SCBWI

Society of
Children's Book Writers
and Illustrators

SCBWI Exclusive with . . . Jennifer Rofé, Senior Agent, Andrea Brown Literary Agency

 

Jennifer Rofé is a senior agent at Andrea Brown Literary Agency where she represents picture books through young adult. Middle grade is her soft spot and she's open to all genres in this category, especially the tender, hilarious, or zany. She is always looking for fresh and distinct voices; stories that simultaneously tug at her heartstrings and make her laugh out loud; "adorkable" heroes; and big, developed worlds. In picture books, she enjoys character-driven projects and smart, exceptional writing. Jennifer also represents illustrators and author/illustrators. Some of Jennifer's clients include Meg Medina, Christina Diaz Gonzalez, Crystal Allen, Barry Wolverton, Eliza Wheeler, and Mike Boldt.

 

What in a query letter catches your eye and makes you request a manuscript?

First and foremost, a query letter that is professional always catches my eye—you might be surprised to know that I (and my colleagues) receive many query letters that aren’t professional. What do I mean by professional? Your query letter includes a proper greeting, a concise and clear description of the work, and a brief and relevant bio. Writers and illustrators should consider the query letter a cover letter for a job application, or even a first job interview. What will make an employer take notice… and what won’t? A big component to being professional is following the agency submission guidelines (if you don’t, I delete). Finally, a query catches my eye when it’s clear that the writer or illustrator is prepared—she has done research about me, my list, and the Andrea Brown Literary Agency.

 

Beyond that, much of the process is subjective—do I connect with the illustration style or writing? Does the story pique my interest? The summaries on jacket covers (or on bookstore websites) are a good guide for writing the kind of summary you use in a query. When you read a jacket cover, what makes you want to start the first chapter?

 

Once you’ve read a manuscript that you really gravitate towards, what makes you offer representation? How long of a process is that?

It’s exciting for an agent when they want to offer representation to a writer or illustrator. It’s thrilling, really. For me to reach that point, I have to love the story and the writing, and I also have to believe that I can sell the project. For illustration, it’s about falling in love with the art and having the vision for how the art works in the children’s market. From there, I will have a conversation or two with the author or illustrator and see if we connect. In this conversation, I gauge how knowledgeable a writer or illustrator is of the publishing industry and if her expectations of the industry are reasonable and realistic. Also, I try to determine if we have a similar vision for the specific manuscript or illustration style. I also always ask if the author or illustrator is willing to revise. If someone is hesitant to go through the process with me, then how can I trust that they will be open to the process with an editor?  So it’s really not enough that I love your story, I also have to connect with the creator in some way and trust that we can develop a strong working relationship.

 

In terms of how long of a process that is, there is no exact time to share. It depends on how busy an agent is and how open they are at the time to finding new clients. In some cases, an author or illustrator can secure an agent very quickly, especially when more than one agent is interested in the work. Other times, there might be radio silence, and then several weeks later, an agent comes across your query and deeply connects with your work. For me, once I get the conversation going with the author or illustrator, I can know within a conversation whether or not I want, must, work with the creator.

 

When you represent an author or illustrator, what role do you play in their career both long and short term?

Your agent is like your GPS system—where are you trying to go and how can we get you there? In the short term, an agent opens publishing doors that are typically closed—agents get your work in front of editors and your art in front of art directors. The long term is more advanced and nuanced, of course, but in a nutshell, it’s about career planning. Some of the matters we discuss include: What is the right next idea for the client to pursue? Which idea is aligned with their artistic perspective or other books, or which idea will lead them down a new path? Should an illustrator accept an offered job or is this not the style of book she wants to be focusing on? Should the illustrator pursue a new style she is developing? Do we need to find a client a new editor or a different publisher to help him move in a new or better direction?  Again, where does the client want to go, and how can we lead him there?

 

What advice would you give authors and illustrators as they go through the submission process? 

First and foremost, do your research on agents. Pick a handful, maybe up to ten, that you think would be a good fit for you and your work, and submit accordingly. If you get no bites during that time, then revisit your query and your opening pages. Do they require revision? When you’re ready, submit to the next batch of agents. If there are still no bites, then revisit your materials again. Keep in mind that agents are busy, and the more established ones are likely to have full and active lists and don’t necessarily have the room for more clients. This is a reason to keep in mind newer agents at reputable agencies — they are looking for clients. Attending SCBWI conferences is also an excellent way to make a personal connection with an agent. Consider conferences if feasible. Secondly, be as patient as you can and as kind to yourself as you can be during this process (even if that means a social media hiatus). Submitting can be a taxing and rattling time. And finally, keep pushing forward and honing your craft. It might not be the first manuscript that lands you an agent—it might be the third or fourth or seventh—so keep working. 

