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Today is the release day for BUGLETTE, THE MESSY SLEEPER by author/illustrator Bethanie Murguia. It’s out for Tricycle Press/Random House, and Bethanie has a contest going on over on her blog to celebrate, here!

Everyone go pick up a copy of BUGLETTE, and watch for the companion picture book, SNIPPET, THE EARLY RISER, coming from Knopf/Random House in 2013!

Congratulations Bethanie!

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These last few weeks have been very hectic for me for a wonderful reason! I just sold a really exciting deal for my debut author client Emily Hainsworth. As announced in Publisher’s Weekly a week ago, and in PM this week, THROUGH TO YOU and a second, untitled book, sold to Alessandra Balzer of Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins, in a good deal, at auction.

(Photo credit: Matthew Lowery Photography)

Emily and I first made contact last summer, when she queried me with a YA. I read it twice, really loved her voice, but it wasn’t quite there yet. It had some issues and I didn’t know if I wanted to take Emily on without seeing some revision skills first. So I told her to go back into her writerly hidey-hole and return with her next project. She did. It was THROUGH TO YOU. A brilliant, high-concept premise paired perfectly with her strong, literary writing voice. Dreamboat! I fell out of my chair, read it the same day (a busy November Saturday in Chicago when I kept sneaking away from an event to read my Kindle in a locked bathroom stall…true story!), offered representation, and won the opportunity to work on this awesome book.

I gave Emily revision notes, she worked on it for about a month, sent it back, and then we were ready to go out in January. I drummed up some excitement by pitching to editors in person at ALA, then sent it out on Friday, January 14th. Here’s an excerpt from my pitch letter, where I positioned THROUGH TO YOU as a cross between BEFORE I FALL and THIRTEEN REASONS WHY:

The day grief-stricken high school senior Camden Pike sees a ghost is the day he assumes he’s finally lost it. For the last two months, he’s been torturing himself after walking away from the car accident that killed his girlfriend, Viv. She was the last good thing in his life: helping him rebuild his identity after an injury ended his football career, picking up the pieces when his home life shattered, healing his pain long after the drugs wore off. He’d give anything for one glimpse of her again. But now there’s a ghost at the accident site…and it isn’t Viv.

Cam quickly realizes the apparition, Nina, isn’t a ghost at all. She’s a girl from a parallel world, and in this world, Cam is the one who died, and Viv is alive and well. Cam’s wildest prayers have been answered and now all he can focus on is getting his girlfriend back, no matter the cost. But the accident isn’t the only new thing about this other world: Viv and Cam both made very different choices here that changed things between them. For all Cam’s love and longing, Viv isn’t exactly the same girl he remembers. Nina is keeping some dangerous secrets, too, and the window between the worlds is shrinking every day. As Cam comes to terms with who this Viv has become, and the part Nina played in his parallel story, he’s forced to choose–stay with Viv, or let her go–before the window closes between them once and for all.

I still get chills reading this synopsis, because the story really is that good. Luckily, I’m not the only one who thought so. One week after submission, we had our first offer. The next week, we went to auction. The same day I sent out auction rules, my hard-working foreign rights co-agent Taryn Fagerness closed a huge pre-empt from German publisher Goldmann. She sold Italy later that week. The next week we closed the auction and THROUGH TO YOU officially went to its home at Balzer + Bray.

There have been even more top secret developments for this book since then, but I figure this is great news for now. Emily (website, Twitter) has her own write-up of the experience here. And here’s what Alessandra Balzer, Emily’s new editor, has to say about reading THROUGH TO YOU for the first time:

When I read Mary’s description of THROUGH TO YOU, I thought — OK, this sounds very intriguing. A parallel reality is a hard thing to pull off in a convincing way, though, so I stayed a little wary. I started the manuscript and from the first page I immediately liked Cam’s voice and felt drawn in. But still, I wondered — how will this play out? Then, when Cam sees the girl by the site of the accident — I expected it to be his dead girlfriend. When it wasn’t — when it was actually a new character with secrets to reveal to Cam about his own life — that’s when I knew I was hooked. Emily has created so many great and unexpected twists and turns in this plot — you really don’t see what’s coming next. I also love the idea of choices in this novel — and how one bad turn can lead you down a path that you were never meant to be on.

