Friday, February 26, 2010


Part Two of my Skype  interview with Literary Agent Mark McVeigh.  If you missed part, one follow the link and get caught up on Mark’s views on queries.

Part Two of my interview with Literary Agent Mark McVeigh focuses on the market.

Me: “I’ve written a couple folktales and was wondering how marketable they are.”

Mark: “I’m assuming you’re referring to folktales in picture book format. Picture books, in general, are a hard sell right now, and folktales are not as sellable as they were in the 90’s. You might query a small house. Schools still buy folktales, but the major houses aren’t selling to school like they were fifteen years ago. If the current administration pumps money into schools and libraries as they are promising, like they did in the 60’s under Lyndon Johnson, it would affect the publishing industry. But right now the consumers are kids and they don’t have as much disposable income as they did five years ago.”

Me: “What do you think about EBooks?”

Mark: “EBooks are going to revolutionize the industry, and I do think do for publishing what ITunes did for the music industry. Anyone interested in being a writer needs to follow the digital revolution closely.”

Me: “Do agents look at small market publishers?”

Mark: “It depends on the material. Sometimes yes, sometimes no.”

Me: “Do agents try to maintain contacts with editors at all houses or do they cultivate relationships at specific houses?”

Mark: “A smart agent tries to get to know every major publishing house. I’ve worked many publishing houses. I’ve been in the business for over 10 years, and I’ve lived in New York for almost twenty. You get to know people. New York is a big city that works like a small town and publishing is like a gated community in that small town. It’s not so hard to get to know people.”

Me: “As a former teacher and Golden Books editor, do you gravitate to picture books or pull back from them because of the current market?”

Mark: “I’m very selective about picture books. There will be resurgence, but right now I have to be selective when bringing picture book writers on board.”

Me: (All doom and gloom) “So I’ve written a historical fiction picture book, should I just hang it up?”

Mark: “No, not at all. Just do your homework. First, make sure the topic hasn’t been covered too extensively. For example, MARTIN’S BIG WORDS is a gorgeous picture book and in many ways the go-to book when classrooms are studying Martin Luther King, Jr. The house that published MARTIN’S BIG WORDS probably wouldn’t publish another Martin Luther King, Jr. book because it would detract from the sales of this gorgeous book that continues to do well. You have to give publishers something new and of interest.”

Me: (Big smile) “If God or Heaven are mentioned in a picture book, does that make it only marketable in the Christian market?”

Mark: “It depends on the taste and interest of the editor and much those topics are discussed. There are so many picture books of prayers for children that are perfectly marketable.”

Me: (Huge smile!  I had a great vidoe chat with Mark.  I truly learned a lot about queries and about the current market.)

I truly appreciated the opportunity to talk with Mark. Often, as writers we get the sense that agents are sitting on pedestals looking down on us. My Skype chat with Mark helped me see that agents are people too. They are not just their jobs…Just like we are not just writers. What we do plays a part in who we are, but hopefully we are more than just what we put on paper. If you missed out on Mark’s Fifteen Minutes Contest , he’ll be having another one during the first week in April, so make sure you keep an eye on his blog.


  1. Thanks so much for sharing, Sharon. You asked some really good questions and I learned a lot. I, too, have a picture book ms that I've shelved for now. It's based on a column I wrote a few years ago for the newspaper. I thought about having a graphic artist do a flash presentation of the book and put it online on perhaps one of my company's Web sites (I am also the editor of two glossy magazines, one of which is a women's magazine, the other a high-end shelter title). Along that same line, I thought about publishing one of my stories in the newspaper as a serial. Or I could do a podcast or vodcast. So many ideas. I have kept my journalism career separate from my writing career but I have been entertaining ways that I could marry the two and if I should or not. Anyway, I wish you lots of luck with all of your work. Remember to believe in yourself and never give up. You have much talent.

  2. Buffy--Hmmm...I thought you were a newpaper editor. Nice...shiny magazines. :) Graphic novels seem to be taking over the shelves. It's a good idea, you should investigate it. Mark really promoted using a variety of media to get exposure. Do you have access to an agent or someone in the book publishing industry that you know and trust? That's who I'd talk about merging your careers. If you don't have someone like that that you trust, I'd start finding ways to network in person with people who can help you figure it out. I have a go-to editor at Highlights. She's never published anything of mine, but we had ice-cream and coffee together while we were in Chautauqua and I can ask her anything. She's a doll!

    Thanks for the well wishes. I figure the more I learn the closer I get. :)

  3. Hi

    First - I love that pic of Mr McVeigh peeking over the wall! I think it's Mr. McVeigh? How did you do that?? Very funny!

