SCBWI

Society of
Children's Book Writers
and Illustrators

SCBWI Exclusive with… Brooks Sherman, Agent, Janklow & Nesbit Associates

 

After graduating from Vassar College with a B.A. in Drama, Brooks Sherman worked for several years in the entertainment industry (in both New York and Los Angeles) before joining FinePrint Literary Management and working his way up to literary agent, moving to the Bent Agency in 2014, and joining Janklow & Nesbit in 2017. Brooks's clients include #1 New York Times best-selling and award-winning authors. For children's books, he is on the lookout for middle grade fiction of all genres (especially fantasy and contemporary), young adult fiction of all genres except paranormal romance, and character-driven picture books with an emphasis on humor. His interest in adult fiction runs the gamut from literary to speculative (particularly fantasy, horror, and psychological thriller). For nonfiction, he is seeking projects in the areas of humor, pop culture, politics, and narrative nonfiction.

 

Across all categories, Brooks seeks projects that balance strong voice with gripping plot. Ones that make him laugh earn extra points! He is particularly drawn to stories that elevate marginalized voices and where contemporary social issues are either prominently centered or woven into the worldbuilding; he prefers nuanced narratives over "issue books," in which characters confront such issues over the course of larger personal journeys. Brooks is a member of AAR and SCBWI. He lives in Brooklyn, but you can find him sharing publishing perspectives (and horrible puns) on Twitter at @byobrooks.
 
What was your path to becoming an agent?
 

My path to becoming an agent was a roundabout one. I graduated with a B.A. in Drama, worked in theater for a few years before switching to TV production and working on a couple of Barbara Walters Specials, then joining William Morris Agency (now WME) and moving out to Los Angeles to work in their TV Business Affairs department, then joining the Peace Corps and moving to Burkina Faso in West Africa for a couple years, before moving back to the States, joining a writing workshop and eventually realizing I was enjoying working with other writers on their projects more than I enjoyed working on my own. I quit my job, took an internship with a literary agency, and finally figured out what I wanted to do. Looking back, I'd say my throughline is I was always looking for ways to engage in storytelling, but it was challenging to find my niche.
 

When you offer representation, what can an author expect working with you? Are you editorial?

When I offer representation, I make it clear to writers that I am a hands-on editorial agent. As wonderful as a project is, there is still always room for some improvement, and I want to make sure we’re sharing the strongest version of your work with publishers. Therefore, you can expect to undergo at least one revision when we start working together. I also stress, though, that my job is to help an author realize the strongest version of their editorial vision, rather than impose my vision over theirs, so it’s essential that we make sure we agree on creative direction before we start working together.

 

You have an amazing list, what is on your manuscript wish list now?      

On my current wishlist: I would love to sign up some more middle grade projects, especially fantasy or humorous contemporary stories! I would also love to sign up some young adult fantasy with original and epic worldbuilding, or young adult contemporary projects exploring crucial social issues such as immigration, social or religious marginalization, poverty, and/or homelessness.

Brooks is open to queries. Please check out Janklow& Nesbit’s submission guidelines: http://www.janklowandnesbit.com/submissions (email preferred)

 

Update on New Amazon Policy

By Sarah Diamond

 

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Fans of Amazon Prime will be familiar with the golden bar on the right-hand side of each product page. With one click, the “Buy Box” adds a product to a virtual shopping cart, to be delivered to the customer’s doorstep in two days. Before last year, Amazon was listed as the default vendor for all physical book sales, and the company would typically share 40% profits with the publisher. Third party sellers could also participate, but only if a customer opted to buy from an alternate vendor, deliberately choosing another company’s name from the “Other Sellers” list. This practice ensured that Amazon, and by default, traditional publishers, were given the advantage in all book sales. Publishers passed earnings along to the writers and illustrators they represent. But something changed last November when Amazon scrapped this vendor hierarchy and created a lottery system, wherebymultiple sources could compete to “win” the Buy Box. Now the identity of the Buy Box seller is left up to chance. Since most customers don’t pay attention to the default vendor, many people are now buying books from third party sellers without realizing it.

 

In a public statement, Amazon explained that the change was only implemented to make the bookstore work “like the rest of Amazon, where third party sellers compete with Amazon for the sale of new items”, but what works for clothing and kitchenware will not necessarily work for books, especially when so many booksellers are struggling to compete with the e-tailing titan. The involvement of third party sellers is particularly uncomfortable for many publishers because it isn’t always clear where these third party books are coming from, or why so many of them are being offered at heavy discounts.