We’re all thrilled with the success of THROUGH TO YOU so far, and hope you will pick it up and discover the twists, turns, thrills, and secrets for yourselves when the novel hits stores in Fall 2012!

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Yesterday was a wonderful day spent in NYC with my debut YA client Karsten Knight, whose novel, WILDEFIRE comes out on July 26th from Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers. We started the day off early with a breakfast sales and marketing meeting at S&S, walked around, introduced Karsten to the editorial and design staff, did a really cool promotion thing, went to lunch with Karsten’s editor and her fabulous assistant, then caught a movie (True Grit…awesome) to wrap-up the perfect day, before Karsten went off on yet another exciting meeting. I can’t share too much more about it, but here are some pictures to tide you over:

Karsten looking stoic in front of the S&S building.

Deep inside the S&S offices lurks a green, hand-eating tiger. Watch out!

What a truly satisfying day in the life of a literary agent, getting to accompany a client to a publisher that is doing such great things for a truly phenomenal book. Are there enough biased adjectives in that last sentence or what?

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This post is for all the author/illustrators out there, and the question comes from Siski:

I’d like to know more about agents and how they go about repping author/illustrators. I read an awful lot about query letters for authors but how does an author/illustrator query?

As we do with our authors, agents help author/illustrators develop their projects, work up a submission plan, and connect our clients with potential editors. The nature of the editorial work is a bit different, though. I’ll be the first to tell you that I am not an artist. (Despite a very promising banana still life at age three that remains framed in my mother’s…closet. Ouch.) But my mom is actually a rather well-known fine art painter. I’ve spent my entire life around art and almost every fall, I go on tour with her and hang out in even more galleries. I may not know how to pull what’s in my mind and get it down on paper visually, but I do know what I like (and what’s good) when I see it.

With author/illustrators, I comment on issues of composition, image choice, character, expression, color, etc., but the art mastery has to be there before I sign an author/illustrator or illustrator. All of my illustrators came to books from being artists first, writers second. It is much easier to hone the picture book writing side of a creator’s craft (though it’s still very difficult to write a timeless, smash hit picture book) than it is to teach them art. That’s why I don’t recommend writers take up art and try to become illustrators. Unless you are gifted visually, it will be very difficult to compete with all the illustrators on shelves today or in BFA or MFA programs. Aspiring illustrators should spend a few hours in the picture book section of a bookstore and see what the professionals are doing. Even the most deceptively simple styles have a lot of artistry going on behind the scenes. Adding writing to an illustrator’s toolbox is a lot easier (and more feasible) than adding illustration to a writer’s.

So for me to take on an illustrator, I need to be wild about their illustration style and talent. They also need to have at least one really fun or commercial story idea that we can work with. If the writing isn’t stellar (yet), I know I can work with them just like I would my author clients in order to get things into shape.

Submissions work similarly with author/illustrators, except I’m often sending out a full sketch dummy, anywhere from two to five mock finishes (full color renderings of sketches), and the manuscript text. I will either send this in the form of a physical, mail submission, if the art works better when you can spread it out in front of you and really dive in, or as a digital PDF file.

The other part of how I work with an author/illustrator is trying to rustle up illustration work. This is very tough going for most agents, and most illustrators, because a lot of illustrator-project pairing is a matter of luck and timing. Not all editors are equally patient or talented when it comes to stretching their imaginations for either a text or an art sample. This isn’t a slam on editors…far from it. Matching text to art is quite a skill, and that’s why some children’s editors don’t even have a lot of picture books on their list, because working with art isn’t something they love to do.

Some will see an artist’s sample postcard and, if it features a dog, think of their text that also needs a great dog character. A match is made! Some editors will leave a text sitting unmatched until the last possible moment, then see a great postcard that crosses their desk and…again, art alchemy! Others will fall in love with an artist, keep their postcards on hand or a link to their online portfolio in their favorites, and hunt tirelessly for the right text.

Most illustrators and editors swear that it’s all about when an art sample crosses their eyes. The right sample at the right time will get hired. Others think it’s about consistency…if they see an artist a certain number of times, they will start to think about them for jobs.

