agents, authors, Chuck Sambuchino, editors, queries, query letters, reference guides, synopsis, word count, writing tips
GIVEAWAY: We’re giving away one copy of the newly-released Writers Digest 2016 Children’s Writer’s & Illustrator’s Market. We enjoy reading your comments! Therefore, on October 30, 2015, one person who has commented (left a reply) attached to this post will randomly be selected for this fabulous prize.
I met up with Chuck Sambuchino on October 10th at the Writing Conference of Los Angeles, where he was the featured speaker. With humor and enthusiasm, Chuck provided current marketplace insight and information. The breadth and depth of his presentations clearly revealed his expertise as a successful writer and editor for Writer’s Digest publications and as an author of his own two books. Read on for Chuck’s tips on reference guides, query letters, agents, writing a synopsis, word count—and clown attacks.
CHRISTINE VAN ZANDT: The 2016 Writer’s Digest Children’s Writer’s & Illustrator’s Market (CWIM) is out. How can this book benefit writers or illustrators of children’s books?
CHUCK SAMBUCHINO: Simply put, when you finish your book, you need a place to send it. That could be an agent or art rep or publisher or contest. The 2016 CWIM is a new & updated resource that lists those very things. It a Yellow Pages of sorts, and also has up-front instructional articles on a variety of topics such as writing tips, submission tips, illustration tips, and more.
CVZ: You’re also the editor on the 2016 Writer’s Digest Guide to Literary Agents (GLA). Should writers buy both books?
CS: If you’re specifically writing or illustrating books for children, then all you need is the CWIM. It’s a big, focused publication for you. The GLA is a huge agent database that features all agencies, not just the kidlit agencies. So if you create content for kids, as long as you have a recent edition of the CWIM, you’re good. The big difference is that the CWIM lists out oodles of markets for just creators of children’s books & novels. The GLA lists all the agencies we can find, so it’s a good fit for anybody writing any kind of book.
CVZ: You’re an author also! How do you manage to successfully juggle so many projects?
1. Stay organized with to-do lists. These lists can have very big to-dos, like “Rewrite your book,” down to the smallest to-dos, such as which individual Web sites to contact for promotion months down the line. Organization is key. Write everything down—every idea, every lead.
2. The second big thing people can do is just realize it comes down to time. The more time you dedicate to writing and your career, the more projects you can create and juggle. Try and spend a limited amount of time watching TV and cat videos each day, and you’ll free yourself up to compose more things.
3. Avoid clowns. They hurt people with rubber chicken attacks and also kidnap toddlers. (CVZ: This is a reference to Chuck’s new book, When Clowns Attack: A Survival Guide)
CVZ: Your article “Query Letter FAQs” (2016 GLA) lists the answers to the 19 most tricky and confusing query questions around. How important is a query letter in landing an agent for your manuscript?
CS: It’s a pretty big deal. Unless you’re writing a picture book, agents don’t have time to read through your entire manuscript, so they ask for this one-page query letter as an introduction to you and your project. On the strength of your query, agents decide whether they want to read your sample pages or request more. So like I said, it’s a pretty big deal.
Some agents put a ton of stock in the query letter, and want you to submit only that to begin with. Other agents feel queries can be deceiving, and put more faith into the sample pages that follow the letter. It’s hard to break down percentages, but you never want to adopt an approach of “My query letter stinks, but I think my first pages are good—so I’ll be fine.” That is not a wise approach because while all the agents who always read first pages will still consider you, you automatically rule out all the agents that first want to be impressed by a good query & pitch.
CVZ: Your article “How to Write a Synopsis” (2016 GLA) provides six tips to compose your novel’s summary. At what point of the writing process should a writer create a synopsis for their book?
CS: Ah—good question. The typical answer is: You compose the synopsis after the book is written. It’s just a tool so that an agent or editor can quickly process the arc of your book & plot before reading it. But I think it’s an interesting question because as a plotter myself, I tend to write the synopsis before starting on the book. I like to plan before I write. So my official answer is: It doesn’t matter when you compose the synopsis; that is all up to you.
CVZ: Your article (2016 CWIM) discusses whether it’s a good move to sign with a new agent or to try to land an established agent with a high-profile client list. Can you give us a quick summary on this topic?
