Publishing

How To Get Signed By Literary Agent Regina Brooks Of Serendipity Literary Agency – Forbes

Literary agent Regina Brooks, founder of Serendipity Literary Agency, has represented a wide range of fiction and nonfiction authors, illustrators and titles over the last 20 years. A few recent titles include Mama You Are Enough by Claire Nicogossian (Page Street Publishing), The King of Kindergarten by Derrick Barnes illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton (Nancy Paulsen Books), We Want Our Bodies Back: Poems by jessica Care moore (Amistad), Essential Oils for Hormone Bliss by Michelle Schoffro Cook (Sterling Ethos), Conversations in Black: On Power, Politics, and Leadership by Ed Gordon (Hachette) and The Big Stretch by Teneshia Jackson Warner (McGraw-Hill Education).

The Brooklyn-based agent represents children’s and adult titles, including middle grade, YA, adult fiction, narrative nonfiction, arts and crafts, business and career, medical, health and other nonfiction. For Brooks, the opportunity to create a list that’s “deliberately varied” is one of the reasons she became a literary agent. “I wanted to represent the things that resonate with me and not be limited by a specific type of book,” she said. Brooks finds new authors via conferences, webinars, referrals from her clients, as well as her slush pile via her website, where she receives over 1,000 queries a week.

Brooks is also the author of Writing Great Books for Young Adults: Everything You Need to Know, from Crafting the Idea to Getting Published (Sourcebooks) and co-author, with Brenda Lane Richardson, of You Should Really Write a Book: How to Write, Sell, and Market Your Memoir (St. Martin’s).

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In this interview, Brooks shares what’s made her titles successful, how authors can stand out when pitching literary agents, what she looks for from prospective authors and illustrators, and what kind of platform authors need.

Which of your children’s books has been particularly successful?

On the New York Times bestseller list right now is a book called I am Every Good Thing (Nancy Paulsen Books). It was written and illustrated by the author/illustrator team that brought you Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut, author Derrick Barnes and illustrator Gordon C. James (Denene Millner Books/Agate Bolden). Crown won the Kirkus Prize for Young Readers, Caldecott honor, the Newbery honor, the Coretta Scott King Author and Illustrator honor, and other awards. I represented both the author and the illustrator.

Both books have proven successful because they touch a chord for both children and adults. James’ illustrations are museum-worthy pieces of fine art and Barnes writes with a rhythm and emotional resonance that touches the soul. Crown is a part of the Netflix Bookmarks series tied to that book and we are in discussions about an animated show. This dynamic duo is like lightning in a bottle.

What do you look for from children’s book submissions?

From a text standpoint, I really love projects that have an emotional core, whether it makes you laugh, makes you smile, or makes you want to do or be better. And I really like projects that kids like. I like books with a rhythm, but they don’t have to rhyme, Sometimes, especially in the children’s book market, books can be kind of preachy and there’s a focus on what the kids will learn, but I like the slice of life books where a kid wants their parents to read it to them again and again. Or they want to read it out loud again. Those kinds of things resonate with me.

I’m always excited about books that include diverse characters, but not so much because it’s kind of the buzzword of the day. The first client I ever had was an illustrator, Shane W. Evans, for the book The Way a Door Closes by Hope Anita Smith (Square Fish), which won The Boston Globe-Horn Book Award. I’ve always had diverse authors; it’s just been a part of the DNA of the agency since its inception.

If you are a writer and you have a picture book please don’t go find your own illustrator. Manuscripts should be submitted without illustrations. That is unless you are an author and illustrator. Publishers like to find their own illustrators to illustrate the book, especially as a new writer. They’ll partner you with a seasoned illustrator so they can capture the audience of the illustrator.

What do you look for from illustrator submissions? 

The big thing with illustrators, especially for children’s books, is continuity. I want to see that you can take a character over multiple panels and the character has continuity in their face. If you’re not able to take a character from one scene to the next scene and have them look the same, you’re probably not a good candidate for children’s book illustration. I look for the ability to display detail in backgrounds, I look for use of color and, if there were no words, I could still tell what the story is. If I look through several panels, I should be able to get a good sense of the storytelling through the art. 

What do you look for from nonfiction submissions?

For nonfiction, the three things I look for are incredible writing, a great platform and a person who has a strong hook to their book. In terms of defining platform, social media numbers are just one way to show you have a platform. Here are some other ways people can show they have a platform: website and blog, network of influencers, speaking engagements, teaching, workshops and webinars, partnerships and sponsorships, media appearances, podcasts, journal articles, mailing lists subscribers and short story placements.

