A Visit from Literary Agent Erin Murphy

Last Thursday my Writing For Children class had the honor of being visited by Literary Agent Extraordinare–who’s also the agent of the course professor, Susan Meyer–Erin Murphy!!!

YES. It was phenomenal. (Also she was wearing yellow & blue, #classcolors)

To give a bit of background information, Erin Murphy is one of the top children’s literary agents, and she’s based out of Flagstaff, Arizona (how cool is that?!).

Erin Murphy is one of my dream agents which is something I rarely reveal but having her visit our class was like meeting a celebrity. Seriously, I’m not even sure anyone could’ve topped this. Well, maybe meeting Octavia Butler (when she was alive), she’s my idol.

Other than giving up this amazing handout, which is priceless, Ms. Murphy left us with some amazing nuggets about being an agent, getting published, and much more.  I think one of the best things that happened during this visit was that I realized what kind of agent I want to have. I’ve always had an idea of the type of agent I wanted, someone who would put the time into editing my MS if needed, someone who cared about me as a writer and not just one a one book basis but after her visit, I’m able to articulate that clearly and concisely.

And now, so that all of you can share in this wonderfulness, here are her words of wisdom*:

On Publishing

Ms. Murphy talked a lot about how all agencies are different, and I think that’s something that’s key to remember. Some, like hers, are only open to submission by referral or by hearing them speak at a conference (tears, I know). Because of that she really emphasized SCBWI conferences as a great way to get your MS read. In addition, they’re a great way to make connections in the industry and get a feel for the type of material various editors and agents like.

For her, she’s looking for a connection. Editors depend on agents to find projects they like because of that agents know very well what editors represent what types of books.  Sometimes she sends things out to many editors and sometimes to only a handful, it depends on the project. A lot of it is taste. This is a very subjective industry, and that’s something important to remember. I’ve turned down manuscripts she knew were going to sell but weren’t for her. It’s all about the connection. A book has to set her on fire or she’ not going to do a good job selling it.

Everything in publishing seems like attention is thrown where attention is (e.g. if an author gets another offer of rep, that author is going to go to the top of her reading list since she has limited time to respond). That’s just how things are.

MFAs are a mixed bag. She represents a handful of authors from Vermont’s MFA program however sometimes MFA seems teach gorgeous writing but not things that are publishable or they focus too much on writing a certain way and can, if writer isn’t careful, erase individual style. She doesn’t think they’re necessary but if you think it’ll help you, go for it.

–On Writing

Everyone thinks they can write a children’s book, it’s harder than it seems.

She agrees with this quote: “Start on the day things change.” – Judy Blume

This process is such a long journey. Yes, we’ve heard this all before but seriously, don’t compare yourself to other writers, everyone, more specifically every book, is different.

On Trends

Middle grade is really booming. Partially because of increase in children of that age and decrease of teenage children.

Historical [YA] seems to often cross with other genres, ex. Steampunk, as a way of reaching more readers. However it all comes down to good writing.

-For a long time PBs weren’t selling, now they are. If you’re a PB author, it’s important to have multiple PBs. She likes to see the breath of author’s work.

And my personal favorites: What are your thoughts about how dark YA has become? & What do you think about retellings?

Literature is a safe place to explore beyond your own experience. What safer place to feel sad/scared than in books. Books play out feelings teens experience in an external way.

I love retellings. They’re a set, ever renewing market. If someone likes Cinderella retellings, they’re most likely going to check out a new one that was just published.

*I wrote this while listening to her & absorbing everything so it’s highly possibly that these are not exactly how she stated things but rather the basic gist. Also, don’t take these as an end all be all, publishing is subjective aka what works for one, might turn off another. 🙂