Interview with an Agent: Anne Moore Armstrong
last updated 07 February 2023
Interview by Rachel Moffat
Our agents move mountains, working with our artists to make dreams come true. In this blog series, we sit down with our experts and give you an insight into their story and their passion for all things Bright.
Join us now as we interview Managing Art Agent: Anne Moore Armstrong
Tell us a little about your journey to becoming an agent at Bright.
I worked in children’s book publishing for about 20 years for two different publishers: Little, Brown and Candlewick Press in both art departments. From assisting the Art Director, to becoming a book designer, and finally an art buyer, I learned so much about working with artists, reviewing portfolios and sharing work with editors and art directors. I shifted into art agenting when my husband and I made a geographical move, but I always had a dream of being an agent. It was then that I serendipitously found Vicki at the Bright Agency at a time that she was looking for a new US agent. And I’ve been with Bright for 8 years now.
Where did your love of art come from?
Although I was an English Literature major, I discovered I am a visual learner and I respond to artwork emotionally and viscerally - so the visual arts started to speak to me. I studied semiotics in college, the meaning of images or symbols, and it was through this that I started to understand their power and potential to speak universally. I love words, but art had a dimension to it that really spoke to my heart and my mind in a different way. And so I really fell in love with how picture books craft art and words together.
What do you look for in an artist?
I look for emotional connection and storytelling. Also, sensing that they have passion for what they do, and that they have a style that is memorable. When I look at artwork, does it make me want to dive into it and explore further? Is it a believable setting or does it suspend my imagination? What feelings does it evoke? curiosity? danger? delight? I’m looking for art that carries my imagination and creates a strong emotional response. That’s what I’m drawn to and I know publishers and readers also find most engaging. Children’s books are special, as the visual storytelling creates worlds for us to enter, explore and ultimately be connected with in our heart and mind.
Tell us about the first/most exciting project one of your artists worked on?
Amazingly when I first began as an Art Agent, David Litchfield was one of the first artists that joined my list. He had not published previously. I had been in communication with him in my previous job, looking at his portfolio and loving the way he captured light. His very first picture book was The Bear and the Piano which went on to be an award-winning bestseller! So, this was an unexpected but lovely launch into my agenting career. I credit this to his amazing talent, and the serendipity of him saying yes to a brand-new agent. The most exciting moments that I love about my job is developing author-illustrated stories with artists, and then pitching and selling them to editors. To be able to make that call to an artist and say, “Guess what… your debut story has been acquired” - that’s just an unforgettable moment, and I’m honored to be part of that dream coming true for them. I had one artist who wrote a number of stories, but none of them sold. It had been two or three years, and it was very disappointing and difficult. We decided to develop a new story based on a piece from her portfolio, a little bird and a seed. She got multiple offers and now has a debut picture book coming out! So perseverance is something you must have as an agent.
When you’re not working, what does a day in the life of Anne look like?
Water really refreshes me, so I love living near Lake Erie and walking my dog, Charlie who is a labrador/shepherd mix rescue and has his own hashtag #Charlieblisslife. It’s my ‘soul’ place where I decompress, pray and feel most alive. We bike there as well. I also love to garden! My husband and I are transforming an empty lot into an organic vegetable garden and micro orchard of eight fruit trees - peaches, pears, nectarines, apples and plums. We also grow pollinator gardens to help save bees and promote healthy ecosystems. We care about our city neighborhood which is in an area with a lot of poverty but a lot of potential! We advocate for more public engagement and creating neighborhood gardens and public spaces of gathering. I started the #ClevelandSunflowerProject to bring color to the city streets. I want to bring beauty to dreary, forgotten places. That’s one of my passions.
What has been your best day at Bright?
I really do love meeting with clients, connecting with them, being able to suggest an artist. That synergy of helping them find what they need and knowing the artists well enough to know who to suggest. But the best day is when an artist’s story is acquired. That brings me such joy to share and to celebrate with them!
What has been your biggest hurdle in your career?
Hmm well, I’d say imposter syndrome! I had worked with artists for many years art directing their books and looking at their portfolios, but agenting is a whole other animal. You are developing and selling their work, finding the right editors for their work worldwide. I just had to work through this with the invaluable help of Vicki who believed in me. The team at Bright is part of my key to success. We support each other and want every success for our artists.
What advice do you have for new agents?
Working in children’s book publishing for years really gave me that insider foundation, but you need quite a mix of skills…. strong communication with clients and artists, administration to keep track of schedules and negotiate contracts, and both an aesthetic and literary understanding of storytelling. Understanding market trends, being able to pivot quickly… it’s a real mix of visual language, emotional intelligence and business.
What do you know about the industry now that you wish you could have told yourself when you first started?
It takes time to find the right editor for a story. And every publishing house has a different way of acquiring and deciding on what they’re going to publish. So, understanding whether it’s an individual decision or a team decision, figuring out who is the gatekeeper and how to unlock the door is part of the knowledge you gain as you go. The market is so competitive and constantly changing, so keeping up to date is key.
What advice do you have for aspiring artists?
Create images that tell a story. Allow yourself to play… it unleashes creativity. Experiment with color palettes. Study nature and let it inform you. Make sure you have strong characterisations and settings as well as a strong narrative content throughout your portfolio. Create compositions with varying perspectives so an art director or editor can see you are capable of illustrating an engaging story.
A final message?
Honestly, be kind to yourself. It’s been a tough few years mentally for everyone, and so it may sound cliché but kindness will do wonders for your wellbeing. I want my artists to thrive, so although they need to meet deadlines, it’s important to enjoy nature, friendships, music, reading, sports ~ anything that gives you joy, so you are refreshed and have energy and inspiration to create strong work.
To get in contact with Anne click here.