 

Three things an author or illustrator should do when querying you?

1. *Follow the agency’s submission guidelines.* I can’t stress this enough.

2. Personalize your query letter. Make it clear that you’re querying me for a reason— you’re familiar with my interests and list, you saw me speak at a conference, you’re fond of the authors and illustrators the Andrea Brown Literary Agency represents, etc.

3. Be professional and confident (even if you don’t feel this way). There’s no need to mention that this is your first submission or query letter ever, that you’re brand new at this and aren’t entirely sure what you’re doing. Would you walk into a job interview and tell your interviewer that this is your first one ever and boy are you nervous! When you’re prepared, you get to be confident, even if on the inside you’re shakin’ in your boots.

 

You can follow Jennifer on Twitter @JenRofe

 

Be Real: A Social Media Strategy That Works

By Martha Brockenbrough

 

People are always on the lookout for the silver bullet of social media: that one foolproof thing that effectively promotes a book. There isn’t one, and the fact is, you’re far more likely to shoot yourself on the foot than strike it lucky. Unfortunately, 2015 has been the year of the gaffe, the pile-on, the career-toasting debate. High-profile writers such as John Green, Andrew Smith, and Meg Rosoff have found themselves in the social media red zone, and it’s been awful.

 

Part of the frenzy—which started with content in books, comments to a newspaper, and a reply to a detractor’s Tumblr post—is due to the fame of these writers. But another part is the nature of the beast. Social media is a terrible place for complex, nuanced discussions. Twitter is especially bad, because character count is limited and angry tweets pile up like astonishingly fast. For controversial stuff, Facebook and Tumblr are better, as long you take the same care you’d use in a face-to-face discussion.

 

What’s more, as social media has evolved into a sometimes-rude marketplace of ideas, it has diminished as a marketplace for stuff, and probably for the best. No one wants thinly veiled book ads, spammy direct messages, or repetitive self-promotion. No one wants to be friended by anyone on Facebook only to receive an immediate request to “like” their author or illustrator page.

 

What does work? Cultivating relationships the same way you do in real life: Be interesting, be interested, be useful, be positive.Be smart, too. It’s not just readers you’re reaching out to. It’s booksellers, teachers, librarians, bloggers, and other people who connect to many people at once. Think of these as your power connections. Over the years, key ones can put your books into a lot of young readers’ hands.

 

Some effective things to do:

– Establish a clear, concise identity. Mention your work and your website in your profile, and use your book cover or a good photo. Make it easy for people to know who you are and what you do.

– Be useful.I’ve created common core-focused guides for two of my books, and I share these both on social media and on my website so teachers can easily use my books to support classroom work. Offer Skype visits of varying lengths to round this out.

– Be visual. Use a service like picmonkey.com to turn favorite book quotes (from your work the work of others) into graphics. Did a reader make fan art for your book? Share it and praise that talented soul.

– Be interesting—and be interested. Talk with other writers and with your power connectors about books you’re loving, your pets, or even fascinating articles you’ve read. Make yourself a source of support and cheer, and people will be glad to cheer you on when it’s time.

 

Martha Brockenbrough’s latest young adult novel, The Game of Love And Death, was a finalist for the 2015 Kirkus Prize, a Publishers Weekly Best Book of 2015, and an American Library Association Booklist Top 10 YA Romance. She is on SCBWI’s Team Blog, is the founder of National Grammar Day, is the former editor of MSN.com, and has been a media strategist for fifteen years. More at www.marthabrockenbrough.com

4 Questions for…Lily Malcom

 

Lily Malcom is the Executive Art Director and Associate Publisher of Dial Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Penguin Random House. As an art director, she has had the privilege to work with many talented illustrators, among them David Small, Jon Agee, Jerry Pinkney, Judy Schachner, Tao Nyeu, Zachariah O’Hora, Erin EitterKono and Jen Corace to name a few. Lily enjoys working with longtime professionals as well as first time illustrators. She is always on the lookout for unique memorable characters and stories with a strong visual narrative.

