Interview with Author Penny Parker Klostermann

klostermann_pennyPenny Parker Klostermann is the author of There Was an Old Dragon Who Swallowed a Knight and A Cooked-Up Fairy Tale (Random House Children’s Books, illustrated by Ben Mantle). She has an informative website with gobs of great info about poetry and rhyme. She recently made a comment on my art notes post that I thought deserved its own space, so I asked if she’d answer some questions for me. She’s given back to the writing community in so many ways, and I’m grateful she took time out to teach us what’s she’s learned about art notes and rhyme.

Thank you, Penny, for your time!

Note: When I got Johnell’s interview questions, she asked about two things — art notes and rhyme. These are two topics that come up often in the picture book writing community. And these are two topics that I had many questions about when I started writing. 

The ONLY reason I have published books, and that I think I have some insight to share, is that while I asked questions and thought about the answers, I worked on my craft. I don’t feel any advice will make much sense or help you unless you’re constantly working on and improving your craft to apply the advice.

Think about all the advice, rules, and information that we hear about writing picture books: 

  • Word count
  • Voice
  • Character development
  • Plot
  • Theme
  • Pacing and page turns
  • Art notes
  • Queries
  • Arc
  • Etc.

I wouldn’t have gained understanding about any of these things, if I’d just read articles and blog posts and asked questions.

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Interview with Agent Lindsay Davis Auld

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Lindsay Davis Auld is an agent at Writers House and is actively building her list. She represents children’s lit, from board books through YA (see here for more details). She taught fourth grade and worked for Harcourt Children’s Books prior to joining Writers House as Steven Malk’s assistant. She calls two countries home and is open to international clients. (And Ben and Jerry, if you’re reading this, please, make her ice cream flavor idea.)

Thank you, Lindsay, for your time!

 

You worked at Writers House with Steven Malk a few years ago and launched several successful books before taking time off to move to England and start your family. Now that you’re agenting again, have you changed how you approach your job, or what you look for in a manuscript? 

Yes, it’s been quite an adventure. In a lot of ways, though, I’d say that, even though I’ve certainly learned a great deal from having children and spending lots of time in bookstores in England, I think I’ll always look for the same qualities in a manuscript: an authentic voice, characters that feel real, a world that fascinates me, and a story I can’t put down. 

What path led you to agenting? Have you always wanted to work in publishing? What would you do if you weren’t agenting? 

After college, I taught fourth grade as a member of Teach for America, and I loved reading with my class and trying to find the right book for each child. It made me realize that I’d like to be a part of bringing children’s and YA books into the world. My first job in publishing was at Harcourt Children’s Books. I then joined Writers House as Steven Malk’s assistant, and eventually began building my own list of authors and artists. Steve has always been an amazing mentor, and I feel incredibly lucky to have learned so much from him, and to have now re-joined Writers House.

I have no idea what I’d be doing if I weren’t agenting. Something to do with stories, I would imagine, as I tend to seek out libraries and bookstores wherever I am, just because I like to be around books.

You and I have a similar situation—we sort of live between two countries. Do you work both in the US and in England? Are you open to international clients?   Continue reading

Interview with Agent Laurel Symonds

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Laurel Symonds recently left her job as marketing manager at a small publishing house to become a literary agent at The Bent Agency. She’s seen the publishing industry from multiple angles and is now offering that expertise as an agent. She is open to submissions for YA, MG, chapter books and picture books (see her bio for more details).

Thank you, Laurel, for taking the time to answer some questions.

 

Your publishing career started in the editorial department of HarperCollins/Katherine Tegen Children’s Books. What led you into publishing in the first place?

I was a Creative Writing major at Hamilton College and, like many who major in similar fields, there came a time when I had no idea what I was going to do with my degree. Fortuitously, an alum (shout out to Caroline Abbey, now Senior Editor at Random House Children’s Books!) spoke on campus about her experience working in publishing. I went on to intern with her at Bloomsbury Children’s Books that summer and completely fell in love with the industry.