 

Take, for example, the middle grade bestseller Wonder by R.J. Palacio (Knopf Doubleday). The list price for a new hardcover copy is $16.99, but many third party sellers on Amazon offer brand new copies ranging from $11.90 to as low as $0.93, plus shipping. In the fine print, Amazon claims that only reputable, professional sellers will be eligible to win the prime spot in the Buy Box, but it bases these standards on customer reviews and ratings. Many vendors with lower prices boast 5-star ratings and high user satisfaction scores.

 

Even if the system works smoothly, there is no guarantee that a creator will see a penny from a third party sale. These sales do not “count” in the publisher’s ledger, so it will not help an artist earn out their advance. There are many theories about how third party sellers might be acquiring their books—free promotional copies, slightly damaged goods sold as new, bulk orders from publishers at a high discount, or a combination of sources—but what’s clear is that these sales do not feed back into a publisher’s bottom line, or do so at a much smaller fraction. Many publishers are now scrambling to track the flow of these books, to make sure that no legal lines are being crossed. Either way, the result is a system that fails to fully compensate both publishers and creators for their work.

 

Amazon has not responded publicly to complaints or explained their motives behind the change. There isn’t much that creators can do at this point, though shoppers can make a conscious decision to override the lottery by manually browsing through thelist of potential sellers and choosing the option ‘Sold by Amazon’. This ensures that the book’s publisher, and by extension, the author or illustrator, is getting a fair cut of the profits. It’s also worth noting that indiebound.org, brainchild of the American Booksellers Association, is an ethically minded competitor that supports both creators and independent bookstores.

 

On the Shelves Vroman’s Bookstore

 

141020_24_4106_VROMANSVroman's Bookstore in Pasadena, California, is celebrating its 123-year anniversary this year, making it one of the oldest independent bookstores in the country. Allison Hill, President/CEO of Vroman's Bookstore tells us what's on the shelves.

 

What sets Vroman's apart from other bookstores?

Longevity! This year Vroman’s celebrates its 123-year anniversary. We have customers who have shopped here for almost ninety years! So our history and sense of tradition definitely sets us apart. I think our mix of book and gift items also sets us apart; Vroman’s has always had a diverse array of merchandise in addition to books. And our level of service sets us apart; I’ve heard customers refer to us as the Nordstrom of bookstores! Then there are the many characteristics that we share with our fellow indies but that certainly set us apart from Amazon—passionate booksellers who love handselling their favorite titles; 900 free events a year between Vroman’s and Book Soup; and a vibrant role in the community.

 

What has been a successful author visit and why do you believe it was more successful than others? 

The successful author events are the ones in which the authors see themselves as partners with the bookstores. They’ve helped us promote their book and their event. They’ve reached out ahead of time with offers to connect on social media or do an interview in our blog. And I love it when an author does more than just read from the book; customers, young and old alike, love when authors talk a little bit about their inspiration, their process, a topic they learned about while researching the book—this makes for a richer event and also inspires the customer to buy the book.


What in your opinion makes a bestselling book?

I’ve heard this thought attributed to a few different people over the years—to write a bestseller just write about dogs, doctors, and Abraham Lincoln. And there’s probably some truth to that. But in general I think the particular ingredients of a bestseller are a delicious mystery.


How is Vroman's involved in the community? 

Adam Clark Vroman was a book lover and a philanthropist. We’ve definitely continued his legacy in both areas. Vroman’s is truly committed to our community and giving back. We have our Vroman’s Gives Back program through which we donate a portion of the proceeds of our sales back to twenty-four local nonprofits. As of this summer we’ll have donated close to $680k! We do events to support the community all year—blood drives, bone marrow drives, hiv testing, toy drives, book drives, blanket drives for local animal shelters, school fundraisers, mentoring for Girl Scout troops, pet adoption days, and hundreds of free events each year.


Personal Book recommendation? 

So many!!! I’m in love with two memoirs right now Hourglass: Time, Memory, Marriage by Dani Shapiro and Sherman Alexie’s You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me. I just finished a sci fi book my Book Soup staff turned me on to—Dark Matter—that I understand was just bought to make into a movie and I can see why—it’s suspenseful and cinematic. I’m recommending the new Michael Connelly—always—as a great summer mystery. One of his best. My new favorite picture book is Red: A Crayon’s Story by Michael Hall. I love the child-like illustrations and the wonderful premise—a crayon’s search for identity. And I adore Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls: 100 Tales of Extraordinary Women—what a beautifully designed and powerful book.

