Julie_02

Please welcome author Julie Falatko to the How I Got My Agent series. Julie is a two-time member of the 12 x 12 picture book writing challenge and a friend to boot! We’re both Brain Burps girls, and although we have not (yet) met in person, I feel like I’ve known her forever. I’ve long since forgiven her for stealing snapping up the best blog name ever — World of Julie. I’m so happy for her and I know you will be too!

Julie, how long had you been writing before seeking an agent, and what made you decide it was time to look for one? What kind of research did you do before submitting?

When I started getting serious about writing, I researched all the publishers who accepted unagented submissions, and it quickly became clear I’d do better with an agent.

It was still another year-and-a-half after realizing I’d need an agent before I started submitting. I did a lot of research both into agents and into the querying process. It seemed like a lot of people were doing a LOT of querying, which is certainly one approach. But I know that my stories are a little quirky and weird, and might not be for everyone. I only sent queries to agents who seemed like they’d want my style of writing. It would be a waste of everyone’s time otherwise. (Seriously, some days I barely have time to tie my shoes. I definitely don’t have time to send a query to an agent who doesn’t like books like the ones I write.)

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

Eleven queries. Of those, five were basic rejections. Two were what I call, in my spreadsheet, “lovely rejections,” meaning personal rejections. Those personal rejections kept me going.

And there was one more rejection that was above and beyond a lovely rejection. I want to frame this rejection. It was the most encouraging, heartening, happy-making rejection imaginable. I know not every agent has time to send a personal rejection, or even a response. But when agents are moved to write something that lets the writer know they’re not crazy for trying to do this thing, it makes a huge difference.

Two agents (Danielle and another one) wanted to see more of my work. When Danielle (Danielle Smith of ForeWord Literary) offered, I nudged the other agent and they said they were going to make me an offer also (!!) but were stepping aside given the situation.

How’s my math? (You see why I need an agent?) Eleven queries, I’ve mentioned ten responses. There was one more that kind of fell through the cracks – I sent a follow-up nudge after Danielle offered representation and never heard anything. That happens, too.  It’s ok.

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

Not really! But maybe that’s because I didn’t send out too many queries. All the information is out there. You look on QueryTracker and follow interesting agents on Twitter, and it’s pretty easy to make a list of agents to look at.

The greater focus for me was to find an agent who would think my stories were charming and funny, rather than shudder and try to quietly toss them out the nearest window.

How did you know your agent was “the one?

When I saw that Foreword Literary had formed in March, and that Danielle would be their picture book agent, I took another look at her blog, There’s a Book. And I saw that we have nearly identical taste in books.

So I sent off my story. I think you have to be really zen about submissions. You write your best story, you write your best query, and then there’s nothing else you can do. Forget about it for a while.

And so I was very, very excited when Danielle responded about two weeks later asking for more stories. And then about a week after that she emailed me to set up a phone call. And we all know (or hope we know) about The Call.

On the phone, over email, and online, Danielle is enthusiastic and extremely supportive. She is just as passionate about children’s books as I am (as we all are, those of you reading this). So I knew right away that I liked her, as a person. It was clear that she is also extremely organized, knowledgeable, connected, and would be good at contracts and things, so I knew she is also an excellent agent.

Do you think your platform (blog, reviewer on Brain Burps, etc.) helped you find your agent?

The very first question Danielle asked me on the phone was, “Do you still do the reviews for Brain Burps?” She was asking because the fact that I do picture book reviews shows that I have a knowledge of the industry. You know, I’m so surrounded by you all, these smart, smart writer people. But I guess there are people who just dash off what they think is a picture book and send it off to whomever. So doing the podcast reviews immediately put a big star over my head that said, “This one’s not a loon” (not for that reason, at least).

I will make no comment. 🙂

If 12 x 12 helped you in any way during your agent search/development of craft, can you tell us how?

I can honestly say that I would not have an agent if it weren’t for 12×12. (I swear I didn’t hold her in a headlock and make her say that!!)

Last summer (2012) I had one story polished and submittable. So I submitted it, twice (and got rejected). But then a friend in my critique group got an agent, and the biggest lesson she shared from that experience was that you have to have at least three finished, polished stories before you even think about submitting.

