Thursday, January 8, 2015

The Journey of Your Book Continues…with special guest, Agent Jen Rofé (JOYB Pt. 4)

Schmooze Central here.  We’ve gotten so big for our britches that we decided to have “one of the little people” step in and slave over a hot keyboard for us while we get massages (patting yourself of the back causes tight shoulder muscles…who knew?) and take meetings with Terribly Important People.

We now hand this blog post over to the lovely and talented Laurie Young (although we fully reserve the right to inset a few obnoxious asides ‘cause that’s how we roll…exhausting, we know):

The Westside Writer’s Schmooze had the pleasure of a visit from Jen Rofé at our December Schmooze who spoke on what an agent does and why a writer needs one. Her willingness and
commitment to talk to our group was very much appreciated, not just because it was during the holidays, but one week before her wedding.

Jen has been an agent with the Andrea Brown Literary Agency for over 7 years.  She represents authors and illustrators of picture books through young adult, though she admitted that middle grade is her sweet spot. Some of her most notable authors include Meg Medina, Joy Preble, Kathryn Fitzmaurice, Christina Diaz Gonzalez, and our own LA chapter’s Eliza Wheeler.

She had previously been a journalist and an editor but spent 5 years in the trenches as a middle school teacher. She loves the business side of being an agent, especially negotiating contracts and writing pitch letters.

(Schmooze Central: Yes – all the things you hate! She LOVES them!! She was BORN to this!!!)

Jen started off the evening with a list of things she doesn’t like: Horror (although psychological is fine with her), gore, and especially zombie stories. She is also not fond of music stories, and anything involving a mixtape.  (She did admit to liking Naomi and Ely’s No Kiss List…that is, until the mixtape chapter.)

Just no

To make it simple, here are her main ideas of her talk in bullet points:

(Schmooze Central:  Oooohhh!  Bullet points!  We likey! …That’s Karol. Charlie feels safer with arbitrary snippets of unrelated words implying unearned depth.)

How important is it for a kid lit writer to get an agent these days? What is the upside of having an agent?
  • Contract negotiations—agents understand the boilerplate and can get you a better deal.
  • Most publishing houses are closed, and editors know which agents they trust and want to work with.
  • Agents advocate on your behalf and can step in to resolve conflicts.
  • Authors shouldn’t have to fight with editors regarding business decisions. Agents help keep author-editor relationship clean and focused on the work.

How have you connected with the writers you sign? Where do you find your clients?
  • Mostly through conferences and the AB Big Sur retreat.
  • One-on-one critiques.
  •  Queries can be the last thing an agent looks at, however, Jen will open conference or workshop queries first.
How do you approach an agent at a conference?
  •  Think of it as like interviewing for a job—be professional. 

What are the “no-no’s” for approaching an agent?
  • Don’t be creepy. Don’t be a stalker.
  • Don’t use social media to create a false sense of familiarity or use their personal information as an intro. Don’t assume a relationship just because you are “friends” on social media.
  • Be professional on social media. Don’t bad mouth agents or editors.

Do you need to have a platform or blog?
  • No. You can build a platform after your book is sold.
  • The exception: Non-fiction. A platform is needed to show your credentials or why you are qualified to write on this topic. 
What do you look for in a query letter? (Schmooze Central:  aka Secrets to the Query Kingdom!)
  • Basic format—

o      1st paragraph: Why you chose this agent. Show clear reference, personalized, conscious decision.
o      2nd paragraph: Jacket copy description (don’t give away ending.)
o      3rd paragraph: Any relevant information about you.
  • Keep it short, tight, professional, 1-page.
  • Don’t say you are a first time writer. Don’t apologize.
  • Can say if you are a teacher, but don’t say you read your work to kids and they liked it. Sounds naïve.
  • Don’t write query as your character. Don’t start query with character.
  • Don’t angst about the format—that said, send email to self first to check and see if it reads okay.
  • Do angst about the quality of the writing.
Author/illustrators: Jen will accept links to picture book dummies, but make sure your artwork is comparable to what is out there before submitting. Get feedback from conferences and workshops.

