Happy Wednesday and welcome to Picture Book Spotlight!
UPDATE: For those of you who participated in Kidlit Zombie Week, I'm still going through pitches but will announce my "mini-mentee" soon! Speaking of zombies...are you looking to mix up your brainstorming game? Start a new picture book? Pull yourself out of a flaming creative tailspin!? Check out my post all about brainstorming. It could be the...start of something new...(and now you have High School Musical stuck in your head) You're welcome. 😁
If you're new, I'm glad the internet led you here. Good job, internet. But maybe it wasn't the internet. Maybe it was a falcon. If so...that's awesome. Also confusing. In all sincerity, my hope is that Picture Book Spotlight is a useful (and entertaining) resource as you navigate your author or illustrator journey. Back when I was querying (and being super rejected), agent interviews were always crucial to stay up on and made me feel a little more confident I knew the person on the other side of the inbox. And I often referred to something specific in an interview I connected with in my opener--great way to break the ice. So...if you don't want miss an interview...subscribe!
Today, our Agent Spotlight is with Jemiscoe Chambers-Black, an associate agent at Andrea Brown Literary Agency. Jem is actively building her picture book client list with author-illustrators as well as illustrators. She has a really unique giveaway opportunity that my author-illustrator friends should be pretty jazzed about...details for Jem's giveaway will be at the end of the post!
And with out further ado...cue the spotlight.
Ummm, coffee, wine, and my iPad. Coffee and my iPad for morning reads, and wine (or tea) and my iPad for chill evening or weekend reading.
What’s something you absolutely must have in your refrigerator or pantry?
Probably to my stomach's dismay, Coffee creamer in my refrigerator, and Cheez-its in the pantry.
You’re open to picture book manuscripts by referral only but are looking to build your client list with author-illustrators and illustrators. Is there a particular medium that you seem to be more drawn to? In terms of style, what attracts you the most about kidlit art?
Yes, for text-only picture book authors, I am open to referrals only. Meaning, my colleagues refer picture book authors based on my wishlist. But, I also participate in pitch events or attend conferences and request picture book texts. Although, that may change in the near future, and I may open up widely for picture books.
However, if there is an author-illustrator, I would love to see your work! I always have difficulty narrowing down what I love because I love so much about this time in a young reader's life, but I tend to lean a little harder in the whimsical, imaginative spaces. Vivid colorwork is my jam! Diverse characters in their everyday life are also good.
I love the collaboration! Can I tell you, they are the most supportive, lift-you-up, got-your-back type of ladies. We celebrate each other's successes, listen when someone needs an ear, and strategize when we come across something we've never seen before. All day we are texting or calling each other, Slack chatting, or on a Zoom call. It doesn't matter that we're remote working; this is a family. That same work culture filters into my partnerships with my clients, and it really doesn't feel like work.
When you think about building your client list with more author-illustrators and illustrators, what are you most excited to see? What are your absolute priorities in terms of genre/audience/style/kind of stories, etc.?
Brian!! These questions are hard! Ummm, I want humor. But I also want harder themes that help children navigate emotional literacy. I want to see something I've never seen before. Tarsiers? Yes, please, and thank you. A picture book that features two grandmothers as partners? Uh-huh, that too. People in history that have done amazing things but aren't famous like HIDDEN FIGURES? Yes! Sign me up! And this goes for everything from picture books, to middle grade, to young adult, and graphic novels. I represent all age groups, but when focusing strictly on picture books, I simply want to fall in love in some way.
What kinds of picture books from author-illustrators and illustrators are just not a good fit for you?
Hmmm, I'm not the right agent for heavy-handed lessons. I think the picture books that resonate with me are ones where the moral of the story is in the subtext and not overly didactic.
Share three picture books or three illustrators that you would have LOVED to represent.
1. Sulwe by Lupita Nyong'o because I saw myself in that book. Heck, I would have loved to have read it as a child. And what makes that book truly special is that the text and the illustrations are equally engaging, equally gorgeous, and relatable to many, as the topic of colorism is a global struggle.
2. I Love You, Stinky Face by Lisa McCourt is also a great one. When my children were little, they loved that one--laughed every time. When your kids reach for the same book night after night, and when you read it, laugh over and over as if they're visiting this world with these characters like it was their first time, you know the book is extraordinary. That type of joy from a picture book is what I love to represent.
3. Unicorns Are the Worst! by Alex Willan because it's just freaking hilarious. A bitter goblin complaining about unicorns and all their glitter and tea parties is just simply the business!
