Happy Saturday and welcome to Picture Book Spotlight!
It is the end of July...how did the time go so fast? Why is time going faster every year? Why is Twitter now just a letter "X!?" WHAT IS THE MEANING OF IT ALL?!
These are the somber questions one contemplates when the days get shorter and the death of summer seems imminent. There are random Halloween displays and generic Fall decor in stores. There are teacher-triggering back-to-school commercials popping up on social media and TV. I suddenly want cinnamon. And there are fewer and fewer obnoxious cicadas screaming mindlessly into the ether above my backyard.
I guess that last thing is not so bad. Cicadas are the worst and should just shut up and hibernate or die or fly to the moon or whatever it is they do for most of the year. I do not like cicadas.
But I do like Agent Spotlights and blog posts about picture books!
Today's Agent Spotlight is with Jennifer March Soloway of Andrea Brown Literary Agency. Back in the day, Jennifer was one of the earliest agents I featured on Picture Book Spotlight when this blog first began. Check out our interview back in 2019. Earlier this year, Jennifer was promoted to Senior Agent so I wanted to celebrate that and bring her on since things had probably changed a bit since 2019. I don't know about you but anything with "senior" in the title just sounds like "super." Maybe someday Jennifer can rise to the rank of Super Agent (I totally just made that up but it should definitely be a thing).
Since July is nearly at an end, that means there are only 3 days left to sign up for a discounted picture book critique with me. I'll be closing down in August to prep (dare I say it) for school and savor the last drops of summer with my family. That said, if you'd like to collaborate with me on something either on Zoom or a written critique before September, make sure to register by July 31st (all forms will be unavailable for registration until September 1st).
Welcome back to Picture Book Spotlight, Jennifer! Many congrats on your promotion to Senior Agent with Andrea Brown Literary Agency. Senior Agent sounds scary and awesome all at once. For my friends in the querying trenches, are you currently open to building your picture book client list? If so, what are you hoping to see? What are you hoping not to see?
Thank you so much, Brian. Agenting is my dream job, and it has been a thrilling journey. I feel so fortunate to work with my incredible colleagues at Andrea Brown and even more honored to represent brilliant creators. To answer your questions, I have a fairly full picture book list at the moment, but I am always open to a funny, laugh-out-loud, crowd-pleasing read-aloud with marvelous potential for art. I've had great luck with humor. Sadly, quiet stories have been much harder for me to sell, and I don't think I'm the right fit for them.
For those who don’t know your picture book wishlist or vibe very well, share three picture books you would have LOVED to represent and why you like them.
CREEPY CARROTS (and any of the subsequent CREEPY books that have followed), written by Aaron Reynolds, illustrated by Peter Brown. -- I love a laugh-out-loud funny picture book that takes advantage of the page turn, and I love a good horror in any format. This book delivers all of the above with super fun, appealing art! (Fortunately, I have some really fun PB comedy-horror on my list headed to a bookstore near you in 2024. Stay tuned!)
ALSO AN OCTOPUS, written by Maggie Takuda-Hall, illustrated by Benji Davies -- Not only is this story charming and funny with surprise twists at every page turn, but it also teaches kids (and parents and writers and agents) how to write a story with delightful artwork depicting each step. It's truly brilliant and should be on the shelf of aspiring writers of all ages!
Ross Burach's THERE'S A GIRAFFE IN MY SOUP. -- I'm a huge fan of Ross Burach's work, but my favorite is SOUP. It's essentially a long riff on a joke that continues to escalate with more and more outrageous antics. The ending delivers a surprise twist that's not only hilarious but full of heart--the best way to close a story!
When you’re going through queries, what are you most eager to encounter?
