Tuesday, February 10, 2009

AGENTS PANEL: Selling Your Work in These Economic Times

With the economy on the downslide and no upswing in sight, we children’s writers, like everyone else, worry how it will affect our livelihoods. At the SCBWI Winter Conference in New York, four agents assembled in front of the crowd to discuss their take on the economic crisis and told us a little about themselves and their agencies. Here’s what they had to say:

Michael Stearns, Firebrand Literary:
-The market is constantly changing, but it always rebounds.
Firebrand is a small and fairly new literary agency. It is their practice to pool their thoughts together during the editorial process. Therefore, each agent is familiar with what one another is working with.
-Not a big fan of multiple submissions but wants to know if you send him one.

Alyssa Eisner Henkin, Trident Media:
-People don’t want to scrimp on their kids. Even during hard times, children’s books usually do well.
Trident Media is a rather large commercial agency. They usually will take on a client by signing in them on for one year and includes all their work during that timeframe.
-Prides herself as being a hands-on agent.
-Accepts multiple submissions, but would like to be made aware of such.

Michael Bourret, Dystel & Goderich:
-There are opportunities out there, you just have to find them.
-Having an agent during difficult times is important. You need someone to be an advocate for
Dystel & Goderich is on the smaller side, which gives them the opportunity to garner more personal attention to their clients. They handle each client on a project by project basis.
-Personally handles all his own work.
-Accepts multiple submissions, but would like to be made aware of such.

Edward Necarsulmer, McIntosh & Otis:
-Times of crisis can be times of great opportunity.
McIntosh & Otis is a large firm with their own functioning film stage.
-Is the children’s dept.
-Handles all his own work.
-Believes an agent should be a career builder not someone on the lookout for a one hit wonder.
-If it’s not finished, I don’t want to see it.
-Accepts multiple submissions, but would like to be made aware of such.

All four editors agree that each submission should come to them with full disclosure. For example, if you have sent them a manuscript which you have also sent to editors on your own, please inform them of such, including who you’ve submitted it to and when. In fact, honesty seemed to be an important issue for all concerned and it was quite clear that it would easily make for a quick deal breaker. Follow the rules, be courteous and send only your best work.

Good luck!

-Niki Schoenfeldt

Friday, February 6, 2009

SPEAKERS & GUESTS: Highlights from the 2009 SCBWI Winter Conference

Yes, I made it to New York, attended the grand daddy of conferences, and I’m back here to tell you all about it! SCBWI President and co-founder, Stephen Mooser, introduced fellow founder and Executive Director, Lin Oliver. If any of you have never been fortunate enough to hear Lin speak, you’ve really miss out. She is hilarious! And best of all, she is very down-to-earth and approachable. During her career Lin has done almost everything. She is probably most known as a writer for her Hank Zipzer Books which she co-authors with Henry Winkler of HAPPY DAYS fame.

According to Lin, the 2009 SCBWI Winter Conference in New York City was attended by 1,056 people from all over the world and forty six states. Some of the countries represented were Austria, Canada, Denmark, France, Albania and the UK. Unbelievable!

She started off by posting a joke-writing challenge. We were to make believe a literary character was doing a tell-all on The Oprah Winfrey Show and write the show-stopping highlight. Here are a few examples Lin shared:

Captain Underpants confesses he stole from Victoria’s Secret!

Nancy Drew reveals her secret night with the Hardy Boys!

The prize was a $15.00 gift certificate to the conference book store. I was lucky enough to receive one with my winning entry:

The Cat in the Hat is the actual designer of Aretha Franklin’s inauguration hat!

After Lin’s challenge, Author/illustrator, Jarrett Krosocyka (sounds like Krisoska) spoke about the children’s book industry and his upcoming graphic novel series, LUNCH LADY. Jarrett showed us a film he made on writer’s block starring children’s lit greats Jane Yolen, Mo Willems, Tomie dePaola, Jon Scezka and more. It was seriously funny and well worth the laugh. Here is the link if you care to have a gander: http://www.vimeo.com/3029633

During lunch, we were entertained by Jay Asher, author of the new book THIRTEEN REASONS WHY. His speech was titled, HOW TO SELL A BOOK IN 12 YEARS OR LESS. Obviously, this business is tough on everyone. Jay’s new book was all the buzz at the conference and sold out quickly at the bookstore. It makes one wonder why it took him 12 years to finally get published. It makes one wonder how so many great works get overlooked. It makes one wonder when it will be one’s own turn. But most of all, Jay’s speech gave hope. As most of us already know, perseverance is key.

After lunch, an absolutely outrageous announcement was made. Agent, Scot Treimel, graciously offered to listen to pitches in the lobby. As you can imagine, Mr. Treimel was swamped as folks lined up around the room just to get a chance to chew his ear in hopes of finding representation. From what I was witness to, he listened tirelessly to proposals from around 2:30 in the afternoon to at least 6:00 that night. I have decided that Mr. Treimel is absolutely crazy or just EXREMELY tolerant of us desperate-to-find-an-agent writers. My hat goes off to him!

The one and only Tomie dePaola was supposed to attend the conference, but was recovering from an illness. Thankfully, he seems to be doing much better and actually addressed the crowd over conference call after the illustrator award, named in his honor and often paid by him personally, was announced. Lin Oliver surprised Mr. dePaola with a surprise tribute only SCBWI could deliver. The Tomie dePaola Award will now be a permanent fixture at the New York Conference and funded by SCBWI.

Another honored guest was publishing giant, Richard Jackson. Mr. Jackson was quick to point out that he is “happy to be retired from publishing but not from literature.” Mr. Jackson, during his long career in children’s publishing has discovered legendary authors such as Judy Blume, Virginia Hamilton, Chris Raschka and many more. He is also the co-founder of the Bradbury Press, Orchard, DK and even his own imprint with Simon & Schuster.

To discuss the art of writing for Middle Graders, author, Bruce Hale jumped in with his own brand of entertainment including a snappy musical number. I instantly felt like I’d met him before, but I think it’s because he reminded me of a white Damon Wayans and spoke very much like fellow author, Bruce Coville.

Mr. Hale gave us his eight best tips for writing a middle grade novel. Here they are:

1. Grab them from the get go.
2. Remind them of beauty.
3. Make them laugh.
4. Hold up the mirror.
5. Make them squirm.
6. Tell them the truth.
7. Go the extra mile.
8. Write what you love.

To quote the insightful Mr. Hale, “We are creating the readers of tomorrow, and readers are leaders.”

That wraps up the speakers and guests of the 2009 SCBWI Winter Conference. Keep watching for my summation of the agent’s panel and few secrets from the editors. I’m sorry to say I don’t have any door prizes to offer, nor can I brag about winning any. Either way, I consider myself a winner by having been fortunate enough to attend. Cheers!

-Niki Schoenfeldt