So I stopped submitting to focus on writing. If you remember my 12×12 post from last year, 12×12 in 2012 gave me a lot of first drafts. I buckled down and finished them.

This process was one of the most intense things I’ve ever done. But it was something I passionately wanted to do, and felt like I had to do.

(There was another factor in this, and that was my incredibly supportive husband. He has a particular brand of tough-love motivation that works brilliantly for me. And so he said, “You’ve been talking about writing for years now. Enough. Either do it or don’t. But if you’re going to do it, do it.” And he was right. Was I going to do this or not?)

I put my younger two kids in preschool two days a week, and my husband forbid me from running errands on those days. So I revised, and I wrote. I focused more than I knew I could. It was a blast.

Okay, I have to interject here and say I love your husband! I mean, I don’t LOVE love him, because that would be wrong, but what a superstar for both supporting AND pushing you!!

And while I was working 12×12 kept rolling. And I’m proud to say that my December, January, March, April, and May drafts are all either done or at their final stages with Danielle.

12×12 taught me that the more you write, the better your writing gets. I know, I know. Caveman Writer Guy pretty much wrote that sentiment on the cave walls in mammoth blood. But still, it’s one thing to know it, and another thing to experience it yourself. It’s practice. And the more I write, the less my drafts are like those things from the beginning of 2012, which I’m going to use for firestarters the next time I go camping.

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

The first thing would be to take your time. Get those three (or more!) stories ready. Join a critique group. Revise a lot.

Write a lot, too. Expect to write some terrible stories. That’s ok. You need to get the terrible ones out of your system. They’re all stepping stones to your amazing stories.

The second would be to do your research. There’s often a lot of information online about agents. Find out as much as you can. Does the agent seem like someone who would like your stuff? Who would be able to sell your manuscripts? Do you like what you read about the agent?

And do your research about how to query, too. There are approximately one gazillion articles on the internet about proper query formatting, and common agent pet peeves. It’s pretty easy to figure this stuff out. Take your time, and do it right.

You have four children. Have you ever considered selling them in order to fund attendance at writer’s conferences?

I think it is worth noting that I’ve never been to a writer’s conference. I know they’re amazing, and a great way to meet agents. But they’re not a necessity. I have a lot of wee children, and the time and money for going to writer’s conferences never grew out of that tree I planted in the backyard expressly for that purpose.

Despite the fact that I am a self-professed conference junkie, I think it is HUGELY inspiring that you found your agent through the standard, “available to everyone” query process. It just goes to show all of us that talent does rise to the top. There are as many paths as there are writers. The most important thing, always, is the craft.

I still think the most important thing to do if you want to get an agent, to sell a book, is to write. A lot. Work on your craft. There are so many “other” things you can do – go to conferences, blog, join 12×12, Tweet, Tumbl, Foofinfarf (that’s a new one I just made up; it’ll be super hot by next week). Do those things if you can, but first, always, write.

Oh! But that’s not what you asked me. My children, I’m afraid, are not worth much on the open market. Instead I am training them to do all the housework so that I can spend more time writing. So far it’s going…well, look around. You can see how it’s going. Watch out! Don’t step there! Yeah, ok. It’s not going so well so far. Though my 7 year-old does make a fabulous English muffin pizza.

Julie Falatko writes picture books from her home in Maine, which she shares with her husband and four children. She reviews picture books for Katie Davis’s Brain Burps About Books podcast, blogs at worldofjulie.com, and bakes when she’s procrastinating. You can find her on Twitter at @JulieFalatko.

Categories: 12 x 12, Agents, Authors, Brain Burps About Books, Creativity, Family, Goals, Guest Blogging, How I Got My Agent, Picture Books, Publishing, Queries, Social Media, Works in Progress, Writing · Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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60 Comments

  1. Julie, you are funny and fabulous, and I can only assume your PBs will be, too. I’ve never been to a writing conference, either, and don’t see it happening anytime soon, wonderfully “stuck” as I am in Italy with a couple of toddlers. 🙂 And I’m where you were last year: one PB ms almost there and a goal to make it to three by the end of the year before starting to submit. So — your post was inspiring and validating for me on several counts. Thank you!I’m really happy for you. 🙂

  2. Fun interview. Congratulations again on being agented!! Love how you’re training the kids in chores. I need to do that, too!

