Upcoming Workshops

Just in case you missed ABLA’s Big Sur Workshop in December, I’m writing to let you know that there’s another Big Sur in Monterey in March. The ABLA agents and a select group of editors will gather with attendees to workshop their writing over an intense and productive weekend in a beautiful location. I have participated in the workshops since 2009 and can tell you that it’s an amazing and transformative weekend for attendees. I see writers take real leaps in their craft each and every time. This workshop format is extremely hands-on — you’re in a group of only four or five attendees — and that kind of close writing scrutiny from faculty and fellow writers is invaluable.

Mark your calendars now for our first 2012 Big Sur, which will take place March 2nd through the 4th in Monterey, CA. Registration is now open. You can learn more and sign up here. Even though I’m not listed as one of the agents on faculty (an annual glitch), I will be there!

There’s also another intensive workshop on my radar, and that’s the Highlights Foundation Whole Novel Workshop that’s taking place in Pennsylvania in the middle of March. I had the great pleasure of participating in a Highlights workshop in the summer of 2010 and highly recommend this one to writers who can spare the week and are serious about their craft. The Foundation has opened a brand new conference center on their idyllic plot of land up in rural Pennsylvania, and this year’s Whole Novel Workshop leader is beloved novelist Helen Hemphill. The deadline to sign up is December 21st! You can find out more about it here.

SCBWI Tokyo and Hong Kong

It is with great pleasure that I share the following pictures from my wonderful visits to the Tokyo and Hong Kong SCBWI chapters. The first picture is me and the group from Tokyo. We met at the lovely Yokohama International School the Saturday before Halloween and then spent one long day talking about the marketplace, queries, craft, and the submission process. The Q&A session included concerns for the Aussie writers in attendance (there were several!) and, of course, curiosity about the digital changes coming to the publishing industry.

Overall, a talented group of writers and illustrators — and quite a few guys representing the SCBWI in Tokyo! (You don’t usually see a large male population at children’s writing conferences, though that’s not to say that there aren’t wonderful male children’s writers, both published and aspiring.) This brave crowd, well, braved about seven straight hours of talking, first pages, query analysis and Q&A from yours truly…

And then we all went out to dinner to celebrate the end of a long day! The only person missing from the above sea of beautiful faces is Holly Thompson, the intrepid leader of the Tokyo SCBWI chapter, as well as the author or the exquisite verse novel ORCHARDS, out from Delacorte.

Holly was kind enough to take me to the Sankeien Gardens in Yokohama after a more relaxed day of one-on-one critiques on Sunday. Because so much of my Japan trip revolved around food, here’s a picture of me from that afternoon with a soba noodle trio. I’m so grateful to her and all the SCBWI Tokyo members for the hospitality!

I’m so blessed to work from home and be able to add travel time to my conference duties. After ten nights in Japan, I flew over to Hong Kong on Thursday, November 3rd. There, I was greeted by Mio Debnam for critiques first thing Friday morning, then a delicious Shanghainese lunch. What a lovely introduction to a city that’s all about food. I would’ve posted a picture of the sea cucumber and abalone that we devoured, but it was gone too quickly. (A heads up: Sea cucumber does not stay on chopsticks well, and therefore doesn’t make very graceful eating. Sorry, Mio!)

On Saturday, I did another marathon day of talks, first pages, query critiques, and Q&A with the Hong Kong members. Here we are, below:

Everyone is looking pretty relaxed in those plush leather chairs. I’m glad you can’t see my feet in this shot, because this is probably after I took my shoes off. (That’s Kole Code for: “Now I mean business…”) Something about public speaking always makes me want to go barefoot.

I eventually shut my mouth and put my shoes on for a lovely post-conference dinner at the China Club with Mio, several members of the Hong Kong chapter, and Kathleen Ahrens, the International Coordinator for the entire SCBWI. She has the fascinating job of helping regions all over the world develop chapters and programming, and I also owe her a huge debt of gratitude for this amazing opportunity.