 

When an illustrator has more than one style, do you like seeing them in one portfolio or does that throw you off?

 

I’m fine with multiple styles as long as they are executed well. But it’s not something you have to have in your portfolio. It’s better to master one style and keep working at it. That said, if you are excellent at realistic painterly work as well as a loose free line—then go for it! We’re looking for all sorts of styles and if I stumble upon something unexpected, that’s great.

 

But really the focus should be on making your portfolio strong and captivating. You need about 15 or so pieces that are compelling and geared towards children’s publishing. Sometimes you only have one chance to show your work, so it must be your best. If your strength is animals, then start with those pieces and move on later to people. Be sure to show characters with expressive faces, engaged in different activities. Show that you understand settings, moods and that you’re capable of continuity between scenes. 

 

And if you have a favorite character you’ve created, definitely put that in too. We’ve created books based on one image that we’ve loved and have asked for a story to be created around them. Also, I like sketches when they are included. It shows how artists handle their line and you get to see a bit of their process. This can always go online if you don’t want to put it in your portfolio. 

 

Do you ever ask illustrators you are considering for a project to do samples before hiring them? If so, do you pay for those samples or are they done for free?

 

At Dial we usually don’t ask for samples. If we’ve gotten in touch with you, it’s because we love your work and think you can create a wonderful world for the characters in the manuscript. We’ve already looked at a bunch of your art and have confidence that you will do a terrific job. That said, on the rare occasion we do ask for a sample, I feel we should pay you for your efforts. If you get the project, then the advance would cover it, and if we go with someone else then we can pay a small fee. Sometimes an agent or illustrator will offer to do a free sample. And in that case, we see if that’s the right thing to do for that project. 

 

Do you like receiving postcards from illustrators you’ve never met? If so, how often do you think one illustrator should send out new postcards?

 

I love receiving postcards. I get tons of samples every day and postcards allow me to flip through quickly and sort. If I’m interested to see more, I will go to your site. Remember to print work on both sides of your postcards and make your contact info easy to find. And in terms of how often people should send samples out? You could send out a big blast once a year and then follow up with smaller targeted mailings once or twice more. 

 

When you are looking at illustrators online, what is the best way to grab your attention and make you look at more of their work? 

 

This is a little intangible but I’m looking for something unique. I’m not looking for someone to reinvent the wheel and create a whole new style using toothpicks. I’m just looking for someone who can infuse life and heart into the characters and the world around them. It can be as simple as how they work the eyebrows or the bits and pieces around the character that tell you something about them. It’s the artist’s job to illustrate the full story. The story beyond the words. It’s a big thing and a hard thing to do well. I’m looking for hints that you can take a text and make it your own. 

 
 

On the Shelves Little Shop of Stories

 
Kimberly Jones of Little Shop of Stories in Decatur, Georgia, tells us what's on the shelves.
 
What trends do you notice in children’s book sales? What are the current hot reads?
 
Graphic novels have always been exciting to kids, but more parents are starting to be okay with their kids selecting a graphic novel over a traditional chapter book. Also, with graphic novels like El Deafo, Sisters, Boxers and Saints, and Roller Girl it's easier to show the parents that these books have merit. 
 
How do you choose what books to order? Do you use a publishing rep?
 
We are advised by our publishing reps, but we also use edelweiss, customer recommendations and we try to keep a pulse on exciting new titles. Listening to NPR is another great source to hear about upcoming new books. 
 
What would you like to see more of from authors/illustrators in terms of community involvement?
 
I'm very proud of our community of authors. I see lots of authors being heavily involved in the community, taking on important issues and launching their own campaigns and platforms. They are a group of artist who are naturally embedded in the community and don't require a nudge to do the right thing. 
 
How do you handle author/illustrator visits? Can authors/illustrators contact you directly?
 
Normally our author/illustrator visits are set-up via their publicist or publisher. If an author is self-published or with a small press they should go to our blog: http://www.littleblogofstories.com/ for instructions on setting up a visit. 
 
What is your favorite part of being a bookseller/manager/librarian?
 
My favorite part of being a bookseller is getting the right book in the right person's hand, nothing is more rewarding than that. My favorite part about being the Store Manager is listening to all the creative ideas our booksellers have and seeing them come to life. 
 
