Monday, February 15, 2010

SCBWI-IL Prairie Writer’s Day Conference 2009, part 5

Last week, we heard some nuggets from editor Nicholaus Eliopulos. Today, I’ll share what Michael Stearns had to say about publishing relationships, as well as a bit about agenting across formats (picture books, novels, non-fiction, etc). He focused mostly on publishing relationships, so that’s what I’ll start with.

What Agents Do:
For authors, agents are your second head, your first reader, and your sounding board. Some agents will work with you on edits and revisions, and some don’t. Most will help steer you toward the next ‘right’ project. Your agent will also hold your hand when discussing ugly truths of the marketplace, or publishing in general. Such as, most things fail eventually and most authors are mid-list, but if you keep working, something will hit eventually.

Your agent will also keep the editor/writer relationship pure by handling the dirty work within the house. They do all the negotiating and discussions about money, they can act as a bully when necessary (for example: if the book cover is way off), and safeguard an author’s long term prospects by preventing the publishing house from dictating what the author will write next. Your agent will also act as a mediator, both ways, between the author and editor should friction arise. This allows the writer and editor to keep their conversations focused on craft, and making the books as great as they can be.

Within publishing in general, an agent’s job is to learn about what each house is currently publishing. They must keep abreast of what specific editors are looking for, as well as what they are sick of, so they can accurately target each submission. They also need to be aware of the market, and how it editor and publisher lists.

Tip: When querying, don’t present a list of completed novels for the agent to choose from. It makes it look like you haven’t focused on one genre enough to be good at it.

As far as agenting across formats, Michael had less to say, but I’ll share it here.

A good agent will spread an author’s work around to multiple publishing houses for a few reasons. If the writer writes picture books and middle grade, then it’s easier to the different formats at different houses. Also, if one house goes under, then the author still has books at another house.

Tip: The picture book market is, by far, the hardest to sell to, because a picture book is the hardest to write, as well as to fix.

To read more about this, check out the blog post Michael wrote a few weeks after the conference.


Natalie Aguirre said...

Thanks for posting this. I didn't realize a publishing house could try to dictate what you wrote next. I'd sure be glad to have an agent handle that. I wish I could have seen this talk. I saw Michael Stearns speak at a Michigan SCBWI conference and he gave a great helpful and funny talk.

Tabitha said...

Michael said that houses can sometimes push an author really hard to write another kind of book. Without an agent, it's difficult for the author to say no and work on other projects that are calling to her.

I loved hearing Michael speak. He's definitely funny! :)