Interview with Agent Natascha Morris

NMorris320x400IMG_20161127_103045-240x300Natascha is a new agent at Bookends Literary and a former editorial assistant for Simon & Schuster. She is open to submissions for picture books, middle grade, and young adult across multiple genres: contemporary, mysteries, thrillers, fantasy, historical fiction, and narrative non-fiction. She is looking for authors, illustrators, and author-illustrators. 

Thank you, Natascha, for your insightful answers.

What was your favorite role during your days as an editorial assistant at Simon & Schuster? 

There were two things I loved about working at Simon & Schuster: reading the submissions to find that standout project, and working with the design team to come up with great covers. As an agent, I can still find that diamond in the rough, but I will miss coming up with cover concepts. 

Were there any manuscripts you helped acquire that you’re particularly proud of? 

Kit Frick’s See All the Stars (Summer 2018) is one I’m particularly proud of. Read it on submission and fell in love with it. I also had the opportunity to offer editorial notes. Kit is an amazingly talented writer who changed the whole manuscript with a few smart line changes. I’d love to find an author like her.

Could you walk us through the acquisitions process—what stars had to align in order for S&S to select a manuscript for publication?

Every book is different and sometimes, editors don’t follow the process. But in general, once an editor has a project they want to pursue, they take it to the editorial meeting. If the other editors agree (and sometimes they don’t), the editor takes it to acquisitions. I worked at two literary imprints, so quality of writing was a big factor. After that it came down to a host of factors: editorial taste, vision for the project, and market saturation. Publishing is subjective, and sometimes timing plays a part of that. 

If you could name one skill you honed as an editorial assistant that has helped you transition to agenting, what would it be? 

Mmmm, tough question to answer. Different aspects of being an editorial assistant helped. The number one factor that helped is probably my ability to read a manuscript and see its potential. As an editor, you have to have a vision for a project to edit it, and it’s my firm belief that an agent should also have a vision. If I don’t have a vision for your manuscript, I can’t be the best agent for you. And you deserve the best agent and the agent who gets it.
Continue reading

Interview With New Author Tara Cattie Luebbe and Mentor Contest Announced

profile-picTara Cattie Luebbe ran her own picture book store before becoming an author. She’s read thousands of pictures books and has a solid grasp of what it takes to write for a picture book crowd. I’ve had the pleasure of reading her manuscripts in our critique group and can safely say you’ll be seeing a lot of her name soon. In gratitude to her own mentor, Tara will host a mentorship contest early next year where authors and illustrators can apply to be mentored by an established author or illustrator. The details are below. Thank you, Tara, for the candid interview from a retailer’s perspective. 

Tara, you had a baptism by fire in searching out good children’s lit with your oldest son who’d finished all the Harry Potter books by first grade. It sounds like keeping up with his book appetite is what prompted you to open your toy and bookstore. 

I think I got into picture books like a lot of writers, I had kids. My first born was a voracious reader and so I spent a lot of time looking for new books to keep him satisfied. He did not like to read one book over and over, he always wanted a new one. He went on to read all the Harry Potters by the end of first grade. I was blessed to have two more sons after that, and they are all equally avid readers, which makes me so happy.

Because my background was in retail buying, I followed a dream and opened a toy and book store. My store catered to children 0-6, so the only books I sold were picture books. My selection was very different than the chain store down the way. I spent hours at market buying new books and searching out the best picture books from smaller pubs, foreign pubs and the wonderful backlist. As an indie, I had no requirements to carry anything from a corporate office. If I didn’t like the book, I didn’t carry it, even if it was a huge seller elsewhere. It was a highly curated collection reflective of my taste.

Where did you go to find your books? Tell me about the backlist (backlist books are older book still available from a publisher).   Continue reading

Interview with Agent Tracy Marchini

marchini-agent-photo-cropped

Tracy is a relatively new agent at BookEnds literary, but is not new to the publishing world. As you’ll see by her comments, Tracy is knowledgeable about the industry, and being a writer as well, she understands the challenges that come with pursuing a writing career.

Thank you, Tracy, for taking time out of your busy day to answer these questions. 

You’ve had an impressive career. You worked at Curtis Brown, then took time off to finish an MFA in writing for children from Simmons College. You are an agent at BookEnds Literary and an author as well. What started you on the path to working in the publishing industry and in particular, becoming an agent? 

