BookEnds reader question:
If one who has been a published children’s book illustrator forever-and is working towards Illustrator/author-would you recommend approaching a literary agent first, or try their luck at submitting to publishers? (and hoping you can find a literary agency that is looking for a team player) Sometimes its frustrating- who do you ask these questions to- I need a direction to focus on.
So, my short answer would be that I would be focusing on polishing your debut author-illo project and/or start submitting your portfolio to agents.
The thing is – as in any genre – if you start by shopping a project to publishers and then try to find a literary agent, a few things could happen:
You don’t get a publisher offer, and now you’re trying to find an agent with a project that’s been widely shopped. An agent can’t go back to a house that rejected the project – even if they know that perhaps a different editor than the one you submitted to would have been a better fit. (And that’s one of the huge benefits of having an agent – we spend so much time networking with editors and colleagues to figure out who is looking for what at any given moment.) So now that project is a little less marketable to agents.
You get a publisher offer, and now feel the pressure to find an agent before you accept or move forward. You don’t have to worry about finding an agent that wants to work with someone that has an offer – most agencies would be happy to hear that your project had interest. But that said – you may also find yourself saying “Yes” to the first agent who offered just because you want to move forward with the publishing deal – even if they’re not the best agent for you (or perhaps the best publisher offer, either).
I mean, maybe you’ll be cool as a cucumber. But I know how I can be as an author – even though I spend the majority of my day as an agent – and sometimes it’s hard to not want to yell, “YES! I WILL ACCEPT PEANUTS AND GUM WRAPPERS AS PAYMENT IF YOU PUBLISH THIS PASSION PROJECT OF MINE!”
It’s why plenty of agent/authors seek out representation from other agents. Because we believe in the value we bring to our clients, and of course want that for our own career too!
So I guess my thought is – if you know you want an agent, why not just start by finding an agent? Particularly since it seems like, from your comment, you’re really missing having someone to help you plan out your career moves/next steps. But that’s exactly what an agent would be there for – to help guide you and work to grow your career.
In truth, if you’re widely/well published as an illustrator in the current picture book market, I don’t think you’d have trouble finding an agent that’s interested in your current illustration and would be willing to work on your author-illo dummy with you.
I hope this helps!
This post was originally published on the BookEnds blog in June 2018.