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Conference Report #2: More on editors and agents

The Rich Writer: Conference Report #2: More on editors and agents

The Rich Writer

How to Thrive on the Writer's Road

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Conference Report #2: More on editors and agents

At the 2007 RMC-SCBWI Fall Conference, the first session was a panel where editors Theresa Howell, Meredith Mundy Wasinger, Martha Mihalick, and agent Andrea Brown answered a series of questions put to them by our chapter's regional advisor, Becky Clark Cornwell. I won't recap the entire session, but here are a few of the responses that I found most illuminating.

1. What makes you say yes or no to a manuscript?

Martha: If she likes it, then she has to consider whether it fits her list, whether it's marketable, etc.

Theresa: Does she like it and will it sell?

Andrea: Her agents acquire a manuscript if a) they love it, and b) they can think of three editors to pitch the manuscript to who might also love it. They also are interested in clients who will develop long-term careers, not one-book clients.

2. What do you look for in a query or cover letter?

Meredith: She looks for the very best paragraph from the manuscript itself, something that shows off the story's style, voice, and character. She wants a one-page cover/query and wants to see originality in the story.

Martha: First, does the person know her? She prefers short covers and queries. She wants to read the work itself.

Theresa: She feels like the story speaks for itself. She wants the cover or query to include a blurb or sneak peek at the story.

Andrea: She wants the cover or query letter to be as short as possible. Two paragraphs. In the first, she wants to know the book's length, genre, and a three-line Hollywood pitch describing the story. In the second paragraph, she wants to hear anything else that's relevant about the author's writing career. And, of course, covers and queries should include all relevant contact information.

3. What makes you groan in a manuscript?

Theresa: bad rhyme, cliches, overdone topics, flat voice. What makes her sit up and take notice? A fresh idea, a strong voice.

Martha: singsong rhyme, fantasy manuscripts with character names that contain apostrophes (they make her head hurt,) made-up languages. What makes her take notice? "Yes" moments, moments when the character says something she never thought of before.

Meredith: letters claiming "my grandkids loved it" or "this is the next Harry Potter!" What does she notice? Great writing, before voice and character.

Andrea: cover letters that begin "you've never heard this idea before." She wants books that stick with the universals of a child's universe. If a story hasn't ever been published before, maybe there's a reason. Publishers, she says, want more of the same, more of what's selling, but with the author's unique twist.
4. What is the most important thing in a children's book manuscript?

Martha: honesty

Meredith: connection to a child's world

Theresa: good writing that keeps the audience in mind

Andrea: an author who is respectful and wants to be the "perfect author"

5. What types of manuscripts would you like to see more of?

Andrea: well-written, really commercial, fabulous books!

Theresa: She was looking for--and will be looking for--fresh, artful, progressive books for 4-8 year olds. Books with artistic merit and literary integrity.

Martha: Literary but also a little commercial. Picture books that will hold up to multiple readings. Novels with fresh, great voices; characters kids will care about and identify with.

Meredith: character-based stories, not just concept stories. Humor.

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