September 2017 Manuscript Wish List

Below is a list of things I am currently wishing for, but it’s NOT a definitive list. Sometimes I don’t know I want something until I see it! This list is a result of my musings and random thoughts. Let’s call it a living document!

Please don’t query me if:

You have not become an expert in the genre that you write, i.e. have read dozens (hundreds!) of books in the genre you write published in the last few years to get a really solid understanding of the modern bookscape and what it calls for.

What I represent, in the most general terms:

  • Picture books (both from authors and author-illustrators)
  • Middle grade fiction and nonfiction
  • Young adult fiction and nonfiction

What I would love to come across in my email box right now (but not limited to):

  • One of my main goals as an agent is to promote diversity in children’s literature and help give voices to characters and authors who have not often been hear from. I’m from a multicultural, multilingual family myself, and know what it’s like to be a kid and not see yourself represented in the books you read. A book like Marisol McDonald Doesn’t Match by Monica Brown would have been so important to me! Diversity comes in a lot of forms and I’m open to all of it, across all kids and teen genres, with special interest in Own Voices writing.
  • Picture books (fiction): I am kept very busy by my current picture book clientele so I am being extremely selective about taking on new picture book clients. I am most open to modern-humored author-illustrators who have an established following on social media (like Instagram); books that take on a universal theme but from a fresh, new angle; modern, commercial books about nature and the environment, tolerance, non-traditional families and outer space always pique my interest.
  • Picture books (nonfiction): Again, I’m being super picky here, but I’m interested in COMMERCIAL nonfiction picture books (books for the trade market, not books for the educational market), including picture book biographies–especially unsung heroes and moments in history featuring children, women, people of color, individuals with disabilities. I’d be happy to see educational picture books for the COMMERCIAL TRADE market (so not straight informational books), coming at a subject from an unexpected, interesting angle that a kid would read for fun, not just for school. OVER AND UNDER THE SNOW by Melissa Stewart or THE BLUE HOUR by Isabelle Simler are good examples.
  • Very specific picture book interest: A metaphorical “we love you” picture book for parents who have children using alternative methods (IVF, adoption, surrogacy, etc.) a la WISH by Matthew Cordell.
  •  I am actively looking to expand my middle grade and young adult author clientele. One of the most important things I am looking for in any YA or middle grade novel is a STRONG VOICE. This is a big requirement for me. I also love imperfect characters that readers can really root for.
  • I am very keen on developing my YA clientele. I’m mostly interested in commercial, reality-based YA featuring a strong voice, memorable characters, resonant themes and a pitch perfect premise. I’m always into humor.
  • Middle grade requirements same as with YA! Although I am more open to fantastical elements and adventures. Illustrated, funny MG is very cool with me.
  • I always appreciate YA or MG novels that have a basis in history or true events–as long as the time period is thoroughly researched. Unusual or unsung parts of history are always interesting to me. I would love to represent an author like Lauren Wolk. I love her two middle grade novels, WOLF HOLLOW and BEYOND THE BRIGHT SEA. I also like novels that come to a story through a very specific, unique lens where the reader gets to learn about a world or topic they didn’t know much about. A great example is THE THING ABOUT JELLYFISH by Ali Benjamin.
  • YA novels that feel really timely or topical like Angie Thomas’s THE HATE U GIVE are very compelling to me.
  • YA or MG memoirs. Specifically, I would love to see a YA memoir related to the modern Native American teenage experience. An author with a great personal story and a great platform.
  • I WANT THIS THE MOST!!!! YA narrative nonfiction. Ideally, a journalist who has covered a story involving young people and there’s more to tell–in novel form. THE 57 BUS by journalist Dashka Slater absolutely blew me away and I desperately want to represent writers like her and stories like that!
  • Authors/illustrators with a large social media following and impressive platform, Instagram, Snap Chat and YouTube in particular.

What I am not looking for (sorry!):

  • Adult anything. If you have an adult nonfiction query, consider my colleague, Sharlene Martin, who specializes in that genre.
  • Christian books. We have a new agent for that! Check out Adria Goetz, who is representing adult and children’s Christian fiction and nonfiction books.
  • New adult (college through 20s character experience)
  • Hard fantasy or sci-fi (not my thing)
  • Protagonist finds out she/he has a magical/paranormal ability on his/her birthday YA or MG (flooded/fatigued market).
  • Dystopian YA or MG (flooded/fatigued market)
  • Picture books where the moral leads the story, lesson-based, didactic books (trade publishers don’t want these either)
  • Rhyming picture books (I most often find them cloying, sorry!) UNLESS you are a VERY thoughtful and creative rhymer who has studied the art.
  • Manuscripts that have not been through a thorough editing process, that have not been seen by eyes other than the author’s

Check out my submission guidelines at my agency’s website: http://www.martinlit.com.

Advertisements

Welcome to the world, DUSTRATS!

Dustrats Final cover

This past Tuesday, a very special picture book came out: DUSTRATS! Or, The Adventures of Sir Muffin Muffinsson was published by POW! Kids, a Brooklyn-based art-forward indie. This book is weird, wonderful, totally dreamy and thoroughly European. It’s about a gallant cat named Sir Muffin Muffinsson who is charged with the important duties of protecting Baby Emma while she sleeps and keeping their room clean. Sir Muffin proves to be not-so-good at the cleaning part and naughty, mischievous creatures called Dustrats escape from underneath Emma’s crib and run amok through the house. It is up to Sir Muffin to strap on his vacuum cleaner armor and chase the little cretins through the different rooms of the house–which have curiously transformed with the Dustrats’ presence. The author, Adrià Regordosa’s biggest inspirations for the book were Maurice Sendak and the movie Labyrinth–are you intrigued yet?? The best part about this book is the absolutely spectacular illustrations which have a seek and find aspect to them that kids will love. The book is also filled with little Easter eggs that make this a great reread. This is a really special book.

