Sunday, 12 September 2010

kid's book agents and a new generation of techno mothers

This past Thursday morning, having finished a small adjustment to a cover for my Bayard book, I took the train into Paris for my first weekly class of the art school year at Parsons Paris - 17 keen new students.  After a quick preview of  my partner Mick’s painting show near Notre Dame, I made it for 2h15 minutes of Eurostar across the channel to the London tube, then in a rush, a rickshaw through Trafalgar square.
Destination? A top floor of a London pub,  before a line up of 5 kid's book agents.  

I thought I'd had a busy day.  You should have seen the agents!
First at the panel they talked about their aims, practices and history before responding to  impromptu questions from the crowded room.   
Then, fuelled only by the odd sip of wine, they seemed happy to chat away to a never-ending but polite huddle of authors and illustrators.  We were warned not to bombard them with actual projects but  still, there was sharing and networking all round.

Not everyone got to talk with the agents - some like me, needed to eat.
As I watched the rapidly diminishing delicious buffet,  I poked my head into their huddles simply to offer them a  plate of food.  No need.  As one agent said, she was way beyond hunger.   
So, if you need proof, this is it:  agents love us authors and illustrators,  and go hungry for us.

Nancy Miles of Miles Stott:
explained they are a small agency representing 40% PB creators, 60% fiction.  
They are actively looking for fresh voices, originality, humour and “an innate sense of what resonates with young children of picture book age, generally 3-5 years”. 
 While proactive in looking for fresh talent and submissions from debut  as well as mid-career authors and illustrators, they ARE highly selective.   
Nancy’s other comments:
“We’ve always been told it’s tough times for picture books but there is a rise in sale right now though most are classics or one-off bold ventures”.
Writers out there - read this and get going!  There is a dearth of  middle grade books for feisty females.
You knew of course about the resurgence of YA.   She’s looking for yes, dark , but especially, funny YA.
what is Nancy’s editorial input? 
It’s part of her job to help edit - and “beat into shape” -  a promising project.  t’s the agents responsibility she feels,  to present the best version possible and save the publisher time.
what is Nancy’s take on the new media? 
She’s positive about ebooks, apps etc -  the more formats there are, the better for everyone but  exactly how much authors will gain is still up for grabs. 

Penny started out in foriegn rights at Walker Books UK and then went to work in Boston for their sister US company Candlewick   for several years, before returning to the UK to become an agent. 
Penny's comments:
They push UK publishers to get PBs out despite the reticence of UK retailers.
They are very active in exploring audio, film, tv and merchandizing potential.
Penny’s looking for exciting projects by debut authors in children’s but adult books too.  They select v few out of the large pile of submissions.  They try to reply in 6 weeks but there are busy seasonal periods so be patient. and please say if you are submitting elsewhere. 
Small but punchy  she said they look for the stars of tomorrow  and are desperate for good picture books - in short,   600 words or less, good character development, a beginning and middle and a funny or heart rending end.  
 what is her take on the new media? 
a true fair royalty for ebooks has yet to emerge.  
The tendency is to go for  established titles, though she would hate to see that a child’s first discover of a book like The Gruffalo was as an app.  
Market is changing everyday.   
New media from web sites to video trailers are enabling for authors 
so do it!
what is Penny’s editorial input? 
Like Nancy she is more than happy to edit
A good PB project may need a lot of work to get it at its best to show a publisher.
what grabs Penny in a new submission?  
Title, title, title!  A strong voice.  Humour.  The authors sense of potential for their ideas in other media.
And the cult of the author personality is important.

Jodie Marsh of United Agents
started out as assistant to the highly respected and visually-savvy agent Rosemary Canter when the agency was  called PFD .
Jodie now has 16 clients of her own in addition to Rosemary’s 65-70 and is actively seeking more across the board, from YA to PB,  both from new and established authors and illustrators.
Jodie said
there’s a movement to more highly illustrated older fiction and is interest in graphic novels and the humour that comes out of comics.
what is Jodie’s editorial input?
Focusing tonight on the illustration side, she said they would happily edit and develop a portfolio ready for presentation and research their potential with publishers before taking on the artist. 

Salyanne Sweeney of Watson, Little Ltd
is looking for fresh voices from adult to YA to MG, includes authors like Margaret Mahy and Adam Hart-Davis, 
Also has a small numer of illustrators too including Stephen Beisty.    
The agency doesn’t take on science fiction or poetry.
What grabs her in a new submission?
A good story hook.
what is Salyanne’s editorial input?
A lot - she does considerable editorial work at times and enjoys it, even if the project doesn’t  eventually go further.

The only agent present to also represent non-fiction.  Unlike the others she does not represent picture books.
After a background in kids theatre Jenny started as PA to Andrew Nurnberg.  They represent rights for agent and publisher clients in the UK and US and have several offices abroad selling rights of English language books successfully in Western and Eastern European countries and elsewhere.
Jenny's comments
She’s been building their kids author list, actively involved with the amazing book venture of SCBWI British Isles's Undiscovered Voices, among other things.  She loves a quirky take, unpredictability, surprise, humour and doesn’t like too much description.  She feels that YA for boys is under represented.  Write from within, not for the market.
And writers -  where is romance for boys?  They need it too!
what is Jenny’s take on the new media?
They are watching different countries.
"The app is spawning a new species of techno mummy who will buy an app for her baby first before buying the book."

Thank you to Liz , Miriam and all at the British SCBWI for a buzz of an evening!  My ears are still ringing.
And if you were there too, well, I was standing up during their panel with a beer in my hand so my jottings were sketchy.  If you were sitting down, please add to, or correct this report! 
Back home now,  my assistants below, are helping me sort out papers...