Monday, March 30, 2009


Pint-sized interviews that leave you smiling.

JILL CORCORAN is an Associate Agent at the Herman Agency representing MG and YA authors, as well as being a children's book author. Lee Bennett Hopkins will be including her poem PIRATES in his upcoming Holiday House MG collection, I AM THE BOOK.

Jill has a terrific blog, Jill Corcoran Books. I’ve known Jill for years—she’s funny, smart, hard-working and persistent! I was so happy for her when she told me of her recent move into her new role as a children’s literary agent.

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
I am an Associate Agent at Herman Agency representing Chapter Book, Middle Grade and Young Adult authors.

I have a BA in English from Stanford University and an MBA in Finance and Marketing from The University of Chicago. I've marketed everything from cereal to sneakers at Leo Burnett Advertising, Mattel, LA Gear and my own company, Launch! New Product Marketing.

I am also a children's book writer and poet. Lee Bennett Hopkins will be including my poem PIRATES in his upcoming Holiday House middle grade collection, I AM THE BOOK. My poem will be one of only l4 in this fully illustrated picture/poetry book.

I've won an SCBWI Los Angeles Writer's Day Poetry Award for my humorous picture book collection, SINK YOUR TEETH INTO POETRY and an SCBWI Work-in-Progress Letter of Merit for my YA novel, TWIN SISTER: I AM NOT YOU. Plus, an article about me and my writing workshops has been syndicated in parenting magazines nationwide by Kathy Sena (

Could you please summarize your specific taste in books and which kinds of stories usually catch your attention (or would be an automatic "No, thanks")?
I am a huge fan of humor. If you can make me laugh or crack a smile, you are my kind of writer. Even in a serious literary book, there is room for humor.

Some of my favorite books are Frindle, Stargirl, Speak, Stuck in Neutral, How I Live Now, Millicent Min, Good Enough, Seeing Emily, Things Left Unsaid, Flipped and Because of Winn Dixie.
I would also love to find funny boy books that are mixed prose and graphic novel a la Wimpy Kid, Bruce Hale's Prince of Underwhere, and even full graphic novels like Bone. BTW, Ronnie Ann Herman is also looking for Graphic Novels and I will be passing on illustrator-driven GN to her attention.

What catches my attention is great writing. As I said in my blog post HOW I READ SUBMISSIONS, a great idea can only get a book so far. It is the execution, the writing that brings a plot, a cast of characters, the soul of a book alive. A quick side note here--When I go into classrooms to teach, I'll give 30 students one prompt, but I get 30 different versions of a story. That is how it is with manuscript submissions. I get a fair share of similar plots outlined in query letters, but the executions of those plots are what determines if I ask for a full or not.

I want a book that I can't put down. That I have to read in one sitting because I have to know what happens next. I want to close your book and keep living with your characters in my head.

An automatic "No Thanks"... forced dialog, flabby prose, mixed metaphors, expected plot turns and endings, etc.

What will your role be at the Herman Agency? (How will you work together, will you both read all genres, how would you handle authors who write across multiple genres, etc.--anything you feel readers should know)
Ronnie Ann Herman started Herman Agency in 1999 and represents many of the leading illustrators and author/illustrators in today's children's book market. As a former Art Director at Random House and Associate Publisher at Penguin Books' Grosset & Dunlap, Ronnie art directed thousands of children's books during her more than 20 year publishing career. Ronnie is also the author of 8 picture books with 1,000,000 books in print.

Most of Ronnie's clients are PB author/illustrators or illustrators. Ronnie has sold CB, MG, YA and adult over the years but her heart is in picture books and that is why she brought me in to expand the company.

For a single author who writes YA and PB, for instance, I will rep the author's YA and Ronnie will rep his/her PB. When an author signs with me they are signing with the Herman Agency and they will benefit from both Ronnie and my expertise, dedication and effort.

For my clients, Ronnie and I will work together to create a submission lists. While Ronnie is very familiar with different houses' and different editors' preferences, I also have editors contacting me, telling me their preferences so that I can direct the right books to their attention. Ronnie will handle all contract negotiations until I know contracts inside and out.

