Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Agent Panel Discussion from the 2009 NJ SCBWI June Conference

Famous last words... I must be careful sharing with the Universe that I have free time on my hands because then all heck breaks loose and I am overburdened with too much to do.

Last week, I promised you all info from the June conference. Well, better late then never, right??? Here is some info from the agent panel discussion. More to follow. (When that is, I do not know. Bare with me... ... ... ...)

Jill Corcoran; Associate Agent, Herman Agency
Jenni Ferrari-Adler; Literary Agent, Brick House Literary Agents
Rachel Orr, Literary Agent; Prospect Agency
Scott Treimel; President, Scott Treimel NY
Emily Van Beek; Literary Agent & Rights Director, Pippin Properties
Marietta B. Zacker; Literary Agent, Nancy Gallt Literary Agency

Emily Van Beek – Emily’s agency, Pippin, is a child focused literary agency. Celebrating their 11th birthday in April, they represent everything from PB to YA, writers to illustrators. They currently represent just under 50 writers and illustrators. They represent authors like Kate DiCamillo, Doreen Cronin, David Small, and more. About half of these writers/illustrators began their careers at Pippin. And so Holly McGhee’s original vision for her company has come to fruition; Holly’s vision was one of longevity. For this reason, Pippin LOVES to represent artists who are just beginning their career and so does Emily.

When searching for a company’s name, Holly thought about books that meant the most to her as a child. Their mascot, Zeke Pippin, was gifted to them by William Steig, considered to be the grandfather of their agency. They are a small, but focused agency, dedicated to bringing the finest children’s book authors and illustrators to print today.

Part of the success of Pippin is due to a philosophy shared by all Pippin artists and authors.

  • The world owes you nothing. You owe the world your best work.
  • Evergreens—we want to create books that will stand the test of time.
  • We want to work with people in all media who share our philosophy.

Marietta B. Zacker – Marietta’s number one pet peeve is when people do not even try to pronounce her name. Mad(with a soft R roll)-ee-etta. She works for the Nancy Gallt Literary Agency in South Orange, NJ. They also only represent children’s authors and illustrators. Nancy Gallt founded her agency in 2000. They do not currently have a website. But Casey McCormick has great info and links about Marietta.

Jenni Ferrari-Adler – was founded by Sally Wofford-Girand. Brick House is located in NYC and is considered a “boutique” agency, representing mostly literary fiction and narrative non-fiction. Jenni specializes in representing fiction, food writing, and cookbooks, but recently experienced representing her first middle grade novel – an adventure set in the near future of a dystopic society where three friends unravel a mystery behind life-threatening migraines.

This experience has left, this once foody agent, hungry for more. Jenni is very interested in building her client profile and would love to represent more MG and YA authors.

A graduate from Oberlin College, she was the editor for Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant and has an MFA in fiction. She has also worked as a reader for the Paris Review.

They do not have a website but you can find out about them at here

Rachel Orr – is an agent for Prospect Agency in Brooklyn, NY. Emily Sullivan Kim is the founder. They currently have four agents, Emily Sullivan Kim, Rachel Orr, Becca Stumpf, and Vivian Chum. They represent everything from board books to adult literature, from writers to illustrators. Rachel launched their illustration department and currently reps eleven illustrators.

Jill Corcoran The Herman Agency, located in NYC, was founded by Ronnie Ann Herman in 1999. They rep around 50 – 60 of the best children’s authors and illustrators.

Jill reps MG and YA and is looking to expand. She views herself as a talent scout and enjoys editing and helping your MS get to that next level.

Scott Treimel – began about 15/16 years ago with his whole career has be focused on children in one way or another. He was at Curtis Brown and Scholastic as an editor. Tired of hearing “NO!” all the time, he crossed over to United Artists, Home and Garden Magazine, and Warner Brothers where he founded their World Wide Publishing. He then worked as a consultant at Harper.

Then in 1995, he began his own agency where he represents everyone from teen authors to illustrators.

All the agents were very approachable and so easy to talk to. You'd be lucky to be rep'd by any one of them.

The following was a Q&A session brought to you by The 2009 SCBWI NJ June Conference Word of the Year

Dystopia n. Dystopic adj.
1. a world in chaos 2. disharmony 3. antonym of utopia 4. a current theme used a lot in today's children's MG and YA novels

The SCBWI NJ June Conference Agent Panel Discussion was sponsored by Vampires and Zombies and any combination of the two. (No vampires or zombies were hurt in the making of this panel discussion. Agents are Equal Opportunity Representatives.)

Q: What are the current trends in submission?

