Welcome to Picture Book Spotlight!
Ahhhhh...the end of July. Harry Potter's birthday. The death of summer fast approaching in the northern hemisphere. And back to school commercials and store displays in full swing, subsequently triggering all teachers...
This of course includes myself. Sweet freedom is but a few weeks from ending. But if I'm totally honest, I get a little excited when August rolls around because I actually love teaching. Each new school year is a chance to start fresh. A chance to improve my skills with a new group of students. A chance to make grandiose promises to myself that I will actually grade essays faster this time...
In all seriousness, this will be my third year as a high school English teacher (seventh year as a teacher if I don't count my time as a sub and paraprofessional) and I'm super pumped to go back. My primary and driving passion is to help my students discover, rediscover, or grow in their love of reading and writing. There's obviously way more to it than that, but I always try to keep those objectives at the heart of everything we do.
And this year is extra special for me. Not only will I be heading into the school year with my Master's under my belt (Master's of Science in Education with an emphasis in Reading from Arkansas State University), but also just before my debut picture book comes out--not to mention the third year of #PBCritiqueFest! I have a feeling it's going to be a whirlwind of a fall semester...prayers, coffee, and cinnamon rolls are appreciated.
Quick commercial for THE BOOK OF RULES. I don't know how it happened...cough...but Dennis the monster...has his own Twitter account. You should follow him. That is all.
Today, we have an extra special Agent Spotlight. Why is it special? Because it's with Kaitlyn Sanchez! As most of you know, Kaitlyn does a ton for the kid lit community and is always a bright light of encouragement. And she's been killing it as an agent for Context Literary Agency so I had to bring her on. Kaitlyn will be doing a giveaway for this post, so be sure to check out the end of the interview for details.
Alright. Without further ado...
Fade to black. Quiet backstage! Cue the spotlight...
Congrats on your agenting journey so far! I’ve been so thrilled to see sales happening and that you’re building your list and generally just being awesome. What’s been the most meaningful or rewarding part of your job as an agent so far?
Thanks so much, Brian! I can’t believe it’s been over a year-and-a-half since I stopped by to talk about becoming an agent intern! And way to start off with a tough question! It's so hard to pick one thing, but if I have to pick, the most meaningful things are the connections--with my clients, mentors, and the amazing editors in the industry. There are so many phenomenal people working to bring beautiful books into the world, and being a small part of that just lights up my world, especially when I see the wonderful stories my clients create turning into books before our eyes.
What are some recent sales that you’re really jazzed about? Any clients you want to gush on or give a shout out to?
All of them! Including the ones we can't talk about just yet that may or may not include an auction. ;)
As for my clients, I want to gush about all of them, too! They are such amazing storytellers and editors and just the greatest people, always working together to help each other, it makes me so proud to be on their team.
When you think about building your client list, what are you most excited to see? What types of picture books might not be the best fit for you?
Wow, this one is a doozy, too! You ask all the hard questions, Brian. Right now, I'm looking to build my MG and YA side, so those of you PB people that also have the magic ability to write novels, definitely keep me in mind. When it comes to PB style, I tend to like pretty much everything as long as it's not too didactic (with the exception of concept books, of course). I tend not to be attracted to traditional fairytale things like fairies and princesses, but if a story really takes a cool spin, like how MALEFICENT did and how Tracy Marchini and Joana Pastro did with their princess PBs, or of it's a super hilarious take, I might be game. ;)
You said 6 right? 😁 ...right?
In terms of query letters, what is the most important thing authors and illustrators need to accomplish? What kinds of things should we avoid?
I think the work is the most important part, but for a query, you can show that you've researched the agent and can share why you think this fits that agent. It's also important to make sure you have a good pitch and it fits the story. For avoidance, definitely make sure not to be rude.
As a writer, a space that I’ve been growing in is my ability to weave a unifying theme or message throughout the narrative without it becoming overly heavy-handed and didactic. What advice can you give authors to this end? Is it always “less is more” or is it more complicated than that?
Great question, and awesome that you're working on it. I bet we all are. Definitely more complicated, but less is more is a great place to start. I wish I had some magic advice I could share because we'd all love to know the best way to create a beautiful underlying lesson without being too didactic, but that's also the magic of writing, isn't it? Finding the best way to tell a story. So, I'm actually kind of glad I don't have that magic advice because then we all get to find that magic for ourselves.
