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Agent Spotlight: Emily Forney

Agent Spotlight:

Emily Forney



Happy Tuesday and welcome to Picture Book Spotlight!

Hey there, kidlit fam. It's been a minute since I posted one of these here blogs. Probably because grad school swallowed my head. Now that I am between classes, my head has been briefly dislodged, freeing me to Spotlight a new agent who is actively building her client list.

And then all the querying authors and illustrators' ears perked up.

Yes. A new agent!

I am very pleased to feature Emily Forney of Bookends Literary Agency. Emily is doing a giveaway with this post, but make sure to read the interview before you toss your name into any figurative or literal hats. You may find you connect with Emily in a unique way and might want to share that with her in your query.

It goes without saying that new agents present a unique opportunity for authors and illustrators seeking representation. They're on the hunt! They have to have a first client...why not you?

Finally, for those of you familiar with my pretend bios, I believe I've really outdone myself for this one. Took me eleven hours so I hope it meets all your wildest expectations for what a Brian Gehrlein pretend bio ought to be.

And without any further ado...

Here's Emily!


The hidden snacks I keep literally all throughout my house, the raggedy old sweatpants I’ve had since I was seventeen and do all of my readings in, and probably really cheesy ASMR videos.

What’s something you absolutely must have in your refrigerator or pantry?

Oh, okay that’s good, because I normally strategically place snacks around for those times when I’ve settled down on my couch and don’t want to get up. In the fridge, probably honey vanilla Greek yogurt and cut strawberries. In my pantry, unfortunately for my stomach, Hot Cheetos.

Give us a little bit of your background prior to joining Bookends Literary Agency.

Before I joined BookEnds I worked as an editor for a small popular fiction press for a while, developed literary journals as an apprentice, wrote and edited for dozens of digital prints and magazines, and studied as a publishing and editorial fellow for the LA Review of Books. Honestly, I did so many odd jobs in publishing for years. If you can imagine it, I’ve done it.

I’ve always been drawn to kidlit. I know that seems like one of those basic answers, but it’s so true. I love the magic and whimsy and warmth of the genre. You can have fantasy and history mixed with stories of grief and multigenerational legacies, all packaged beautifully for young minds who so desperately want to make sense of their complex feelings. I love the bonding agent kidlit has and I just want to help foster that. I’m genuinely excited to create spaces for these new worlds to flourish.

If you decide to pass on a project, do you encourage authors and illustrators to resubmit after significant revision? If so, how much time is appropriate before a resubmission?

Of course. I truly believe in cultivating a space for authors and illustrators to grow and thrive in, and I don’t see how that is possible if I close myself off to that progress. I think artists and writers can sometimes have a fear of missing out if they don’t act quickly, as if an agent will forget they requested a revision and will dismiss their second go around. That usually results in someone hurrying to produce some kind of new content that may not actually align with the work they want out there. So, I encourage anyone to sincerely give themselves the time they need to refocus on their work. If they can reflect on it and themselves, then great. But don’t rush.

I will be honest if I feel I am not the right agent though. Sometimes I just won’t do well with a story because it doesn’t excite me like it should. In that case, I will kindly express that and encourage the author to find someone who vibes better with their work.

I’m not necessarily looking to isolate any genres! I am always happy when I get surprised by a take I otherwise wouldn’t have thought of, and the only way for that to happen is for me to be completely open.

Which genres of picture books are absolutely a GREAT fit for you?

Give me something progressive, maybe a little whimsical, and I am especially looking for stories about young Black joy and love.

What are some things that contribute to an ideal agent-client relationship?

Humor, trust, and empathy. I want to make the entire process and relationship enjoyable. So, if we can laugh together, laugh at ourselves, and have fun while we work, then I’m happy. I also believe trust is the foundation. Trust me to have your best interests at heart. I will trust you poured yourself in your project. We need to trust each other’s points of view and experiences. I also believe in empathy, always.

Explicit details. I want to feel connected to your story and when people use vague narrative like, “he will find something great in the end” I’m left a bit lackluster.

When are art notes effective in a manuscript?

If you have a vision for imagery that essentially is your story, tell me. But it is really okay to leave your words stand on their own. Sometimes art notes that don’t have direction are just distracting. You don’t have to hypothesize if you aren’t sure.

If we could put on “Emily Forney eyes” to look critically at our stories, what is ONE THING that you always look for that we can too?

If you introduce me to someone new, I like to find unsung stories of people who aren’t traditionally represented. So if your main character can be mapped out just like any other, it won’t be the best fit for me.

Will this story change the worldview of those who read it? Does my work contribute to a dialogue that is in need of more variety, diversity, and voice? Am I comfortable with an editorial agent?

What are some words of encouragement you can share with authors and illustrators who have been wading knee-deep in the query-trenches?

This is not a process designed for easy triumph. Find solace in your work. Don’t panic. Save grace for yourself. Celebrate often and for the many milestones.

seeks adventurous takes and is deeply excited for own voice stories.

Thank you so much for sharing a bit of this new adventure with us, Emily!

And thank YOU for reading, kidlit fam! What could be better than a giveaway manuscript critique by a new agent actively building her client list!? The answer is nothing. If you'd like a chance to get your picture book critiqued by Emily, see details below! Stay safe. Stay kind. Stay awesome!

PB Manuscript Critique by Emily Forney!


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The deadline for this contest is Tuesday, August 25th at 9AM CST

The winner will be contacted on Tuesday, August 25th and announced on Twitter and Facebook

About Emily Forney

Emily is seeking fiction for the adult, young adult, middle grade, and picture books audiences that feature new and progressive takes. Though, she’s also still interested in stories that have a warm nostalgia to them. She would like to see more fiction from BIPOC and stories that do not necessarily feature trauma at the forefront of these character’s arcs (although she is open to reading anything complex and well done). Send her the best summer lovers, new takes of mythology, dystopian trilogies, and fantastical worlds.

Across all age groups, Emily is especially keen on finding good genre fiction in the form of re-tellings, magical realism, high fantasy, and the supernatural (bring on your werewolves, witches, and vampires). She would also like to work with chick lit and find cozy, sweet stories. When it comes to historical texts, Emily works best with historical fiction, but is always open to surprising and contemporary takes within nonfiction. If you can bring her the next Outlander, she will be through the roof.

She is not a good fit for thrillers, true crime, horror, or memoir.

You can query Emily here:


Brian writes books for kids. This is the end of the bio.

October 19, 2021 (34)_edited.jpg
October 19, 2021 (34)_edited.jpg
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