MZ: Vampires! They are done. Or zombies. They are done too. Or Vampire/Zombie mixes. Also done. Also, this is not necessarily a good thing, but I'm also seeing a lot of plot driven stories without character development; that can be done, too.

ST: Lots of “Dystopian” worlds. I don’t feel paranormal has peaked yet, but seeing a lot of that too. Historical fiction is low, can always use more of that. And please, no more stories about bullies, zombies, and yes, vampires!

Q: What do you want more of?

MZ: I want to see more depiction of what’s outside out world – true ethnicity, true representation of our populations. ALL kids need to be represented in books. More authentic ethnicity is needed.

JC: BUT don’t make ethnicity trite or cliché – Chinese New Year’s….

ST: Yes, DON’T make it about one black guy, one white guy, and one Spanish guy go on some adventure together.

MZ: Be true to yourself. Don’t write what you know like what Mr. Peck said (as in Richard Peck, our key note speaker). Look outside yourself.

EVB: Too many divorced or dead parents, or kids in new homes, unpacking boxes when suddenly, all of a sudden… no more of that!

Q: What about sexuality or books about gay teens?

ST: If you’re going to write about a gay MC, dig deep so it’s not just about being gay.

MZ: Gay shouldn’t be the issue. It should be authentic.

EVB: Even cursing, if not authentic, does not work.

JC: YAs do not need to have cursing and sex in order to appeal to the YA market.

Q: Can we re-submit something else after being turned down?

ST: It needs to be as good or better.

EVB: Rarely do you get a second chance so don’t waste a bullet. The world owes you nothing so put your best foot forward. Make sure you really put work in before coming back with an additional submission or re-write of the same MS.

MZ: Yes, and please don’t pretend that we don’t know you. Indicate that you had once submitted before and now you are submitting again. I don’t know why some writers think they can pretend like we don’t know you or won’t remember you. We will. So, just mention it in your query.

(NOTE TO SELF - keep excel spread sheet on who you send what to and what draft the MS was at the time because I would be one of these writers and it wouldn't be because I was pretending. It would be because I FORGOT!!!!)

Q: Do agents want lists of who saw the MS?

JC: Yes. The more we know, the better.

MZ: Trust! Trust us to give us all your information and that we’ll give it to the right editor. If that editor saw it already, we need to know that. And we need to know what draft they saw. Maybe they'd be open to seeing a re-write if they know you've done your revision with us.

ST: Don't forget, we are building your career, so I know this is more to the other question, but don’t just have one MS for us to show. If so-and-so saw this already, let us show them something different. And if everyone keeps telling you the same thing, maybe it’s time for you to re-evaluate your MS.

EVB – Know the agency's list of what they've represented. Know their flavors so you can find an agent that is the right match for you and your MS

ST: Yes, and don’t forget, we are each attuned, maybe, to different editors’ likes and dislikes, so the more you share with us, the better.

Q: If you have an agent who won’t rep one of your MS, is it OK to get a different agent for that MS?

A: (quite in unison) NO!

EVB and ST basically said the same thing: Unless you write children and adult, you would need two different agents for that.

ST: But don’t play the field. Like we said, we are trying to build your career. It could be that we feel that MS is substandard compared to your other MS and we wouldn’t want it to tarnish your reputation as a writer. Again, trust us. If you don't maybe you need a different agent.

Q: What do you love?

MZ: Sometimes we shoot ourselves in the foot at these things when we tell a room full of writers what we love. Then all of a sudden we are bombarded with MS only about that. Often times, I don’t know what I want until I read it. I want something good.

ST: I have favorites, but I don’t want to be defined by them.

JFA: I love MG dystopic novels with exceptional writing, and rich worlds, great characters. For YA, it’s all about the voice; funny, fresh. In general, I want characters you fall in love with and can't forget.

EVB: My motto is, if I can resist it, I will. So, give me something I can't resist.

RO: It’s like falling in love. Sometimes I read something that is so good, I have to stop because I'm so afraid it’s going to suddenly go bad or I just don't want it to end. I know I love something when I start quoting it to my husband.

Q: How much do you edit before you submit to editors?

RO: I tend to over edit. I do line edits, definitely. I can’t help it. I think because I was an editor first.

EVB: I also was an editor before. When launching we’ll put a lot of work into it to make sure it is just right. The Underneath took two years and eight revisions, but it was worth it.

JFA: I do a lot of editing, too. For me, it’s one of the pleasures of what I do and it’s exciting to see what the writer can come back with as a result. That is so exciting to see what they've come up with as a solution and how much better it is.

ST: Between writing and revising, I’d say revising is the most important. Many times I can articulate what it needs, but the writer just can’t deliver it. Revision is where a true writer shows his/her talent.