Here we all are at dinner. Mio, our gracious hostess, is wearing red in the back, and Kathleen is my gray-attired bookend on the opposite side of the bottom row. It was fantastic getting to know these writers over delicious soup dumplings.

Overall, the trip was wonderful. Truly the opportunity of a lifetime. And it was so great to meet writers in the larger SCBWI community. I’m still processing everything — and trying to find the energy to upload all of my pictures to share with friends and family.

Just as I was ready to go home this past Wednesday, my overseas adventure refused to sink quietly behind the International Date Line. My plane from Hong Kong took off in bad weather and suffered some kind of damage. They tried to fix it in the air for a few hours but were unsuccessful. The pilot decided he didn’t want to risk the trans-Pacific flight back to San Francisco. The plane was full up with enough gas for a 12-hour flight — a long-ish haul for a 747 — and we were too heavy to land, so we flew out over the ocean and dumped fuel for about two hours. That was a bit unnerving. In case anyone doesn’t have the memo, I’m an uneasy flier (even though I do it at least once a week…and, because I’m a glutton for punishment, apparently, I was home a day before jetting off to Southern California for the weekend, got back yesterday, and am flying again tomorrow). With jet fuel spraying out of the wing right outside my window and the plane shuddering from the aforementioned bad weather…let’s just say I was a bit on edge.

Long story short: We returned to Hong Kong, were rebooked on new flights, and I was back in the air about seven hours later c/o Singapore Airlines. I’m so happy with how it went, overall, and the United’s decision to turn around and be safe, even though it was the longest day I’ve ever had (40 hours). And that little hiccup was nothing compared to the absolutely tremendous time I had exploring Japan and Hong Kong and meeting my fellow children’s book enthusiasts across the globe!

I’m still having trouble sleeping because of jet lag, but I’m back stateside, baby, and ready for Big Sur, client business, and lots of new and awesome projects in my inbox! 🙂 If you’re still curious about my food adventures, head on over to my older post from Chowlit. I plan to add a Hong Kong edition tomorrow, if I ever get all those pictures organized…

Big Sur Writing Workshop

My darling readers, hello! I loaded up some content and have had the blog set up on auto-post for about a week, so it feels wonderful to actually be writing to you “live.” If you want some food-related details from my trip to Japan (I’ll do a larger round-up for the trip on here, as well, but probably after I get back), you can check out my foodie blog, Chowlit.

Right now I’m in Hong Kong, getting ready for my one-on-one critiques with the members of Hong Kong’s SCBWI chapter. How exciting! I just flew in last night and can’t wait for my first real taste of the city (I’m writing this from an airport hotel, so I haven’t really been “outside” yet).

Before I rush off to breakfast (a weird idea for those of you reading this on Thursday afternoon), let me remind you that it’s officially that time again. Sure, it’s time to put in your 1,667 daily NaNoWriMo words, but I mean something else here: it’s time to sign up for Andrea Brown Literary Agency’s Big Sur Writing Workshop!

There is still space available for this year’s December 2-4th, 2011 weekend at the beautiful Big Sur Lodge. Fabulous faculty include Jennifer Hunt, VP and Editorial Director for Penguin Group/Dial Books, Diane Landolf, Senior Editor at Random House Books for Young Readers, Melissa Manlove, Editor at Chronicle Books, NYT Bestselling author, Ellen Hopkins and award-winning author Carolyn Marsden. Not to mention the wonderful agents from the Andrea Brown Literary Agency (if I don’t say so myself)!

The conference takes place at the gorgeous Big Sur Lodge in the majestic redwoods of the Northern California coast. During a Big Sur weekend, you get intense, hands-on feedback for your work, a chance to meet editors and ABLA agents, and the feeling that you’re on a writing retreat in one of the most serene and inspiring places on the planet. Plus, my colleagues and I will be there, with bells on, to welcome you to our favorite weekend of the year.

