This week's Agent Spotlight features Steven Malk of Writers House, LLC.
Status: Open to submissions but not actively seeking new clients.
About: “Steven Malk is the third generation of his family to be involved in the children's book industry. The son and grandson of children's booksellers, he worked at his parents' bookstore all through high school and college and entered the world of agenting immediately after graduating from UCSD in 1995. He opened a west coast office for Writers House in 1998, where he represents a wide range of authors and illustrators, including Jon Klassen, Jon Scieszka, Lane Smith, Mac Barnett, Marla Frazee, Kadir Nelson, Ruta Sepetys, Colin Meloy, Carson Ellis, Jennifer Donnelly, Matt de la Pena, Cynthia Rylant, Adam Rex, Sara Pennypacker, Loren Long, Elise Primavera, Bob Shea, Laura Vaccaro Seeger, Nikki McClure, Sonya Sones, and many others.”
About the Agency:
"Writers House was founded in 1973 with a vision for a new kind of literary agency, one that would combine a passion for managing a writer's career with an integrated understanding of how storytelling works. With this two-pronged philosophy, Writers House has played a critical role in developing the careers of hundreds of novelists and non-fiction authors. We believe in offering our clients not only our expertise in negotiating contracts, but in contributing to all phases of the editorial and publishing processes. Our goal is to maximize the value of our clients' work by providing hands-on editorial and marketing advice, as well as leading the way in branding, licensing, and selling film/TV, foreign, audio, dramatic and serial rights." (Link)
"The Writers House children's book department, started by Amy Berkower in 1978, has grown to include seven agents representing many of our industry's most lauded and successful authors. Our list includes popular series like THE TWILIGHT SAGA, SWEET VALLEY HIGH, CHOOSE YOUR OWN ADVENTURE, THE BABY-SITTERS CLUB, CAPTAIN UNDERPANTS and JUNIE B. JONES -- as well as eight Newbery and Newbery Honor award-winning clients: Sharon Creech, Cynthia Voigt, Cynthia Rylant, Robin McKinley, Susan Patron, Neil Gaiman, Ingrid Law and Grace Lin. Writers House is also proud to represent the first two American authors to win Britain's prestigious Carnegie Award - Creech and Jennifer Donnelly; Christopher Paolini, who, at 20, is one of the youngest authors to hit the New York Times bestseller list; and the late Joan Lowery Nixon, the only four-time Edgar Award Winner recipient." (Link)
What He's Looking For:
Genres / Specialties:
Children's authors and illustrators, picture book through young adult.
From a Q&A (05/2010):
"My general philosophy is always that I don’t look for specific things, but rather strong, original voices that I haven’t read before, whatever genre they may fall under. That said, one thing I’ve noticed is that I’m seeing quite a few submissions that seem derivative of books or genres that are popular at the moment, which isn’t as interesting to me. If anything, I’d much rather find the next Munro Leaf, Ruth Krauss, Beverly Clearly, or Judy Blume; I’m always in search of people who have an appreciation for the classics and are able to identify what was so special about those books, and bring that same quality to their own work, but in a way that’s completely their own and feels unique to them." (Link)
"I do represent fantasy, but it’s hard to specify a certain kind of fantasy that I’m most interested in. As with other genres, I’m just looking for a strong voice and well-developed characters. I will say that for fantasy, world-building can be crucial, so it’s something that I keep my eye on very closely." (Link)
What He Isn't Looking For:
"I tend to see too much stuff that's derivative of whatever's popular at the moment; stuff that's trying to capitalize on a trend. I want manuscripts that would succeed and stand out independent of any time or place. I have no interest in what's ‘hot’ at the moment." (Link)
His Advice to Writers:
