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!!
2/2/2014 11:45:53 pm
2/3/2014 12:57:27 am
Hi Nicole, I went and had a peek at your website and it was fascinating. Your question was also very interesting but here are a couple of concerns. Based on your post here and your website, your English isn’t perfect and it needs to be. I encourage you to spend more time with it, or have a fantastic English speaking critique group, or partner who will help you with this. Multi-award winning former student Yuyi Morales doesn't speak perfect English but she has a critique group that helps her with that part so it's definitely doable. The second part is that publishers want to publish folks who can promote their books in bookstores and libraries and schools where they are published, i.e. U.S. pubs want folks available in the U.S. This is more important for writers than illustrators for some reason but there it is. I am developing an online workshop/webinar for SCBWI Israel providing workarounds for this very subject. If you would like your French SCBWI to have me do one for you guys, just contact them to contact me. So in a nutshell, make sure your English is perfect everywhere that you appear, and after that I'd try for a European agent like Erzi Deak. I hope this was helpful and wish you the best of luck ~ Mira
2/3/2014 01:37:39 am
Thank you very much!
2/3/2014 04:35:16 am
Mira, I am so thankful that you taught the courses that I have taken. You tell us up front what to expect and how to interact with the world of publishing. You also give the tools and inspiration to help us on our path. Thank you for sharing the agent's role and and the checklist to help us with our submissions. This is a great way to start the week-thank you!
2/3/2014 04:53:20 am
Always great information, Mira, thank you.
2/3/2014 04:55:30 am
2/3/2014 05:36:42 am
2/3/2014 05:40:53 am
2/3/2014 05:59:47 am
I really enjoyed reading this Mira! We know you are generous with time and wisdom but I have a better understanding of your POV! I wish you and your clients much success and publishing deals soon! I know this will be a great year for Hummingbird Literary! Hugs! Angie
2/3/2014 08:58:37 am
Your attention to the details of the life of an agent, needed to be written, as we writers/illustrators, usually tend to think we're on the 'heavy' side of the see-saw, when in reality it's the other way around. Putting it in the business terms you site, makes it crucial for the agent to have good multifaceted decision-making skills, before anything is signed. This is a great post. I will organize myself better. Have a lot of 'clean-up' work to do, especially in my website. And this Kindle book, well, I'm on revision/re-entry of page 30 of 68 and I'm just beginning to see how far I was from "finished". Thank you for your insightful logic in all your teachings and passing comments. This is true "Mira Inspiration", given freely and with much passion.Thank you!!
2/3/2014 09:41:01 am
2/3/2014 11:51:46 am
Thank you Mira for sharing information with all of us.
2/3/2014 05:52:54 pm
I love the checklist! Thank you putting it so simply and logically. A huge help!
2/4/2014 01:23:55 am
Thank you, Mira, for all that you do in helping us all be successful children's book authors!
2/4/2014 04:01:58 am
Mira, I enjoyed this post so much! It distilled so much good wisdom about 'selling' your work to professional agents into such a quick read.
3/3/2014 10:39:16 pm
Thank you for your posts on the agent / client relationship. You are always an awesome encourager.
5/19/2014 01:02:21 am
hello! and thank you for a wonderful article!
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We are so excited to be mixing things up at CBA, beginning with some delicious additions to the Blogfish. Meet our awesome bloggers!!
Here's our lineup:
1st Mondays begin with awesome multi-published former student Shirin Shamsi who will be focusing on Muslim and cultural kidlit.
2nd Mondays will feature super smart Melissa Stoller whose career is taking off with several new books.
3rd Mondays will feature Bryan Patrick Avery, published writer, man of mystery, and professional magician among other things.
4th Mondays will feature STEM, STEAM & SEL obsessed author Kourtney LaFavre sharing delightfully dorky, quirky, and fun info.
And 5th Mondays we'll be taking a break