Thursday, February 10, 2011
Interview with Bree Ogden
If you are new to writing for children or are an aspiring author feverishly working away, there comes a time when you finally finish that manuscript and will start the overwhelming search for what I like to call “the guardian of the gateway” that can help you take the next step in your journey. I am very fortunate to have such a guardian by my side. Her name is Bree Ogden, and she is my savvy, fearless, and talented literary agent with Martin Literary Management. I asked Bree if she would have a few moments to talk about some topics that I hear popping up a lot at conferences, on blogs, in tweets, and around writer circles. This is what she had to say.
In the past year, what have you learned about being an agent?
Oh dear. I have learned so much about everything in the past year. The truth is, an agent is an anthropologist of sorts. The more I learn about people—their likes and dislikes—the more I learn about being an agent. The more I understand reading habits and burgeoning habits, the more I learn about being an agent. An agent needs to have an eye for these things. Every day I get a better idea of what needs to be on bookstore shelves and what needs to be pulled.
What is the biggest misconception hopeful-authors-to-be have about agents?
A lot of writers get the impression that when an agent passes on a query or manuscript that it means we didn’t like it or that is “wasn’t good material.” I have had to pass on so many manuscripts that I really enjoyed because there were other factors playing a role in my ultimate decision. Sometimes a manuscript might compete with one of my previously signed clients. It might have one too many naughty words for my taste. Or sometimes, I might really enjoy reading it, but my instincts simply say “no.” These are not things that say: YOUR MANUSCRIPT IS TERRIBLE! These are things that say: it wasn’t for me, but someone else will love it. So to answer your question more directly: I think writers misconceive just how subjective an agent’s job is.
You get a lot of submissions. Some from self-published authors. Can you talk to us about the pros and cons of self-publishing from an agent perspective?
There are rules and general ideas about self-publishing—of course these rules have exceptions and the general ideas are changing every day.
But as it stands right now, the cold hard truth is: if you self-publish and you only sell a few hundred copies of your book, all that the publishers will see is that your book did not sell. If you think that self-publishing is a gateway to traditional publishing, you have to understand that’s an exception to the rule.
However, I’m not going to say that the model isn’t shifting. Amazon.com, bn.com, and eReaders have made it incredibly appealing for an author to self-publish. It’s quick and painless. Whereas trudging through all the steps of traditional publishing is a much harder and slower process.
You simply have to evaluate what you want out of your publishing experience. Are you willing to put in the work to self-publish and sell thousands of copies of your book? Can you do your own PR and marketing? Can you shell out the money up front? Do you want more say in the editing and design of your final product? Is this book just for your family and friends? These are all things to think about when considering the self-publishing option.
When should a writer self-publish?
There is no objective answer to this question. I can’t say that a writer should never self-publish and I can’t say that a writer should self-publish. It’s a personal decision that should be very carefully examined, weighing the pros and cons in relation to each specific author. I will definitely say that a lot of research should be done prior to self-publishing. Once it is done, it cannot be undone and it could adversely affect the future of your publishing career.
However, as I briefly mentioned above, an extremely appropriate instance of self-publishing is when a book is for posterity’s sake. Many people will self-publish histories, journals, memoirs, etc., for their family members.
You represent several graphic novels. What should writer/artists know about submitting these type of books and how is the market receiving them?
From what I can tell, there is no model to selling a graphic novel. Some editors want to see five sample panels up front, some want 10 sample panels. Some editors want to choose the artist, some want you to bring them an artist. Some editors want a finished project (art and script), others will buy off concept alone.
But what I DO know is that most editors are looking for really unusual, unique artwork right now (think Koko Be Good). Also, graphic novel scripts must be scripted out in proper format (many books can help teach you this.)
Me personally, I like it when artwork is submitted with the script. I recently learned that finding the perfect artist for a graphic novel script is like finding a Taylor Swift fan that likes Kanye West. That’s not to say I won’t look at just scripts. There is a benefit to scripts without art attached…they give the editor more room to make the project perfect for them.
The market is receiving them really well. I mean, of course you’ve got DC, Marvel, Image, IDW, Dark Horse, etc., that are always going to do great because they are the home to our beloved superheroes (Team DC!!). Outside of those houses, it’s a bit harder to successfully pull off a graphic novel, but once it is successfully pulled off, most of them do really well. The types that do the best are the quirky ones (Ghostopolis), politically motivated ones (Persepolis), memoir graphic novels (Fun Home, Maus), adaptations (Howl: A Graphic Novel), and hybrids (Wimpy Kid).
What are some of the coming and going trends in publishing right now for children's books?
Coming trends? Thrillers. Everyone wants The Scare. Dark, scary, suspenseful books. People may disagree with me, but I feel like this is blowing up or will blow up very soon. This doesn’t necessarily mean paranormal. We are seeing John Grisham and Orson Scott Card writing thrillers for YA and middle grade…this isn’t going away, it’s growing: thrillers for kids. Another trend is science fiction, space opera types.
Going? Paranormal for YA. That’s a no brainer. Yes, they will always stock the shelves, but they are losing steam. Notice I emphasize “for YA.” I don’t think paranormal is going anywhere in the middle grade genre, at least not for a while. But there is too much YA paranormal and editors are becoming increasingly pickier about what they buy.
Are you currently open or closed to submissions right now? If open, what are you looking for?
Yes, sir. I am open to submissions. My wish list includes but is not limited to: a serious middle grade/YA zombie manuscript, a Dexter-ish type YA black comedy, a manuscript written in the era of Mad Men with panache and style, a faux memoir (YA/MG/graphic novel). I’m looking for boy-centric chapter books for early readers (5-8 years old). I would LOVE a good hybrid. In YA, I love science fiction, think Battlestar Galactica. Light on the romance! Not a huge fan of overwhelming or unrealistic romantic storylines. I love horror, gritty chicks, witty dialogue, and something that makes me think long after I put it down. Who doesn’t want that?
I want to thank Bree so much for her generosity and taking a break from being her usual awesome self to stop by the blog and talk with us. To read and learn more about Bree you can go to:
Or read her very informative blog – This Literary Life http://agentbree.wordpress.com/
Or find her on Twitter @breeogden
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