When I was working on my Masters at Hamline University in Writing for Children and Young Adults, I asked a visiting editor, “What are you looking for?” He told me not to worry about what he wanted, and then said, “Just write your book.”
I spent the next two year learning how to do just that. After graduating I began to submit my manuscripts. A year later I was still submitting. I was frustrated, confused, and no closer to understanding how to reach the publishing world that I felt should embrace my stories.
When the idea and opportunity to be an agent arose, I jumped at the chance because I saw it as a way of getting an inside look at the publishing world. I hoped to understand the people and the process of publishing better.
When I think back to what I’d asked the editor, I realize that the real question should be “How do you know which publishing house is right for your story?” Answering that is the first challenge facing any agent.
As I got going, consulting the Children’s Writer’s and Illustrator’s Market was good for getting brief descriptions and addresses, but it was still difficult determining what kinds of books publishers liked. Every house has a website, which helped. Catalogues are also good, but tastes change, especially when the head people change.
I decided I had to go there and talk with these people face to face. Most houses are in New York, but there are others scattered around the country. There’s even a house in Chicago, my hometown. It took me a while to figure out who was who and get updated names and titles. While all this information was available on the Internet, I also made quite a few calls to the different houses in order to verify spellings and titles
I went to New York. For three days I went to as many publishing houses as I could. Each meeting was better than the next. Everyone was more than happy to share what they were looking for and they proudly showed off their most recent titles. I felt very energized by these visits. I learned so much and felt I was beginning to understand the publishing world. I will continue to make these trips because I feel meeting face-to-face is important. People buy from people.
All this information moved me closer to knowing I can find the right house for the right story. But even when the match is perfect it doesn’t always work; just recently I received a nofrom a publisher because the story I submitted was too similar to something they already had. Another story, which the Associate Editor loved, just wasn’t going to work for her editor. “It was just a little too different. Not cute enough.”
I appreciated all these comments and can move on, working harder to get the right connection.
As my agency expands, I know that most of the clients I take on will be writers without a publishing track record. That presents a unique problem because these writers are an unknown entity. Here is where Marketing and PR is going to play a big role. We are a team, the author/illustrator, me and the publishing house. We all bring our experiences to the table. Together we will strategize. There are the traditional methods: school visits, library readings, bookstore appearances, websites, and social media. But there still needs to be some out-of-the-box ideas. Fresh approaches and some novel ways are called for in today’s competitive climate. Recently I learned some book publishers are considering displaying YA novels in places where their audience might shop for clothes. Why not!
Another indispensable part of the team is a knowledgeable lawyer. I would like to say that I know all the nuances of contract negotiations. But, since I haven’t sold any books YET that’s a little hard for me to address. I was a television producer for about twenty year. I do know about television contracts and royalties, so I feel comfortable with the idea of rights and control of intellectual property. Still, the lawyer will ensure my clients are protected.
It’s been one year since I started, and I’ve learned that my job as an agent is to 1. Keep learning and paying attention as this business continues to evolve 2. Be responsible for assembling the team that will create the best chances for my writers’ work to succeed.
Your job, writers, is to keep writing.
Loretta Caravette is a 2009 graduate of the MFAC program and the founder of LR Children’s Literary. She is interested in seeing picture books, Early Readers, Chapter Books, and Middle Grade and YA in all genres. Submission guidelines and contact info is available on the agency website.