A Night With Three Agents: 2010

Originally Published: Dec. 30, 2010

by Melanie Hope Greenberg

Children’s book agents Stephen Barbara, Jennifer Laughran, and Marietta Zacker addressed a full house at the November SCBWI Metro New York Tuesday Professional Series.

Stephen Barbara has been with the Foundry Agency for two years. Drawn to writing with a strong voice that blends commercial fiction with a literary slant, Barbara pointed to client Lauren Oliver’s debut novel, Before I Fall as an example of “writing that is beautiful and has a potential to sell lots of copies.” While he is open to novels in verse, he is not looking for manuscripts that are a collection of poems. For a series, Barbara said, “focus on one book at a time,” but you can include in your query that the book has “series potential” or is the “first in a series.” He pointed out that if your submission is not targeted to a specific agent at Foundry, it is unlikely that you will get a response.

Jennifer Laughran works with the Andrea Brown Literary Agency. She represents authors and illustrators of picture books through YA, though her preferences are Middle Grade and Young Adult. She expressed the importance of knowing who the agents are at an agency and to learn each agent’s preferences in order to best target your manuscript. Laughran is drawn to stories with offbeat or “strange” world-views, but most importantly, “a really strong voice that pops off the page.” Laughran used client Lisa K. Madigan’s debut Flash Burnout—a “gritty-funny contemporary novel”—as an example of what she likes. She is looking for “stories that make us laugh and cry and are hopeful in some kind of way.” She likes “short, bright, simple, and funny picture books.” Laughran suggested writing what comes naturally and to not worry about trying to brand yourself at the beginning stages of your career. More of a “selling agent” than an editorial agent, Laughran feels it’s important to communicate with her clients and wants them to feel they can ask her anything. Laughran said there is “always a market for awesome.”

Marietta Zacker is with the Nancy Gallt Literary Agency. She explained that the agency’s small size—comprised of Zacker and Nancy Gallt—means both agents work together with their clients. Zacker explained what she wants most is “authenticity and knowing your audience and the world at large; keep your characters alive, become stapled to your characters so you are looking out of their eyes.”

Responding to questions, Zacker explained that this business is cyclical, so you should “write what you want to write.” Her editing style is more “big picture,” than line by line. She has debut finds with such authors as Hilary Wagner and Ann Payne. Zacker pointed out that Rick Riordan, author of the Percy Jackson series, came out of the slush. All three agents agreed that having an agent maximizes your opportunities. The agent makes the contacts and becomes a champion for your rights when negotiating contracts. Zacker emphasized when you work with an agent, “it’s a partnership.” And that partnership can lead to a long and healthy career as a writer or illustrator.

Melanie Hope Greenberg has illustrated 16 children’s picture books; six of them as author and illustrator. Greenberg’s Blog, Mermaids On Parade, (named after her latest book), was selected “100 Best Book Blogs for Kids Tweens and Teens”. In the Fall 2010, her art was part of ”Drawn in Brooklyn”, a group exhibition of picture book artists curated by John Bemelmans Marciano at Brooklyn Central Library-Grand Army Plaza. Greenberg was also selected to donate her original picture book art for the Disaster Relief Fund raffle at the Texas Library Association’s annual conference 2011.

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