Editor / Agent Spotlight

NEW AGENT SPOTLIGHT: Joyce Sweeney of the Seymour Agency

Hello Mixed-Up Filers! Are we in for a treat today!

I’ve been looking forward to today’s agent interview for a while, since  it’s with someone who I’ve been friends with for a long time. Before becoming an agent, she had been a mentor to many writers and did a lot to help them become published, including me. She recently became an agent, and what’s even better is, she became an agent at the same place as where I’m represented!

Please help me welcome Joyce Sweeney of the Seymour Agency!

JR: Hi Joyce, thanks for joining us today!

JS: Thanks, this is my first interview as an agent, so I’m officially not a ‘secret agent’ anymore!

JR: I’m glad we could play a part in the big reveal! To start with, you’re an accomplished author yourself, what was your first published book, and what was your journey like to publication?

JS: My first published book was CENTER LINE, Delacorte Press, 1984. It was a contemporary YA about runaways. I won the first annual Delacorte Prize for a First YA novel, which makes it sound like an overnight success, but my then-agent had been shopping the novel for over a year, before we heard of the contest. The book sold really well and won a lot of awards and two movie options. So haha to the 34 publishing houses who rejected it.

JR: As I mentioned, you’ve been a mentor to many, and have also helped a ton of writers become published. How many has it been, and how did you first get started in that?

JS: We are up to 64 magic beans now! I award a magic bean to anyone who works with me, who secures a traditional publishing contract. It sort of evolved. I was teaching five-week writing classes through the Broward County Library system. Then I noticed people would do really well, but lose momentum once the five weeks were over. So I switched to an ongoing class, where I could really mentor people over the long haul. To my surprise, within one year of starting the group, we had our first person published. And the following year, two more, and the following, five more!  So I felt we should be celebrating all this and I started handing out the magic beans, which are the seeds from the South American Guanacaste tree. As you know (as a magic bean holder yourself) we hold a little ceremony, shake rattles, hug and cheer. It’s such a hard thing to be traditionally published, and I believe those who make it should get a celebration.

JR: The magic bean ceremony really is a lot of fun, and I still proudly have my bean! As a teacher/mentor, you had cultivated a lot of relationships with editors and agents, and one of the things I know you did was reach out to them when you thought you had a student who was ready to take the leap. It seems like such a logical progression to become an agent, yourself, since you were already advocating on behalf of your stable of authors. How did that officially come about?

JS: People have told me over the years I would make a good agent, but it seemed like a weird, distant, impossible thing to me then, like it would involve moving to New York and having power lunches. My agent, Nicole Resciniti, approached me about it last December and I was sort of stunned, along with flattered and immediately after, super excited. She pointed out it was the same job I’d been doing all my life, except now I could potentially take my mentees all the way to the finish line! So how could I not be excited about that?

JR: Nicole definitely has an eye for talent. (Wow, I love how I seamlessly got that in!) Were you nervous about making that change? 

JS: Sure. It’s a lot of responsibility to the writers I represent. But I do know how to spot talent and know when people are ready, and I am starting to have fun with the pitching and matchmaking parts. When I see my first client make a sale, I can’t even imagine how exciting that will be.

JR: Since I happen to know some of your clients, I hope that happens soon! What’s changed in publishing between the time you started and now?

JS: Technology has changed tremendously, but you don’t want to hear how I used to have to type out my whole manuscript while walking ten miles in the snow.  I think a lot of it hasn’t changed that much, except it’s more competitive, and editors have to think more about sales and marketing. The good change is that children’s literature is more diverse and inclusive.

JR: You’ve already started taking on clients. So, what sort of books and authors are you looking for?

JS: At this time, I’m mostly representing picture books and middle grades of all types; fiction or non-fiction. I’m drawn to lyrical voices and stories that elicit strong emotion. I like all genres.

JR: Are you very hands-on with your authors?

JS: I’m very editorial, obviously, since that’s my background. And I like to communicate. As you know I’m a great believer in helping writers shape their expectations and feel good about the direction things are going. Then they can be free to create. When I have a bigger list, I don’t know if I will be as communicative as I am now, but knowing me, lol, I probably will be.

