Each year, NCWA member Kirk Kraft posts interviews with the agents and editors that will be speaking at the Northwest Christian Writer’s Renewal.
Sally Apokedak, Associate Agent for Leslie H. Stobbe Agency, has been studying, reviewing, and marketing children’s books, as well as giving writing instruction, for a dozen years. She is presently the YA contributor to Novel Rocket and she teaches at general market and Christian writers conferences across the country. She is interested in children’s books from picture books to young adult (Christian or general market), nonfiction for all ages (Christian or general market), and women’s novels (Christian market).
Could you describe a typical day in the life of an agent?
I don’t know about other agents, but my days are ruled by my Google Calendar and my email. I get to work (my home office) by about 8:00, usually. Sometimes 9:00. (One of the great perks of being self-employed: I can roll into work when I feel like it. I detest alarm clocks.) I check emails fast—answer a few and delete a lot. Then I open my Google calendar and do the first thing. Then I move on to the next thing. Then the next. Usually I am reading or editing a couple of days a week and I’m researching publishers, working on proposals, or writing cover letters a couple of days a week. I also answer a lot of email and look at contracts rarely. (I wish I looked at contracts a lot and at email rarely, but that’s just not happening.)
I take a long lunch—from 1:00 to 4:00—so I can get up and move, instead of being stuck in my chair all day.
And then I usually work from 4:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. on clients’ work. After 7:00 I answer more email, work on handouts or presentations (or interview questions) for conferences. All my life I’ve been a night owl, but I’m trying to be more disciplined and healthy now, so I’m trying to shut the computer down by 9:00 and go to bed at a decent hour. If I have freelance editing work or consulting work, I do that on Saturdays.
Sundays I don’t work.
How vital is maintaining an online presence to writers today (website, blog, Twitter, etc)?
It’s very important. If you have no page at all—no online presence—you’re losing an opportunity to show yourself to an editor or agent who wants to see who you are and what you’re doing.
But it’s also important to make sure your webpage accurately reflects you and your work. When you go for a job interview, you dress nicely and put makeup on. You brush your teeth and comb your hair and wear deodorant. If you are going to apply for a job on a construction site, you wear jeans and work boots. If you are going to apply at a bank, you wear a business suit.
Make sure your webpage accurately reflects you and your work.
When I send out your proposal to an editor and that editor Google’s your name, you really want her to open a page that looks like you. You want your page to be clean and to look intelligent and happy and friendly. If you’re a children’s writer you want some bright colors or fun pictures, maybe. If you’re a women’s writer you may want flowers or photos of your children or pets. You want something that reflects your personality and shows what you write.
Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter . . . ? Pick a couple that you like and work them. You don’t have to do everything. But try to do as many as you are able to do, while still doing them well. (I’m preaching to myself. I’m probably the worst tweeter and status updater around.) Be engaged with others and try to look confident and popular. Editors do look at this stuff. And agents do, too.
Who do you consider your publishing hero or role model?
Oh, this is a great question. I thank God regularly for Les Stobbe, who inspires me because of his integrity and work ethic. He sometimes emails me at six in the morning and then he’ll send me more emails at eleven at night. He works hard, sells plenty of books, teaches at eight to twelve conferences a year, and he’s committed to helping new authors break in. He’s been in the business since the 1950s, he’s taught Christian writers all over the world, and he doesn’t look like he’ll ever retire. Les is a wonderful Christian man and I am so thankful that he agreed to take me on.
When considering a new client, what do you consider the most important attribute?
A finished manuscript with a fresh premise.
I want to say that the most important attribute is the ability to make me care about the characters. That will happen if you have characters that are working toward a goal and if you tell me their story with a comfortable voice. I want to say that’s all it takes, because if I care about the characters I’m going to turn the page. But the more I talk to editors, the more I think you have to have the fresh premise to sell. It doesn’t seem to matter if your work holds our interest and we shut the book with a satisfied sigh.
My most common rejections read: I enjoyed the story but I don’t see it breaking out. Or the variation on that: I can see why you liked this. It’s a good story. But it feels like it’s been done before.
A future client should make an agent care about the characters.
Name one key piece of advice you’d give a previously unpublished writer.
Study the current award-winning books in the genre you want to write.
I cannot tell you how many proposals I get from people who were playing with their children, or grandchildren, and got a good idea for a picture book. They write the books and send them to me and it is clear that their understanding of what picture books actually look like is nonexistent. Go to the library, check out a hundred picture books, take them home, and start typing them into your computer. Or check out ten award-winning middle grade novels and start typing them into your computer. If you will do that, it won’t take you very long before you will get a feel for POV, voice, tense, character . . . all kinds of things. You will see how plot works. And you will get to know, from studying the good books, what makes your books bad and what you need to do to fix them.
And then write books that have all the great elements that those books have—great characters, exciting plot, good pacing, wonderful voice . . .
. . . but make your books fresh (see question #4). Give us books that have never been done before. Simple!
Please describe your “dream” client.
My dream client writes a couple of books a year that bring in 250,000-dollar advances and debut on the NY Times Best Seller list. 🙂 You did say dream, right?
But my favorite clients write books I love. Books I enjoy reading three and four times as we edit and tweak. And if these clients make me laugh, that’s a huge plus.
And patience is a virtue! I am new and I don’t have an assistant. So it takes me a while to get things done.
What are you currently reading?
These interview questions. 🙂 I’m not currently reading anything, because I don’t read that way. I never stop in the middle of a book to answer interview questions. But what have I read most recently? Client manuscripts, mostly.
The last published books I’ve read in various categories are:
- Picture book – “The House on Dirty-Third Street,” by Jo Kittinger
- MG novel – “Okay For Now,” by Gary Schmidt
- YA novel – I can’t remember. UGH. It’s been too long for me. I don’t have time read nice, fat YA novels. But I’ll put in a plug here for Marie Lu’s “Legend.”
- Adult novel – some romance novel I got free at RWA. I can’t remember the title or plot. I abandoned it halfway through, actually.
- Nonfiction Theological – “Knowing God,” by JI Packer (For the fourth of fifth time. Because I’m doing a study with my sister.)
- Writing books – I always have one at hand. This month it’s Rebecca LuElla Miller’s “Power Element’s of Story Structure.”
What Sally is looking for:
- Picture Books – I’m looking for quirky, fun, characters and delightful language, with lines that roll and rhymes that rock. Conflict and growth for characters always helps.
- Middle Grade Books – I’d love some funny boy books. Boy scientists and boy geniuses are great. I love fantasies, but really want anything with a strong voice.
- YA Books – Fantasy is my favorite, and if there’s romance, I love it even more. I still like dystopian, and fairy tales. I love mysteries.
- Nonfiction For All Ages – I’m interested in devotional books, Christian living, science for young children, and biography. But you may try me on anything.
- Adult Inspirational – I’m looking for adult books for the Christian market, particularly fantasy and romantic suspense.
Kirk Kraft has been gripped by the “Writing Monster” for many years. A husband and father of four, he’s instilled a love of reading in all his children while chasing his dream of publishing. His favorite genre for both writing and reading is epic fantasy. He has been a member of NCWA since 2008.