An Interview with Literary Agent Stefanie Molina, by Joy Ogbonnaya

We’re so excited to introduce Stefanie Molina, our final fabulous faculty member for Submission Shine, the online critique intensive coming in January. So you have a handful of manuscripts or illustration styles ready to query. Which one should you lead with? Is your other work strong enough to hook an agent if they request to see more? And what will an agent think about the variety of work you bring? 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. The deadline to register is November 30, so please click here for all the details:

In preparation for Submission Shine, Eastern PA SCBWI Equity and Inclusion team member Joy Ogbonnaya had a chat with literary agent Stefanie Molina of Ladderbird Literary Agency in our virtual café. Here’s what they had to say:

An Interview with Literary Agent Stefanie Molina, by Joy Ogbonnaya

Joy: Hi, Stefanie! Thanks for joining me at the EasternPennPoints Virtual Café. How are you feeling today? 

Stefanie: I’m great! It’s Monday, so I always take a slow start and try to set a good tone for the rest of the week. 

Joy: Awesome! Every time I have an opportunity to speak with a literary agent, I am literally in awe. I see agents as being the door writers and illustrators need to go through to get their “breakthrough” like we say in church . . . LOL. What does it mean for you to be in this industry, especially as a woman of color?

Stefanie: It’s both exhilarating and exhausting. I came into this industry wanting to do everything to help everyone, especially communities of color. I think as women of color we are absolutely conditioned to give and give, and that’s the mentality I came in with. The industry, and some incredible mentors, quickly taught me that in order to keep serving my communities, I needed to first care for myself. It’s been hard to accept that I can’t help everyone, or make everyone happy, because that’s a big part of why I became an agent: to give people the good news and make their days. And I still feel the pressure of trying to fix all the things for BIPOC myself and with the way that I do work. But I’ve learned to focus on what I can do with the space I have, and that has led to being able to offer more and better support to individuals than I would have been able to otherwise. 

Joy: Wow! Stefanie, thanks for your honest response to that question. I guess we need more people of color in the space advocating for and looking out for creators. Querying can be a hard, long process, and I have heard people say, keep developing other manuscripts as you query. Do you agree with this, and why do you think this is important?

Stefanie: I agree, for a lot of reasons! First, I think it makes business sense. The story you’re querying may not be the one to get you an agent, and it’s good to have some in your back pocket. Plus, your craft will continue to develop, and you can continue to improve as you work through other manuscripts. Second, and more importantly, I think it is a way to care for yourself. Like you said, querying is a long, hard process, and if you’ve hung all your hopes on that story, and it’s all you’re thinking about, you won’t get to spend time in what you love. Working on other manuscripts during querying helps to distract you, remind you that there is always a next thing, and remind you why you’re here in the first place: because you love writing. That’s something our very flawed industry makes people lose sight of.

Joy: What advice do you have for writers and illustrators who have been querying for so long and haven’t gotten their breakthrough?

Stefanie: This is something I struggle with as an agent. It frustrates me so much to not be able to give an exact answer, especially to people who I know are wondering: is it them (is it prejudice?) or their writing? Especially for people of color. The fact that I can’t answer that question has been a source of so much grief and anger for me.

I think the most helpful thing I can say here is to keep working on your craft, because there is always something to improve. Set boundaries around your writing and around how long querying is sustainable for you. 

And find your people. Find people you trust deeply to answer for you: is it your writing or is it prejudice, something outside your control? Because it gets to us after a while—that question. It really does. You need people to give you that clarity and keep you on track. 

I hope in my career I will get to see that question become obsolete.

Joy: Can I throw in an AMEN! right there? Fall is here! Oops! I can’t believe I am even saying that. It is amazing how fast this year is going by, and here we are, only a few weeks before a new year. What would you say was a major highlight this year for you as a literary agent, and what are you hoping for in 2023?

Stefanie: I made my first sale this year, with a gorgeously talented client, to a dream imprint! That was huge. Emotionally, I feel more at peace with what I am capable of, and more at peace with setting boundaries at work. I’m more confident. I know in my bones that if a potential client decides to accept my offer of representation, they are making a good decision. 😉 And, I’m proud of how I’ve been able to care for my current incredible clients this year.

In 2023, I’m hoping for more of the same, which feels good to say. I know there is still more to learn, and I can’t wait.

Joy: What are you most looking forward to in the online critique intensive, and how can participants best prepare for the sessions so they can make the most of it?

Stefanie: I’ve never worked within this structure before, so I’m most excited to have multiple meetings with each participant in order to give them deeper support. In the past I’ve found it difficult to give meaningful advice to folks in typically shorter meeting times. I feel like with Submission Shine I’ll be able to get to know the authors behind the stories, which is always a pleasure.

I think participants should bring all the questions. I love answering questions and demystifying the industry as much as I can! So don’t be shy to ask any and everything. No question is too small. Come with specific questions about your work, too, if you have them!

Joy: Thank you so much for spending this time with me. Any last words from you?

Stefanie: I’m so excited to mentor some wonderful writers! Thank you for the opportunity!

And to my writers of color and other marginalized writers: I pledge to continue to do my best for you every day.

Joy: Thank you so much, Stefanie! 

Stefanie Molina is an agent at Ladderbird Literary Agency. Prior to becoming an agent, she spent her career advocating for marginalized folks in publishing as a technical editor at a national laboratory, senior editor at the literary journal F(r)iction, and book coach and editor for women of color. She is Asian Latina (Mexican, Japanese, and Irish) and holds a Bachelor of Arts in English and a Bachelor of Arts in Communications, both from the University of California at Davis. Aside from reading, she enjoys hiking, swimming, baking, and playing the piano. Her favorite place in the world is Yosemite National Park. Stefanie is looking for BIPOC stories, inclusive of intersectional identities. She especially adores adventurous stories and works that incorporate food, animals, the outdoors, and intergenerational relationships. She’s open to cookbooks and baking books, picture books, MG, YA, and adult; her favorite genres include contemporary fantasy, mystery, thriller, character-driven horror, empowering historical fiction, and coming-of-age stories. Bonus points for steamy romance in any adult genre!

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.

Registration includes 

  • 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

Registration deadline is November 30!

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