reasons. One, it is something that the store thinks the customers will busy. Two, the bookseller has an emotional connection with the book.
  • Booksellers take the heat when things don’t sell well.
  • Sales representatives build relationships with booksellers. Sales reps consider who will want what type of books and over time the buyer will begin to trust the sales reps opinions.
  • Large booksellers (Barnes and Noble, etc.) like to have custom content. A B&N exclusive – new chapters of the next book, etc.  This type of thing is unlikely however with a first book.

What an Author Can Do:

  • Be careful of mature content.
  • Introduce yourself to your local bookseller.
  • Inform your editor if you don’t see your book for sale at a local book shop (not the big chains, smaller stores).
  • Develop ideas for custom content.
  • Trust your sales team.

7. The Consumer

  • Most children’s books (picture book through middle grade) are purchased by adults. These are usually women (mom and grandma).
  • Teachers no longer buy trade books anymore due to the introduction of “No Child Left Behind” as they are not focusing attention toward test scores.
  • Things that turn off Mom and Grandma: Bratty kids, lots of text, depressing stories, odd names. Etc.
  • The Cover is often the most important thing in making a decision to buy a book.
  • Teens usually buy their own books.
  • Teens are looking for classy covers. Books have actually become something of a status symbol within the teen world.

What an Author Can Do:

  • Come up with sales handles from the start.  What makes your book different? What will make a consumer pick it up?
  • Compare your book to the competition.
  • Think about packaging. If you have image ideas share them with your editor.
  • Trust your design department.

8. The End User

  • The end user is the kids.
  • Publishers and authors have the same goal – we want to deliver a high quality work in a kids perspective, and grow a readership.

 

What an Author Can do:

  • Write for kids and not for ego gratification.
  • Writing is not just an art form, it is a form of communication (with kids).
  • Put in the time.
  • Know your target audience and don’t condescend to them.
  • Interact with your fans! Go to schools!
  • Answer your fan mail. Interact.
  • Don’t leave your audience hanging. Write the next book!

 

9. The Future

  • For content providers (you) there are so many new ways in which to reach your audience (the kids).
  • Remain competitive, innovative, and profitable.
  • Embrace technology! Publishers are looking for creative people who want to enhance the way in which they communicate.
  • Don’t distrust the future. Be a part of the creative discussion with your publisher.
  • The rights landscape is constantly changing. Be patient.
  • Think about the bigger picture.

10. The Author

  • It’s your job to tell the story. It’s the publisher’s job to sell it.
  • If you and your publisher are thinking along the same lines, then it makes everything easier.
  • Be strategic from submission to final decision.
  • Be willing to promote your book.
  • “I need your book in order to get a raise.” – Owens Lurie

The Ideal Author Will Be:

  • Talented
  • Dedicated
  • Reliable
  • Strategic
  • Collaborative
  • Appreciative

About Stephanie Owens Lurie and Disney Hyperion:

  • Owens Lurie is the editorial director and oversees other editors.
  • Disney Hyperion creates non-Disney content.
  • They publish about 100 books a year. 75 of those books are original, and 25 are reprints.
  • Owens Lurie has been in the editorial business for 30 years. Previous places of employment include Little, Brown and Penguin.
  • Owens Lurie edits about 15 books per year herself.

Check Out Notes From the Follwoing Q&A of This Session Here:

Stephanie Owens Lurie is the editorial director of Disney Hyperion, a position she has held since October 2008. In addition to acquiring and editing picture books, middle grade, and young adult novels, Stephanie manages six acquiring editors. The primary goal of Disney Hyperion is to provide content that will entertain and inspire kids.

The How and Why of Acquisitions at Delacorte Press

Executive editor of Delacorte Press, Wendy Loggia, spoke at the 2009 SCBWI Conference and gave a special insight into the imprint. Read on for details about Delacorte, how to get on their list, and what Wendy Loggia hopes to find in her in-box.

A Bit About Delecorte Press:

  • Delacorte  is an imprint of Random House.
  • Delacorte focuses on middle grade and teen books. They do not do picture books.
  • Delacorte publishes books that are both literary and commercial. A good literary example is Hattie Big Sky. A good commercial example is Secrets of Bee. Delacorte is specifically looking for books that straddle both worlds (commercial and literary).
  • Delacorte has a great history and back list including Judy Blume.
  • Delacorte also likes to promote their new writers, so they don’t get lost on the list and overshadowed by the bigger names. They send out a nice glossy brochure promoting new writers each year.
  • Delacorte has an all female staff. They are always working 2 years in advance. However they can “crash” projects to give a book an earlier release date.
  • Delacorte has a writing contest every year where they publish the book of the winner. They have a middle grade and a YA contest. However, there is not a winner every year if the work isn’t up to par. Writers found through this contest include Joan Bauer and Christopher Curtis.

