Alyssa Eisner Henkin, Children’s Book Agent at Trident Media Group in New York City and a featured speaker at the 2009 Jewish Children’s Writers & Illustrators Conference, answers a few questions for The Whole Megillah.
The Whole Megillah (TWM): What attracted you to a profession in children’s literature?
Alyssa Eisner Henkin (AEH): I was graduating college and found that all of my final English term papers somehow related to children’s books, from Alice in Wonderland to the Secret Garden. Then I was accepted to the Radcliffe publishing course and found there that lectures and discussions on children’s publishing excited me more than anything else I learned there. Then the right editing job at Simon & Schuster Children’s Books fell into place, and the rest is history!
TWM: What was your favorite book growing up?
AEH: I loved the Betsy-Tacy series, Anne of Green Gables, the Ballet Shoes books, anything by Lois Lowry or Beverly Cleary, and All-of-a-Kind Family, too.
TWM: Is there a book you can’t wait to read to your son? What is it?
AEH: On the picture book side, I love Chicks and Salsa by Aaron Reynolds, but my son’s only seven months old so he’s still a little young for the Food Network humor. We’ve already started on several books by Karma Wilson, Doreen Cronin, and Peter Brown, and my own client Deborah Diesen, and so far the little guy’s a fan!
TWM: What prompted the change from editor to agent?
AEH: I wanted to do something that was more entrepreneurial, whereby I could work with an author to come up with an idea and truly help build the world of the book and the characters and share more of a role in the building process. Also, I wanted to work on a variety of different kinds of books and not be bound by the taste of one imprint.
TWM: How much would you say you work with an author on a manuscript before you pitch it to editors?
AEH: Each case is different. But in general I do a good amount of editorial work. At a minimum, there’s usually at least one or two rounds of edits, where I focus particularly on pace and amping up the commercial factor of the book, since my job is to secure the best deal possible.
TWM: What do you think differentiates you as an agent?
AEH: I’m very idea oriented, so rather than wait for a perfect or near perfect manuscript to cross my desk, I work with many new and even some seasoned authors to craft, and perfect their books conceptually so that they best serve the editors and ultimately the tastes of book buyers out there. I’m also extremely organized and stay on top of paperwork, career building and details in a way that I think makes for a unique combination of right-brain and left-brain.
TWM: What do you look for in a manuscript?
AEH: Like most agents, I look for something that is hard to put down, with a fast pace and a unique voice that often makes me want to utter particular passages or sentences out loud. I also look for projects with lots of kid appeal that feel fresh and modern. I love humor. I love teen romance that makes me sob. And I’m always impressed by projects that feel as though they could fill a void or at least a less saturated area of the market, like middle grade mystery, which editors often ask me for.
TWM: Are you accepting new clients? If so, how can they submit to you?
AEH: Yes. I’m still actively building my list. I accept queries via e-mail only. Please include in your query letter a plot synopsis, relevant background, and five pages of text in the text body, not as an attachment.
TWM: This one’s for fun: if you could be any character in children’s lit, who would you be and why?
AEH: Probably Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz. What can I say? I love red shoes.