Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Agent Talk with Jennifer Mattson.

     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!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Agent Talk at Story Studio

     This saturday I’ll be attending a workshop at Story Studio, a writing community space on Chicago’s north side. The workshop is called “Agent Talk” and it will focus on a variety of topics from current Children’s book trends to what catches an agent’s eye. The guest speaker is Jennifer Mattson of Andrea Brown Literary Agency. I’m excited about it, because I’ve just begun to look for an agent for my middle grade novel, The Adventures of Marcus Tuttle, and the topics are all interesting to me.             
     They’ll be reading a selection of first pages as well. That’s when attendees bring the first page of their manuscript to be read aloud. The pages are collected at the door and a random selection gets picked for Ms.Mattson to critique. I’ve been to a couple of conferences in which first pages were critiqued and it’s quite informative. Sometimes, though, it’s hard if your page wasn’t selected. You feel disappointed and unlucky. But I think that’s a part of searching for an agent that’s important to keep in mind. Sometimes it can be about luck as well as hard work and talent.
     I’ll post highlights and share information and tips that I gather from the “Agent Talk” next week.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Drawing the Costumed Figure

I'm starting a class on friday called "drawing the costumed figure". It's hard work to draw from a live model but it's worth it. I've found that just like writing, drawing improves with practice.  My goal is to develop a children's illustration portfolio over the course of the next few months. I have a portfolio of my prints online already, (see JanetLefleyArt.com), but it's mostly adult work mixed in with a smattering of children's illustrations. Frankly, it's a bit confusing. I'll seperate it into two catagories, adult and children's, on the advice of some illustrators that responded to a post I had put on Verla Kay. I'll be posting examples from my class here (if I think they're good enough) in the near future. Lots of work to do, but it's good to be working towards a goal.