We are so excited to feature agent Alyssa Eisner Henkin on our blog this week to discuss what makes a great submission! Alyssa is the founder of Birch Path Literary and has a passion for helping all of her authors and illustrators reach their maximum potential. She also judged our Week 2 Pitch Contest over on our Peer Critique Forum. We’re still hosting weekly contests there, so be sure to check out the forum for a chance to win valuable feedback from one of our superstar guest faculty!
You’ve worked with children’s literature since the start of your career. How has the landscape of kidlit changed over time?
When I was a young editor in the early 2000’s, my colleagues and I listened to the asks from sales and then were left to acquire and edit what we loved. And while we studied the bestsellers of our competitors and were quick to copy in terms of format and jacket, the stories themselves felt a bit less driven by trends. Now with the influence of social media, editors want to capitalize on cultural moments. On the bright side, today editors are publishing a more diverse array of voices and more heavily illustrated titles for older readers a la graphic novels. And I think more adults are reading YA than they were when I started in publishing in 1999, so that’s a positive!
What prompted you to start your own agency, Birch Path Literary?
When I worked at Trident, my dedication to my authors and my drive to sell books was all my own. So, I always functioned as a small business within a large one. I relied on the agency itself mainly for contract vetting, accounting support and international sales. After 14 years there, I finally had the contacts and knowledge to set up my own infrastructure. Thus, it felt like a no brainer to hang my shingle! And I’ve always been entrepreneurial, so it was something I’d longed to do.
What are some of the things you look for when reading a submission?
I always enjoyed novelty and innovations – books that don’t sound like every other book out there. Sometimes it’s a cross-pollination of two ideas that feel like they’d resonate with editors but haven’t been paired together before.
Are there any elements that immediately turn you away from a submission?
These days it’s less about what turns me away and more about what captivates me. I have a lot of clients already, so I need to be very selective. When I find that elusive thing that makes me press respond, I know it when I see it.
What is your number one tip to help an author stick out from the endless landscape of submissions?
As I always say to my fourth grader at home, “you do you.” Put your passion into the world, spell the agent’s name right, and hope someone shares your passion.
At Ready Chapter 1, our big focus is our Peer Critique Forum. While reading submissions that seem like they could be a right fit, what is the most common critique you give that holds you back from a resounding “yes”?
Sometimes I’ll read the first chapter of a pitch that sounds amazing, but the beginning just feels like an information dump. It doesn’t make me care about the character. I’m a big fan of SAVE THE CAT WRITES A NOVEL because the author advises starting with a visual scene as opposed to a lot of interior thought.
Finally, what is your favorite part about being an agent?
In short, I love making authors’ dreams come true. Some have dreamed of winning ALA awards, earning the money to make a down payment on a house, or having a book made into a movie. For others it’s been selling a story that might have seemed too obscure to ever get published. Either way, I love championing!
Birch Path Literary’s website can be found at this link.
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