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Agent Spotlight: Amy Nielsen



Sometimes it's Wednesday. Sometimes it is not. Sometimes Brian emerges from his dormant cocoon after like six months and posts random Agent Spotlights...


Consider me well-rested. Except that I'm not. This father-husband-teacher-author-critiquer-wolf-enthusiast is anything but well-rested. Alas, I have not been blissfully enshrined within my own silk. I have not been awaiting metamorphosis. But I have been busy with some pretty awesome picture book stuff since my last post...


Jennifer Mattson and I are on sub with two books--and one is a WOLF BOOK! The Book of Rules was a 2023-2024 Missouri Building Block nominee and that led to a bunch of author events and increased sales (woot!)--not to mention people discovering the book for the first time even though it's been out for two years 😅. Needless to say, Dennis has been pretty happy about all the new sources of food...I also got to do my first author TV interview, my first podcast interview, was a featured author for my school district's virtual learning snow day, got to see Jenn Harney's first-pass dummy for This is Not a Sleepy Bear Book, and most recently I've been on a little bit of a creative surge with some new picture book manuscripts.


Whew! That was a lot of things. It's been an exciting six months. Life is wild. Taylor Swift is going to the Super Bowl. Apple came out with those light-up ski masks to help us be less anti-social than we already are. And Costco got rid of churros.


Anyway, I'm truly happy to be getting back into more author, agent, illustrator, and picture book champion spotlight interviews. They're a lot of fun to do and I want to keep engaging our kidlit community and posting meaningful content for your creative journey. Wherever you are when you happen to be reading this today, I want to encourage you. You're a warrior. You're magic. Your voice, your stories, YOU matter.


Thank you for being part of my creative journey. We're all in this together.


We're all in this together. Wow. A High School Musical song is now in your head. You're welcome. In all seriousness, it's true. You really can't (shouldn't) be an author in a vacuum. The longer I do this authoring thing, I find more and more it isn't the destination or the climb but the company along the way.


Launching my picture book story coaching service has shown me this. Since jumping into this new venture, I've never felt more of a sense of belonging and connection to community. I'm having tons of fun getting to know some truly talented writers and have made real friendships along the way. It's wild to think I've done nearly 200 professional critiques. If you need a PB mentor or story coach in your corner, let me be your guy--and be sure to check out my bio for a little hidden something!


Alrighty then. This Agent Spotlight has rules. You must follow all the rules. If you break the rules, Dennis will eat you.


Our Agent Spotlight today features associate agent, Amy Nielsen of The Purcell Agency. Amy has some wonderful things to share that I know our querying friends will find especially meaningful. And...Amy is also doing a pretty cool giveaway as well. Let's get after it!


Settle into the velour seats. Lights fade to black. Cue the spotlight...


Here's Amy!


 

Welcome to Picture Book Spotlight, Amy! Alright. Inquiring (and querying) minds what to know…are you currently building your picture book client list? If so, what are you hoping to see? What are you hoping not to see?

 

Hi Brian! Thanks for having me. As of January 2024, I, unfortunately, am not actively building my picture book client list because I have SO many great authors on my current list! But when I am, I love hyperbolic and zany storylines. I also love laugh-out-loud, funny stories with heart. I also am a sucker for stories that focus on family relationships. As the parent of an autistic child, I am also really hoping to in the future sign a client who writes neurodivergent characters having the same adventures their neurotypical peers are.

 

Give us a little snapshot of your picture book wishlist or vibe. What three picture books would you have LOVED to represent? What do you like about them?

 


In no particular order, I wish I would have represented “The Three Canadian Pigs” [Sleeping Bear Press, 2023] written by Jocelyn Watkinson and illustrated by Marcus Cutler. It was the book Santa delivered to my half-Canadian 8-year-old son this past Christmas. I read it to my whole family (including the adults) and we all loved it! My husband is also Canadian and the references to Canada and all the hockey puns had us in stitches. It is SO well done!

 


 “The Day the Crayons Quit” [Philomel Books, 2013] written by Drew Daywalt and illustrated by Oliver Jeffers. This was a former Christmas Eve gift from a few years ago. One thing I loved about this book, aside from the charming humor, is that it allows children to see the spectrum of emotions and that it’s okay to feel them all! I also really liked that this book inspired my child to want to draw during a time when fine motor skills were a challenge for him. The illustrations are very nostalgic offering parents a moment to reflect on what it was like when we were first learning to draw with crayons. (Ha, who’s kidding! I still draw with crayons on the regular!)



