Heather Alexander joined Pippin Properties as an agent after six years in editorial at Penguin. She loves books about those moments that change a person forever, and she is always looking for thoughtfully drawn characters. She tends to prefer literary projects over commercial, and wants to make books that will live on forever. Some of her favorite projects have been Firefly Hollow by Alison McGhee and The Thing About Yetis by author/illustrator Vin Vogel, whom she met through SCBWI.
Do you represent both artists and authors? How is the process different?
Yes, I represent both authors and artists. It’s wonderful to be able to share in all aspects of children’s book publishing that way. The process of working to sell an illustrator’s work can be quite different. For instance, we keep portfolios of all our illustrators’ work in the office, and have editors and art directors in to browse them. The publisher may have projects in mind that they need an artist for, or they may take samples to remind them of the work they liked so they can approach that artist for something down the road. With illustrators, the work almost always comes from outside. But with authors and author/illustrators, we work on manuscripts and dummies and send them out to editors the traditional way.
Pippin Properties is known for working to increase the “footprint” of a work by licensing ancillary rights and maximizing the audience. Can you tell us how this process works? Does it apply to everyone?
We are very proud of this, so I’m glad you brought it up! We consider the book contract as the first step in a project’s life. We team with co-agents to sell our foreign, TV, and film licenses, and we have great relationships with audio publishers and stage production companies. We meet with new people regularly to keep abreast of who’s looking for what, and to become familiar with companies or people who are looking for content. This is something we do for all of our titles, not just the latest and greatest. In fact, some of our older titles have recently been picked up for tv!
Are you interested in expanding your client list? If so, what kind of client or project would intrigue you most?
I would love to find some future superstars to add to my list. I’m looking for very literary writers, people whose stories burst forth from them because they can’t keep them in. Lately I’m really intrigued by graphic novelists. The way they think and lay out narratives is fascinating, and I’d love to add a few to my list. My favorite books are smart and funny and make me cry. I am considering work from illustrators as well, and always look for a style I’ve never seen that grabs me fast and doesn’t let go. I want projects that make my heart flutter, that make me feel like I’ve found something truly special. Basically, I want to fall in love.
How would you characterize the current sales climate in the children’s book field?
Well, from my side of things, the industry is looking quite healthy. There seems to be a renaissance in picture books, which is wonderful to see. Of course, publishers always need to be choosy, and so we strive to send out only the books we think will stand the test of time. But it seems to me to be a time when publishers are a bit more willing to take a risk on something really unique.