For picture book queries, I don't need a long pitch. In fact, a snappy logline with a great hook, followed by a positioning statement, is terrific. If you can sell your book in one line, and the story delivers the promise of the pitch, you're on your way. Here are some formulas to get started and then polish and rework in your own voice. Think smart and snappy. Less is more! Log Line Formula: When [the inciting incident happens], [the protagonist] must [achieve the objective], or risk [the stakes], before [ticking clock]. Positioning Statements Formula: [Adjective] and full of [noun], [TITLE] shows us [main emotional truth] and explores themes of [theme], [theme], and [theme]. This [adjective] [category] is a [positive adjective] [genre] with the [element] of [COMP] and [element] of [COMP], in a [style] perfect for fans of [COMP].
What are some essential questions an author or illustrator should ask themselves before they submit to you?
Is the project truly polished and ready for submission? Does the story deliver a fresh fun experience with a delightful hook that will add something new and vibrant to the market? Is the story a crowd-pleasing read-aloud for both kids and their readers? Does the project feature an irresistible character with clear stakes and agency? Does the title capture the story and entice the reader? Does the story deliver the promise of the pitch? It's a lot to ask, I know, but the picture book market is incredibly competitive. You have to be all in.
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?
I encourage everyone to try plotting their text on a picture book template. I think it helps with pacing and maximizing the suspense + surprise of every page turn. Plus, it reveals opportunities to streamline so the text doesn't weigh down the page with words. When it comes to art notes, I like to see notes that leave plenty of room for the illustrator to add their own creative lens to the story. Often, I find the best texts are those that don't need any notes for me to envision the art in my head, but again, I'm open!
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?
Read as many books as you can, and stay on top of what's new. Try not to get too attached to any specific project or take it personally when something doesn't get traction. There are many reasons why someone might pass, and with picture books, often it's as simple as, "I already have a Squirrel book." Keep writing. Keep reading. Keep working on your craft and playing with form. Keep coming up with new ideas. Give yourself room to experiment and make mistakes. I promise you'll grow as a writer. When the timing is right, something might finally click in the best way. I believe in the power of revision, and I'm rooting for everyone to find success!
If we could put on “Jennifer March Soloway eyes” to look critically at our stories, what is ONE THING that you always look for that we can too?
In a picture book, I especially love a surprise ending that's either funny, sweet, or better yet, both.
Complete the following sentence: "Jennifer is an agent who…"
loves writers and nothing gives her greater joy than to help an author elevate their story.
About Jennifer March Soloway
Jennifer joined the Andrea Brown Literary Agency in 2016, after a career in marketing and public relations. Agenting is her dream job. She loves working with writers and illustrators, and nothing gives her greater joy than to help an author elevate their story. She is most drawn to emotionally compelling voices and fresh perspectives underrepresented in literature. Please send Jennifer:
Adult literary thrillers and horror (she is a suspense junkie, who loves to be scared). Throw in dash of (bad) romance, and she’s hooked!
YA novels in any genre (horror, thrillers, gothic, humor), but especially literary stories about ordinary teens dealing with life, family, relationships, sexuality, mental illness, or recovery. A blend of genre and literary would be best of all. Also, lately, she'd like to fall in love (or lust).
Stories that blurs the lines between the real and the imagined.
Note: Sadly, Jennifer is not the best fit for novels-in-verse, as that form is not her editorial strength. Please consider one of her colleagues instead.
That’s her wish list, but you might have something she has never considered before, and it might be absolutely perfect for her. Surprise her!
Brian writes things for kids. Sometimes he writes things for adults. You are currently reading one of those things. He also sometimes writes things about wolves (nobody really knows why at this point). But does he even have a wolf book? Nope! He is a wolf fraud. So can you really trust him or take anything he says seriously? Probably not. But he might have a wolf book someday. His agent will be submitting one to publishers this September. He is excited about this but probably shouldn't get too excited because it is super weird and will likely get rejected (something he is quite used to at this point). When Brian isn't writing blog posts, pretend bios, or silly things about wolves, he can be found writing highly interactive books featuring a monster named Dennis who eats rule-breaking kids. LOL as if that would ever sell...