Monday, January 07, 2019

more on pitching to agents before editors

I've been reading your blog and the archives for a few months now. There are several posts where you explicitly state that one of the worst mistakes a querying writer can make is to send a manuscript at the same time to agents and editors.

However, you also recommend (and did so just as recently as 11/5/18 post ) that SCBWI is the single most valuable author association you know of. Every SCBWI conference or webinar I have attended always offers agent/editor submission opportunities for attendees. Even Big 5 publishing house editors are included, although they usually have shorter submission timelines (i.e.., editors will only accept manuscripts for 2-3 months after the conference whereas an agent will have a year deadline). So it's not like you can query an agent first and then wait and see what happens. 

So here's my question: Is publishing somehow different in the kidlit world where this practice of querying agents/editors at the same is more acceptable? If not, could you please comment on why we're given such opportunities, if you believe they ultimately work against us? 

Thanks for all you do with this blog and Query Shark. It's my go-to source for publishing infotainment.

Publishing infotainment. Honestly, I may add that to my business cards!

This is a really good question, and I'm glad you asked.

Yes, the kidlit world is different.

Just for starters, picture books often have an author and an illustrator who are not writing partners rather are paired by the editor. If you're an artist, getting your work in front of an editor is often not a question of "do you want to buy this" but "keep me in mind for a project that my art will pair well with."

And, editors at many kidlit imprints have a lot of IP work too. IP means intellectual property. It's shorthand for series that are owned by the publisher, and for whom they seek writers. Having an editor see your work can help you be considered for those opportunities.

I'm still advocating an author query agents first.
It's a strategy, not a rule.

You can query anyone you want IF you're willing to hear me scream bloody murder when I love your work and you've exhausted half the kidlit imprints by sending your work out before I got my mitts on you.

A lot of authors in kidlit don't have agents. Fewer now than in previous years, but still, more than in the adult world. SCBWI offers opportunities. YOU get to decide which ones are best for you.


CynthiaMc said...

Welcome back,Janet!

E.M. Goldsmith said...

Welcome back, your Majesty.

Yeah, not a kid lit person but I can see how it would be different. It does make me wonder about the artist side of publishing.

I wonder what the graphic novel market is like - is that where the author has to be both writer and artist?

I know some excellent artists - really talented - and they are interested in doing book covers, graphic novels, and kid lit type of stuff, but not any of the writing, story-telling.

How does an artist enter the publishing market? Do publishers employ a stable of artists for their cover work or do artists submit work to publishers in hopes of getting called for a project? I do wonder.

Colin Smith said...

Hey, Janet! Hope you're well and had a lovely time away for Christmas and New Year. :)

Opie: When Janet says "don't query agents and editors," she's not articulating a divine law etched in stone. It is, as she says, a strategy. A recommended course of action. Now, given that it's a recommendation (or "best practice") based on years of experience with writers who signed away their first born in a publishing contract because they didn't know what they were doing, or who submitted to every publisher at the conference thus limiting the number of publishers she could work with, it's not far from a rule-of-thumb. But there really are no rules to this. There are things you can do to help your career, things you can do to harm your career, and those providential breaks that happen so infrequently you should never count on them.

All the best with your writing/publishing endeavors! :D

Miles O'Neal said...

Welcome back, oh mighty shark!

I would love to see a post on what else is different about kidlit publishing.

How did you like Aquaman?

Claire Bobrow said...

Welcome back, Janet!

OP: thanks for asking this question. I've wondered the same thing after SCBWI conferences.

Craig F said...

I think a lot of these same scenarios happen in sci-fi too. Timothy Zahn and Chuck Wendig are both writing Stars Wars stuff. A half a dozen others work on the 1600's and Manticore series.

As far as art goes, I know that Wattpad is looking for cover artists. That might get a name or six out and into some conversations. Googling Wattpad cover art will show dozens of opportunities.

Hopefully this will be a year for a bunch of dreams to come through. Welcome back, my Queen.

BrendaLynn said...

Welcome back!
There are a few publishers and editors who request fulls in Twitter pitch parties as well. Now those are hard to ignore.

Lisa Bodenheim said...

Welcome back, Janet! I really enjoyed the parade of pets. Such whimsical or humorist or heart warming tales behind each!

Thank you, Opie, for this question. So many nuances to this art and business! It's difficult to keep a brain in both sides.

robinssis said...

Welcome Back! Loved the Pet Parade, but missed your daily words of wit and wisdom.

E.M. Goldsmith...I have a friend who has made her career in jacket design and interior work. After college, she worked for a professor to gain experience. From there she worked in house at St. Martin's and Oxford, before building enough contacts to freelance. I'd say she worked about 10 years in house before striking out on her own. I know the work has slowed a bit in the last few years, as many publishers farm it overseas, but she seems to get enough. Hope that helps on the design end.

Lennon Faris said...

Very good to know. Thanks OP for the question and Janet for the infotainment :) Welcome back!

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

QOTKU welcome back.
Agents first !!!
Wish I knew that 47 years ago when I was blond and stupid. Now I'm not blond anymore.

Karen McCoy said...

I'd also say that for kidlit authors that aren't writing picture books, like middle grade and young adult authors, that having an agent first is still a good idea. Picture books are just a completely different animal.

MA Hudson said...

I'm about to take up one of these opportunities now. The SCBWI conference in Sydney has some manuscript critiques with editors from international publishing houses. I'm just hoping for some constructive criticism, but in the absurdly unlikely event of being offered a contract, I guess I'd say; 'hold that thought, I need to find an agent first.' And then query with 'Offer in hand' in the subject line.

KDJames said...

This is also common practice in Romancelandia-- at RWA's national conference as well as at regional conferences. As to why? Publishers help pay for the conference and in return they are allowed to send editors who are given appointment slots so they can scout for talent. I'm refraining (barely) from expressing my opinion about the starry-eyed, inexperienced, vulnerable writers who are the targets of this scouting, and the conference organizers who are, or should be, well aware of that dynamic.

I will say that I would NEVER attempt to negotiate a contract with a publisher, of any size, without obtaining the advice of an agent or an attorney.

KDJames said...

UGH. I expressed this so badly: ". . . my opinion about the starry-eyed, inexperienced, vulnerable writers who are the targets of this scouting"

I have great respect and empathy for those writers. What I meant to say is: ". . . my opinion about the fact that the most starry-eyed, inexperienced, vulnerable writers are the targets of this scouting"

Panda in Chief said...

SCBWI has lots of good advice and information for artists as well as for writers. What Janet says is true (of course it is) about getting your work as an illustrator in front of editors and art directors for future work. There are still any number of first time author /illustrators who got their first picture book deal without an agent. The advances paid for picture books are quite modest, compared to blockbuster fiction. Some publishers still require you to be represented by an agent, some don't. You will not retire to the south of France on one picture book sale.

Artists enter the market pretty much the same way writers do. Agents sometimes have people who are purely illustrators in their client list, although it seems like being an author/illustrator is kind of a hot ticket right now. Many graphic novels are author/illustrator projects, but there are some that are written by one person and illustrated by another. Like with picture books, the publishers like to do the pairing between writer and illustrator. The "March" series, about the life of Congressman John Lewis was a three way collaboration between Lewis, who worked with a writer, and it was then illustrated by a third person. It's one of the best non-fiction graphic works out there.

My agent has a particular interest in graphic novels and comics, and represents several of us. There are more agents out there representing these works, because there are more publishers developing a graphic novel imprint than there used to be. A great podcast for this interest group is one called Graphic Novel TK. They have all sorts of people from agents to editors to people who work in various parts of graphic novel production.

I've had author friends who were paired with a very popular illustrator, which slowed the release time wa-a-a-a-a-a-a-ay down. so I'm glad to be illustrating my own picture book projects.