Seth Fishman’s Drawings May Be Sketchy, but His Ability to Inspire Children Through His Picture Books Is Artful

Picture imperfect.

  • Category
    Arts, People
  • Written by
    Michele Garber
  • Photographed by
    Adelaide Brannan

As both an award-winning children’s author and a successful literary agent, Seth Fishman is a man of many talents. Unfortunately, drawing well isn’t one of them. Rather than lament his limited artistic prowess, the father of two young boys opted to embrace his subpar drawing and use it as inspiration for his latest children’s picture book, Bad Drawer. 

In the book, Seth has a story in his head that he is unable to share with the world because he draws so poorly. But he has many friends who are gifted artists. They pool their talents—creating imaginative illustrations and bringing Seth’s delightful story to life.

“So many things that I do are inspired by my kids,” shares Seth. “There’s a lot of pressure on having your kids be good at things. I felt so much of that pressure. And I wanted to write a book that tells kids it’s OK to not be the best at something. Still love something, but it’s OK not to be good at something.”

Raised in Midland, Texas, Seth’s aspirations were shaped in large part by his father, who was an avid reader and a scientist. Seth excelled at math and science. His best subject was physics, and he had a penchant for history and reading. 

“My dad was a really big reader,” he shares. “So I was always reading and knew I wanted to be a writer at an early age. It’s the thing I wanted to do the most.”

Seth majored in creative writing and history at Princeton. “I went to Princeton because it has the best undergraduate creative writing program, and it also has a great history program,” he says. “They had incredible professors and guest instructors: Joyce Carol Oates, Toni Morrison, Chang-Rae Lee, Edmund White. It was like a dream.”  

“I wanted to write a book that tells kids it’s OK to not be the best at something. Still love something, but it’s OK not to be good at something.”

As Princeton doesn’t have an MFA program, Seth earned his MFA at the University of East Anglia in Norwich, England—renowned for its outstanding creative writing program. While there, the school often brought in literary agents, which sparked Seth’s initial interest to become an agent.

After earning his MFA, Seth moved to New York to pursue both his writing and agenting ambitions. He interned at a sci-fi/fantasy agency, then landed a position at Sterling Lord Literistic—a prestigious agency that represented luminaries from David Mitchell to Jack Kerouac. 

He was thinking of giving up agenting to focus on his novel when he found author Téa Obreht and sold her novel The Tiger’s Wife, which became a New York Times bestseller. Seth’s representation of Téa solidified his standing in the industry, and he’s been a successful agent ever since. He adds, “I love agenting. I think it’s the very best job in the world.”

In 2016 Seth and his family relocated to Manhattan Beach and fell in love with the community. Six months later they bought a home in the Tree Section. “The community is so great; the weather is great, the schools … being able to walk to the schools,” Seth shares. “One of the reasons we like it here so much is it reminds us of Jersey City. It’s a walk town.”

Since 2010 Seth has been a vice president and agent for The Gernert Company. In addition to Bad Drawer, Seth has authored two young adult novels and five children’s picture books, including four STEM books with New York Times best-selling graphic novelist Isabel Greenberg. 

His first STEM book, A Hundred Billion Trillion Stars, was awarded the 2018 Mathical Book Prize for the best book on math for grades 3–5. It was also a Boston Globe—Horn Book Award honoree and was named best book of the year by Amazon, and The Planetary Society. His other picture books are Power Up, The Ocean in Your Bathtub, Up Your Nose and When I Wake Up.

Seth actively engages with the South Bay community. The Ocean in Your Bathtub partnered with the Roundhouse Aquarium, and it will be displayed on pedestals in the newly renovated Polliwog Park. He also donates his time visiting schools, libraries and day care centers, giving book readings and interactive presentations on writing, math and science for all ages. 

“We love everything the South Bay has for kids—it’s mind-blowing,” he says. “My kids are so lucky. They have no idea.”