Hey, everyone, hope you’re getting as excited about the Pocono Retreat as I am! Deadlines are looming for critiques and portfolio reviews (April 7th!). If you haven’t registered yet, there’s still time. Just click here.
Tracy Marchini of BookEnds Literary will be speaking and giving critiques at the retreat, but LUCKY US, she’s here today, too!
LB: Hi there, Tracy, and welcome to the Eastern Penn Points Cafe! Can we get you something to drink?
TM: A hot chocolate, please!
LB: I hope you came hungry. What can we get you to eat?
TM: Are there chocolate croissants?
LB: There is chocolate everything. Want a chocolate cheeseburger? Just kidding–unless you actually wanted one. No? Okay. Croissant it is.
So, we’re really excited to have you on faculty for our upcoming 25th Annual Pocono Retreat! Your Sunday morning session, Ten Things the Children’s Market is (or is not!) Looking for in 2017, sounds great. Is this a session that will cover picture books through YA?
TM: Yes! Since I know that there will be writers across all genres at the conference, I hope to offer enough information that everybody leaves the room with some sort of take-away that is relevant to their career or work-in-progress.
LB: Big congratulations on your upcoming picture book debut, CHICKEN WANTS A NAP, which is now available for pre-order. Can you tell us a little bit about what inspired the story, and how long you’ve been writing?
TM: Thank you! Chicken Wants a Nap was actually inspired by a grad school assignment. At the time, I was a full time student earning my MFA in Writing for Children, was freelance editing, and was working part-time on a Dean’s Fellowship. The assignment was to write about a character’s best or worst day, and I was just absolutely exhausted that night. To me, the best thing in the world at that particular moment would have been the ability to take a nap. So out came this story of a barnyard chicken who desperately wants a nap, but is constantly interrupted.
I’ve been writing for a long time. I sent my first picture book submission out when I was a teenager. It went to boards (which, to be honest, probably had something to do with my age at the time) and I received a lot of encouraging feedback even as I was collecting rejections, so I kept writing, revising, and submitting. I also did a lot of exploratory writing when I first started. In addition to writing for children and teens, I tried literary fiction for adults, short stories, poetry, etc. (Somewhere there’s also a small handful of terrible, angsty song lyrics, and those will never see the light of day.)
After college, I worked as a newspaper correspondent, children’s book reviewer and freelance copywriter while also working as a Literary Agents Assistant. There’s such a different voice and structure involved in each of those types of writing, and I feel like it really honed my ability to draft in the proper structure – be it a picture book, a pitch letter, a press release or a novel.
But all that experience also brought me back to my real love – writing and representing books for children and teens.
LB: Can you tell us the last book you read that made you…
Say awwwww! – A Hungry Lion, or A Dwindling Assortment of Animals by Lucy Ruth Cummins (I should say that I “awwwed” at a particular spread, but that wasn’t the end of the story…)
Laugh out loud – Penguin Problems by Jory John; illustrated by Lane Smith (Love this type of humor! Would love to represent a book like this!)
Cry – This Is Where it Ends by Marieke Nijkamp. (Big, ugly tears.)
Learn something new – Florence Nightengale: The Courageous Life of the Legendary Nurse by Catherine Reef. (Intrigued by the idea that Florence Nightengale could do so much good but still believe in the miasma theory of illness until much later on in her life.)
Change – Fannie Never Flinched: One Woman’s Courage in the Struggle for American Labor Union Rights by Mary Cronk Farrell (This was an inspiring reminder that so many of the things we take for granted – like an eight hour work day – were fought for with actual blood and tears.)
LB: As an agent who is seeking a wide variety of material for young people, can you name anything that consistently gets your attention across categories?
TM: Across all categories, I like underdogs, unknown heroes and heroines, strong female protagonists and/or humor!
LB: Finish this sentence: If more writers would _________, my job would be so much easier!!
TM: If more writers would pay closer attention to submission guidelines and/or research their genre before submitting. I still receive manuscripts for adult fiction, picture books that are 3,000 words long, and ‘young adult’ manuscripts that are actually memoirs of an adult’s childhood.
LB: Any querying tips for those readers in the trenches?
TM: Always check the submissions page of the agency’s own website before submitting. An older article could have incorrect or outdated submissions information.
Also, if you can, try to find out what books or authors the agent already represents. If you’re writing in a very narrow niche, e.g. “My passion is writing books set in Chicago during the final year of Prohibition,” then you’ll probably have better luck with an agent that doesn’t already have a similar, established writer on their list. If you’re writing more broadly though, e.g. I like to write quieter, more literary picture books, then you probably would have luck with someone who does seem to gravitate towards those kinds of stories.
Finally, if you’re a picture book author, it’s important to send your most polished work… and if that’s not a good fit, please don’t dig deep into your backlist to submit again. As an agent, I’m happy to look at more work from an author even if I reject their first submission… but I want to see growth in subsequent submissions. It says to me that you’re continuing to learn and hone your craft, and that’s very attractive in a potential client.
LB: All right, Tracy, it’s now time for rapid-fire favorites! Take a deep breath and tell us your favorite….
Type of shoe – leather boots, I wear them pretty much every day
Book on the craft of writing – John Truby’s The Anatomy of Story looked at structure and character in a different way than I’d seen before
Vacation spot – France (though it’s been a while!)
Book as a kid – Chatty Chipmunk’s Nutty Day
Piece of playground equipment – The one where there’s a circular disk in the middle that you use to spin the set of horses or whatever character/animal you’re sitting on. Get a couple strong kids and you’ve got a decent ride!
Animal – duck (That one was easy!)