For the third consecutive year, SCBWI Metro NY and The New School’s Writing for Children MFA program co-hosted an agents panel held at The New School. Linda Camacho of Prospect Agency, LLC, Susan Hawk of The Bent Agency and Andrea Somberg of Harvey Klinger Inc. were the featured agents. Adria Quiñones, a 2015 winner of SCBWI’s Emerging Voices Award, was the moderator.
The panel discussion began with what each agent is looking for. Linda Camacho said she doesn’t want to rule out any category but picture book representation is limited. Andrea Somberg also expressed a preference for MG and YA and emphasized that “diversity is a key word.” Susan Hawk is very open, joking that “you never know when you’ll read that amazing sports book.” She represents all categories of books for children and is “drawn to writing that is emotional.”
Heather Flaherty, a Literary Agent at the Bent Agency, and Maggie Lehrman, a Senior Editor at Abrams Books for Young Readers, (as well as a YA novelist) addressed a rapt crowd at the Huntington Public Library on October 16, 2016 as part of SCBWI Metro NY’s On-the-Road series. Rapidly making their way through a pile of first pages, ranging from picture books to YA fiction, they were in remarkable accord, zeroing in on what made (or detracted from) an opening that worked. Published writers and beginners benefited from their expertise.
The November Professional Series agents panel, always a sold-out event, was for the first time presented jointly with the New School’s Writing for Children MFA program and held at the New School. Each agent on the panel gave a specific piece of writing advice; afterwards, they fielded questions on submitting manuscripts (a book should be as good as you can make it), query letters (do your research, proofread your letter and don’t forget the hooks) and the life of an agent.
Suzie Townsend, New Leaf Literary Media: ”Two pieces of advice”
Show, don’t tell.
While this rule is often quoted as a narrative technique, Townsend applied it to the story’s emotional underpinning. “When I became an agent, I expected to see terrible manuscripts, but for the most part, I see a lot of manuscripts that are good–but they are only good. You want yours to be better.”
What makes the difference is the author’s ability to connect the reader to the character. “I often see great voice, great concept, great pacing, but I have trouble connecting to the character emotionally–the character is almost held at a distance, and then it’s hard to feel like you want to follow this person.” Emotion has to be appropriate to the age group, authentic to the character and integrated into the story. “Make sure you have a balance between what the character tells in their voice and what you show through the character’s actions.”
Magic and world building was the focus of the October Professional Series lecture bringing us a magical author and editor team. Edith Cohn is the author of SPIRIT’s KEY, a middle grade mystery about a girl and her ghost dog. Susan Dobinick is an Associate Editor at Farrar Straus and Giroux Books for Young Readers. Here are some highlights from their discussion:
Magic Must Have a Purpose
Dobinick noted that as an editor, she enjoys novels with magic, but writers should make sure these elements have a meaning to the story as a whole. “You can have a lot of fun with writing magic, but the writer has to step back and ask—why is it there?” she said.
By Leah Heilman Schanke
“Voice is easier to talk about than to execute,” said Marietta Zacker, Agent at Nancy Gallt Literary Agency. Books on writing say a story cannot be character-driven and plot-driven, but Zacker disagrees, “The magic comes when you have a character-driven story, and infuse a plot that works. The character is the main driving force but also reacting to events.”