I love ALL of the advice in this post, especially the need to KEEP WRITING while you are submitting, keep getting feedback on your work, keep improving. Ariel Bernstein does all of that while actively participating in the kidlit community, including 12 x 12. There’s no shortcut to success except hard work, and Ariel exemplifies that ethic. Please help me congratulate Ariel on finding her agent!
How long had you been writing before seeking an agent, and what made you decide it was time to look for one?
I’ve been writing in general off and on for a long time, but in the past year I started to focus on picture book writing. I decided it was time to research agents when I had written stories that started to get a lot of positive feedback and I felt the concepts were unique enough and the writing was strong enough.
What kind of research did you do before submitting?
I looked at a bunch of websites about agents and querying, including Querytracker, Heather Ayris Burnell’s Monster List of Picture Book Agents, Literary Rambles, Janet Reid’s Query Shark, and of course the websites for each agent. Also, if I was interested in an agent and they were on Twitter, I followed them and looked if they posted something for picture books with the #mswl (manuscript wishlist) hashtag.
The dreaded questions: How many queries? How many rejections?
Soooooo many! I’d have to go to my query chart to count and I don’t want to do that!
Was it difficult to find an agent who wanted to represent an author focusing solely on picture books?
As long as the agent I researched listed picture books as something they were open to receiving submissions for, I queried them. One agent did tell me she liked my story but generally only represented picture book writers who also wrote other types of books like chapter books and middle grade. Still, she gave me great feedback and was very encouraging so I felt it was worthwhile to have queried her.
How did you know your agent was “the one”?
Before “the call,” I knew from her agency’s website that Mary Cummings had a wonderful background in children’s literature and was open to working with debut authors so I was always interested in working with her. It was during the call when she gave spot-on suggestions to improve the manuscript, and also really understood the characters and their personalities, that I knew she would be a fantastic agent. I felt very fortunate that she liked my manuscript enough to want to represent it.
If 12 x 12 helped you in any way during your agent search/development of craft, can you tell us how? (P.S. It is TOTALLY okay if the answer is no. I am not trying to “lead” you 🙂 )
12 x 12 has definitely helped me become a better writer. Getting honest feedback on manuscripts from a lot of writers is invaluable. Plus, editing other’s work has helped me learn to self-edit. There are a ton of resources out there for beginning picture book writers and it can be overwhelming, but you don’t need to do absolutely everything. I found things like 12×12, Carrie Charley Brown’s ReFoReMo month of mentor texts, critique groups and partners, the Kidlit411 website and SCBWI’s website to be immeasurably helpful. Plus, just having a community of writers, some published and many pre-published, cheer on successes and understand the pain of rejections has been wonderful.
Has your writing process changed at all since signing with an agent?
Not much. I still exchange work with my critique group and partners. If anything I think I have some more confidence in my writing, although I’m not on submission yet so we’ll see how that goes!
What advice would you give to picture book writers looking for agents today?
Writing picture books isn’t easy at all, but the good thing is that because they’re relatively short, you’re able to write a lot of them (even if it takes a while to refine them). If there’s an agent you really want to work with who passes on a submission, take some time until you’ve written another manuscript that you feel great about and it’s okay to query them again (not right away though!).
Do you think your platform (blog, social media) helped you find your agent?
Mary said she looked at my blog and liked the writing. It’s a tongue in cheek parenting blog that doesn’t discuss my picture book writing though so I don’t think it was absolutely necessary to her decision.
Tell us something that is on your “bucket list.” Something you’ve dreamed of doing all your life but have yet to accomplish (besides publishing a book, which is inevitable at this point 🙂 )
I’d love to visit New Zealand for a nice amount of time. Yes, I am a fan of THE HOBBIT and THE LORD OF THE RINGS books, why do you ask?
What’s up next/what are you working on now?
Right now I’m working on my first chapter book!
Reader, are you looking for a picture book agent? Grab this 7-step submission checklist to help you avoid mistakes and make your submission shine.Categories: 12 x 12, Agents, How I Got My Agent, Picture Books · Tags: Ariel Bernstein, Betsy Amster Literary Enterprises, Mary Cummings