You can find more information on the weekend here. If you can’t make the December Big Sur, we are also meeting in Monterey the weekend of March 2-4th, 2012.

Showing Up For the Work

I just spent a lovely weekend in Montpelier, VT for the VCFA Children’s Writing MFA mini-residency. Did I mention it was beautiful? No? Here’s a shot of their cute little capital building (“cute” and “little” are perfect adjectives for Montpelier, the smallest state capital and the only one without a McDonald’s, as six different residents, yes, six, told me):

Isn’t it gorgeous? We had a relaxing weekend of hanging out on the veranda at the Inn at Montpelier, mingling with the locals, meeting current VCFA students and alumna/ae, listening to readings and pitches, and otherwise drinking in the creativity of this little hideaway town.

One thing that struck me about the program is how dedicated the students and faculty are. (Hanging out at the Saturday BBQ were Walter Dean Myers, Tom Wynne-Jones, Coe Booth, M.T. Anderson, and more…what an amazing roster of talent!) But I did notice something that bugs me about MFA programs, and about establishing a writing habit in general. This is something I saw much more in my MFA program, and I don’t know to what extent it exists at VCFA, yet this weekend did get me thinking…

A lot of alumni coming back to Vermont felt liberated, as if they could think, breathe, create again. For them, their time at the program was such a richly creative time, and one where they were pushed by their advisers and classmates to really put in the work and get some writing done. Apparently, some of them stopped writing or wrote less or felt less driven after graduating.

The same thing tends to happen to people who can only write between 6 and 8 a.m., or people who can only use a certain computer, or people who can only go to such and such coffee shop, or sit in this one seat, or wear those pajama pants. Having writing habits and a writing ritual and ideal circumstances for creative work…that’s all good and fine. In fact, having these habits and requirements is much better than having no writing practice at all.

But there’s also a hidden danger. What happens when you leave the MFA program? When your seat is taken? When the dog eats your pajama pants? I know perfectly wonderful writers who have been driven into a serious block when their (self-created, mind) requirements aren’t being met. Which brings me to the idea of creativity as this fleeting thing, and my disdain for the idea of writers having some temperamental muse.

No. Here’s what you do: you sit down and you write. First, you pay attention to what your mind is saying are your requirements (this mug of coffee, that chair, these pants). But what’s more important is that you establish a daily practice of writing. When something goes wrong and your coffee shop closes because they’re resurfacing their floor, you don’t go into a creative tailspin…you go home or go to the library or sit outside and you keep writing. When you graduate from the MFA program, you don’t go into a creative funk, you rally your former peers into a new critique group and you keep going. (VCFA people: please know I’m not talking about you…if anything, I’m thinking so much more about my own MFA experience!)

When you start showing up for work without these obstacles (self-created, again) weighing you down, without a checklist for the Ideal Creative Environment that the world must meet before you can write, that “muse” (your work ethic, actually) will start showing up, too. You will, in effect, train yourself to show up creatively every time you show up physically to the page.

Just write. Write when it’s easy. Write when you don’t wanna (I didn’t wanna blog yesterday, so this entry is a day late…we can’t all be perfect). Write when it’s raining. Write when everyone else on the freaking planet is at a picnic and you can’t go because you know you have to write. Don’t rely on that program or those pajamas or this coffee shop. Rely only on yourself. Practice discipline.

Always evaluate your writing habits and try to determine whether they’re helping you in the long term or hindering you. Keep an eye on what you think you need and what you really need. Rally yourself. And when yourself is feeling cranky, rally a community around you. (May you all be blessed enough to create the kind of peer group that they have at the VCFA, truly an awesome thing to behold!)

The writing life isn’t a simple thing, but the good thing is humans can be taught, and creativity can be trained to flow, as long as you make yourself available to it and focus your work ethic.

