Today we have the pleasure of chatting with Kirsten Hall, a boutique children’s literary and illustration agent. She has brokered hundreds of children’s book deals between authors, illustrators, and all of the major American publishers. She is also a book producer and published author. (Her ﬁrst book was published when she was in 7th grade!) Kirsten opened her own NYC-based agency and packaging company, Catbird Productions, in March 2014. It focuses on debut talent, as well as the creation and development of original story pitches—especially picture books.
Kirsten will be presenting How to Make a Picture Book—and Sell It!! Part One where she will be showcasing some of picture books she has helped to create and place with publishers over the past four years, sharing their stories and explaining the many different ways the book development and acquisition process can happen.
Should an illustrator show a range of styles if he can do each well, or is it better to stick to one?
People have varying opinions on this topic, and they’re all respectable. My position is simple. If you have one strong style, or style you enjoy creating in, then that’s the style you should stick with! If you enjoy illustrating in several different styles, and ﬁnd you get a good reception to them all, it’s perfectly ﬁne to present yourself as versatile. I worked with one artist who created in a wide range of styles, all of which he did very well, and he couldn’t keep the (really nice) project offers at bay. So my advice is: do what’s right for you, and don’t worry about what others are doing/saying. All of this said, I get that it’s hard to be objective about one’s own style(s). And this is where I think publisher and agency feedback can be critical for an artist.
How do most Art Directors find new illustrators?
There are SO many ways for Art Directors to ﬁnd artists today. And different Art Directors go about their hunting differently. Some search online (via Pinterest, Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, and Instagram). Some rely on the assistance of agencies, such as Catbird, to present artists to them who are new and exciting and/or well-suited for their texts. Some ﬁnd new artists via the artists they’re already working with. And some meet illustrators at events, such as those sponsored by the SCBWI. Most Art Directors probably employ a mix of the above when looking for new talent. In order to be easily discovered by an Art Director, I would recommend that artists 1) be represented, 2) belong to kidlit groups (such as the SCBWI), and/or 3) have a strong online presence.
Yes! Catbird primarily represents illustrators. (But it has taken on a few debut authors, as well.)
Now to the random question round!
What was your favorite book as a child?
That’s impossible! One favorite? Gah! The books that stand out most in my memory right now are:
- Ann Likes Red. It was an easy reader, with simple, repeating text I still remember today. “Ann likes red. Red, red, red. Blue dress, Ann? NO! RED!” I was thrilled by Ann’s stubbornness and the fact that she never, ever caved—and that the story’s ending didn’t require her to. Red was her favorite color, and that was that. I loved it. I got it!
- Anything by Gyo Fujikawa. My mother worked as an editor (at Grosset & Dunlap) on Gyo’s books while I was growing up, and she would bring them home for me. My favorite might have been Come Follow Me to the Secret World of Elves and Fairies and Gnomes and Trolls. I remember just staring at this nighttime fairyland scene for what was deﬁnitely hours at a time. (I’d love to make a magical fairy book now, actually.)
- A picture book called Gretchen’s World. It’s funny, I still remember being totally unsatisﬁed by the story. It was weird, and admittedly a little boring. But the art was unlike anything I’d ever seen, and I loved how it constantly switched from full color to b&w, fully rendered artwork to what looked like rough sketches. The book was always changing gears, visually. And it had a mixed medium feel that I still love today. (Several of the artists I currently represent work in mixed medium.)
- John Peterson’s The Littles. I always woke up hours before the rest of my family, but was never lonely. The Littles were my early-morning companions.
- Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. It was so racy! Basically everything Judy Blume did pushed boundaries in a way I love today, and could feel as a kid. Her books were juicier and far more exciting than anything else. Reading her novels felt a bit like getting away with something.
And now, what’s your favorite book as an adult?
Again, it’s way too hard to narrow down to just one! And this is only the tip of the iceberg. But off the top of my head, here’s a Top 10: To Kill a Mockingbird, The Secret History, She’s Come Undone, Icy Sparks, The Kite Runner, A Confederacy of Dunces, Running with Scissors, Me Talk Pretty One Day, Jesus Land, and The Glass Castle.
I’d go somewhere I could eat pizza, play Ms. Pacman, and control the jukebox for hours.
If you followed the career path you chose for yourself in high school, what would you be doing for a living now?
This! My ﬁrst book (an easy reader, entitled Bunny, Bunny) was published by Scholastic when I was in 7th grade. By high school, I had written a dozen more. So I’d say this was pretty much always my destiny, making books for kids.
For one day, time travel is a reality and you can visit any famous deceased author/illustrator/artist you want. Who do you pick?
Leo Lionni. Hands down.
What’s your favorite motivational quote?
“It’s not what you look at that matters. It’s what you see.”—Henry David Thoreau
If you could sum up your best advice for new illustrators in only four words, what would it be?
Draw from your heart.
Thanks Kirsten – we can’t wait to see you at On the Road to Sparkling Children’s Literature!