Happy Tuesday and welcome to Picture Book Spotlight!
I don't know about you but these past several weeks have been a relentless surge of creative energy and productivity the likes of which I have never seen. I've written hundreds of new picture book manuscripts, finished three middle grade novels, and five and a half young adult novels. When that didn't satiate my muse's bottomless hunger, I wrote my autobiography and a new epic retelling of Odysseus as a rabbit. Cyclops is a wolf.
Then I built a house. Then I mastered underwater basket weaving. Then I took up baking.
False. I did none of those things. None.
It's generally been about the opposite. As if all of my creativity and desire are sealed in a dusty attic in a box marked COVID19.
And I don't like that. Do you? Nope. Probably not.
But what do I (we) have control over?
If I'm honest, I have to admit that I haven't been doing anything to foster creativity. I imagine things would begin to flow if I made the choice to flex those muscles. I'm a big believer in creative momentum. If you're anything like me and are struggling to find the motivation to create, and it feels all messy and bottled up inside, maybe we need to lower our expectations.
Maybe to start doing the dishes we just need to take a step toward the sink. Reach out. And turn on the faucet. Please do. For all of our sakes.
My heart knows the cathartic and healing power of losing myself in creative work. There's nothing like it. And something like that may be just what the doctor ordered...
Today we have an Agent Spotlight with Andrea Morrison of Writer's House! She is doing a giveaway with this post, so watch for details at the end of our interview.
Write on. Art on. Be well, kidlit fam. Figure out exactly what you have control over and do that to the best of your ability.
On an unrelated note, if you happened to miss the adorable reading of IT'S NOT ALL RAINBOWS by Jessika von Innerebner by my lovely wife, Katherine...you should totally check it out. It's the opposite of clam juice.
First and foremost: writers! And then coffee and a good internet connection…
What makes you most excited about being a literary agent?
It’s so special to be able to watch a project develop from its very early stages through to being a published book on shelves – I love that I get to help writers make their dreams of publishing come true, and I also love that I get to be part of the process of bringing books to hungry readers everywhere.
Describe your ideal client/agent dynamic or relationship.
Your relationship with your agent should be a true partnership – it’s ideally a very long-term pairing filled with open communication, brainstorming, and alignment of both editorial visions and publishing visions. From my end, every client works differently, and it’s my job to make sure I know what a client’s goals are, and how I can best help them in terms of deadlines and working styles, and in terms of publishing and media opportunities. But more than anything, you should be working with an agent who really gets your book(s) and what you’re trying to accomplish; you should sign with someone who you feel comfortable talking to, whose editorial contacts fall in line with your project(s), and whose passion for your work is clear.
How many queries do you generally receive a week and how many picture book clients do you usually sign per year?
It depends on the week, but maybe thirty or so queries per week? I’m actively building my list, so I do sign new clients each year, but I don’t have a minimum or maximum of clients per year – I sign someone if I love their work, and if I feel that I have the right vision for helping them publish it in a meaningful way. I also work with authors of chapter books, middle grade, young adult and adult fiction, so the clients I sign range from picture books to these genres.
I’m pretty open! It really depends on the specific project. I will say, though, that I’m especially particular about rhyme – when it works seamlessly, I love it. But I do also see manuscripts that use rhyme, that might be better served by traditional prose – you want to use rhyme if it really adds to the story, but if the rhyme is trying too hard, it often takes away from the story an author is trying to tell.
What types of queries do you appreciate the most?
It’s great to see a query letter that pitches the book itself much like a book jacket would, and that also include an author bio that tells me about the author’s writing background and involvement in the writing community. It also always stands out when someone personalizes their query letter, noting specifically why they decided to reach out to me or why they think I’d be a good fit for their work.
Would you rather take on more of a sure thing, safe choice or take a chance on something more unconventional, innovative and risky?
I love books that are unconventional, innovative, and risky; I just need to have the right vision for how a project could be successfully edited and published. Sometimes a “sure thing” means a project that brings to mind a past book or series that was well-loved – that young readers, educators and caregivers gravitate towards, and would like to see more of in their classrooms or homes – that’s important, too (when I say this, I’m particularly thinking about concept books for toddlers and preschoolers, character-driven early readers, and so on, that are appealing to and helpful for certain age groups). Whether more unconventional in terms of style and format or more traditionally constructed, I just need to feel like I know how to help the creator develop and pitch the book and/or series.
If we had “Andrea Morrison goggles” to look critically at our work, what is ONE THING that you always look for that we can too?
