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Agent Spotlight: Jen Newens

Happy Friday and welcome to Picture Book Spotlight!

The brats, dogs, and burgs are on the grill...the birds are singing louder...and Rodgers and Hammerstein songs are playing in your mind. June IS bustin' out all over.

If you're like me and find yourself in the northern hemisphere of the globe, drink it up. Drink June up, kidlit fam. And may your tea be iced, sweet, and just a bit minty.

Today's Agent Spotlight is with Jen Newens of Martin Literary Management. As fate would have it, Jen IS doing a giveaway with this Spotlight interview--oh, how we love agent giveaways...but don't scroll to the bottom like a Neanderthal just to enter the giveaway. We are not Neanderthals here. You will read every. Single. Word. And THEN you will enter the giveaway...right? Right. Because Jen has some really practical and insightful things to share--don't miss out!

Before we get to Jen, I wanted to pause to reflect on six months of professional picture book critiques.

My picture book story coaching service has officially been open for six months and I've had so much fun learning and growing. The connections I've made in the kidlit community are my absolute favorite part. The creativity and talent of my over 70 clients is a constant source of inspiration. In the last six months alone, out of my 70 or so clients, I have critiqued over 100 picture books! 😅 And even cooler than that, several clients have received offers of representation and requests for more work. Obviously, that's not something I take credit for but even being slightly part of those authors' journeys is something I truly treasure.

Now that my family and I are officially on summer break, I have greater availability to connect with more picture book authors. So, if you've got something you'd like feedback on, I'd be happy to work with you this summer! Both written critiques and Zoom sessions are available--plus a new $20 "second look" option if you want written feedback on something I've already critiqued. 🤓

With all of that out of the way, let's get down to the grilled meat and potatoes of today's post. Time to take another dive into the mind of a kidlit champion. Time to jump in with Jen Newens of Martin Literary Management!

Sit back in your seat. Silence your babies. Lights fade to black. Cue the spotlight...

Here's Jen!


Welcome to Picture Book Spotlight, Jen! Okay…first things first: are you currently open to building your client list for picture books? If so, what are you most eager to see? What are you least eager to see?

Well, not to sound obvious, but I’m most eager to see a good story. An author might send me exactly what I ask for in my manuscript wish list, but it still needs that secret sauce that gets me to say yes. I'm most eager to see contemporary narratives, especially those that feature historically excluded voices, kindness, empathy, and championing the underdog. I’m least eager to see traditional stories and holiday themes, but if it has that secret sauce, I could be surprised.

Share a glimpse into the “Jen Newens picture book vibe” by listing three picture books you would have LOVED to represent.

Julián Is a Mermaid by Jessica Love. It’s such a beautiful, life-affirming, multigenerational story.

Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut by Derrick Barnes and Gordon C. James. One word: Representation.

Crow and Snow by Robert Broder and Oliver Tallec. The author sent me this book when I was the publisher at an indie press and it stopped me in my tracks. I fell head-over-heels in love with it. Unfortunately, so did a big-five publisher, so I lost it. Fast-forward a few years, and I am now representing the author as an agent!

When you’re reading queries, what truly makes you sit up straight in your chair?

It’s hard to pinpoint, but it’s usually a story that comes from an author’s lived experience—a narrative that incorporates something that they or a loved one has gone through or an element of their culture.

What are some essential questions an author or illustrator should ask themselves before they submit to you?

· How is my story/art different from other books in the marketplace?

· What am I willing/able to do to help sell my book?

· Am I open to collaboration/revisions?

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

Authenticity. Don’t try to emulate someone else’s work. It’s a good idea to join critique groups, take coursework, workshop your stories, but make sure that your writing is authentically you.

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?

Try to reframe rejection as information gathering. You never quite know what is going on in the mind of an editor. Often an editor passing on your manuscript comes down to reasons that have nothing to do with your idea or writing—for example, they have another book on their list that is very similar to your idea; their acquisition budget has been slashed this season; your writing style is simply not to their taste (but a different editor might really like it!). Also, editors are busy, so know that it is rare that you will get specific feedback when they pass. Don’t take offense—editors have the very best intentions. Often they need to prioritize their time on tasks that are directly related to revenue.