A Bit About Wendy Loggia:

  • Wendy Loggia is the editor of such books as: The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants by Ann Brashares, The Magic in Manhattan Series by Sarah Mlynowski, and Going Bovine by Libba Bray.
  • Wendy Loggia reports to Beverly Harrowitz. However Loggia has a lot of power and if she wants to buy a book she can. She doesn’t have to go through an acquisitions process.

Some of Random House’s Other Imprints Are:

  • Kpnof – Focuses on literary fiction such as works of Phillip Pullman, Eragon, and The Spiderwick Chronicles.
  • Random House – Children’s imprint (yes it has a confusing title). Mainly does licensed products like Disney, Thomas the Train, Dr. Seuss. They are starting to do more teen and YA.
  • Robin – Nitche books like pop-up books.
  • Lamb – Literary fiction like Gary Paulson
  • Schwartz and Wade – This is the home of picture books at Random House.
  • Delacorte – Teen and YA, some Middle Grade.
  • Delacorte has three hardcover imprints they are: Yearling (books for ages 8-12), Laurel Leaf, and Delacorte Trade (teen/YA).

Six Ways to Get on the List at Delacorte:

1) The Slush Pile. This is the pile of unsolicited manuscripts addressed “dear editor.” This is the most unlikely way to get published, but it does happen. Some houses do not read through the slush at all.

2) Slush addressed to a specific editor. This is a more effective way to get your work noticed, as the work is targeted. Look in the acknowledgement page in a book you like, they often than their editor. This is a good way to find out the Editors name. Publisher’s marketplace and Publisher’s lunch are good online publications that tell who is selling what and acquiring what.

3) Project with connections. Being referred by an author or a librarian that is active with the publisher.

4) Generated in House. These are projects created by the publishers and outsourced to an author.

5) Agented Submission. This is the best way to get on the list. Agented submissions always get the most attention and are read through more quickly. This is because agents really have a good idea of what is good for who.

6) Buy projects from packagers. Alloy is the best known project packager.

How a Manuscript is Acquired:

  • If Wendy likes the manuscript she can buy it. No acquisitions meeting needed. Her boss trusts her and her instincts. The flip-side of this is she can sometimes find herself to be the only advocate for the book. Wendy does not buy a book unless she loves it.
  • Wendy is not allowed to just buy a book if the advance is too large, say 6 figures. Then the book must go through a “Scramble” meeting where all the heads of the office read the book and make a decision on it.
  • Every book that they are thinking about acquiring gets a PNL (profit and Loss statement) created for it to see if the book is actually a viable product.

What Wendy is Looking For:

  • Wendy Loggia likes zippy language. Witty and fun projects.
  • She likes historical fiction with a twist. She is not interested in a straight historical fiction.
  • She likes coming of age stories.
  • She shy’s away from series. Advises one to create a standalone book, if it is meant to be a series it will happen on its own.

A Look at Book’s Wendy has Edited:

Matisse on the Loose – This book was an Agent submission by Macintosh Otis (??). She really loved the voice of the book. It had a boy protagonist and no sports or dragons. It was a nice slice of life book.

Autumn – Wendy found this book from an SCBWI critique. She gave the writer feedback and then the author resubmitted the manuscript four months later and Wendy bought it.

Puppet Pandamonium – Wendy met this author at a conference. She liked the timeless quality of the book, it was kid friendly, and simple clean fun. She knew it would do well in libraries. I also has a boy protagonist.

Green – This is the first middle-grade novel (Fantasy) by a published author who usually does contemporary girl YA. Came through the Slush pile addressed to Wendy (her first book was not Green).

Second Skin – This book was an agent submission. Commercial and Fun. Wendy really responded to the idea.

Camille McPhee – Wendy liked this book because it has a great quirky, fun, and charming voice.

Magic in Manhattan – Breezy Chick lit, fun voice, high concept.

Wendy is more cautious about taking on a book that is not as polished. She has been burned before when an author who could not deliver. Polish your work as much as possible!

