Oh Susanna – Will Agents Rep Poetry?

Happy Monday Everyone!

It feels like ages since we had an Oh Susanna day, and the next question in the queue seemed like a good one for the start of a new year.

Penny asked: I have noticed when researching agent blogs, that a lot of them don’t represent poetry. So what if you write poetry along with picture books/middle grade, etc.? Do you have to submit poetry on your own? Or will agents usually work with you to find a home for your poems, too?

This is the first time an Oh Susanna question has come in that I really had no experience with, but I think it’s something a lot of you might wonder about, so I wanted to address it.  Since I don’t have any direct, personal knowledge on the topic, I of course reached out to writer friends who might know the answer.  And being children’s writers they were of course all wonderful and helpful and wrote back immediately with the best information they could provide.

Laura Sassi whose poems, stories, articles and crafts have appeared in many publications including Highlights for ChildrenCricketLadybugSpider, Focus on the Family’s Clubhouse and Clubhouse Jr.FamilyFun, and Pack-O-Fun and whose debut picture book GOODNIGHT, ARK is forthcoming from Zonderkidz, a division of HarperCollins says:

According to my contract, when I had an agent, she represented all of my writing, but what she was interested in were my rhyming picture books, so that’s what I focussed on and sent her.  Not sure this answer helps in your question – except to point out that maybe part of the answer needs to be that it’s a very individual thing.  Depends probably on name recognition of poet etc.

Iza Trapani, author and illustrator of many wonderful rhyming stories for children, including ITSY BITSY SPIDER (Whispering Coyote Press, 1993) and THE BEAR WENT OVER THE MOUNTAIN (Sky Pony Press 2012) as well as 2 poetry compilations – RUFUS AND FRIENDS RHYME TIME (Charlesbridge 2008) and RUFUS AND FRIENDS SCHOOL DAYS (Charlesbridge 2010) says:

My agent represents me on picture books, individual poems, poem collections, whatever I write. But that’s our agreement. I am sure some agents may be only interested in picture books, rhyming or not. Poetry continues to be a hard sell…

Laura Purdie Salas (not to be confused with Laura Sassi :)) who is the author of many books and poems for children including
A LEAF CAN BE… (Millbrook Press, 2012) (which was  Perfect Picture Book HERE)
BOOKSPEAK! (Clarion, 2011) NCTE Notable; 2012 Minnesota Book Award
STAMPEDE! (Clarion, 2009) Finalist, 2010 Minnesota Book Award says:

Good question. I've run into that same thing. What seems to be the
typical case is that if an agent represents you for picture books and
novels, she will also submit your poetry, but only for book
manuscripts for traditional publishers. Not individual poems for
anthologies, magazines, etc. Poetry, in general, makes so little money
that agents don't have a whole lot of interest in representing it,
even if they personally love it. They know that it's just not all that
salable (can you hear me sob as I type that?).


Just my 2 cents. Interested to hear if others have different
experiences.

Amy Ludwig VanDerwater who is the author of FOREST HAS A SONG (Clarion 2013) and READING TIME (Wordsong, date TBA) and who you can visit at The Poem Farm and Sharing Our Notebooks in addition to her website linked to her name above has this to contribute:

I don’t know the bigger answer to this question, only my own experience.  I met my agent through the generous introduction and sharing of my work by my teacher, Lee Bennett Hopkins.  Elizabeth Harding (Curtis Brown Ltd.) does represent and submit my poetry, and while I have not yet sold a picture book…she is encouraging me to write one.  

From this, I’d imagine that if you’re already working with an agent, s/he would most likely work with you and your poems.  But poetry is such a tough sell these days, I wonder if agents hesitate to advertise that they might even read it.

I hope this helps?

Clearly this is a tough question to answer!  In general, it seems that if you write other children’s genres, at least some agents will probably help you sub traditional book length poetry mss.  But it sounds like poetry by itself would be a hard way to secure an agent.  Thanks ever so much to Laura, Laura, Iza, and Amy for sharing their knowledge and expertise, and if anyone in the reading audience has experience in this area, please share!  We are all very curious to find out!  Catherine? Anyone?  Not to put you on the spot or anything 🙂

I hope we’ll get some good information in the comments!  Thanks for a great question, Penny!

Have a wonderful day everyone! 🙂

31 thoughts on “Oh Susanna – Will Agents Rep Poetry?

  1. pennyklostermann says:

    Thanks, Susanna…and thanks to Laura, Iza, Laura, and Amy for your answers. It's a shame that poetry is such a tough sale, but I hear that over and over again. Sometimes I wonder if they shelved the kid's poetry collections with the picture books if they would get a larger readership. I know that's not the way Dewey does it…but maybe that needs to change. Or wouldn't it be nice if the libraries could afford two copies and shelve them both places??? I know…I'm dreaming!

    Again, I appreciate the information shared today concerning my question. It's very helpful.