    Second - great Q&A! It's very interesting to know what agents think of the current publishing market and what is selling and what isn't. Good to know that there are markets/publishers for more specialised works albeit on a smaller scale - but they're there!! Again,it's always the case isn't it of doing your research thoroughly, targeting your audience and being as original and yet as marketable as possible. Phew. And that's even before you put pen to paper!

    Oh the digital revolution! LOL! It's not gonna go away is it! :-) Definitely one to watch with a pinch of salt (Oh i'm much too old fashioned and like my big print books...!!).

    Thank you for sharing your interview - invaluable stuff.

    Take care! and GOOD LUCK with your writing!!


  4. What a truly fabulous opportunity for you, Sharon! Thank you for sharing it with us because very few of us will ever experience something like it!

  5. Sharon, I am a newspaper editor but part of my job as the Assistant Managing Editor of Features and Niche Publications is to help identify new revenue streams (such as magazines) for my media company. So I have a Niche Publications Editor who reports to me who oversees the day to day of the magazines, an entertainment editor who oversees our entertainment product, and so on. In total, my staff is responsible for producing a daily lifestyle section for the newspaper, two glossy magazines, an entertainment magazine, maintaining several Web sites, social networking accounts, etc. We also have produced non-fiction books. So while I am a newspaper editor my responsibilities go far beyond our core product, the newspaper. Does this make sense? I'm sure it can be confusing. But just like the publishing industry, my industry is changing and adapting to this brave new world we live in. If you have any questions, please e-mail me ( I'm passionate about my work and love to talk about the incredible stuff my staff has produced. They are nationally award winning writers and designers and I love each of them dearly. Anyway, perhaps far more than you wanted to know.

  6. Great interview.

    It's nice that you got it all down so you can remember it.

    My mind is still trying to remember what we talked about...


  7. Thank you for posting all this wonderful information with us! It's so wonderful that Mark is sharing his time and expertise with lucky writers like us!
    I am excited that I've used Skype twice in the last week! New technology rocks!
    I am posting a quick Five Questions with Mark on Monday!

  8. Oh, and that first pic is awesome!

  9. I love that, too. We do think agents are on pedestals or out in space, or some other place that precludes them from accepting us an our books as being the next best thing ever. But reading his responses, I can see he is encouraging and accepting and would make a great advocate for a writer to have. Even without being their agent.
    Glad to see he cares!

  10. Kitty-- Mark sent me the photos. :-) I hadn't thought about EBooks being like ITunes until Mark talked about it. I love that I can go on line and buy one song. I'm sure I'll warm up to the idea of being able to do that with a book. I'm also thinking that Ipods cost a lot when they first came out, kind of like the Kindle...maybe it will be cheaper in a few years.

    Thanks for stopping by. :)

  11. PJ--He's going to do this again the first week in April. Watch his blog. :)

  12. Buffy--Thanks for sharing so much about yourself. Wow, you are amazing! I had no idea about the scope of your job. I'm totally impressed. (I'm now blushing about giving you advice.) It sounds like you have a dream job.

  13. Shelley--I asked Mark if I could tape our conversation. He said that was fine. I shared the posts with him before I posted them. The only interviews I've done before were done live on the radio (years and years ago).

  14. Kelly--I can't wait to read your post on Monday. I'm sure your chat went great. It was a wonderful experience. On top of everything else I learned from Mark, I increased my internet skills by using skype. It was a good week. :-)

    Judith--I definately felt like he was helpful and sincere. I've not been nervous when talking to editors and publishers (in person or through communication of some other form), but was really apprehensive of agents. Mark eased a lot of that anxiety for me.

  15. Thanks for posting your interview so we can all learn from it Sharon! And Mark really is a great guy - I was nervous to talk to him but like you said, agents are people too.

  16. Susan--Sorry I didn't ask about fantasy. I think the whole volume sign eased me...

  17. Great interview, Sharon! You asked some really great questions. I linked them to Mark's profile. Hope that's okay!

  18. Casey--I am honored that you would consider me worthy of a link. Thank you for the compliment. :-)

  19. What excellent information. Thanks so much for sharing. I don't know how I missed this when you first posted it.

    :) :) :)

  20. Elana--I hope some of what I learned from Mark helps you and anyone else who read my post. Thanks for stopping in...

  21. Awesome! Sharon, you are so brave. Well done!

  22. this is really great - can't beleive I almost missed these posts! Super that you took the time to share with us. And I'm so amazed at your skype knowledge!

  23. Terry--Thanks for taking the time to check out the posts. :) I was nervous about using Skype, but it was pretty easy.