Other Presentations by Wendy Loggia:

Wendy Loggia is executive editor at Delacorte Press, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books. Delacorte focuses almost exclusively on middle grade and YA novels. Loggia is the editor of many books including: The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, Going Bovine, and The Gemma Doyle Trilogy.

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.

Tips for Pitching and Querying Agents

Andrea Brown agent Mary Kole shared the following hand-out with the participants of the OC SCBWI Agent Day:

Tips for Pitching and Querying Agents

Whether you pitch an agent in person or with a written query, your goal is the same: to get us to request your manuscript. But first, relax and take a deep breath. Agents and editors are just normal people who love stories, so you have something in common with us right from the start. You are the world’s foremost expert on your own work. Tell us about it and have fun!

When you pitch in person or query, make sure to answer these question about your manuscript:

WHAT is the genre of your story and which audience is it written for?

  • Twilight is a paranormal romance for the YA market.

WHO is your character?

  • Edward Cullen is your typical teen vampire. Good looks, fast car, no pulse.

WHAT is the strange thing going on in his or her life that throws everything off-kilter and launches the story?

  • Then he meets Bella Swan

WHAT (or who) do they want most in the world?

  • For the first time, Edwards wants a human being more than anything. And he wants her alive.

WHO (or what) is in the way of them getting what they want (their obstacle)?

  • Edward’s bloodlust could drive him to either kill her or turn her into a monster like himself.

WHAT is at stake (no vampire pun intended) if the character doesn’t get what they want?

  • If Edward doesn’t get Bella or, worse, if he turns her, he’ll be forever alone. Literally.

Answer these question about your own manuscript. Read the backs of published books and the jacket flap copy. This is roughly the length and tone you’re going for with a verbal pitch or the meat of your written query letter. Remember, you’re giving the agent a taste of your story…and you want them to ask for more. The most well-crafted queries, in my opinion, are ones that make me care about the story and characters. They make me feel something. They make mem want to know what happens next.

An agent will often ask you a question about your project. Be listening (instead of obsessing about how the conversation is going) and be ready with an answer. Remember, you’re the expert and you’re talking with us, not at us.

Agents want to hear from writers. We want good projects. We simply can’t do our jobs without them. So present the juiciest, most compelling points of your story, mention the important details outlined above, and, finally, have fun and be yourself.

Best of luck with your writing and I look forward to hearing about your work!

Mary Kole is an agent at the Andrea Brown Literary Agency. You can learn more about her and her agency at: The Andrea Brown Website. Mary also keeps up an award-winning blog about children’s literature, writing, and publishing called: www.kidlit.com. Mary is also a big fan of the iPad, but you’ll have to ask her about that.

Eight Myths About Literary Agents

Is it true that big agencies doesn’t care about small writers? Or that everything you read about an agent online is true? Writers House agent, Rebecca Sherman spoke at the 2010 SCBWI OC Agent Day and debunked all the myths you may have heard. So here is what she had to say to set the record straight!

Myth #1: An Individual Author Gets Lost in a Big Agency

Not True! Even though an agency may be big, like Writers House, every agent has autonomy over his or her list. Therefore the choice to choose a client is entirely up to the agent. And even though agents have obligations to their agency – meetings, priorities, etc. agents do work independently as well to oversee their own clients. The reputation of both the agent and the company relies on how he/she represents a client so it is very important to cultivate each career individually.

Myth #2: Everything You Read Online (and on Publisher’s Marketplace) is One Hundred Percent True.

Let’s clarify here. What you read on Publisher’s Marketplace – is - true. However, it may not be the whole picture. We often withhold information because it is  not the right time to make it public. For example we may not want to mention a new sale because a book won’t come out for two years, or we need to protect the material of our clients so it isn’t bumbling around out there in the internet. Don’t over analyze the info you read online, because you seldom have the whole picture.

Myth #3: Agents Will Sign an Author Based on a Book Proposal or Pitch.

You should always, always, always, finish your book before you query an agent! You want to also research an agent before submitting to make sure he/she is right for your work. However, you will never land an agent if you don’t stop researching and SUBMIT!

You can also read Rebecca Sherman’s Do’s and Don’t of Querying and agent here: Rebecca’s Do’s and Don’ts

Myth #4: If I Don’t Hear Back from an Agent Right Away it Means They Hate My Book.

