“How I Got My Agent” is a recurring feature on the Guide to Literary Agents Blog, with this installment featuring Constance Lombardo, author of MR. PUFFBALL: STUNT CAT ACROSS AMERICA. These columns are great ways for you to learn how to find a literary agent. Some tales are of long roads and many setbacks, while others are of good luck and quick signings. If you have a literary agent and would be interested in writing a short guest column for this GLA blog, e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll talk specifics.
Column by Constance Lombardo, author of MR. PUFFBALL:
STUNT CAT ACROSS AMERICA (Sept. 27, 2016, HarperCollins).
Constance enjoys drawing and writing about cats who are famous and
infamous. The Mr. Puffballbooks are largely autobiographical, except
that Constance is a human, never wears bow ties, doesn't eat fish and
is way too wimpy to do stunts. She worked as an illustrator, jeweler’s
assistant, teacher, painter and muralist before deciding to focus all her time
and attention on cats (and children’s books.) Follow her on Twitter.
No agent, no problem.
I first started writing for kids (in 2003,) everybody said you didn’t really need an agent. It was true—many of the big publishing houses accepted unagented submissions.
With that advice in hand, I did everything else an aspiring children’s book author should do: I joined the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI - a fantastic resource!) I started a critique group with other kidlit writers (“Secret Gardeners”—which has been immeasurably helpful and supportive.) I attended many conferences and workshops to improve my skills and to network. Every year I bought the Children’s Writer’s and Illustrator’s Market.
Over time, the publishing industry shifted dramatically so that having an agent became essential. At that point I had written manuscripts for one young adult novel, numerous picture books, and one middle grade novel. I began researching agents (on blogs such as this one!) I compiled my list of agents, submitted with careful attention to their submission guidelines, and received tons of almost—maybes.
Can a MG graphic novel succeed?
One agent who expressed interest was the fabulous Lori Nowicki of Painted Words. She liked some of my picture books and invited me to submit more.
At the same time, I had been working on a completely new kind of project: a graphic novel for middle grade readers about an irrepressible cat named Mr. Puffball who dreamed of becoming a Hollywood movie star.
Writing books/novels for kids & teens? There are hundreds
of publishers, agents and other markets listed in the
latest Children’s Writer’s & Illustrator’s Market.
Buy it online at a discount.
That venture totally suited my personal skills and preferences: drawing in black & white and writing with an emphasis on dialogue. Best of all, writing humor for a middle grade audience played to my strength of being uninhibitedly silly.
Fortunately, when I asked Lori if she’d be interested in reading my graphic novel manuscript, she quickly invited me to send it on.
What followed was several weeks of animated phone conversations about Mr. Puffball, whom Lori loved! We discussed ways to develop Mr. Puffball and worked to hone my manuscript. I still remember the moment during these talks when I asked, “Does this mean we’re signing?”
“Yes, it does!” she said without hesitation. (Still calls up happy tears!)
Happily Ever After
Within a few months of signing with Lori, she connected me with my amazing editor, Jill Davis at HarperCollins. After years of diligently submitting on my own without success, Lori had finally made my dream come true. Jill Davis also loved Mr. Puffball. Her only request was that I shift it from a graphic novel to an illustrated middle grade format (more text, fewer panels, spot illustrations, etc.)
After all those years of rejections, and in light of the fact that I loved my editor and totally admired her publishing smarts, I chose to embrace that major change. In return for this rewrite, she offered me a three-book deal!
My dream to publish was finally realized when the first novel in this series, MR. PUFFBALL: STUNT CAT TO THE STARS (Katherine Tegen Books/HarperCollins,) released in September 2015. I’m happy to say that the second book, MR. PUFFBALL: STUNT CAT ACROSS AMERICA, hits the shelves this September.
A last word: On a visit to NYC, I met with my agent Lori, and she shared a synchronicity in our process. Turns out my asking her if she wanted to look at my Mr. Puffball manuscript came just days after a conversation with her assistant where she expressed her wish to represent a graphic novelist. So luck did play a part in my success (as did years of persistence and hard work!)
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Other writing/publishing articles & links for you:
- What Does a Literary Agent Want to See When They Google You?
- How to Plan a Great Book Reading: 5 Tips.
- Read an Interview with a Debut Middle Grade Author.
- Writing young adult or middle grade? New agent Sarah Nego seeks clients!
- Trust Your Instincts: Write the Story the Way YOU Think It Should Be Told.
- How a Critique and Accountability Partner Can Help Your Writing and Career.
- Follow Chuck Sambuchino on Twitter or find him on Facebook. Learn all about his writing guides on how to get published, how to find a literary agent, and writing a query letter.