This is harder to explain. When talking about art, most times, I just know it when I see it. It's a feeling. It's so subjective, really. What I can tell you is this: I need to LOVE it! It's not just the colorwork, although it is that. It's not just the diversity and variety in scene work, in textures, in animals vs. human characters I need to see in an illustrator's portfolio, although that too matters. I suppose what I'm looking for with author-illustrators and illustrators is for them to be dramatically stylistic. Meaning, I want to be able to see something they've created and be able to guess who the author or illustrator is. I think those are the creators that are wildly successful. So in terms of those reading this right now, I'd ask, "What is the one thing or multiple things that make your work unique?" Whatever it is, hone in on that, whether it's voice, a way you create body shapes, the way you play with light or shadows in your art. Whatever separates you from someone else, use it.
If you decide to pass on a particular author-illustrator or illustrator's work, what is an appropriate amount of time to wait before they submit another project? Are you open to multiple submissions if spaced out appropriately?
As an agency, we ask creators to wait 6 months before they resubmit the same manuscript. We also ask that you submit after a substantial revision. Now, that is when you are submitting the same book, so there are different circumstances, of course. We have this policy in place because, for one, we do share in house. Another reason is to ensure that you take the time to really focus on revisions. And sometimes, the way to really create substantial revisions is to get distance from a project. I know 6 months feels like an exorbitant amount of time, but taking your time to really evaluate your work or getting notes from a critique group before sending it out again is important. However, if you are submitting another project, you are free to submit that to the same agent who passed on the previous work, or you may send it to another agent at the agency. You don't have to wait 6 months for a new project.
Make sure to ask yourself: Did I do my research, and am I targeting the right agent?
It may not be fun, but completing a thorough amount of research on what an agent is really looking for will cut down on a lot of the passes you may receive. It is the same thing that agents will have to do for their clients. Since this is such a subjective industry, when we send our clients' books out for submission, we research and target an editor's current wishlist.
If we could put on “Jemiscoe Chambers-Black eyes” to look critically at our stories, what is ONE THING that you always look for that we can too?
I'm looking for characters I really want to know. That's weird, right? Welp, here's the thing. If I'm going to read my client's books multiple times, I need to be invested in the characters, their lives, their stories, their desires, their failures and successes. Whether the themes are universal or something I'm not familiar with, I have to connect with the characters somehow.
...looks at each work through a cinematic lens. She mostly leans toward book ideas with characters and stories with a uniqueness--that visual presence--that could be imagined for the screen.
Thank you so much for sharing your agenting life with us, Jem!
And thank YOU for reading and helping support querying authors and illustrators, kidlit fam!
Since Jem is a really awesome human, she has generously offered to give away 2 (yes, 2!) picture book dummy critiques for author-illustrators. We're raffling off a critique for 2 individuals in order to spread the love. So...author-illustrators...it's YOUR time to shine! Dust off those dummies and toss your name in the digital hat. See details below!
***For this giveaway, only author-illustrators with a completed picture book dummy are eligible for the raffle***
TO ENTER THE GIVEAWAY:
✅ Retweet this post on Twitter
✅ Subscribe to Picture Book Spotlight
✅ Share our Facebook post
✅ Subscribe to Picture Book Spotlight
***The deadline for this contest is Wednesday, June 30th at 9AM CST
The winners will be contacted on Wednesday, June 30th and announced on Twitter and Facebook***
About Jemiscoe Chambers-Black
Before Jemiscoe "Jem" Chambers-Black joined Andrea Brown Literary Agency in 2020, she was an assistant director for film and television. Her love for books prevailed, and she went back to school to study English Literature and creative writing in fiction and earned her MFA. She represents illustrators, picture book authors (by referral only), MG, YA, and adult authors. In picture books, she enjoys laugh-out-louds, tight rhyming, and heartfelt books that deal with family, friendships, and emotional literacy.
Creators that illustrate any age group from picture books, chapter books, middle grade, and YA
Fantasy: urban fantasy, paranormal—GHOSTS! And WITCHES!
Horror—would love any kind
Novels in verse
Romance—rom com, paranormal, or contemporary
Romance/Women’s Fiction—rom com, paranormal, and contemporary
Suspense/Thriller, and a cozy mystery (think Golden Girls with a dead body)
Jem is especially interested in stories written by marginalized voices.
Brian recently broke a rule and is now being digested by his own fictional monster, Dennis. If that sentence was confusing for you, maybe check out his debut, THE BOOK OF RULES. At any rate, Dennis will gobble Brian from time to time but generally will spit him out after a few days. In case you're wondering, yes, there is WiFi inside Dennis. Not sure how to explain that one. There's also a latte machine but currently no coffee. Not cool, Dennis. Brian could use a cup of coffee. Or ten. If you want to TRIPLE your chances of being one of the two winners selected for the raffle, you can include a coffee emoji in your tweet. Yes, that's right. The hidden emoji code is coffee. Way to read the fine print in Brian's pretend bio. Brian is not interesting enough to have a real bio at the end of his posts so you have learned zero facts about him. This is the last sentence in the pretend bio.