You also worked in marketing at Albert Whitman, you’ve worked in a library, and as a bookseller. You’ve seen a book through it’s many phases then—from acquisition through marketing, and into the end user’s hands. How will you apply all of that experience to your new role as an agent?

I feel this diversity of experience really sets me apart as an agent and has provided me with insight that allows me to be the best partner for my clients in all aspects of the publishing process.

What do writers need to understand about marketing/publishing before they become too invested in a manuscript?

Knowing as much about the industry—particularly as far as expectations go—can be incredibly helpful for the entire publishing process. At the early stages of a manuscript, though, the best thing to do is read, read, read. Find out what’s popular, what’s similar (and dissimilar) to your project, and be able to explain why your book has a place in the market. Continue reading

Interview with Agent James McGowan

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James McGowan is the Literary Assistant and Social Media Manager at BookEnds Literary, and is open for submissions. He’s looking for adult, YA and picture books (see more details in the links below). James is also a picture book writer and understands the process from both a writer’s and agent’s perspective. He is a Friends aficionado–my name not his–and contributes to the BookEnds’ very fun and informative blog.

Thank you, James, for your time!

 

 

You started out as an intern at BookEnds Literary before becoming a Literary Assistant and Social Media Manager. What led you into publishing in the first place?

Just like anyone in publishing, a love for books. It took me a while to realize that there were people behind the books working to get them on the shelves (it just never clicked), but once I did, I dove right into the application process and eventually landed an internship at BookEnds.

You’ve done some informative interviews with Jessica Faust on BookEnds’ YouTube channel. Do you have a favorite?

Ha! I actually don’t have a favorite, though Jessica’s rants are always hilarious to me. I will say that they’re a blast to film. Jessica and I have a lot of hilarious false starts that we edit out, which usually end in someone hysterically laughing. And then things click, we put on our quasi-serious faces, and we film our video. We hope they’re both informative and fun, and if anyone reading this has suggestions on what we might talk about, please get in touch!

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCukLkiCzvK6AIMnYIDqxUug

You have a pretty eclectic mix of what you are looking for: Adult, YA and then a big drop down in age to picture books. Why specifically picture books at the exclusion of most other kidlit?

This is a great question! I recognize that looking for only picture books at this time is a bit unorthodox for a kidlit agent, but as a picture book writer myself, they’re something I am drawn to. I don’t have that same connection to Middle Grade, and I don’t feel I’d be the best champion for those kinds of books. Continue reading

A Shell Apart

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We made another international move recently. I gave myself permission to leave my site alone during that time and focus on the needful. We’re still clearing away the dust, but a few glimmers of time have given me space to write something that’s been on my heart.

We visited the beach near our house the night after we arrived. I still love looking for shells, so I combed the beach collecting dozens of pretty, white shells with maroon ribbings.

I soon had both hands full, but I continued to pick up any shell that caught my eye. As I went on, I became pickier–if the shell was cracked, incomplete, or looked too similar to ones I already had, I immediately passed. I left behind a beach-full of perfect, shiny shells. I just didn’t have room to add one more of the same kind of shell to my already full pile.

I kept my eye out, though, for a different kind of shell. Eventually, I found one. It wasn’t shiny or uniform like the others, it was irregular and matte, but it drew my attention because of that. I slid my overflowing shell pile into the crook of my t-shirt so I could pick it up.

I rubbed my thumb over it–rough, not smooth, and not the usual half-clam shape at all. Because of its asymmetry, I wasn’t sure it was a complete half until I felt the smoothness of the edges–then I turned it over and gasped.

Before I finish that thought, I’ll interject something more prosaic: I was, in fact, thinking about writing as I was hunting for shells. Agents and publishers hunt through a sea of lovely stories that meet the highest of standards, but don’t have room to add another like-mannered manuscript to an already over-loaded pile of shiny, maroon shells.

