Agent Advice: Erin Murphy of the Erin Murphy Literary Agency, Inc. (Part II)

This interview with Erin is
Part II. Read Part I here.

“Agent Advice” (this installment featuring agent Erin Murphy of the Erin Murphy Literary Agency, Inc.) is a series of quick interviews with literary agents and script agents who talk with Guide to Literary Agents about their thoughts on writing, publishing, and just about anything else. This series has more than 170 interviews so far with reps from great literary agencies. This collection of interviews is a great place to start if you are just starting your research on literary agents.

This installment features kids agent Erin Murphy of the Erin Murphy Literary Agency, Inc. Erin specializes in kids book and has agented for 10 years.  She’s based in Arizona.

She is seeking: Erin has a unique submission policy and only likes queries from writers she has met at one time or another, or writers who come through an impressive referral.  She seeks kids books—young adult, middle grade and picture books.

 

GLA: Let’s talk picture books.  These are very difficult to get published, it seems. What can writers do to enhance their chances?

EM: I know it sounds simplistic, but write the very best picture books you can. I think the market contraction has been a good thing, for the most part. I’m only selling the very best picture books my clients write—but I’m definitely selling them. Picture books are generally skewing young, and have been for some time, so focus on strong read-alouds and truly kid-friendly styles. I’m having a lot of luck with projects that have the feel of being created by an author-illustrator even if the author is not an artist, in that they’re fairly simple, have all kinds of room for fun and interpretation in the illustrations, and have a lot of personality.

A year or two ago, I had an early inkling that meatier, more story-based picture books might be coming back around, but then the economy crashed and that went out the window. It will happen eventually, and I will be glad, because I love those stories, too, but they’re darned hard to sell right now.

I see a lot of picture book manuscripts that depend too heavily on dialogue, which tends to give them the feel of a chapter book or middle-grade novel. The style isn’t a picture book style.

GLA: Kids writing is one of those worlds where plenty of people still go straight to editors and sell things. Do you find that agented writers can secure better deals and advances?

EM: Well, I’d hope so, or we agents aren’t doing our jobs! But having an agent is definitely not required to be successful in children’s books, and advances aren’t the only (or even the best) way to measure success. It’s a very personal decision.

GLA: Do you also take submissions for juvenile nonfiction?

EM: I do represent nonfiction projects; Chris Barton is a primary example from my client list. One of the sales I’m currently negotiating for another client is for a middle-grade nonfiction piece. I don’t ever picture a time when a huge percentage of my clients are focused in this area, though, and I already work with a few writers of nonfiction, so the odds are lower there for new writers subbing to me.

 

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GLA: You have an associate agent: Ammi-Joan Paquette. Does she have different tastes readers need to know about? Same submission procedure?

EM: Same submission policy. Our tastes overlap quite a bit, so the agency identity didn’t drastically change when Joan came on board, but of course we do have some differences. I’d say the main similarity is that we both love heart-driven stories. Joan is really talented with rhymed and metered picture book texts; I know a good one when I see it, but Joan is terrific with these and getting them into really strong shape. She is more drawn to paranormal YA, dystopian, and the like than I am; I am more open to historical (so long as it’s not purely historical-for-the-sake-of-the-setting).

GLA: You’ve been in business for many years as an agent and editor. How do you see the industry and kids books changing? What do serious writers need to know?

EM: I think the thing I’m most focused on now is that the industry requires you to hone your craft. For many years, SCBWI was all about learning the market, and that’s definitely important—but it seems to be harder and harder to find writers who have really let themselves sink into their craft, into developing as writers, and give the process the time that it takes.

GLA: Will you be at any upcoming conferences where people can meet/pitch you?

EM: I am not scheduled for any conferences in 2010, I’m afraid—and I hope to keep it that way so I can conquer this reading pile at last! The next conference I’m scheduled for is SCBWI Florida in Miami in January 2011. Joan will be at Missouri SCBWI on March 20, 2010, and NESCBWI on May 14-15, 2010.

GLA: Will you accept queries from those who don’t meet you at conferences?  Or is it best to meet you first or have a connection? Either way, what do you want to see and how do you want to see it?

EM: I have a pretty closed submission policy, which allows me to spend most of my time focused on my current clients. I don’t accept unsolicited queries or submissions. If you go to a conference where I speak, or if you have a referral from someone I know, I will be happy to take a look. I prefer queries via e-mail.

By the way, I don’t put an expiration date on the offer for conference attendees. I’d much rather that a writer wait until a submission is truly ready than rush and get something undercooked to me in a certain window. I’ve received queries and submissions from people I met at conferences years ago, and I really respect the confidence it takes to reach out after all that time. I also find that those people have had long enough to get to know the business and develop their craft that they are generally more ready for representation.

GLA: What’s something writers would be surprised to learn about you personally?

EM: Hmm! That’s a hard one! Well, I just mentioned to a group at the Southern Ohio SCBWI Conference that I have a famous relative, so this won’t be surprising to those folks, but perhaps it will for others: Allison DuBois, the Phoenix psychic who inspires the Patricia Arquette character on the TV show “Medium,” is my second cousin through my maternal grandmother. At the beginning of her book Don’t Kiss Them Goodbye, she talks about the great-grandfather who appeared to her after he died when she was a child, and was her first experience with the afterlife; that was my great-grandfather, too (and I had my own weird experience at his wife’s, my great-grandmother’s, funeral a few years later!). If she and I have met, though, it was when I was too young to remember; we haven’t crossed paths as adults. I like to claim relational psychic ability when it’s handy, though!

Oh! And I can’t wear a watch, because I make it stop, and it can’t be started again; my maternal grandmother is the same way, so there’s definitely something unusual going on in the DNA on that side of the family.

GLA: Best piece(s) of advice we haven’t covered?

EM: Claim your spot in this world of children’s publishing with confidence. Read what is coming out now; take advantages of the industry resources and insights the Internet provides; network how you can; stay in touch with the things that interest kids, and with kids themselves. But write for you, above all else. If you don’t appeal to your own inner child, how will you ever be happy writing for kids?

 

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One thought on “Agent Advice: Erin Murphy of the Erin Murphy Literary Agency, Inc. (Part II)

  1. Natalie Aguirre

    Thanks for the great interview. Thanks, Erin, for answering the question about whether you accept submissions from authors you met years ago. I met you at a Michigan SCBWI conference probably 4 years ago and have not had anything to submit yet. I was wondering if it would be okay to submit to you and am so glad it is. I hope to start submitting next year.

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