Monday, March 23, 2009

Thirty-One Flavors - Agent Week - Up first: Stephen Malk

With the onset of spring comes a great boon to weary winter minds: The Annual SCBWI Western Washington Spring Conference. One of the many amazing opportunities that this conference affords writers is the chance to have work reviewed by professionals. But who to pick? It's like going into the ice cream store and being tempted by all thirty-one flavors, every single one a scoop of creamy cool deliciousness just waiting to be plopped into paper cup and smothered in hot fudge sauce...

I would like to eventually meet the agent and/or editor of my dreams (something along the lines of bubble gum chocolate raspberry truffle with those little brownie bits topped with pralines), but the reality is that none of the conference choices quite fit my particular interests in terms of a whole career package. This is not a judgement call on them as professionals (because there are some serious heavy -hitters in the line-up this year ), just a realization that you have to know who will fit what you are looking for, and what I am looking for just doesn't happen to be offered. I see bubble gum, and I see chocolate raspberry truffle- some without nuts, some without the brownie bits. Only a few pralines in sight.

How did I know this, when the information available in the conference materials is a menu of appropriately tightly written brief sound-bites?

Research. (How many calories are in that bubble gum flavor?)

In this business of opinion and subjectivity, researching your possibilities is of utmost importance. No sense wasting your time and theirs, by trying to offer bubble gum to an editor who really likes, knows and wants rum raisin. Authors are relatively easy to find, and agents are, too, if you have the time and motivation. Editors preferences are surprisingly hard to find via the web, but some can be found. But it really does take time spent. No secrets to agent info, just time and persistence.

I thought I'd share the research I did on some of the talent coming to our conference. Nothing new here, and you can find this stuff for yourself, but here it is. I tried to capture info from free resources like, and a few interviews on various websites, beginning with

Stephen Malk.

Where he fits in my personal flavor spectrum: bubble gum chocolate raspberry truffle with those little brownie bits

Locals in our organization know him as "that guy that sold Justina Chen Headley's debut YA novel at auction resulting in a two-book contract in just a few days". The rest of the world knows him as "that guy who opened the San Diego office of Writer's House Literary Agency in 1998". Do I need to say it? Stephen Malk is a big name in our world. Being the West Coast rep for the venerable Writer's House (and that he also spent four years at powerhouse Djikstra Literary Agency is no small thing, and his client list proves it: John Scieszka, Lane Smith, Adam Rex, Elise Primavera, Karma Wilson, Sonya Sones, Gris Grimly, Jennifer Donnelly, etc. It figures that his background is all children's books, books, books all the time. His grandparents and parents both have owned children's bookstores, and he even worked in his parents' store for six years beginning at age sixteen.

He states in one interview that he's not interested in whatever is "hot" right now, and that he sees a lot of manuscripts that are trying to jump on the latest trend bandwagon. He'd like to see more manuscripts with unique voices, unique well-developed characters and good writing, and believes that writers should take their time to really polish a work before submitting.

He believes writers should read as much as possible beyond the classics and popular titles- educating themselves about their field, and he recommends every writer to read Dear Genius: The Letters of Ursula Nordstrom. If he requests revisions before signing a client, it shows interest, and he is curious to see how the writer handles it, as revisions are a part of his process.

He likes music, has a fantasy baseball team, likes Orangina, Cadbury Fruit and Nut Bars, sour patch candies, collects bobbleheads, had at least two cats in 2005, (Dinah and Henry), and figured the writing world wants him reading submissions and doing deals rather than blogging. He does not watch much tv, aside from Sportscenter, Curb Your Enthusiasm, VH1 classic, Alton Brown and the Food Network, and prefers coconut over chocolate chip or oatmeal raisin cookies. He gives a long list of books he likes in this transcript of an interview at Verla Kay's website: .

No, I did not quite find this amount of detail on everyone, but stay tuned tomorrow for the equally riveting Michael Stearns.

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