SCBWI Recap #4: Agents View the Marketplace

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Much like yesterday’s SCBWI recap, today’s also features a moderated panel. This panel was led by Lin Oliver, and she asked four agents to give us their views on today’s marketplace.

The agents on the panel were Ginger Clark, Ken Wright, Josh Adams and Lisa Grubka.

What is the state of the children’s lit market?

  • GC: MG is coming back, and editors are looking for strong MG; dystopian still strong in YA, but it’s time to look at more unusual creatures for paranormal
  • KW: Young MG is growing; picture books remain tough, but some are selling
  • JA: Market is strong; editors are cautious but there’s been a surge in hiring and acquisitions
  • LG: Dystopian is hot right now, but don’t chase trends; publishers are beginning to understand how many adults are reading YA and read now with an eye for crossover potential

What should authors understand about foreign rights?

  • GC: When you write, don’t think, ‘This will be huge in Germany’, but don’t write something that is super American and therefore difficult to translate; make sure your agent is aware how much money can be made in translations
  • KW: Business is just as subjective in other parts of the world
  • JA: Foreign partners also takes a cut; much better deal having one agent sell direct overseas
  • LG: Agent/publisher should have an eye to how they’ll market abroad and use any foreign aspects of the author to promote

What rights should authors retain, especially with new platforms emerging?

  • KW: All of them
  • JA: Theme park rides don’t come along often
  • GC: Publishers want audio to be boilerplate, but don’t just give it to them; there is conflict between publishers and film studios regarding multimedia and enhanced ebooks rights
  • KW: Inserting reversion language into contracts is good idea, so unused rights revert back to author
  • JA: More publishers are asking for audio, even if they don’t do audio; the more they grab, the higher the advance gets; don’t grant film and commercial rights to publishers
  • LG: So much new technology and no one knows what the next platform will be, so publishers are grabbing all they can get

Do enhanced e-book and print coincide?

  • JA: Convergence is key; consumer decides the platform they want to view/read on; while e-books have grown exponentially, it’s still a small fraction compared to print; always include a clause in contract to renegotiate rights three years later, depending on market place

Self-publishing is changing the definition of what published means. What impact does this have for agents?

  • GC: Ethically, can agent function as packager for client? Should they take a cut? There’s a change to ethics codes coming; Wylie can do what he did because he isn’t in AAR; agents have to figure out how they’ll change their roles

How do you assess the business in terms of conglomeration and how that affects the unpublished and midlist authors?

  • LG: It’s hard, but there are still imprints that publish new authors; houses are trying to figure out how to use money to promote everyone on the list but are beholden to Amazon more than they realize
  • JA: In some cases it’s easier to sell a debut than subsequent books because there’s no track record to compare
  • KW: It’s frustrating that children’s books have been following adult in focusing on big sellers; but editors are still looking for that great new voice
  • GC: We’re headed into the golden age of children’s books in publishing houses, especially in foreign markets; houses are watching what’s happening in children’s market and modeling based on what they see

What are the primary services your provide? What is a good/not good relationship?

  • JA: Team work; all striving for best for clients and all being on same page; doesn’t see himself as editor of the client’s book, but more like a realtor, he doesn’t redecorate the house, but stages it to help you sell
  • KW: A good agent is your first editor; plays bad cop to your good cop
  • LG: Edits quite a bit; whatever it takes to give the project the best possible chance, even if it takes three rounds of edits; communication is key
  • JA: Strategize together; agents wants to know what you’re working on next, if multiple genre, etc.
  • GC: Not your therapist, best friend or mother; is your bad cop, longest professional relationship
  • JA: There isn’t one approach; it’s what’s right for you; they sometimes act as your shrink or direct you to a good one; job is to instill in you the confidence you need
  • KW: It’s case by case

Is there a bad time to submit to agents?

  • KW: Summer is better for him
  • JA: The time to submit is when your work is really ready; when you can’t make it any better
  • GC: Don’t submit two weeks before or after foreign fairs
  • LG: It’s a 24/7 culture; there’s a spike during the foreign fairs, but they’re busy all the time
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