Speaking of which, here was my community for the weekend:

(l-r: Sam McFerrin, editor at Harcourt/HMH, Julie Scheina, editor at Little, Brown, Kristin Daly Rens, editor at Balzer+Bray/HarperCollins, me)

Thanks to the VCFA for hosting us and for all the hard-working MFA students! Now send me your stuff! 🙂

BEA Wrap-up 2011

Yesterday, I woke up at noon, having slept for 13 hours. That should tell you all you need to know: it was BEA the week before. And this was an easy one, compared to the last two years. I deliberately tried to go slow and skip all the meetings I could, and still, the expo crawled into my soul and took root.

This year’s BEA was…strange. There weren’t a lot of books on the floor, an odd sight compared to 2009, when I ran around like a kindergartener on a Pixy Stix high, grabbing ARCs and pressing them to my chest in a delirious rush of paper. I only filled up one bag this year, which was good for my shoulders but put me in a funky mood. (ALA was a much better haul, and I hope I’ll be reporting the same about the expo in June in New Orleans.) Not that I want to rob booksellers and librarians of their ARCs but…I need to stay on top of new releases, too…or so I tell myself to sleep more soundly.

There was a lot of talk about digital…a lot. The day before the expo floor opened was all about digital publishing and social networking and all of that. My colleague Laura Rennert was on a panel about new publishing models. You can read more about that from my KidlitApps post, here.

I wanted to run around and post with pictures of upcoming book ARCs, but Random House, the publisher of BUGLETTE, A MESSY SLEEPER had a very small footprint on the floor (though I suppose it’s better than when they had no presence at all), and S&S didn’t have ARCs of WILDEFIRE available. I did manage to find an ARC of MERCY LILY by Lisa Albert at the Flux booth, and pose with it, so the tradition remained alive. Here’s hoping to even more smiley shots at ALA.

The Buzz Panels this year were great. Lots of exciting books. You can read a write-up of the YA panel here, and the MG panel here. I’ve already tucked into THE APOTHECARY by Maile Meloy, which I’d heard about originally from Jen Besser, the editor, at a meeting in the fall. It’s really good so far, and I can’t wait to see the whole package with all of the art. Also in my suitcase this weekend were DAUGHTER OF SMOKE AND BONE by Laini Taylor and AU REVOIR CRAZY EUROPEAN CHICK by Joe Schreiber from the YA buzz panel. I’m really happy we had a MG panel, and hope that tradition continues.

There were also some hotly buzzed ARCs at the expo. If it had been my first BEA, I would’ve gamely waited in line to get them. This year? Feh. But if someone wants to send me THE FUTURE OF US, the new Jay Asher/Carolyn Mackler juggernaut, I will happily provide my mailing address. Yes, it is an ABLA book. No, I did not get an ARC. No, I am not above begging. There’s also an adult (gasp!) book that was getting all the buzz at the expo…THE NIGHT CIRCUS. Anybody got that lying around?

My favorite things about BEA weren’t in the official BEA program. They were run-ins with agents, editors, authors, and other publishing friends on the floor, as always. They were late-night NYC adventures with out-of-towners who just neeeeed, in my opinion, to have an enthusiastic tour guide show them what the view from the Brooklyn Bridge is like in the middle of the night. They were afternoon drinks after the last expo day with people as exhausted as you are, who just want to stare at a wall, mouths slightly ajar. Oh, yes, and also going to the Teen Author Carnival to cheer on my client, Karsten Knight, whose WILDEFIRE is coming July 26th! You can see us here, debuting our ridiculously good-looking glasses (and Karsten in his apron that’s stuffed full of bookmarks for the book).

On Friday night, I was out in the languid summer heat, BEA a fuzzy memory already, enjoying a beer or two at the Frying Pan, a barge/ship/dock/beer garden-type thing on 12th Avenue and 26th Street. I turned uptown to get out of the wind and my eyes fell immediately onto the shimmering black jewel that is the Javits Center. No joke, my blood pressure spiked and I whirled back around. It was good having you in town, BEA. It looks like it’ll be a whole year before our paths cross again. Somehow, I’m okay with that.

