Posted by: Kathy Temean | August 16, 2012

Speaking Literary

Tracey Adams co-founded Adams Literary in 2004 with her husband Josh Adams, after nearly a decade with literary agencies Writers House and McIntosh & Otis, where Tracey was the head of the children’s department. Prior to becoming an agent, she worked in the marketing and editorial departments of Greenwillow Books and Margaret K. McElderry Books.

Adams Literary exclusively represents children’s authors and artists.  Their commitment to their clients and the industry is impressive. Josh says, “Our role is championing our clients. We live and die by our authors. It’s not just a nine to five job. We are committed.” 

Tracey says, “We have a family atmosphere.”

Tracey Adams, Josh Adams, and their associate agent Ququinlan Lee are the team that makes up Adams Literary.  They spoke at the New School Writing Children’s Program had a  Forum on How Agents Work.  Andrew Winters was kind enough to share a little bit of what came out of that forum:

Speaking about their agency name, Tracey said, “Our names are on the line. We want it to stand for something. We take seriously what we do.”

They also emphasized their commitment to being cutting edge and savvy in their ability to communicate their passion for these authors and their books. Josh said, “We were the first agency with a client list on our Web site. Now some others do too.”

Their client list includes not just the names of their artists and authors, but also showcases their biographies and lists their published works, whether or not those works are represented by Adams Literary. Tracey advises that before anyone submits to them, they should do their research. She said, “Know our authors. It impresses us.”

Despite the downturn in the economy, the Adams philosophy has remained the same. They look for strong work and try to find the right house for it. When the Adams receive a manuscript, the first question they ask is, “Do we love this?” Then they ask, “How will we sell this?”

“If I’m reading a manuscript and it makes me laugh, cry, or dream, I’ll take you on as a client,” Tracey said. “It really has to get into my head. I love voice, and a beautiful story.” Referring to Leaving the Bellweathers by Kristin Clark Venuti, Tracey said, “The language is beautiful. It made me laugh out loud.”

Josh added that they look for “something we connect with emotionally. We like fun reads too. We believe in young readers. People don’t give young readers enough credit. They’re smart and they get things. Don’t be heavy handed; don’t talk down to your audience.”

What characteristics do they look for in an author? Quinlan said, “Good reviser, creative, not trendy, smart and knows children are smart.”

“We look for people we can connect to and relate to and work well with,” Josh said. “We work together as a team,” he said, referring to his clients. “We try to get a sense of what a person would be like to work with.”


Aspiring authors must be able to encapsulate a book into its premise. “Be succinct. I have to describe it easily to an editor,” Josh said.

Josh spoke of an interesting example. There was one editor who did not like science fiction, but Josh offered a manuscript with a small “sci-fi twist” and she loved it.

The Adams Literary agents are intimately familiar with what their editors are looking for in a manuscript. Just because an author can write a great manuscript,it doesn’t mean they can write a great query.

Tracey offered these tips:

Get in a writers group or critique group.
Join the SCBWI “It shows that you
Be Patient
Don’t be Afraid to Market Yourself

Example from Quinlan: Barbara Odanaka—whose book is about a cow who skateboards dresses up like a cow and skateboards. R.J.Anderson, blogs about her series of fairy books called Wayfarer and Faery Rebels: Spell Hunter.

Josh suggestion:  Be outgoing at events, connect with online social networks and community online groups that cross-promote each other, “but not at the expense of writing!”

Tracey told an encouraging story of Bad News or Outlaws, written by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson and
illustrated by R. Gregory Christie. “This book took years to come out. But it’s a beautiful book.” But it was worth the wait it won the Coretta Scott King Award.

Traceypointed out how relationships are the lifeblood of the industry and at Adams Literary they offer a deep commitment to everyone they represent.

Visit Adams Literary at

Talk tomorrow,



  1. Tracey is wonderful, and it’s obvious they know what they’re doing at Adams Literary. I mean—look at all their success! 🙂


  2. I met Tracey at the PA SCBBWI and she is wonderful. If you get the chance to work with her, do it!


  3. So fun to read about my hometown literary agents. They have brought more than one breath of fresh, literary air to Charlotte, NC!


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