Tina Dubois an agent at ICM partners, where she specializes in middle grade and young adult fiction. Her client list includes Laurel Snyder, Anne Ursu, and Laura Ruby, authors of books that have been gilded with award stickers (and possibly cat hair).
Kirsten Hall is president of Catbird, a children's literary and illustration agency. She's also an author, and her first trade picture book was a 2014 New York Times Notable.
Kirsten grew up in the publishing industry. Her mom worked in publishing, and she got to hang out with lots of incredible authors and illustrators growing up. "It was an interesting way to grow up.... I'm proud to take the torch and carry it on." She's been an agent for about 9 years. She loves to do picture books. The books she likes and wants to make are books that make kids think, laugh, feel less alone, and become better people. She mostly represents illustrators and picture books, but she's her own boss and can do more things when it suits.
On today's marketplace:
Kirsten says the world is a problematic place these days. We need books like Alexandra Penfold's ALL ARE WELCOME.
Tina says it's a great time to be publishing books. There's big, ambitious, bold work happening. Unusual story structures and nonfiction are happening. But as more people come to the table, it's a harder time for books that are quiet or have a more "classic" feel—and that's not something that can be solved by adding a car chase.
Kirsten: Stores are starting to realize that books that are spine out are hard to sell. B&N is, as a result, taking fewer books and showing them face out. This means that publishers sell fewer titles to B&N. That forces publishers to start looking at indie stores for distribution.
Bloggers and book reviewers online are also helping raise awareness of books.
Tina: When we're talking about diversity, we're still talking to mostly white writers; Tina wants to shift the discussion so that we don't center white viewpoints in our stories all the time. "For the writers who are telling #ownvoices stories, please don't feel that you have to make it understandable for me, as someone who is part of the dominant white culture."
How many queries do agents? What makes someone stand out?
What makes a book stand out to Tina—the inbox is a potential bookstore, and she asks herself what she feels like reading. "Ooh! Dragons! I didn't know it was on the menu!"
How can we stay abreast of the market?
Paying attention to trade journals like Publishers Weekly and Publishers Lunch have useful information about editors and agents, Kirsten said.
How can authors and illustrators protect themselves from unscrupulous agents?
Tina: It's perfectly acceptable to compare notes with other authors. The assumption that it's you is a narrative worth unpacking--it's not you.
Kirsten: The agent-client relationship should look different for everybody. There's no room for deceit. There is zero room for it. There is room to support your client in different ways. It's a business relationship, but you're making books together, and that becomes quite personal. The examples of deceit recently seen are an anomaly. This is a largely trustworthy business.
How do you know what project you should do?
Kirsten: One that you had to dig deep to do. Spend a lot of time working on what you're working on. Polish it and polish it. Don't rush it. It really shows when you're put your time in. Always be you and do you.