The Wisdom of John Cusick

This past weekend I spoke at the excellent and first ever YA A to Z conference. While the Writers’ League of Texas has been connecting writers to the publishing industry and helping them reach their goals for 30 years, this YA-centric conference is just beginning. If this first year is any indication, I know it will be around for a long time, and you should all look out for next year’s. It was really well-organized, had a great roster of faculty (if I don’t say so myself), and got some really fabulous writers to the show.

I did three panels, some consultations, and still had enough time to explore amazing Austin, see some bats, catch up with an old writing friend and meet some new buddies (including the fabulous ladies from PR By the Book and the Erin Murphy Literary Agency, who were in town on an agency retreat), explore the food scene, play some midnight piano, and get into a little worthwhile trouble. 😉

Speaking of worthwhile trouble, one of my esteemed agent colleagues and friends who I got to hang out with this weekend is John M. Cusick of the Scott Tremeil Agency (whatever bad joke you’re thinking about the name, he’s heard it before…I tried all of them, much to his fascination, I’m sure). He’s also the author of GIRL PARTS (an excellent book) and the upcoming CHERRY MONEY BABY, both from Candlewick Press.

Now, I know you come to my blog to hear me say brilliant things on a mostly regular basis. And I appreciate that. But I’m not the only one who says brilliant things (shocking, I know). On one of my panels on Saturday, this one about Agent Secrets (dun dun dun), my new BFF John said something wonderful and I wanted to share it with y’all (still getting the Texas out of my system). We were talking about character development and relatability, and John said:

Relatable doesn’t mean generic.

Wise words! Storytelling in the Middle Ages would’ve laughed Mr. Cusick out of Ye Olde Hyatt ballroom. A lot of their traditional “character development” included naming some poor shmo John Everyman and then getting all allegorical on his ass. The character was basically a cipher, a blank screen that readers could project themselves onto in the watching of his or her tale.

Now it’s the opposite. Or at least it should be, for the tastes of me and my fellow agents on the panel. Specificity is the key to good fiction, and generalization is where fiction goes to die. The best characters, the ones that stick with me, are the ones who have very specific quirks and characteristics. I am not going to relate to a character because they are very much like me. That’s boring. I know myself, spend all day in my own head, and sometimes just want to get out…that’s why I crack a book. I relate to a character when they are thoroughly fleshed-out and unique, just like I am thoroughly fleshed-out and unique as a person. When I feel like I know their quirks and their particular outlook on life because the author has made those elements really comprehensive. We don’t just love people who are like us: we love loud, larger-than-life, authentic characters. (At least I hope so, ‘cuz that’s what I’ve pretty much been basing my entire personality on for as long as I can remember.) Those are the ones we remember in books and movies, and the people who spark our imaginations when we meet them in real life.

So aim for a really complex character, someone who is exactly who they are. That will pull a reader in so much more than trying to reflect and please everyone with your literary cipher. An example is this: I was reading either a book or a manuscript a few years ago. In it, a character was cooking something while home alone. Some food dropped on the dirty counter and, even though the character knew she was home alone, she glanced over her shoulder before succumbing to the guilty (and, for many people, gross) temptation of picking the food up and slipping it into her mouth. This taught me so much about the character and was so specific that I remember it all these years later. I can’t relate to the shame of eating counter food — I don’t care about the 5 second rule — but it’s so dang human that I could really see a person doing it in real life. And that’s what grabs me in a good character. Well said, John!

Also, I am in love with Carrie Ryan, and with a dude name Jeremy, who chopped all my hair off on Saturday. You like?