"I can't stress enough how important it is to find the right agent for you as opposed to just any agent. I understand the impulse to want to get your work out there as quickly as possible, but it's important for writers to take a step back and take their time in making the decision about where to submit their work. A writer needs to figure out what he/she wants in an agent, and spend as much time possible trying to figure out who that is, rather than just shooting blind. Ideally, once you find an agent who likes your work, you've already done your homework and know a lot about them...." (Link w/more)
"Be professional. It's amazing to me how many people don't send a SASE, or write their cover letters in pencil with things misspelled, or send me something, then three weeks later send a whole new draft saying, ‘I sent you the wrong story.’ I really like a good cover letter—it makes an impression on me. But your work's going to speak for itself no matter what." (Link)
"Yes, it's quite uncommon for me to send something out - especially by a first-time writer - and not ask for revisions first. The market is more competitive than ever, and it's worth it to me to take the time to make something as polished as possible. The goal isn't just to sell a manuscript; it's to put it in the best possible position to succeed. And the better shape a manuscript is in, the more likely this is to happen." (Link)
Mac Barnett, Brian Biggs, Sheela Chari, Justina Chen Headley, Lena Coakley, Matt de la Pena, Peter de Seve, Kelly DiPucchio, Jennifer Donnelly, Carson Ellis, Emily Fairlie, AG Ford, Marla Frazee, Gris Grimly, Brett Helquist, Stephanie Hemphill, Deborah Hopkinson, Amanda Jenkins, Jon Klassen, Loren Long, Melinda Long, Colin Meloy, Nikki McClure, Kadir Nelson, Kenneth Oppel, Margie Palatini, Sara Pennypacker, Greg Pizzoli, Frank Portman, Elise Primavera, Aaron Renier, Adam Rex, Chris Rylander, Cynthia Rylant, Ruta Sepetys, Paul Schmid, Jon Scieszka, Bob Shea, Lane Smith, Sonya Sones, Yoko Tanaka, Amy Timberlake, Laura Vaccaro Seeger, Deborah Wiles, Karma Wilson, David Yoo, Michelle Zink, among others.
Submission Guidelines (always verify):
E-mail: Query only.
Snail-mail: Query and SASE.
"I just look for a query letter to be professional, concise, and to the point. It should include a good description of your work, and show that you have a good handle on your work as well as establish you as a professional..." (Link – dead)
"...it doesn't feel good as an agent to receive a submission where your name has been filled in at the top and it's obvious that every other agent in the business is receiving the same submission." (Link)
His policy is to respond within two weeks, though response times fluctuate between minutes and several weeks.
What's the Buzz?
Steven Malk has a large list of award-winning and best-selling clients and is consistently a top dealmaker. He is very passionate about children’s literature and a great advocate for authors. You can find him annually at the SCBWI-LA conference and on Twitter @stevenmalk.
Worth Your Time:
Summer 2011 SCBWI Pre-Conference Interview: Steven Malk at Suzanne Young’s blog (07/2011).
Q&A with Writers House agent Steven Malk at WriteOnCon (08/2010).
Q&A with Steven Malk here at Literary Rambles (05/2010).
Amazingly thorough interview with Steven Malk at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast (01/2010).
Advice from Agent Steven Malk at Writer’s Digest (02/2008).
A podcast interview with Steven Malk on PodcastDirectory (12/2007).
Interview with Steven Malk by Alma Fullerton (02/2007).
Interview with literary agent Steven Malk at Hope Vestergaurds website (06/2001).
Live Chat Transcripts:
Workshop Transcript Q&A at Verla's website (2006) – link dead.
Workshop Trancript Q&A at Verla Kay's website (2005) – link dead.
Workshop Transcript Q&A at Verla Kay's website (2002).
From Query to Book Deal in 72 Hours: Debut Author Elise Parsley at PW (12/2013).
How I Got My Agent: Melissa Guion at Guide to Literary Agents (12/2012).
A Query Dissected at client Lena Coakley’s site (10/2011).
Steven's client, Michelle Zink, shares her pub story on Reviewer X (04/2009).
Last updated: 3/3/14 – in progress.
Last Reviewed By Agent? 6/9/11.
Have any experience with this agent? See something that needs updating? Please leave a comment or e-mail me at agentspotlight(at)gmail(dot)com
Note: These agent profiles presently focus on agents who accept children's fiction. They are not interviews. Please take the time to verify anything you might use here before querying an agent. The information found herein is subject to change.