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Agent Spotlight: Mara Cobb

Happy Tuesday and welcome to Picture Book Spotlight! This teacher has fully activated Summer Break Mode.

So far we have enjoyed the change of pace and taken advantage of the increased family time with Peter and Albee. There's been morning walks, trips to the pool, zoo, and library...and a steady stream of Panera sips (if you know you know).

Even if you're not on a summer vacation, I hope life has presented opportunities to continue your picture book author journey in some capacity. I always seem to tell myself a story that over summer break I will finally get to do ALL THE THINGS. Write ALL THE BOOKS. Maybe you tell yourself similar stories (lies). The reality is that summer breezes by and fills up with all sorts of things. I blink and we're back to school for another year. Managing expectations is key. I won't write ALL THE BOOKS but I'll probably get to revise some stories I've been thinking about, develop a few new things, mow my lawn, and stay up on critiques. And that's enough.

A lot of times we tell ourselves "if only" too much. If only this then THAT would happen. If only this, if only that...If it's not within your control, don't fight where you're at. Don't if only yourself to death. Embrace the season you're in and find moments to take joy in the creative process when you can. Celebrate progress and the wins of every size. And be kind to yourself. That's what I'm going to be this summer.

If you happen to have a dead, or "mostly dead" picture book manuscript that you'd like to resurrect, this is a great week to be thinking about that. This week is KidLitZombieWeek. Check out all the amazing content and posts happening June 17-21st. In case you missed it, here's a post I did for KidLitZombieWeek last year: The Power of Revision and the Story of my Second Picture Book Sale.

If you're new here and didn't know, I run a picture book story coaching service. I offer Zoom and written-only critiques as well as second-look critiques. This picture book critique service is a large part of my focus since I'm out of school and I have just completed 250+ critiques since opening 18 months ago. Holy cow!

I'm truly grateful for the opportunities I've had to help so many people in their author journey. Keep it coming and thank you for letting me be part of your story! 😊

Next Tuesday, June 25th, if you happen to be in the KC metro area and don't have any plans, there's a fun storytime event for kids happening in Prairie Village, Kansas at the Learning Tree. I will be there to read The Book of Rules and sign books with several of my kidlit local author friends such as Jody Jensen Schaffer, Sue Gallion, Daniel Miyares, Jenn Bailey, Jessica Maire, Ann Ingalls, Brad Sneed, Alistair Heim, and Anne Rellihan. It should be a lot of fun and I'd love to say hello!

And now to our Agent Spotlight!

Today's post features Junior Literary Manager, Mara Cobb from Martin Literary Management. Mara is actively building her client list and will be opening back up to picture book queries this fall. As a thank you for stopping by, Mara is doing a giveaway with this post so be sure to read to the end to see what it is! 🤓 I think you'll be very pleased...

I'm eager to share all that Mara has to offer and I know how much of a difference these sorts of interviews can make when you're navigating the querying waters. I hope this post offers a practical insight into crafting picture books as well as getting them in front of agents and ultimately published and in the hands of kids.

Wherever you happen to be in your author journey, I hope this encourages you today. Don't give up. Your voice matters. Your story matters. So keep sharing them with the world.

Lights fade to black. Cue the curtain. Cue the spotlight...

Here's Mara!


Welcome to Picture Book Spotlight, Mara! And congrats on being open to submissions as of September 2023! Word on the street is you’re looking to expand your client list for picture book authors in 2024. Can you confirm this? If so, what are you hoping to see? What are you hoping not to see?


Thank you so much! It’s been a whirlwind of submissions since September, and I adore the work I do. Absolutely, this year I am looking forward to diversifying as an agent, and one genre I am excited by is picture books. I’m hoping to see projects that blend humor and heart,and I’m excited to come across books that gently teach young readers (without them even realizing they’re learning!). I’m not specifically looking for Halloween/Thanksgiving/Christmas books right now unless the concept feels incredibly innovative or fresh.

 ***Update as of the posting of this interview, Mara will be opening back up to PB submissions Fall 2024***

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


The Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt is one that has to go on my list. I love the humor, the pacing, and the unusual characters (crayons!). I taught a creative writing camp for elementary schoolers a few years back and from my six year olds to my fifth graders, my students all LOVED this story during our read-aloud time.


Bear and Bunny Grow Tomatoes by Bruce Koscielniak was one of my favorite books as a young reader—in fact, I still have my copy. I love the way that Bear and Bunny teach kids about the value of working hard and making progress. And I love that it’s delivered in a way that doesn’t feel like you’re learning at all.


Bear Snores On by Karma Wilson has to be on my top three as well. Rhyming picture books can be really difficult to write, but the rhymes in Bear Snores On feel effortless. It’s a super fun book to read out loud, and the illustrations add to the cozy feel of the story. I love books that can be read again and again, and this book has that ability.


Queries, and queries, and queries, oh my! When you’re slogging through the query trenches, what makes you sit up a little taller and feel a little less…sloggy? (yepp, I just made that a word) (on this question, share effective query strategies)


If sloggy isn’t officially a word, it should be! 🙂 I love when I receive a query that offers a couple of comps and then goes a step further to share how their book is similar. This extra step definitely catches my eye because it lets me know going in what I might expect from the story text.


If we do submit to you, what are some essential questions we should ask ourselves beforehand?


Is my query engaging? I (and this is true for most agents) get dozens of queries in a week. I read each query carefully, but I love if I get a concise query (with comps!) that also gives some background information about the author. If an author has previously published books or has been previously repped by an agent, that’s something that should be included in the query.


Do I have an up to date website/social media channels? I don’t require an author to have a huge social media following or to blog twice a week. But if a story catches my eye, I will visit the author’s website and/or social media channels to get a better feel for who they are as an author and if we might be a perfect fit since the agent/author relationship is truly a partnership. A smooth, simple website and social media channels already in place are a big asset.

