Friday, February 20, 2015

Agent Jodell Sadler Talks Picture Books

Have you heard? It's Kidlit Week over at Sub It Club! So far we have picture book critique giveaways from authors Amy Dixon and Katy S. Duffield, as well as a proofread from Dori Kleber. We have feedback opportunities and great posts for picture book writers and illustrators alike from Mark Fearing and Sarah Frances Hardy. Plus you can enter to win an autographed picture book from Corey Rosen Schwartz. And now I'm going to give you a scoop: Tomorrow on the Sub It Club blog we'll be giving away a free participation in agent Jodell Sadler's online course, Pacing Picture Books To Wow!

Jodell's agency, Sadler Children's Literary, represents authors as well as and author-illustrators. Jodell is open to picture book submissions and is here to talk about what she looks for when it comes to picture books in part 1 of my interview with her. You'll be able to find part 2 tomorrow on the Sub It Club blog. For now, read on to learn what Jodell looks for in picture book submissions and more:

Why do you choose to represent picture book authors?

I love picture books! Picture books remain that toy that spans from 1 to 101 and has staying power. I love the power of words and their magic and it feeds into my study on Pacing Picture Books to Wow. I have a picture book that I have kept a long time. It was one that was held by the many generations in my family, and I love it. It made it through my childhood, managed to escape a dog incident, and escorted me into my college years at Mount Mary University.

What types of stories do you see a place for in today’s picture book market?

Many. Whatever is in a writer’s heart-- if they can carry it onto the page in an original way. I know, not fair, but really, the minute we think a book cannot be done, one is birthed into the world. Picture book are just a visual and aural treat for kids. What would the world be like without them?

What types of picture books do you represent (or not represent) specifically?

I’m not a fan of message-driven, but love any type of picture book, fiction and nonfiction. I also enjoy graphic novel manuscripts that fit into that little older genre. 

How do you feel about picture books written in rhyme?

I love a rhyming picture book if it is done well. It has to be visual and concrete and so well done that it sings. When I see one that works, it will work. But it’s a tough write. A writer has to be 100% committed to do what it takes to make it move forward with a strong story arc.

On your website you say, “I’m really interested in working with you to get your story all sparkly and ‘just right’ and right into the hands of the right publisher.” In general, how much revision do you do with clients to get their picture books submission ready?

I love working with clients on picture book revision. It’s fun to work to really polish a piece of writing. I just recently worked on a picture book that was so honed, but only had a few words here and there that needed to be considered and challenged. The writer and I went back and forth until it we both felt like each word was ‘just right.’

If you take on a client because of their mass market appeal picture books, would you also represent other things they wrote, such as educational or board books, if they had merit?

Yes. I do work with clients from fiction board books to young adult (and new adult), but I also enjoy nonfiction picture books to nonfiction proposals. I would go outside my scope for titles my writers were working on like an adult memoir, for example.

What are some of the elements you think a picture book needs to be successful?

I completely believe in Pacing a Picture Book to Wow and really look for all the tools I talk about in my online 4-week course: words, rhythm, repetition, etc. because the musicality of language, the ability to get on the page of your writing, and really slow and speed the unfolding of a story to enhance reader experience is a must in today’s competitive marketplace. If you’d like to see more about this, please visit my website:  

Are there common mistakes you see in picture book submissions in particular?

Yes. I see cover pages that are far too long, poetry that is very abstract, and concepts that have been done so often they would be hard to sell like seasonal books. I also see books that have not been honed down to some 500 words. Writers really need to take the time to pull their words back and make their picture books an infectious experience. We should want to hear it again and again. In my recent Pacing Picture Books to Wow class for January, we had a few books like this. It’s a lot of fun to find that manuscript that is ready for editorial eyes.

Do you have any upcoming projects that you'd like to share with us?

We have a few upcoming projects: a MG nonfiction story about strong women, a great author-illustrator picture book about a feisty witch and even feistier cat, a picture book about a very small creature that one man works to save, and an illustrated MG series—and so much more in the works. We’ve done a game project and covers this past season as well, and I hope we will do a whole lot more in 2015, including one really exciting project that hugs my heart. 

Thank you so much, Jodell, for talking picture books here with us! Everyone, please come over to the Sub It Club blog to read part 2 of my interview with Jodell where she talks submissions and is giving away a chance to win her Pacing Picture Books To Wow! course to one lucky winner. 


  1. Hi, Heather! Thanks for interviewing Jodell Sadler. I always enjoy her advice for writers and passion for picture books.

  2. Thank you for an informative interview, Heather and Jodell! Jodell's passion for picture books shines in every sentence.

  3. wonderful interview- thanks for asking the questions. And thank you Jodell for such candid responses.

  4. Hey ladies! That was just lovely. AWESOME! I'll be back tomorrow to read the rest. Manju is participating in my PB 14:14 event (from February 14 to February 28) where we read, study, and share 14 picture books in 14 days. We study the Top 10 Elements of Picture Books, which I'm pretty sure are also in Jodell's class. Heather is guest blogging on Saturday (day 8 of the 14-day event) and one of the grand prize items is a critique from Jodell! Come check it out!

  5. Great interview. I see that the current trend is leaning toward 500 words or less, but I wonder if stories longer then that are considered if they are finely honed and the extra words are necessary to the story?

  6. Great post, ladies! Thank you,'s hard to believe it's been two years for Sub It Club.:)
    Jodell, it's so helpful for writers to see the world from the eyes of an agent...congratulations on the successes of's to many more in 2015!

  7. Thanks for this useful interview! Jodell's enthusiasm for picture books really comes through!

  8. Thank you, Heather and Sub It Club for sharing this interview with Jodell. The Q & A are helpful. Congratulations on Year Two of Sub It Club. ~Suzy Leopold

  9. Where did part 2 for the interview? I was looking forward to it.

  10. Thank you for posting this interview with Jodell. I have taken her pacing course and she gives many wonderful tools and feedback to help you meet your goals as a writer.