Spring has sprung, or it should do very soon, but I’ve made good use of all of the snow that has come my way in the meantime. As you can see on my website, my talk at the Royal College of Physician’s Edinburgh is available to view online, and you are welcome to contact me if you have any comments or questions. The talk has been turned into a paper, which will appear in the Journal of Visual Communication in Medicine’s April publication.
I also had the privilege of going up to Sunderland to visit with Andy Martin of The Silver Sunbeam, where I got to see the Wet Collodion process first hand and two original Victorian cameras! It was such an amazing experience for a photographic historian – especially when I discovered Andy still uses an 1880s manual in the processing of plates and photographs. Andy has made a few small updates in terms of chemical processing, and the replacement of tin with aluminium. These updates keep the heart of the medium intact with a more consistent result. I was in photo-nerd heaven. The portrait from my visit is on the “Writing” page of this website, or to see more of Andy’s work and his cameras, visit the Silver Sunbeam website.
The other half of my life has been focusing on my dream of becoming a children’s writer. Over the winter I wrote the first four in a picture book series and carefully edited them before sending them off to parents with young kids and two writer friends I know. After getting feedback, carefully thinking and tweaking the time has come for that all-important search for a literary agent.
The other academics and writers I know met their literary agents through friends or colleagues, if not at a book fair. In contrast, I have begun by attempting the road more travelled, but less successful: sending proposals off to agents I have never met. Why? In all honestly, it was partly because I wanted to succeed on my own merit rather than through connections. The other reason, though, was that I wanted the right agent. Not every agent is a perfect match, even if they like your work or your project, and that was the focus on my search.
My connections and the book fairs I go to are largely focused on non-fiction adult work. While I will absolutely make good use of networking while at these events, I have yet to come across an agent working in the youth market, let alone picture books. So, the search had begun, and I have sent off my proposal to a few agents.
For those of you familiar with the process, you can stop reading here. For anyone else, I thought it might be useful to answer some basic questions about literary agents. First, why do writers have literary agents? While you don’t need a literary agent to get published, or to self-publish, having one can be an asset to any writer, in any field. Literary agents have connections with editors and are more likely to get your book read, and read by an editor who is looking for work like yours. In addition, literary agents have experience with publishing contracts and can work to get you the best possible deal, with forethought into marketing your book, rights to the book and the concept and many other considerations that your individual book may bring up. The literary agent is an industry expert, and in this way, they are a helping hand.
The second thing I want to address is choosing a literary agent since this was the question I have been considering for the past few months. Part of my concern was agents that take on picture books. This narrowed the field immediately. If you are writing general adult fiction, there are a plethora of agencies out there for you. If you focus in on a niche genre – such as science fiction or crime – it helps to find agents familiar with these genres, and ensure an agency will even consider these manuscripts. In the area of children’s publishing, YA and Middle Grade fiction appeal to a wider range of agents than picture books, because it is a niche in the market. So I took note of any literary agents that worked exclusively with picture books as well as agents that represent picture book writers I admire.
Another key consideration for me was location. Living in London, I am lucky enough to focus on agents that work out of London. There are literary agents all across the UK – some of whom I would love to work with – but I wanted to make a list of agents with a top ten list, and only one non-London agent made the top ten. This is because I really want to build a career, and I feel that working with an agent I can easily visit and see face-to-face means I can work to build a career that is personal and based not just on my writing, but my personality.
What do I mean by this? Well, basically, I love reading to children. I really, truly do. It’s something I have a good deal of experience in and I’ve always loved connecting children with literature and ideas in this way. So when (I hope!) I am lucky enough to be published, I want an agent and publisher who will send me out to schools and libraries and bookstores and let me really be a part of telling the story, as well as writing it. That was something I thought would require having a personal relationship with my agent and being able to meet with them in person.
These three considerations were key for me in making my agent list. I now have a list of twenty-three agents in a carefully designed excel spreadsheet with a top ten list. I’ve applied to three agents at a time, which was the advice of a few writer friends, and I have logged in my excel spreadsheet who I’ve submitted to (meaning which individual agent), when I submitted, and when I expect to hear back. I’ll just keep plugging along methodically. If – and I really hope this doesn’t happen – I get to six rejections, I will take a hard look at the series and reconsider what I’m sending out. But having edited it, had parents and other writers give me feedback; I am hopeful the project is in good condition, and someone will see the spark in it!
I promise to keep you updated honestly because if there are any aspiring writers out there, you deserve to know that the process can be hard and have rejection. On that note, I am very willing to hold my head high and say I’ve already had two. Not on this series, though. I have another stand-alone picture book I wrote years ago, that has been through a lengthy editing process and I took the leap and submitted it. The two swift rejections made me crumble, but I asked around and discovered that lone picture books are rarely even considered by agents if the writer is previously unpublished. So, I am putting that book aside, and moving forward with the series. As of today, no immediate replies; I think that is a step forward.
Wish me luck!