Editor / Agent Spotlight

AGENT SPOTLIGHT: Tina Dubois of ICM Partners

Hello Mixed-Up Filers! Are we in for a treat today! Years ago, I was fortunate enough to take a workshop with Tina Dubois, literary agent with ICM Partners. Besides running a great workshop, 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 Tina, thanks for joining us today!

TD: Thanks so much for having me and for your kind introduction! I’m glad our paths continue to cross.

JR: To start, I see you live in Brooklyn. I’m a Brooklyn boy, myself. Sheepshead Bay/Gravesend area. What is it about the city that appeals to you?

TD: The energy, the pace, the people!

JR: I agree with that. You also lived in London, one of my favorite places. How has living in different areas helped influence your tastes?

TD: I want my list to reflect a far greater swath of experiences and points of view than my own. Moving from a small town in New England to study in London surely helped shape that.

JR: Could you tell us a little bit about your path to becoming an agent and also about ICM?

TD: Shortly after receiving my MFA in Poetry from Brooklyn College, I got a job as an assistant to two amazing agents at a boutique literary agency. They taught me every aspect of the business, from pitch letters to contract language to foreign rights. I moved to ICM a few years later and began building my own list under the mentorship of another amazing woman.

ICM Partners is one of the oldest and largest agencies in the world, with offices in New York, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., and London. I’m very fortunate to work with such incredible colleagues representing the most talented people across so many disciplines: music, comedy, theater, broadcasting, television, film, podcasting, speakers, publishing, you name it!

JR: What was the first book you sold?

TD: Anne Ursu’s middle grade fantasy trilogy, The Cronus Chronicles. It set a high bar, and I’m so grateful to Anne for trusting me with those books—with all of her children’s books!

JR: What do you enjoy the most about your job?

TD: I love working with my authors. They are so talented: creative and smart and funny. And hardworking!


JR: What sort of books do you look for?

TD: I’m looking for middle-grade and YA fiction across all genres. I’m also interested in middle-grade and YA nonfiction, specifically memoir (including graphic memoirs), history/biography, pop culture, and social issues. I want diverse voices/#ownvoices. I want books with something important to say about the world we live in and that challenge the status quo. I have a soft spot for unpredictable magic and characters facing impossible choices. I love books that make me laugh and cry in equal measure.

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

TD: Yes. I like to be involved with every aspect of the publishing process. It’s really a collaboration with my authors—from the submission strategy to the editorial vision to the cover design to the marketing and publicity plan. The focus is always on creating the best book, considering the market it’s being published into, and anticipating how the author’s career is being shaped with each book being published. I’m also an editorial agent, so it’s not unusual for me to do a round (or two) of edits before going out with a project.

JR: With everything that’s going on, what’s the state of publishing right now?

TD: My answer to this question changes moment to moment. There are terrible, impossible losses—book sales, jobs, lives. There are also heartwarming acts of generosity and kindness—established authors using their robust platforms to support debuts; booksellers and libraries serving their communities with remote events. None of these things erase the very real hardships facing us right now, and I can’t pretend to know what’s to come. But I am grateful for the publishing people who are working hard to give us stories to help make sense of our world–and real facts for when certain voices in that world speak nonsense.

JR: What advice can you give to authors?

TD: Write from your most empathic, beautiful self, pursue whatever fascinates and scares you, and read widely.


JR: That’s great advice. I always like to ask, what was your favorite book as a child?

TD: I don’t know that I had a favorite—or rather, my favorite was always whatever book I was currently reading—but I know Jacob Have I Loved by Katherine Paterson resonated deeply with me.


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

TD: The raucous family gatherings we used to have when my mémère was alive. All the aunts and uncles and cousins still get together, but it’s not the same without my mémère’s cooking and her smile. She was full of mischief, and she loved us grandkids. My sons would’ve adored her.

JR: Very sweet. One of my grandmothers never got to meet my kids and I always wish she had. How can people follow you on social media?

TD: @tinaduboisny

JR: Okay, before I let you go, a few months ago, you posted a photo of you holding a duck, and made it seem like it’s a ritual. I need to hear the story behind that.

TD: Oh, jeez, how do I explain this? Several years ago when I was home for the holidays, my oldest childhood friend took a photo of me with one of her chickens perched on my head. The following year, it was two chickens. Then three. Then four. This past year, she added ducks to the mix. Every year I insist it’ll be the last (because claws and beaks and dignity), but you will not find two people laughing harder, and so the tradition continues.

JR: It did look like you were having a lot of fun, but I suggest you quit before it reaches vultures! I’d like to thank you again for taking the time to speak to us today!

TD: Thanks so much for having me! It was a pleasure getting to chat books–and birds!—with you, Jonathan.

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!