CS: A basic gist of the article is this: If you sign with either a new agent or an established one, it’s a good thing. Established agents are powerful and connected, but they tend to have full lists and sign few new writers. It’s frequently the new/newer agents who offer to new writers, and I think writers are sometimes hesitant to sign with these new reps. A pause is understandable, so the article lays out all the advantages of new agents, the most significant of which are time and passion. You want an agent who is going to provide you with both and really love your writing.
CVZ: In my role as a professional editor, I often refer writers to your book, Get a Literary Agent because of its helpful sections on word count guidelines. Why does word count matter?
CS: When some agents read a query and see the novel’s word count is 181,000 words, they will auto-reject it. In fact, my own agent has a note on her Web site (or at least she did) saying that if your work exceeds 120,000 words, it “probably isn’t for her.” Some agents are sticklers for a controlled word count. I think if you ask any agent about this, they will come back with basically the same response. They will say that the longer a debut is, the harder it may be to sell. They will also say (and I very much agree with them on this point) that a long novel is oftentimes the sign of a writer who does not know how to edit himself yet. But then there will be some agents who say, “I don’t care what the word count is. Just send it to me, and I will decide if I love the writing.” So that last point is good news for people out there with long word counts. But I’m not a big fan of that approach, because more agents than not will shy away from super-short or super-long word counts.
CVZ: What are you working on now?
CS: I’m working on a YA novel here and there for fun. I have no idea how it will turn out. But right now, I’m just doing a lot of interviews and promotion for my three releases in Fall 2015: the 2016 GLA, the 2016 CWIM, and my new humor book from Ten Speed Press / Random House called When Clowns Attack: A Survival Guide. It came out Sept. 29 just in time to warn people about the Halloween clown invasion, and makes a good gift book for anyone who loves or hates these bozos.
Chuck Sambuchino(chucksambuchino.com, @chucksambuchino) is an editor for Writer’s Digest Books. His latest humor book is When Clowns Attack: A Survival Guide (Fall 2015).
Interview by Christine Van Zandt:
Writer and co-editor for SCBWI’s Kite Tales
Owner of Write for Success Author Services
What is SCBWI? Founded in 1971 by a group of Los Angeles-based children’s writers, the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators is a non-profit, 501 (c)3 organization There are currently more than 22,000 members worldwide, in over 70 regional chapters writing and illustrating in all genres for young readers, making it the largest children’s writing organization in the world.
Click HERE for member benefits; join us and take your writing to the next level.
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Christine Van Zandt said:
Congratulations, winner of the 2016 CWIM, Sarah Denton. And, Happy Halloween, from Christine “Vamp” Zandt
Sarah Denton said:
Really useful information, especially about established agents vs. new agents. Good read!
Sue Schmitt said:
Great resources and fun interview! And clowns -they terrify me with their big painted on insincere smiles and the way they sneak attack you with that horn. They simply cannot be trusted (except that darling little one in Marla Frazee’s latest). Congrats on the new book. One more thing to cross of Chuck’s to-do list. Well better get back to mine!
Brenda R said:
Great interview. Will strive to avoid both clowns and cat videos in an effort to be more productive. Thanks Chuck and Christine!
John Stickler said:
In years past I’ve bought and used the Writer’s Digest annual Writers Market books, but did not know they had one for children’s books. Sounds very useful.
Rachel D. said:
Thank you for sharing this interview. It answered some questions and gave me some things to think about!
Thank you for the super information. Now to put it to good use!
All the books sounds great. Thank you, Chuck!
Having run into great advice from Chuck on the internet over the years, I look forward to seeing his contribution to the 2016 CWIM. Too bad clowns don’t have crystal balls for figuring out which new agents are going to become powerful and connected established agents, or we’d all agree: send in the clowns!
Briana Pullen said:
This is a very informative interview, with useful tips. 🙂
Krisula Moyer said:
This interview deepens my belief that the children’s book writer market is full of generous, wonderful people who like to share their craft. It’s a nice respite from the dog eat dog of the outside world.
William Silver said:
Writer’s Digest is great,
Chuck Sambuchino is a writing saint.
Jessica Chrysler said:
Great interview! Thanks for sharing some words of wisdom on queries and word counts!
Christine Van Zandt said:
Thank you, Chuck, for sharing your wisdom and for donating the children’s market reference book for this giveaway.
Thanks for the informative interview!
Diana Rosen said:
Loads of takeaway newsy bits here. Thanks, Christine!