Other than great material, what other things attract you to a potential client? 
  • Rapport, connection
  • Similar vision for the work
  • Good working relationship
Guidelines for submitting to agents? (Schmooze Central: aka (Secrets to the Kingdom of Agent Protocol!…we are ALL about snappy titles here at S.C.)
  • Pick top 5-6 agents to start with and wait for a response.
  • Tweak material, according to response and submit to new 5-6 agents. Repeat.
  • Bad idea to submit to everyone at once—no opportunity to revise before sending out again.
  • If asked for an exclusive, okay to give timeframe.
  • As a courtesy, let agent know if this is a multiple submission.
  • If you get an offer, as a courtesy, let other agents know before accepting. (But only an offer—no need to let other agents know if you get a request for full.)
  • If an agent is interested in you and you are not excited, you should not have submitted to that agent in the first place.
  • Don’t hire an illustrator for your book.
o      Waste of time and money
o      Editors will choose the illustrator
o      May hurt your chances to be considered
  • Revisions can happen before rep—don’t ask for them, but be open to them. If agents want to offer advice or notes, they will.
  • Holidays are a bad time of year to query. The end of the year is “wrap up” mode. You don’t want to get a rejection because an agent wants to go on vacation.
  • A handful of rejections doesn’t necessarily mean you should self-pub. Revise first.
  • A bad agent is worse than no agent. Make sure there is an exit policy.
Picture books:
  • If you write in rhyme, make sure it is very good.
  • You need to have multiple hooks.
  • Query for best picture book, and then mention 2 of your other manuscripts with 1-line description of each. If an agent is interested, he or she will ask for more.
  • Andrea Brown agents want at least 4 solid picture book manuscripts before taking on client.
  • Can state in query that you envision book as a series. HOWEVER: Put it all into first book, don’t hold anything back.
  • Series are often dictated by the publisher.
What is the etiquette for switching agents?
  • Leave old agent before pursuing any new agents
  • Let potential agent know if your manuscript already has been widely submitted to editors—it is likely dead. 
How long to wait for response after sending query?

  • No set timeframe. Can be hours or months or longer.
  • Don’t follow up with Jen. You will get an auto response, if no further response, consider that a “no.” (Schmooze Central: Re: that last part – maddening, ain’t it? But, alas, it’s the industry standard.)
  • Be working on your next project!

What are typical terms for agreements between writers and children's literary agents?
  • Jen uses a 1-page, straightforward agreement.
  • No time frame, either party can walk away at any time. (If project is sold, it remains with agency.)
  • 15% across the board, no reading fees or other fees. (Different rates for foreign and film rights.)
What happens after contract is signed?
  • Revising may take a while, keep communication open.

Jen’s editing process:
o      Big picture—plot, character, elements
o      Writing tics (Schmooze Central: Everybody’s got ‘em!)
o      Doesn’t do much line editing.
  • Jen makes a list of editors to submit to. Shares it with client and asks if client has any ideas.
  • Submission timeframe can take hours or months or more.
  • Be patient. It takes a lot of “yes’s” to make a book happen.
When you get an offer from an editor, what happens next?
  • Jen discusses offer with client, asks client what is bottom line (starting offer vs. royalty rates, rights, etc.)
  • Advances and royalties can range and depend on a number of factors:
  • PB: 2K–15K, 5-6% of retail (split between author and illustrator)
  • MG & YA: 8K+
  •  Turn around: 6–12 months to finish art for book; 18 months–3 years, depending on the list, (publishers work years in advance.)
What do agents roll their eyes at?
  • Neediness
  • Not meeting deadlines (Schmooze Central: Ugh!  Fitzgerald never met deadlines!!)
  • You should not expect to make a living for a while.
  • You do this because you want it more than anything else.
  • You have to want it more than anyone. If your agent wants it more than you do, you will be dropped.

How does a writer submit material to you/what are your submission guidelines?

Click HERE for the Andrea Brown Literary Agency’s submission guidelines + plus a bonus list of great resources for writers.

Ah, being Big Shots (even if only in our own minds) certainly does have its perks!  Thanks loads, Laurie!  (Sucker…KIDDING!)

Next up, the Journey of Your Book continues with our Picture Book Critique Schmooze on Wednesday, January 14th.

Until then, keep passing the open windows,
Charlie & Karol (and Wonder Woman Laurie!!)

1 comment:

  1. Great report, Laurie. Super thorough. I'm keeping this as a reference. I'm crazy about all of you, this also means Karol with a K (so innovative) and the lovely, if slightly perplexed Charlie. Happy New Year all. May we stumble over a rack of your shiny, new, spectacularly reviewed and super popular books at whatever bookstore is still standing in 2015.