Agent Laurel Symonds began her publishing career in the editorial department of HarperCollins Children’s Books/Katherine Tegen Books in New York City and joined the Bent Agency in 2018. She’s also had positions in the marketing department at a small publishing house, in a library, and as a bookseller at one of the nation’s best independent bookstores. She’s looking for authors and illustrators from across the picture book-YA spectrum, especially underrepresented stories and voices. And! …She’s here to share some of all this kid lit wisdom she’s gathered before she sits on faculty for this year’s Working Writers Retreat.
SARAH PARKER-LEE: Your decades’ worth of experience with marketing, editing, bookselling, and publishing gives you a lot of insight into both the creative and business sides of kid lit. We can’t wait to learn from you at the retreat! What is one thing from each side you think authors and illustrators should know but often don’t?
LAUREL SYMONDS: The publishing industry is a business, after all, and that can be a challenge to creative people like authors and illustrators. It’s a large part of why I encourage creators to have an agent to handle the business side of things so that they can focus on their art. On the creative side of things, one of the biggest challenges is handling the “what comes next?” question after a debut project has sold which, of course, harkens back to the business side. Many creators spend years working on their debut project and suddenly they might find themselves with a two-book contract and a deadline for that second book less than a year after the first one has been turned in. This pressure changes the dynamic of being a creator.
SPL: And because it’s super unfair to limit you to just one thing per side! What else have you found invaluable to your work and to your clients from either or both sides of kid lit? Are there other sides we’re forgetting?
LS: One of the biggest influences on my career was working as a bookseller at an independent bookstore, especially where picture books are concerned. Seeing all the gorgeous new and bestselling titles on display, as well as talking with customers, influenced my opinion on the category so much so that nearly half my client list is picture book authors and/or illustrators! I highly recommend authors (or anyone in the industry) spend as much time in bookstores or libraries as possible, browsing the shelves, chatting with employees, and generally getting to know the market.
LS: I believe it’s the publishing industry’s responsibility to publish stories for everyone, and representing clients who write from perspectives seen less frequently is my small contribution to that. Some of my favorite titles that have successfully pushed the industry forward in this regard include To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han and The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, but it’s also the quieter books that make a huge difference. After all, I believe in the power of pairing the right book with the right child, and that’s a very individual thing.
SPL: You often mention your favorite part of agenting is being your clients’ biggest cheerleader. What does that mean to you and why do clients need this in an agent?
LS: Being a cheerleader for my clients means being the number one advocate not only for their work, but for their abilities as creators and the longevity of their careers. I want my clients to know I believe in them and work my hardest to help them achieve their goals. Having a relationship built on trust and support is key because the publishing industry is full of challenges and I want my clients confident that we can get over any hurdles together.
SPL: As someone who works from home, as many illustrators and authors do, any advice on how to stay focused and get work done even when you don’t feel like it?
LS: Ah, I get this question a lot and, as someone who is fascinated by work-life balance and organization techniques, I have a lot of thoughts on this! My main advice is to make a to-do list the night before so that in the morning, when I’m most productive, I don’t waste time figuring out what needs to be accomplished. I design my to-do list down to the half hour, but generously estimate how long a task might take so that if and when I finish it early, I have wiggle room in my schedule to check social media, change a load of laundry, or just let my mind wander for a moment. I also believe in getting outside daily — my dog/office assistant, Sherlock, ensures this always happens!
SPL: And finally, do you have any other events or projects coming up that we can check out?
LS: I keep a busy schedule of events that you can check out here. My clients’ first books start coming out in less than a year. Look for Monster Trucks Go! by Doug Cenko and Fussy Flamingo by Shelly Vaughan James and illustrated by Matthew Rivera in Spring 2020. I’m trying to be patient but I can’t wait until these books (and many more) are out in the world!
Thanks for being with us, Laurel!
Registration for the WWR opened on July 1stand filled up fast, so get on that waiting list if you aren’t already registered!
To learn more about Laurel and the fiction and nonfiction YA, middle grade, chapter books, and picture books she’s currently seeking, check out her Bent Agency profile page, her manuscript wish list, or find her on Twitter (@LaurelSymonds). Agency submissions guidelines here.
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Sarah Parker-Lee is a book reviewer for Kirkus Reviews, an editor/story editor and proofreader, literacy advocate, and spent four years as a Los Angeles SCBWI board member and the managing editor of Kite Tales, where she is still a regular contributor. She’s a #FUTURESCAPES19 alum and writes YA alt. history and sci-fi. Twitterings: @SarahSoNovel
Images provided by Laurel Symonds, Walker Books Ltd., and Blue Manatee Press.