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

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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

Why Critiques Matter: And What I Learned from the ‘Slush’

book-bible-page-prayer-159510.jpeg

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.

Continue reading

Interview with Agent Hannah Mann

 

hm headshot croppedHannah 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

Story Mapping with Arree Chung

Arree=HeadshotArree Chung is the author-illustrator of Ninja!, Ninja! Attack of the ClanNinja 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: 

StoryMap

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

Free Mentorship Contest for Unagented and Unpublished Writers and Illustrators

@Jami Gigot

The news is out. Tara Luebbe and Becky Cattie have posted the list of mentors for this year’s Writing With the Stars mentorship contest. The line-up is stellar.

Basic info:

“The contest is open to picture book writers and illustrators. The purpose of this mentorship is to help writers on their path to publication. The mentors are offering their knowledge and are NOT offering access to their agents or any editors. Contestants may pick three mentors out of the group to apply to. The mentors will evaluate each application and pick one mentee to work with. Once selected, each mentor/mentee team will work out their own methods of working together, frequency etc. Mentorship dates are February 1-April 30 2018.”

Applicants must be unagented and unpublished–self published or magazine articles do not count. You have from January 8, 2018 until midnight January 13, 2018 EST to get your applications in.

For more information and to see the list of mentors, visit Tara and Becky’s site. Start working on your applications!

The full list of rules: http://beckytarabooks.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/Writing-with-the-Stars-official-rules-2018-2.0.pdf

 

 

 

Concept will Make or Break your Story: Interview with Author Tara Lazar

taraflowerAfter a case of mistaken identity (Tara Luebbe’s post got credited to Tara Lazar), I asked Tara Lazar if she would answer some questions about ‘concept.’ Tara is the author of The Monstore, Normal Norman, Little Red Gliding Hood, I Thought This Was A Bear Book, 7 Ate 9, and Way Past Bedtime. She’s a regular speaker at SCBWI events, a co-chair of the Rutgers University Council on Children’s Literature Conference, and founder of Storystorm. She’s well-equipped to tackle this confusing topic. Thank you, Tara!

Define concept. How is it different from an idea? How is it different from a plot? For example, what’s the concept, idea, and plot of say Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus? What is ‘high concept?’

An idea is something quick and a bit vague. Non-specific. It lacks details. Before I wrote 7 Ate 9, I had the idea to write about a ‘popular schoolyard joke.’ Once I had that initial idea, I fleshed it out to a concept, to write about the riddle ‘Why is six afraid of seven?.’ Finally, the story’s premise or plot is the backstory of the joke itself—can Private ‘I’ help 6 figure out if his days are numbered? 

7 Ate 9‘s premise is ‘high concept,’ meaning you can boil the essence of the story down to a sentence or two–but not just any sentence. Many stories can be explained that quickly. To be ‘high concept’, the premise has to be unique and make immediate, head-smacking sense. You’ve never seen the concept before but it seems like you should have! People can instantly envision how things might play out. They may even say, ‘That’s genius! Why didn’t I think of that?!’ 

An idea for Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus might be to write a story from an unusual, uncommon point of view. (But honestly, I have no idea what Mo WIllems was thinking, LOL, other than he was thinking genius.) The concept might be to have the book character ask the child reader permission to do something outrageous, with the child getting to act like an adult and say ‘no,’ turning the tables on the usual child role. The plot is to have the pigeon ask the reader permission to drive a bus.

So, if I got this right, let’s say the concept for They All Saw a Cat is something like, “A cat is viewed in a different way depending on which creature sees him.” Would that be high concept? And is it safe to say that the concept is the bones and plot is the flesh? Continue reading

I’m Not Throwing Away My Shot: Hamiltonian Advice for Writers

profile-picI met Tara two years ago in our critique group while she was still polishing manuscripts. Shortly after, she had three picture book contracts and an agent. She’d been seriously writing for children for 18 months, but she’d been absorbing the craft of picture books for years. She’s sharing her story with us and announcing a few details about the upcoming WWTS mentorship contest. Thank you, Tara!

Tara, your debut picture book, I Am Famous, published by Albert Whitman & Co., will be released March 1, 2018, followed by Shark Nate-O (little bee*, April 3, 2018). You have a sequel for I Am Famous under contract with Albert Whitman (spring 2019), you also have a fourth picture book that went to a multi-house auction, and two more picture books under contract, none of which we can talk about yet. What did you do to get to this point?

Well, I put in a lot of time reading picture books before I ever started writing them. I owned my own toy and book store. I specialized ages 0-6, so the only books I sold were picture books. I loved them, and I had to learn what made them work in order to be a successful retailer. I would get ideas from the store, and I told myself that someday, I would try to write them. But with three little kids, a traveling husband, and a store, there was no time for that. Then my family relocated to the Charlotte area for my husband’s job, and I no longer had the store. Even though I had no writing experience (but tons of reading experience), I decided to bring out all those ideas and try my hand at it. I sent my first manuscript to my sister to review. She sent it back half changed, so we became co-authors. I joined SCBWI. I found the online kidlit community. I met critique partners. I studied craft. I joined 12 x 12. I attended SCBWI conferences. I kept up my knowledge of the industry by reading voraciously.

Hamilton

During this process, I became obsessed with the musical Hamilton. If you already have Hamalaria, you know how amazing Hamilton is. If you are not familiar with it, you need to be. There is a reason editors, agents, writers and creative types in general are obsessed with it. Lin-Manuel Miranda is a lyrical genius. And Alexander Hamilton was a bit obsessive in his learning and writing because he was “young, scrappy and hungry” and clawing his way up to the top. He did not rest on his laurels and never “threw away his shot.”  
Continue reading