What's your favorite children's joke?
I never remember punch lines so I am a bad joke-teller. But I'm a huge fan of riddle poems. Here is one that I wrote a few years ago:

I love to eat green moldy cheese,
Chewed up meat and smashed down peas,
Clippings from your puppy’s nails,
Squashed-shelled squished-up garden snails,
Gooey tissues, chicken fat,
Droppings from your fur-ball cat.
Lumpy milk, month-old trout,
Fill me up…
Throw me out!

What am I?

(answer: a garbage can)

Hilarious poem, Jill~ and thanks for the interview!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Agent Flood

It seems like there's been a recent flood of new agents in the field of children's literature. I'm sure the large number of publishing layoffs have contributed to this, amongst other things, but whatever the cause, it's made me stop and this a good thing or a bad thing for children's writers and illustrators?

On one hand, there are new, hungry agents out there just looking for terrific stories and art to sell. Their doors are open, as are their minds. They WANT people to send them queries and samples. It might actually become a *little* easier to get an agent now. And all this is good, if you're looking for an agent.

But what if you're not. What would an agent glut do to the market? Assuming there's a limited number of manuscripts to be acquired in a given period of time, wouldn't editors tend to read agented work before even considering diving into the slush pile? Will this make it even harder to get your work read if you don't have an agent? Is this the universe's way of "cleaning up" the submission process so that unagented work must be so outstandingly-sparkly-clean that anything less will be given up on? Will this weed out writers and illustrators who aren't willing to do what it takes to make it in this business? Is this the beginning of the children's market becoming more like the adult market, where agents are a necessity to selling your work?

Those are a lot of questions. I'd love to hear others' thoughts on this! Let me know what you think~ please, leave a comment.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Writing Tip: Simmering

My writing pal, Tina Nichols Coury (of Rushmore Kid fame) recently asked me to share a writing tip for her blog. Wow--hard to do since there are so many bits of advice that any experienced writer could serve up. After weeks of not getting back to her because every time I thought about it my thoughts bubbled over and I couldn't decide on just one, I finally responded to her this morning. I sent her a tip (I'll post a link when she sets it up on her blog) but another one came to mind that I wanted to share.

Let your work "simmer." There is a tremendous value in setting aside your work for a few days. I call it simmering because it reminds me of making a yummy soup or stew. You have to put all the right ingredients together into one pot (an interesting character(s), a strong plot, vivid language, action, a great hook, etc.) then put it aside so everything can blend together and emerge as a delicious masterpiece.

It's hard to do sometimes--especially when you're in the groove and excited about working on something. But once you get over that initial "I'm gonna bust if I don't work on this" phase, set it aside (and out of sight). In a drawer. On top of a cabinet. In the freezer. Whatever works for you.

While it's set aside, you're gaining distance from it on a conscious level. However, I believe on a subconscious level, you're still thinking on it. Sometimes these thoughts even surface to the conscious brain, in which case you can make a note on a Post-It, and stick it on the manuscript (don't be tempted to apply it to the story--that's for later).

After a few days (at least one week, preferably two), pull out the manuscript and viola! Fresh eyes and a clear mind will allow you to see your story more objectively. You'll be able to spot inconsistencies and find places where clarification is needed. You'll even discover places for improved word choices. And you might even see a spot or two where your once thought-to-be brilliance doesn't really pan out (trust me, been there-done that!).

So be patient...let it simmer...and work on another story in the meantime.

Monday, March 16, 2009

St. Patrick's Day & Limericks: A Wee Bit O' the Wordplay

Even as a kid, I loved limericks. I think I first learned of them when I read Scott Corbett's book, The Limerick Trick. Their predictable rhyme, kooky humor and telling tales have lots of kid appeal; and whenever St. Patrick's Day comes around, limericks come to mind (not that they have a connection with St. Patrick--it's just their connection to Ireland).

Here's what Wikipedia says about the origin of limericks: The origin of the actual name limerick for this type of poem is obscure. Its usage was first documented in England in 1898 (New English Dictionary) and in America in 1902. It is generally taken to be a reference to the County of Limerick in Ireland (particularly the Maigue Poets), and may derive from an earlier form of nonsense verse parlour game that traditionally included a refrain that ended "Come all the way up to Limerick?"