  2. Robyn Campbell says:

    Thanks to all you beautiful ladies! *waves* And Penny had a super great question. *sigh* Poetry for kidlets is so important. I do wish the libraries could have two copies, Penny. Not ours. We only have picture books up to 1990's. *deep sigh* So our poetry selection leaves a WHOLE lot to be desired.

  3. Susanna Leonard Hill says:

    So glad if you're finding it helpful, Penny. I'm hoping we'll get some other people with experience in this area to chime in on this in the comments! And yes, wouldn't it be great if schools and libraries had budgets that would allow shelving in 2 places?!

  4. Susanna Leonard Hill says:

    Oh, yes, wouldn't that be nice?! As kidlit writers, maybe we have to petition our local governments to increase budgets or something- hahaha – as if! Why is it that so much money can be spent on stupid stuff and no money is available for school, libraries, literacy, the arts, etc?!

  5. Diana Murray says:

    Hi, Penny! Great question. Just thought I'd chime in with my own experience. My agent took me mainly on the basis of my picture books (in rhyme) but she was also interested in the poetry collection I subbed to her. As far as individual poems, I sub those to magazines/anthologies on my own. My guess is that any agent open to rhyming picture books would also be open to a strong poetry collection. But it would be best to have several polished picture manuscripts in addition to the poetry collection. I agree with Amy who said that agents are probably hesitant to advertise that they're open to poetry. Basically, I think you should treat a poetry collection as you would treat any of your other manuscripts. You can ask yourself if it's well written, if it has a strong hook, if it's unique, etc. I think it's safe to query any agent who reps picture books. Write an exciting query letter and lead with your best work.

  6. Patricia Nozell says:

    Interesting question & answers. On the topic of children's poetry, I came across a Huffington Post article about Jane Yolen's project to write a poem each day of the year. In case anyone missed it on twitter: From #kidlit's own #JaneYolen: “@HuffPostBooks: Could you write a poem a day for 2013?huff.to/UIfaZq”

  7. Samuel Kent says:

    This is helpful for poets like me who are looking for ways to attract an agent. While the vast majority of what I write is poetry for kids, I've got a number of poetry PBs in the can and those are what I'm promoting to find representation.

  8. Kerry Aradhya says:

    What a great question, and what a great discussion! My agent took me on based on my rhyming picture book manuscripts (no sales yet). I submit poetry on my own to children's magazines, but he would probably be happy to represent a full-length book of poetry if I had one (although we have never talked about it specifically). Thanks, all, for sharing your experiences, too!

  9. Julie Hedlund says:

    When I was at the Highlights Foundation Poetry Workshop, I learned that their imprint, Wordsong, is the only children's imprint that publishes poetry collections exclusively. I think other publishers will publish them, but more rarely. It seems more common for anthologies to be sold, but I don't know if agents place those or not. My thinking is that if you write solely or primarily poetry, it's best to submit to editors yourself rather than trying to find an agent first. And to submit them to magazines and other outlets.

  10. Patricia Tilton says:

    Great subject — now that I wrote one story in rhyme, I realize how tough it is to get it right. But, even though publishers say they don't want PB written in rhyme, I sure see and review a lot of published rhyme. Perhaps the secret is establishing yourself first as a author with an agent and introducing your work.

  11. Susanna Leonard Hill says:

    There's no doubt, Pat, rhyme is very hard to do well. I think that's why people say publishers don't want it. They clearly do publish a LOT of rhyming PBs, but they have to be done right and that's hard for a lot of writers.

  12. Susan Anderson says:

    I agree that poetry IS a hard sell, but I have had good luck in submitting to children's magazines and anthologies on my own. I have some story poems I am thinking of submitting but will probably do so without an agent.

  13. Susanna Leonard Hill says:

    Thanks so much for sharing Patricia! I know one of the Kathy's (Apel maybe?) does a poem a day challenge in January… Catherine Johnson is doing it I think… and there was another really cool one I saw last year… something about stones… I'll have to look it up since this extreme vagueness is not terribly helpful! 🙂

  14. Iza Trapani says:

    I agree. Publishers have been swamped with poorly written rhyming stories and so they have their backs up. But a good plot with clever, even rhyme is always welcome.

  15. Susanna Leonard Hill says:

    Thanks, Iza! 🙂

    Iza Trapani (unregistered) wrote, in response to Susanna Leonard Hill:

    I agree. Publishers have been swamped with poorly written rhyming stories and so they have their backs up. But a good plot with clever, even rhyme is always welcome.

    Link to comment
    IP address: 24.161.87.145

  16. Ruth Schiffmann says:

    Great question. Thank you for taking the time to seek out a variety of sources to answer it. Very interesting.

  17. Susanna Leonard Hill says:

    POSTED FOR CATHERINE at http://catherinemjohnson.wordpress.com

    I usually find they don't rep poetry. It seems to be totally separate. You either submit individual poems to anthologies, competitions, magazines traditionally yourself or you self-publish your own book of poems (something I might try this year). The great thing is you can try both. Every agent mentions if they don't sub poetry in their bios so you know whether or not to mention it in a submission. Does that help anyone lol?

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