NOTE: While we work on some exciting Inkpot renovations,
we'll be featuring some favorite past posts here on this space.
Today MFAC alum and agent extraordinaire Jodell Sadler* is set to share insights and secrets about the world of agents. This time she will answer your submitted questions from the last month, and a few extra ones submitted by the Inkpot.
Q: If an agency doesn’t post a timeframe for their response times, what is an appropriate length of time after you haven’t heard from one agent at a specific agency to query another agent at the same house? Of course, I know that you NEVER query two agents at the same house at the same time, but the “rule” for successive queries is pretty murky.
My best advice is to email and ask. I often get queried with unrealistic timelines. For example, a writer might write that I have one week as an exclusive prior to a conference and in reality, if I am in contract negotiations or working on a timeline for another writer, I may not read submissions that week. Plus, there are critiques to complete prior to conferences so time fills with that as well. Most important: follow posted guidelines.
What we know is that agents know the preferences of their colleagues and if your manuscript might be more suited to another agent in that house, they will likely share it.
I would also encourage you to continue to write, stay focused on craft, seek nonfiction projects to fill time gaps, and really stay focused on what you passionately want to share in print. These ideas rise up and garner attention. What I see is that often times manuscripts are shared too soon, and may not have the emotional depth needed to carry readers to the end.
What we know is that the direction of your novel and main character’s views and world view need to happen immediately and of don’t happen in a first draft. These types of edits really happen on your forth, fifth or twenty-first draft.
It’s really important for you to explore your work and be tough on yourself in regard to characterization, setting, plot points and the emotional journey as well as the pacing of you manuscript. That final edit will include a look at musicality and language and how well you are alerting your reader as you move through your plot. You should be sure to set your work aside and then pull it back out to review and think about the visual story. Are you showing and making active scene shifts dramatic and clear?
Q: I don't have a very active social media life. Is it necessary to have a platform in order to attract an agent? If so, what are some tips that I can use to start building up an online presence?
It’s more imperative for an illustrator to maintain a platform, but we live in a world of social technology and every writer will need to embark on that journey at some point. It’s nice to set yourself up as a writer for author visits so when the time comes, you preparedness meets opportunity. I Google every submission I enjoy and try to see what their online presence includes.
As far as illustrators, so often I receive a PDF of a few images and that is not enough to represent someone from. Agents will be looking for movement and energy and fluidity of your work. How well do you show off your visual storytelling? Is there a reason for the many things that are pictured in a particular scene?
Q: Are agents more interested in an author who has a series of books? Is there still a place for stand-alone fiction?
An agent is interested in great writing and a marketable manuscript. I am sure this will vary from agent and agency. We all have focuses and are as unique and diverse as writers. Agents are not cookie-cutter and are as unique as you are as a writer. Some writers plot stories out; others string their work from scene to scene but both end up with a quality piece of writing. Some writers outline; others do not. But it’s all a process and there’s not a right way or a wrong way—everyone’s process is different. In this same way, some might look for series because they’ve successfully placed a few and enjoy working with them. Others might look for that one book that’s fresh, literary, or commercial. I have represented series projects as well as stand-alones and do not have a preference as long as I am passionate about the project.
Q: How much time do you spend looking at each query? I know for most agents it's not much - so how long DO we really have to hook an agent before they move on to the next person?
When I read: “I know for most agents it’s not much,” I do not believe this to be true. Agents seriously consider quality submissions that follow guidelines, present a great cover letter, especially when you share a bio that shows your commitment to children’s literature and writing. For me, I’d have your MFA placed after your name in the subject line. You’ve earned it and it shows your commitment. Think about your submission as a package that shows your professionalism. I’ve had some crazy submissions in my short time agenting and here are some things to remember:
- Take into consideration how your email reads, how you sign off, and your Google image if you share one.
- Be sure to address the agent by full name and give reasons for contacting that particular agent/agency.
- Include your contact information on your cover letter as well as the manuscript if you have been asked to submit a Word doc.
- Be sure your focus is on your manuscript itself as it really is all about the writing.
The submission bin is a funny thing and I’ve missed some great writers and illustrators and there have been times when I would have loved to have read something that interests me but have been too busy with other things to do so. It’s just vital for you to stay working and producing and remaining positive about your work and career as a children’s literature professional.
If you are lucky enough to be asked to submit a full manuscript or a revision based on feedback, do not make hasty revisions and resubmit in a few minutes. Give it time to digest and really let the suggestions soak in. This marks your opportunity to make your piece the best it can be.
Q: What does a typical day in the life of an agent look like?
I can’t speak for all agents. I only know how I work, and the focus it takes me to place a piece of writing. A typical day includes tending to the manuscript and writer I happen to be working with, requests, and contracts and responding to editors, and then also fitting in time to review work on new submissions while also tending to in-bound submissions and reading new projects.
Q: What inspired you to create KidLit College?
I wanted to share craft learning when it comes to writing. I’ve learned so much from other writers and industry professionals and it made sense to me to help writers improve craft and make connections. I’m a huge advocate for craft and learning it and webinars and classes and critiques help coach a writer towards a great product deliverable and that’s the mission of KidLit College.
Q: What should writers and illustrators look for in attending conferences: online or in person?
Register for a critique, follow up, and submit your work. Really delve into craft. Attend webinars and lectures and apply it. Stay involved and get involved with a quality critique group. If you have the opportunity to submit, to an editor or agent, please present your best work. Write that strong cover letter and present a short pitch for your project. When you submit, it really is about getting to know you are and your work.
Please comment with your questions below as our next posting will include feedback from other agents as well.
Happy Writing, Everyone!
*Jodell Sadler is an Editorial Agent at Jill Corcoran Literary Agency and founder/contributor at KidLit College. She also teaches and presents on "pacing a story strong" nationwide.