The Whole Megillah first came into contact with Emily Mitchell when she was at Charlesbridge, editor of the Sydney Taylor Book Award for Older Readers, Susan Goldman Rubin’s Music Was IT: Young Leonard Bernstein. Here’s her bio and her path toward her current role as agent at Wernick & Pratt:
Emily Mitchell began her career at Sheldon Fogelman Agency, handling submissions, subsidiary rights, and coffee. She then spent 11 years at Charlesbridge Publishing as senior editor, contracts manager, and director of corporate strategy. At Charlesbridge her books included A Mother’s Journey by Sandra Markle, illustrated by Alan Marks (a Boston Globe–Horn Book Honor Book); Music Was IT: Young Leonard Bernstein by Susan Goldman Rubin (a YALSA Excellence in Nonfiction finalist and winner of the Sydney Taylor Jewish Book Award); the Aggie and Ben series of early readers by Lori Ries, illustrated by Frank W. Dormer; and Flying the Dragon, a debut middle-grade novel by Natalie Dias Lorenzi. She holds a bachelor’s degree in English from Harvard, a master’s in secondary English education from Syracuse, and an MBA from Babson. She lives outside Boston with her husband, daughter, and son—known to her legions of social-media fans as Cabana Boy, La Munch, and the Boy, respectively. Emily is accepting new clients in all genres for children.
The Whole Megillah (TWM): Your bio on the Wernick & Pratt site says, “After a brief post-MBA stint in the non-publishing world, Emily is thrilled to be back where she belongs in children’s books.” It’s an intriguing statement — please say more.
Emily Mitchell (EM): Heh. I didn’t go to b-school intending to leave the book world, but after I got my MBA, I felt some internal pressure to try life in a different industry. My classmates on the whole seemed to like what they did, and I knew there was more money to be made outside of publishing. So I tried it: I got a job in marketing communications at a large local company, and spent my days writing strategic briefs and going to meetings and living the Office Space dream. It wasn’t for me, though, and after less than a year I got laid off anyway. It felt like the universe wanted me to come back to books, and I was very fortunate that the stars aligned and Marcia and Linda were ready to bring on another agent just when I was ready for a new opportunity.
TWM: Please describe the characteristics of your ideal client.
EM: My ideal client is dedicated, practical, flexible, and sane. I love working with people who have found the magical balance between commitment to their art and openness to collaboration: you really need both to make a life and a living in children’s publishing. Laughing at my jokes and occasionally sending me cookies and beer doesn’t hurt, either.
TWM: What are the biggest mistakes children’s writers make when trying to get an agent?
EM: Some authors think that having an agent means they’ll no longer have any problems selling their work. Not true: agents can open doors and negotiate better terms, but we can’t force editors to buy manuscripts or reverse troubling industry trends or give schools and libraries bigger budgets to buy books. If you go into an agency relationship with those expectations, you’ll be disappointed. On a smaller scale, agencies have different submission guidelines, just like publishing houses do, and failure to follow those guidelines is a quick strike against you.
TWM: What is the single most satisfying aspect of being an agent?
EM: This is only Day 13, so I’ll have to get back to you on that. I will say, from my years on the other side of the desk, that there’s nothing quite like telling someone that his or her work will be published. It’s like a wedding and a birthday and a graduation all wrapped up in one.
TWM: What’s your typical day like?
EM: These days, 90% of my day is spent reading manuscripts, writing emails, and making phone calls. (The other 10% is waiting for the school bus, keeping tabs on social media, and snacking.) As I get further along with my clients, I expect I’ll be spending less time reading during the day – saving that for after-hours – and more time dealing with client submissions and contract negotiations.
TWM: Have you ever been interested in becoming a writer yourself?
EM: In fourth grade I was determined to be a writer. I wrote a very long, convoluted, astonishingly bad homage to The Westing Game that I’m pretty sure I burned. A couple years ago I participated in NaNoWriMo (also burned), but that’s about it.
TWM: In what specific ways do you think being a long-time editor lends itself to being a literary agent?
EM: I like to think I have an eye for strong writing and a knack for identifying and helping to solve tricky issues in a story. There’s a delicate balance, of course: I don’t want to interfere with the author/editor relationship, so I wouldn’t privilege my own response to a manuscript over an interested editor’s. But I can serve as another set of experienced eyes, and offer suggestions that, ideally, will help streamline the revision process once a manuscript is sold. I also have a firsthand understanding of the challenges editors face, so I can be a sympathetic ear on that side as well.
TWM: How should writers submit to you? Is there any type of writing you’re specifically looking for?
EM: Our submission guidelines are available on our website. Personally, I have a hankering for funny middle-grade novels and chapter books, as well as historical fiction. I have a lot of experience with nonfiction, but that’s a tougher (and smaller) market in general.