To paraphrase Garrett Morris of SNL, children’s books have been very, very good to me. It was never my planned career option, however.
I came to New York in the summer of 1989 after graduating from the University of Kansas with a B.A. in English and a B.S. in Journalism. I’d just finished an intensive six-week course on science fiction with James Gunn there, and I was determined to come to the city and get an editorial job at a science fiction magazine or book publishing company. If I’d only done a little research beforehand, I’d have realized how few editorial positions there were that fit that description. Fortunately I had a great interviewer at Simon & Schuster who explained a bunch of other job options, including describing the subsidiary rights department, which sounded like a lot of fun. I added that to my application letters and suddenly started getting a lot more calls for interviews…but none of them with science fiction or fantasy publishers.
I was running low on cash and starting to worry when I got a call to meet with Donne Forrest, the Subsidiary Rights Director at Dutton Children’s Books and Dial Books for Young Readers. I liked her immediately and we had a good interview. She sent me home with three books: Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred Taylor, Interstellar Pig by William Sleator, and Winnie-the-Pooh by A.A. Milne. I read them all that night, and she called and offered me the job the next day. She made it clear to me that she needed a body right then, but she’d completely understand if I found a job in SF&F in the near future and left. Six months later, I got a call from Tor about an editorial assistant job…and I said “no thanks, not interested.” I’d fallen in love with children’s books, and I couldn’t imagine doing anything else.
Two years later I was laid off by Penguin (after just signing a lease for a more expensive studio in the East Village to boot!), but fortunately landed a new job as the subsidiary rights associate at The Putnam and Grosset Group. After a couple of years there, I was handed a true golden ticket: I was hired as the Rights and Contracts Director at Orchard Books.
When news came in 2000 that Scholastic was buying Orchard, I had to decide what to do with my future. I’d always thought of agenting as an opportunity down the road, but I certainly hadn’t planned to do it so soon. I talked with several people about it, including award-winning author Angela Johnson, who basically said that if I did decide to agent, she’d be my first client. With that kind of vote of confidence, I took the leap and in September 2000 opened my agency, and it is without a doubt the best move I’ve ever made.