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.
Why have you focused your career on children’s books?
I couldn’t imagine working with anything other than books for kids! Children’s books have the real power to change a child’s life. I was a struggling, reluctant reader until my third grade teacher found the right book for me, and that has shaped the entire course of my life, personally and professionally.
You say you are not interested in receiving graphic novel submissions. Do you anticipate a time when you will be?
I’m so excited to see this category grow—graphic novels are especially appealing to reluctant readers and I’m always happy when a child finds the right book for them. That being said, I’m still a relatively new reader of graphic novels and need to better understand all the ins and outs of this category before I’m confident in representing them. I’m certainly open to that possibility down the road.
For picture books, your taste seems to run the gamut from sophisticated to quirky. Can you share a few of your favorite recent picture books that best reflect your taste?
Working at bookstore opened me up to all types of picture books. Some of my most recent favorites include Stay: A Girl, a Dog, a Bucket List by Kate Klise and illustrated by M. Sarah Klise, You Must Bring a Hat by Simon Philip and Kate Hindley, Windows by Julia Denos and E.B. Goodale, and A Unicorn Named Sparkle by Amy Young.
Is there a type of picture book that just isn’t your thing? How do you feel about potty humor? What about rhyming picture books?
There are some elements that just aren’t my thing in picture books—potty humor, rhyming, and overly saccharine and moralistic stories. That being said, there is always the exception to the rule.
You’re open to illustrators as well. Who are some illustrators you would love to represent?
Similarly to the wide range of picture book texts that appeal to me, I enjoy various illustrator styles but especially appreciate a smart use of color and perspective and/or a classic feel, such as by Brendan Wenzel, Julie Morstad, and Sophie Blackall.
If you won tickets to any past or present production on Broadway, what would you choose and why?
This is such a fun question, because I love musicals! My favorites are ones that have elements that take me by surprise—Spring Awakening blew me away, despite the grim topic; the Circle of Life opening scene from The Lion King made me cry; and I was pleasantly surprised when one of my favorite parts of Hamilton was the romance between Alexander and Eliza.
If you could have any animal as a pet, what would it be?
I have a year-and-a-half-old Airedale Terrier named Sherlock. He loves observing people, stealing socks, and outsmarting me at every turn. He’s the first pet I’ve ever had and was well worth the wait!
If you could pick any career outside publishing, what would it be?
I love to bake, so my dream, not-publishing career would be to own a little café. It would probably be attached to a bookstore, because I can’t not be surrounded by books! Being in the kitchen is a great stress reliever for me because I can get my hands dirty and, in just a few hours time, I have a finished product to share. It also allows for reflection on how the process went (Are those cookies slightly over baked? Did the bread not rise enough?) and provides the opportunity to improve each and every time. Someday I will bake the perfect baguette!
What is your communication style like? Are you hands on in the editorial process? Do you want to work with your clients in the idea stage or wait for the fully fleshed out manuscripts before getting involved?
I’d like to think I’ve found the right balance between enthusiastic cheerleader and having high expectations because I know my clients are capable of so many great things. I’m very hands on during the editorial process—I find great joy in revision, given my editorial background. I also enjoy the brainstorming phase for new projects, so I will happily join the conversation with my client whenever they’re ready for my input.
Any parting words of wisdom, or query likes and dislikes, for anyone wanting to submit their work to you?
My best advice is to keep at it. We’ve heard it said again and again, but it only takes one “yes” to get an agent and one “yes” to get a book deal, so dedication and perseverance certainly pay off.
Thank you, Laurel! For more information on Laurel and The Bent Agency’s submission policies, visit here: http://www.thebentagency.com/laurel-symonds