On Friday I was in Foyles Book Store on Charring Cross Road with a hundred or so other SCBWI members hobnobbing with children’s book agents. I have a list of picture book texts to sell and I wanted quite simply to make contacts so I could send submissions directly to someone rather than the impersonal Dear Submissions Team (or overwhelmed slush pile reader). I also wanted any tips on what they were looking for and a heads up on which agents were particularly friendly to new picture book writers. (Lots want writer/illustrators or illustrators only)
This is in general what agents are looking for across the age ranges.
Clear plot direction/ clever plots/ mystery
Natural writing (voice)
Characters readers want to spend time with (and empathise with)
Can I sell this? A manuscript that evokes a passionate response/ enthusiasm (writer has to have this first and convey it)
When I spoke 1:1 with picture book agents they couldn’t tell me what they wanted. They just said simply send it and we’ll know when we read it. Which is somewhat frustrating, though humour was sort after. Rhyme is okay if it is top quality otherwise forget it.
What I did find out however is that Young Readers are a tough market to break into (aren’t all genres!)because a lot of well known picture book writers are being asked to convert picture books into longer texts for this age group directly by their publishers. I asked also about illustrated stories as a stand along or part of a collection (e.g Fairy Tales) Apparently they don’t sell so well but there are a few about and this may depend on the publisher. Oxford Uni Press and Usbourne have a lot of story collections or series reads in their catalogue.
The most encouraging take out of the evening was that the agents were all very optimistic and encouraging. They want to see great ideas and great writing. They are literally waiting for it to land on their desks. If they turn down a manuscript it is purely that manuscript at that time, not the writer or illustrator.
Writers have to bounce back with bigger and better ideas. The idea is king.