My job is to work with my artists to create the perfect sample image, portfolio, and postcards and then get them out there. For some clients, my colleagues and I do postcard mailings. I also do digital art mailings, the ABLA Artists of the Month email blasts that go out every month and feature two artists the agency’s client lists. Editors love having both hard copy postcards and links to online portfolios, so we try to do everything we can to get illustration jobs as well as sell the client as an author/illustrator (get them a book deal where they do both and there’s no other name on the cover).

As far as query letters for author/illustrators go — and remember, we only accept online submissions — I prefer having a query, a link to your online portfolio mentioned in your query letter, then the text of the picture book copied and pasted in the body of an email.

Yes, you do need an online portfolio, absolutely. It can be simple and you can pay someone to do it, but make sure you can update it easily with new images. I’d say you need about ten to twenty really strong examples of your characters, some micro scenes that focus really closely on one or two things, some macro that get a wide scope of action in one picture, some setting, some animals…really show off your range.

If you have a physical dummy blocked out, mention that in your query. If I like what I see electronically, I’ll give you the mailing address to send it my way.

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This weekend, I was a guest and speaker of the Central Ohio chapter of the SCBWI, on an invitation from Susan Bradley. On Friday night, after I checked in to my hotel, we went out to sushi with volunteer Laurie Miller, then Susan and I ate at Jeni’s Ice Cream, which is mind-blowing stuff.

I had a scoop of goat cheese, balsamic, and fig, a scoop of five-spice pumpkin, and I had to try the buckeye, which was peanut butter and chocolate. You can see part of their impressive menu here. I was so sad that I missed the “Pumpkin Tiramisu Parfait,” but I’d gotten sucked right in to the ice cream cases and didn’t even glance at the menu.

On Saturday morning, it was up at the crack of dawn to head over to the conference location. The local SCBWI members got a very balanced program, packed in to one 9-12 time slot. I spoke with two other guests. First was author Lisa Klein of OPHELIA, TWO GIRLS OF GETTYSBURG, LADY MACBETH’S DAUGHTER and the upcoming CATE OF THE LOST COLONY, which are all gorgeous historical YA novels. Then came Marcia James, a romance writer and self-appointed PR guru who had a lot of great tips for the writers. We spoke at the Upper Arlington Senior Center, near Columbus, which you can see below. Look at those great fall colors!

I did two talks. One was my standard kidlit market overview, which some of you have probably heard (it’s also the meat of my webinar and Learning Annex talks), and a new talk on the agent search. I got a lot of good questions from the audience. One was a gentle reminder to add the AAR (aaronline.org) to my list of agent search resources. And it’s true. The AAR lists all the agents who are members, and has an area where you can find agents based on whether they’ve joined the group.

Another good question was about agency contracts. At ABLit, we have a simple, one page agency agreement. In an upcoming post, I will talk about it and other agency agreements, and why it’s important to have a glance at a potential agent’s contract before accepting an offer of representation. Some agents don’t have contracts, which I find off-putting, and so I’ll also talk a bit more about why it’s important to have something in writing.

Lisa, who you can see here, spoke about scene-work and her talk was dynamite. We all spend a long time writing our talks and thinking about them, so I won’t crib from her presentation, but let me just say that if you ever get the chance to see it for yourself, you are one lucky writer.

I can note that she had the following to say about POV: “If your story isn’t working one way, change your point of view.” I wholeheartedly agree. It always pays to play and experiment.

She also spoke about narrators and narrative voice, and how to differentiate between your characters in dialogue. This is all really important stuff. Another favorite quote from her talk: “Good dialogue reveals character and moves the plot ahead.” She also read from her books. If I were you, I’d pick up a copy of her work. One of my favorite details is how deeply researched her writing is, but that the research never overwhelms the story.

I missed most of Marcia’s presentation because I had pitch sessions to attend, but she has a PR information packet for other writers that you can request by emailing her, so you should check out her website.

After the conference, Susan and two of the volunteers went out to lunch at the Old Bag of Nails Pub. It was an absolutely beautiful day in Ohio, clear skies and summer temperatures, even as the leaves were turning. I had a tuna melt and a beer and got ready for the next leg of my adventure.

You see, Ohio wasn’t just a business visit. I have two clients who live in the Cleveland area, Lindsay Ward (website) and Kellie DuBay Gillis (Twitter), who also happen to be fabulous friends. So they came to get me after lunch and we set off on the two and a half hour drive northeast.

