Thursday, July 21, 2011

SCBWI TEAM BLOG Pre-Conference Interview: Brenda Bowen

Brenda Bowen
With 25-plus years in children’s publishing--as editorial director of Henry Holt & Books for Young Readers, Scholastic Press, Disney/Hyperion, and Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing--Brenda Bowen began agenting at Sanford J. Greenburger Associates in 2009.

She reps a slew of talented writers and illustrators of picture books, graphic novels, and middle-grade and teen fiction (as well as a few authors who write books for grown-ups). Plus she's written a number of award-winning picture books under the name Margaret McNamara (and is herself repped by Greenburger).

With her wealth of experience and perspectives, who better to serve as faculty at the 40th Annual SCBWI Summer Conference? Here Brenda clues us in on a session she's presenting, offers advice on critique meetings, and gives some helpful Dos and Don'ts.

To learn more about Brenda Bowen, visit her website.

At the SCBWI Summer Conference you're doing a session called "The Art of the Deal: A Publisher and An Agent Take It to the Mattress." Sounds exciting! Please explain what we're in for. (I'm assuming it's in no way a tie-in to the poolside pajama party.)

Alessandra Balzer and I are taking it the mattresses in the metaphorical, or Godfatherly, sense. We're going to duke it out over an acquisition: she'll be the gracious-yet-determined acquiring editor, and I'll be the rapacious-yet-equitable agent. We've come up with one fabricated acquisition and we'll take our audience through the process from submission letter to winning bid. Along the way there'll be a few hiccups, just to keep it interesting and informative. This is a session for people who want to know exactly what it takes to sell and buy a book.

You have decades of editorial experience and are a writer yourself. How does your background effect your agenting style?

Decades! Yes, I suppose it's true. The editorial experience allows me help the author to get her book into shape to show a publisher. I like to make the book as strong as possible without wringing every drop of creativity from the author so that there's something left to give when the editor asks for more changes. Having been an editor for so long also enables me to interpret what publishers are saying (e.g., "Fish on the table!"). Being a writer myself allows me to see things solely from the author's point of view. I can sympathize with their emotions--from torrents of unchecked rage (as a result of, say, a bad review), to childish elation--"They like me! They really like me!" (as a result of a good one).

Are you open to taking on new clients? If so, what areas interest you most? (I read conference notes on someone's blog that said you're not big into YA--true?)

Yes, I am open to new clients, especially in middle-grade and YA. I am big into YA and always have been, what I'm not so into is YA paranormal.

You're doing manuscript critiques during the conference. Can you offer some advice to writers on getting the most from a critique meeting?

Honestly, I think writers should use the time to get whatever they want out of the critique. If you, dear Writers, only want to hear about the good things in your manuscript--say so. If you want brutal honesty, gird your loins. If you want to hear about the market, go ahead and ask. If you want to know what the editor is looking for, lead with that question.

Finally, please offer some Dos and Don'ts for interacting with agents in a conference environment.
  • DO remember that agents can't read manuscripts on the spot.
  • DO listen: If an agent says, I am just too worn out to hear your pitch right now, don't pitch right now.
  • DO bear in mind that agents are as open as possible at Conference, but may be less accessible when they're back at their desks, so if an agent says, Go ahead, talk to me, then...
  • DO take advantage of the fact that at SCBWI you can have a real conversation, in person.
  • DON'T think that one agent's opinion is every agent's opinion. Publishing is extremely subjective.
  • DON'T only ask about ebook royalties.
  • DON'T post photos of agents dancing in their pajamas. Please.
  • DON'T forget that we need you as much as you need us.


Writer Jodi Moore said...

Great blog - great advice! And I promise, no pictures of agents dancing in their PJs. ;-) Thanks for sharing - can't wait for LA! :D

Lee Wind said...

Wonderful interview and great advice! Thanks to you both,