Adrià is a native of Spain who currently lives in Sweden where he works in video game design. Adria is an incredibly kind and very passionate person. And he must have the mind of a mad man to dream this crazy Dustrats world up! I honestly believe this book has classic potential and really hope you check it out!

Here’s my interview with Adrià:

What inspired you to write this book?

I’ve been working as a professional illustrator for many years, I always liked writing and creating my own stories. I had the Dustrat characters in my mind for a few years, but in a much more primitive form. I didn’t know what format was perfect to tell their story. Originally, I thought a comic strip, but that didn’t seem right. I’d been playing with the idea of writing a children’s book all my life, but it was only after I had my daughter and became a dad did I decide that it was the right time to do it. It was not until I saw my big cat Muffin being so gentle with my newborn and then seeing how their “friendship” became more and more intense in the following months, that I put all the pieces together and Dustrats!, the children’s book, was born.

What do you like best about Sir Muffin?

What I find most interesting about him is his duality: In the “real” world, he is a fluffy cat walking on four legs, but in the dream world, he is a brave knight, a “Sir,” a “Dream Guardian.” What I like most about him though, is that, in both worlds, he is Emma’s protector. If you look at the framed photo in every spread in Emma’s room, you can follow another little story that depicts the “real” Muffin and Emma. And even there, you can see him carrying Emma out of the frame when the danger approaches.

What was your favorite part about writing the manuscript and/or creating the illustrations?

Normally, when I start writing a story, I have a ton of different ideas and characters that I want to include. I tend to go too big and I normally struggle to try and keep things simple. So my favorite part is when I reach the point where the story starts taking its own shape, and everything seems to fall into the right place. I feel like the chaos starts organizing itself and forming a coherent story line and characters. That moment always strikes me as magical, and lots of times, I feel like it’s not even me who is writing the story.

My favorite part about creating the illustrations for Dustrats was including lots of little details and Easter Eggs spread around the whole book. I love to think about how readers will be continue to be surprised after many readings and find new layers to the book as they grow older.

Where and when do you write?

When I have an idea for a story, I keep it in my head for a long time and I just shape it more and more without writing anything down. Sometimes, I forget details, but tell myself that those details were probably not good if I forgot about them. Sometimes, I keep a story unwritten for a longtime–months or even years.

The actual writing process tends to be quite forward and fast. When I feel the story is ready to be written, I sit down and I just put it all on paper. Sometimes it happens at my work space at home, but lots of times I like to sit on my bed with a notebook and be there for a few hours.

Where and when do you illustrate?

When I started illustrating this book, I actually had no space in my home at all and had no office. So I had to draw the huge spreads on my kitchen table (the only place big enough to fit the paper sheets). Then I had to scan the pencil illustrations in parts and put it all together digitally. All of the coloring of the book was done digitally, so it was just me on my computer at a small table in my living room.

What was the most surprising part about the book-making process?

I started this project naively thinking that it would take three months to have all the pages illustrated. The art style was supposed to be much more simple, but somehow it ended up becoming this huge project that lasted over four years! I actually had the whole book illustrated after a year, but the road from “idea in my head” to “book in the library” has been long and arduous. I guess the most surprising part for me was when I had the physical book in my hands for the first time and I handed it to my daughter. In the book, she appears as a six month old baby, but the girl holding the book was now a four and a half year old little lady–that was a really mind-blowing moment.

Who are some writers and illustrators who inspire your work?

Maurice Sendak is my all-time favorite picture book author, both as a writer and illustrator. Dustrats! is directly inspired by Where the Wild Things Are and Outside Over There, both in art style and narrative.

Graeme Base’s Animalia was also a big inspiration. I always loved its intricate and detailed illustrations, and the fact that it invites you to look for hidden objects and characters.

Brian Froud’s designs are a huge influence on this book too. His goblins and trolls inspired the first versions of the Dustrats. They ended up looking completely different,  but his dark and beautifully creepy creature designs helped originate my idea for them.

Neil Gaiman’s Coraline is one of my favorite books, and I’m sure that some of the dream-like imagery in Dustrats is influenced by it.

If we are counting movies too, my main inspiration was Jim Henson’s Labyrinth (which is actually based on Brian Froud’s designs) and basically all Studio Ghibly movies and some of the oldest Disney classics.

 

Check out one of the gorgeous spreads!!

 

spread example

Welcome to the world, IGNITE YOUR SPARK!

ignite-spark-cover

Today is an exciting day because Patricia Wooster’s debut, IGNITE YOUR SPARK, arrives in bookstores! IGNITE YOUR SPARK is just the kind of book I needed as a teen — a book that asked me big questions, offered me personal guidance and gave me examples of young people doing amazing things to inspire. This book really promotes the idea that it’s okay to be different and pursuing what’s important and meaningful to you is what really matters. There is truly something for everyone in this book — it relates to the arts, sports, sciences, school, home, hobbies etc. It’s also interactive, with role playing exercises and short quizzes. I think teens are thirsty for a resource like this–something that speaks their language and helps offer them some guidance during a formative, often difficult, time. Seriously, I think every single teenager could benefit from a book like this!

Patricia is so lovely and is so genuinely inspired by young people. I know this book will be so helpful to so many and I hope there are more inspiring and guiding books from Patricia to come!

Here is my interview with her:

authorjpegWhat inspired you to write IGNITE YOUR SPARK?
It was always in the back of my mind, because I thought my teen years were really tough. As I get older I keep learning new things about myself and wishing I knew them sooner. There’s so many great books for adults about identity, finding your passions, relationships, creating habits, etc.., and as I read them I’m always thinking about how I could’ve used that information in my youth.