High School Hierarchy in YA Fiction

A very interesting conversation happened in one of my workshop groups during this past weekend’s Big Sur conference. One participant had painted a character very vividly in his particular high school environment, to the point where everyone in the group knew exactly where this character belonged on the social ladder. But that wasn’t the unique part.

The refreshing thing was that this character never lamented his nerd status, he never described his clothes in a way that hinted to us that he was (let’s face it) a loser, he didn’t go into any detail about how out-of-reach the popular kids were. He just went about his business, thought his thoughts, and through the author’s scenework and his interactions with others, we got perfect context for where he lived in the high school hierarchy. But never once (in my recollection) did he come out and tell us exactly where he did or didn’t fit in.

Some of you reading are like: Yeah. We get it. Show, don’t tell. Right. But teenage social order  is a particular issue where “show, don’t tell” is even more relevant. The pecking order is present in every school, in every group of kids or teens, and, as one person from our group said quite well, everyone always knows, at a glance, what the deal is. Kids know their place and the place of everyone around them. It’s as innate to teens, as instant and unconscious as breathing. Now, this isn’t a blog post about whether that’s right or wrong or how damaging it is to the development of our social mores (for an example of how this reaches well into adulthood, check out one element of the whole #YAMafia kerfuffle (before anyone flames me for the joke, I am aware that this wasn’t the only issue at play)). The fact is: it’s true. So how do we reflect it in our YA fiction in a way that’s believable?

One thing I see in most manuscripts is a run-down of the social scene. This usually happens in the first chapter for stories set primarily in school and within the first 30 pages for stories that don’t immediately need to put us in a popularity context with the character’s peers. The character will be walking down the hall and commenting on

the Goths, with their black eyeliner, the emo kids sulking into their genderless thrift store cardigans, the cheerleaders puffing out their push-up bra-enhanced chests at the jocks, who are crushing soda cans on their foreheads and emitting caveman grunts…

Etc. Etc. Etc. I have read this list in probably every well-meaning YA manuscript and many published books. The thing is, most YA readers will know the high school archetypes. They don’t need some thirtysomething (and, lest anyone get offended, let me repeat, again, well-meaning) writer describing their daily reality in such detail. Most writers include this obligatory run-down for their own sake, to get the lay of their land and to put themselves back into the high school mindset as they write.

But how do we convey this atmosphere more organically? How do we sublimate it without the usual telling, without the list of the school’s cliques? I’d love to hear some examples in the comments of books that you think paint a social picture without being too obvious about it. One great exception to the tried-and-true high school hierarchy descriptions, fresh in my mind because I recently reread it, is BEFORE I FALL by Lauren Oliver.

The main character, Sam Kingston, is a popular girl, and a bitchy one, at that, but Oliver describes Sam’s unique take on the social hierarchy in a fresh and very voice-driven way. There’s also a lot of tension inherent in the story premise, so whenever Sam describes her peer group, there’s something working beneath the surface, also. So Oliver doesn’t necessarily get away without any telling, but this is one instance where it worked for me.

However, I’m also looking for your thoughts on books that avoid talking about the social structure altogether and yet manage to convey the character’s rightful place and all the longing and disappointments and hopes that the high school caste system inevitably inspires. Any thoughts on the subject, readers? Bueller?

Best. Quote. Ever.

From now until forever, I am going to refer writers who ask me query questions to this quote. It comes from Andrea Brown, my brilliant boss and mentor, and it’s about query letters:

A query letter is like the perfect skirt: long enough to cover everything but short enough to be exciting.

I have worked with the woman for about two and a half years now and have never heard this gem. Where has it been all my life?

This Big Sur, I think, was my absolute favorite. Sure, it was at the Embassy Suites in Monterey (as our March workshops are) instead of the gorgeous Big Sur Lodge in Big Sur proper (as our December workshops are), and the weather spoiled on Sunday, but I think this mix of writers, faculty, and agency clients along for the ride was one of the best I’ve experienced.

