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?
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!