As the newest agent to join Red Fox Literary, Stephanie Fretwell-Hill represents both authors and illustrators of board books, picture books, middle grade, and young adult. She will consider stories in any genre, but looks for a strong voice, rich and multi-layered plots, and stylish, classic, or quirky illustrations. Most of all, she loves anything that really makes her laugh.
Stephanie started her publishing career in 2004 at Walker Books Ltd. in London, where she sold foreign language rights. Working in a design-led company with legendary artists such as Helen Oxenbury and Lucy Cousins sparked her love of illustration, while her sales role gave her an international perspective on children’s publishing.
How important is the query letter?
Very important! I receive over 100 submissions a day, and I’m just one person trying to read through everything AND get all of my other work done at the same time. It’s just impossible for me to read every manuscript, so I rely on the query letter to quickly tell me some very important things: is this the type of book I’m interested in? Who is the author? Can he or she write a decent letter (if not, it doesn’t bode well for the manuscript)? Am I excited to read more? Or do I find myself skimming to the end of a boring letter?
Any tips on how an author can get you to ask to see more?
Your writing has to be excellent. The voice has to pull me in immediately. I have to want to clear my schedule for the rest of the day so I can curl up on the couch and read the whole thing. Then I will ask you to send me the full manuscript so I can do just that.
How far do you normally read before you reject a submission?
As far as I must before I find a reason to turn it down. Sometimes that’s only the query letter, sometimes it’s the first few lines of the manuscript. Sometimes I read the whole manuscript and spend several days thinking about it, and then I set it aside, and then come back to it and think about it some more. And sometimes I turn that one down too, if my excitement for it has waned, or if the story hasn’t stayed with me.
Would you lose interest in a submission if the writer missed correcting a few misspelled words?
This is a tricky question—the answer is yes and no. If the writing is not strong and the author has misspelled several words right away in the query letter or on the first page of the manuscript, it’s just a bad sign. It adds to an overall impression of poor work. On the other hand, if I’m loving everything about a manuscript but there are some misspelled words, I don’t mind at all. It’s an easy fix for work that I believe in.
Do you let people know if you are not interested in what was sent?
Yes, I reply to every submission. Not always quickly, unfortunately, but I do reply.
Have you noticed any common mistakes that writers make?
Hm…I’m not sure that I would call them “mistakes,” but there are some things I dislike. See “pet peeves.”
Any pet peeves?
I receive a lot of manuscripts for adult readers; the very most basic research should tell authors that I specialize in children’s books. However, too much research can be a little creepy. I don’t love it when authors open by telling me they know lots of details about my personal life. As far as the writing goes, I don’t like it when books start with the main character saying “I guess I should introduce myself. My name is X…”. I just find that technique to be unoriginal. Also, badly done kid-slang grates on me. And unnecessary exclamation points really drive me nuts!!!!!
Do you give editorial feedback to your clients?
Yes. I was an editor for four years before becoming an agent, so I take an editorial approach to my clients’ work.
Do you have an editorial style?
I guess my style is to ask a lot of questions, so that the author can see where the text is unclear or inconsistent, or any place where I was stopped as a reader and left wondering. I especially enjoy the developmental stage of editing.
How many clients do you have?
I’ve only been an agent since the end of January 2016, so I am still building my list. As of right now, I have 5 official clients and one additional contract in the mail. But by the time this answer is posted online I will have more. Because I’m new, I’m not sure yet what my “sweet spot” number will be. Some of my colleagues hover around 25, others have 40. And I’ve heard of another agent with over 200! I guess everyone’s style is different, and I’m still figuring mine out.
What is your typical response time to email/phone calls with your clients?
I always try to acknowledge an email or phone call within a day or two of receiving it. But I’m not always able to answer questions that quickly (depending on the nature of the question, I may need to do research, consult with my colleagues, etc), and I need unhurried time to read/think about/edit a client’s work.
How do you like to communicate (email vs. phone)? And how often do you communicate during the submission process?
I tend to default to email, but I don’t mind talking on the phone. At Red Fox we pride ourselves on keeping our clients in the loop throughout the submission process. I let my clients know about every submission and every response.
What happens if you don’t sell this book? We start working on the next one.
How many editors do you go to before giving up?
I guess that depends on the type and nature of the book in question. A middle grade adventure may be potentially appropriate for dozens of editors, whereas a picture book biography might have a smaller list of possibilities. I’ll go to anyone and everyone who I think might be a fit for the project.
How long is your average client relationship?
So far…about two months! (I only started as an agent two months ago.) But I hope my average will grow and grow.🙂
Do you handle your own foreign/film rights contracts or does your firm have someone else who handles those contracts?
Our agency uses a subagent for foreign and film rights.
Are you open to authors who work in multiple genres?
Yes, as long as they are writing for readers between the ages of 0 and 18.
SUBMISSION GUIDELINES For FIRST PAGE CRITIQUES:
In the subject line, please write “April First Page Critique” and paste the text in the email, plus attached it as a Word document to the email. Please make sure you include your name, the title of the piece, and whether it’s a picture book, middle grade, or young adult, etc. at the top on both the email and the Word document (Make sure you include your name with the title of your book, when you save the first page).
Your First Page Word document should be formatted using one inch margins and 12 point New Times Roman font – double space – no more than 23 lines – only one page. Send to: kathy(dot)temean(at)gmail(dot)com.
PLEASE FOLLOW THE GUIDELINES: Your submission will be skipped over if you do not follow the directions for both the pasted email and the attached Word doc. This is where most people mess up.
DEADLINE: April 21st.
RESULTS: April 29th.
Please only submit one first page a month. Thanks!