A special shout out to Jamie Harrington and Pat Netzley, and to my wonderful colleagues. We missed two of our Jennifers (Mattson and Laughran) at this Big Sur. Fabulous faculty members like Ellen Hopkins, Eric Elfman, Mary Colgan, Anica Rissi, and Deb Wayshak shared their writing expertise with our group of just under a hundred attendees.

My two workshop groups inspired several blog post ideas which you’ll read in the near future. For right now, though, I’m going to catch up on my sleep after this exhausting weekend and start chipping away at my pent-up email. Today is a very exciting day for me in San Francisco, Berkeley, and the Napa valley, which all ties in to my secret new blog/professional project. Soon, my pretties, soon all shall be revealed! For now, delight yourselves with Andrea’s fantastic quote.

Live from Digital Book World!

This week has been a whirlwind so far. Digital Book World, which is where I’m sitting right now, listening to a talk on ISBNs, started for me on Monday afternoon and goes through the end of the day today. I’m here with my colleague, Andrea Brown agent Laura Rennert, and we’re soaking in all the latest news of the digital book landscape.

What’s the biggest takeaway so far?

Standardization. We needs it. I can haz mutual agreement? There are many, many platforms for users to consume ebooks and apps, from the iPad to the Android to the Kindle, etc. And each platform has related-but-different-enough standards and protocols for coding data. So a publisher is running the same book or app through the coding process several times through to fit with every available platform. This makes no sense. A publisher should be able to export in one standardized format. That’s where EPUB3 comes in, and it aims to make the digitization/export process more cohesive.

There are just so many things out there to take advantage of. Almost like all the sites we’re bombarded with these days…Twitter, MySpace, flickr, Facebook, WordPress, Blogspot, tumblr, aaaaaaaaaah! So many! What do we do? It seems to me that with a standard format, it’d be much easier to leverage the same content across multiple venues.

On the agent/rights front, we’re still standardizing which rights should be owned by who, what rights go into digital publishing, standard ebook royalty rates, etc. That landscape is going to shift rapidly, and I don’t think we’ve seen the end of the turmoil on the rights front.

I’m going to be writing up a much more cohesive post when I’ve had some time to mull DBW over. Since I’m still in the middle of it, I feel like I’m just spewing ideas. These are my biggest impressions so far. You’ll have more from me on Friday!

For those of you who are on Twitter, you can get lots and lots of tech-savvy people live-Tweeting the event with a series of custom hash tags. A general one to follow is #dbw or #dbw11!

The Agent’s Role in Today’s Digital Book World

It’s a flummoxing time in publishing right now. Most publishers, editors, developers, marketers, and creators freely admit that the digital book world is the Wild West. We don’t quite know what to expect, but most of us are hitching up and riding for the horizon.

Literary agents are among those forging new trails. Some spectators (and even some colleagues) are now wondering whether there is a place or even a need for these middlemen of publishing in the digital future. As an agent, I want to say yes, of course, and, self-interest aside, I do think there are new and exciting opportunities for both authors and agents in this changing landscape.

At the Andrea Brown Literary Agency, we’re working on concrete strategies for apps and ebooks every day. Since we’re a sales leader dealing almost exclusively in children’s books—a sector where app and game opportunities are growing rapidly—we’re seeing a lot of the changes firsthand.

My thought is this: There will always be people who want to produce writing or art and see it be made available to readers/viewers/players. There are creators and their content, and then there are the people bringing that content to market. The agent’s role will still be necessary to act as intermediary between the two parties, whether working to create an app, a film, a licensed t-shirt, or a printed book.

In fact, I’ll argue that, as publishers embrace different content delivery systems and processes, agents will take on more packaging responsibilities: editorial work, marketing consultation, design, etc. Whether we’re presenting a book to editors or an app proposal to a digital publisher, we will have had a more active hand in its reaching “market ready” status.

