Andrea Somberg loves variety in her reading and in the genres she represents. As a literary agent for Harvey Klinger, INC., her clients include writers of nonfiction, science fiction, romance, picture books, middle grade, and young adult. Andrea's clients have nominated for The Edgar Award, The Governor General’s Award, the Lambda Award, and named best books of the year by NY Public Library and Book of the Month Club.
She is on the look out for nonfiction that look at the world in a new, unusual way, or that give her insight into a topic that she's not familiar with.
Nonfiction Ninjas are excited to have a conversation with the incredible Ms. Somberg.
Why did you become a literary agent?
I’ve always loved to read — it’s my one, true passion in life — but it wasn’t until college that I realized it could become a career (before that I thought I might go into social work). I interned for a literary agency and loved everything about it — advocating for authors, working in a community where everyone loves books, and helping projects find their way out into the world.
What excites you most about working in publishing?
I love the excitement of reading a new proposal or manuscript, of thinking that this could be something I fall completely in love with or that could change my perspective on things. But I really love all aspects of my job — pitching projects, negotiating contracts, forging relationships with others who love books. I also love how the publishing industry is constantly changing — it keeps me on my toes! -- and I'm always on the look out for new opportunities for my clients and their work.
What are you looking for in nonfiction projects?
I love books that shine a light on topics in a fun way or that teach readers something they didn't know, especially if there is an interactive element. I also love books that engage the reader in someone else’s life, that give them a window into what it's like to live in a different place or time, and that helps to expand their world.
Are there specific topics that interest you?
I am very interested in OwnVoices projects and books that help the reader better understand an experience that might not be their own. I am also particularly interested in books that encourage kids to get involved in the world around them, to engage with their community and their environment, and to follow their passions.
What trends are you seeing in the industry?
Years ago it was hard to get books published by underrepresented voices but I’m happy to say that that’s changed. The Own Voices movement continues to gain momentum and we have been seeing this reflected on publishers’ lists.
Who is your ideal client?
Someone who is passionate about books.
Are you more interested in PB, MG, YA, or all three?
I tend to do more MG and YA, however I would love to find more OwnVoices PB.
What do you want to see in a nonfiction proposal?
The competitive books section is very important — I want to know what other books are out there, and how your book is different. Why is there a need for it? I also want to know more about you. Who are you and why are you interested in this topic? What is your background, your credentials? Do you have a promotional platform? (In other words, why are you the best person to be writing this book?). For children’s nonfiction, promotional platform isn’t necessarily as important for adult nonfiction, however it can certainly help. For more narrative-driven books ,such as memoir or biography, .the more sample material you have, the better.
What are some of your favorite kidlit nonfiction books?
There are so many I love! But if I have to name a few: for MG I love Jarrett J. Krosoczka’s Hey, Kiddo and Ben Brooks’ Stories for Boys Who Dare to be Different; for YA, Dashka Slater’s The 57 Bus: A True Story of Two Teenagers and the Crime that Changed Their Lives and Joanna Spathis’s Wake, Rise, Resist: The Progressive Teen's Guide to Fighting Tyrants and A*holes; and for PB, Jacqueline Woodson’s When You Begin and Ibram X. Kendi’s Antiracist Baby.
What advice can you give to people who want to break into the nonfiction market?
Do your research. If you are interested in a topic, learn what else is out there. Make sure that your book is different, that it fills a hole in the marketplace and that there is a need for it. And then make the best case as to why you are the best person to write it.
And last but not least – are you a dog person or a cat person? And do you have a pet?
Both! Growing up I had several dogs, but when I married I inherited two cats (who have unfortunately passed away). No pets at the moment but I’m sure that will change soon.
Do you think Andrea might be the perfect agent for you? Email your submission to email@example.com
Please send along a query letter and the opening five pages of your manuscript.
WHEN RHYME IS A CRIME…
by Michelle Medlock Adams
You might have heard that “Rhyme is a crime,” and that editors don’t like rhyming board books and picture books. That’s not exactly true. Editors just don’t like BAD rhyme. They like rhyming board books and picture books that are written well. It’s just that they have seen so much bad rhyme over the years, their hearts might be a bit hardened toward rhyme. But if you can write good rhyme—then go for it! Most of my children’s books are written in rhyme, and I continue to sell rhyming manuscripts. But, let’s write good rhyme! Don’t be a rhyme criminal!
Let’s take a look at the top rhyme felonies I see when judging contest manuscripts.
Felony #1: Letting rhyme dictate the story.
If your story has been kidnapped all to make a rhyme work, then you’re a rhyme criminal. In other words, if your story is about a lizard who becomes a wizard simply because the rhyme worked, then it’s probably not a very strong story and if you wrote the same storyline out in narrative, you’d soon realize that the rhyme is really the only thread holding it together, and that’s not enough.
