Agent Spotlight: Melissa Richeson
UPDATE: Melissa Richeson is now an associate agent with Storm Literary Agency
Happy Monday and welcome to Picture Book Spotlight! If you missed our interview with author-illustrator Lane Smith, check it out here.
Today, we have a very special Agent Spotlight, featuring Melissa Richeson of Apokedak Literary Agency. It's special because Melissa is a newly promoted Associate Agent, which means she is actively building her client list. And it's even more special because...she is my agent.
I could go on and on about how wonderful Melissa is, but my bias would start to show fairly quickly. Don't take my word for it...read for yourself!
There may or may not be (there totally is) an awesome giveaway opportunity at the end of this interview. But don't just skip to the end to find out how to enter. That's ogre behavior. You are not an ogre.
Alright, that's enough introduction and silliness. Let's get serious, people. Here's Melissa!
Name three things you can’t do your job without.
Internet access—I work remote from Florida. Pretty notebook—I’m constantly jotting things down. Optimism—Because a positive outlook is just more fun.
What’s something you absolutely must have in your refrigerator or pantry?
Avocado ranch chopped salad. (That’s my lunch almost every day of the week.) And also cheese. (I grew up in Wisconsin, so, you know…cheese.)
On my back deck. A few months ago we downsized in order to live on the water, and it was the best decision ever. The water calms me and focuses me at the same time. Plus, the dolphins and manatees make for excellent work buddies!
Tell us a little about your background and why you went into agenting.
Though books have been my passion forever, I got a degree in marketing in an effort to be practical. When my kids were born, I knew I wanted flexible work that I could do from home, so I started doing freelance content writing which then morphed into creative writing. As I grew in my knowledge of the publishing business as an author, I was intrigued by the role that agents play, so I decided to pursue an internship to figure out if agenting might be a good career move for me. Turns out, it is! I’ve found that agenting is a great way to mix my creative side and my business/marketing side. And representing children’s books is an obvious choice for me—I think kids books are the best! I’d rather read kids books than anything else, hands down.
You’ve been recently promoted to Associate Agent with Apokedak Literary Agency. Congrats! Querying authors have a unique opportunity by submitting to agents who are looking to actively build their client list. What types of picture book submissions are you hoping to see?
Something that makes me laugh or makes me cry. I love smart wordplay and well-done rhymes. I love works that capture a unique perspective on life as a child. And I love books that make children feel loved and accepted.
Before querying—Know that I read every submission personally at this point (that’s another benefit of submitting to a new agent). I love reading queries—it’s like meeting new people and looking for a connection that will make them into a new friend. Before pitching in person—Like many people in this business, I’m an introvert. So if you meet me at a conference, know that I’m completely uncomfortable, just like you. (And I probably have a headache from emotional exhaustion.) But also know that I seriously love talking about books one-on-one, so I’m authentically excited to hear about your story.
On top of being an agent, you’re also a writer! How do you see this adding value to your approach, and how does this benefit your clients?
I think being a writer gives me empathy for what writers go through. I’ve had queries rejected. I’ve given sweaty, shaky-voice pitches at conferences. I know how hard it is. So if I can make the process a little easier for writers that cross my path now as an agent, I always want to do so. Also, having had experience with the agent-author relationship from an author’s point of view helps me to anticipate what my clients need from me.
When you think about building your career as an agent, what makes you most excited for the future?
Seeing a book I’ve represented on a bookstore shelf! Oh my gosh, I think I’ll cry from happiness when that happens!
Talk to us about what makes Apokedak Literary unique as an agency.
We’re a small, boutique agency so I think that gives us an edge in terms of personal service for and personal interaction with our clients. We’re also editorial, which means we read every project through entirely and make comments before sending it out on submission. We believe in sending out the strongest possible version of the work. You only get one chance—might as well make sure it’s the best it can be!
Let’s say you’re not crazy about a particular project and you decide to pass. Do you encourage authors and illustrators to resubmit after significant revision? If so, how much time is appropriate before a resubmission?
Because I’m a new agent, I have more freedom in my schedule right now to give feedback. If I think that a concept has potential, I’ll usually offer a few revision suggestions and invite a resubmit. But even if I don’t make personal comments, I’m open to resubmission on a typical industry standard; I think the usual rule of thumb is six months and at least a third changed.
When it's something I want to share with my kids. : )
What are some picture book submissions that may be a waste of time for you?
I don’t consider any creative work to be a waste of time. I think if someone takes the time to share their words with me then the least I can do is give those words a little of my time in return. Each manuscript may or may not resonate with me, but that’s where the subjective nature of this business is such a reality. There are multiple factors that contribute to acceptance and rejection, some more clear cut than others. But if I reject something, that doesn’t mean that it was “bad” or that I considered it a waste of time by any means.
Share a few common query mistakes that you see in picture book submissions.
1) Leaving out the word count. I definitely need to know word count. 2) Focusing too much on bio. If you’ve got a great platform or a relevant connection in terms of promotion, let me know. But I don’t really need to know past publishing credits that are unrelated to the children’s market.
Short and sweet! Tell me what I need to know, and then let the manuscript speak for itself.
What are some recently published picture books that really grabbed your attention or made you laugh or cry?
Oh wow. OK, I know it’s exactly recently published, but I recently picked up XO, OX: A LOVE STORY at the library, and I adored it. Also loved FINDING WINNIE in non-fiction. And of course, like many people, I love THE NIGHT GARDENER, THE WONDERFUL THINGS YOU WILL BE, and Drew Daywalt’s crayons. Perennial favorites on our home bookshelf are I LOVE YOU, STINKY FACE and the lesser-known GUIDO’S GONDOLA.