Passion. You can tell when someone is very passionate about a book they’ve written; when the project is something they’ve cared for and cultivated with so much thought and energy, versus when it feels like they’re writing a story that they think agents or editors or readers want, but that they don’t really have as much personal investment in. Trends come and go; I want to see the book you’re truly excited about.
Is this ready for agents’ eyes? If you feel like you do know how a project could be edited further, then it’s best to take those next editorial steps before reaching out to agents. It’s time to reach out to an agent when a manuscript is complete, and when you can’t see what else needs to be done editorially, and you’re ready for someone else to help you take next steps.
Please complete the following sentence: "Andrea is an agent who…"
couldn’t imagine a more perfect career path – I get to read incredible stories and help to usher them into the world, and to work with thoughtful, hard-working and talented authors and illustrators. I’m so grateful for that.
Thank you so much for sharing all about your agenting life, Andrea!
And thank YOU for reading, subscribing, and sharing posts like this, kidlit fam! Andrea is offering to do a query critique for one lucky winner! See details below on how to enter the raffle.
Query Critique by Andrea Morrison
TO ENTER THE GIVEAWAY:
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The deadline for this contest is Tuesday, April 21st at 9AM CST
The winner will be contacted on Tuesday, April 21st and announced on Twitter and Facebook
About Andrea Morrison
Writers House is a full service literary agency that was founded in 1974. I started in our California office in 2009 as an intern to Steven Malk, and I have been in love with publishing and this company ever since. In NYC, I first learned under Brianne Johnson, and then went on to assist Rebecca Sherman and Geri Thoma. I've had the opportunity to work closely with a variety of bestselling and award-winning authors and illustrators, in genres ranging from picture books to middle grade and YA, to adult literary fiction and nonfiction. I'm actively building my own list of clients.
I studied Literature & Writing at University of California, San Diego and earned my MFA in Fiction from Columbia University—not only do I understand the revision process from an agent’s point of view, I also understand it from a writer’s perspective. I truly love editorial work, and am hands-on when it comes to helping authors revise and build projects.
Below you’ll find detailed information about the types of projects I’m looking for:
I'm excited about literary and upmarket commercial fiction that blends gorgeous sentence-level writing with stories featuring younger protagonists, eg. Janet Fitch's WHITE OLEANDER—one of my favorite books ever, Celeste Ng's EVERYTHING I NEVER TOLD YOU, and Elissa Schappell's BLUEPRINTS FOR BUILDING BETTER GIRLS. I'm a total sucker for vivid descriptions of California, and appreciate true-to-life fiction, but am also intrigued by fiction with magical elements or books that take place in worlds slightly different than our own. For example, I fell in love with Leslie Parry's CHURCH OF MARVELS. I'm game for beautifully constructed short story collections, literary thrillers and mysteries, novels told in stories, books that take place in a variety of locales (aside from vivid descriptions of California, I really just love when setting serves as a character of sorts). I also especially love books that explore the intricacies of friendship, and novels that tackle the complexities of mother/daughter relationships. A few books I loved: THE GIRLS FROM CORONA DEL MAR by Rufi Thorpe, THE ASSISTANTS by Camille Perri, and THE IMMORTALISTS by Chloe Benjamin. Next on my reading list: SUCH A FUN AGE by Kiley Reid.
I'm especially selective when it comes to nonfiction - I tend to focus more on fiction - but I'm interested in narrative work: memoirs, essay collections, etc. I'm a fan of Leslie Jamison, Meghan Daum and Alex Mar. I'm curious about stories that take place close to home and in other countries, that explore little known ways of life as well as work that illuminates experiences we all have. In this category, I gravitate toward work that makes me laugh or cry or both, all in a few pages. I’m drawn towar
d work that’s elegant, toward work that’s provocative. I also love nonfiction that helps me understand, that makes me want to highlight sentences and write quotes in my notebook. I’m a fan of work that defies genre lines. A couple of titles I loved: Nadja Spiegelman's I'M SUPPOSED TO PROTECT YOU FROM ALL THIS and Allie Rowbottom's JELL-O GIRLS. Next on my nonfiction list: T Kira Madden's LONG LIVE THE TRIBE OF FATHERLESS GIRLS, Jia Tolentino's TRICK MIRROR, and Nicole Chung's ALL YOU CAN EVER KNOW.