Back in 2012, I was doing a couple of work-for-hire projects where I was interviewing successful young adults.The question that kept coming back to me was: How are these ordinary teens doing such extraordinary things? I decided I wanted to answer this question and write Ignite Your Spark: Discovering Who You Are From the Inside Out. In the process, I got to talk to some of the most inspirational, interesting, and unique people I’ve every encountered. They aren’t all geniuses, rich, or in private schools, etc.. In fact, many of them started at a perceived disadvantage with learning disabilities, low income, or social problems at school.  The common thread among these super-amazing young adults was their foundation for success was built with a strong sense of self-identity, determination, and grit.

You interviewed a lot of young people for this book. Who are some of your favorites?

They were all special, so it seems a little disloyal to make a list, but I will tell you about one that was life-changing for me regarding how I view kids and education…

Adora Svitak is a college student, writer, and advocate who at the age of 12 gave a TED Talk titled “What Adults Can Learn From Kids”. She introduced me to the concept of collaborative learning where teachers and students work together to create curriculum and special projects. Instead of students only being consumers of education at school, they actually participate in the entire process. This is how I created the idea of students using school projects and research assignments to learn more about their interests. For example: My 7th grader lives and dies for basketball, so he could research the history of the game for Social Studies, do an experiment on speed and velocity for Science, and use text-based evidence in Language Arts to compare and contrast the difference between two NBA players. His grade improves because he’s interested in the subject and does more research, and he picks up a few pointers for his own game in the process.

What was your favorite part about writing your manuscript?

My favorite part was the research. I have a passion for the material, so it never felt like work. I read 50+ nonfiction books, visited a gazillion websites, and spoke to some amazing teens and youth professionals. I learned something new every day and couldn’t wait to restructure the information for a younger audience.

What was your least favorite part about writing your manuscript?

That’s easy…. annotations and footnotes. All of the technical details your publisher needs in order to make the book legal. If you do it as your writing the manuscript it’s easy, but oftentimes I had to go back and find the information again.

Where and when do you write?

I can’t stand to sit in any one place for long. I have a beautiful office, but I must constantly be moving around. Sometimes it’s at a table, propped up in bed, or at a coffee shop. Almost all of the quizzes were written at my neighborhood pool, while my kids ran around with their friends. It often depends on the logistics of motherhood. I once conducted an interview while sitting in a school carline … it happens.

What was the most surprising part about the editorial process?

The editing process was the most surprising. First of all, I was shocked that I wasn’t at all offended or defensive about all of the changes my publisher wanted to my original manuscript. They sent me a developmental letter with a ton of suggestions along with Post-it tabs with notes sticking out from many of the pages. They are so thorough. It’s amazing what a fresh pair of eyes can do for your work. By working together we were able to make the book so much better. It was fun to watch it all come together. The best thing an author can do is to be open for suggestion. You don’t have to take all of the advice you are given, but you should listen.

Who are some writers who inspire your work?

It depends on what I am writing. I always fully immerse myself in what I’m working on. It effects what I read, watch on television, and listen to on the radio. For this book, I read a lot of parenting books from amazing experts like Rosalind Wiseman, Katie Hurley, Dr. Carol Dweck, Jessica Lahey, Julie Lythcott-Haims, Dr. Michelle Borba, Dr. Marilyn Price-Mitchell, and Rachel Stafford to name a few.

I also got into the business development books from Malcolm Gladwell, Charles Duhigg, Daniel Coyle, Brian Grazer, Sarah Lewis, etc.. When I was reading these books I kept thinking … why didn’t I know this stuff when I was younger and had more time to incorporate it into my life?

What advice can you give to aspiring children’s book writers?

This sounds simple, but WRITE. It’s so easy to waste time preparing to write, learning to write, or researching the industry. I’m not saying it’s not important to do those things, but do them second. Schedule your writing time first. The words don’t have to be amazing, because you can change them in the editing process. I used to make sure each sentence was 100% perfect before I wrote the next one and it worked against me in two ways #1 it slowed me down #2 it made it so hard to edit the sentences out when they weren’t working for my story.

Every person is different regarding their approach to writing. Some people like to outline everything out, while others start with page one and let the story unfold. If you want help with structure then check out a book like Save the Cat! by Blake Snyder, which is a screenwriting book many authors have used to help with creating a framework for their books. I’m using it now for my fiction series and I never struggle during my writing time. It gives direction without sacrificing flexibility of making changes if your characters decide to take you in another direction.

Happy book birthday to BAND GEEKS 2!

4-covers-band-geeks-2-page-001

The darling Amy Cobb holds the distinction of being my very first client! She came on board back in the fall of 2013. For this, she will always hold a special spot in my heart– she took  a chance on a fledgling agent. I’m happy  and proud to say that she’s now the author of three series–totaling 14 books! The talented Miss Amy is the author of a six-book middle grade series called BAND GEEKS, about the misadventures of a group of band kids, published by the awesome (seriously, I love them) educational publisher, ABDO. After the success of the first series, ABDO asked Amy to do a sequel series following the same characters plus a new generation of band geeks. We were thrilled at the opportunity to further explore these characters and this junior high world. And now, this month, BAND GEEKS 2 is available in schools and libraries! I also really love the illustrations by Anna Cattish. They’ve got a sort of anime vibe that is very cool. Here is what Amy has to say about writing BAND GEEKS 2:

amy-cobb-headshot


Tell us about what it was like to write this series.

Do you know that feeling you get when you haven’t seen an old friend in a long time, and you finally get the chance to catch up on all that’s new? It’s warm and comfortable and just feels right. That’s what writing Band Geeks 2 was like for me! I got to hang out with an entire band room filled with old friends and some new ones, too.

What is it like to write a sequel?

Writing a sequel was easier in that I already had existing main characters and a junior high school setting in place. But because several months had already passed since Band Geeks 1 was published, I did spend a lot of time reviewing notes and even reading book excerpts and looking at illustrations to ensure that the characterization and dialogue between the two sets was seamless. That was actually much tougher than I’d expected!