If authors and illustrators have multiple projects that they want to share with you, what is a respectful amount of time in between submissions?
One at a time, please. Meaning, let me make a decision on one manuscript before sending another. If I pass, you can go ahead and submit a new project whenever you’d like.
What are some essential questions an author should ask themselves before they submit to you?
Has this manuscript gotten a positive response from my critique group? (I’m a big believer in critique groups! SO helpful!) Has this manuscript seen a positive response from readers in the intended target market? (Be sure to get feedback from kids!) Does this fit into industry standards in terms of length, language, and layout? (Do research if necessary.) Where would this fit on a bookstore shelf? (Find good comps that are “the same but different”.)
It’s not easy, and you probably won’t “get rich." I think there’s a big misconception in the general population that writing books for kids is a simple way to make a buck. People read a few picture books and think, “I could do that." And, yes, you can! Dream and write and try and create, by all means. But also realize that there is a lot more work involved, a lot more patience required, and a lot more steps to take than it seems on the surface. And, spoiler alert, the average picture book author is not living on a private island. BUT…if you can be fueled and fulfilled by the joy of the work and the connection with readers, then writing picture books is priceless!
What is something upcoming you are excited about or would like to promote? Any travel plans or upcoming conferences that you’ll be attending?
I may be at the midyear Florida regional SCBWI conference in Orlando this June, but I’m not sure.
Please complete the following sentence in ten or fewer words: "Melissa is an agent who…”
cares deeply about books and their people.
Thank you so much for your time and opening a window into your world, Melissa!
And to thank YOU for reading, Melissa has generously offered a query AND full picture book manuscript critique for one lucky winner! See details below.
To enter this giveaway contest for your chance to win a QUERY & FULL PICTURE BOOK MANUSCRIPT CRITIQUE, do one of two things:
1. Retweet this post with a comment.
2. Share a comment below AND subscribe to Picture Book Spotlight.
The deadline for this contest is Thursday, April 11th at 9AM CST
The winner will be contacted on Thursday, April 11th and announced on Twitter
About Melissa Richeson
In the spring of 2018, Melissa joined ALA as an intern and has been actively involved in the industry under my direction. Moving into an Associate Agent role will allow Melissa to develop her own client list and open the door for more authors to be a part of the agency. And she holds a degree in Marketing–an asset which will benefit our clients, old and new.
Melissa has also been working as a writer for years, with publishing credits in The Washington Post, Focus on the Family, Florida Today, Space Coast Parent, Chicken Soup for the Soul, and many more. She had a children’s fiction serial run in an online magazine for over a year, is a current staff columnist, and has a forthcoming novel of her own. Melissa also has a background in elementary literature education where she thrived on seeing young readers fall in love with books.
To build her client list, Melissa will be focusing on children’s book authors—picture books through young adult. She’s drawn to witty wording and whimsical design for picture books, humor and quick pacing for chapter books, charming mysteries or fantasy in middle grade, and lyrical, magical, character-driven stories in young adult. She’s not the best fit for horror, high fantasy, or graphic violence of any kind.
To query Melissa, email email@example.com and follow our normal guidelines.
Melissa's Manuscript Wishlist
Like most people in publishing, I've always loved to read. And since Peter Pan taught me that growing up is overrated, I'll happily stick to reading children's books forever.
I'm looking for picture books that are so heartfelt they get me choked up or are so funny they make me laugh-cry. (Either way, bring me to tears, I guess?) Non-fiction in picture books is awesome too. I love chapter books with quick pacing, a great hook, and a well-researched world. In middle grade, I adore magic, humor, and a sense of imagination. For young adult, I'm typically drawn to contemporary and historical work, but a good fantasy draws me in too. Use subtle wit and intelligent wordplay, and I'm all in.
Some of my perennial favorites include Harry Potter (Rowling), A Series of Unfortunate Events (Snicket), Junie B. Jones (Park), The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle (Avi), The Messenger (Lowry), and A Tale of Two Cities (Dickens). More recent titles that I've loved include Stay Sweet (Vivian), The Unexpected Everything (Matson), Salt to the Sea (Sepetys), An Ember in the Ashes (Tahir), What to Say Next (Buxbaum), and Words in Deep Blue (Crowley).
I do not represent adult titles, and I'm not a good fit for sci-fi, horror, or graphic violence.
Fun facts about me:
I was once attacked by a bird who wanted my hair for its nest (as far as I know), and as a child I had to have nine teeth pulled at one time, so forgive me if I pass on any bird or tooth stories. 😉
Submissions should be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org
E-mail submissions only. For picture books, please paste the full text into the e-mail and attach links to any dummies. For novels, please paste the first ten pages and include the full manuscript and synopsis as an attachment.
Brian Gehrlein is an educator and youth services librarian living in Kansas City with his wife, Katherine, and son, Peter. He is represented by Melissa Richeson of Apokedak Literary Agency. He thanks you for reading this post. He thanks you for reading this sentence. And this one. And this one! And even this one...When Brian is feeling silly, he writes silly things. Like this bio. This bio is entirely silly. And you are a silly person for reading it. Isn't it great to be silly together? I sure think so. Sometimes it pays to be silly. Literally. Someday, I'd like to be professionally silly. Perhaps someday I will. Perhaps someday...