But it was Edward Lear's Book of Nonsense that launched limericks into poetry popularity. He wrote over two hundred, but here are two of my favorites, plus an attempt of my own.

There was an Old Man with a beard,
Who said, 'It is just as I feared!
Two Owls and a Hen,
Four Larks and a Wren,
Have all built their nests in my beard!'

There was an Old Man of Kilkenny,
Who never had more than a penny;
He spent all that money,
In onions and honey,
That wayward Old Man of Kilkenny.

There once was a writer named Terry,
Who had a great passion for berries,
She wrote up a story,
Of blackberry glory,
A sweet pick for any library.

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Thursday, March 12, 2009


Pint-sized interviews that leave you smiling.

SARA DOBIE is the Public Relations Coordinator for Sylvan Dell Publishing. She has been featured on the ForeWord Publishing Insider blog,, and If you’re an author without a website, she will find you and throw tomatoes. Rotten ones. Say hello at, or check out all the Sylvan Dell Publishing titles at

I’ve had the privilege of working with Sara while promoting my latest book, Blackberry Banquet. Sara is a dynamo with enough energy to light up any metropolitan city (who says we're having an energy crisis with Sara around?). I knew she would have some terrific advice on book promotion for us!

What are the three most important things (general or specific) an author and/or illustrator should focus on to promote his/her book?
(Disclaimer: I feel like the multitude of answers to this oh-so-important question varies from day to day. So today? My answers are as follows.)

1. Know the World Wide Web.
This is a monster of a task, I know. There are millions of websites and blogs out there. How do you navigate? Well, you could start by having a website/blog of your OWN. Sounds obvious, right? Then, how come so many authors DON’T? Tell people about your website. Point interested booksellers, librarians, and strangers you meet on the street to your website…well, maybe not that last one…but you get the point!

So you have your website. Now, do your homework. Find out which sites you should be following. Who knows their stuff? Who should you be reading for valuable advice? Where should you be leaving comments that lots of people see? And when you leave those comments, is there a LINK TO YOUR WEBSITE by your comment so that people know where to find you?

This process builds into a rapport. Now, you can see if the people who know their stuff want to review your book. Ask them. Most will say yes. Then, there will be a review of your book on their high-traffic website. High-traffic website equates to book sales equates to you can stop eating Ramen noodles like an unemployed college kid.

2. Know your local media.
How are people going to know you published a book if no one tells them? You, as an individual, can only knock on so many doors. Standing on corners screaming your ISBN doesn’t do much, either. However, how about a feature story in your city newspaper? How about a TV spot on the five o’clock news? That’s the way to spread the word, and your publicist—if you’re lucky enough to have a publicist—can’t do it all. Your publicist can’t walk into the newsroom and start shaking hands for every client in every city with every book, etc. However, you can do this for yourself. As soon as you sign that publishing contract, get ready to make friendly. Go in and meet the story assignment editors and program directors. And once you have review copies of your opus, be sure to hand-deliver them to these same contacts! The media is your FRIEND. Say it with me: “THE MEDIA IS MY FRIEND.”

3. Know your niche.
If you spent a year researching and writing your book, then you should know what it’s about, right? If you know what it’s about, you should know your target audience, right? If you know your target audience, they should know about your book, right? RIGHT? If they don’t, you don’t know your niche. A niche is a targeted, little place in the big book world where your book belongs. Your book lives in that niche, and it should sell to that niche market. In other words, let’s say you wrote a book about herons. Who should you be sending it to? How about Audubon? What about wetlands conservation organizations? Did you know that the official city bird of Seattle is the HERON? Well, you should, if you just wrote a book about them! No, I’m not obsessed with herons. I know this stuff because I just launched a book about herons. I know this stuff because I saw the niche, and so should you, when your book comes along.

What are the most common mistakes that an author and/or illustrator can make in regards to promoting his/her book?
I was going to make a list of no-no’s, but when I looked at it, the list boiled down to one thing—a lack of pride in your product. Your book is your baby. And I’m not talking about the ugly baby in Seinfeld. I’m talking about a beautiful, well-behaved baby that chews with its mouth shut and knows the alphabet at two weeks old. Think about it…

Would you hide your baby at home? No. You would run out and show it to the world. The same goes for your book. You need to schedule events. You should have signings, school visits, library visits, workshops, etc. You should be out there meeting your fans with a smile—the proud parent of a newborn masterpiece. Never hide at home.

