Ready for another sneak peek at the faculty for our upcoming Submission Shine critique intensive? Today we are featuring an interview with Sera Rivers, a literary agent at Speilburg Literary. Jenny Krumrine of our Eastern PA SCBWI Equity and Inclusion team conducted the interview. For more information about our January online critique event, go to https://epa.scbwi.org/events/submission-shine-online-critique-intensive/. Registration closes November 30!
An Interview with Literary Agent Sera Rivers, by Jenny Krumrine
Jenny: Hi, Sera! Welcome to the EasternPennPoints virtual café, where your order is limited only by your imagination. I think I’ll go with a literally bottomless latte and a blueberry scone. How about you?
Sera: I’ll go with a triple shot iced Americano (black, no sugar), a bottomless refillable water bottle, and a brownie. Cheers!
Jenny: Thank you so much for your involvement in our upcoming Submission Shine online critique intensive! Can you tell us about your career path and what drew you to becoming an agent?
Sera: I’ve always been a book nerd; reading and writing feel just as vital to life as breathing.
When I was a child, I lived in imaginary worlds more than the real world. I often snuck a flashlight into bed so I could read after bedtime; I could never wait until morning to see what adventures my “friends” got themselves into next. I wrote my first story at age six. It was about “three little old ladies” who were best friends their entire lives. (I think it was called THREE LITTLE OLD LADIES—very original, I know.) I’ve written ever since—more stories than I could ever count!
When I got laid off from my day job due to the recession in 2009, I took the opportunity to reinvent my career. After getting an MFA in writing for children, I worked in educational publishing for seven years and launched Avenue A Books, a children’s book imprint at Center for Responsive Schools. As Avenue A’s acquiring and managing editor, I worked with new and established children’s book writers and illustrators to create picture books and middle grade graphic novels from concept to publication. When I left educational publishing, agenting felt like a natural fit because it allows me to work with writers and illustrators on a wide variety of genres, formats, styles, and stories. Agenting is my dream job—I live in imaginary worlds every day!
Jenny: It’s inspiring to hear the passion in your voice! In Submission Shine, you’ll be providing online intensive critiques helping authors get their work submission ready. What are some elements that really make submissions shine?
Sera: Generally: Submissions that shine draw me into a world/story so deeply that I forget I’m critiquing and need to reread with my editor brain (I always read a submission at least twice before critiquing). These submissions have a compelling hook/premise, nuanced characters that I love (or love to hate), and a plot that has universal themes but from a distinct perspective.
Specifically: Polished pages. I’m not talking about a typo here or there; that doesn’t make or break a submission. I’m looking for a narrative that flows smoothly without clunky sentences; dialog that feels natural and distinct to each character; exposition that drops background clues and plot points without “info dumping”; and details that are pertinent to the plot, not just used for flowery language.
Jenny: What do you hope the creators will gain from participating?
Sera: My goal is to help them create a clear strategy for revision, as well as provide additional tools and resources that will help the creators hone their craft. I will also help creators prioritize their writing career goals.
Jenny: Submission Shine will also be a venue where prepublished creators will have the opportunity to receive feedback on their author/illustrator career as a whole. Drawing on your career as an agent, editor, and author, what are some insights you can share with us?
1. What I’ve learned throughout my career is that publishing is a very subjective industry. Here’s an analogy I liken to publishing:
You walk into your local bookstore. A staff member hands you a nonfiction book that they chose about the life of a prominent historical figure. They say, “This is the book you’re buying. You must read it at least ten times.” The book may be well written with a compelling plot; it might even be a bestseller! But if you walked into that bookstore hoping to peruse the young adult thriller section, the staff member’s pick will sit on your bookshelf unread for all eternity.
However, if you walk into that same bookstore and the staff member says, “Feel free to look around,” you’ll venture into every section that piques your interest. You might walk out of that store buying several books that you will read over and over again.
Publishing is the same way. Agents and editors must feel passionate about the books they represent/acquire to give that book the special care it needs to come into the world shining as it’s meant to be.
2. Ignore trends. What you’re seeing on bookshelves today were purchased two to four years ago. Write the book you feel most passionate about. Your passion will shine through your words and bring the story to life.
3. Remember that the tortoise wins the race! Publishing is the long game. Continue to hone your craft, learn writing and revision strategies, and accept feedback for revision. Your writing will only get better with time. If you’re passionate about your stories, you’ll find others who will connect to them as well. We all have a story (or two or a hundred) to tell. It just takes time to get it into the right hands.
Jenny: You have a passion for stories that address hard topics. As you say on your webpage, you look for stories with the “power to change lives.” What do you love about helping bring books with this kind of impact to young readers?
Sera: Children and teens may not feel comfortable or safe talking to the adults in their lives about tough topics that they or their peers experience. Books allow young readers to navigate tough topics safely and privately, while also broadening their knowledge of the resources and services available to them. As an agent, one of my top priorities is to help shepherd books about tough topics into the world to help young readers feel seen and validated. My hope is for young readers to learn they are not alone and to seek out trusted adults to get the help they need.
Jenny: Thank you so much for hanging out with me today! You’ve honestly uplifted me with your passion. It’s contagious!
Sera Rivers is a literary agent at Speilburg Literary. She represents picture books through young adult novels, including graphic novels, and is actively seeking stories by authors and illustrators who identify as BIPOC, LQBTQIA+, and other underrepresented and marginalized identities. She is especially looking for: graphic novels by author-illustrator creators only; MG/YA —horror; psychological thrillers; speculative fiction (no high fantasy); LGBTQIA+ romance; tough topics. Select picture books—historically excluded stories; tough topics; horror (author-illustrator only for horror). She does not represent adult fiction/nonfiction. Sera holds an MFA in writing for children from Simmons University. She worked as an editor in educational publishing for seven years and launched Avenue A Books, a children’s book imprint at Center for Responsive Schools. Now, as an agent, Sera provides editorial feedback to help clients get their manuscripts submission ready. At this time, Sera only accepts queries through referrals, conferences, and pitch events. Check out her full MSWL and status updates at SeraRivers.com.
Submission Shine Critique Intensive
Whether you have multiple submission-ready picture book manuscripts, write across age categories, have a variety of illustration pieces and illustrated works, or a combination of all of the above, Submission Shine is an opportunity to talk with one agent about four submission-ready works and your writing/illustrating career as a whole.
- Four 20-minute Zoom critiques with one faculty member of your choice
- One additional 20-minute Zoom meeting with your same faculty member to be used as either a career consultation or an opportunity to pitch additional work
- Five peer cohort critique group meetings
- Access to the webinar “Take Charge of Your Writerly Adventure” with Christine Carron
For more information and to register, go to https://epa.scbwi.org/events/submission-shine-online-critique-intensive/