A Panel Discussion: The Role of Children's Book Agents in the Literary Marketplace.
An event I had covered back in the Fall/Winter of 2005. Yes, that long ago, yet the event is prominent in my mind. I wrote the article published in the Society of Children's Book Writers & Illustrators, Metro New York Publication:
A snowstorm hovered over the metropolitan area. Nevertheless, I was eager to attend the SCBWI event. Before, the event, I was treated to dinner with members of SCBWI and the agents. WOW! A night to remember.
I am posting this news now because I will be attending an up-coming Agents' Panel Event on November 10th. Not as the writer, but as a member of SCBWI. I am looking forward to be in the audience and meeting the panel of agents.
Connecting with agents in any way, is a plus, to the ultimate goal of getting one’s book published.
On March 8 at the Tuesday Professional Series, snow flurries loomed outdoors, but indoors Barry Goldblatt, Ronnie Ann Herman and Scott Treimel, three distinguished literary agents, focused on the role children’s book agents play in helping writers and illustrators become published authors. The audience was warmed by the spirited discussion.
Barry Goldblatt opened the discussion by stating how his publishing background and “natural affinity” to recognize a manuscript that is “brilliantly written” led him to open the Barry Goldblatt Literary Agency in September 2000. After starting as a rights assistant at Dutton Children’s Books, he first moved to the Putnam & Grosset Group, and then later to Orchard Books, where he negotiated hundreds of author/illustrator contracts and license agreements. As an agent, Goldblatt specializes in YA and middle grade fiction, but he also handles picture book writers and illustrators.
What is the role of a children’s book agent? According to Goldblatt, an agent leads authors to the right match with an editor. Agents know their way around the marketplace and know what editors want to acquire. Goldblattt believes that a good agent can influence an author’s work from beginning to end. A good agent evaluates and negotiates the contract, getting the client the highest advance possible, and then sees that the client is paid in a timely fashion.
“I think of my clients as my extended family,” he remarked. Knowing how lonely the writing life can be, he fosters close relationships with his clients by taking them on “marketing retreats” where they can meet and learn from each other. He also advises them to form critique groups to fine tune their manuscripts.
What does Goldblatt look for in a manuscript? “Great writing” and stories that are “on the edge and offbeat.” Books on his list that draw him into the story are boy proof” by Cecil Castellucci, Rhymes With Witches by Lauren Myracle, and Stained by Jennifer Richard Jacobson. But, he cautioned, “There are no such things as trends. You should write something that you feel passionate about.”
Ronnie Ann Herman founded the Herman Agency, Inc. in 1999 after working as art director at Random House for ten years, and art director, vice president and associate publisher at Grosset & Dunlap (Penguin Books) for nine years. Herman represents artists and authors, but concentrates on art. She specializes in books for all ages and other supplementary materials, such as magazines, cartoons and licensed characters.
Having published eight of her own children’s books as well as being a talented designer and painter, Herman shares her knowledge with illustrators and offers artistic and editorial suggestions. She encourages artists to be both author and illustrator because she finds it easier to sell art if there’s a story that goes with it. Otherwise art can sit in a file somewhere with just a small chance of being bought. “You must have a story if you have a sketch,” she said. But, she was quick to note, “The book has to be as good as the art.”
“I am looking for what I love and what would sell,” she said. “I’m completely loyal to my artists and will keep them on and get them work.” About 90% of her clients make a living through her representation. Herman negotiates contracts with her clients’ interests at heart and sees that they don’t sign away their rights. Like Goldblatt, her clients are her “extended family.”
There are no easy paths to get an interview with an art director. Herman knows the marketplace and can open doors by contacting the right editors and art directors that match the artists' genre. She advised artists to explore the educational market, particularly because the picture book market is currently slow. Educational publishing is a good way for artists to break into the field; the turnaround is fast, with 10 days to produce the sketches, and it generates quicker financial rewards.
Scott Treimel (Scott Treimal NY) handles all the complex details of selling a book, including contracts, copyrights, e-rights, foreign rights and movie rights. Prior to starting his agency in 1995, he worked at Curtis Brown, Ltd., Scholastic, Inc., United Features Syndicate, Warner Bros., and International Publishing. He specializes in children’s books of all ages, from board books through teen novels.
Treimel wants to represent authors with books that are “down right well-written.” If the book becomes a really big sell, he knows how to negotiate a fair deal that protects the author financially. “I’m careful about every little detail,” Treimel said.
He works with authors to fine-tune their manuscripts by offering workshop topics in the craft of writing, author-agent relationships, contracts, and editorial and career development. Although fantasy is not on his list, he is interested in YA and funny middle grade books. “Something fabulous. No unicorns. No rainbows. No fairies.”
Treimel agreed with the importance of having a good author-agent relationship. He works with an author before sending a manuscript out to ensure that it is at its highest professional level. He often suggests ideas that can add the needed spark to an author’s book.
The evening drew to a close with questions directed to the agents regarding submission policies, query letters, networking, and critique group issues. The audience was advised to check the agents’ Web sites. Web sites are a good place to look for agents that match your particular interests or specialty. The agents all agreed that they should be contacted first before an editor. Otherwise, if the editor turns your work down, the agents won’t be interested. If you do get an editor interested, however, let the agents work out the rough spots and make the deal, so that you can keep a good relationship with the publishing house. All the agents agreed that if you are passionate about your book, never give up. They, too, will never give up believing it will sell.
In the end, everyone went away with insightful information knowing that the role agents play in the marketplace helps authors and illustrators get published.