A favorite conference tradition we do here at the annual SCBWI Western Washington conference is to host a panel discussion by editors, agents, and art directors, who talk about what they do, what they're looking for, and their perspectives on the industry today.
Lionel Bender, editorial director Bender Richardson White: Most work is work-for-hire commissioned by publishers. They package books, doing everything publishers do except for market and distribute. Most projects are illustrated nonfiction for children ages 7 and up.
Justin Chanda, VP and Publisher, Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, Atheneum Books for Young Readers and Margaret K. McElderry Books: He handles everything from young picture books to edgy teen work. They have a staff of 16, and everyone including Justin is acquiring. They are looking for good stories, and Justin is interested in signing authors and illustrators--not just projects. The common thread among their books, which range from commercial to literary, is that the author and illustrator come first. His philosophy is simple: "We create stories. That's it. Everything else is just ways to get it out there."
Sarah Davies, Agent, Greenhouse Literary Agency: Her agency is three years old, based in Washington, D.C. They aren't seeking picture books currently. She has a counterpart in England and they sometimes sell simultaneously here and across the pond. She views the world as her marketplace and not just North America. She worked as a publisher in London, most recently at Macmillan (and published Judy Blume, Meg Cabot and Frank Cottrell Boyce, among others). She describes her agency as very nurturing and editorial, hence the name Greenhouse. She is looking for uniqueness, a sense of craft, quality writing, and great, commercial ideas. She looks for potential in manuscripts and often does rewrites with clients.
Martha Mihalick, Associate Editor at Greenwillow Books (part of HarperCollins): Greenwillow is a literary imprint that publishes abut 35 books a year. All nine employees there, ranging from editors to art directors, work on each book they put out. Martha is open to every genre except horror because she is a "wuss." While she's mostly been editing YA fantasy lately, she's looking for innovative ideas that translate across all mediums (and Greenwillow just did an app for one book).
Joe Monti, agent at Barry Goldblatt Literary: He's looking for fiction, mostly middle grade and YA, and loves genre. Middle grade is his sweet spot because his inner child is 9 years old.
Anne Moore: Art Resource Coordinator, Candlewick. She supports the creative director and 10 editors, helping to inform them of illustrators in the market. She also reads all the picture book, most of the MG, and some of the YA novel manuscripts and gives suggestions for covers and illustrations. She loves to see unique work and is looking for something new, fresh, and "your own." Finding your genuine self and being able to express that is so important, she says.
Tim Travaglini, freelance editor, formerly at G. P. Putnam's Sons: He's been working with a few different houses lately as an acquisition editor and ghostwriting with an adult author now writing for teens. His tastes: "The wilder and crazier the better, as far as I'm concerned."
Liz Waniewski, Senior Editor, Dial Books for Young Readers: Has been at Dial for almost 10 years and loves it there. They publish the gamut, including PB, MG, and YA. Their books tend to walk the line between literary and commercial, but might fall a bit more on the literary side. She's looking for character-driven stories with a fresh, unique, and authentic voice and a fabulous plot that can only happen because of that character.
Tina Wexler, agent, ICM: She's interested in beekeeping. No, really! But that has nothing to do with the allegation that Neil Gaiman's books are written by bees. Conspiracy theorists, discuss.
Marietta Zacker, agent, Nancy Gallt Literary Agency: She's giving a shout-out to her local client, Stephanie Barden, whose book, CINDERELLA SMITH, comes out this month, and also to Emily Whitman, an Oregon author published by Greenwillow. Her advice: Don't send books just like the ones her clients have done, because they've already done it really well. Take those books, listen to the voice and its authenticity, and find your own true story. She works with picture book authors and illustrators, as well as MG and YA novelists.
What do you not want to see in your slush pile after this event?
Liz Waniewski: Don't send a personal sob story in your letter. I'm sorry for whatever you've gone through, but I don't want to know.
Anne Moore: Don't submit on behalf of your children.
Sarah Davies: Don't rush it. Take your time. You don't have limitless opportunities.
Martha Mihalick: Don't write to a trend. Tell your own story. She can tell if your heart isn't in it.
What's going to be in your session:
Lionel Bender: "I don't mind if you don't come to my talk. You're the one who's going to lose out." (He got a huge laugh for this.) His talk will cover how to find your niche in publishing, how to work with publishers, and how to be street-wise.
Justin Chanda: He's not going to talk much about craft, but to address "the state of the state." It's important to keep in mind that it's about more than just the book you're working on.
Joe Monti: He promises juicy gossip.
Marietta Zacker: Go to the session that you think you'll learn the most from. It won't hurt a faculty member's feelings.