This week's Agent Spotlight features Steven Malk of Writers House.
About: “Steven Malk is the third generation of his family to be involved in children’s books, as both his mother and grandmother owned children’s bookstores. He opened a West Coast office for Writers House in 1998, and represents a wide range of authors and illustrators, including Jon Scieszka, Lane Smith, Marla Frazee, Kadir Nelson, Sara Pennypacker, Jennifer Donnelly, Brett Helquist, Sonya Sones, Adam Rex, Deborah Wiles, and Cynthia Rylant, among others.” (Link)
Status: Open to submissions but not actively seeking new clients.
What He's Looking For:
Genres of interest: Children's books, 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)
From a Q&A (09/2002):
"I just look for work that speaks to me in some way; work that I'm drawn to, and that stays with me. I know that's a vague and somewhat generic answer, but it's a hard thing to pin down. I really look for a strong voice." (Link)
"I represent many different kinds of books, ranging from very young picture books to middle grade and young adult novels. I really work on almost all genres." (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)
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)
"...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 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)
(I only quoted part of the above quote because it's so long, but please go read the whole thing.)
"Even if it takes you an extra 6 months, year, or 3 years to break through, in the scope of an entire career, that's nothing if it means doing it right. If you want to have a long, successful career in this field, it's crucial to present yourself as a professional who's taking his/her career seriously, as opposed to someone who's just looking for the first deal that comes along." (Link)
"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)
"I’ve always tried to be aggressive about approaching unrepresented writers and artists whom I’m interested in working with. I’ve found many clients this way." (Link)
"I keep in touch with my clients via phone and email. It's different for every client, in that some people want to be more involved with this process than others. I think it's important to let your agent know how much information you want (do you want to be informed every time their is a rejection, or just when there's a sale etc.)." (Link)
"I read all of my own email. But if they're queries, my assistant does help me respond to them. I should add that my assistant is very bright and a great readers, and she's in a position where she's going to begin to take on her own clients." (Link)
A clarification here: When he says he reads all of his e-mail that includes submissions. His assistant helps him with the responses.
"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)
Peter de Seve, Mac Barnett, Brian Biggs, Justina Chen Headley, Matt de la Pena, Kelly DiPucchio, Jennifer Donnelly, Carson Ellis, AG Ford, Gris Grimly, Brett Helquist, Stephanie Hemphill, Deborah Hopkinson, Amanda Jenkins, Jon Klassen, Melinda Long, Nikki McClure, Kenneth Oppel, Margie Palatini, Sara Pennypacker, Frank Portman, Elise Primavera, Aaron Renier, Adam Rex, Chris Rylander, Cynthia Rylant, Paul Schmid, Jon Scieszka, Lane Smith, Sonya Sones, Yoko Tanaka, Amy Timberlake, Eric Wight, Deborah Wiles, Karma Wilson, David Yoo, Michelle Zink, among others!
As of 01/2011, Steven Malk is listed on Publisher's Marketplace as having made 23 deals in the last 12 months, 59 overall, and 8 six-figure+ deals. Recent deals include 13 picture books, 7 middle grade, and 3 young adult.
NOTE: PM is usually not a complete representation of sales.
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)
"If you take the time to write a great query, you'll immediately stand out from the pack -- I can guarantee you. Sure, the work ultimately speaks for itself, but you'll put yourself ahead of the game if you spend the time to write a great letter." (Link)
Do not query more than on Writers House agent at a time. The agency also likes to know if it's a multiple submission.
I believe his general policy is to respond within two weeks, though response times realistically fluctuate between minutes and several weeks.
What's the Buzz?
Steven Malk has fabulous buzz. Clients and aspiring writers alike are quick to praise him, and Verla Kay and Alice Pope have made many complimentary comments throughout past years. He's apparently a really fun guy, what with his bobble-head collection and being sugar fiend and all. I really think his active presence on the Internet (doing live chats and the like) and his ever-courteous attitude, despite the fact he isn't taking on many new clients, has really worked in his favor. It seems the only reason to be "disappointed" in him, is that he can't take on an infinite number of clients!
Worth Your Time:
Q&A with Writers House agent Steven Malk at WriteOnCon (08/2010).
Great 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).
Workshop Trancript Q&A at Verla Kay's website (2005).
Workshop Transcript Q&A at Verla Kay's website (2002).
I received and posted some nice feedback on Steven Malk, which you can read here.
Here's a funny post found in Alice Pope's archives regarding Steven Malk's serious sugar tooth.
A summary of the breakout sessions at the SCBWI Western WA 2009 conference, which includes a paragraph on Mr. Malk.
A summary and pics from a 2008 SCBWI conference that includes Mr. Malk at Paula Yoo's website.
A bit about Steven Malk being otherwise known as "Steven Bobble" (he collects bobble heads in his office) at client Lane Smith's web site.
Steven's client, Michelle Zink, shares her pub story on Reviewer X.
You can see another picture of Steven Malk on Alice Pope's JacketFlap.
Have any experience with this agent? See something that needs updating? Please leave a comment or e-mail me at agentspotlight(at)gmail.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.