I know that waiting is hard, but in this industry, patience is a virtue! Please don’t take it personally if you have to wait. Agents are busy people, they have more important things to do that just read through the slush (spread the word!). They need to work with their clients first!

A Client = Actual, where as,  A Query = A Hypothetical.

All material will be read and responded to (if you submit to me). I have three very capable assistants who do look through the work first. The Assistant Agent is your gate keeper, and it is their job to know my taste. I have a current list of 25 – 30 clients and they are my priority. I get thousands of submissions every year. And occasionally my work load will reflect if I am willing to take on a new client or not. We will get to you! Patience!

Myth #5: You Should Take the First Offer of Representation That You Get From an Agent

This relates to my previous comment about being patient. If you’ve submitted your work to multiple agents and you get an offer, please keep me abreast to this information. Email me and let me know that you have another offer. I would like a fair chance to review your work, and I will review it if you let me know there is interest elsewhere. Don’t make a decision about representation based on who reads your work first. Find the person who is right for you. Please contact me and let me know of the other offer and allow me a fair amount of time to review it. As an agent myself, I am very open to waiting for clients that I’ve offered representation to so that they can hear back from other agents. This is professional and important. Also, if you decide to accept representation from another agent please let me know that as well so I don’t waste my time on your submission.

Myth #6: Agents Just Want to Sell Your Book, they are Salesmen and Accountants.

Though selling your book is part of the job, it is not all that the job entails. I also want to help an author develop his/her craft. I am an editorial agent with nine years of experience. I am also my client’s advocate and I want to help them to see the big picture of their whole career. The key between the agent/writer relationship is synergy. I want to help the author strategize, and put the author into the spotlight. I also help clients to manage their schedules if they have multiple books and contracts with different publishers (particularly if they are an author/illustrator). I keep a very open relationship with my clients and make sure they are aware of the whole process, and I also want to be kept in the loop on how things are going between an author and editor. I like to see the new drafts and see how the project is developing.

Yes, it is also my job to sell books, but I am not an accountant. My job is to find the best deal for my client that reflects the worth of the book. It is my job to network, know the editors and what they want, understand the trends, the market, etc. Editors who know me trust my judgment. My reputation with them is important. My taste and how I help an author develop his/her project shows. Editors are excited when I contact them because they respect my opinion and I have the backing of a reputable company (writers house).

Myth #7: Now That You Have an Agent You Will Never Be Rejected Again!

Unfortunately this is not true. Having an agent opens doors you might not have had access to before. But it doesn’t mean that there wont be rejection. You still have to be patient and persist. I love your book. I won’t give up on it. No news does not mean you’ve been rejected. No news just means no news.

Myth #8: Agents Have No Life!

Agents are passionate about what they do, but yes, we are people too! We have lives outside of our work. Again, this is another reason to be patient. I personally also maintain two book clubs outside of my work. These clubs are often with other agents, editor, and librarians. One is a YA/MG book club and the other is an adult book club. I think it is important to read.

I also pitch books to editors. I take this very seriously. (Rebecca shared a pitch letter that she wrote for the book Scones and Sensibility. The pitch letter was clever and creative and reflected the tone of the book, and Rebecca’s dedication to selling your book in a strong and confident way.)

A Little About Writers House and Rebecca Sherman:

  • Writers House is a full service agency which includes a four person foreign rights department, a contracts manager and associate, a three to four person accounting team, and 14 senior agents that cover various aspects of literature from children’s books to adult literature and non-fiction and memoir.
  • Rebecca began at Writers House as an assistant. She worked as an assistant for five years, and learned the business. She began to develop her own small list, and later became a senior agent.
  • Rebecca has been a senior agent for four years.
  • Rebecca’s client list includes: Grace Lin, Bryan Audrey Pickney, and Matt Phalin.

What Rebecca Sherman Likes and is Looking For:

  • Mostly author/illustrators, and less picture book authors.
  • For young adult and middle grade books she likes humor and books that will pull on the heart-strings.
  • She does represent picture book non-fiction.

If You’d Like to Submit to Rebecca Sherman You Should Send:

  • For Picture Book Author/Illustrators: If sending by snail mail include: One full-color picture book dummy image, the full sketched-out picture book dummy, and a typed copy of the manuscript. If sending material online, send the same information in the form of a link to dummy or website. Paste manuscript into text of email. No attachments!
  • For Picture Book Authors: Send a query letter and the manuscript.
  • For Novelists: Send a query letter, a synopsis, and the first ten pages of your novel.
  • For Illustrators: Send a link to your website and a query letter.
  • Don’t pre-query!

