I’m thrilled to tell you about the official release day of WILDEFIRE by Karsten Knight today! Pick it up right this minute wherever books are sold, or order it from Indiebound or Amazon. Now, behold the cover in all its glory, and head on over to Karsten’s website to help him celebrate. As we just announced last week, WILDEFIRE will have two follow-up books: EMBERS & ECHOES and AFTERGLOW, both from Simon & Schuster. Heat up your summer with this sizzling read.
Not every sale happens quickly or easily, but when you finally make that connection with a project like this, it’s very gratifying. Such is the story of the middle-grade novel FLY A LITTLE HIGHER, PIPER LEE, by Dianna Dorisi Winget, pictured below.
Dianna was one of my first clients and I loved everything about Piper Lee DeLuna’s sweet, salty, and Southern middle-grade voice. This book is the story of a girl who holds out hope that her pilot daddy is still alive after a crash…a belief that keeps her from embracing her mother’s plans to remarry and rebuild the family. You can check out a beautiful teaser page for it here. PIPER LEE had been in the works since 2003 and Dianna writes:
I’m not from the South but I’ve always been intrigued with it and had a lot of fun doing research on Georgia, which is the setting I chose. In 2004, I won a scholarship to attend the famous Highlights Children’s Writers Workshop at Chautauqua in New York based on the first chapter of Piper Lee. While at the conference, my mentor, author Juanita Havill, gave me lots of encouragement and advised me to find an agent enthusiastic for middle grade fiction and not to settle for anything less.
I spent the next year querying at least thirty agents. I received a lot of ‘personal’ rejections and scribbled notes of praise but no takers. Frustrated, I set PIPER LEE on the back burner. But I never actually forgot about Piper Lee. How can you forget about a story you love so much? So in 2009 I bought the latest edition of the GUIDE TO LITERARY AGENTS and decided to give it another go.
I very methodically narrowed my list of prospective agents down to 15 and sent out my first batch of five e-queries. Mary Kole was one of the five, and within a few short weeks she’d requested the whole manuscript, read it and called to offer representation! After seven long, doubt filled years I’d finally found someone as passionate and excited about Piper Lee as me.
But connecting with me was only one piece of the puzzle. What Dianna and Piper Lee’s Dream Team needed was an editor who loved her as much as we did. That part turned out to be more difficult, as contemporary coming-of-age MG came to be seen as “too quiet” in the marketplace around the time we submitted. I went out with PIPER LEE in January 2009. One of the editors on my first list was Harcourt VP and editorial director Jeannette Larson, who I had just met in San Diego. She was busy with a move to the New York office and so she passed it on to her assistant, Adah Nuchi.
I took a quick glance at the first page and was immediately drawn in by the Southern voice and fantastically spunky main character. The very next day I sent Jeannette an email that began, “I took a sneak peek at the first couple of pages of Fly A Little Higher, Piper Lee and have to admit, I couldn’t stop reading after that!” A few months later I was still thinking about Piper Lee and reread it to see if it still held the same spark. It did. While Jeannette really liked it, she wasn’t sure it was quite strong enough to acquire, but she did mention to Mary that I had loved it.
With some other feedback in mind, I advised Dianna to revise PIPER LEE so that we could send it out to a second round of editors, including Piper Lee fans Jeannette and Adah. Since Dianna had seen a lot of rejection for PIPER LEE over the years, she wasn’t really excited about its chances. She writes:
When I signed on with Mary, I was overflowing with hope and optimism. But after the first long round of submissions and no takers I was very discouraged. I thought, “See, I knew it was stupid to get my hopes up. Who am I trying to fool?” And then after I did the big revision you asked for and it headed out on its second round, I tried to be optimistic again but it was tough. This little voice inside my head kept saying, “You don’t really think this is ever actually going to sell, do you?” Even when we started getting positive feedback from Jeannette and Adah, I really expected it to turn out the way all the other positive responses I’d gotten over the years had turned out.
But I wouldn’t give up. I love PIPER LEE so dang much that I knew this book would find a home. During the second round, though, Jeannette and Adah, who were the most passionate about it from day one, wanted another revision. This was tough news to break to Dianna, and, of course, I had a few moments of doubt myself, but I really wanted to follow through and give PIPER LEE one last shot. Adah recaps:
After Dianna revisited the story over the summer of 2010, Mary sent the revision to Jeannette and reminded her that this was the manuscript her assistant had loved. I read Dianna’s revision and liked the direction she had taken it, but it still needed some work. I was enthusiastic enough about Piper Lee that Jeannette was willing to hand the project over to me to see if I could help get it where it needed to be for acquisition. I sent editorial comments in January of 2011 and received Dianna’s second revision in April. After that it was just a matter of getting the right approvals, and luckily everyone in-house loved the manuscript, too.
Finally, in May of 2011, more than a year after I first sent PIPER LEE into the world, after over 30 agent rejections, two dozen editor declines, and two serious revisions, I knew we were very close. Adah wrote that she was putting together an offer! I couldn’t wait to tell Dianna the great news!
Honestly, it wasn’t until Mary told me that not only did Adah love it but that her publisher had given wholehearted support to acquiring it, that I finally started to allow myself to get excited. Then when I came home that day and heard Mary’s message on the machine asking me to call, that’s when I finally started to believe.
Every sale is gratifying and unique, and I’m so happy that I had faith in PIPER LEE from the very beginning. I sometimes had to have enough faith to keep Dianna excited, too, but all of her hard work paid off and now FLY A LITTLE HIGHER, PIPER LEE will soar on Harcourt’s 2012 list!
It was a long process from first submission to acquisition, but I’m so excited to be able to share Piper Lee with readers.
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!
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!
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?
This post is for my picture book author illustrator friends out there, and the question comes from Siski:
I’d like to know more about agents and how they go about representing picture book illustration clients who also write. 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 picture book illustration develop their projects, work up a submission plan, and connect our clients with potential editors.
The Picture Book Author Illustrator and Literary Agent Relationship
The nature of the editorial work is a bit different. 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 would 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 a picture book illustration client. 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.
Not Everyone Can Be An Illustrator
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. People aspiring to picture book illustration 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.
How Picture Book Author Illustrator Projects Are Submitted to Publishers
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.
Selling a Book Is All About Timing
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 picture book 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).
Build Your Picture Book Author Illustrator Online Portfolio
As for getting people exposed to your work: 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.
It can be difficult to break into the picture book author illustrator market, or it can be very easy. The takeaway is that agents and editors do prefer author illustrator projects by a wide margin. If you don’t have a dummy already, get to work!
I absolutely love working with author illustrators, and am happy to provide art notes. Hire me as your picture book editor.
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:
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:
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.