UArizona Students Gain Experience in Pop-up Literary Agency

Feb. 16, 2021

English 389 class photo.jpg

Some of the students in 389Literary connect over Zoom in spring 2021.
Some of the students in 389Literary connect over Zoom in spring 2021.

This year, students at the University of Arizona learned about the world of editing and publishing children’s stories in the class “English 389, Introduction to Publishing in the Children’s Literature Market.”

For the fall 2020 class, English Assistant Professor Stephanie Pearmain created a pop-up editorial literary agency for children’s books, called 389Literary, providing students with the opportunity to receive first-hand, professional experience. 389Literary continued into the spring 2021 semester as a seven-week course. The project was a huge undertaking, Pearmain said, made possible with the assistance of two Honors students. 

“My time as a reader at a literary agency was in some ways more educational than my graduate work,” said Pearmain. “Nothing is as valuable as hands-on experience, so I created a way to provide that opportunity for students.”

As editorial assistants, students read query letters and manuscripts, completed market research, wrote jacket copy and pitches, and provided professional-level feedback to writers.

Writers, published or not, could submit their manuscripts to 389Literary. During the first semester of the class, over 300 submissions were received from all over the world including the United States, England, Canada, and the Philippines.

389Literary partnered with literary agents and editors across the United States. A select number of manuscripts will be passed on to these agents and editors, making it “above the slush pile,” meaning they make it to the top of editors' and agents’ desks. So far, four manuscripts 389Literary sent forth for an above-the-slush-pile read have received feedback, with one of them advancing to the next step towards publication.

Senior Honors student Hannah Miller is participating in 389Literary for a second time this semester and helped Pearmain with the back end of running the pop-up agency.

“This course was a comprehensive deep dive into all things involving children’s publishing,” Miller said. “From writing query letters and jacket copies to researching publishing houses and actually drafting our own picture book manuscripts, Professor Pearmain touches on so many essential elements.”

Storytelling has always been an important aspect of Miller's personal and academic life and taking a class centered around children’s publishing was the perfect stepping stone for her future career. With hopes of becoming a literary agent herself, Miller feels like this class has given her valuable skills.

“My favorite part of this experience is the immense confidence I've gained because of it,” Miller said. “It’s easy as a college student to doubt yourself and your future, but this course has given me the tools to succeed beyond the classroom.”

Miller says she would absolutely recommend this class to her peers, even those not specifically pursuing a career in publishing, saying “it is an amazing opportunity to hone your creativity and writing skills.”

ENGL 389 is offered every fall semester, and Pearmain is considering turning 389Literary into an internship. Any students interested in learning more about this opportunity should contact Stephanie Pearmain, who is the coordinator of undergraduate English internships, at pearmain@arizona.edu.