Personal book recommendation?
 
Right now I'm in love with Written In the Stars by Aisha Saeed. I love diverse books that introduce me to a new culture in an interesting way. 
 

Save Every Note with Evernote

 

Save Every Note with Evernote

by Anne M. Leone

 

I’m the most disorganized person I know. But this special talent has forced me to learn a few tricks. For example, if I don’t write a detailed grocery list, that impulse buy rustic loaf will only be found weeks later, molded to the bottom of a reusable bag. So with my first foray into historical fiction, I envisioned dozens of sources, stacks of musty books, sticky notes sticking every which way, and piles of nearly indistinguishable note cards. I knew I needed a system.

 

Cue Evernote. Everyone in the writing community seems to be talking about it; last year in the SCBWI Bulletin, Natalie Dias Lorenzi’s “Keeping Your Facts Straight in Fiction” mentioned several useful online apps for organizing research, including Evernote. This past summer, a conversation popped up on SCBWI’s Blueboard about using Evernote for writing on the go, as well as collating agent research, story ideas, and just about everything else. Intrigued by the idea of a digital platform that could organize my entire life, I began to investigate. Whitson Gordon’s Lifehacker article, “I’ve Been Using Evernote All Wrong. Here’s Why It’s Actually Amazing” suggested, “The more you add, the more useful Evernote becomes.” I took his advice, downloaded Evernote, and haven’t stopped adding to it since. I promise I don’t work for Evernote, nor have they offered to subsidize my writing career. But for this disorganized person, Evernote has been exactly the system I needed. So what is Evernote?

 

Evernote is a free online app. It can be accessed via the web or downloaded to most any phone, tablet, or computer. It allows you to generate notes, which can be sorted into notebooks, and collections of notebooks. For example, my latest work in progress is about two girls, one African and one European, who trade in their current lives to become pirates. I collected all of my research about female pirates on one note, pirate philosophies onto a different note, cannon use onto a third. But all of these notes are stored in a single notebook called “Research: Pirates” which is part of a notebook collection called “Pirate Book.”

            Picture it:

            Evernote isn’t just text based. I can snap a picture of a graph in a library book, or take a photo of a historic wharf. These pictorial notes can be added to my Evernote collections directly from my phone’s photo app.

            Clip it:

            Evernote also stores websites as notes. This is incredibly useful, not only for research, but for keeping a running bibliography. Whenever I search for a book in my library’s digital catalog, I instantly clip that record into a notebook called “Bibliography.” I also keep a reading list of similar or inspirational novels, researchers I might contact, and museums I could visit. My website notes can be annotated, highlighted, or trimmed to show only the exact information I need.

            Find it fast:

            All this information is not only on a single screen at my fingertips. I have also eliminated thumbing through note cards, wondering if I made up that slave ship captain named Samuel Pain, or if I wrote his name on a pink sticky or a white notecard. Every word in every note can be searched, important keywords added as tags.

            Save it:

            As my research accumulated in Evernote, panic began to set in. What would happen if my browser crashed, or my computer died? Thankfully, nothing. Evernote backs itself up to the cloud, and the downloadable version can be backed up traditionally, in case I do something like accidentally delete a note.

            Sync it:

            It doesn’t matter how I access Evernote: it’s available to me whenever and wherever I am. Additionally, as long as an internet connection is available, anything I enter will be synced. That means I can do research from home, add notes at the library, brainstorm title ideas at a coffee shop, and snap a picture on the wharf, and all my tech devices will have my information up to date, stored and accessible.

            Evernote for everything:

            Evernote is so easy to use and convenient, I’ve started organizing recipes, research for this article, submission ideas, and lots more. It also offers a reminder feature for to-do lists, a presentation mode, and a share and chat feature. Every month, Evernote Basic gives me 60 MB of space for new uploads, so I haven’t yet needed to upgrade. But the Plus and Premium Services include additional storage space and features.

 

Evernote for you? I realize I’m a complete convert, but Evernote might not be for everybody. In her article on saving research, Natalie Dias Lorenzi suggested a few other programs, including Diigo, Pearltrees, and Livebinders. Wherever you end up, I encourage you to dive in. It’s fun to be organized!

 

When she’s not knee-deep in historical fiction, Anne Leone writes contemporary middle grade. You can find out more about her and her writing at www.critically-yours.blogspot.com.