Posts Tagged ‘Marla Frazee’

Quick update: I was not one of the three finalists in Brenda Drake‘s Show Me the Voice Blogfest, but I am thrilled to have been a semi-finalist.  I had a great time participating.  You should go read the finalists’ entries, as they are fantastic.

Meanwhile, this is a post I meant to write a while ago, but it fell by the wayside.


This really is Marla and Me

One of the highlights of attending the Big Sur Children’s Writers workshop last December was that I got to participate in a critique group with none other than Marla Frazee.  I jotted down this poem shortly thereafter, and figured I would debut it on the blog today in honor of the start of National Poetry Month.  It also makes sense as an April Fool’s Day post because it exaggerates the truth just a tad… Maybe you’ll recognize the liberties in the lines.  Bonus points if you can name the titles of Marla’s works in the poem.  🙂


Marla and Me

Here is a picture of Marla and me
After swapping fantabulous stories.
Equally awed by the other’s raw talent,
Predicting untold future glories.

Because that’s the way it is
With Marla and Me.

All the World is a mighty fine place
When Marla is writing her books.
As such a star team, when we’re deep into craft,
People oft give us envious looks.

Because that’s the way it is
With Marla and me.

She has a keen eye for finding the flaws
That obscure a manuscript’s brilliance.
Just polish and shine, lacquer each line.
Then add a strong dose of resilience.

Because Marla’s the Boss, Baby!

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The Children’s Writing Workshop at Big Sur was focused primarily on small critique group sessions rather than large general sessions.  As a result, my notes are a smattering of tidbits heard and picked up throughout the weekend.  There are some golden nuggets in there, though, so I share them now with you.

Picture Books

  • “Picture books are the most difficult thing to write.”Andrea Brown.  I would love to tattoo this quote on my forehead so I’m prepared the next time someone asks me whether I’m going to start with picture books and then move into writing “real” books.
  • “I know you’ve all heard the market for picture books is tough, but picture books are our bread and butter, so please don’t stop writing picture books.” — Andrea Brown
  • “Picture books are an emotional medium.  They need to make us feel something.”Marla Frazee
  • Chronicle is a medium-size publisher, and picture books outnumber both MG and YA — Melissa Manlove
  • “Every word, every character in a picture book must count.” — Marla Frazee.  This came in response to one of my manuscripts where characters were introduced for one scene and never came back again.  Every character needs to move the story forward and be important to its outcome, especially when you have so little room to tell it.  If you are taking the time to introduce them, they must play a critical role.  Good examples are SOMEBODY LOVES YOU, MR. HATCH, BEAR SNORES ON, and STAND TALL, MOLLY LOU MELON
  • An agent deciding whether to represent a picture book author might ask to see 3-4 manuscripts because they want to make sure you have more than one book.  They are looking for career authors. — Jennifer Mattson.  Take away?  Once you start submitting, it’s good to have a couple of other polished pieces in your back pocket.
  • HOWEVER, do submit only one manuscript at a time – whichever one you feel is the strongest and best representation of your work.  — Mary Kole
  • Because PB manuscripts are sent with the query, the actual query letter is not as important.  Keep it short, simple and to the point.  Agents will read at least part of the manuscript even if the query isn’t great. — Mary Kole

Finding and Working with an Agent

Be deliberate in your selection process.  Do the research.  Submit to agents you feel would be a good fit for your work, and then ASK THEM QUESTIONS.

Good questions to ask:

  • How transparent is your submission process? Does the agent inform clients when and how many editors have received their manuscript? Do clients see the agents’ pitches?  Are clients consulted about whether to submit to multiple editors or on an exclusive basis?
  • What is your strategy for selling my book?
  • What is your editorial philosophy? How much revision will an agent ask for/expect before submitting your work to editors.  How hands-on is the process?
  • What is your communication philosophy/style? Does the agent prefer email or phone?  How soon can you expect answers to questions you may have?  Does the agent prefer regular communication at all times or only when you are out on submission?
  • What do you like about my book? Jennifer Laughran said she is amazed at how seldom that question gets asked.  It’s important, she said, because you might find out that an agent sees your book completely differently than you do.  That would be a good thing to know before signing a contract.
  • What are your favorite books?
  • Money questions. Including, what happens to your money if an agent moves to another agency, the agency closes, or God forbid, the agent dies?  Morbid, but it’s your money, so you need to know.
  • How are foreign, audio, digital, film and other rights handled?

Also, be prepared to demonstrate that you can accept editorial feedback.  Great revising is hugely important.  Mary Kole said she is looking for clients who “treat every BIC (Butt in Chair) session as a learning process.”  Even when it gets hard, don’t just stop working on a piece and move onto something else.  Take what you’ve learned or are learning and revise, revise, revise.

BUT, don’t be too quick to send revisions back to an agent who requests them.  They want to know that you’ve taken the time to consider and incorporate the feedback.  Make sure it’s your very best before sending it back.  As Laura Rennert said, “You will have ample time to impress later.”


Interestingly enough, especially for us bloggers, marketing was hardly a whisper at this conference.  I suppose it’s not surprising given its focus on the craft, but I left Big Sur finally believing that finding an agent really is, first and foremost, about the book.  Even when asked the direct question as to whether an online platform would make a difference between two potential clients, Kelly Sonnack replied, “The decision is always 100% based on the book.”

