for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations
Brooks Sherman is an agent with The Bent Agency.
He represents picture books, fiction for young adult and middle-grade-readers, select literary and commercial adult fiction, and nonfiction in the areas of humor, pop culture, and narrative nonfiction.
He was interviewed by Elisabeth Norton for the SCBWI Europolitan Conference.
You'll be presenting in Amsterdam about using social media effectively. This is a topic most creators wrestle with at some point in their career.
ON SOCIAL MEDIA...
Does a writer have to be on social media these days?
No. It could be argued that it is more essential for nonfiction writers than for those who write fiction, as nonfiction usually requires author platform.
Here’s the thing: Social media can be useful to a writer, if they are good at it. If you are uncomfortable communicating via social media, it will show, and it will actually have a negative effect. So, if you absolutely loathe using Twitter or Facebook or Instagram, don’t do it!
That said, if you do want to learn how to use it, it can be an invaluable tool for following industry news and trends, as well as networking with other writers and industry professionals.
Do you think the target reader age influences whether a writer needs to be on social media? Is it more important for a writer of young adult fiction to be on social media than say, someone who illustrates picture books?
Also, I found my first picture book client, Sam Garton, on Twitter; he had created a Twitter profile for his character Otter that included a link to his website.
Once I clicked onto his site and saw his wonderful humor and amazing artwork, I decided to reach out to him to see if he was working on any picture books.
So if you are an illustrator, keep in mind that social media can be a great way to advertise your artwork and online portfolio.
What's your advice to the writer who has no social media presence at the moment?
I would encourage every writer to at least explore a few social media platforms, to see if any of them hold appeal. Twitter is a different experience from Facebook, as are Instagram, Pinterest, etc.
Try them out before you decide you don’t want to use them.
Before I got into publishing, I thought Twitter was a useless, narcissistic tool. Since I’ve become an agent, I’ve found it incredibly useful for keeping up with world news, publishing news, promoting my clients’ work, and building my own professional reputation.
Is there such a thing as too much social media presence?
I think so. While I think it’s great if writers and publishing professionals are active on social media, if you are too active, it can become exhausting for those who are following you, and you might turn people off.
Also, keep in mind that social media should be a tool, not a goal; if you are using it nonstop every day, when are you going to find the time for your real work? (Or your family, friends, and health?)
What are some of the biggest mistakes you see by writers/illustrators using social media?
The biggest mistake I see people make on social media is forgetting that everything they do is public.
Again, social media is a tool; don’t use it when your emotions are running high, or say, after you’ve had a few glasses of wine. Social media is an excellent way to build a public persona, but it is not you — it is the you that you want to share publicly.
Also, no need to overshare: you don’t need to share every single thought that pops into your head!
ON GRIPPING OPENINGS...
Can you give a couple of examples of what you think are gripping openings, and tell us why they work?
Certainly. Here is the opening line from my client Emma Trevayne’s middle-grade fantasy Flights and Chimes and Mysterious Times:
“There are doorways, and there are doorways.”
Right away, this sentence establishes atmosphere and style. There is a classic feel to this narration, and it compels you to keep reading.
There is also the opening line from my client Heidi Schulz’s middle-grade adventure Hook’s Revenge:
“There have always been pirates. Why, even as far back as Eve, on the day she was considering whether or not to eat that apple, a pirate was most certainly planning to sail in and take it from her.”
Again, atmosphere and style are immediately apparent. There is some wonderfully wry humor here, and really, who doesn’t love reading about pirates?
The opening lines from my client Becky Albertalli’s young adult contemporary novel Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda:
"It’s a weirdly subtle conversation. I almost don’t notice I’m being blackmailed.”
Here is an example of the story starting right away — as a reader, I definitely want to know what’s happening, because my interest has been piqued with the word “blackmailed.”
Who is blackmailing our narrator, and why?
In the submissions you see, what percentage would you say grab you with their openings?
I receive somewhere between 50 to 100 queries (with opening pages) during an average week. Of these, I would say perhaps 10 percent of these intrigue me enough to request the full manuscript.
Do any of those stories with gripping openings lose you later?
Sometimes it is simply a case of my loving the story’s premise but not connecting with the way the story is told.
Other times, it feels like the writer has worked very hard on the opening pages, but not as much on the rest of the manuscript.
While it is important for you to have a gripping opening, don’t forget to give the same attention to the rest of your story! Make sure your story is as tight and strong as possible before you query agents and editors; you want to put your best foot forward.
Thank you, Brooks. See you in Amsterdam.
Once she realized she wanted to write for children, she joined SCBWI and now serves as Regional Advisor for the Swiss region.
Originally from Alaska, she now lives in Switzerland between the Alps and the Jura and writes for middle graders.