Our “Meet the Agency” webinar series, featuring Raven Quill Literary, is running through the month of April with presentations from four agents from Raven Quill. At the end of the series we are hosting a live virtual “Pitch Parlor” with the agents. For more information, including how to register for the webinars and sign up for a pitch session, go to https://epa.scbwi.org/events/webinar-series-meet-the-agency-rqla/.
Today on the EasternPennPoints blog, one of our Eastern PA SCBWI Equity and Inclusion Team members, Jenny Krumrine, interviews our final presenter in the “Meet the Agency” webinar series, literary agent Lori Steel. Lori will be presenting “The Magic of Revision” on April 28, 2022 at 7:00 p.m. Eastern time. We are also giving away a free manuscript critique by Lori to one lucky reader, so be sure to check out the details at the end of this interview!
A Café Chat with Literary Agent Lori Steel, by Jenny Krumrine
Jenny: Hi, Lori. Welcome to the EasternPennPoints virtual café!
Lori: Thank you for inviting me!
Jenny: What are you having to drink? And anything to eat with that? I’m in the mood for tea and a scone. Maybe that’s because I saw from your bio that you lived in Oxford, UK.
Lori: Tea and scones are a perfect pairing for an afternoon break! Coffee is my drink of choice in the mornings, but afternoons always include milky tea, often with a piece of toast and jam, or a Jaffa cake if handy.
Jenny: What did you do in the UK? What do you miss most about it?
Lori: You’ve done your homework! I actually studied history at the University of Liverpool for a year during my undergrad years where I met my husband. We moved to Oxford for him to pursue graduate work. While he studied, I worked at St. Hilda’s College, rowed crew, and raised a family. Our extended family still lives up north in the spectacular Lake District, so I consider both Oxford and Cumbria special places. Mostly, I miss our family and friends—especially over the past few years during the pandemic. But I also miss meandering walks that often end with a good bitter at a local pub.
Jenny: I’m really looking forward to your talk—The Magic of Revision. You describe revision as both the “real work” and the “real magic.” Some writers might feel that the “magic” in their story is the original spark that inspired them to write in the first place. Others might feel the “magic” is their plot. Can you give us a teaser about revision magic?
Lori: Transforming a blank page into a story is a special magic all unto itself. A creationism that can, at times, feel like an out-of-body experience. At least, that’s been my experience! But, for me, revision is a different kind of magic. This space is more analytical, process-oriented, and revelatory. It’s where we take graphemes and grammar, sentences and syntax, into skilled hands and sculpt, manipulate, flesh out until it becomes a living, breathing Story.
In this talk, The Magic of Revision, I hope to demonstrate how writers can approach revision through the five senses. We’ll discuss story development and specific tips and tools to help support revision organization.
Jenny: Your bio at ravenliterary.com describes you as working “editorially with clients to ensure their work shines before finding its perfect home.” What metrics do you use when evaluating a story? What elements are you looking for? How do you typically work with a client during the editorial process to make their work shine?
Lori: I’m not sure I use any metrics with my clients’ projects, per se, but certainly story craft and market viability both come into play. Of course, story development and revision look different for picture books and novels. Within each form, I need to consider the illustrative possibilities, the audience, and the narrative style and approach for each subject, among many other craft elements. However, even if I love the story, I must also be confident that I can place it in a good publishing home. That’s where the market comes into play.
Once a decision has been made to go out on submission (to editors) with a project, it’s time to revise until the pages sing and shine. That means looking at the manuscript globally before getting down to line-level edits. This often starts with a phone/Zoom conversation followed by one or more rounds of revisions before we feel confident that it’s ready for an editor’s eyes. Working with clients is a partnership and, in the end, revisions must resonate with their own creative vision of the work. One of the great joys of my job is receiving a client’s revised manuscript and discovering the treasure they unearthed during the revision process. The skill, dedication, and professionalism with which they approach each project is absolutely inspiring!
Jenny: How has children’s literature changed over your career? How do you see children’s literature evolving in the future? You have more than one perspective on this—as a librarian, as an agent, and you also have an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts.
Lori: Being an educator, school librarian, and writer before becoming a literary agent certainly provides me with a unique perspective on the evolution of children’s literature. However, while kidlit is ever-changing and, in many cases, acts as a bellwether on the state of childhood and young adulthood, there is one constant: their stories must engage and trust young audiences. I call these “sustaining stories,” and this is the quality I look for when evaluating a project. Stories that authentically speak to the trials and tribulations—and joys!—of growing up, without talking down to their audience. Books that speak to greater truths that young people experience without didacticism. These are books that stand the test of time, regardless of their topics.
Jenny: What kinds of stories are you gravitating toward?
Lori: I gravitate toward authentic, voicy, setting-rich stories where the first lines grab me and won’t let go. Like any reader, I yearn to be immersed in a new world where I come away a little changed because I experienced a new place, situation, emotion, and/or connection with a character. I gravitate toward authors who trust readers to meet stories where they are without “teaching them a lesson” as the purpose of their book. Young people have enough adults doing this every day! I’m on the lookout for those sustaining stories where I can picture both the perfect publishing home and imagine young readers requesting holds on these titles, whether they be humorous, mysterious, or dramatic. This may all sound ambiguous, but, unless it’s hard sci-fi or YA horror, I’m curious to find any story that grabs me and won’t let go. I guess you could say, I’m looking for story magic!
Lori Steel is a literary agent at Raven Quill Literary where she represents both authors and illustrators ranging from picture books through YA. Prior to agenting, Lori was an educator and school librarian where she had the special honor of finding just-right books for young readers. She holds an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Art’s Writing for Children and Young Adult Program and is a member of AALA. Lori lives with her family in Washington DC. When not engaged in bookish pursuits, Lori is probably walking their golden-chow mix or whipping up a new recipe. @Bookishsort
April 28, 2022 at 7:00 p.m. Eastern time
You’ve got a full draft, but now what? Revision! It’s where the real work—and magic—happens. But where to start? RQLA literary agent Lori Steel will discuss how to approach revision with an artist’s eye and a carpenter’s skill. The goal of the talk is for writers to add concrete strategies to jump-start the revision process and keep momentum going until their manuscript shines.
To register, please visit our registration page at https://epa.scbwi.org/events/webinar-series-meet-the-agency-rqla/.
Eastern PA SCBWI is giving away a free written critique (picture book and middle grade fiction or nonfiction and YA fiction (no horror or hard sci-fi, please) with literary agent Lori Steel to one lucky Eastern PA SCBWI member! For picture books, Lori will critique one full manuscript plus a 2- to 3-sentence pitch in the same document. For MG/YA, Lori will critique up to 10 pages of your manuscript, plus a one-page, single-spaced synopsis.
To enter, please comment on this blog post before 9:00 p.m. Eastern time on Saturday, April 16. We will choose the winner at random from those who comment. Must be a current Eastern PA SCBWI member to be eligible. Please include your full name as it appears in your SCBWI membership. If you’d like to comment on this blog post but not be entered to win (e.g., if you are not an Eastern PA SCBWI member or if you are not interested in a critique), simply state that along with your comment. Materials for the critique are due Friday, April 29, 2022. The winner will be announced in the comments section of this blog post, so check back after the deadline to see if you’re our winner! Instructions for submitting materials will be sent to the winner.