As part of my pre-conference coverage for SCBWI's Summer Conference, I got a chance to interview fantastic agent Steven Malk of Writers House. Here's more about him:
Steven Malk is the third generation of his family to be involved in children’s books, as both his mother and grandmother owned children’s bookstores. He opened a West Coast office for Writers House in 1998, and represents a wide range of authors and illustrators, including Jon Scieszka, Lane Smith, Marla Frazee, Kadir Nelson, Sara Pennypacker, Jennifer Donnelly, Brett Helquist, Sonya Sones, Adam Rex, Deborah Wiles, and Cynthia Rylant, among others. (from SCBWI's website)
I was lucky enough to interview Steven about the upcoming conference:
Are you doing any manuscript critiques this year? If so, what can an author expect in terms of feedback?
I will be doing critiques this year. I do my best to provide constructive feedback to the author about his or her work, both from a strictly editorial perspective and also in terms of how the work fits into the market from an agent's perspective. I really believe that the best editorial conversations are a dialogue, so I always hope for some back and forth in the critique session and try to ask questions that hopefully get the author to think of his or her work in new ways. My goal is for the author to take my comments, think about them carefully, and use them as a springboard to really dig in and build on my feedback in a way that will result in the best revision possible.
The SCBWI Summer Conference is a great way to meet perspective agents. Have you ever met a client through a conference or after-conference submission?
I've been fortunate to have met lots of talented people at the conference over the years, and a few of them have ended up becoming clients. At one of my very first conferences, I met Sonya Sones after one of my talks. She introduced herself and then sent me her manuscript, STOP PRETENDING, right after the conference. I'll never forget reading the whole thing in one sitting and being completely blown away. At that same conference, I met Bruce Hale, who submitted the first book in his CHET GECKO series to me following the conference. And, finally, I critiqued Stephanie Hemphill at the conference. She submitted the poems that eventually formed the foundation for her first book, THINGS LEFT UNSAID. Stephanie's gone on to write several well-loved books and she won a Printz Honor for YOUR OWN, SYLVIA.
What advice can you give first-time attendees in terms of making the most of their conference experience?
I think the key to making the most of the conference experience is to go in with an enthusiastic but relaxed attitude and not to put too much pressure on yourself. Sometimes, I think people go in with very specific goals to the point that they feel the conference will be a failure if they don't talk to a certain person or get a request from an agent or editor. And that's not the case at all. The more important thing is to just soak up as much as you can and relish the chance to be around so many people who love children's/middle-grade/YA books as much as you do. The most important and useful piece of information you pick up at the conference might come from a speech you hear or a critique you get or even just from an informal conversation in the lobby with a fellow writer or illustrator. If you can go into the conference just expecting to have fun and learn as much as you can, you won't be disappointed and you'll keep coming back year after year.
Wow, amazing right?? Thank you so much, Steven! And everyone, I'll see you in just a few weeks!!