If you’re teaching on the subject, if you’re a part of a speakers bureau and you’re out in the world giving talks on your subject, if you have a newsletter and you have X number of subscribers, that shows you have a platform.

Social media is not for everybody so I don’t use that as the only evidence you have a platform; it’s one of the ways. If you have a podcast, if you’ve been on television or radio, if you have had submissions in journals, those are all different ways you can show you have a platform.

Is not having a platform a dealbreaker? 

It’s not a dealbreaker, but it makes it more difficult for you to stand out, especially in the nonfiction world. Any topic you’re going to write on, there’s probably going to be somebody else writing on that topic. Publishers now rely on the author being able to get the book into the hands of their audience and if you can’t prove that you have an audience, how are they going to sell the book?

 It’s not punitive; it’s not about if you don’t have this number, you won’t get signed. It’s a tool the publishers use to help them know, If we commit to this author, then they’re going to be able to bring at least this amount of audience. For nonfiction, if you don’t have an audience at all, then you probably need to collaborate with someone who does have an audience. Often the people who know their topic inside and out, one of the reasons they’re an expert is they’re doing the work. They’re not out there talking about it, they’re being about it. Subject matter experts, they can partner with someone who has a bigger social media platform they can leverage.

Do fiction authors need the same kind of platform?

 With fiction, you don’t necessarily need a platform, so to speak, but you do need to demonstrate that readers care about the things that you write about. You might have a blog that shows that people are interested in your writing style, the topics you write about, and that you know how to position a book in the marketplace once it comes out. It’s not so much about platform, it’s about positioning.

If you show you have an audience even on the fiction side, that’s helpful to publishers too. What publishers love, agents love. We don’t make the rules, we just follow them. Oftentimes when people get rejected they feel the agent has rejected them, but the agent is thinking about what publishers are going to be interested in this topic or interested in this person’s story. It’s really about having a ready audience inside the publishing house for that content. 

What are the biggest mistakes you see in submissions?

I think people have a very tough time talking about themselves. Oftentimes authors spend so much time writing their books and proposals, but don’t spend much time on their query letter, which is such a significant part of the process. In a query letter, you’re trying to get an agent interested in your work.

I get over 1,000 a week, so my staff and I are going through these queries pretty quickly. You can’t just send me the material; you have to get me excited enough to ask you to send it to me. So if you haven’t spent enough time developing that query letter, then there’s a strong likelihood you’re not going to get us excited about it. People need to spend time focusing on how to get this agent really hyped up about requesting the material.

What can authors do to better their chances with you in their query letters?

Don’t try to include your entire plot. Just give me your elevator pitch. What is your book about? If you can do that in two or three sentences, that’s ideal. You want to tell me upfront what the genre is. Is this a thriller? Is this sci fi or literary or commercial fiction? And this is your time to tell me about yourself. For that last paragraph, tell me things that are going to get me excited about wanting to work with you. That’s where you can include some of your platform. If you have placed short stories or articles or you’re part of a podcast or you have a whole bunch of social media numbers, include that in your query letter, because that helps me to know that if I do sign this person, they’re going to have an audience we can leverage.

I’m always actively looking; I acquire people from the slush all the time and I have a host of agents who are also eager to find clients. Don’t allow rejection to slow you down. Take the feedback that you get from rejection and see if there are ways you can strengthen the work so when you send it out again it will be embraced. I also encourage writers to become a part of the literary community. Find ways to contribute to reader and writer organizations.

What’s on your 2020 wishlist?

At the agency we have many exciting projects in the works, including The Other Side by Drew Dixon, Radical Reparations by Marcus Hunter, The Truth About White Lies by Olivia A. Cole, Dream Street by Tricia Elam Walker, and Driven by Intention by Michelle Gadsden Williams. But as any agent will tell you, we are always looking to the future. With that in mind, I do have a wish list.

I’m looking for award-winning upmarket commercial and literary fiction, thriller and suspense. serious non-fiction, popular science, health, spirituality, big idea books, and highly platformed authors writing memoirs. If you have a highly successful podcast it’s very likely I’d be interest in your book concept. One area I’m really eager to publish in is African sci fi/fantasy and afro-futurism. If it’s not on the list you can always try me.