 

 

 

 

 

Inspiration for Creative Blocks

 
As we get close to our 2017 Summer Conference, I reached out to some of the illustration faculty and asked them "What do you do when you get stuck?" Read on for great ideas on inspiration and getting un-stuck. These are just a few of the wonderful faculty members you'll be meeting at the Los Angeles Summer Conference, whether you attend in-person or follow along on the official SCBWI Conference blog. (link Conference blog text to: http://scbwiconference.blogspot.com/ )
 
peter-brownPeter Brown:
When I'm stuck I draw in my sketchbook while watching animated movies. Pixar, Miyazaki, classic Disney films, etc., they're all imaginative and beautiful and incorporate both words and art. I'll just doodle or write down whatever pops into my head as those movies play in the background. It's a nice, gentle way to get my creative juices flowing again.  Check out Peter's newest book: The sequel to Creepy Carrots!, entitled Creepy Pair of Underwear! www.peterbrownstudio.com 

 

cummingspatPat Cummings:
I'd love to say something lofty like 'museums, travel, theatre' but my go-to motivators are often books…the themes, the images, even quotes from them that I've saved over the years and filed on my computer.  Our work requires facing a horrifyingly blank page again and again and for me, it really helps to pick up a book and see what amazing things others have done with it. A color scheme here, the turn of a phrase there…other people's solutions won't solve the problem I'm facing at the moment but they often rev up my impulse to explore solutions. www.patcummings.com 

 

MarlaFrazeeMarla Frazee:
I escape into the hills with my dog. Even if I don't get unstuck, I know I will, at the very least, feel less boxed in. Which is what feeling stuck is, isn't it? Check out Marla's newest book: It Takes a Village by Hillary Clinton, illustrated by Marla Frazee, published by S&S/Sept 26, 2017  www.marlafrazee.com 

 

 

 

AR-151229994Stacy Innerst:
I honestly don't get stuck very often but when I do, it's because I'm getting in my own way somehow. I like to use unfamiliar techniques and media because the element of surprise is very important to me in picture-making-it keeps me on my toes. I've found that I can "waste time" productively by watching good films or animated short subjects to get the narrative mojo working. I also look my own old paintings and drawings and find things that I consider successful to remind myself that I can actually do this. Check out Stacy's newest book: RUTH BADER GINSBURG: The Case of RBG Vs. Inequality, written by Jonah Winter and published by Abrams. Its release date is August 8, 2017. www.stacyinnerst.com

 

99Gzn3PK_400x400John Rocco:
You never know where a new idea is going to come from. They happen all the time and in the oddest of places and situations. For me they usually happen when I am away from my desk, doing something completely unrelated to work. The trick for me is to write it down. You can write it down on the back of a receipt, a napkin, in your phone…wherever. Then what I do is transcribe that idea into a word document (even if it is only two words!) and save it in a folder called "Manuscript ideas".  When I am creatively stuck, I read through these ideas and see which one of them is calling to me. Which one is begging to be illustrated and written out? Let's face it, most of the ideas are total crap, but once in a while there is an idea that has been simmering away in there and when I look at it at the right moment, a spark will happen and I'm off to the drawing board, or off to a coffee shop to write it out. Here are some examples of some stuff I found in my "Manuscript Ideas" folder:  "Family in a blackout…NYC"    "Kid gets a haircut…loses his powers."  "Blizzard of 1978"    Those little gems led to my books, BlackoutSuper Hair-O, and the Barber of Doom and Blizzard but they were sitting in my idea folder for years before they got made into anything. Check out John's newest book: Big Machines: The Virginia Lee Burton Story written by Sherri Duskey Rinker. (Sept 2017, HMH) www.roccoart.com

 

CeciliaYung1Cecilia Yung:
I usually find inspiration when and where it is least expected. The brilliant staging of New York City Ballet is an endless source of ideas for color/lighting, set/costume, foreground/background legibility issues. Any great choreography that pairs movement and music playfully and unexpectedly always helps me understand the interplay of words and illustrations in picture books. The act of "not working"-stepping away from the problem and letting go-makes it easier for me to find the solutions. Cecilia Yung, Executive art Director, G. P. Putnam's SonsNancy Paulsen Books