Happy Tuesday and welcome to Picture Book Spotlight!
I'm jazzed to share this interview because I still remember what it felt like to slog through the slushy swamp of the query trenches. It wasn't long ago that I was knee-deep in the mucky muck, racking up 600 rejections. Yes. 600 rejections. Don't have that many? Good. I hope you don't. Ever. Because it sucked.
Looking back, there were times querying felt like grabbing a handful of darts and chucking them at the wall, hoping something stuck. But it doesn't have to be that way. Knowing what I know now, there are definitely things I would have done differently if I could go back in time (which I can). Interviews like this help. While I was being rejected literally hundreds of times, I remember being hungry for agent interviews to help me tap into their secret thoughts and hopes and dreams and to see things from their point of view. In a stormy ocean, I needed a lighthouse. Don't we all? I know I still do. May this post be a lighthouse for you (even in a small way) on your author journey. Sail on, friends. Sail on.
And with that nautical metaphor in mind, let's dive right in.
Cue the spotlight...here's Anjanette!
Thank you so much for joining us, Anjanette! First things first…are you currently open to building your client list for picture books? If so, what are you most excited to see? What types of picture books might not be the best fit for you?
Absolutely! I love picture books and picture book authors and am always open to hearing about them! I particularly love picture books that parents and educators enjoy reading aloud. Beautiful language, sweet silly story lines, and of course captivating illustrations make it so much easier to agree to a young child's request to "read it again!" I have four children and have logged thousands of hours reading aloud to them. Books that make that time special and effortless are a treasure! I lean more toward whimsical and nature-themed stories, so fact-heavy non-fiction about technical topics is usually out of my wheelhouse.
So we have a read on the kinds of books you connect to, share three picture books that you would have LOVED to represent.
Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney is my gold standard.
I would also have loved to be the person to champion the delightful Good Dog, Carl by Alexandra Day.
And the unconventional hit The Book With No Pictures.
When you’re reading a new picture book manuscript, what’s something that makes you sit up straight and lean closer to your computer?
Voice. Every word counts in the picture book format. If an author is nailing it with concise language that maintains an evocative and cohesive drive throughout the text, then any topic they write about will interest me!
What practical advice can you offer picture book authors just starting out?
First, learn about the craft. There are very specific standards in the picture book world (for length and target audience ages, especially), and you will save yourself time if you learn those basics before laboring over manuscripts that will need big changes to be ready for market. Second, read your words aloud! And have others read them aloud! Don't let the words live inside your head and on your paper/screen exclusively, because in all likelihood that's not how your reader will interact with them.
When you’re reading query letters, what seems to truly capture your attention?
Because agents receive so many queries each day, the best thing you can do for yourself and for us is to get to the point. I love it when I can skim a query and know exactly who the book is for, what it offers readers, and why the author is the best person to write it. If those things resonate with me, then I will slow down and read the sample text more carefully.
What are some essential questions an author or illustrator should ask themselves before they submit to you?
Author-agent relationships rely on a shared vision for an author's manuscript and career, so it's very important to have a good rapport with your agent and to know that you are on the same "page." Before querying an agent, it's worth it to read their bio carefully. At the very least, you should be sure that they represent the kinds of books you are writing. It's fair to ask yourself if you get the sense that the agent you are considering is someone you would enjoy working with. Hopefully it will be a long term relationship, so you want to make a good match! It's also essential that you are honest with yourself about whether you and your manuscript are ready for this next step. It's ok to wait until you are sure.
If we could put on “Anjanette Barr eyes” to look critically at our stories, what is ONE THING that you always look for that we can too?
I always ask myself whether this is something children actually WANT to read about. If you have a great story idea, but it's on a topic the typical 4-8-year-old crowd doesn't care about, then you may need to choose a different format for your book. It's easy to forget what that age group is interested in if you aren't spending a lot of time with them, and this is often a glaring problem in manuscripts from new picture book authors. Remember that even though we want adults to enjoy reading our books aloud, it's always the kids that matter most.
Complete the following sentence: "Anjanette is an agent who…"
feels extremely grateful to be in the publishing world, surrounded by generous and talented creators. :)
Thank you for offering this snapshot into your agenting world, Anjanette! You rock!
And thank YOU for reading, kidlit fam! To show our appreciation for your subscribing to PB Spotlight and tuning into this Spotlight interview, Anjanette has generously agreed to give away a PB manuscript critique to one lucky winner--and that could be YOU! See details below on how to toss your name into the metaphorical, digital raffle hat. Aren't hats great? Yes. Yes, they are...
TO ENTER THE GIVEAWAY:
✅ Subscribe to Picture Book Spotlight
✅ Share post on social media using the hashtag: #PBSpotlight
Follows and tags are appreciated so I don't miss your sharing!
***The deadline for this contest is Tuesday, May 16th at 9 AM CST
Winner(s) will be contacted on Tuesday, May 16th & announced on Brian's social media channels***
About Anjanette Barr
Anjanette Barr is an Associate Literary Agent at Dunham Literary, Inc. She has been working in various branches of the writing and publishing world for over a decade, and being an agent is the perfect way to synthesize her interests and talents. She spent the pandemic earning a certificate in Literary Representation from UCLA Extension. She also holds a B.A. in Japanese Studies from William Jewell College. Anjanette lives with her family of six in Juneau, Alaska.
Association of American Literary Agents
Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators
Alaska Writers Guild
Catholic Writers Guild
You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Instagram @BookBarrista
This is the bio you've been waiting for. I know...I'm a time traveler. I've seen it. Seen it all. The past, present, and future. I have seen it all. In the name of full transparency, the future contains a disappointing lack of hoverboards. But disappointed is not how you'll feel finally reading this long-awaited bio. Because this is the bio to end all bios. Regardless of what previous bios have claimed about themselves, this is the one they'll talk about for years to come and analyze in high school English classes. This is it. And you are reading it. As you read, you are filled with both confusion and awe and reverence and the actual emotion that you are feeling which remains unknown to me because second person perspective can't actually tell you how to feel and that's maybe why you should avoid it as an artistic choice...except for the part where my debut, THE BOOK OF RULES, is written in second person perspective. Pay no attention to this inconsistency. Actually, ignore that snobby condemnation of second person perspective. Use it. Break the rules. There are no rules (don't tell Dennis). Write in second person perspective. Write in second person upside down, in a language you don't understand, using technology that does not yet exist to people who are not time travelers like me. Well. It looks like we've made it to the end of the bio and without a singular fact shared. That's my kind of bio. But wait. Is this really the end? The text continues on as your eyes scan, hunting for meaning. What is it that you seek? Will there be a hidden emoji code to increase your chances at winning a PB critique by Anjanette, you ask? Will there be a flash sale and hidden promo code for Brian's story coaching service? Will there be anything? Yes. There will be both of these things. Further down you will see the things. Keep reading. Nope, not yet. Not here. Or here. A hat. The emoji code is a hat. Toss a hat emoji onto your social media sharing of this post (using the hashtag) to increase your raffle entries by five! Want 25% off a Zoom critique for my picture book story coaching service? Use this not-so-secret promo code for the next two weeks: AgentSpotlight25off (expires 5/23/23)--valid for Zoom critiques only (written critiques are currently closed)