“The Monster Above My Bed” [Clarion Books, 2024] written by Kailei Pew and illustrated by Steph Lew. Kailei knocked it out of the park with her picture book debut. The bright illustrations in this fun read, follow a not-so-scary young monster fearing the human monster above her bed. The story teaches children that many times what we fear isn’t scary at all. I attended one of Kailei’s launch events and I’ve given this book to many young readers as gifts since then.

 

Let’s talk queries. When you’re going through queries, what makes you most excited or sit up a little taller?

 

If we are just talking the query itself, structure is important to me. I received almost 700 submissions in the first 48 hours I was open. That’s a lot of reading for a tired agent’s eyes. I recommend following a standard structure such as this one:


Paragraph 1—agent personalization. I want to know if this author has read what I’m looking for and is querying me because what they write is what I rep.

Paragraph 2—I like to see the metadata paragraph—TITLE (in all caps), word count, age range, genre, and two-three comps published in the last three-five years. This is also where an author could put if their story follows a unique structure.

Paragraph 3—Concise pitch of your book. Concise is the keyword here. A brief pitch shows me this author can write a brief compelling pitch—a skill all authors need!

Paragraph 4—Author bio. There is often when I really sit up taller. When I see authors are members of children’s book writers’ organizations, have completed mentorships, have submitted to contests, have multiple other polished manuscripts, have a website, etc. this shows me this author is serious about a life-long career in publishing.

 

Before we submit something to you, what are some essential questions we should ask ourselves? 

 

I would ask, “Is this is far as I can take this manuscript myself?” This means, have you worked with multiple critique partners who also write picture books? Have you tested it with your target audience—kids! I think so often picture book authors leave out their most important beta readers. My picture book, Goldilocks and the Three Bears: Understanding Autism Spectrum Disorder, is a simplistic retelling of a familiar fairytale but doesn’t shy away from the complexities of the disorder. I tested it with a dozen or so neurotypical children with their parents’ guidance, to make sure it answered enough questions without being too bogged down in complex jargon.


Talk to us about creating space for the reader. How can picture book authors invite their readers into a place where they have to actively make meaning?

I think this dance happens when the illustrator comes on board. Once the text is finalized and the illustrations come to life, to me that’s where the reader of a picture book becomes an active participant. I love reading picture books with my own son where the illustrations show a little something extra that that the text doesn’t tell. His little eyes scanning the illustrations and pointing things out to me, show me he’s fully immersed. That’s what we all as picture book authors hope for!

What advice or encouragement can you offer picture book creators who are just starting out or who are about to jump into the querying trenches for the first time?

For emerging picture book authors, I recommend that you have a backlist of titles. When I sign a picture book author, I am signing them because I LOVE the project they sent me, LOVE them as a person, and hope to build a life-long career together.

I also recommend that give yourself grace. The first few passes will sting. It’s okay to feel the feels. Trust me, it’s as hard for agents to pass. I want to take every submission on and help this author start their career. But I’m not the right agent for every project and you deserve the BEST agent for you not just any agent.

Remember, a pass from an agent means that you are in the game! That is something to be proud of!

If you had to pick humor or heart for a picture book to have more of, which one would you pick and why?

This is a TOUGH one. I was just talking with an editor earlier today about my twenty years of experience as a youth librarian. I told her when I picked out books to read to kids I almost always picked laugh-out-loud humor. But when I let them pick a book for me to read, they’d often pick books they knew would pull on my heartstrings. It was as if they were playing the, “What book can we pick today to make our librarian cry.” And I mean this in the best of ways. Books have the power to evoke an entire spectrum of emotion (remember those crayons from earlier!) So, I’m going to cheat and say more of BOTH!

 

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

 

Writing for children comes with great responsibility. Even in fun, zany stories, I look for accuracy and safety. This is important to me on many personal levels. As a former youth librarian, I felt personally responsible that what I was putting in a child’s hands would positively enrich their lives in some way. And as a parent of an autistic child who loves nothing more than to mimic the behaviors of others, this takes on a huge role when we select picture books. I’ve had several well-written books that I passed on for these two reasons. And it wasn’t intentional on the authors’ part, of course. So, I encourage authors to look at their stories through the lens of a child. Again, this was a large part of my writing process in writing an authentic story about a child with autism that included accurate information, and the story didn’t promote unsafe actions. So ask yourself (and your critique partners), "Is there anything in my story that is inaccurate or may encourage a child to do something unsafe.” You don’t know who is readying your story.