    • Tina, we recently made a job list, and it has been amazing. So we’ve got vacuuming the first floor for $1, mopping for $1, emptying the dishwasher for 25 cents. Weeding the garden is $6 because it requires the most time and tenacity, and also because I hate it the most. It has been amazing how motivated they are to clean in order to save up for more Lego sets (which they, in turn, leave all over the floor, so there are still a few flaws in this plan).

  3. Great interview Julie H! And I love your book reviews on Brain burps Julie F, congratulations on getting an agent!

  4. Fabulous interview! I appreciate your words of wisdom and encouragement. Thank you so much!

  5. Thank you Julie and Julie:) I loved this post for sooo many reasons. It was funny and inspiring and just plain good. Thank you for sharing your success and the path which brought you there with all of us. 🙂

  6. Foofinfarf — I love it. Congratulations!

  7. Yay, Julie! This is great. As your sister in crit group, I had the pleasure of seeing this all unfold. I am so thrilled for you!

  8. I should have said that I couldn’t have done it without 12×12, AND I couldn’t have done it without my amazing critique group!

  9. Kirstine Call

    Thanks for the inspiring post!

  10. Julie,

    Fun post! I can see your personality shining through in your words, and I imagine that, also, has a lot to do with why you have an agent. I really enjoy your reviews on Brain Burps. You do such a great job that I want o run straight to the library or bookstore to read the books you are so passionate about.

    I’m very happy for you!! What an exciting time.

  11. So, I woke up at 4:30 and have a bad habit of checking my email in the middle of the night. And then I saw this. And it lit fires of happy in me, and so I was up for the day. I thank you for my morning burst of creativity and will curse you for my afternoon slump. Just kidding. Love to you always.

    SO GLAD to have been on the behind the scenes tour of this story. See you on Foofinfarf.

    • LOVE that I woke you up. Of course. Sparkle cannon sent out of your inbox, tickling you in your sleep.

      Foofinfarf you later. I’ll be here with the coffee for the afternoon slump.

  12. Thanks for the interview, Julie squared. It’s so nice to hear how you did everything right and were rewarded with an awesome agent. I wish you continued great luck!

    • Oh my gosh, wouldn’t it be the worst to read a How I Got My Agent post and have the writer be like, “Yeah, I didn’t follow the query guidelines and told the agent that she’d better sign me or else. So she did.”

  13. Lovely success story, Julie(s). You make it sound so doable. Can’t wait to read your stories!

    • Heh, other people’s incredible stress and angst and tear-filled work always seems so bright and breezy and doable when wrapped up in a neat little blog post. Just know that there was a lot of chocolate and coffee involved.

  14. It’s so great and inspiring to hear stories of commitment leading to the desired results. I love that your husband was so supportive in the right ways and that he forbade you to run errands while your kids were in preschool.

    • It was honestly the hardest I’ve every focused and worked on anything. In school, I worked hard, but it was always someone else’s deadlines. To make my OWN deadlines and dedicate myself to reaching them was new (and scary) for me.

  15. Melanie Ellsworth

    Julie, it was such fun to read this post! It was also good to hear that you were able to get your agent without having to attend a writing conference. I enjoyed my first writing conference recently but would find it difficult to attend those on a regular basis.

  16. Great interview to Julie & Julie! Julie it was so wonderful to hear your story and inspiring. And kudos to your husband for being so supportive and giving you the extra kick in the pants. Looking forward to hearing more good news from you in the future. 😉

  17. I am totally going to sign up to Foofinfarf you are so funny Julie! This is a wonderful story, all the best to you! And wow great husband

  18. This is such a fun, upbeat post, Julie, and it is so exciting to know the importance of 12×12 in your journey so far. Danielle’s blog was the first I ever started following when I began writing a couple of year’s ago and I think your quirky style is a fabulous match. I am also doing really targeted agent submissions right now as I don’t write typical PB’s, so I appreciate reading this aspect of your story. HUGE congrats once again.

    • I am so glad I took the time and researched agents. And also glad I took the time, because it was like I was waiting for Danielle to become an agent. I really feel like we’re a perfect fit.

  19. Thanks for allowing us to take a peek into your process! I loved reading how your family elements came into play. It is such an important part of who we are as writers. I am so happy that you were signed by Danielle. I’m popping over to check out your blog now! Best wishes!

