This is Part Two of an Agent/Author interview. Last week, The Whole Megillah featured agent Elana Roth of the Caren Johnson Literary Agency. Today, we feature her client, Eli Stutz, author of Pickle Impossible (Bloomsbury USA, 2010).
The Whole Megillah (TWM): Why did you approach Elana to be your agent?
Eli Stutz (ES): I found Elana on a wonderful site called Agent Query, which listed her as an agent who is interested in books for children in the “Middle Grades” (8 – 12-years-old), and an agent who preferred email queries (a big plus for me, being based in Israel). I was encouraged by the fact that Elana looks for “great humor and adventure” and thought that my wacky, wild, and hopefully funny story would fit the bill.
TWM: What were the top three tips you’d give to other authors about finding an agent and the agent process?
ES: Hone your query letter until it’s absolutely perfect, and I mean perfect. Spend days if not weeks on getting it that way. There are several sites with tips on what makes a great query letter, and I advise reading them and checking out examples of winning queries on the net.
Make a list of a few dozen agents who represent your genre and send your query letter to each, addressed to them personally, but sent out over a period of a few weeks or months. Don’t query them all at once – send a few at a time, wait for reactions, and then hone your query letter even more before sending out to the next batch.
Be courteous and use common sense. If you get a real offer from a genuine agent, consider it, think about it for a couple days, but give that agent a yes or a no promptly. Go with your gut, and only say yes if your kishkas say yes. Above all, be nice.
TWM: Are there any special challenges for you marketing books in the US while living in Israel?
ES: It’s certainly harder to show up at books signings or school readings, being so far away from the market. I packed a ton of marketing into a two-week trip to Toronto: signings, readings, articles, and a particularly special handing of the book to Queen Elizabeth herself – see my website for photos of that! But there’s a lot that can be done from afar, with the advent of the Internet, email, and the good old-fashioned telephone. You can get written up in a newspaper or author’s publication without actually showing up on scene. You can make your website and Facebook/Twitter presence work for you. I’m not a marketing guru yet, but I think the most important thing is to keep trying new things each week, and to network and get your family and friends to help you out as much as possible. My parents, uncles/aunts and cousins who live in North America have been doing a stellar job getting the word and the book out to their broader networks. And Elana Roth, my agent, has helped me along with several marketing steps too, such as a Facebook contest on the week the book was released. The key is to get everyone you know excited about the book and then to get them to propagate the excitement onward and outward. Hopefully, once you light enough ‘fires’ of excitement all over the place, the book itself will start to feed the flames.
TWM: Why do you write what you write? What makes you want to write for modern kids?
ES: I love making up and telling stories. My children and other people’s children love hearing and reading my stories. It’s a love-love thing. I’ve always had a zany, wacky sense of humor and imagination. Off the wall things are always occurring to me, and when they do, I must, MUST share them with others. In a way, I’ve got a real ‘entertainer’ streak in me. Since I was a kid, my brothers and I would make up skits for cottage talent shows. That’s a lot like writing a book – a humorous book, at least. There’s something about coming up with comedy and then getting others to laugh that makes me think, “Eli, this is at least one of the reasons that you’re here.”
Regarding modern kids, I don’t mind if they’re modern or stone-aged. Any kid will do.
TWM: How did you come up with the concept of Pickle Impossible?
ES: I was looking at the picture on the front of an Israeli raisin package. It was a faded shot of an old man with a farm in the background. The man’s cheeks bulged out strangely, as if he had several canker sores inside them. Or marbles (yes, that’s a nicer image). It conjured up the vision of a family farm, a farm on which each of the members had something odd about them. A mother who was a sleepaholic. A father who had an inexplicable fear of cheese. An older sister who was a neat freak. A younger brother who loved popping bubbles. And a middle brother who was completely normal and who had nothing special or odd about him. He would be the hero. He would go on a quest and discover that his absolute normalness and averageness was actually his special power. And there must have been pickles in my fridge. I love pickles. There’s something funny about them. You just say ‘pickle’ and people start laughing. So I began to tell my son, Shoham, all about this family (the La Bouches) who had to win a pickle contest in order to save their farm. That night was the first time I told it to him from beginning to end. And as soon as it came out, I said, “This is going to become a book. It’s such a cool story!”
TWM: What was your writing process, especially since you have a day job? What were the challenges that you had to overcome?
ES: I wrote a lot at night. There were days were I did less work and wrote a few hours in the day. It wasn’t easy, but when I get into swing, the novel comes out within a few weeks. I write quite intensively, otherwise I find I lose steam. It’s a hectic month for all involved (me, my family, my boss, etc.) but it’s worth it, of course. I find the best formula is to write for a couple hours each day, no more, though. That way you can think and plan out what you will write the next day. That thinking time between chapters is key, because that’s when you come up with those unexpected twists that really make the book super.
I actually came up with the name Pickle Impossible at work. I wrote it down on the whiteboard, and the guy who sat in the desk behind me turned around, looked over and said, ‘Yes, that’s it!’.
TWM: What do you like to read?
ES: Tolkien. C.S. Lewis. Dahl. Le Guin. Basically the classic middle grade fantasy authors. I’m way behind in my modern middle grade reading. I’ve read a little, but for some reason I like those ‘classic’ authors best. Louis Sachar is an exception. He’s done great work. Once in a blue moon I read a great adult book, but however good it is, you won’t find me reading it twice. I’ve read The Hobbit about 20 times. I guess I’ve got a middle grade mind. 🙂
TWM: Who do you look to for inspiration?
ES: Aside from the authors above, who I look to to egg me on (and to show me how it’s really done), I am inspired by people who are at heart noble and true. It sounds corny, but what inspires me most is someone who does a great act of kindness or nobility or loyalty, even though that act comes at a cost or sacrifice. That brings tears to my eyes. Great selflessness gets to me and speaks to me most. And selfishness is something I can’t tolerate. I wish I could always stick to that ideal myself.
TWM: What’s next for you?
ES: Impossible to say. Hopefully more making kids and even some adults think, ponder, laugh, cry, and do great acts of kindness through my writings and antics.