That’s not to say that editors, marketing staff, sales teams, and all the other hardworking people of traditional publishing will be obsolete. But already, as we saw from James Frey’s latest venture, publishers are relying more heavily on “camera ready” packaged work. It makes good business sense (as long as you don’t use Frey’s contract) to invest in a developed product ready to go to market.

My colleague Laura Rennert has recently been exploring digital options for her clients, some of whom include high-profile children’s bestsellers like Ellen Hopkins, Maggie Stiefvater, and Jay Asher. “We have to figure out digital parameters as we did with book rights parameters,” she says. “What rights we hold, what rights we cede; what royalties, revenue share, and subrights splits should be. This is the time of start-ups. We have to figure out what media or dimension a book’s content should occupy.”

Jim McCarthy of Dystel & Goderich Literary Management agrees: “The role of the agent, fundamentally, is to act as an author’s advocate and to serve as a bit of a sieve between aspiring writers and content producers. People will still be writing. And they will still want to connect with readers and make money off of what they write.” Traditional roles, in other words, are relevant no matter the medium.

Blogosphere favorite, former agent, CNET staffer, and author Nathan Bransford sees a segmented agenting community in his digital crystal ball. Agents, he thinks, will be broken up into those that have blockbuster clients and those who don’t. Agents-to-the-stars will deal primarily with major publishers and do business as usual, while others will act more like managers, consultants, and publicists to help smaller authors navigate small presses and self-publishing.

“As long as the polarization between blockbusters and everyone else continues,” Bransford says, “it’s going to be hard for agents to make money unless one of their clients should take off. There’s still a need for authors to be able to draw upon experts who can help them get a leg up and reach their readers, and smaller agents may fill that niche.” In Bransford’s view, then, it’s possible for agents to exist, but they’ll work and earn their keep in new ways. “It seems like it’s a time ripe for experimentation with new agenting models,” he concludes.

For now, I say we delve into new venues for our existing properties and experiment. We should negotiate contracts with the shifting new digital parameters in mind, hold digital rights, insert renegotiation clauses for digital deal points, monitor ebook sales, and collaborate with print publishers as they devise digital strategies for our clients’ existing books. Several of my colleagues are now developing standalone digital book or app ideas and approaching the new crop of digital publishers and developers.

In fact, I’ll argue that agents should start treating their clients’ business like a tech start-up. As a Silicon Valley ex-pat (and a former product manager for a Facebook app development venture that recently sold to Google), I feel lucky to know the ins and outs of the dot com sector from experience. The key there is relentless development, speed, novelty (Twitter, anyone?), and the willingness (and often capital) to delve into new ideas.

For clients rapidly expanding into digital, I predict that no-advance/higher-royalty sales and experiments that require start-up costs will be much more prevalent in the next two years. Agents will also have to keep a hard eye on tech and industry developments, learn the basics of the gadgets, understand tech and programming capabilities, explore what makes a good app (a good starting place is School Library Journal’s “Planet App: Kids’ book apps are everywhere.”), and be at the forefront of brainstorming digital strategy with clients who want to play in the app arena, including developing new properties to pursue. The revenue-sharing model for the agent/client relationship might also change, especially on the digital front and for properties developed mutually.

I’ll be the first to admit that seeing digital topics on our agency meeting agenda always seem to coincide with the flare of a tension headache. Just like the original frontier cowboys, though, we’ll all have to strap on our six-shooters and figure out just what kind of terrain lies over the western ridge of the great Print-Digital Divide.

The one thing we can’t do is pretend that things aren’t changing or that apps don’t exist. Things are and apps do, and that’s why I’ll be at Digital Book World 2011 in two weeks, to see what all this change means for this year and beyond.

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This article originally appeared on the Digital Book World website, and I will be doing a more extensive write-up of my thoughts after I attend the conference, which is January 24th through 26th. Thanks to Guy, Chuck, and the Writer’s Digest team for the opportunity!