Like many of my colleagues, I was writing and reading from a young age. My mother joined SCBWI in 1996 and learned how to submit to publishers, and the next year I started submitting my first picture book. (In hindsight, it was not that good.) A few years later, I graduated college with a degree in English and attended the local SCBWI conference. 

I was sitting with Gail Carson Levine and mentioned that I’d just graduated from college and was hoping to work in publishing. She offered to pass along my resume to her agent, where it was hung on the kitchen bulletin board. Kirsten Manges was leaving Curtis Brown to start her own agency, and so she grabbed my resume and I was able to intern for her as she set up everything from the phone lines to the submissions system to the boilerplate files. After about six months, I had to leave and find full time work. But a few months later, Kirsten told me that Curtis Brown was looking for an agent’s assistant. I interviewed first with one of their romance agents and didn’t get the job. A month or so later though I had an interview in the children’s suite, and that’s how I ended up with my first full time job at an agency!

What’s your ideal query? What’s your ideal picture book manuscript? YA and MG? 

Ideal is hard, because sometimes I don’t know what I’m looking for until I see it! But my ideal query definitely follows the standard format (a line to draw me in, one to two paragraph synopsis, and a one paragraph bio with your writing or professional credits) and displays your professionalism. Writing is a creative pursuit, but publishing is a business. I need to be able to see that you understand both sides of the industry.

My ideal picture book manuscript has a strong voice and a unique concept. It’s child friendly/focused. If it’s fiction, it’s probably funny. And if it’s non-fiction, it teaches me about someone or something that I didn’t know as much about. (And generally, it doesn’t rhyme.) 

My ideal middle grade or YA manuscript has an appropriate voice for the audience. In middle grade, it looks at the way that character navigates the world closest to them – their family, their school, their community. In YA, it looks at the teen character on the brink of entering the wider world. It doesn’t have to be an issue driven book – in fact, I’d love a funny middle grade mystery with a spunky girl detective – but it does have to ring true to its readership and the things that are most important to them at that time in their lives.

And in PB, MG and YA I’m definitely looking for diversity and own voices for my list, as well as strong female characters. 

What current picture books best represent your taste? What classic picture books still float your boat? Continue reading

Mentor Texts and a Contest

883055

Susanna Leonard Hill hosts a Halloweensie writing contest every year. I’ve entered it for the past three years or so. This year, I tried something new.

I don’t write in rhyme. I don’t have the chops to do it justice, but I love poetry and read it often. In high school, my fantastic English teacher taught us how to write poetry using mentor texts. We basically copied the meter and form, but added our own words.

I wanted to try that with my 2016 Halloweensie entry. I used a stanza from The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge as my inspiration:

Water, water, every where,
And all the boards did shrink;
Water, water, every where,
Nor any drop to drink.

I won’t put my entry here, you can click on my blog to see it if you like. The point is, by using a mentor text, I can write a solid poem without knowing all the technical aspects of poetry writing. Using a mentor text teaches me, on a visceral level, how to structure a poem, so that when I do apply myself to more in-depth study of poetic forms, I’ll be better prepared.

Mentor texts can work for you in many ways. Reading lots of good picture books eventually impresses into your mind the way a PB should be written. Same with other categories of books. If you take it a step further, you can break the mentor text down and analyze one aspect of it to help you with your weaknesses.

I recently used the text of one of my favorite books, Helen Lester’s Hooway for Wodney Wat, as a mentor text. Lester is a master at character development and plotting, not to mention huimg_2400mor and just about everything else you need to write good picture books. I wanted to see how she pulled of structuring her story, so I wrote it out in long hand.

In the first paragraph, she sets up the MC and the MC’s problem:

Poor Wodney. Wodney Wat. His real name was Rodney Rat, but he couldn’t pronounce his r’s.

Her next paragraph builds on how awful it is for Wodney, a rodent–wodent, to have this problem. We see how the other rodent kids tease him and how, little by little, he retreats inside his jacket. We now feel for Wodney and we want something good to happen to our sad little wodent.

Continue reading

Proofreading: How To Trick Your Brain When it Wants to Trick You.

https://pixabay.com
Picture from Pixabay

I wish I could say that I’m a proofreading genius, but alas, I make dumb mistakes daily. When I worked in PR, we had a system of proofreading each other’s writings, which was a luxury.