JR: What advice can you give to authors?

JS: Worry more about your craft than your platform. There are lots of ways to market an author, but there is no way to sell a book that is not outstanding.

JR: What was your favorite book as a child?

JS: PETER PAN, then HEIDI, then LITTLE WOMEN. Then I started loving Beverly Cleary and read her obsessively. Then, around fifth grade, I started reading adult books so there was a big John Steinbeck period. But my all-time favorite series was called SPACE CAT. Long out of print, and not high literature for sure.  Space Cat explored the solar system and interacted with all the beings there, who strangely, were also cats!

JR: Cats, how shocking. Favorite movie?

JS: Pirates of the Caribbean, I, II, III and on to infinity.  I’m also passionate about thrillers for some crazy reason. The Hand That Rocks the Cradle is a favorite.  And musicals. And horror. Okay, I just really like movies.

JR: What’s one thing from your childhood that you wish could come back?

JS: I used to sincerely believe that anything I went for, I could achieve. Okay, I still believe that a little.


JR: Well, that’s still a good belief! How can people follow you on social media?

JS: Facebook, Twitter @joycegrackle, Instagram sweeney1217.


JR: I know that of all the authors you’ve ever mentored, I’m by far, your favorite. Okay, I know you didn’t actually say those words, but I can infer. Also, this isn’t really an actual question, just a statement that I wanted to make since I knew there’d be others reading this, but that’s neither here nor there.

JS: I think my answer is so obvious, I will refrain from commenting.


JR: You don’t have to, we know. Anyway, I want to thank you so much for taking the time to speak to us today!

JS: Thank you! This was fun!


JR: Thanks again to Joyce, welcome to Seymour Agency, and best of luck going forward!

AGENT SPOTLIGHT with Tracey Adams of Adams Literary!

Hello Mixed-Up Filers! Are we in for a treat today! I’ve been fortunate enough to meet Tracey Adams, co-founder of Adams Literary several times, as well as take workshops given by her. I have to say, she couldn’t have been nicer! So, I’m pleased to let all of you get a chance to meet her here at Mixed-Up Files.

JR: Hi Tracey, thanks for joining us today! 

TA: Thanks for having me, Jonathan!

JR: To start, could you tell us a little bit about your path to becoming an agent and also about Adams Literary?

TA: Ok, so waaaay back (promise I’ll make this short!) my family owned a printing company in New York City which was founded in 1837. It started in Brooklyn and ended up in Tribeca, which was a neighborhood of printers in Manhattan. I grew up visiting the printing presses in that basement, and with huge reams of paper in the house for creative projects. We say we have ink in our veins. In college, I learned of a publishing internship, and I figured it was something like printing but with reading for work! And it was. I interned throughout college and then worked in marketing and editorial. My dream was to have my own children’s imprint. But publishing was becoming increasingly corporate in the 90s, and I decided to see what it was like to work at a literary agency. I discovered much more flexibility for working mothers, along with what I loved most – working with authors and being a part of the book-making process. That’s how I became an agent. After my husband, Josh, graduated business school with a specialty in marketing, we went into business together and founded Adams Literary. It’s our middle child, and will be sweet 16 in April!

JR: That’s amazing. Incredible to have a company founded in 1837. I’m glad I asked to interview you, and learn something new! What was the first book you sold?

TA: At Adams Lit—oh, I don’t even have to think. On our first day in business, my dear friend Deborah Brodie at Roaring Brook Press made us two offers: one for Kathleen Johnson’s DUMB LOVE and one for Charlie Price’s DEAD CONNECTION. She meant the world to me, and I miss her.

JR: One of the things I really respect about you, is you’ve used your social media to call out antisemitism. I know I’ve spoken to many Jewish authors who have been frustrated in the past by a pushback against Jewish-themed books. Been told there’s no market for it. I’ve also been told by people to make things “Less Jewish”. Have you noticed any change in that recently?

