It can take them forever. Some don’t even respond because your submission has fallen through the cracks or that’s just their policy.
you get either of the former responses with that longed for yes, or they break your heart with a no.
So what’s up with that? How does an agent choose who they represent?
I’d like to start by saying there is no one surefire way or formula that agents use to choose who they represent. Each agent has different criteria that exists somewhere on a spectrum between loving your work, liking you, and being able to sell your work. Sometimes they choose strategically in terms of what they know editors are looking for and what they see as future marketable trends. Sometimes they choose by intuition or gut, but usually it’s a combination of both.
Apart from the heartfelt creativity that goes into writing, illustrating, editing, art directing and designing a book, children’s book publishing is a business. Until an agent has been in the business a while, one of their clients has a huge hit, or several have big hits, it pays very little for a lot of work (sometimes a few hundred for months of work). In fact more agents are teaching these days to supplement their income, something that used to be verboten in the past because they just can’t survive on what they earn as an agent.
I recently wrote a post about why so many editors and agents are overworked and overwhelmed in relation to the last decade or so of the history of the publishing industry. It’s on the fabulous Tara Lazar’s blog. Tara is the founder of the Picture Book Idea Month (PiBoMoId) event, which I encourage everyone to participate in. Here’s the link http://taralazar.com/2014/01/13/outside-inside-publishing/ I think it’s been my most popular post ever based on the comments.
This article explains why agents have to have screening processes. For me, after knowing authors’ and illustrators’ work either through my courses or the internet, the first thing is professionalism beginning with how well written your submission is. I recently did a webinar/workshop on this topic that will be part of the most extravagant ever upcoming interactive craft and business of writing children’s books e-course with Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen, Mandy Yates and me (and probably my last time teaching it) here http://www.childrensbookacademy.com/writing-childrens-picture-books.html
But whether you can take the course or not, here’s the essence of what I shared:
Publishing is relational. Meet editors and agents at conferences and events or online in courses or webinars or any way that you can in an organic and respectful way. You need a fantastic submissions package.
Here’s a little checklist:
I know some of you may be squirming, but as I mentioned earlier, publishing is a combination of business, creativity, and heart that varies on a spectrum according to each publisher or agent. Agents and publishers cannot stay in business without marketing and sales. That’s why we changed our logo over at the Children’s Book Academy to Boris, the heartful, creative, businessman bear, to help students learn those things in practical ways. We also have Marge, the Can Do wife (Boris likes strong women), and Baby Buddha Bear, who will be coming soon (but that’s another story).
Know that whether an agent accepts you or not is a combination of how much they respond to your work, whether they think they can sell it, whether you look like you are going to be wonderful to work with, and just plain luck as to whether they are having a good day or are feeling like they have too many clients already and are overwhelmed.
Use Don Miguel Ruiz’s agreement from the Four Agreements to never personalize anything. A rejection says nothing about you or your work other than you may not be a good fit for that agent at that time or your work might not be quite ready yet.
Be the best that you can be as a lifelong learner taking courses, participating in challenges and fabulous critique groups, attending conferences and doing whatever you can to improve your craft and find out what’s happening in the contemporary children’s book market. And keep submitting.
I hope this post has been helpful. If it was helpful, please leave a comment below.
Mira Reisberg is the founding instructor of the Children's book Academy. In her full life she has worked as an award-winning best-selling illustrator, writer, art director, designer, freelance editor, children's literature professor, and mentor/teacher to many now very successful former students. Last year she also became a children's literary agent. Mira is currently phasing out of teaching, which she dearly loves, to focus more on her agenting, which she also dearly loves. Mira has a picture book writing e-Course starting February 10th right here!!
Mondays with Mandy or Mira consists of Mandy Yates and Mira Reisberg. Mira is the founder of the Children's Book Academy and was so impressed with Mandy when she was a student in one of the interactive courses, that she invited Mandy to share the blog. Mandy has as an MFA in creative writing from Spalding University and has been published multiple times in Highlights Magazine. We hope you enjoy and find our offerings helpful.
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