So when I stumbled upon this sort of seemingly bland, but distinct shell, I could see how an agent or editor might feel when a story stands out. I just had to examine this shell–it was so different from all the others. I shifted things around so I could pick it up. And blessedly, its oddities were even more intriguing up close: it’s curved but complete shape, rough but well-suited texture, and its matte but intense color. Then when I turned it over and found the whole underside coated with glorious mother-of-pearl, I was hooked, line and sinker into its unexpected beauty. You can bet that I made room for that shell.IMG_8053

It’s my favorite shell so far. I keep it by my bed to remind me that uniqueness matters, but if your story has that spark of something special–that mother-of-pearl coating–it will become a keeper.

 

Interview with Agent Elizabeth Bennett

IMG_3124Elizabeth Bennett is an agent at Jill Corcoran Literary Agency. She represents fiction and non-fiction children’s books and has experience in nearly every facet of the publishing industry. She also represents graphic novels. She is currently closed to submissions, but has kindly agreed to accept submissions from readers of this post for a limited time. [Submissions are now closed.]

Thank you, Elizabeth!

You’ve worn several hats in the publishing world, editorial, marketing, product development, author, and now agent. How have all these roles informed your work as an agent?

Ah yes, at this point in my career I feel a bit like the man in Caps for Sale, balancing a tall stack of hats on my head. Each of the hats I’ve worn has made me that much more capable as an agent. As an author, I know what if feels like to feel passionate about your work and determined to find the right home for it. As an editor, I know how to negotiate the acquisition process with compassion for both the publishing house and the writer. I’ve been in the industry long enough to know that while trends and technology change, there is always a path for true quality and innovative thought to find a way to the market.

You dealt with franchise development at HMH, and wrote books for the DocMcStuffins, Hello Kitty, and Clifford franchises, among others. Are you primarily focused on representing books that have series potential?

No, I’m open to stand-alone titles as well as books with series potential. My years at Scholastic and HMH have given me a good sense of the market for series, and I have a sweet spot for a book that that can pull a reluctant reader over the hump and leave him/her looking for the next title in the series. But I’m also interested in good stand-alone manuscripts.

When you read a manuscript from a potential client, what are you looking for? Continue reading

Interview with Author Pam Calvert

pam5Pam Calvert is a former science teacher turned award-winning children’s author. She’s best known for her Princess Peepers series, but recently launched her new chapter book series Brianna Bright Ballerina Knight, illustrated by Liana Hee. Pam has mentored other writers through the Writing With the Stars mentorship program and through her own informative site, Woven With Pixie Dust. Pam has two character-driven series under her belt and a soon-to-be-third underway. She’s joined us to talk about characters. Thank you, Pam!

What made Princess Peepers a character that could translate across several stories?

She’s a quirky character that has a personality. If you don’t know your character, you can’t write more stories about them. Princess Peepers loves everyone no matter what they look like or who they are. They could be an ugly troll or a tiny dragonfly, she’ll love it. Which is quite different from many people who put labels on things. And that comes through the stories. She also is a people pleaser, which is one of her faults. Your character must have flaws they have to work through to make a story—this causes problems, something every story must have! Also, PP always loses her glasses, one way or another, and this allows for comedic situations that make children laugh when she can’t see what’s going on. Put all that together on top of some of her silly catch phrases, and you have a good series character! 

With Brianna Bright, did you purposefully plan to have a character driven series and if so, how did you go about crafting her in a way from the beginning to ensure that she could last across a series? 

I did. My editor came to me and asked if I could write a strong girl book. She wanted a commercial book, too, which lends itself to series. 