Talk to us about the power of revision. What opportunities are there in transforming our older stories and what’s a good approach to begin this process?


I’m definitely an editorial agent. If the concept is there, but something feels off, I’m happy to work with an author to get the story where it needs to be. As a writer myself, I know how it’s sometimes so easy to get invested in the story as it is that it’s easy to lose sight of what the story could be. If you’ve gotten a lot of passes, but feel strongly about your story concept, revise. Revisions can transform a whole story for the better, but it can be nerve wracking to deconstruct your story before putting it back together again. Definitely save your old draft somewhere. Doing that will give you the freedom to experiment and play around with your words while having a safety net. If you’re not happy with your revisions, you’ll still have your old draft to return to. Then you can try revising again until things fall into place.


If an author has significantly revised their story, I am always open to taking a second look as long as the author notes in their query that they’ve made significant changes and are re-querying me.


Talk to us about art notes and pagination. What should our attitude be toward these conventions and how do they impact your reading of a picture book manuscript?


In my opinion, both of these are pretty important. As I’m reading, I like to envision the text on spreads—when will the page turn happen and how does that affect the story? How much text does the author envision on each spread? For art notes, I usually prefer when authors go pretty light. If your concept is about a character you created or you’re describing a scene that’s hard to picture, include an art note to help me see your vision. But if the words are pretty self-explanatory—maybe your character is going into a grocery store with her mom—we don’t need an art note there. We can already mentally picture what’s happening. As needed I work with my authors on perfecting pagination and creating effective art notes before we go out on sub to editors.


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?


Cast a broad net, but be intentional. I know, it might sound like that advice contradicts itself, so give me a minute to explain. Cast a broad net by querying multiple agents. Don’t get so caught up in waiting for a response from a “dream agent” that you put all your eggs in one basket so to speak. Querying multiple agents allows the querying process to run more smoothly and efficiently. If you have your story out with ten agents, it also helps take the sting out of receiving one “no.” You’d have nine more chances to make an author/agent connection.


Be intentional by doing your research. Make sure your story aligns with an agent’s MSWL (manuscript wishlist). While it might seem like a good idea to broadly query 50 agents, if 25 of those agents aren’t looking for a story with a talking guinea pig as a narrator and your story features Gary the Guinea Pig, you’re likely going to get a lot of passes based on what an agent is looking for. And those passes can easily be disheartening. So make sure that when you’re querying you have a reason for querying that agent and their wants or needs align with your story.


Finally, don’t give up! It’s not just something agents say to be nice—I truly do often have to pass on projects with solid writing because I already have a project on my list and don’t want my authors to feel too similar when querying editors.

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


I’m an editorial agent, so I usually read pb submissions twice—first as a reader might, then as an editor might. For picture books, I’m always considering the purpose of each line. Does it help the story move forward? If not, it should be cut or revised. Picture books aren’t lengthy, so it’s super important that every sentence is purposeful and drives the action.


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


Cares. Not to sound hokey, but I’m a very relational person. My authors sometimes send me holiday greetings or we’ll talk about our families and favorite reads—I get to know each of their personalities well from our initial calls, emails, and rounds of story revisions. For me, the author/agent relationship runs deep. My priority is to help my authors perfect their stories before getting it out to editors. I care so very much about helping my authors place their work in just the right publishing home, but I care just as much about them as people.

Thank you for sharing so much with us, Mara!

And thank YOU for reading, kidlit fam. For our giveaway, Mara has generously offered to do a picture book manuscript critique for one individual. See details below on how you can enter the raffle! 🤩


Subscribe to Picture Book Spotlight


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

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

***The deadline for this contest is Tuesday, June 25th at 9 AM CST

Winner will be contacted on Tuesday, June 25th & announced on Brian's social media channels***

About Mara Cobb

On my fifth birthday, I read two Junie B. Jones books in one sitting. It wasn't long after that when my grandmothers, both voracious readers, took it upon themselves to hunt for books I would love just as much as the Junie B. series. By age six, I was reading Nancy Drew mysteries. At seven, I was working my way through the Bobbsey Twins and Little House in the Big Woods, followed by Little Women. My favorite books have always been those that keep me on the edge of my seat in excitement and those that allow me to feel the full scope of human emotions as I read late into the night.

After earning my master's degree in English, achieving over fifty publications, and serving as the editor-in-chief for a small literary journal, I completed a year-long publishing internship learning the ins and outs of Martin Literary Management. I am thrilled to become part of the MLM family and am most excited about coming alongside fresh and seasoned writers to help them reach their full potential.

Currently, I am looking for Adult Nonfiction and Women's Driven Fiction. For Women's Driven Fiction, I am particularly interested in books with strong female heroines who are in their 20s. The gap between YA Fiction and Adult Fiction is one that I am passionate about continuing to bridge. I also am looking for Christian Fiction, Christian Romance (think Hallmark-style), and Christian YA.

Please submit queries via Query Manager and follow me on Twitter:@MaraCobbWrites


About Brian Gehrlein

This bio has rules. You must follow all the rules. If you break the rules, Dennis will eat you. Rule number one: you cannot read this bio. Nope. Stop reading. Right now. No more. Dennis! This tasty human is breaking the rules! Looks like Dennis is preoccupied with that thing on his foot again. Gross. He really needs to get that checked out. Okay, reader. It looks like you're safe...for now. Do not break the rules again. Rule number two: toss a bunny emoji onto your social media sharing of this post and receive three additional raffle entries. Do it. Or Dennis eats you! Thanks for stopping by. You are appreciated and not eaten. If you'd like to learn actual facts about me, please visit this forbidden page. Or maybe don't. After all, it is forbidden...



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