What was your favorite part about writing Band Geeks 2?

When I was first contacted about writing Band Geeks 2, I was super excited! Because I had so much fun hanging out in the band room with the first set of characters, I could hardly wait to return to Room 217. I’m also especially proud of the character diversity this new set brings. Plus, the ABDO team is amazing to work with, and I was thrilled to be back on board for Band Geeks 2!

Who is your favorite character and why?

The Band Geeks are all so different, and it’s tough to choose just one who’s my favorite. But if I have to pick, it would be Zac Wiles. He’s so silly and always lightens the more serious moments, particularly when there’s a clash among the other Band Geeks. That said, Zac is also a much deeper character than that. When he’s not goofing off and cracking jokes, Zac is thoughtful, caring, and understands what it’s like to overcome learning difficulties—all things that he doesn’t want other students at Benton Bluff Junior High to find out.

Where and when do you write?

I typically write early in the morning before my family wakes up and while the house is still quiet. As far as location, I like to mix things up. Sometimes I curl up on the couch with my laptop. Other times, I head outdoors to soak up the sunshine and listen to the birds singing as I work.

Who are some of your favorite writers?

My favorite writers are writers who make me laugh out loud—Judy Blume, Beverly Cleary, Karma Wilson, and Jeff Kinney definitely tickle my funny bone!

What is some advice you can give to aspiring writers?

Early on in my writing journey, I got easily discouraged when publication opportunities didn’t immediately come my way. I can’t tell you the number of times I said, “I quit!” But writing was something I couldn’t walk away from, at least not for very long. Looking back, if I’d had more patience, I would have enjoyed the road to publication so much more. So be patient and be kind to yourself. You’ll get there! Also, it’s extremely important to schedule writing time each day (Jot it on the calendar if you have to!) and to surround yourself with people who support you and your work.

 

 

 

Happy book birthday to Yoga Bunny!

yoga-bunny-cover
Namaste, everyone. Today the wonderful YOGA BUNNY enters the world. It’s a sweet story of a yoga-loving bunny who is misunderstood by his woodland friends. There is a lot in here for a kid to love, including visuals of cute animals doing downward dog and tree pose. Even if a kid doesn’t know what yoga is, the story is a charmer and encourages staying true to yourself, being open-minded and taking time for self-care.
What I love about this book is that it combines the nostalgia of sweet, woodland stories like Winnie-the-Pooh with a very modern trend. There is a great interplay between familiar and new in this picture book. The simple, hand-drawn illustrations create a soothing aesthetic to go along with this calm story.

I was connected to author-illustrator Brian Russo by the amazing Lisa Sharkey of HarperCollins. Brian is a true creative soul, brimming with ideas for books, stories, illustrations, animations. I first met Brian a couple of years ago at the Housing Works Bookstore Cafe in SoHo in NYC–he had skateboarded there from Brooklyn. As soon as he told me that, I was charmed by this loveable artist and have really enjoyed working with him since. I look forward to seeing where his career takes him.

YOGA BUNNY is a great gift for little yogis and kids who love woodland tales. Great for baby showers and for the the adult yoga-lovers in your life!
Here’s my interview with Brian Russo:
brian-russo-headshot
What inspired you to write YOGA BUNNY?
I first did the illustrations when I was getting verified to teach yoga and we had to memorize a long sequence. I drew the Bunny on flashcards and people in the class really responded to them. Around the same time, I was teaching myself web design and so I built a web page featuring the bunnies (which is still running and pretty close to that original version bunnyoga.com). I remember when I built it, I was thinking of watermarking all the images so no one could ‘steal’ the images. But at the time, I was living in an indoor trailer park in Brooklyn, and my roommates advised against it. It turned out to be really great advice because it allowed the images of the bunnies to roam free around the internet, and go somewhat viral. Then flash forward a few years, Lisa Sharkey, a vice president at Harper Collins, had the idea independently to do a children’s book about a bunny who did yoga. When she googled Yoga Bunny, my yoga bunny was the first thing to come up, so… that worked out well for me. She got in a contact with me about doing a book based on the illustrations, so that’s what inspired me to start writing the story.
What was your favorite part about writing your manuscript and/or creating the illustrations?
So, after Lisa got in contact with me, it was still almost a year before we all found a story that worked. The first story I wrote and pitched to them was about a Giant Salamander that Yoga Bunny conjures through a sequence of poses. The second story was a Yoga Bunny meeting a Boston Terrier who may or may not have been a ghost. Finally they said to me… look, we really want to do a small simple story like Winnie the Pooh. So I started looking at a lot of the original A.A.Milne illustrations and did a series of illustrations in that style, in where Bunny was doing yoga and a bunch of animals, one at a time, were looking at him like, ‘What are you doing?’ They really liked those illustrations, and after that, the manuscript that would become the book came pretty quickly. So, that was my favorite part of writing the manuscript: when the people at Harper Collins liked it and it became clear that this was going to happen, because before that I wasn’t sure it was going to happen.
Where and when do you write?
I know people have a daily writing practice where they write everyday like exercising. I tend to just write when I have a project I’m working on, and that can happen in any location: coffee shop, train, etc. For example, a few months ago, Clelia and I were working on my manuscript for a graphic novel. As soon as she would send me notes, I’d rewrite the manuscript wherever I was.
My fiancé Emily likes when I make up stories on the spot for her, and I come up with a lot of ideas this way, but all of these stories are pretty strange and have that ‘I just made this up’ feeling to them. I have more stories in my brain than I know what to do with, and the hard part is figuring out which of these are good enough to see the light of day.
Rejection is a big, and helpful, part of the writing process. Like, I just pitched two stories to Clelia that she thought were not right for children’s books. But with that information, I was able to look at the two stories, decide which one I was more passionate about, and now I am working on storyboards for that one, in hopes it can be made into an animated short.
The other kind of writing I do is with my friend, Sean. We have a comedy pilot we’ve been working on, and it’s so much fun just to be in a room with him or talk on the phone crack each other up. Like, over the past few months we’ve worked out a whole storyline for a Gremlins/Jurassic Park mash-up movie… Steven Spielberg, if you’re reading this, and I know you are…. call me.
Where and when do you illustrate?
I illustrate much more often than I draw. This I will really do anywhere. I’ll bring my sketchbook to dinner parties and just draw the whole time if I think I can get away with it, that is, not be perceived as being rude or anti-social. We worked very hard on Yoga Bunny to have a clean, calming, minimal look to all of the illustrations, and I’m so happy with the way it turned out. But in my sketchbook, I love getting messy and filling up the whole page with scribbly nonsense.
What was the most surprising part about the book-making process?
I guess the most surprising part was how long everything takes. It can be frustrating when you really just want to get something done. But, there’s a whole team working on the book with you. When I received my first copy of YOGA BUNNY, I was floored just by how good it looked. And, you know, that wasn’t just my work. That was the work of my editor and the art directors and several other people whom I never even had the chance to meet in person. And when I saw the book it also struck me that this could be a really classic thing that has a longevity to it. Like it can hopefully be enjoyed by different people for years and years to come. So it’s worth it and it’s a good thing that everything takes so long… people aren’t just trying to get a product out there, they’re trying to make something really special.
Who are some writers and illustrators who inspire your work?
I’m lucky to know some artists personally, whose work I really admire. Jon Burgerman is an incredibly prolific artist who has does murals, coloring books, and posters. He gave us a calendar a while ago. Emily and I cut out the pictures, put them in frames and they’re still hanging around our apartment.
Also, my friend Cait Davis does work that really inspires me. She has a company called ‘Springtime Jellyfish’ and they do the most incredible puppetry and stop motion animation; reminiscent of the Brothers Quay but with more of a sense of humor. I really hope to be able to work on stop motion film with her one day.
In terms of people I don’t know… I’m huge fan of Noelle Stevenson, who did the graphic novel, NIMONA which was also published by HarperCollins. She’s a co-creator of LUMBER JANES, and she has a bunch of really cool fan art online, doing renditions of everyone from the Scooby Gang to the Avengers. She’s also a writer on Wander Over Yonder, a really funny cartoon on Disney XD.
And speaking of cartoons… That’s a big source of inspiration for me. I love ‘Adventure Time, and recently I’ve really enjoyed watching Star vs The Forces of Evil. The writing on these shows is not only hilarious but also isn’t afraid to get existential. I think it’s great that the writers give kids credit to be able to wrap their heads around these kinds of concepts.

 

 

Welcome to the world, BINGO DID IT!

wistyjane-2-13-15-page-001   bingo

The ever-charming Wisteria Jane embarks on her second adventure in BINGO DID IT, published by the educational publisher, Redleaf Lane. I absolutely adore this series about a spunky little girl who walks to the beat of  her own drum. She’s sometimes sweet, sometimes sour, but always entertaining. You’ll fall in love with Wisty as she learns some of life’s simple, but important lessons. It’s a great family read.   And the illustrations by the amazing Ard Hoyt are to die for!

Author Amber Harris has a special knack for creating characters with a whole lot of charm, and sending them on adventures that help educate kid readers on how to make positive behavioral decisions. Amber is such an incredible woman, professional and author–I am always so impressed with her! Just like Wisteria Jane, she’s a force to be reckoned with! Look out for more fun with Wisteria Jane–she’ll be embarking on her third adventure next year.

Here’s my interview with Amber:

amber-harris-head-shotWhat inspired you to create the Wisteria Jane series?

During my graduate program, I had the opportunity to work closely with children on the autism spectrum. One of the struggles I faced as an educator was finding picture books that taught clear and concise social skills. There were amazing books about social skills, but the reader was expected to “read into” the overall story and find an almost hidden message. For neurotypical children, these books are amazing. For kids on the autism spectrum, these books are not useful tools. I decided that if I couldn’t find the books I was looking for, I would go ahead and write them. The series I’ve written works for any parent or teacher who wants to teach social skills or character building to the children in their lives. Both neurotypical kids and children on the spectrum can benefit from these books.

What was your favorite part about writing the books in series?

I absolutely love diving into the world of Wisteria. It is a blast to walk back into childhood and view the world the way a young child does. I have a nine-year-old daughter who makes this process a whole lot easier. She is a spicy little lady with opinions galore. Her personality is absolutely reflected in Wisteria’s character. It’s probably why I truly love Wisty so much. She is a real person to me. This probably makes me sound crazy, but it’s the truth.

What was your least favorite part about writing?

My least favorite part of writing is the waiting between the time the manuscript is completely edited and when the art work is finished. I’m not the world’s most patient individual, and the art takes time. Ard Hoyt’s illustrations are so amazing that it makes waiting really hard. I thought I would get better at waiting as each book comes out, but I am actually getting worse. Gah!

Where and when do you write?

I have an office, but don’t usually end up working in there. I love to grab my laptop and curl up in a pile of pillows on my bed to write. I’ve been a bedroom writer since I was little. When I was younger, I did my writing on a yellow legal pad while sprawled out on my bed. It seems like the natural place to write. It’s where I do most of my dreaming and feels like the perfect spot to put those dreams down on paper.

What was the most surprising part about the editorial process?

I was shocked at how much I love this part of the process. I have an amazing editor who is absolutely a joy to work with. I love the back and forth of ideas that comes with the editorial process. I’ve always loved team work, and having someone who loves these books as much as I do makes every interaction a blast.

Who are some writers who inspire your work?