 

Complete the following sentence: "Amy is an agent who…"

 

LOVES being her clients’ biggest cheerleader!

 

Thank you so much for stopping by, Amy! I'm confident in saying lots of our querying friends will be eagerly anticipating when you're back open to building your PB client list. In the meantime, a PB manuscript critique sounds AMAZING! 🤓


Amy has generously offered to donate one picture book manuscript critique to a lucky winner. Want to toss your name in the digital raffle hat? No problem, it's as easy as one, two, three: spin around three times, caw loudly like a crow wherever you are, and then pledge your undying allegiance to the Kansas City--Taylor Swift--Chiefs...


and also see details below.

 




TO ENTER THE GIVEAWAY:



Subscribe to Picture Book Spotlight

AND

✅ Share post on social media using the hashtag: #PBSpotlight 


Accepted platforms: Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, or TikTok


Follows and tags are appreciated so I don't miss your sharing!


***The deadline for this contest is Wednesday, February 14th at 9 AM CST


Winner will be contacted on Wednesday, February 14th & announced on Brian's social media channels***


 

ABOUT AMY NIELSEN


Amy Nielsen spent nearly twenty years sharing her love of books with young readers on the other side of the writing aisle as a youth librarian. Daily immersion in story took root, and she started penning her 2024 YA debut, Worth It, behind her checkout desk. 

          She left the library after her youngest son was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder and began writing full-time. She also began working with other authors helping them to elevate their craft and go on to pursue publication deals. While she will always enjoy pursuing her own writing goals, helping other authors has become a passion. She is honored to now serve as an associate literary agent at The Purcell Agency.

          Amy also has a background in television production and creates book trailers for authors to use as a marketing tool. She started Mayflower Media where she works collaboratively with writers to bring the heart of their stories from the page to the screen.

          In addition to her debut, Amy is the author of It Takes a Village: How to Build A Support System for Your Exceptional Needs Family, the picture book, Goldilocks and the Three Bears: Understanding Autism Spectrum Disorder, and Teaching Television Production, Beyond the Morning Newscast. She is the co-author of the upcoming title Navigating the Wild World of Publishing: A Workbook for Indie and Self-Published Authors and the co-host of the Author(ish) podcast.

          When not writing or reading she and her family can be found boating in Tampa Bay. You can find Amy at www.amynielsenauthor.com.


 

This is Brian. When he was a boy, his parents were gobbled by a hungry rhinosaurus and gone in 35 seconds flat. Then he lived with his two aunts who essentially starved and abused him for years. Then one day, when Brian was at his loneliest, a strange magical man appeared and offered him a bag of green, slimy crocodile tongues. The man claimed they were magic. By mistake, Brian spilled the magical bag of tongues next to a barren peach tree. To Brian's amazement, and the bafflement of his evil aunts, a single peach grew. And it grew. And it grew and grew and grew! It grew until it was...giant. After his aunts tried to exploit the peach for financial gain, Brian decided to climb inside it. There, he met human-sized bugs who spoke English. Brian and the bugs escaped the aunts (by crushing them to death) and then splashed into the Atlantic Ocean. And then a bunch of other stuff happened including tethering the giant peach to like 500 seagulls and eventually fruit-shish-kababing the Empire State Building in New York City. He settled down in the hollowed-out peach pit and currently resides in Central Park where he writes award-winning children's fiction which he certainly does not plagiarize. He would never steal the creative work of another. He would never do that. Especially from someone named Roald. Cause, I mean, who even is named Roald?! As if. Well done on making it this far in the pretend bio. To be clear, my parents were not gobbled by a rhinosaurus. That was a metaphor. A metaphor for what exactly? Stop asking questions, my parents are fine (they're quite cozy inside the rhino). If you would like to increase your chances of winning Amy's PB manuscript critique, include a peach emoji in your social media post (don't forget the #PBSpotlight hashtag!). This will earn you 5 additional raffle entries. If you'd like to work with this goofball on a Zoom or written-only critique, take 25% off using the promo code AmyNielsen25off (good one per person, expires February 29, 2024).

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