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cleliagore Clelia Gore is a lawyer-turned-literary-agent who heads Martin Literary Management’s kid lit division. She represents authors and illustrators in both fiction and nonfiction, from board books to young adult.

As faculty for SCBWI’s upcoming Writers & Illustrator’s Day, she will lead a session titled “The Interplay Between Art and Text in Picture Books.” She also will critique manuscripts and will be an illustration contest judge.

Erlina Vasconcellos: What do you want participants to take away from your breakout session at Writers & Illustrators Day?

Clelia Gore: I get two kinds of picture book queries: author/illustrators and authors only. For people who are authors only, they sometimes need a little help seeing how the art and writing can work together to tell the story. A lot of picture book writers who are early in their careers don’t understand how the two forms of art interplay in telling the story.

For authors who are illustrators, it’s honing in on things to think about when crafting their story…Hopefully people will leave inspired and it will lead to thoughtfully crafted books.

EV: What question are you asked often?

CG: I always get questions on whether or not to include art notes…Detailed notes to illustrators is a big no-no. Sometimes you need them to explain something that isn’t obvious from the text, but, in general, you don’t need them. In the end, it’s the illustrator’s artistic vision that will be applied.

EV: That can be a hard thing to do when you’re new to picture book writing.

CG: Oh, yes. I think it’s hard and I want to promote the idea to let control of the art go. In the end, a picture book is a beautiful collaboration between two artists.

yogabunnyEV: At Writers & Illustrators Day, what will you be looking for in manuscripts and illustrations?

CG: With manuscripts, I’m looking for strong characters and a lot of heart and themes that a broad audience can relate to. There’s not one kind of book I’m looking for.

For picture books, there has to be a good laugh or a good heart-tugging moment, or ideally—both! Also, I’m looking for books that feature voices that aren’t heard from often enough. Diversity is a big thing for me. Books promoting kindness and understanding are important to me too. And books that are timely.

As far as illustration, that’s even harder to describe. I’ll know it when I see it.  There’s no one kind of art that I like.

EV: Any common errors that you always see?

CG: The number one thing is not having done research into the market. If writers had taken the time to read lots and lots of books, they’d see the modern picture book market is quite different from the picture books of their youth or even 10 years ago.

Didactic books are pretty much relics of the past. Those are books where a kid does something bad, and then the kid learns a lesson. The lesson should not be the main purpose of the book and it shouldn’t be so heavy handed. Start with the story and the characters and the lesson will arise naturally from there.

EV: For picture books, do you prefer to see more than one manuscript from a potential client?

CG: Before I sign on a client, I usually ask to see what else they have. It’s to get a better sense of who they are as a writer, even if I fell in love with their manuscript. Maybe there’s another manuscript that’s the gem, that’s even better than the one I read.

EV: You speak at a lot of events. What do you like about doing them?

CG: I love meeting people in the industry—the writers, the professionals involved. Especially since I’m not in New York, I’m in Seattle. Every year I’ve gotten at least one client from a conference, either through a one-on-one meeting or a referral. I’m definitely keeping my eyes open for new talent while I’m there.

ignite-sparkEV: Do you have any advice on how attendees can make the most of their time at conferences?

CG: Attend all the programming you can. It’s almost always worth it to pay the extra money to meet with agents, editors or someone in the industry. Network as much as possible. I have a client, who after every conference, reports to me that she had personal meetings and networking moments with all of these editors and authors. She’s ended up with a lot of work-for-hire projects as a result. She’s a pro at working a writing conference! Conferences are a place to make connections. Don’t be afraid to introduce yourself and say hello. These people are there to meet you! And everyone in the kid lit industry is nice, anyway.

EV: What if the draft is not perfect? Should you still sign up for a critique?

CG: It’s always worth it. Especially in kid lit where everyone is always kind and understanding. These pros will have great nuggets of wisdom and ideas to improve your manuscript. Be up-front in the beginning about the status of your manuscript. Approach meetings, having done your research on the marketplace, where your book fits in, and know who they are so you can impress in other ways.

EV: Tell me about some upcoming books from your clients.

CG: I think I have 18 books coming out from clients in 2017.  Ignite Your Spark: Discovering Who You Are from the Inside Out by Patricia Wooster just came out and it is a book for teens to help them figure out what their interests are and directing them toward a positive existence. It’s a cool book I could have really used as a teenager.

There’s a picture book coming out in May called Dustrats by Adria Regordosa. He is the most astounding illustrator. It’s a dreamy fantasy picture book about a cat who is a gallant knight cat protecting a baby from its bad dreams. It’s really different from what’s out there in the marketplace and I’m really excited to see how people respond to it.

EV: How important is social media for aspiring authors?

CG: I think social media is the future of everything, so people who aren’t taking it seriously are doing themselves a disservice. There’s such a great community of authors on social media. And with publishers, there’s a growing expectation that authors will have a platform on social media. You don’t have to have a huge following to start, but having no presence on social media is a red flag to publishers that the author won’t be able to connect with readers, i.e. sell books.

I like to tell clients that once you sell the book, that’s when the real work starts. Often when books come out, you’re a glimmer in the eye of the publisher and their publicity department and that fades rather quickly. Authors have to rely on themselves first and foremost for publicity efforts. Social media is an easy way to reach a wide amount of people.

darioEV: If you can only do one social media platform, which one?

CG: Twitter is the most public one. It’s not a huge commitment because the word count is short, you don’t have to accept friends because it’s totally public so easy to grow a following, and astutely using hash tags can help you build your base. For illustrators, I believe Instagram is better and appeals to a younger audience. Facebook I’m not keen on these days. It’s all about reaching your target audience and the people who are going to buy your book – it may be parents, it may be teens. Make your social media decisions from there.

EV: What kind of relationship do you like to have with your clients? 

CG: I’m definitely more of an editorial type of agent. It’s an insanely competitive market. You absolutely have to put your best foot forward so I take the development part really seriously. It’s my job as an agent to understand the market and trends and to bring manuscripts to nearly publishing quality—that’s when they’re ready to submit.

EV: You periodically publish a wish list on your blog. Anything new to add to the list?

CG: Books promoting kindness and understanding and diversity. Considering the current political climate, I want to do my part to ensure the upcoming generation is better than we are. Also, more specifically, I want to add a request for books about space. Across all genres! Space travel and discovery is going to be very real in children’s lives. It’s already kind of trending and I think it’s just going to continue to do so.

dustratsEV: Last piece of advice?

CG: One of the best ways to become a great writer is to be a great reader… Read picture books that were published in the last three or four years so you understand the bar you have to meet. See what a modern picture book looks like and you can get inspired.  Not just 10 or 20 but hundreds. I know an aspiring picture book writer trying to read 1000 books in 2017 and I think that’s the best thing she can do for herself as a writer! The modern picture book landscape is really exciting—in topic, format, the way writers are playing with language, styles of art, nuanced humor—I wish more people who queried me were more savvy about it. You’ll only become a better writer by reading more of your genre!

You call follow Clelia on Twitter: @MadmoiselleClel and on her blog at www.cleliagore.com.

The Los Angeles Writers & Illustrators Day event is technically full, but there is a small chance walk-ins may be welcome at the event if we have no-shows. More info here.

Photos courtesy of Clelia Gore.

Erlina Vasconcellos is the Kite Tales assistant editor. When she isn’t working as a journalist, she is writing — and rewriting — a picture book and a middle grade novel. Find her on Twitter: @noterlinda