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

Oooh, do I have to pick? I guess heart would slightly edge out humor, but it is a close call. I'm a sucker for that fluttery feeling in my chest that I get when a story touches me. Like with Crow and Snow, I usually remember these stories for a long time, while the stories that make me laugh don't stay with me as long.

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

...helps her clients realize their greatest potential. Beyond brokering book deals, my favorite part of the job is helping my clients.

Thank you so much for sharing with us, Jen! I know a lot of my friends will be adding you to their query lists after this interview.

And thank YOU, kidlit fam for tuning in to another Agent Spotlight! Wouldn't it be swell if Jen was giving away some sort of...oh, I don't know...PICTURE BOOK MANUSCRIPT CRITIQUE?! Well, she is. So there. See details below to toss your name in the digital, metaphorical, raffle hat. Way to not be a Neanderthal...


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***The deadline for this contest is Friday, June 9th at 9 AM CST

Winner will be contacted on Friday, June 9th & announced on Brian's social media channels***

About Jen Newens

Jen Newens, Senior Literary Manager Children’s, MG/YA, Kid's Graphic Novels, and Adult Food & Drink


At different phases of her publishing career, Jen has been an author, editor, and publisher, giving her experience in all sides of the business. She comes to us after a seven-year stint as publishing director at West Margin Press, an Ingram Content Group company. There, she acquired a wide range of different genres, but holds a special place in her heart for young people’s literature. She began to acquire graphic novels in 2019 and sees it as an exciting and burgeoning way to tell children’s stories. A subject matter expert in food and drink titles, Jen spent two decades as a cookbook editor and writer (she even went to culinary school!). She’s experienced in working with celebrity chefs, business owners, cooking brands, and food bloggers, as well as accomplished home cooks. In her role as Senior Literary Manager, Jen applies her 360-view of the publishing business to MLM, seeking out fresh, original voices and developing exciting new talent. On the children's side, Jen is interested in picture books with sharp writing and compelling messages; MG/YA stories that resonate with the challenges faced by today’s youth; and graphic novels with quirky narration and original art. In the food and drink space, Jen is keen to find original takes on popular topics, books that reveal a riveting personal story, and books with a health and wellness slant. The following are on Jen’s current wishlist, but she’s always open to hearing new ideas.

Childrens/MG/YA/Graphic Novels

• Books that portray historically excluded voices, disability, neurodivergent characters, LGBTQ topics

• Regional books with national crossover potential

• Author/illustrators with strong storytelling skills and a clear vision

• Children’s activity books

• Quirky and humorous stories

• Cat content (she’s crazy for cats)

Adult Books

• Cooking

-New takes on current trends

-Chef books (especially underrepresented groups)

-Weeknight Cooking

-Food Bloggers with Unique Stories

• Drinks (mocktails and the NA lifestyle; fresh takes on wine and cocktails)

• Health, Wellness, Diet, and Chronic Illness

• Lifestyle topics

• Self-help

Please submit queries here:

Follow her on Twitter @JenNewens


Brian has been rejected more than you. He is the most rejected author in a blue moon (or two). Sometimes he writes facetious biographies at the ends of his blog posts. Truth be told, "sometimes" means "every time." Avid readers of this blog have probably never actually read a normal bio for Brian because he has never written one. Not once. Not even for the inside jacket of his debut picture book. His second picture book will have an even more ridiculous bio. Have fun with that one, Little, Brown and Company...

Sometimes Brian includes secret emoji codes in his silly pretend bios. Sometimes he randomly says hi to his mom, Linda. Hi, Mom. Sometimes the hidden emoji codes help people win raffles because they give people more entries. This is particularly useful in Agent Spotlight posts. You people are like wolves for those giveaways...wolves. Take a wild guess what the emoji code is...that's right! It's a palm tree. Cause summer. And this teacher is in summer mode. Toss a palm tree emoji in your sharing of this post and you will receive ten additional raffle entries. Yes, ten. Stay cool out there, kidlit fam. Now go grill something!



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