TA: Fistbump, Jonathan. Thank you, too, for calling out antisemitism. Honestly, I get more of a pushback regarding texts being “too religious” for mainstream houses, regardless of faith. We know smaller houses which specialize in Jewish and Christian themes. But we also know many editors at the large houses who don’t shy away from Jewish content. I’m proud we just sold a picture book about Shabbat, and please check out Anne Blankman’s just-released THE BLACKBIRD GIRLS.

JR: I definitely will, and am also looking forward to the picture book about Shabbat. What do you enjoy the most about your job? 

TA: It is very rewarding when I’m able to tell a debut author they have their first offer. That moment means so much, and to deliver that news is a tremendous honor. The other part that helps me through administrative stuff is the fan letters from young readers. That’s why we’re all doing this, right? For me, it’s all about the kids and reaching them in some way.


JR: I agree. There’s an incredibly warm and satisfying feeling to hear from kids, the actual readers, who tell you they loved your book. And speaking of books, what sort of books do you look for?

TA: We like to say “timely and timeless.” Marketing guru husband came up with that one, and I’m sticking with it. I’ve always said that if a book makes me laugh, cry, or dream about it, I’m all in. That’s my bar. Also: unputdownable. And writing that is so gorgeous that I must read it slowly, to savor the words.


JR: Are you very hands-on with your authors?

TA: It’s really important for me to be in the loop, to know what’s going on, even (especially) once my authors are communicating with their editors, publicists, etc. This is because international publishers and Hollywood are always checking in, and I need to know where we are. So I’m always copied on correspondence, even if it’s just me chiming in with a “Go, team!” reply. But when my authors are writing, I let them be and eagerly await what’s to come.

JR: What’s going on in Middle Grade? 

TA: Editors are very eager for middle grade! And of course there’s a huge boom in the graphic format right now—kids can’t get enough (I’ve got one of these kids).


JR: I’ve got one as well. What advice can you give to authors?

TA: Read a ton in your genre. Attend as many SCBWI events as you can. Find a really great critique group (this is easier said than done—but so important). And persevere in honing your craft!

JR: Great advice. Critique groups can be really helpful. What was your favorite book as a child?

TA: As a picture book reader, I was obsessed with Richard Scarry books, the Hoban’s FRANCES books, P.D. Eastman’s BIG DOG, LITTLE DOG, and Little Golden Books like SCUFFY THE TUGBOAT and THE LITTLE RED CABOOSE. I wanted to be Pippi Longstocking. And my dad read the Pooh books to me. As a middle grade reader, Katherine Paterson’s BRIDGE TO TERABITHIA made me a lifelong reader. I was a huge LITTLE HOUSE fan, and then of course everything Judy Blume and Paula Danziger.

JR: I LOVED Richard Scarry books! Read them over and over again. Favorite movie?

TA: As a kid, I loved movies like Escape to Witch Mountain, The Dark Crystal, The Secret of NIMH. As a teen (and forever), anything John Hughes. An all-time favorite is Almost Famous. I’m a sucker for anything coming-of-age.

JR: You named soooo many of my favorites! I recently rewatched Escape to Witch Mountain, and it brought me right back to childhood. What’s one thing from your childhood that you wish could come back?

TA: Playing outside. But you know what? It’s March 2020, and we’re all playing outside.

JR: Good point. Important question, you’re a big Carolina Panthers fan, so what’s your prediction for them this year?

TA: Oh, Jonathan. I don’t know this team at the moment. I’m still bitter about losing Cam, but I’ll rally. 8-8? RUN CMC! Keep Pounding! (That is also my heartfelt answer to the question above about advice to authors.)

JR: Also good advice. And if it makes you feel any better, I’m a Jets fan, so I never expect any success at all. How can people follow you on social media?

Twitter: @adamsLiterary, Insta: adamsliterary.


JR: Tracey, thanks so much for taking the time to speak to us today! 

TA: Jonathan, you made me laugh and you also got me out of thinking about * everything else * happening in the world right now. Thank you. Everyone be safe and well!

Editor Spotlight: Karen Chaplin of Quill Tree Books/Harper Children’s/Teen

Hello Mixed-Up Filers!

