12 x 12 member Hannah HoltOver in the 12 x 12 Picture Book Writing Challenge, we’ve all been excited to watch Hannah Holt’s career take off, and we especially look forward to her debut picture book, Diamond Man, from Balzer+Bray. Hannah and I started out together. She was one of the FIRST people I met at my FIRST SCBWI conference about eight years ago. It takes patience, and a village. I’m glad to have Hannah in our village. Please join me in welcoming and congratulating Hannah on her success.

How long had you been writing before seeking an agent, and what made you decide it was time to look for one?

I started looking almost as soon as I finished my first picture book manuscript. Note, I don’t recommend this. 😉 If I could go back in time, I’d tell myself to wait until I had three polished manuscripts.

What kind of research did you do before submitting?

My typical research included things, like:

  1. How long has the agent been an agency?
  2. If a newer agent, how long has her agency been around? Is she receiving mentoring?
  3. Who are her existing clients? And what are their books like? (Hint: Read, read, read!)
  4. What sales has the agent reported on Publishers Marketplace? (I recommend a one month membership for research.)
  5. What does the agent sound like online? Does she seem interested in the types of books I write? Do we seem like a reasonable fit?

The dreaded questions: How many queries?  How many rejections?

I queried about thirty agents before signing with my first. That’s thirty queries sprinkled over five years—so not an overnight success. When it didn’t work out with my first agent, I felt like a big, fat failure. However, in the ashes of my career, I did some of my best writing. One such story, A Father’s Love, went on to win the SCBWI WIP award.

My second time on the query merry-go-round I had a much better idea of what I wanted and knew what questions to ask. This time I sent twenty-nine queries over six months. In the end, I had three offers.

Was it difficult to find an agent who wanted to represent an author focusing solely on picture books?

No.

Finding agents isn’t hard. However, finding the right blend of personality, experience, and interest is like the literary quest for the Holy Grail. Finding the right agent is a mix of talent, perseverance, timing, and luck. And perseverance. Did I mention perseverance? See the Children’s Writer’s and Illustrators Market if you aren’t sure where to start. Writer’s Digest also has a “New Agent Alerts” series that’s helpful.

Who is your new agent? Tell us about getting the news.

My agent is Laura Biagi of the Jean V. Naggar Literary Agency. I was thrilled to receive her offer! More on that later.

How did you know your agent was “the one”?

I talked to existing clients and asked quantifiable questions. Almost all clients will tell you they LOVE their agent. Agents won’t refer you to clients who recently terminated their contract. Sooooo, ask specific questions. Get facts. Don’t be shy…ASK.

I knew Laura was right for me because she is a highly responsive and editorial agent. My work is better because of her. Plus, she’s an expert time-manager. On top of all this, she’s just a nice person. It’s been a fantastic experience working with her.

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 🙂 )

Yes! In fact, I wrote out a person-by-person chain to my first book deal on my blog. You’ll find 12×12 in the thick of it.

Has your writing process changed at all since signing with an agent?

Yes. My agent is the final polishing step of my very best work. We’ve never been on submission without a revision (or three!).

What advice would you give to picture book writers looking for agents today?

Be yourself and write your passion! While querying, I heard all kinds of advice, like: don’t write in rhyme; don’t be too literary; don’t write about little-known subjects; go for big—quirky—funny. Well, I like literary stories and often they rhyme.

My debut picture book, Diamond Man, is lyrical poem about my grandpa, H. Tracy Hall. He invented something that probably impacts your day-to-day life, but he’s not considered a household name. Yet…his story had a lot of initial interest and sold in a preempt!

Write the stories that make your heart sing. Be yourself.

Do you think your platform (blog, social media) helped you find your agent?

Yes but probably not the way most people think. My network isn’t huge, but it’s full of close connections. I love my small but growing circle of writing friends. I found my agent because one of my friends recommended I enter a contest. My agent liked my work in the contest and requested more.

For me, building quality relationships is more important than quantity.

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! And Australia. And…travel more in general. It’s been hard to do with my four young kids. Someday…

What’s up next/what are you working on now?

Picture books, picture books, and more picture books. My second project is on submission, and we are close with two other stories. Hopefully, I’ll have more good news to share in the coming year!