Would you leave your baby in the car on a hot day? NO! You would take it with you when you left the house or went into the grocery store. You would take that newborn EVERYWHERE! Never forget that you are an author. Always have copies of your book in your car. Always have business cards with an image of your book and your website address. Never forget your baby.

Like I said, a lack of pride in your product is a problem. (Whoa. Too many P’s…) Have pride in your masterpiece. Have pride in your CREATION. Have pride in you. It’s a package deal, and having pride in yourself and your product will turn you into a promoting machine.

What's your favorite children's joke?
Q: What has four wheels, is yellow, and lies on its back?

A: A dead school bus

Thanks, Sara!

(Note: The book featured to the right is one of Sylvan Dell's Spring 2009 releases, One Wolf Howls by Scotti Cohn, illustrated by Susan Detwiler. To learn more about this title, click HERE.)

Book Bites for Kids

I just finished with my live interview with BlogTalkRadio's Book Bites for Kids, hosted by Suzanne Lieurance. What a treat it was and how quickly our 30 minutes flew by! I found myself laughing a lot (nerves? or am I really that happy all the time? or is it just that us authors don't get out enough?). Regardless, if you had a chance to listen, I hope you enjoyed it. In a couple of days, I'll post a link to the archived interview, for anyone who would like to hear it.

In the meantime, please give the BlogTalkRadio's Book Bites for Kids website a visit--there are so many terrific things to hear!

Monday, March 9, 2009

Upcoming Interview: BlogTalkRadio Book Bites for Kids

I wanted to announce that that I'm going to be interviewed on BlogTalkRadio's Book Bites for Kids this Thursday, at 12:00 PM (Pacific Time). Host Suzanne Lieurance will do a live 30-minute interview with me. You can even call in and ask questions! If you don't already listen to Book Bites for Kids, you should! It's easy to register (and it's free). And if you can't listen to it live, they have all their interviews available to download on your computer or as a podcast. So please, join us on Thursday for chat about writing for kids!

New Children's Agent

Ugh...I just got over a four-day migraine. The only good thing that came of it was that one day I was so dopey from my migraine meds that while I talking to my husband, I messed up my wording and accidentally said something quite funny that I think will make for a funny children's book. Sorry, I can't share exactly what I said (I never talk about story ideas before I write them because when I do, I lose the enthusiasm for the project before I even put pencil to paper), but suffice it to say that since it was born from a semi-medicated state, it's gotta be on the humorous side ;-).

Okay, onto more relevant things. Last week, my writer friend
Jill Corcoran announced that she has joined the Ronnie Herman Agency, as Ronnie's new associate agent. CONGRATULATIONS, JILL!!! Jill is the type of person who is a natural at schmoozing, striking up conversations, and totally in her element in professional situations. And she's downright nice. Yes, she's a true extrovert and loves it. As an introvert, I'd feel my air flow expire and want to just curl up in the corner and die if I had to do the job of an literary agent, but I DO admire those who can do it--and Jill is one of them. I wish her the best of luck in her new endeavor >^..^<

Monday, March 2, 2009

Ten Commandments of Children’s Literature

Balzer & Bray editor Ruta Rimas discussed this at the SCBWI Picture Book Retreat in Santa Barbara last January. She gave us some solid advice from former HarperCollins editorial director Michael Stern. Last year, Michael left HarperCollins Children’s Books to become a literary agent at the Firebrand Agency. With 20+ years in the business to base this one, here are his “Ten Commandments of Children’s Literature.”

1. Thou shalt not talk down to your readers.
2. Thou shalt not sermonize to your readers.
3. Thou shalt not strain to rhyme.
4. Thou shalt not create cutsie names.
5. Thou shalt not waste words.
6. Thou shalt not indulge in self-consciously poetic writing.
7. Thou shalt not be afraid to cut your favorite lines.
8. Thou shalt love language.
9. Thou shalt not send editors and agents first drafts.
10.Thou shalt not obey any rule to the detriment of good writing.

For a detailed look at the above commandments, visit Michael Stern’s blog.