Are we in for a treat! Today, I’m pleased to have with us, Karen Chaplin, Executive Editor at Quill Tree Books / Harper Children’s/Teen!

JR: Hi Karen, thanks for joining us today!


KC: Thanks so much for having me!

KR: To start with, could you tell us a little bit about your path to becoming an editor at Harper?

KC: Sure! I had a bit of an unconventional path to becoming an editor. I started out on the children’s managing editorial side of the process—copy editing, scheduling, proofreading. I did that for a few years until I made my way to editorial, first in academic publishing, then back to children’s, where my heart always was. I look at all my different jobs as huge learning opportunities, and even though I didn’t go the traditional route, I still use all the knowledge I gained from my time in managing editorial and academic publishing. They were extremely valuable experiences.


JR: You’re right, that is unconventional. But thankfully, you wound up in children’s books! And speaking of which, what was the first book you worked on?

KC: When I was at Puffin/Penguin Young Readers Group, my very first acquisition was a four-book YA series call The Specialists by Shannon Greenland. They were such fun books! About a girl who was recruited into a secret spy group, which eventually became her family. Sort of a version of X-Men meets Spy Kids.

JR: X-Men meets Spy Kids? I’m in! What do you enjoy the most about your job?

KC: I love working with my authors. Collaboration, exchanging ideas, being creative—it’s exciting to bring an author’s vision to life and have a small hand in it.


JR: When I read the books you’re involved with, it is some eclectic list. Is there anything that you look for in particular?

KC: I’ll say that one of the things that unites my fiction list is a strong narrative/character voice that takes me back to being a kid. It’s so hard to do, but when it is done well, these characters feel like they could’ve been me, or one of my friends, back in the day. And as for nonfiction, I love learning new things, so the stories I like to bring to readers are ones that are little-known or a different perspective or experience on a familiar time period.


JR: Are you very hands-on with your authors?

KC: I try to take cues from my author. I’m happy to be a very hands-on editor if my author needs me to be. At the same time, I never want to be too hands-on that I crush the creative spirit. But I tell my authors I’m here if they need me.


JR: That sounds like a good policy. What advice can you give to authors?

KC: What I tell my authors is to read in the category you want to write in—learn everything you can from other authors. Writing is a craft, and you can always get better and learn new things. I would also say don’t get caught up in trends or word counts. Write until the story feels finished. You can always go back and revise—that is probably the biggest part of the writing process.


JR: Great advice! Now, I have to know, what was your favorite book as a child?

KC: Wow, that is a tough one. There were so many! I was obsessed with From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler and Harriet the Spy. I also devoured Beverly Cleary’s Ramona and Beezus and Ramona.

JR: From the Mixed-Up Files? Well, you certainly came to the right place for that! I read that you also liked the Encyclopedia Brown, which I loved as well, but if you had been friends with him, do you think he might’ve gotten on your nerves for being a know-it-all?

KC: Ha! I did love Encyclopedia Brown—and really mysteries in general. I was a huge fan of all thing mystery—Agatha Christie for one. And yes, I do think I would’ve gotten a little annoyed with Encyclopedia Brown, but he was clever and always right….

JR: I LOVE Agatha Christie! And Then There Were None is one of my all-time faves! I know that you’re also a fan of The Great British Bake Off. You posted a challah that you baked, which looked delicious. Do you enjoy baking in general? If so, what’s your specialty, and follow-up, did you make enough for everyone?

KC: You’ve done your homework! Yes, I got into GBBO, probably a bit late, and it inspired me to make a challah, which looked great but turned out dreadful. (I will conquer bread one of these days!) I do really like to bake in general. I make a lot of banana bread, which my family devours within a few hours of it coming out of the oven, usually not even leaving me a slice.

Karen’s Actual Challahs!


JR: Well, they do look great, so when you conquer bread, save me a slice! How can people follow you on social media?

KC: I’m on Twitter @capchapreads

JR: Thanks so much for taking the time to speak with us today!

KC: Thank you so much for giving me the opportunity to chat!


Well, that’s it for this month, my mixed-up friends! I’d like to once again thank Karen Chaplin for joining us, and until next month, Happy Reading!