My tastes are pretty wide when it comes to YA. I like both true-to-life books and fantasy. Both fast-paced and gripping commercial novels, and more literary novels; in either case, I'm looking for complex and nuanced characters who surprise you, and who you can't help but fall in love with. I'm interested in stories about love, friendship, family dynamics, and mixtures of all of the above. Mysteries are great here, too. I do really like Young Adult work that reflects the realities of being a teen in our world today, stories involving artwork, books that take place in a variety of locations, and novels that explore rarely discussed topics. A few YA titles I love: WE WERE LIARS by E. Lockhart, BONE GAP by Laura Ruby, CARAVAL by Stephanie Garber, WHEN DIMPLE MET RISHI by Sandhya Menon, ONE OF US IS LYING by Karen McManus, and I'LL GIVE YOU THE SUN by Jandy Nelson. Next on my reading list: WILDER GIRLS by Rory Power and DON'T DATE ROSA SANTOS by Nina Moreno.
I love Middle Grade novels about friendships, and those that reveal intricacies of family relationships. I also love adventure stories, and when magical elements reveal truths about our world. I'm definitely a fan of the quirky, whimsical, and laugh-out-loud funny in this category. Voice is extra important. Illustrated middle grade works and graphic novels are great, and as in all categories, books that challenge traditional forms. For example, FLORA AND ULYSSES by Kate DiCamillo and K.G. Campbell is one of my favorites. Other favorites: WILDWOOD CHRONICLES by Colin Meloy and Carson Ellis, WONDER by R.J. Palacio, TIMMY FAILURE by Stephan Pastis and THE INVENTION OF HUGO CABRET by Brian Selznick. On my reading list: LOST IN THE SUN by Lisa Graff, ECHO by Pam Muñoz Ryan, and WATCH THE SKY by Kirsten Hubbard.
I’m looking for quirky and humorous picture books filled with heart, and stories that help kids learn more about environments they know well, and other ways of life they're less familiar with. I’m passionate about working with author/illustrators who have stories they can’t help but tell, and who are excited about sharing tales that children will remember in their teens, in their thirties, in their sixties...stories they’ll want to pass on to their own children and grandchildren. I remember reading MARTHA SPEAKS and A BARGAIN FOR FRANCES countless times as a kid, and I’m looking for books that will also be read multiple times, with characters who are what Martha and Frances were to me. **At this point in time, I'm only taking on author/illustrators and illustrators of picture books.** some illustrators whose work I admire: Dana Wulfekotte, Scott Campbell, Diana Sudyka, Matt Phelan, and Sydney Smith...just to name a few! (The list could really be SO, so long.)
I look forward to seeing your work.
WRITER'S HOUSE, ANDREA ON TWITTER
Brian is an earthworm in a man-suit. Yep. A straight up earthworm. You might be wondering how this is possible. You might be wondering things. How could an earthworm: A.) inhabit a "man-suit" B.) write exceptional picture books C.) keep up the ruse for untold years without so much as a whiff until he himself blabbed all about it in a pretend biography at the end of a blog post. You might be wondering these things. Yes, you might. Well, wonder away. Cause I refuse to shed light on any of the aforementioned wonderings. Some things are better left unknown. It is the mysteries that make life interesting. The mysteries. Like hidden emoji codes. Yes, like those. The kind of silly thing that helps people increase their chances at winning a giveaway, tucked into the longish biographical ramblings of an invertebrate controlling a 32-year-old man named Brian. Perhaps you're wondering where the real Brian is? Is "Brian" the worm or the man-suit? Is the worm in the man-suit's toe? His hand? His face? What did I say about mysteries? Get that worm idea out of your head and focus back on the emoji code! Goodness. Why can't this just be a normal biography? The same old biography on every post where Brian lists off his many bonafides and accomplishments. The kind of biography that increases what Plato called the Ethos. The kind of professional biography one might expect to read from someone having their book published who obviously takes themselves and their work seriously. Alright. Alright. Enough of that. There will be time for normal biographies. In fact, I wrote one the other day. For THE BOOK OF RULES. It was quite surreal. If you want to read it you will have to either wait until fall 2021 or get a time machine. So there. Where was I? Something like but not necessarily an emoji code...Oh, wait. Nope. It was an emoji code. Really went down some tangential rabbit trails there. Throw people off the scent. The scent of spring. The scent of emojis. The scent...of rabbits...toss a rabbit (or bunny) emoji onto your retweet of this post and I will enter your name in the raffle an additional six times. That's about it for me. Time to go feed the man-suit. He is starting to get a little hangry.