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The NE-SCBWI Conference: Talking With Agents Stephen Fraser, Jennifer Laughran and Vickie Motter

The NE-SCBWI Conference, organized by the New England chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, took place in April 2012 and offered an agent-author panel featuring the following literary agents: 1. Stephen Fraser (Jennifer De Chiara Literary), joined by his client Christine Brodien-Jones 2. Jennifer Laughran (Andrea Brown Literary), joined by her client Kate Messner 3. Vickie Motter (Andrea Hurst Literary), joined by her client Kris Asselin

The NE-SCBWI Conference, organized by the New England chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, took place in April 2012 and offered an agent-author panel featuring the following literary agents:

  1. Stephen Fraser (Jennifer De Chiara Literary), joined by his client Christine Brodien-Jones
  2. Jennifer Laughran (Andrea Brown Literary), joined by her client Kate Messner
  3. Vickie Motter (formerly of Andrea Hurst Literary, now not an agent) with her client Kris Asselin

The trio took questions from the audience of writers. Below find the Q&A paraphrased and transcribed.

(See a large list of writers conferences in the U.S.)

This guest column by Theresa Milstein, who writes mostly YA with a
paranormal twist. She’s published several YA and adult short stories.
She’s a member of SCBWI and active in the New England SCBWI
branch. Her blog: Theresa’s Tales.

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Do you prefer regular or e-mail queries?

All three stated they take e-mail queries. Stephen Fraser said that e-mailing has speeded the process on both ends. He once even sold a manuscript the day he submitted it.

How many times can a writer query a particular agent?

Ms. Laughran said the best way to become a great writer is to write a lot of books. Sometimes people query her several times with several books, and she thinks it’s a plus to see a writer can improve. Ms. Motter agreed that seeing how far someone progresses goes a long way. Author Christine Brodien-Jones said that Mr. Fraser didn’t represent her until after she submitted a query for her second book.

(Secrets to querying literary agents: 10 questions answered.)

Do you represent the person or is it on a book-by-book basis?

Mr. Fraser said he’s interested in establishing a relationship--he wants to shape an author’s long-term career. But there are times when agents can’t represent their clients for a particular book. All three agents represent author-illustrators. But Stephen Fraser won’t represent a client for a book deal that’s illustration only. Jennifer Laughran and Vickie Motter will still represent their clients for those deals. Ms. Laughran wouldn’t represent a client for an adult book.

Author Kate Messner said Jennifer Laughran advised her to pursue a nonfiction book deal on her own. Some authors have two agents. Ms. Motter said she’s worked with clients who write adult books at the same agency if they then write a YA book. Both Mr. Fraser and Ms. Laughran believe it’s important for authors not to feel they’re in a genre box, citing James Patterson and Carl Hiaasen as examples of authors who write in more than one genre.

What are realistic expectations after the contract with an agent is signed?

The agents agreed they expect a polished manuscript, so they don’t plan on doing many rounds of rewrites. Author Kris Asselin said that if the first book doesn’t sell, expect there may be rewrites with the agent or that the author may have to shelve that book, and write the next one before their agent can get a book deal.

Vickie Motter believes writers need to know what they’re looking for. Some want hands off agents, while other want hands on agents. It would be good for authors to explain how they want to work beforehand.

(How much should an outside edit cost writers?)

Kate Messner said there are a lot of great agents who might not be good for her because she likes quick communication. Her agent is like that. She suggested that authors do their research. If an author has an offer of representation, ask for the names and contact information of a few clients.

Jennifer Laughran wants each of her clients to feel like they’re the only client. But her clients also need to be respectful of her time. She appreciates when they collects questions to send in one email instead of many emails. She also requests that clients be frank, so if they have issues, she can address them.

With Borders and other bookstores closing, are children’s books still selling?

The agents on the panel believe that even with the changes and uncertainties in publishing, children’s books, even picture books, are selling well and many agencies are thriving. Publishers are more cautious. But good books are still coming out. And agents are adaptable creatures in the changing market.

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