I am a book junkie and love so many different authors. Emmy Payne’s Katy No Pockets was one of my favorites for years. Robert McCloskey’s work is probably my all-time favorite. Blueberries for Sal was a book I checked out from the Nichols Library over and over. Picture books are good for the soul. They inspire dreams and ideas in a way that no other format offers.

What advice can you give to aspiring children’s book writers?

If you have a story to tell…tell it. The path to publishing can be a tough one, but it is worth every bump in the road. There will never be too many picture books, and each author’s take on a subject is going to be different. If there is a story inside your heart you should share it with the world and see how many children you can inspire to dream.

 

Learn more about Amber at www.amberbharris.com.

Happy book birthday to THE KRAKEN’S RULES FOR MAKING FRIENDS!

kraken-cover

Guys! This is a very exciting day! I have not one but two great clients who have book birthdays today. The first book I’m going to talk about is a book very close to my heart–THE KRAKEN’S RULES FOR MAKING FRIENDS by debut author-illustrator, Brittany R. Jacobs. It’s the story of a lonely Kraken who is TIRED of not having friends, and turns to another sea beast–a great white shark–for advice.

This book actually has a pretty unusual back story. It all started one day when I was in a PaperSource, and I noticed a table filled with Kraken-themed things. The Kraken is a mythical octopus-like sea beast and I thought to myself, Okay, this thing is in the zeitgeist and it would make a good picture book hero. After a quick Amazon search, I saw there were no Kraken picture books out in the world yet, so I tweeted out my interest using #MSWL and reached out to the wonderful ladies of SCBWI-Western Washington, who put a call out for Kraken picture books for me on their blog. From there, I received about 40 submissions — and Brittany’s was my absolute favorite. Her lonely Kraken just looking to make friends captured my heart, as did her sense of humor and art style. We eventually found a home at the super cool Brooklyn-based indie, POW! (the kids imprint of powerHouse Books), known for its beautiful, art-forward books. It’s been a long swim in the publishing waters, but our beloved Kraken has been officially released!

Brittany is a great client–creatively talented, a super hard worker, and just a delightful person. I love having her on the MLM team! I think her career is just getting started and I’m so excited to see it flourish.

Here is my interview with Brittany:

brittany-jacobs-headshotWhat inspired you to write THE KRAKEN’S RULES FOR MAKING FRIENDS?
Back in January of last year I received an email saying that you were looking for picture book dummies based on the mythological sea creature, the Kraken. There were several author/illustrators submitting, so this was kind of like a sudden-death situation, or really I should say “sudden-life” because whoever’s dummy you liked the best got the deal and would go on to be published. I had been trying to get published for 6 years, so of course I jumped on this opportunity and threw my hat in the ring. We had a little over two weeks to write, sketch and render our Kraken picture books, and – spoiler alert! – I got the gig! So, long answer to a short question – it was YOU who inspired me to write The Kraken’s Rules For Making Friends 🙂
What was your favorite part about writing/illustrating the book?
My favorite part was watching the story come together in the early stages of the storyboard. I typically start out with an ending, and work my way backwards to fill in the gaps. When a story is in the conceptual stage, there is room for all sorts of shenanigans, and very often I found myself laughing out loud as I “discovered” how the Kraken learned to make a friend. I hope that the fun and laughter that I had while creating this book translates to the page and, in turn, to the reader/listener.
What was your least favorite part about writing/illustrating the book?
Do you know those scenes in movies where the main character is forced to do something over and over and over again, in the hopes of perfecting the movements? No matter how painful, they must keep going and going and going? If they were to make a movie about the process of creating this book, the bulk of it would consist of me sitting at my work station drawing and redrawing and redrawing the same 16 spreads over and over and over again. There are NO MORE WAYS to draw a shark! I have drawn ALL THE SHARKS!! But they were right, there were more ways to draw a shark, or a knitted Koi suit, or a school of fish. But it was a painful, and LONG process of getting it right. Looking back, I’m proud of myself for sticking with it, and – despite my own feelings of frustration – I turned out a new shark when they asked for one, or came up with a new pun, or redrew an entire spread. The edits were my least favorite part, however they were the most important. I’m a better author/illustrator because of it, and for that I am grateful.
Where and when do you write?
I have this fabulous little moleskin notebook specifically made for storyboarding, and it is outside with this notebook where all of my stories begin. I think visually – along the lines of a movie playing in my mind – therefore I sketch out the thumbnail illustrations first. Then, I go back and whatever isn’t conveyed in the illustrations, I write out. With a background in writing curriculum and programming for children, the writing portion of the books comes very naturally to me and is done quite quickly. I start out outside with a notebook because I feel most at ease when I’m in nature and have the most room to think. Thankfully I have two dogs that shadow me wherever I go, so it doesn’t seem strange at all that I spend so much time standing in fields and forests 🙂
Where and when do you illustrate?
For some reason, the Witching Hour seems to be one and the same with the Illustration Inspiration Hour. I have one heck of a wonky schedule thanks to this, but alas, art cannot be forced, leaving me at the mercy of when the mood strikes – which, as I mentioned, happens to be in the dead of night. There’s a theory that people are more creative at night due to the frontal lobe being “checked-out” allowing the rest of your brain to function at higher capacities, which would explain things. I work digitally, and have my work station set up in a spare bedroom that overlooks the back garden – again, nature is a big support system of mine.
What was the most surprising part about the editorial process?
The editorial process was pretty painless. I was pleasantly surprised to get the text nailed down rather quickly. The art took longer.
What was the most surprising part about the art direction process?
So many edits–more than I thought possible. The best piece of advice I got from the art director was to limit my color palette to two colors. This transformed the feeling of the book, and really made it shine!
Who are some writers or illustrators who inspire your work?
I am a huge fan of animators, specifically the storyboard artists. I love to look through the Pixar “Art Of” books and see what the conceptual art looked like while they hashed the story out. I’m inspired by the lovely Sir Quentin Blake, Benji Davies, Ryan Green, Mark Anthony, Brittney Lee, and the list goes on and on.
What advice can you give to aspiring children’s book writers and illustrators?
Thicken-up your skin, and when the rejections are coming in, just keep going… and going… and going! Persistence is a key quality, and if you can master it in the beginning then you’ll be ready to hash it out in the editorial/publication process. I had a whopping 287 rejections before I got noticed, and have added quite a few more to the pile–even since having one book to my name. I attribute much of my journey to the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, so if they’re not already a member, then I would suggest they get on the SCBWI bandwagon. Attend the conferences, regional events, and local meet-ups. Networking is important, and it just so happens that the Kid Lit gang are some of the best people on the planet, and they know how to throw a wicked party! The overall BEST piece of advice I can give, isn’t my advice at all. I once heard an author (forgive me, I don’t remember who it was) tell a room of pre-published writers/illustrators that the best thing you can do for your writing career is to try as many new life experiences as possible. Learn a new language, see a play, hike in the woods, travel! If you’re open to new things then it will make you, and the stories you tell, that much more dimensional.
Read more about Brittany at www.brjacobsart.com. She has cool printable coloring material on her website.

