You’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 Tail, Land Before Time I, II, III, IV, Space Jam, A Goofy Movie, All Dogs Go To Heaven, Rock-A-Doodle, Thumbelina, A Troll In Central Park, Cats Don’t Dance, The Princess and the Pea, and for t.v., Thundarr the Barbarian, The Incredible Hulk, and 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.
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.
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.
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.”
Natascha 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
Adria 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
I recently had the opportunity to review more than a hundred stories in a short space of time–all from writers seeking feedback. By the time I was done, I felt like I’d had a master class on writing—I learned as much from the stories that needed work as I did from the ones that were ready. There really is no substitute for critiquing—both the giving and receiving of it.
If you belong to a group such as SCBWI or 12×12, take advantage of the critique forums. Read as many stories in a row (and the feedback) as possible—it’s like a mini slush pile. You’ll learn buckets just reading stories in all sorts of stages. And when you’re ready, return that blessing by critiquing and adding your own stories.
I remember feeling overwhelmed as a newbie to comment on the stories of other writers. I also remember feeling petrified to allow others to see my work, but my writing didn’t progress until I sought those critiques.
Hannah Mann is a junior agent at Writers House. She is open to submissions and is seeking clients in children’s lit through YA. In picture books, Hannah is drawn to ‘artful, human, and/or humorous picture books that are driven by expressive characters.’ She prefers art ‘with something fresh going on (or that pays homage to a classic with its own modern layering).’ For more details on Hannah’s preferences, please visit her Publishers Marketplace profile.
Thank you, Hannah!
You interned at Writers House in NYC before moving to intern with Steven Malk in San Diego (I sort of feel like I need to whisper his name, like ‘He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named,’ but in a good way). How did you get that all started? Are your NYC friends jealous of your San Diego winters?
That’s very funny, but I agree—Steven Malk is a total legend, and I’m grateful everyday that I’ve gotten to learn from the best. It’s a long story, but I applied for the job with him before interning, and ended up landing it after interning. I needed a little publishing experience, and I’m so glad I got to be in the New York office for a little while—I really feel like it’s informed my sense of pride in the Writers House ethos and reputation, and it’s great to have faces and real connection with the people I’m emailing all day!
Did you always know you wanted to work in publishing or with books in some capacity? When did you figure that out? What job would you snatch up if publishing jobs weren’t an option?
I think, like a lot of people, it probably started with wanting to be a writer. The publishing industry can be mysterious before actually being in it, so I think a lot of people’s first thought is, “okay, I love books, so I’ll write them!” The truth is that so much goes into every single book, and there are also so many books! Once I started to realize that, I thought I might want to be an editor, but when I discovered agency, and its intersection of creativity with business, I knew it was what I wanted to do. I love being behind the scenes and advocating for creators. If I weren’t in publishing, I think I’d want to be in medicine—not that I could do it! I’m just fascinated by biology and love people. Continue reading
Arree Chung is the author-illustrator of Ninja!, Ninja! Attack of the Clan, Ninja Claus!, and Out!. He’s also the founder and host of the Storyteller Academy, a class for aspiring writers and illustrators. He left his production scheduling job at Pixar to enroll at the Art Center College of Design. Arree graciously agreed to share his thoughts on a technique he teaches in his class. Thank you, Arree!
What is a story map?
A story map is kind of like mind mapping, where you write down all your ideas then group or organize them into a sequence, keeping in mind the logical flow from the beginning, to the inciting event, to the end. Here’s an example:
I can see how this would be valuable for longer works, but how does it help with picture books?
Story mapping is helpful in many ways. First, it can help you capture ideas and quickly connect them. Story mapping also helps you plot several variations of a story. The hardest part in making up a story are the endless possibilities so using a story mapping strategy helps you nail down the story more quickly. Continue reading