Thursday, September 22, 2005

An exchange with an agent

I can't believe how many hits I get on my website as a result of having Sheldon Fogelman Literary Agency mentioned there. After checking my Urchin web stats, "Sheldon Fogelman" is #2 on the list of keywords people use to find my website. I used to get about 50 to 60 hits a day. Now I'm getting about 250! With that knowledge, I just have one thing to say: SHELDON FOGELMAN...SHELDON FOGELMAN...SHELDON FOGELMAN.

Anyway, I recently had an email exchange with LInda Pratt, a literary agent at Sheldon Fogelman Literary Agency.

Q. I enjoy haunting the picture book section at local book stores. It's exciting to see all the new titles and styles of art. Lately, however, it seems like there are less picture books being published. That's worrisome because, not only do I want to continue illustrating trade books, I'd like to write some. As an African American illustrator who has been primarily tapped by publishers for African American themes, how will this affect my future in the business?

A. I don't think the downturn in picture book market has hit African-American illustrators more so than other illustrators. In fact, I think proportionately the number of African-American books being published has probably suffered a smaller decrease overall than generic picture books. As you know, many publishers such as Hyperion and Harper have imprints solely dedicated to African-American books with Jump at the Sun and Amistad, respectively, and those lists still need to get filled.

Q. How might I expand my marketability into other areas beyond African American themes?

I think the challenge for illustrators of color is really the same as it is for all illustrators in this market. What seems to be the most productive thing for illustrators at this time is stretch their styles. If one is finding that they aren't getting manuscripts then try to look at what might change that. For example, what type of manuscripts are you most interested in. If you always wanted to do a book illustrated with bears - create some "bear" portfolio pieces. You'd be surprised how many editors say I have a manuscript that stars pigs, and although they might imagine someone's pigs based on their ducks, per se, if they see another illustrator's work that actually depicts a pig, they don't have really stretch their imaginations further. I've heard countless stories of people getting jobs that way. So draw what you love! Another thing that can be done, is if an illustrator isn't getting picture book manuscripts based on what they've shown in prior books, think about what other kinds of books that one might consider. Easy-to-reads, perhaps. Or more increasingly black and white interior illustrations for younger novels. Each of these requires a slightly different art approach than picture book art. Study books in these genres and again, create some sample portfolio pieces in appropriate styles. Lastly, if an illustrator has a secret dream of doing a really serious book or a really silly book, don't keep it a dream. Create sample pieces to show that. I had an illustrator take such a step in the past year that yielded a two book contract for them. In these harder picture book times, we've found that the illustrators who keep bending and growing in their styles give editors an opportunity to consider them in a new light. Editors love to introduce new talent, but they also get the same satisfaction in re-introducing a talent in a new light. It also makes an illustrator feel more productive to be trying to push forward.

I hope that helps! In the meantime, I hope that everything is going well with "The Hidden Feast", and good luck with the "Car" book!!! Enjoy your summer.


The Archivist said...

Hmm. That's an interesting point. You really reckon the decrease is smaller overall?

Rose said...

Thanks for sharing. I am currently consulting with a young woman on her childrens' book..It's a nice book but I had concerns about her illustrations.

paula said...

Got the word on this post from Roz's site. Thanks for posting these tidbits of insight, Don. Always helpful!

Melinda said...

Hee hee! I ended up on your site again because I was googling "Sheldon Fogelman Agency." How about that? ... aren't you glad you weren't being sued? I sure am!

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