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

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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.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

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.” 

Continue reading

Interview with Agent Natascha Morris Part 2

NMorris320x400IMG_20161127_103045-240x300Natascha is a former editor turned agent for BookEnds Literary. I first interviewed Natascha just over a year ago when she was getting started in her new career. With a year-plus behind her, I’ve been dying for an update. Luckily, she agreed to a second interview. 

Thank you, Natascha!

 

You recently hit your year-mark as an agent. What has been the biggest surprise for you from the agenting side of the industry?

There have been two really big surprises. The first is the amazing talent I have found, and the connections I have made. I had some idea when going in, but it is just amazing how far I have come. The second was how much grit it takes to be on this side of the desk. Agents take those punches alongside their clients, and we do it for everyone. Being an agent teaches you about yourself.  

 I imagine you’ve built up a solid client list by now. Are you still seeking clients?

Always seeking new clients, but out of necessity, I am getting pickier. When I first started, I had loads of time to pour into a client. Now, I have to weigh that against the time for 24 other talented people. It’s not just one book per author, it’s multiple books per author.

What would you say is the split between the categories you represent? How many are PB writers, MG, illustrators, etc.? Continue reading

Interview with Agent Adria Goetz

27024121_10155402205773230_1021693440946990922_oAdria Goetz is an agent at Martin Literary Management. Adria is seeking board books, picture books, graphic novels, MG, YA, and Christian themed works. She earned her B.A. in English, with an emphasis in creative writing, from the University of Washington. 

Thank you, Adria! 

Your education was in publishing and writing, and you even worked at a library for a while, did that influence your decision to become a literary agent? How did that all come about?

In high school and part of college I thought I wanted to be an editor, but as I learned more and more about the publishing industry and the publishing process, I quickly changed my mind. I first learned that there are very few opportunities for editor jobs in Seattle, and I’ve never had a desire to leave the Pacific Northwest. The PNW is the land of coffee and Sasquatches, and rich true crime history. AKA my personal heaven. During college, I applied to every publishing internship I heard about because I wanted to observe the publishing beast from every angle. When I started my internship with Martin Literary Management, I knew I’d found the right avenue for me. Agents get to work from home. Agents get to edit stories. And agents get to make dreams come true. The internship was only supposed to last for a few quarters, but it ended up lasting for two years because it was such a good fit. I wanted to start agenting right after graduation, but I wasn’t sure how I was going to make it work financially. It takes so long as a new agent to get things going to the point where you’re making a livable salary. And I needed a job! I was a fresh college graduate with my wedding around the corner, and I needed something that would pay the bills. So I got a job in the Communications department of Pierce County Library. After working for the library for a while, I thought maybe a job as a children’s librarian would be a more practical job for me, so I applied for library school, and got in! It was right when I opened my acceptance letter that I knew it wasn’t the right decision for me, and I realized if I didn’t at least try my hand at agenting, I’d regret it. So I attended a publishing program at Columbia University in New York, then when I returned, I knocked back on Martin Literary’s door and asked them if they’d be willing to train me as an agent. And they said yes! So my husband and I decided that we needed to make a few financial sacrifices in order to make a career as an agent happen. We moved out of our condo and moved into a used camper on some family property. We cut out as many fixed expenses and splurge purchases as we could. And then I began my career as a literary agent. Living in a camper might seem like an extreme lifestyle change just to break into a tough industry, but the first few years of agenting are a lot like the first few years of starting a business—you typically don’t make much of a profit off of the time you invest in your projects. We also realized that we were young and poor, and had expensive dreams—traveling and adoption and buying a home being the biggest ones. After a year of living in the camper, we saved up enough to buy our first home—a Victorian home which I am still hoping is secretly haunted. I now have my own little office, or as I call it: my “writing studio.” It is a much more spacious place to work!

You’re accepting picture book submissions. What are you specifically looking for in a picture book? Continue reading