Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Interview with agent Jamie Weiss Chilton

Jamie was Conference Manager at SCBWI before she joined the Andrea Brown Literary Agency. I knew her as the SCBWI Queen of the Review Book Deluge during the year I judged for the Golden Kite Award.

UK: You've been an editor with Random House. You've worked with SCBWI. What leads you now to agenting?
JWC: I've been lucky to have had a few wonderful jobs in different areas of publishing. The most exciting aspect of each one has been discovering and championing new talent. As an agent, that's my focus and first priority, whether the new talent is a first-time writer or an established author coming to me with new manuscripts. As an agent, I get to work
with more genres than I would as an editor. For example, I represent both literary and commercial fiction. Working on such a broad range of genres is a lot of fun, and each different project brings with it a unique set of requirements and challenges. Being an agent is exciting, and it's different every day.

UK: You represent children's and teen books exclusively. Among all the forms and genres in the children's/YA market, what's your special love?
JWC: I love discovering a story that I just can't stop thinking about -- it can be a four-page picture book or a two hundred page novel. I have some preferences listed in my bio on the agency's website, but I'm open to all genres. Right now I'd especially like to see character-driven novels for teens.

UK: Can we talk about picture books? What picture book trends do you see at this time?
JWC: I think picture books are coming back. There was a bit of a dry spell for a few years, during which publishers were tightening their belts regarding picture books and not adding as many to their lists, but I think we're seeing a reversal of that trend. I'm happy to see more risks being taken in the picture book genre, with wordless picture books, graphic novel-inspired picture books, and new formats. I love to see innovation in the genre.

UK: What about SF and speculative fiction? Any interesting titles I should look for?
JWC: I just read Unwind by Neal Shusterman and was impressed by the way he so fully created his science fiction world. I felt that every question I had in the beginning of the story was answered by the end, and then some. It's so important for a science fiction or fantasy writer to create a completely plausible alternate world. Even if all the details don't make it into the final story, the fact that you as the author have done the research on your alternate reality, so to speak, will translate into a better manuscript. I love science fiction and magical realism. I'd love to see elements of magical realism used more in children's books.

UK: At the most recent MFA (Writing for Children and YA) residency at Vermont College, there was a lot of discussion of the short story. It's such a wonderful form with so many variations. Its brevity seems suited to young readers, and yet collections of short stories don't seem to sell well. Your take?
JWC: I absolutely love short stories--they are my favorite non-children's reading, and I love them for kids, too. It is interesting that short story collections for kids and teens have not been more successful. I'm not sure why that is, maybe because conventional wisdom says that kids' novels are short, and therefore short stories are redundant. Let's end this trend -- I'd love to see some great short story collections come my way!

UK: The market for culturally specific stories has changed dramatically from the time I began writing almost 20 years ago. Do you think the multicultural market is slumping, or reincarnating?
JWC: A lot of editors are specifically looking for multicultural stories, and they all have different taste. I think this is a great time for multicultural writing.

UK: You've worn so many hats in the field. Have you ever felt drawn to writing?
JWC: I've never wanted to be a writer. I love to be the audience--the reader. Also I'm the kind, encouraging critic, the cheerleader, the fan, the go-between, and the negotiator. Agenting is a perfect fit for me.

UK: Anything else you want to say to writers seeking to get and stay published?
JWC: Our business is subjective and I hope authors keep that in mind when they receive rejection letters. As an agent, I'm more in touch with the authors than ever regarding how it feels to hear "no thanks." It's hard for me, too! Just remember that all it takes is one yes -- one perfect fit with an agent or editor and you're on your way. It can take a lot of tenacity and patience to get published. Keep trying, and while you're waiting for those agent and editor responses, continuing honing your skills at conferences and with
your critique group.

UK: Thank you Jamie! Very best to you in your new position.


  1. This is a great interview! I'm a client of ABLA, and I can attest to how fantastic their agents are.

    Thanks for sharing all this info!

  2. Thank you for posting this interview. It's encouraging to hear that Ms. Chilton is seeing more opportunities for picture books.