But one of the best things I can share is to read your work like a kid. If you would roll your eyes because it's just what your caretaker would be trying to teach you, it's too heavy-handed. If you finish and feel empowered and want to keep talking about the story and/or subject, then you found the magic!
I like art notes that get across what you need to convey without being too descriptive. Let's use one of my favorite movies as an example.
Dad: Wait a second. This was your idea. I thought winning this game was the most important thing in the world to you.
Becky: No dad, winning this game is the most important thing in the world to you. [Throws box down; cheerleading uniform falls out]
What are some essential questions an author or illustrator should ask themselves before they submit to you?
I think anyone submitting to any agent should research the agent and decide if they think it could be a great relationship.
If we could put on “Kaitlyn Sanchez eyes” to look critically at our stories, what is ONE THING that you always look for that we can too?
OooOOo this is a super fun question. I often focus on the ending: is it surprising and satisfying? But the one thing I always look for that others might not is the logic of the story. That doesn't mean you can't have that Ocean Meets Sky kind of imagination, but just ask, does this make sense logically in this story? Where did it come from? Especially those "aha" idea moments. I'm such a fan of those coming from a real place, like having an art note where a salamander runs by and a kid says "I know! I'll use camouflage."
Please complete the following sentence: "Kaitlyn is an agent who…"
loves helping authors and illustrators bring their beautiful work into the world to help inspire and elevate the next generation.
Thanks so much for sharing and hanging out with us, Kaitlyn!
And thank YOU for reading, kid lit fam! Since Kaitlyn is an amazing and generous human, she has offered to do a picture book query AND manuscript critique as a giveaway for this post. Toss your name in the digital hat to enter!
TO ENTER THE GIVEAWAY:
✅ Retweet this post on Twitter
✅ Subscribe to Picture Book Spotlight
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***The deadline for this contest is Saturday, August 7th at 9AM CST
The winner will be contacted on Saturday, August 7th and announced on Twitter and Facebook***
About Kaitlyn Sanchez
Hi, my name is Kaitlyn Leann Sanchez.
I am a mom, wife, literary agent at Context Literary Agency, middle school math teacher, and picture book author.
I’m also the co-creator and co-host of the Spring Fling Kidlit Contest, creator and co-host of the Kidlit Fall Writing Frenzy Contest, and one of the hosts along with my critique group 6 Ladies and a MANuscript, of Kidlit Zombie Week.
For my literary agent wishlist and submissions information, check my Literary Submissions page.
In my free time, I love to play soccer, binge-watch shows on Hulu, and, of course, read. My favorite stories are historical fiction; short stories are my jam. I’ve recently gotten into dramas, fantasies, mysteries, and romances. And of course, I LOVE picture books! Especially when my husband, daughter, and I all cozy up and read together.
My blog on my website consists of my original pieces, reviews, contests, and author interviews!
Social media, come follow me:
Twitter: @KaitlynLeann17 https://twitter.com/KaitlynLeann17?s=09
Brian is a high school English teacher, picture book author, father of two boys, and a husband to a really cool gal. Brian's debut picture book, THE BOOK OF RULES, comes out October 19th (pre-order now!). When Brian isn't inspiring 15-year-olds to better appreciate reading and writing, you can find him chasing around a two-year-old, and probably a few corgis. Brian likes coffee and taking walks. His favorite color is blue. He is 5 ft 4 inches barefoot but likes to say he's 5 ft 6 (which is a complete lie even with shoes). He wears jeans a lot. He likes short sentences. He likes starting sentences with the pronoun "he" four times in succession but would chide one of his students if they were to commit such atrocities against the English language. Rules were made to be broken, right? Sometimes he writes ridiculous bios meant to troll you. Sometimes he hides things in these bios like emoji codes. What's an emoji code? An emoji you can use to increase the number of times Brian enters you in a giveaway raffle. This trains you to read the fine print like the biographies at the end of blog posts. Cause you have so much time to do so. What are you even doing with your life? Are you still reading this? Why are you still reading this? This is just getting absurd. If Brian were really smart, he would ask you to pre-order his book and provide some sort of proof and then give you like a million raffle entries for all giveaways forever. But Brian is not that smart nor self-promotey. I mean, you can pre-order his book...cough. If you're looking for an emoji code, you've read a good amount of words by now. I suppose I should reward that sort of dedication. This is a significant amount of text. Okay, that's enough. Let's go with a snake. Include a snake emoji in your retweet of this post and Brian will enter your name 5 times for Kaitlyn's raffle...enjoy.