Society of
Children's Book Writers
and Illustrators

SCBWI Exclusive with Patrice Caldwell



Patrice Caldwell is a graduate of Wellesley College and the founder & fundraising chair of People of Color in Publishing–a grassroots organization dedicated to supporting, empowering, and uplifting racially and ethnically marginalized members of the book publishing industry. Born and raised in Texas, Patrice was a children’s book editor before shifting to become a literary agent at Howard Morhaim Literary Agency, where she represents everything from chapter books to adult.

In 2018, she was named a Publishers Weekly Star Watch honoree and featured on The Writer’s Digest podcast and Bustle’s inaugural “Lit List” as one of ten women changing the book world.

Her anthology, A PHOENIX FIRST MUST BURN16 stories of Black girl magic, resistance, and hope–is out March 10, 2020 from Viking Children’s Books/Penguin Teen! Visit Patrice online at, Twitter @whimsicallyours, and Instagram @whimsicalaquarian.


What was your path to becoming an agent?

I was an editor first at Scholastic–The Serpent’s Secret by Sayantani DasGupta was the first book I acquired–and then at Disney-Hyperion. As much as I loved my authors and coworkers, I realized that agenting was a better fit for me and my talents. I love working with authors to build and support their careers, and I love getting to know editors and their teams, and I even love contracts–I’m so happy I made the switch. 


What makes you say YES! when you read a submission and know you have to represent an author?
As an agent, I represent people not just books, so it’s two-fold. 1. There’s the book. I know almost instantly if I want a book. I think this is a skill I honed as an editor; I can read the opening of a book and automatically know it’s for me (even if the book moves slowly; it’s not about the action–it’s about the voice and finding compelling characters). With every book I acquired as an editor as well as clients signed as an agent, I remember where I was when I read the book. I remember, being on a crowded subway, stuck underground, and cracking up as a I read a YA Fantasy or sitting on my porch, tearing up because I was so moved, as I read a poetry collection. I love reading, and I love how books can really make us feel all the things.
Second, it’s about the author. When I offer representation and we have “the call,” I’m looking for someone I get along with, someone who’ll be great to work with…I love talking with authors about their career hopes and dreams and getting to know what makes them tick. 


How do you work with your clients? Are you editorial?
Yes! I’m definitely editorial. But it’s to a point. It’s to make it strong enough to stand out on submission with editors. And that’s the thing I’ve had to learn transitioning from editor to agent. It’s not about taking the book all the way to “done.” Every book has different needs. Some things just need a line edit, some things need more in-depth work. When I’m editing I often have a vision for the book (& that vision fits the author’s vision). Speaking of which–sometimes I read a book and really enjoy it but don’t have a vision for it, for how I’d work with the author to strengthen it, and that’s why I pass, so it doesn’t always mean the book isn’t in a good enough shape (which is why I always urge writers not to read too much into rejections). 
So, editing for me is about making that vision come true, finding what it is the author’s really trying to do, and making that clear on the page. It’s always a conversation as ultimately I’m not the author but I find my clients really trust what I have to say and are at least willing to consider the issues I’m pointing out, even if the methods I suggest of how to fix said issues aren’t the right ones for the story. 
Editing is where the magic happens. It’s where I really get to know my clients, and I love seeing the story they want come to life during revisions. 


What’s on your manuscript wish list?
Oh, gosh haha. Everything. Not really, but I am such a voracious reader. I will say that I’m not the best for earnest talking animal books or picture books. I’d really love some literary horror. Horror in general is a big love of mine. I also love romance and middle grade fantasy. My full wishlist is on my website, and I update it often: