Saturday was the Agent Talk workshop at Story Studio. It was well done and Jennifer Mattson of the Andrea Brown Literary Agency had tons of good information to share.
First she talked about how she’s going to be heading the new Chicago office of the Andrea Brown Literary Agency. Great news for midwestern writers!
She talked about what an agent was looking for in an author. They like a complete package - someone who’s a great writer but who also has a marketing platform, such as a website or a blog. She suggested that authors should be active in the kid’s lit community, for example, being a member of SCBWI and attending conferences and workshops.
Then she talked about market trends. I’ll give a brief overview. “Paranormal” fiction (vampires, werewolves, mermaids, faeries, angels, etc.) is now a hard sell because the market’s been saturated. Trends that she sees now are books that have a strong voice, such as M.T. Anderson’s “Feed”, books that hark back to a simpler time, like Jeanne Birdsall’s “The Penderwicks”, and books that have elements of magic realism, like Ingrid Law’s “Savvy”. She also talked about “high concept” books being in demand. I wasn’t sure what she meant by that. I’d have thought that wold have meant a literary book, perhaps a book with lots of flowery words in it, but it doesn’t. “High concept” means a novel with a compelling premise that can be explained succinctly, i.e. a commercial book, such as Susan Beth Pfeffer’s “Life as we knew it.” Non-fiction is still a strong section of the marketplace. Editors are looking for character driven picture books that can be turned into a series, such as Ian Falconer’s “Olivia”. Also, picture books about animals instead of kids. That surprised me, because for years I’d heard that animal character stories were difficult to sell, but I guess the market changes and that’s why we look at trends. So pull out that old animal story you’ve got tucked away and send it off!
She warned us that the slow economy and layoffs have translated into long response times. Laid off editors have turned agents, so there are more agents out there shopping around more manuscripts. Depopulated publishing houses can’t keep up with the tidal wave of submissions, so response times are now months instead of weeks. It means we have to be more patient than ever.
The first pages were very informative and I commend Ms. Mattson on doing a great job of weaving positive criticism in with negative criticism. She was honest without being brutal. I think everyone learned something from her thoughtful critiques even if it wasn’t for their own first page. All in all a great morning!