 

Hannah Holt has been an active member of 12×12 for five years. Her debut picture book Diamond Man is forthcoming from Balzer+ Bray. She’s represented by Laura Biagi of the Jean V. Naggar Literary Agency. You can find Hannah chatting on Twitter and occasionally posting on her ill kept blog.

 

Interested in joining the 12 x 12 Picture Book Writing Challenge? Click here for more information about membership.

Categories: 12 x 12, Agents, How I Got My Agent, Queries · Tags: , , , ,

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59 Comments

  1. Thanks for sharing Hannah!

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  2. So happy to hear this Hannah! Thank you for sharing your story!

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  3. Thank you, Hannah (& Julie). This is inspiring. It gives me hope.

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  4. Great story, Hannah! So excited to read your book!

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  5. So great and inspiring, Hannah and Julie. Thank you!

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  6. Thanks for sharing your story, Hannah! And thank you, Julie, for giving so many wonderful writers a springboard to success!

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  7. This is a great interview. You are always full of great information and inspiration, Hannah. I’m excited for you! Congrats!

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  8. Thanks for the great information and inspiration, Hannah. I especially needed to hear your message about perseverance today. Congrats on Diamond Man; it sounds fabulous!

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  9. Lovely inspiring post my dear friend. Now you know there is always a place to stay when you do decide to venture down under. We would love to have you.

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  10. Midge Ballou Smith

    Lovely post. Thanks for sharing your journey with us, Hannah!

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  11. Thanks for sharing, Hannah. Very inspiring!

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  12. Thank you Hannah!!

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  13. Exciting news, Hannah . . .thanks for sharing your journey with us. Perseverance. 😉

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  14. Thanks for your great post, Hannah! Can’t wait to read Diamond Man!

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  15. All the best for this new relationship, Hannah!

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  16. Wow, congratulations! Can’t wait to see your books in print. 🙂

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  17. How neat to be able to write about your grandpa! Awesome. I know this will be a well received book. I am a rhymer, too. Good luck on future projects.

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  18. Thanks for sharing your story, Hannah! I’m going to keep persisting…

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  19. It has been so much fun to follow your story through 12×12, Hannah! Thanks for sharing your experience!

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  20. Thank you Hannah. So Very encouraging!!!!!!!❤️

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  21. Super exciting, Hannah! Thanks for sharing. I am so thrilled for you!

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  22. Thanks for sharing “behind the scenes” Hannah! Congrats and kudos to you for your dedication and perseverance. It’s so affirming to hear success stories like this from 12×12 members.

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  23. Thanks for sharing your journey thus far, Hannah. The proof IS in the picture book pudding!

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  24. Congrats Hannah! Great to hear the whole story!

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  25. this interview is so generous Hannah. I guess the ‘quantifiable questions’ are things we learn along the way about what we writers are looking for… Congratulations and may you enjoy all you do…

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    • Hi Kara, I added a list of a few quantifiable questions to the 12×12 Facebook group. Among other things, I think it’s important to know ahead of time how widely your agent is willing to submit the work, what types of houses they would submit to, and their typical response time (from both editors and for client emails). This will give you and idea of what to expect if you sign with the agent.

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      • Dear Hannah,
        That is brilliant. Thankyou again for your time!
        Have fun with Everything!
        Hope to meet you physically at a conference some day
        Best,
        Kara McLeod

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  26. Hannah! Loved your journey to agented author, and so excited about Diamond Man! I’m really gearing up this year to pursue an agent and your points were right on for me. Thanks for sharing.

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    • Hi, Damon! Best wishes with the agent quest. It takes a lot of time and research (and usually rejections) to find a good agent fit, but perseverance and hard work will pay off. Good luck with the hunt!

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  27. Hi Hannah, that was such an interesting and inspiring post – thank you. I hope you do get to come to NZ! All the best!

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  28. Thanks for the inspiration Hannah – I’m teetering on 30 submissions to agents right now with no takers and it’s comforting to know that there’s still hope!

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  29. Yay! Congratulations! This is very inspiring! 🙂

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  30. So much great advice all in one place! Thank you.

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  31. Congratulations on your success! Can’t wait to read your books!

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