And A Few Questions From the Audience:

What are you looking for in a synopsis?

The pitch and the synopsis are two different things. A pitch is meant to lure you in, but a synopsis needs to tell us what happens in the end. Your synopsis can be longer than a page, in my opinion. I only read a synopsis if I have reservations when I am reading the first few pages. I read it to see what the major plot points are that are coming.

How many writers actually earn a living in this business?

That’s a tricky question. I won’t go telling you to quit your day job. A lot my clients are hybrid authors – they do both picture books and middle grade books. This allows them to shine in multiple markets and sell more, particularly when they can get into the school markets. Young Adult books that is much harder to do. Most of my debut authors still have their nine to five jobs. In terms of advances, it’s hard to say. Novels don’t usually go for less that $10,000, but it has happened. A picture book can be around $15,000 and up for an advance. But you have to split that if you are not the author and the illustrator. And picture books in general can be wonky when we talk about prices. YA books can often take a higher advance.

Rebecca Sherman is an agent for Writers House. For over 30 years, Writers House has played a critical role in developing novelists and non-fiction authors. They have one of the industry’s finest lists of juvenile and young adult authors. Rebecca continues to build her own list of middle grade and young adult novelists, she’s looking for books with something to say, books that make her laugh, and characters that truly remind her of how confounding and wonderful (ridiculous! frightening! glorious!) adolescence can be. She is also looking for picture books by author/illustrators that can hold up to readings night after night.

Querying Do’s and Don’ts from Agent Rebecca Sherman

The following is Writers House Agent Rebecca Sherman’s list of Do’s and Don’ts for querying a literary agent. She shared this list at the 2010 SCBWI OC Agent Day:

DO:

  • Begin with the kind of description that would appear on the back of your book or jacket flap.
  • Tell me some brief biographical information.
  • Tell me why YOU wrote this book.
  • Tell me abut interest from or submissions to other agents and/or publishers.
  • Tell me why you are submitting to me.
  • Give your query letter voice.
  • Strike a balance between professional and personal.
  • Always begin with a proper salutation and end with a proper closure.
  • Research agencies and agents.
  • Draw a connection with the agent that you are querying.
  • Base on the guidelines of the agent you are submitting to, include samples – full manuscripts for picture books, sample illustrations, up to ten pages for longer work.
  • Use Times New Roman 12 pt. font or a similarly standard and easy to read font/font size.
  • For snail mailers, include a self-addressed stamped envelope that will properly accommodate the material you sent.
  • Note that you are an SCBWI member and if you attended a conference that the agent spoke at.
  • Note if an editor, writer, or someone else that the agent knows referred you.
  • Know the market you are writing for.
  • Be patient.

DON’T:

  • Make the story or your characters unclear.
  • Devote too much space to biographical details.
  • Pad your query with irrelevant publications.
  • Simply take information about an agent from research and paste it into the query or lead with the fact that you found the agent’s name of agentquery.com, or publishersmarketplace.com, etc.
  • Compare yourself to an agent’s client without showing how you are also unique.
  • Compare yourself to a bestseller or award winner without showing originality.
  • Provide a list of issues that your novel will cover instead of an overview of your story.
  • Tell me that your work is sure to be a success because you tested it on your child, kindergarten class, or other small sample group (especially those with whom you have a personal relationship).
  • Include endorsements from anyone other than prominent authors in your genre/for your age  group or nationally recognized in the media.
  • Put a limit on the time an agent can read the material or assume a sense of urgency.
  • Submit to multiple agents at the same agency.
  • Call and agent unless the agent herself has told you specifically to call.
  • Email if the agent does not accept email queries.
  • Email or writer to ask how to submit to that agent.
  • Be discouraged if your query is rejected. Don’t forget that it is one person’s subjective opinion.

Rebecca Sherman is an agent for Writers House. For over 30 years, Writers House has played a critical role in developing novelists and non-fiction authors. They have one of the industry’s finest lists of juvenile and young adult authors. Rebecca continues to build her own list of middle grade and young adult novelists, she’s looking for books with something to say, books that make her laugh, and characters that truly remind her of how confounding and wonderful (ridiculous! frightening! glorious!) adolescence can be. She is also looking for picture books by author/illustrators that can hold up to readings night after night.