Which is not to say that willingness and ability to do marketing isn’t helpful.  It’s just not the deciding factor.  In fact, the agents warned that bad marketing is worse than no marketing at all.

  • Willingness = good
  • Ability = even better
  • Willy Nilly = worse than bad

A good agent will work with clients to accentuate their strengths with whatever the author feels comfortable doing marketing-wise.  It’s also a good idea to work closely with the publisher, since they are also marketing the book.  You want your own marketing efforts to be complementary to theirs – not duplicative or even worse, in conflict.

The usual comments of “do what you like to do and no more than that,” prevailed.  If you like Twitter or Facebook or both – great.  If you enjoy blogging, that’s great too.  But don’t put yourself out there on any of those platforms without a strong knowledge of how to use them effectively.  The worst thing you can do with social media is pop in once a month blasting everybody with sales pitches about your book and then disappear.  A “phantom presence,” where you’ve set up accounts but they lie dormant for months, can also leave people with a worse impression than no presence at all.

That’s all, folks!  Comments?  Questions?

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Often, when I attend conferences or workshops like the one in Big Sur last weekend, I end up coming away with a “lightbulb moment” that defines the experience for me.  This time, that moment was given to me by none other than the illustrious Mary Kole of the Andrea Brown Literary Agency, and of Kidlit.com fame.  It was:

“The Publisher is your first customer.”

I was seeking clarification from Mary on what constitutes a compelling hook, especially since it seems one of my manuscripts is in need of a stronger one.  I came with the belief that if the story/topic/message had obvious appeal to parents and/or kids, that = hook.  Not necessarily so.  For lack of a better way to explain it, I left with the understanding that a story (mine being a picture book) can’t just be well-written, entertaining, funny or poignant (even though those are all great too).  In order to rise above the ordinary, a story must have an element of magic – not in a literal sense, but in a literary sense.

Marla Frazee, who was also on faculty, said picture books need “emotional resonance.”  Meaning they need to make us feel something deeply when we read them.  It’s that feeling, that hook, that magic that makes a child and a parent want to read that book over and over again, versus just gleaning the message and putting it down forever.  That’s what publishers are looking for.

This notion of the publisher as the first customer may not be fair.  We might not agree.  Our friends and families might not agree.  Even our agents might not agree.  But it is reality if we’re looking to be traditionally published.

Does that mean we should always write with a little mini-publisher sitting on our shoulders shouting, “What’s the big idea?”  No.  Of course not.  I’m pretty sure that as soon as you “try” to write a knockout bestseller you won’t.  Because that magic is also sometimes called heart.  It has to come from yours or it won’t have the emotional resonance.  I personally believe the only way to find that heart, that magic is to keep writing until it shows up naturally – then revise the hell out of it so that the magic shines through.  So that’s what I’m going to work on now as I approach the next set of revisions to my WIPs.

Mary goes into much more detail about this topic in her post, Picture Book or Short Story? That post is a good place to start if I’ve confused you more than helped you!

P.S.  Mary also said that publishers, not surprisingly, are all looking for the next Fancy Nancy.  So let’s all get on that, shall we?  🙂


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I know it’s a day late, but I was in Big Sur all weekend for a children’s writing workshop, hosted by the Andrea Brown Literary Agency, and there was no Internet access (unless you were one of the lucky few with an iPad with 3G).  I will be writing much more about the workshop in the coming week or so, but for now, let me just express my overwhelming gratitude for everyone at ABLit for making those workshops happen.  I attended Big Sur in the Rockies last May, and it was so invaluable I decided I couldn’t wait another year to go again.  I am at the stage where I feel myself getting traction, moving in the right direction but also needing some nudging to take my writing to the next level.  The faculty at Big Sur includes not only AB agents, but also editors and authors.  I am still starstruck over getting two critique group sessions with Marla Frazee!!!

BUT, now I find myself writing about the conference rather than gratitude.  So thank you to the folks at ABLit and all of the amazing Big Sur faculty.  I so appreciate them taking the time to not just assist writers, but to nourish them.  I came away from the weekend exhausted, but inspired, excited and invigorated – not feelings commonly associated with writing, where the plague of self-doubt and frustration often take center stage.  Once again, THANK YOU!

No quotes this week, just the rest of my list and a few photos:

  1. Driving Highway 1 through Big Sur – there are no words for its beauty
  2. The flourless chocolate almond cake I had in Capitola on the way homeStoking the creative fires
  3. Meeting so many amazing writers – I hope you all keep in touch!
  4. The chance to submit a manuscript in a few months
  5. The Big Sur River
  6. The giant Redwoods – I’d forgotten trees could get so big!
  7. Falling asleep at night with the duel sounds of rain on the roof and a crackling cedar fire
  8. The smell of the ocean, the bracing wind, the clifftop views
  9. A carpet of leaves fallen on the grass under a tree
  10. Honestly, just to be able to live in such a beautiful world.  I really mean that.

What are you grateful for this week?

Somewhere Over the Rainbow is a place like this!

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