Agent Advice: Etta Wilson of Books & Such Literary Agency

This installment features Etta Wilson of Books & Such Literary Agency. In addition to being a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, a founding member of the Tennessee Writers Alliance, and having served as the president of the Nashville chapter’s Women’s National Book Association, the school librarian-turned-agent has written 12 children’s books herself. She is seeking: young adult, middle-grade and children's books for both the general and the Christian markets.
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Editor's note: Etta retired in Dec. 2010.
Please do not query her. Thanks.----------------------------

“Agent Advice” (this installment featuring agent Etta Wilson of Books & Such Literary Agency) 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 Etta Wilson of Books & Such Literary Agency. In addition to being a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, a founding member of the Tennessee Writers Alliance, and having served as the president of the Nashville chapter’s Women’s National Book Association, the school librarian-turned-agent has written 12 children’s books herself.

She is seeking: young adult, middle-grade and children's books for both the general and the Christian markets.

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GLA: How did you become an agent?

EW: I became an agent as an outgrowth of being a book packager in the nineties. Several of the authors I worked with asked me if I would represent their work, and I was off and running. Most of these were authors of children's works, and that is my real love.

GLA: Tell us about a recent project you’ve sold.

EW: Recent sales include: Crystal Bowman's What Rhymes with Pickle? (Boyd's Mills Press), Carol Adams’s Sammie, the Little Broken Shell (Harvest House) and Judy Christie's Hurry Less Worry Less for Families (Abingdon). All are due out this year.

At the moment, I'm really excited about Jerry Pinkney’s winning the Caldecott for The Lion and the Mouse. He's such a marvelous illustrator, and he's the husband of my client Gloria Jean Pinkney, who wrote Daniel and King of Lions (Abingdon, 2008).

GLA: What are you looking for right now and not getting? What do you pray for when tackling the slush pile?

EW: I look for imagination and creativity that indicate an author knows what he or she is writing about and is not afraid to put things together in a different way—either in fiction or nonfiction. Some of that comes with experience, so having publishing credits helps, but it's always a thrill when I find an exciting "voice" for young readers.

GLA
: You specialize in young adult and children’s books for both the general and Christian markets. Are there any subgenres within juvenile lit that particularly hook you?

EW: The picture book has always been my favorite, partly because really good ones are such wonderful combinations of text and illustrations to communicate across the ages. It's also the genre that most usually avoids questionable content. Alas, they are also expensive to produce…

And I do love historical fiction and nonfiction. I also think children's comics and graphic novels are more appealing, probably due to the economy.

GLA: Any you shy away from?

EW: I simply don't know enough about vampires and witches to judge a good manuscript from a bad one for YAs. I don't "shy away from" the realistic contemporary novel, but it has got to be super to sell in today's market, and I'd love to see more of those—super ones, that is.

GLA: How would you describe the state of the Christian market right now?

EW: A certain segment of the Christian market is very solid and very loyal to shopping at Christian outlets. I'm not sure how large that segment is, but I have the feeling that it is declining. What was formerly a fairly healthy Christian bookstore market has been impacted by things like the success of Christian books in the general market (e.g. The Shack) as well as the sale of books online, which make the markets very hard to distinguish. In children's books, it's clear that publishers think curriculum is what they need to be producing for the Christian market.

GLA: What are three “Cardinal sins” you notice writers making when you’re reading a partial?

EW: Not knowing what is on the market at the time, modeling characters or plots too much like a current bestseller (sort of the opposite), and writing in a voice that doesn't really fit the story or the age level of the intended reader.

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GLA: What changes do you think 2010 has in store for the publishing industry?

EW: One thing I really love about this business is that we never know what's coming or how fast! My best guess about 2010 would be more adaptation of content to electronic formats and continued change in the way revenues are computed and derived for authors—however, the changes in delivery of content to the consumer may be greater.

GLA: What is something writers would be surprised to learn about you?

EW: That my favorite activity is traveling—four trips to England and Scotland, three to Italy, one to China, one to Australia and New Zealand, one to Switzerland, and one to the Scandinavian countries. It makes me sad that airline security is so threatened. I've got places to go!

GLA: Will you be at any upcoming writers’ conferences where writers can meet and pitch you?

EW: See our agency's Web site at www.booksandsuch.biz for our travel in 2010. Coming up, I will be at the Association of Professional Church Educators at the end of January and at SCBWI's Historical Fiction Workshop in March (both in Nashville).

GLA: Best piece(s) of advice we haven’t talked about yet?

EW: No matter how fast the world seems to spin, there are new things from the past to be incorporated into the present. We just have to keep our eyes and ears open. Yesterday I saw a chart on Fibonacci's numbers in nature—fascinating!

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This agent interview by Ricki Schultz,
freelance writer and coordinator of
Shenandoah Writers in VA. Visit her blog
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