MZ: Use your critique groups to revise, revise, revise before sending it to an agent though.

JC: I love to edit. I think because I’m also a writer. When I take on a project, I look at it as if we are critique partners. I edit a lot.

Q: How should we submit to you?

JFA: I am actively searching so email me your query with the first page and visit our website for more information on submission standards.

JC: You can submit the first ten pages. I am looking for WRITERS. I read the pages before the synopsis

ST: Check out our websites for submission policies but when querying an agent, let them know you are an active SCBWI member and send them a polished MS. But also be sure to mention what you are also working on. Try to get an agent first.


More to come from the NJ SCBWI June Conference... at some point...

Monday, June 8, 2009

It's That Time of Year Again...

Can you tell by looking at my desk what time of year it is??? It's NJ's annual SCBWI Conference time!!!! Well, it was this past weekend and my desk looks like it! The inside of my brain probably looks like this too, stuffed and messy with so much information!

Highlight #1: OK my number one highlight is really silly but an agent, who I thought seemed super nice, came over to me and said that I had a great smile and that I looked like such a nice, happy person, someone nice to know. I told you it was silly, but it was one of my highlights! Highlights, I tell you.

Highlight #2: was Richard Peck was our keynote speaker!!!! OMG! He was amazing. He was funny and serious and funny and made me cry three times. I was relieved, when in the bathroom later, I heard other ladies say they had cried too. (Note to self - it was not just female hormones... phew!)

He was so approachable too. Later, I walked over to him - wait, let me say that again... I walked over to HIM... OK, so for those of you who might not know... I get star struck around authors, agents, and editors. Usually I am an idiot - my tongue becomes ten times too big for my mouth and all grammar and vocabulary fly out of my brain. I don't know what got into me, but I walked over to him, put out my hand, and said, "Mr. Peck, my name is Sheri Oshins, and I just wanted you to know how moving your speech was. It brought tears to my eyes and I thought, just maybe, you might have done this at least once before." He squeezed my hand and laughed and said, "Maybe once or twice. I am so glad you enjoyed my speech, Sheri." *chills*

Later, when I stood on line for him to sign his books, he remembered me and we chatted a teensy bit more - couldn't hold up the line you know!!!!

Highlight#3 : sitting down with Michelle Poploff, VP of Random house to discuss my WIP. She had some great suggestions and I can't wait to finish this draft so I can begin again - it's like a sickness, isn't it? A word disease!

highlight#4: hanging out with all my writer friends and meeting agents and editors and not being scared to talk to them.

Throughout this week, as I have time, I will be blogging about what I learned so I can share all my knowledge with all of you!

Discussion: If you feel like it - what's the most embarrassing thing you've ever done at a conference in an editor's or agent's presence? I once forgot the title of my WIP. Just a total blank. It was so painful. The published writer next to me said, "Well, if you can't even recall your very own title, that's not a good sign," to which all the editors and agents within earshot laughed. I can laugh now, but at the time... DOH!

Monday, June 1, 2009

My Emotional Journal

I am going to begin a new type of journal to use as a resource in my writing. It will be called my Emotional Journal.

In my Emotional Journal, I will write about my feelings as they are happening so I can catalogue them and then later when my character experiences that emotion, hopefully, it will help me avoid cliches.

Let's take a look at one shall we... how about uneasiness? All weekend, I had this sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach that I had done something wrong, that I had forgotten to do something that others were counting on me to do. It made me remember what it was like to be a young kid or teen when say you got an "F" on a test and the whole walk or bus ride home, your stomach churned with the knowing you were about to get in trouble.

Later this weekend, when I called this friend I thought might be mad at me, I learned she was just busy and couldn't call me back. I felt such a powerful rush of relief, it almost made me cry. I, then, thought of my MC's father and how I can use the entry from my emotional journal to help solidify for readers the worry a parent feels and the release that comes when we know our kids are safe and sound.

My intent for my journal is to just free-write these emotions and situations and to underline all the cliches. For example, in my first emotion above, I wrote about a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. This is so cliche. So, the next part of my journal will be to try to brainstorm ways to write that feeling in a new, fresh way. That's not easy.

Cliches have become cliches because someone once said it the first time. And it was so succinctly stated that it stuck and became a thread in the fabric of our society. We all know what that sinking feeling in the pit of our stomach feels like. We've all felt it. How else can that be described without being over described. THIS is what I hope to discover in my journal.

Discussion Topic: Let's give it a try, shall we? How might you describe that sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach?
“Personal limitation exists only in our ideas of who we are. Give up all notions of who you are and your limitations will vanish.”

- Anonymous