On the way, I was awed by the fields and beautiful nature of Ohio. And, of course, by the rustic beauty of Grandpa’s Village and the Cheesebarn. (Me: “Pull over! Pull over! It’s the Cheesebarn!” Kellie: “Uh, okay?” Me: “I really want a picture of it!” Kellie: “…” Lindsay: “Just pull over.”)

But mostly we gossiped and talked about our lives and about writing and publishing. I’m very lucky to have these two ladies, who both work primarily in picture books, on my client list.

In Cleveland, I stayed with Lindsay, at her beautiful apartment full of art and books, where she lives with her boyfriend. Lindsay, Kellie, and I shook off the road with a bottle of wine (which I stoppered with my faculty gift from Susan and the SCBWI: a decorative wine stopper with a genuine buckeye speared through it!) and then set out for dinner at Lola, a Michael-Symon-of-Food-Network-fame restaurant.

We had beef cheek pierogies (Kellie), ceviche (me), and some of Lindsay’s lush French onion soup to start, then scallops (Kellie), mahi mahi (me), and some really delicious duck with bacon-flavored cous cous for Lindsay. Dessert was artisan donuts dunked in hot chocolate and french toast with bacon and maple syrup ice cream (!!!). If you can’t tell, Michael Symon has a bit of a thing for pig. If this was my restaurant, I’d give it the slogan, “Eat out with your meat out.”

After that, Lindsay, her boyfriend, a few of his friends, and I headed to a bar in their neighborhood. There, I encountered an amazing local specialty: the crab race.

Now, I asked around and had several Ohioans tell me, politely, that they had no idea what the heck I was talking about when I said “crab race.” So it must not be an Ohio thing, just a delightful activity provided by this one bar.

Basically, you pick out a hermit crab with a painted shell, then the contenders huddle under a plastic dome until the jaded employee yanks it up (see the dome flying away in a blur in the picture) and then the crabs scuttle away from the center of the table (with some urging from a spray bottle). The first crab to cross the red line wins.

If you leave animal rights out of it and have a few drinks, it’s actually pretty fun. My crab came in first in the first heat, then completely choked from the pressure in the finals. He (or she) didn’t even come out of its shell, poor thing, and no amount of spray bottling would change its mind. Ah well! That’s what you get when you race things that can easily hide.

Sunday was low key. Lindsay and I went to The Root Cafe, which is a nice little indie coffee shop, then we kept up the seafood theme with a clam bake. I meant to take a picture of the final product but we were just too busy eating to bother! I love clam bakes, so I added a few of my clam bake ingredients to their usual mix.

Finally, Lindsay and I spent some time talking books and business, and then we went back to Kellie’s house for a quick visit with her adorable children. Then it was off to the airport.

I had such a fantastic time in Ohio. Not only were the SCBWI members (and behind the scenes volunteers) delightful and attentive, but it was so nice to relax and indulge in some personal time with my clients, who I count as dear friends, not just business partners. Here’s a shot of Lindsay and I on her front porch, right before we took off. This was a trip to remember, for both personal and professional reasons. Next weekend: Wisconsin!

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Last week, I announced the sale of a particularly adorable picture book: BLUE & EGG by Lindsay Ward. BLUE & EGG is the story of a bluebird in wintertime Central Park who wakes up to find a snowball in her nest. Friendly Blue thinks the snowball is an egg who has lost its way. Blue flies all over New York, first trying to find Egg’s mother and then, when no mother shows up, enjoying the sights that the big city has to offer and developing a quirky and unexpected friendship. But then the inevitable happens, and spring comes. Not to worry, though! When Egg eventually melts, a lovely flower grows in its place.

Here’s a sample sketch of Blue, with Egg:

blue-sketch-1_small

I love all my projects, and I love all my clients, but this project has had a very special place in my heart ever since Lindsay first mentioned it last winter. You see, Lindsay is the first client I took on as an agent (apparently my offer phone call went semi-competently, as she did not realize this until recently). And BLUE & EGG is the first picture book dummy that we worked on together where I think Lindsay’s blend of art and writing craft really rose to the next level.