 

Happy Pub Day to SUPER GEAR!

supergear cover
As many of you know, I’m interested in nonfiction kid lit more than the average agent. So when Jennifer Swanson, prolific author of more than 25 STEM-related books for kids, queried me, I responded to her right away! Her impressive catalog of books includes this year’s EVERYTHING ROBOTICS and last year’s BRAIN GAMES, both pubbed by National Geographic. Her amazing ability to take advanced concepts and break them down in a way that is digestible for kids truly impressed me and I was so thrilled when she came on board. Today her book SUPER GEAR: NANOTECHNOLOGY AND SPORTS TEAM UP, published by Charlesbridge, debuts. It’s a really cool book that examines nanotechnology and how it’s used by world class athletes in their equipment, facilities and attire. Jen, who has degrees in both engineering and teaching, does what she does best and explains the exciting and cool science that makes our world go round. A great book for kids who love science and/or sports! Here’s my Q&A with Jen:
head shot
What inspired you to write SUPER GEAR?
I think nanotechnology is COOL! I really wanted to share this unique and cutting edge science with young readers. Nanotechnology is in everything you do. From the cell phones you use every day to the eco-friendly techniques in our oceans, to tiny nanotech machines that keep us well.  The trick was finding the right hook to present the material. My inspiration for this book came from two things: my love of sports and my love of the Disney movie, The Incredibles. In my family, sports was always a big deal and every year we would sit down to watch the Olympics. I was fascinated by the controversy of the full-body swimsuits that Michael Phelps and other elite swimmers wore at the 2008 Olympics, when they broke tons of records.  When I learned that it was because they were made using nanotechnology, I was interested. Still, I needed a great hook and title. That’s where the movie comes in. Anyone remember the part where IceMan is walking around during The Incredibles movie saying “Where is my supersuit?”  Yep. That was it. The idea was formed and SUPER GEAR was born!
What was your favorite part about writing the manuscript?
I learned SO much about nanotechnology and materials science. It was really fascinating to me. I love learning new things and then being able to communicate the concepts behind this cutting-edge science to kids is just awesome! I hope my book may inspire some of my readers to become scientists and engineers one day.
What was your least favorite part about writing your manuscript?
I had to do a lot of searching to find the right resources for this book. Since a lot of what I wrote about was proprietary equipment, it was sometimes difficult to find the information that I needed for the book.
Where and when do you write?
I write in my home office. I try to write every day, but it depends. More often than not, I am working really hard on a deadline, and that can mean 8 hours or more of straight researching and writing. But some days, when I don’t have a deadline looming, I just take the day off and surf the internet or go on a walk with my dogs.
What was the most surprising part about the editorial process?
How often we went through the manuscript. I am a fast writer and I research as I write. The editorial process on this book was very involved, mostly because it was such a complex topic. My editor, Alyssa Pusey,  was fantastic to work with!! She challenged me and encouraged me, she asked tough questions and she gave great edits. I learned so much about the editorial process. I give her great kudos for hanging in there with me on this challenging topic!!
Who are some writers who inspire your work?
Wow. There are so many. My mentor for the last ten years has been Clara Gillow Clark. She is just amazing. But I am also inspired by Mary Kay Carson, Melissa Stewart, and many other awesome authors.
What advice can you give to aspiring children’s book writers?
Never give up! This business is hard, even for those of us who are getting contracts. It’s an up and down kind of thing. You can work really hard on a proposal or manuscript and never have it go anywhere and sometimes something you aren’t too sure about will hit and get picked up. Have faith in yourself. Get a critique group, not just for help with your manuscript but also for a squad to cheer you on and hold you up when you’re down. Being a children’s author is an amazing job, and one that I’m so lucky to have!
Find out more about Jen at www.JenniferSwansonBooks.com!

Happy Pub Day to THE SECRET OF THE SCARAB BEETLE

William Meyer Secret of the scarab beetle cover

I first met William Meyer (a.k.a. Bill) through an old friend from college, who has the esteemed privilege of being married to him! Bill was about to self-publish his middle grade time travel novel, which he also illustrates, when he shared it with me. I immediately loved THE SECRET OF THE SCARAB BEETLE’s protagonist, shy but brave 11-year-old Horace, and was swept into this time travel adventure where Horace befriends a young King Tut in Ancient Egypt.  Bill is a history teacher who is working on his PhD in history, and he had meticulously researched and incorporated the many strange but true connections between Ancient Egypt and modern day Michigan. This book has strong sense of place–something that can be missing from middle grade books–which is why Sleeping Bear, a Michigan-based publisher, was the perfect publisher for this book. The series will continue, further unraveling Michigan’s curious and totally real connections to the past through Horace’s time travel adventures. As a fan of the book, I can’t wait to see where Horace’s adventures take him next!

