Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Agenting Tips of the Month - October 2015

Get ready Inkpot readers, this week we're treated to a fantastic true-life agenting adventure.  MFAC alum and agent extraordinaire Jodell Sadler* has once again offered to share some insight into her field. This time she wanted to talk about a recent book deal she has with new author-illustrator Phil Gosier. Read on to find out why his inquiry was her fastest response to date.

I wanted to share with my Hamline family, a recent two-book deal for Phil Gosier’s debut author-illustrator picture books: Snow Beast Comes to Play and an untitled to Emily Feinberg, Macmillan. But the story goes deeper than that. Phil’s work, when submitted, was actually picked up for a MG illustration project, The Friday Barnes series, with Connie Hsu, Macmillan/Roaring Brook, and his picture books were forwarded to Emily. Both are going strong and he has more books in the works. I know his submission to me was my quickest response to date and I’d like to share why.

JO: Here’s my story of just that kind of journey.

Late last week, the PW featured Sadler Children’s Literary’s double-book deal for Phil Gosier, debut author-illustrator, who earned his illustrator wings at DC Comics:

I feel really honored to represent Phil’s talent. His submission marked my fasted pull from my submission bin ever. We’ve seen tough challenges, but today, I really must say, I feel his feet are firmly planted in a wonderful journey as an author-illustrator. It took time, a mutual respect for the mission, and honoring the goals he saw for his end product, but it was worth every moment.  

In my last post, I mentioned how I pulled Phil’s letter and emailed him right away. I still wonder how I held back from calling, but it makes me smile when I think about that moment —my I’m-so-lucky moment. I often talk about the one line in his cover letter, which he placed under an “A bit more about me” header. It read, “I tend to cry at most Tom Hanks movies.” And BOOM. That made me feel he was genuine and real and relatable right away. 

I’ve often called his email the “unreliable narrator” approach to submissions because, if I recall, he wrote something about it needing to be in better shape and still needing work and not willing to send it back out until he fleshed it out even more. All things I respect a great deal. And what I’ve seen is that this is rather true about how he works and this has helped him find success this past year.

I read his letter and opened his attached PDF file. And WOW! Snow Beast as a concept hooked me, and then I saw his HELLO! art, and his wonderful street scape with Snow Beast playing peek-a-boo behind buildings, I knew his talent would shine and this book would sell. 

While I know Phil mentioned in his letter that he happened upon my website and thought “why not?" there’s not a day I don’t wonder how he got there. Still, I do thank my lucky stars.  So, I asked: Phil, What lead you to me?

PHIL: There’s a quote that I attribute to Scott McCloud, but it’s probably not his originally... “The only people who succeed in cartooning are the ones who are too stupid to know it’s impossible.” When you have two young kids that doesn’t seem as pessimistic as it may sound... it seems like good, practical advice on how to conduct your career. Well, as you know I have a college friend who had succeeded wildly in kid’s literature. I remember the exact moment when I decided to give this industry a try. I was down seeing the national Christmas tree with my family...maybe 6 years ago. We had stopped into union station to grab dinner before heading over to the tree and we stopped into a Barnes and Noble. I was rounding the bend into the kids section and I saw a stack of bright red books on the floor, right at the end-cap. I recognized the drawing on the cover immediately...it was unmistakably Jeff's work. He and I were cartoonists together at the UMCP student newspaper, the Diamondback, and I know his stuff on sight. I knew right then that Jeff had not only managed to get published, but also that he was a success. In this small bookstore the staff will stack top sellers at the end-caps because they move off the shelves so quickly. I know this because I used to work at this very same bookstore back in college. Anyhow, when you come to know that something is possible...well, it becomes difficult to keep from thinking about it. So, I was off and running...

I had been working on Snow Beast for years, just chipping away at it. Initially the story was about two kids who go looking for an abominable snowman and are surprised to actually find one. I drew on it in off hours for a long time. The story evolved to the more heartfelt version we now know. Once that happened the drawings seemed to make much more sense and I seemed to like everything better. Maybe it was that boost in confidence, maybe it was because I had been working on it for years, and maybe I was just looking for something to do on my lunch hour.

I found you through a Google search and I remember the language on your site being very approachable and friendly so I decided to see how someone actually in the industry would look on what had essentially been my hobby. Also, most other representatives looked as though they were trying to hold the submissions community at arms length...like they didn’t want to be bothered. Also, Also, I had previously sent illustration samples over to Shannon Associates (illustrator reps) and they didn't pick me up. I sent them a bunch of disney-esque illustration work...some Tony the Tiger samples, stuff like that. Looking back on that experience, they seemed to like me, but I didn't have all that much to show so things didn't move forward. That’s sort of how I thought our interaction would go. "Yeah, sure, it’s charming...but I need to see more." Whatever the case, I didn't really expect to hear back from you.

