“Children”s publishing was pretty much an accidental career for me,” says Barry Goldblatt, founder of Barry Goldblatt Literary Agency. Goldblatt first arrived in New York with dreams of acquiring an editorial position for a science fiction magazine. After several dead ends in the sci-fi field, he began exploring the possibility of a career in subsidiary rights. Eventually, he ended up at Dutton Children”s Books with a job as rights assistant, where he first discovered his love for the world of children”s publishing.
When he first met with Donne Forrest at Dutton Children”s books, Goldblatt recalls, “I didn”t think I knew the first thing about children”s books, but she handed me copies of Winnie-the-Pooh and William Sleator”s Interstellar Pig, and I think a Rosemary Wells picture book, and I suddenly felt a connection. It helped that Donne really gave me lots of opportunities to grow and learn the business, and within three months I was hooked.” Goldblatt was drawn into the arena of children”s publishing so much that he later turned down a job in science fiction publishing. After years of working in subsidiary rights at Dutton, The Putnam & Grosset Group, and finally, as Rights and Contracts Director at Orchard Books, Goldblatt took what to him was “the natural next step” in his career and opened his own literary agency in September 2000.
Barry Goldblatt suggests that his predilection towards children”s books echoes his “sense of the importance of children”s literature. These books are the first exposure most people will have to the power of the written word and the world of art, to the marvelous way reading can transport you anywhere in the universe.” And with novels, he recognizes whether or not a manuscript will work almost right away. “When I read a novel, I”m confident I”ll recognize something special: a terrific character, a fascinating plot, an emotional resonance.”
Goldblatt finds the market for children”s books, especially those for young adults and teenagers, to be an ever-changing and expanding one, and that children”s books, in themselves, are becoming more and more accepted as a “literary art form.” In young adult novels, “there are no holds barred, no real taboos anymore. Fiction for teens can be as powerful and liberating as any adult book on the market, and much to my delight, can often even reach an adult audience, which only helps to bring young adult literature more well-deserved attention.”
As far as finding new authors and books goes, Barry Goldblatt knows what he likes when he sees it. He describes his ideal submission simply as a manuscript that blows him away. “I need to find myself laughing hysterically or weeping my eyes out, or I need to be marveling at the intricate details of a plot or fascinated by an extraordinary voice.” And his opinion of the book usually depends on his opinion of the characters. For Goldblatt the heart of the story lies in characterization and voice-if either of these is lacking the story as a whole fails to work effectively. “Plotlines can be fixed, style and structure can be tinkered with, but if the voice isn”t there, that almost indefinable something that makes a book come alive, then I”m just not interested.”
As much as one tries to deny it, an agent”s personal taste often aids in the decision of whether or not to represent an author. Goldblatt has a personal fondness for “wacky humor,” and he always wants to receive stories with “an edge, a bite, something unusual, unexpected and unique.” First and foremost, Goldblatt requires that a manuscript bring out something in him; he has to like it. “If I”m not passionate about something, it”s going to be much more challenging to be passionate in how I sell it, and that”s not fair to the author, or, ultimately, to myself.”
While appealing to an agent”s personal tastes is somewhat out of an author”s control, certain aspects of a submission make it more appealing no matter how emotionally engaged an agent feels by the manuscript. One of the consistent problems with submissions, Goldblatt says, is that authors do not put enough time and effort into their cover letters. A bad cover letter is “the kiss of death for me,” he says. “I often won”t even read the manuscript if the letter is full of typos and bad grammar.” In Goldblatt”s opinion, when an author sends a badly written cover letter, complete with his/her entire life story, that simply does not enhance the presentation of the manuscript. “The ideal cover letter for me says, ”Here”s my manuscript. Hope you like it.” That”s it, short, sweet and to the point.”
Although he has no set standards for the agent-client relationship, Goldblatt maintains that whether an author depends on him as an agent for editorial guidance or not, he expects at least one thing in return: honesty. “Nothing will contaminate this kind of relationship faster and more destructively than hiding feelings or, worse, lying about them. If one of my clients is unhappy with something I”ve done, I need to know, or how else can I possibly work to solve the problem?” And it goes both ways-he has to be able to tell clients when they fail to hold up their end of the bargain. “Talking with each other is the only way problems can be resolved, compromises reached, whatever it is sorted out. It”s key.”
Goldblatt sums up his job description as an agent, saying, “I”m passionate and hungry, and I”ll do all I can to make sure each and every one of my clients has a stupendous career…hopefully all agents want that for their clients.” He advises authors who are considering choosing an agent to “do research, ask lots of questions, and never settle for someone just because they”re available. An agent is a big factor in your career; they”re going to be involved with you financially, and, since writing is such a personal career, they”re also going to be very much a part of your life, so you don”t want just anyone. Make sure it”s someone with whom you have simpatico, a common sense of where to go and how to get there.”
This article appeared in a previous edition of Children”s Writer”s & Illustrator”s Market. Check out the current edition.