Felony #2: Using odd sentence structures to make a rhyme work. #justsayno
For example, in the song you might’ve sung in Vacation Bible School, “Zacchaeus Was a Wee Little Man” (Remember that one?), the lyrics go:
Zacchaeus was a wee little man
A wee little man was he. (Why would we ever restate that he was a wee little man, and why would we say it in this odd sentence structure? Because we need it to rhyme with “see”.)
He climbed up in a sycamore tree
For the Lord he wanted to see. (Again, we would normally write, He wanted to see the Lord. But we changed the sentence structure so we could make an easier rhyme…)
Felony #3: Being a lazy rhymer and settling for near rhymes.
For example, nursery rhymes and song lyrics get away with this lazy rhyme crime a lot, but it’s not going to fly with most of today’s picture book editors.
Here's an example from Baa, Baa, Black Sheep.
Baa, baa, black sheep,
Have you any wool?
Yes sir, yes sir,
Three bags full.
One for the master,
One for the dame,
And one for the little boy
Who lives down the lane
Though “dame” and “lane” have the same long vowel sound, they aren’t perfect rhymes. They are near rhymes. A perfect rhyme would have been to rhyme “lane” with “Jane”—see how that works?
Felony #4: Writing a poem and calling it a picture book.
Just because it is a nice rhyming or rhythmic poem doesn’t mean it’s a picture book. It might just be a nice poem for you to sell to a poetry anthology for children or possibly a poem you can sell to a children’s magazine that features poetry.
For example, I wrote a poetry book for kids called, “My Funny Valentine” for Ideals Children’s Books, and it has over 30 rhymes in it, but they are simply fun poems—not stand-alone picture books.
I see her every single day.
I think she is the bomb.
I’m making her a valentine.
But please, don’t tell my mom.
I think I’ll write: “You really rock!
You’re very, very cool.”
But if I say that mushy stuff.
She might think I’m a fool.
So I won’t sign my name to it.
She’ll never know it’s me!
I’ll tell her that she rocks my world,
And makes my heart run free.
I’ll sign it, “From your biggest fan.”
I slide it in her locker.
But if she finds out it’s from me.
I’m gonna have to sock her.
Felony #5: Writing in rhyme and being the only one who can make it rhyme.
This is maybe the worst felony of all. If you can only make your story rhyme while standing on one leg and holding your head just right, it’s probably not written in good rhyme and meter.
Felony #6: Writing in rhyme just for the sake of it.
Sometimes stories can be told WAY better via narrative, not rhyme. You’re robbing yourself if you don’t try writing your story both ways. You might be surprised which version is stronger.
Writing Lesson Learned from a Tree
by Pat Miller
Autumn in Texas lasts about 48 hours.
Few of our trees change colors. Instead they cling to their green leaves until, one cool day, they shed them like a sneeze.
For Valentine's Day three years ago, my husband bought me this Shantung maple. Its Texas SuperStar description bragged that it "...turns spectacular red or red–orange in late fall. "
The first fall, the tree showed absolutely no color but green. Maybe it was still too young.
The second fall arrived. No red, no orange, not even brown.
I was full of hope this third autumn. Mentor trees across the street flaunted riotous reds and oranges.
One crisp day, half the leaves fell off. Still green. I decided my maple was a dud. Spectacular was not in its vocabulary.
Winter winds revealed how wrong I was.
Turns out, this slacker tree is actually perfect. It was selected from among finer trees by a female mockingbird.
The tree's stubbornly green leaves protected her and her family until they and the leaves flew away in their season. Mama Mocker thought this was, indeed, a spectacular tree.
I overlooked what was hiding in plain sight.
This maple revelation reminds me of my writing journey.
For years I tried to write fiction. One story was rejected 32 times before publication. The others continue to migrate through publishers.
I thought it was because I was new at this. So, I attended conferences, took online classes, and faithfully showed up at my computer.
Year two and three went by, and my fiction was still "green". Mentor texts and colleagues revealed their secrets, but my imagination refused to get vivid. My stories were duds.
Then one spring, I tried my hand at nonfiction--a biography. Research became addictive, my subject became a family member, the writing was more effortless. Turns out, creating color from my imagination isn't my strength. But constructing a nest to support the life of another is.
Maybe your writing strength is hiding in plain sight. Besides fiction, try biography, science, poetry, and magazine articles. Perhaps you'll discover a spectacular talent!
Writing Lessons from a Worm
We are nonfiction authors who support readers and writers through our writing, author visits, and workshops.
Disclaimer: The Nonfiction Ninjas are a group of writers with diverse ideas . The views expressed in each post are those of the author and may differ from others in the group.