Today on the EasternPennPoints blog we are featuring an interview by Virginia Law Manning with literary agent Laurel Symonds of The Bent Agency. Laurel will be presenting at the upcoming webinar “Picture Books as Physical Objects.” To learn more about the webinar and to register, go to https://epa.scbwi.org/events/webinar-picture-books-as-physical-objects-with-agent-laurel-symonds/
Virginia: Laurel, thank you so much for agreeing to present “Picture Books as Physical Objects” to Eastern PA SCBWI members on April 22. I’m looking forward to your webinar!
You have an amazing background! You’ve worked in many areas of the book world: at large and small publishers, in a library, and in a bookstore. How have your past positions helped you become a better agent?
Laurel: Oh my gosh, in more ways than I can count! When I began my career in publishing, I never could have predicted the path I’ve taken, but my well-rounded background and variety of experiences allow me to put on my “editor hat” or “marketing hat” to bring my expertise and give my clients context for revisions or an editor’s response to a submission or what is happening inside a publishing house during launch or a marketing plan or brainstorming opportunities for promotions and so much more.
Working at The Book Stall as a bookseller is also what I credit for sparking my interest in representing picture books. It’s hard to not fall in love with picture books when you see the newest and best-selling on beautiful display week after week. This allowed me not only to broaden my horizons on what a picture book could be but also to do a deep study of the form. I loved being able to hand sell books—especially to proud new grandparents, family and friends on their way to a baby shower, or young readers themselves.
Virginia: Like you, I’ve worked in many areas of the children’s book world. I have often thought about becoming an agent. What is your favorite thing about the profession?
Laurel: There are so many great parts of being an agent but what drew me to this career path is the ability to work closely with authors and illustrators. I love strategizing with them on how to build their careers and take them to the next level and be a resource for understanding the always unpredictable nature of this industry.
Also, as someone who is an introvert, self-motivated, and loves to travel (in nonpandemic times), the ability to work from wherever I want on my own hours is really appealing. Most of the time I’m working at home with my dog at my feet, but I’ve read manuscripts on the beach in Hawaii, received offers on a train, and reviewed queries at 30,000 feet.
Virginia: What do you wish picture book and chapter book writers knew about agenting?
Laurel: I wish picture book and chapter book writers knew that if you’re not an illustrator, there is no pressure to do your own illustrations or hire someone to illustrate your book! Although there are exceptions to every rule, most agents and editors who work on picture books or chapter books are happy to review text-only submissions.
Virginia: How can writers benefit from building their community in the book world? And what steps can they take to build their community?
Laurel: I firmly believe in the saying “A rising tide lifts all boats.” I recommend writers join SCBWI! I’m not saying that to pander; I truly recommend all creators consider becoming members of SCBWI for the community and educational opportunities. I also recommend joining or forming critique groups.
You can support other creators when their books publish by spreading the word. This can be in person in your own community through word of mouth or recommending your local library or bookstore carry the title. Support can also be shown online through social media and reviewing titles on retailer sites.
Virginia: Laurel, thank you so much for sharing your expertise with us today! I’m glad we had this opportunity to get to know you better before your webinar on April 22.
Friends, if you haven’t registered yet for Laurel’s webinar, Picture Books as Physical Objects, you’ll find the registration link below.
April 22, 2021 at 7:00 to 8:15 p.m. Eastern Standard Time
Registration is now open. $15 for SCBWI Members; $25 non-members
The youngest of readers interact with picture books in very physical ways—and we’re not just talking about chewing the cardboard or ripping out pages! We’ll consider how interactive elements, line breaks, page turns, and other techniques enhance the reading experience, focusing on picture books for ages 4+.
Laurel Symonds launched as a literary agent at The Bent Agency in Fall 2018 after nearly a decade of experience in the publishing industry. She began her career in the editorial department of HarperCollins Children’s Books/Katherine Tegen Books in New York City and has also held positions in the marketing department at a small publishing house, in a library, and as a bookseller at one of the nation’s best independent bookstores. As a literary agent, she is seeking children’s fiction and nonfiction, from picture books to young adult, particularly focusing on voices that have previously been underrepresented and stories that have been overlooked. Her profile and submission guidelines are at www.thebentagency.com and she can also be found online on Twitter and Instagram (@LaurelSymonds).