This past summer I had the pleasure of meeting Marietta Zacker during SCBWI-LA. Friendly and responsive, she put everyone at ease in her workshops as well as during casual encounters. I was lucky enough to spend an evening with her in the lobby while she told stories about her life and answered our questions. (Yes people, this is one of the reasons you want to attend the conference next year!)
Marietta started working at the Nancy Gallt Literary Agency last September, home to authors like Rick Riordan, Jeanne DuPrau and Betty Birney. The agency also represents a number of first time authors as well as illustrators. Since joining the agency, Marietta has been signing authors, attending conferences and charming attendees with the trademark passion she puts into everything she does. She also owns SOMe Book Nook in South Orange, New Jersey.
Everybody dreams of being “discovered.” You literally were! You knew who Craig Virden was, you just didn’t know what he looked like, right? How surreal was it to find out you were standing there talking to him?
That is correct. It was a truly surreal moment and very difficult to put into words. Amazingly, I didn't have a problem talking about great books when, in my mind, he was simply a customer who seemed to know a thing or two about children's books. Yet, when he introduced himself 40 minutes into our conversation, all I could think about was the books I had on display, while doing mental calculations on the number that were Random House titles. I then reminded myself that it didn't really matter since he was retired!
What was he looking for in the bookstore?
I suppose you want an answer other than "books." He was purchasing books as gifts and what stood out the most was how careful he was in choosing books that were perfect for each person. It was fun to introduce him to a few books he had never read, although he purchased just as many tried and true titles. I will always regret not giving him a discount.
You took quite the circuitous route to becoming an agent, but every job seemed to tie in with books and/or children. Was it almost like an epiphany when Nancy Gallt hired you as an agent?
I admit that I don't think it was all that circuitous, although I understand what you mean. I certainly don't believe it is the only route, but I can't imagine being an agent without having followed that path. I feel the most at ease when I have considered something from every angle.
My varied experiences within the world of children's literature keep me grounded and allow me to understand the entire road for authors, illustrators, the books they create and the publishing houses that believe in their work. I feel confident in my conversations with all editors and in partnering with and guiding authors and illustrators effectively. There is no doubt that I owe that to the knowledge I gained during each step I took before joining Nancy and Craig. So it wasn't so much of an epiphany as a feeling of finally arriving home.
What was your first day like as an agent?
My first day? Funny. Very funny. We laughed together since day one. And my first day was possibly just as surreal as when I met Craig and Nancy. To hold the contracts of some of my favorite authors and illustrators and to work hand in hand with two people who have influenced the world of children's literature as much as Nancy and Craig have, was undoubtedly a dream come true. They trusted me from day one. Needless to say, the feeling was mutual.
What was the first manuscript you repped?
Co-repped is the way I like to think about it - both Craig and I had read the manuscripts of the two authors he had signed on to the Agency shortly before his death - Hilary Wagner and Stephanie Barden. I took those manuscripts on with fervor as I, too, had fallen in love with the voices of their characters and the stories they had created. Both books will be on bookshelves in the fall of 2010. Nancy and I also co-repped author/illustrator Elizabeth Schoonmaker whose book will also be on the shelves next year.
During the conference you described yourself as a “passionista.” Can you elaborate on that term?
I don't know how to do things half-way and I certainly don't know how to express or do what I love without putting all my energy into it and then shouting it from the mountain top.
Of course, I have to pause and quote the Oxford American Dictionary, which defines passion as "a strong and barely controllable emotion." That's who I am - a person with strong and barely controllable emotions. I love great literature, I love how people can tell stories without using words at all, I love putting all the necessary pieces together so that children and young adults can have different worlds to discover every day. I choose to be in a profession that allows me to be surrounded by the creators of that work and others, who like me, love to see that work come to fruition. I am a passionista.
I found it interesting that even before you became an agent, you wrote a book and queried it, just to experience rejection. How does that affect how you respond to queries?
I think about it every day. It is scary to hand over something you have written or illustrated in order to have it critiqued. Yet, I know how important it is to be truthful because that is when the writer or illustrator truly grows (or more easily moves on, depending on the circumstance). I respect the road each individual takes to capture the voices and pictures they have swimming in their heads. I also have huge amounts of respect for the editors and agents who have to walk those very fine lines and, many times, make those tough calls on manuscripts.
I think it’s so cool that both your grandparents write. Did you have Abuela critique the manuscript before you sent it out?
That would have been the smart thing to do, but I was petrified to do so. I still am.
As a teacher you were able to influence the lives of a number of students. Do you feel like your job as an agent has the same impact?
Absolutely. The fact that I can play a small role in the books that are published means the world to me because I know with certainty that the trade literature a teacher puts in the hands of students can sometimes make a child a lifelong reader and even change lives. The influence of books is immeasurable and intangible, yet I have both lived and witnessed its immensity. I take pride in being a part of that.
For most people, just running a bookstore would be a full-time job. How do you find the time to be an agent, an entrepreneur and a mother?
Your guess is as good as mine. In all seriousness though, I have an extremely supportive spouse. The bookstore is a natural extension of the work I do as an agent - and it keeps me on my toes and up to speed. Being a mother is simply the most prized job of all.
Thanks, Marietta. It was great getting to know you a little better!
And just when you thought I forgot, here it is, the winner of MONSTERS DON'T EAT BROCCOLI by Barbara Jean Hicks:
Congratulations, Cathe! Send me your address and I will get the book out to you.