We’re not always in a position to get a second read on our writing before we have to send it out on a deadline of one sort or another (I’m not talking about manuscripts, you should always get multiple critiques of those). If you’re writing a post, or a query, or if you had a manuscript edited then changed something at the last minute, you still want to make sure you go over your work.

I spent an evening nit-picking, literally, my kids’ hair (you have to love those ‘lice has been found at school’ notices), then I had to sit down and nit-pick a post I’d been working on. I missed things I shouldn’t have missed.

Let’s face it, writing is just one of many roles we take on each day and some days we aren’t as fresh as others. And even if your eyes are rested, your brain fills in mistakes. So it’s possible to read something a thousand times and not catch a glaring typo. Sadly, that typo becomes brighter than the noonday sun once you click the send button on a query to your dream agent. So what can you do when you truly don’t have a second pair of eyes to proofread something that has to go out ‘right now?’

These are tricks I’ve used before:

  • Read you’re text backwards. sdrawkcab txet er’uoy deaR. This method is great for catching double spaces after periods (for those like me who grew up with word processors and can’t kick the habit), misspellings, apostrophes in places they shouldn’t be and pesky words like your and you’re. Did you catch that, in fact?
  • If not, then read your stuff upside down to.
    upside-downDid you catch the two errors above? I often don’t in my own writing. You’re, your, to, too don’t show up on spellcheck and even if you know the rule for each one, your fingers may miss a key and your brain may skip over it because it knows what you meant. If you don’t know the rules regarding the use of each one, see here: http://www.livejournal.com/resources/homonyms.bml
  • Use Find on your keyboard to catch those pesky homonyms. Ctl F for MS Word/PC Command F for Mac. Put in your, too, their, etc. and go through with the Find option to double check each one.
  • Copy the text out in long-hand. Read each word as you write it.
  • E-mail the document to yourself and read it in your email. Any change in format will help re-awaken your brain and give you a chance to catch the things you may have missed.

Continue reading

Interview with Mae and Moon Author/Illustrator Jami Gigot

JamiGigot_pic

I met Jami through our critique group and enjoy reading her manuscripts. She creates warm and comforting characters that have a timeless feel, and she also illustrates them. Jami started her artistic career in digital animation before moving to 3D and VFX work, as you will see, and entered the kidlit world with her debut picture book Mae and Moon published through Ripple Grove Press. Her follow up book Seb and the Sun, also through Ripple Grove, is due in 2018.

Thank you, Jami for sharing your story.

 

Jami, you have a cool day job as a visual effects artist and you’ve worked on some pretty big movies: Batman v. Superman, Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian, Pan, and Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. Can you be more specific on what you do?

When a film is shot these days, a lot, sometimes even the majority, of shots are done in a studio in front of a giant green screen. I work with a team that fills in that space with digital environments, creatures, vehicles, and props, all of which are created solely in the computer. I do a lot of different tasks, but my main focus recently has been on texture painting and lighting scenes. 

Which movie has been your favorite to work on? Do you have a favorite sequence or asset?  Continue reading

Interview with Literary Agent Rubin Pfeffer

RP photo copy (1)

I’m thrilled to inaugurate my new site with an interview from literary agent Rubin Pfeffer of Rubin Pfeffer Content, LLC. I met Rubin in a one-on-one critique session at a writing conference in Boston last year and was sad when the time ended. As you’ll see from his responses, he knows the publishing industry inside and out and has much to offer writers and illustrators. Thank you, Rubin!

You’ve had a pretty amazing career in publishing, including art director at Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, vice president and publisher at Simon and Schuster and an independent agent at East West Literary. Then you started your agency in 2014, Rubin Pfeffer Content. Did the transition to agent change the way you work with authors?

Yes, definitely. You become much more aware of the authors as individuals, of their sensitivities, vulnerabilities, and their livelihoods. You’re on the side of the author. That’s not to say you’re not when you’re inside a publishing corporation, but as an agent, you’re much more concerned about the author’s business and dreams. When I was a publisher, I wasn’t sensitive enough to what delays and silence mean to authors. I regret, actually, having taken too long to sign contracts now that I see what it’s like to wait for them.

Can you give me a peek into your agenting day? What are the steps you usually go through when reading a submission?

Continue reading