JO: Like editors, agents look for that next great author or author-illustrator. They are looking for the whole package, that great story and great person to work with. Phil represents both those things. He’s all about getting the work done, staying on deadline, and keeping humor in our conversations.

It took us a while to find a perfect home for his work, and it was riddled with a few rejections (as we expect), but it also came with some awesome, awesome moments worth celebrating along the way.

Our first rejection was after editorial circles at a great house. It was an editor I had long admired by her books and client list. I wanted to work with her and knew Phil was of her caliber. But, ultimately, after a round a few editorial meetings, the project was turned down because it was too similar to a book they already championed (that also went on to win accolades).

Spin forward a few months… After sending it out again, I learned this editor shifted to a new house. And I wondered: Could it be that what might not be right for one house, might be just right for another? So, I followed my gut (something I encourage writers to do) and reached out again.

Her response came with an email and a phone call meeting, followed by the news that they would like to consider Phil for a middle grade project and move his picture books forward with another editor. Yes, a two-editor split. It was a moment—an amazing moment—and I thank my lucky stars. 

Phil went on to illustrate The Friday Barnes Series at Macmillan with Connie Hsu while working on Snow Beast with Emily Feinberg.  Two great titles filled with these characters will be released soon, and news of more in this series is in the works:

For me, this was a rare moment.  Looking back, do you remember that initial rejection from a different house and the few rejections that followed? How did you feel and what did you think when I told you I was going to follow up with the same editor now that she had shifted houses? And, of course, I asked Phil about this experience:  How did it feel that day I called you to tell you that Connie wanted you for a middle grade art project and was also sending your picture books to another editor? 

PHIL:   Fast forward a bunch of months. I remember our phone conversations where you were pitching the Beast. It seemed like there was a lot of negative response except for one editor, who really liked it. I remember you saying, “I think she GETS it.” There’s probably a lesson in there somewhere...not every house is going to be predisposed towards something you feel has merit. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t have merit...just that it may not fit the house or the editor whose looking at it.

Also, let’s face it...Writers, illustrators and editors are all in the same boat. We’re all trying to tell stories to kids. We have the burden of trying to get noticed and they have the burden of trying to bring a vision into its proper form. We spend late nights banging our heads against the creative while juggling our uncertainty. They spend late nights banging their heads against the same creative, while juggling the money and their own uncertainty. Anyway, we're all in this together.

This publisher’s initial interest sent me over the moon. I was disappointed when they didn't pick it up, but it was immensely satisfying that there was interest from such a big and reputable house. Interlude: I read the Artists Market books with regularity. Most entries from publishers read something like “We're approached with 2000 submissions a year and we publish 4." So, having that interest, for me, was like summiting Everest.

JO: What is great is that during all of this, Phil worked above and beyond, maintained steadfast faith, and kept coming up with interesting stories and ways to make his mark in the industry.

And while, I’d love to ask him: How do you feel about this year and what you’ve been able to accomplish? Do you feel optimistic about your future in the industry?

I know the answer is mutual. We are looking forward to a recent submission moving forward and another offer moving into contract. It’s a great day when you know that there’s room for your books on a shelf at a house (and editors) of your dreams. Knowing you can make this happen with a lot of hard work, a little determination, and the belief that together you can make things happen. This, for me, defines the ideal, author-agent relationship.

Phil continues to make me laugh, produces the highest quality material, and there’s not a day that goes by that I do not thank my lucky stars. It’s been a rewarding partnership that makes me completely thrilled to be an agent for KidLit.

Thanks Jodell for all the great advice! 

We're trying to make this a regular monthly post, so if you have a question we can ask just write a comment below and we'll get it answered next time.

*Jodell Sadler is the founding agent and owner of KidLit College. She also teaches and presents on "pacing a story strong" nationwide.


  1. Snow Beast looks like a beast of a success! Congratulations!

  2. It's nice to read about an agent-author relationship which produced a win-win for both parties. So many negatives bounce around and this positive shoots those down. I'm looking forward to Phil's books and his fab art. I grew up on comic books-love cartoon art.

  3. What a great story! I'm looking forward to seeing the Snow Beast! And I LOVE Friday Barnes. She just oozes spunky brilliance! :D

  4. So happy for all concerned...especially the kids who will benefit from Phil's wonderful stories! Congrats, Jodell...and thank you so much for sharing this with us. ;)

  5. What an amazing author/agent story! I can't wait to see the Beast! Congrats to Phil & Jodell. It's interesting to see the negotiations, the behind-the-scenes in action. BRAVO. And, Phil has it right- Jodell is genuine, approachable and a champion for good work.