The Annual Agent Panel, moderated by Harold Underdown (underdown.org) with Brenda Bowen (The Book Group, TheBookGroup.com), Janna Morishima (JANNA co., Jannaco.co), and Cindy Uh (Creative Artists Agency, www.caa.com) and co-hosted SCBWI
Metro NY and The New School was presented via Zoom, 11/12/20. Notes taken by Barbara Senenman.
What specifically do you represent?
Brenda Bowen: broad range of writers and illustrators from well-known to newcomers and graphic artists. (Tends to not do nonfiction because if even one detail is wrong, it’s a problem.)
Janna Morishima: Specializes in kid’s graphic novels.
Cindy Uh: Represents nonfiction authors and author/illustrator of PB, MG, YA, and GN.
What are you eagerly seeking now?
Brenda: historical fiction MG and YA told from a unique POV. Would like queer historical YA.
Janna: GN writer/illustrators for any age. Own voices in genres like mystery or Sci-Fi. Sees enough memoir. Non-fiction GN
Cindy: Diverse story with backgrounds, cultures, and world we’re in now. MG adventure with protagonist as Asian American.
What do you look for? Is there a good time or bad time to submit?
Brenda: In query: sense of person, voice, without being cheesy or familiar. If artist, how is the portfolio? Novelist should say how she was picked, and present the book and themselves. Just be honest. Rejection means she can’t connect at the moment.
Janna: If she’s interested, she’ll Google you to see your online presence and what your website is like. Make sure your presence is what you want it to be.
Cindy: Always looking. Slows down in summer. Follow guidelines. Query needs to be in the best shape with enough of the story and voice to make her want to read more.
All are very editorial and feel own voices is important. They get the project in the best shape before submission. For a long time publishing only made room for few voices. The point of own voices is to allow writers to tell stories of all kinds, not only about specific cultures or events.
Search for an agent by belonging to communities like SCBWI. Also seek out authors and illustrators, participate in Twitter events, look at acknowledgements in books to see who agented it (more in novels than picture books), and invest in Publishers Marketplace, even for a month.
To determine if you’re a good match for an interested agent, ask what they liked/didn’t like about the work, tell them how you see yourself, what you’re thinking, and where you see yourself and the work, get a sense of what they’re like, look at their list, and speak to clients. A lot of trust is exchanged. You need rapport.
Client relationships depend on the client and stage of the project. Some need weekly communication/some don’t. Some show each draft/some go off to write and come back later. They adapt to clients’ styles.
Stick to one genre or age category to build a career and following and then branch out. Agents will stretch for you so you can branch out.
Their job is to get to know editors well enough to know where to place stories. You might be asked who your dream editor is or if there was an editor you’d met and want to work with.
The pandemic forced publishing to pivot, but it fared well. People are reading. In kids’ books: uptick in workbooks, back list books, and current kids’ books. The agent’s job is guiding clients through beyond publication (e.g., virtual tours). Books are coming out now, though it’s tough. It’s okay it takes so long to publish. You need to keep going.
It’s too soon to write about the pandemic. People don’t want to read about what they’re going through now. In 10-15 years, we’ll have a lot of pandemic books. You could write a book with the same emotions and ideas without talking about the pandemic specifically.
Trends reflect what’s going on in the world. Readers want more escapism and entertainment now. Don’t write to trends. Listen and take in what’s going on around you. Listen to your voice. And pick up what creative people are doing to maybe spark an idea. Follow your passion.