|Julia Churchill of AM Heath|
On 26th June, Julia Churchill will feature on the Trailblazer Panel Event for the Manchester Children’s Book Fair. The Pulse question: ‘What is the Worth of Creating for Children?’
Larisa Villar Hauser had the pleasure of interviewing the trailblazing Julia Churchill, literary agent with AM Heath, over coffee ahead of this exciting event.
Larisa: Good morning, Julia. Thank you for meeting with me. My first question is how did you get into children’s fiction?
Julia: My first job was at an agency that only represented adult writing. One day a brilliant manuscript came in by a debut children's writer, Cathy Cassidy. We all loved this book, and my boss couldn't bear to let it go, even though we didn't handle children's books, so we took Cathy on, and continued as we were, an adult agency with one children's book author. About a year later my boss promoted me, and asked me to grow the children's book side of the business. Going into children's books was a very happy accident for me.
Children’s fiction is where I want to be, and where I'll always be. It’s where the most exciting books are. I represent the full range from picture books to older YA.
Larisa: Is YA the area of future buzz in the market?
Julia: I don’t know what area of the market the next exciting books are going to come from – that’s one of the joys of my job. It might be YA, it might be much younger. I think there is a lot of opportunity in not following trends, in not listening to what people are looking for, and just writing that book that only you can write.
Pip Jones, one of my clients, has written an adorable, clever, sophisticated series, Squishy McFluff, that makes me laugh out loud every time I read it and that’s for 5+ year olds. It was one of the most successful launches of 2014, and it broke out in an area of the market that has traditionally been difficult to break out in.
|Image Credit Hiking Artist|
I have a quality commercial list. Some of it tilts more towards the literary, some more towards the commercial. In the adult world, genre is the first way you define a book. In children's book, the age-range is the first defining factor.
Up until last month I hadn't taken on a new client for eighteen months and then I took on two debut authors in the last few weeks.
Larisa: Is there a view that a children’s author is just an adult author waiting to grow up and write for the proper market?
Julia: If that view exists, it is moronic.
Larisa: Do you work on marketing and PR with your clients?
Julia: Every author is different, every book is different and every campaign is different. Publishers bring expertise, creativity and investment to the marketing of a book and an author. I will look through each campaign and ask questions. If I think it looks basic, I'll ask for more. If I think they should be using the author more, I'll ask why they aren't. If the author and I have any other ideas ourselves, we will bring them to the publisher and talk about how we can make them work. If I see something that has fallen flat on one campaign with another publisher, then I will share my experience and ask why that happened, and if maybe we should re-route the budget into a different area, or if they still think it's worthwhile. I ask questions, I make suggestions, I voice my concerns.
What I want for every author is the premium big-budget campaign, the diamond standard, but very few get that. You can imagine marketing and PR campaigns to be on a sliding scale. Some campaigns are on the more basic end of the scale. If that's where your author is in this moment, it's important to know that, so you can deal with it. I can brainstorm with the author what they can do under their own steam, dovetailing with publisher's efforts, and also ask the publisher to bring in their expertise and some budget in order to help support the author. Everyone wants the book to be successful.
Not all authors want to be in a room presenting to a hundred people, they want to sit in their shed and write – and why shouldn’t they? Some authors do - and love being on panels or at festivals – it’s about knowing the author, and building the campaign around them and the book.
Larisa: Any advice for new and emerging authors in a noisy market?
Julia: Fifteen years ago when I started there was no social networking. And social networking brings with it really good things, but also things to watch out for. It’s noisy out there – everyone's success is publicised, and it can feel bombarding.
You'll read about this author's chart position on twitter, this beautiful new cover, this foreign rights deal, this swanky lunch with a publisher. And what if your book hasn't sold abroad yet, or if you don't much like your cover, or if your book should have charted but hasn't, or if your publisher is a little slow to reply to your emails. Or when your book is out on submission, and someone you're friends with on Facebook just announces their six figure deal, and you think, oh, it sounds a bit like my book. It wasn't like this fifteen years ago. My twitter feed is full of hundreds of people talking about their careers, including me. I'm presenting good news on behalf of my clients constantly.
It can be hard to stay single minded and focused and look at your own work and career. If you're comparing yourself to people on twitter, you're comparing your inside to other people’s outside, and that can be very frustrating.
My job is to always look at what we are building towards, our long term plan. Keep writing!
Larisa: Is an author’s presence on social media vital to whether you would consider signing them as a client?
Julia: No, not in the slightest.
Larisa: Anecdotally we hear more about emerging writers who don’t sell well and consequently get ‘dropped’. Can being published, but not have a good track record with sales, be more of an encumbrance than having never been published?
Julia: No. If an author has been published previously and the books haven't sold well, then the author's name isn't bringing currency to the situation, as it would be when I sell a book by a successful author. In which case it is all about the book, which is exactly the same starting point as for a debut author. A career is a long road, and sometimes books don't work. In that case, we re-group, and we work out where to go. There is always a next step.
Thank you Julia, for taking time out to give us great advice and insight into the children’s book market and the role of the literary agent.
To see Julia at the Manchester Children’s Book Fair on 26th June at the Trailblazer panel event, click here.