Q&A with Marcia Wernick

What is the single most important element in a manuscript or illustration in attracting your attention?
—For me, when I start reading a manuscript, I want the character and voice to come through so clearly and in such a compelling manner that I’m drawn into the story and want to keep reading to find out more. I’m sorry to say, but honestly, life today has so many distractions for all of us, the manuscript has to have the strength to keep me from refocusing on all the other tasks and jobs at hand. I think it would hold true for the reader as well. There has to be immediacy in connection and appeal. There is no chapter more important than your first chapter, no page more important than your first page and no line more important than your first line.

For illustrations, I’m looking for a character whose personality and voice jumps out of the illustration in a unique way and says “come join me on my adventure.” Good technique is not necessarily enough. What I look for is how an artist uses that technique to make the look their own. It’s not only in the eyes of the beholder, but so frequently in the eyes of the characters drawn. The line between a more mass-market illustration style and that of trade books tends to come down to the drawing of the eye more than anything else.


What makes for a healthy, productive relationship between you and your authors and illustrators?
—The most important building block is open and honest communication. The authors and illustrators I work with need to be able to express what they are looking for and how they feel. Since we know that, over the years, those feelings will generally run the gamut from absolute joy to utter frustration, it’s imperative for the author/illustrator to be able to share those feelings with me so we can have an open dialogue to adjust for changes along the way.


What is the biggest challenge in agreeing to take on a client?
—It’s taking a leap of faith. There’s never a guarantee that the relationship will be successful. I need to have faith that what I see as salable in their work, will in fact be salable to a publisher. That might not happen with the first book, but I have to believe it will over time with other works, which is one of the reasons I’m always interested in asking what else a potential client is working on. I also need to have faith that we will continue to communicate well and grow together as a team. The other challenge is getting totally familiar with, and knowledgeable about, not only the range of their work, but also how they work.


What ingredients go into being the most effective agent?
—For me, I think a key ingredient is having a “mama bear” mentality about my clients: I want to nurture and protect them in every way possible. I also find that although I may not be great at negotiating in my own behalf, I do in fact have an incredible sense of entitlement in behalf of my clients, which serves us both well! Other key ingredients, of course, are experience and knowledge about the industry, as well as the ability to network and find answers to any new aspects about the industry.


Can you share some of your favorites to give a fuller picture of your range of interests?
—Foods – Greek octopodi (I can be squeamish about books, but not about what’s on my plate), Edy’s slow-churned cookies and cream ice cream (it’s the cookie dough part of it; there are some things we should never outgrow)

—Plays – FUN HOME (a brilliant musical on an unexpected topic), THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME (a fascinating story with a tour de force debut performer), ONCE (heartwarming / heartbreaking story with a dynamic staging of actors as musicians), and AVENUE Q (gotta love its irreverent humor),

—Gadgets – iPad (I love to try out new toys!), lever-style corkscrew (streamlined; why make it harder when it doesn’t have to be?)

—Section of the NY Times – Metropolitan Diary (hit or miss, but when they work, they are gems), New York Time’s Technology column (though I miss David Pogue who was always accessible, entertaining and informative), The Arts section (life beyond books)

—Podcasts – I’m an NPR addict, so I can’t help but subscribe to several of their podcasts including Note to Self, Money Talking, On the Media, and Freakonomics. I set my iPhone to keep only the most recent 4 episodes . . . with so much info and sometimes too little time, if I haven’t been able to listen to it soon enough, they’ll get automatically deleted!

—Painting/Sculpture – Jean-Michel Folon (makes me smile), Gustave Caillebotte’s “Paris Street, Rainy Day” (sitting on a bench at the Art Institute of Chicago being transported back to the romantic Paris of my college years), Joan Miro (simplicity in color and always fun), Jean Tinguely (mechanical whimsy extraordinaire)

—What’s on your iPod?– Angelique Kidjo, Janis Joplin, (women with big voices, heart and incredibly presence), Kenny Rankin (smooth), The Beatles (part of my DNA growing up), Allman Brothers (sometimes you just have to rock), John Mayall (I can’t imagine an iPod without blues on it), Beethoven, choral music (a Sunday morning necessity – this, the paper and a cup of tea)