A Conversation with a Children’s Book Agent (and a contest announcement), by Anthony D. Fredericks

Navigating  clip_image002[2] (1)   Nonfiction

A monthly column by Anthony D. Fredericks

interview-1992447__480Last month we discussed how you can get an agent for your book. This month we’ll talk with an agent (mine) about what she looks for in potential clients and in the books they write. My agent (Sandy) and I have been working together for almost twenty-five years, and she has shepherded over forty of my children’s books into publication.

TONY: What should authors know about agents?

SANDY: Authors have choices. They may choose whether or not to engage an agent, and they should be aware of a variety of available professionals. It is possible to negotiate/navigate the children’s publishing field, to an extent, without an agent. Many publishers entertain unsolicited submissions and remain open to new authors who approach them sans agent. The majority of larger traditional publishers still request representation, but there are many small to mid-size publishers and alternative publishing models to pursue without an agent.

TONY: What is a common misperception about your job?

SANDY: I always try to be up-front that I can’t devote all of my time to a single author. Sometimes I’m willing to be a counselor or cheerleader, but never a personal valet! Each author I represent deserves my attention and requires a share of valuable time; but, I’m not anyone’s exclusive agent.

TONY: What do you look for in a potential client (new author)?

kid readingSANDY: The first thing I look for is a manuscript that I love or that has the potential for me or others to love, either as is or with development. Equally attractive to me is an author who is talented, can write, and offers a unique voice or aspect. Generally, I prefer to take on an aspiring writer who has more than one manuscript available or ideas on the back burner . . . a writer who is seeking a career instead of a one-shot deal. Publishers prefer that too! I also look for a manuscript that is timely in its message or entirely unique in the market—publishers are searching for the same. Something fresh, sustaining, but that hasn’t been done a hundred times over.

TONY: What can you NOT DO for an author?

SANDY: I will never “promise a contract” up front. Children’s book publishing is a competitive, subjective, often fickle business. For any author to believe that an agent guarantees a ticket to success is a misperception. Also, I won’t stand behind a proposal or manuscript that I don’t believe in or that doesn’t resonate. Ultimately, this will tarnish our agency reputation or alter an editor’s perception of our tastes.

TONY: What makes a manuscript “easy” to pitch to an editor?

laptop writingSANDY: A manuscript must be well written. If the author can offer some specific points to pitch to the publisher (why they’ve written it, what’s important about it, etc.), I will include this in my cover letter. If I can quote an author in a cover letter . . . even better. If an author has crafted a book proposal targeting a specific publisher’s list, that is ideal. Those manuscripts have the best chance for publication.

TONY: If there is a secret to success in this very competitive business, what would it be?

SANDY: (1) Perseverance—for author, illustrator, and agent. Hang in there, to a fault. Believe in your work, then stick with it. If you get rejected, it’s not over. Also, realize when to say, “Okay, let’s try something different.” (2) Savvy—know the market/editorial tastes, with or without an agent. A more informed author is always a better author . . . most “new” authors aren’t knowledgeable about current trends and events in the industry. Do your research.

TONY: What is the best piece of advice you can offer new children’s authors?

outside writingSANDY: Hang in there. Research—get educated about the market and about the business. Don’t quit your day job. Honor your writing passion. Take it seriously. For starters, don’t rely on it to put bread on the table. That should come in time! Write as much as you can, wherever and whenever, on a regular basis even if you’re not creating a book every day.

TONY: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

SANDY: I’d like to emphasize that a good personal relationship and loyalty between author and agent is primary. I believe there is an unwritten code of ethics in this business, which should be respected. Some authors never honor the agent’s hard work and ultimate goal to build a signature group of clients. Bottom line: Agents need our successful authors as much as they need us!


In discussions with master blogmaster, Laura Parnum, of Eastern Penn Points, a change is coming to the “Navigating Nonfiction” column. We’d like to offer a wider range of writing topics—for both fiction and nonfiction authors—for maximum impact to our readers. Topics may include (but are not limited to) the following: characterization, plot, points of view, overcoming writer’s block, contracts, editing, common writing mistakes, how to generate ideas, how to begin a story, how to end a story, manuscript formats, verbal clutter, hybrid publishers, and self-publishing. Also included could be a Q&A section.

But first, we need a title for this new column on writing children’s books . . . and that means a contest! WHAT WOULD YOU SUGGEST AS A COLUMN TITLE? Send your ideas to epa@scbwi.org by no later than July 10, 2019 (please use “Column Contest” in the subject line). The person submitting the winning title (as determined by Laura and myself) will win an autographed copy of Writing Children’s Books: Everything You Need to Know from Story Creation to Getting Published (https://amzn.to/2YbaS0D).

So, fire up those brain cells and send along some possible column titles (there’s no limit to the number of potential titles you can submit). The winning title will begin headlining the (“new and improved”) column in August 2019.



Tony is an award-winning author of more than fifty children’s books. He has also authored Writing Children’s Books: Everything You Need to Know from Story Creation to Getting Published (https://amzn.to/2tREKCa).

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