Lindsay queried me originally with a project called PELLY AND MR. HARRISON VISIT THE MOON, and an existing relationship with publisher Kane/Miller. (Her first illustrations with them come out this fall. The book is A GARDEN FOR PIG, with text by Kathryn Thurman…it has a great gardening/fall/harvest hook and the most adorable pig you’ve ever seen…pick up a copy in September!) We sold PELLY to Kane/Miller and it will be her author/illustrator debut in 2011.

Lindsay went to work on other picture book dummy ideas. In the meantime, I got a copy of Lindsay’s portfolio, helped her design some postcards, and went to editors, designers, and art directors everywhere to tell them about her work. As Lindsay and I tried to rustle up illustrator jobs, she churned out one dummy that I thought was especially charming. After a fairly lackluster submission round, though, we decided to go back to the drawing board.

I urged Lindsay to revisit BLUE, which had been a rough idea for about two years. “What about that wintertime Central Park book?” I nagged. We worked on some text for it and went through four or five revisions (Lindsay will probably tell you it felt like more). In terms of text and story craft, I think Lindsay finally hit the sweet spot of poignancy, sweetness, charm, emotion, and character development that is a perfect fit for her art. I was over the moon. She came up with a dummy very quickly, and seeing it for the first time brought tears to my eyes. She’d nailed it.

Lindsay says, of the process:

The process of creating a dummy for Blue has taken almost three years. Writing has always been the hardest part for me. The images come naturally. I can visualize a book long before I can articulate the story, which is the one thing that never changed about Blue. The visual aesthetic of Blue was pretty established in my mind from the very beginning. I just had to figure out Blue’s story.

I wanted to tell a story that was universal through Blue. Blue is naïve and hopeful throughout the story and that is what I love so much about her. She never gives up on Egg. I think that is something very relatable for kids.

Just as we were finalizing the dummy, the submission for BLUE came out of the, well, blue! A chance lunch encounter with Nancy Conescu, who had just come over to an Executive Editor position at Dutton, an imprint of Penguin, sparked a connection. And then a quick offer. Here’s what Nancy had to say about BLUE:

When I saw Lindsay’s dummy for the book, after having seen samples of her work online, and read through her text, which was alive with personality, I just knew I had to have this book. I was so touched by the idea of a bird mistaking a snowball for an egg because, naturally, we all know what inevitable fate a snowball faces. But even so, Blue’s spunk and good spirit came through.

I love the way Blue immediately names her newfound friend Egg and totes it to see the many sites of NYC, never seeming to mind that Egg doesn’t have very much to say. And then when egg melts, as heartbreaking as that is, we see the flower that arrives in her place and Blue’s willingness to welcome Flower too. The story speaks about friendship, loss, acceptance, and hope on so many levels.

In terms of the art, Lindsay has this wonderfully warm collage art style for her characters set against detailed architectural scenes that I could see kids poring over for hours. And I thought the pairing of her two styles made the book both accessible and sophisticated with a lot to connect with and see. She had paced the text very nicely and had even thought to include gatefolds that showed all the places Blue and Egg went together.

I knew I was holding onto a gem of a story, and I emailed Mary about a half an hour later to say I wanted to pursue Blue. I feel very lucky to be Lindsay’s editor.

As it happens, this story ends with another perfect first: Lindsay is Nancy’s first picture book acquisition as she builds her new list at Dutton! Here’s what Lindsay says:

I am lucky enough to have an amazing agent (I know Mary hates that I just wrote that) find a home for Blue with Nancy Conescu at Dutton. I am very excited about my new relationship with Penguin and cannot wait to begin bringing Blue and Egg to life.

Finally, I’ll leave you with a few thoughts about the art. Lindsay’s big pleasure with BLUE & EGG will be rendering the characters against a detailed New York City landscape, in her trademark cut paper and sketch style. Here’s what Lindsay has to say about the illustrations:

Visually, I wanted to create a book that included a lot of architecture while also having the stark contrast of Central Park in the winter as the backdrop. I primarily work in cut paper and mixed media, using stamps, paint, and pencil. I prefer this medium because it allows me to take an image and break it down into layers of shapes and pieces and then figure out a new way to put it back together.

Here’s a parting image of Blue in her nest:

central-park-with-blue_small_2

You can find more of Lindsay’s portfolio on her website, LindsayMWard.com. Look for BLUE & EGG (title subject to change) out from Dutton in Spring 2012.

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