    • I remember taking a class in college that was called “text and context” which was all about not only the stories and books, but who the authors were/are, and whether our perception of the stories change after learning more about the authors. I feel in some ways that’s what How I Got My Agent posts do (or, well, I guess what most blogs do, too). But yes, our families are so deeply woven into writing, and the process, for sure.

  20. I enjoyed reading this post ladies. Congratulations Julie F. on getting your agent. Your story is very interesting. Your husband is a gem — you are so lucky for the support. It’s great you landed an agent after sending out 11 queries. I appreciate the research you did to find the right agents — I also don’t write typical PB’s — so your info meant a great deal to me.

    • You know, it felt like more queries. I was surprised it was only eleven. I think it felt like more because it’s not like I sent them all out on the same day. It was eleven over many months. But that worked for me, definitely: going slowly and picking very specific agents.

  21. I like the way you think, Julie; I’m trying the same approach. Oh, I bake when I’m procrastinating too!:0)

  22. You are a true inspiration for everyone who writes with hope of one day getting published, Julie! Your husband is fabulous for being extra supportive and I wholeheartedly agree with your advice to write lots and have several completed projects before submitting. Thank you for sharing your story! I never tire of reading about other people’s success through hard work. 🙂

  23. Congratulations, Julie F. What a great success story. I admire the fact that you took a chance with a new literary agency. I can’t wait to read about your experience with them in a future post.

  24. So much of it is going with your gut, Romelle. They’re a new agency, but founded by veteran agents, and I greatly admire their thinking and philosophy. Plus I just KNEW Danielle would be the perfect agent for me.

  25. Thanks to both Julies for this great post! I love success stories about folks whose talent got them the “luck” of landing an agent. You are obviously one of them. It’s not about a conference; it’s not about a myriad of social media connections; it’s about craft. Thank you for this very important reminder. All the best to you!

    • Thanks, Anne! I think it’s easy to forget — even I forget, when I get all whipped up into a Twitter frenzy, and convince myself that it’s important. And social media connections are important to a certain extent, but good writing trumps all.

  26. What a great story! 😀

  27. Loved reading this, Julie (both of you)! I have never been able to afford going to conferences either, so the fact that you found an agent without going to conferences gives me hope. (I have lots of kids, and my money tree hasn’t blossomed with much fruit either.) I agree about the writing. And more writing. And, might I add, learning to revise well.

    • Yeah, Becky, you have even more kids than I do, and I have a lot of them! I think, especially, for writers with actual broods, you’ve got to focus on carving out writing time, and not worry about carving out conference time. It’ll come. And it’ll be fabulous. Can you imagine? A hotel room where you can jump on the bed without konking heads with all of the other bed jumpers?

  28. Kathleen Cornell Berman

    Fabulous post Julie. I love hearing about your journey. Sounds like you have a wonderful family who supports you in every way. Can’t wait to read your stories.

  29. Great interview – here’s my favorite line: “Take your time, and do it right.”

    You tell it like it is – buckle down, be persistent, keep working and it will pay off.

    ( Plus, you Tweeted the name of a great undereye concealer…)

  30. Lots of fun, Julie. Foofinfarf! Ahahahahahaha. That’s a good one. *slaps knee* Congrads! I’m right behind ya. 🙂

  31. Oh the courage this gives me! Thanks so much both Julies! Congrats Julie F on your agent..Research and do it right. Thank you. 🙂

  32. Love your story and the fabulous Danielle Smith. I’ve been a fan of her blog since I discovered it a few years ago when I started blogging. Can’t wait to see your picture book. Please email me if you do a blog tour for it!

  33. Great post. I liked it so much I went to your blog Julie, and I liked that so much I subscribed. Take heart, my kid is going on 15 and I still can’t get her to clean the house or make dinners.

  34. Congrats, Julie! Loved this inspiring post! 🙂

  35. great story, Julie! You give me hope because I have never been to a conference either! Congratulations on your success! Danielle sounds wonderful!

    • Thanks, B.J.! I do want to get to a conference at some point, but clearly it’s not essential for agent-getting. If you can spend a free weekend working intensely on writing, it might be just as beneficial. (Not, mind you, that I have any idea what this “free weekend” thing is.)

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