Calvert-BriannaBrightBallerinaKnight-21431-JK-FL-v4.inddSo…I knew ballet books were very popular with girls, and Two Lions didn’t have one. But I wanted to do something different. At the time, I was reading and watching Game of Thrones. Arya Stark, one of the characters, was this strong princess type character that didn’t want to be in frilly dresses. She wanted to be a knight like her brothers (they didn’t call them this in the story but that’s basically what they are.) That gave me the idea to make my ballerina princess into a knight as well. I worked backward to create the story with what if’s…what if a clumsy ballerina also wanted to become a knight? What would happen? How would she go about finding her way? Then the story basically wrote itself. 

The key to a great story is an even greater idea. Giving my ballerina princess a sword had never been done before. Sure, there’s princess knights out there, but there’s only ONE princess ballerina knight. That’s Brianna Bright. Continue reading

Interview with Artist Mark Swan

markswanYou’ve probably seen Mark Swan’s name a dozen times, but didn’t know it. As an animator for over 30 years, he’s worked for Walt Disney Studios, Universal Pictures, Warner Bros. and MGM, among others. Some of his credits include An American TailLand Before Time I, II, III, IVSpace JamA Goofy MovieAll Dogs Go To HeavenRock-A-DoodleThumbelinaA Troll In Central ParkCats Don’t Dance, The Princess and the Pea, and for t.v., Thundarr the BarbarianThe Incredible Hulkand The Smurfs. His work has taken him from L.A. to Dublin to Budapest and Barcelona. And the most amazing part of all of this is that he’s my big brother. I grew up watching his artwork on Saturday morning cartoons looking for the secret pictures he’d drawn for me to find. I’m thrilled to interview him about his career and his upcoming Kickstarter campaign for a comic book series all his own. 

You’ve worked in animation for a long time. As such, you are quite familiar with storyboarding. Can you talk about the role storyboarding plays in creating an animated movie?

For people unfamiliar with storyboards I’ll often define it as making the comic book version of the movie. You’re drawing out the story shot by shot. It’s a lot like being the director because the storyboard artist reads the scripts and starts breaking things down into different shots and you’re making decisions like, should this be a long shot, medium shot or a close up, a pan shot, a dolly shot. You’re concerned about the composition, the acting and the transitions from shot to shot. You have various story points that you have to keep in mind, and in storyboarding, the artists think up much of the visual humor, and visual interest. page 5

When you get a script, how do you go about creating the pictures to go along with it? 

As I read a script, I get images in my mind and I’ll make a little thumbnail sketch or write a little note in the margins. I’d probably read through it a few different times and then start sketching things out. After getting the first sketches done then you have to review and edit things. In the old days we used to pin up sketches on a cork board so you could move things around, add new drawings or pull some down. You are looking for the flow of the story, the entertainment value and checking to see if you hit all the important story points for that scene.

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Openings in The Prose Shop

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The Prose Shop is an online critique forum for writers of picture books and magazine stories in prose for children up to 12 years of age. It’s an established online critique group (created in 2005) and has a mix of both published and unpublished writers. The Shop’s goal is to help members improve their techniques, become more confident and capable writers, discuss and share information, and become traditionally published.

The Prose Shop is organized via a message board forum. There are a few rules pertinent to the group:

First, members critique at least one or two stories for each manuscript they post.

Second, members must critique at least one story every 30 days, whether or not they post a story.

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The Cat Sent My Query: And Other Cautionary Advice

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It’s true, there I was pulling up my query that I’d been marinating for a few days–re-reading, re-tweaking, resting to read again. That day was the day–I’d done everything I could think of to personalize it, tighten it, make it shine, oh, except for that one line and this word and this one …

Right in the middle of changing a word, my foster kitty decided to attack. 

The swirling icon of doom assured me that her pounce had hit the bulls eye. Once the swirl’s hypnotic effect wore off, it took all of one second to realize that my query had been sent—mid-change and without a final edit. 

At that point, I figured that all illusion of professionalism had tucked tail and fled, so I hurriedly replied back and explained that my cat had sent the query and that here’s what that line should have said and btw, “can I interview you for my site.” 

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