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: 12 x 12, Agents, Author, Brain Burps About Books, Creativity, Danielle Smith, Family, ForeWord Literary, Goals, Guest Blog, How I Got My Agent, Julie Falatko, Julie Hedlund, Katie Davis, Picture Books, Publishing, Queries, Social Media, Works in Progress, Writing