Here is my interview with Bill:

Bill Meyer headshotWhat inspired you to write THE SECRET OF THE SCARAB BEETLE?
Two things inspired the writing of “The Secret of the Scarab Beetle.”  The first was my love for Egypt and the second was my grandfather.  I can still remember my grandfather visiting my first grade classroom and sharing a slide presentation from his trip to Egypt the previous year.  Ever since that moment, seeing the mummies, the pyramids, and just learning about the mysteries of this ancient land, I was hooked.
What was your favorite part about writing your manuscript?
I really loved getting to know the characters through the writing process and having an opportunity to travel with them across time and space.  It was this connection between history and people that brought the story to life for me.  In many ways, I discovered the story and mysteries of Egypt alongside Horace and his friends.
What was your least favorite part about writing your manuscript?
Editing.  I must have fifty drafts of the manuscript saved on my hard drive and another fifty stored in boxes in the basement.  Letting go of pieces of the manuscript that took months to write is never easy, but it is a necessary part of great writing.  At one point the book was over 80,000 words in length.  In the end it finished at around 40,000, but I think it is a much stronger and fast-paced story for all.
Where and when do you write?
I write best in the morning.  Sometimes I’ll do this in a coffee shop, sometimes in a library, but more often than not I’ll just write at the kitchen table.  The sooner I get started the better.  Many mornings I never make it past my first cup of tea before I find myself grabbing my laptop and becoming engrossed in the writing process.
What was the most surprising part about the editorial process?
How much was rewritten, especially the opening of the manuscript.  I spent about six months writing the first five chapters, all of which were reduced to a little over one chapter in the end.  It was in the writing process that I had to learn the backstory for myself, but I also realized it wasn’t necessary for the reader to go through all that to fully understand who Horace and his friends were.
Who are some writers who inspire your work?
I love the work of Colin Meloy and Ellis Carson in the “Wildwood Series.”  The mix of great writing, world crafting, and art is very inspiring.  I also love Stephen King.  While he might not be a great match for young readers, his ability to create suspense and drive a narrative is second to none in my opinion.
What advice can you give to aspiring children’s book writers?
Just go for it.  Find a routine and start writing.  Don’t worry about the details, getting an agent, or who will publish your book in the end.  Those things can be figured out later.  There is a momentum to writing, just as I think there is a momentum to life.  Catching that wave and bringing the story to life takes a lot of energy and capturing that first wave of excitement and riding it as far as you can is so important.  The rest you can leave up to caffeine, and in the end you’ll probably need a lot of caffeine.

The Many Roles of An Agent

Being a literary agent is a job that requires you to play a lot of roles. One of the reasons I love being an agent is because I think it’s a profession that calls on all of the skills that I most excel at — I feel like I am being put to my best use. When I speak to potential clients, many of them are new to the publishing industry and are not exactly sure what a literary agent does. Below, I’ve outlined the many roles that an agent must play to represent their clients. As you’ll see, we agents are the wearers of many hats!

caps for sale

Genre Expert: For an agent to represent a genre, that means they have read tons and tons in that genre–they know what’s great writing, what’s bad writing and what’s so so writing. They know the old stuff and the new stuff.

Talent Scout: Agents are reading submissions all of the time, evaluating them for quality and for that “It” factor. Agents also go after clients that they read about, hear about, encounter in some way or another, either randomly or deliberately.

Trendspotter: Agents stay on top of what trends are in the genres they represent, by reading through deal listings, reading industry news, observing the market, staying on top of what is in the cultural zeitgeist, talking with other people in the field.

Idea Conceiver: Sometimes agents come up with ideas that they think would work really well in the market, and they have one of their clients execute the idea. These ideas come from being genre experts and trendspotters.

Editor: Before a manuscript is submitted, an agent helps a client get their manuscript or proposal into tip-top shape. As I like to describe it: an author gets their manuscript into good shape, an agent helps the author get it into great shape, and an editor at a publishing house helps the author get it into excellent shape — and then it’s ready for publication. Sometimes the editorial process at the agency level can take months, with several back and forths.

Networker: Agents pound the pavement hard when it comes to networking with editors. Getting to know editors means an agent will have a better understanding of their acquisition interests, which means the agent will do a better, more precise job at submitting manuscripts, and increase the potential for their clients’ manuscripts to land a great home. This means an agent is always making phone calls, sending emails, attending conferences, having meetings, coffee, drinks, meals, etc. with editors.

Matchmaker: When a manuscript is ready to submit, an agent submits to editors based on their knowledge of their editorial needs and interests. It needs to be a good match to proceed in the process– think of agents as literary yentas.

Negotiator: Once an offer is made, contracts become involved and an agent advocates on behalf of their client to try and sweeten the deal as best they can. Knowledge of common industry contract clauses, the market for advances for books of this nature, standard royalty rates, and legal expectations are a must. Some agents were lawyers (like me!), which is helpful in this role, but not necessary to be a fierce advocate for a client.

Publicist: Maintaining good media contacts and contacts with publicists and speakers bureaus to help support a client once their book is out is helpful, as an author should never solely count on the publisher for publicity support.

Firefighter: Sometimes things go wrong–in the editorial process, in the publicity process, in the production process–really, things can go wrong at any point in the process. Agents must help their clients get through these hoops, sometimes having to mediate between them and the publisher. You gotta be tough to play this role.

Therapist: Writing is so personal — a client’s book is their baby. Sometimes things can get quite emotional during the writing, editing, or other process. A good agent is also a good listener, a good advisor and knows when to give some tough love if they need to.

As you can see, being an agent isn’t just submitting manuscripts and negotiating contracts–there’s a lot we have to be good at to best represent our clients!

Interested in knowing what I’m looking for? Check out my most recent manuscript wish list.