By now I supposed you’ve guessed what the “huge news” is that I alluded to in this week’s Gratitude Sunday post. There are no words to describe how ecstatic I am to announce that, as of yesterday, I am now represented by Erzsi Deak of Hen & Ink Literary.
To celebrate, I am giving away the spreadsheet I’ve kept these past few years of agents who represent picture books. How can you win? Easy! Leave a comment on this post before midnight EST today and it’s yours!! Share with your friends. Everybody is a winner, just like the rubber duckie game at the fair.
I was just thinking the other day how this series had been neglected for a while and I should find someone to post. Little did I know I would be given the opportunity to turn the tables and interview myself! *gleeful dancing* So here goes…
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?I
I began writing for children in 2006 when my daughter was three and my son an infant. I attended my first regional SCBWI conference in 2007 and quickly fired off a submission I was sure would be accepted (the very first completed book I’d written which, after many substantial revisions, was published last week as A TROOP IS A GROUP OF MONKEYS). Big mistake. Rookie mistake. A few months later, I attended the National SCBWI conference in New York. I learned so much at that conference, but the biggest lesson was how “new” I was and how much I had yet to learn.
I put a moratorium on submissions for a full year while I learned everything I could about the craft of writing picture books and the children’s publishing industry. I began submitting again at the beginning of 2010 once I felt I had a foundation beneath my writing.
I knew I wanted an agent for several reasons. To take over the submissions process, definitely, but mostly to have a partner in what is an emotional, complicated, ever-changing career path. I’ve always felt working with an agent, as opposed to submitting to many editors, would help me navigate my career, make the best decisions and, quite frankly, make it less scary!
I did most of my research online, scouring blogs and websites and compiling the information into the aforesaid spreadsheet. Eventually I began targeting conferences where my top-choice agents were speaking so I could meet them in person. I was fortunate enough to meet Erzsi last March at the Bologna Book Fair. (I did so much research I ended up writing an ebook on submissions, which you can get for free if you sign up for my mailing list)
The dreaded questions: How many queries? How many rejections?
chicken careful and strategic about my submissions, only sending a few queries out at a time and one manuscript at a time. I would then reflect on the feedback I got (or not) and generally use it to make further revisions before querying the same manuscript again. So I didn’t get too many rejections, although some of the ones I did get were painful indeed.
It’s a tough market for picture books. Was it difficult to find an agent who wanted to represent an author-only focusing solely on picture books? How did you know your agent was “the one?”
Yes, it was difficult. Yet, agents are still seeking picture book clients. I was surprised by how easily I filled my roster of participating agents for 12 x 12, for example. I think agents are understandably quite discerning about taking on picture book clients, but they are taking them.
I first met Erzsi at the SCBWI booth at the Bologna Book Fair last year. I had a 20 minute pitch appointment and we spent the first 10 minutes chatting with great excitement and fascination about all the changes in going on in publishing. Finally, I said, “Wait! I better talk to you about my work or we’re going to run out of time.”
I sent her one of my manuscripts and she offered encouragement and suggestions for revision, which I made over time. In the meantime, I was busy working on other projects, attending more conferences, learning more craft and immersing myself in digital publishing in the form of storybook apps.
Given the trajectory my career had taken in the months since I first submitted to Erzsi, I was committed to finding an agent who would embrace digital publishing. I knew Erzsi to be forward-thinking in this area because one of my good friends, Sarah Towle, is her client and has only published digitally thus far. I also appreciated her global view, which is one I share (hence, the upcoming whirlwind European tour).
I also wanted an agent who would provide editorial feedback on manuscripts and have the patience to help me get it “just right” before submitting. I knew from the thoughtful and in-depth comments I received from Erzsi both times I submitted to her that she was indeed that type of agent.
Finally, when we talked on the phone about the contract, I was reminded of how much I enjoy talking to her. Yes, choosing an agent is a business decision, but I think if you’re going to be working side by side with a person for years, it’s a great bonus if, in addition to trusting their instincts and valuing their expertise, you can enjoy that person’s company .
Has your writing process changed since signing with an agent?
Since we just signed yesterday, I don’t know yet!
What advice would you give to picture book writers looking for agents today?
- Always put your craft first. Always. Hold off on submitting until you are confident in your craft.
- Remember that no writing is ever wasted. I didn’t believe this at all when I started. I would roll my eyes, convinced I was the exception to the rule – that everything I wrote would be publishable. Boy was I wrong. Then I went through a period where I was so disheartened I was convinced everything I wrote was terrible (some of it was) and thus a waste of time. Neither turned out to be true. Everything you write will make you a better writer. Be glad for each and every piece of writing because you never know when you might be able to resurrect something – even if it’s just a kernel of an idea – from an old manuscript.
- Do not be afraid to submit to the same agent more than once. I went through two rounds of submissions with Erzsi before she took me on. Another agent I met at the RMC-SCBWI conference this fall, Karen Grencik, said this in her speech: “A no today is not a no forever.” In the span of a year, you will grow as a writer. Even if you’ve received a rejection from an agent in the past, if you have a new manuscript you think would be a good fit for him/her – go for it!
- Make personal connections whenever possible. Try not to be a wallflower at conferences or other events when you have a chance to meet agents. They are there to meet you! But be a real person. Have a normal conversation. When you go to query them, remind them of the connection you made. If you aren’t able to make in-person connections, do your research before querying to find out their tastes, their background, something about their lives. Never, ever send a form letter.
What’s up next/what are you working on now?
Well, I just submitted the final (I hope) manuscript for the second of the three apps I’m publishing with Little Bahalia this year. It felt a little surreal (and wonderful) after spending so much time with TROOP. I have yet to write the third but I’m itching to get going…
I have another yet-to-be-announced publishing project I’m excited about for this year, and of course, I hope to revise one of my PB manuscripts into something “just right” that Erzsi could take out on submission before the end of the year.
Lastly, I started working on my first chapter book, intended to be one of a trilogy. Writing in longer form is new for me, and I’m loving the challenge and excitement!
I am now going to ask myself the question I asked Tara Lazar at the end of her interview in this series. I took contention with her answer and am relieved I can now give my own, far more appropriate response:
Johnny Depp or Ryan Reynolds?
Hello??!!?? Johnny Depp all the way my friends! Even though I was shocked to find Tara had chosen neither of the two, ever since then it’s clear she sides with Ryan Reynolds. Yes, he has the rippled abs, but does he have those eyes or that bone structure? (although I could live without the scarf) I think not!
My apologies to my male readers, but it just had to be said!
Categories: A Troop is a Group of Monkeys, Agents, Digital Publishing, Goals, How I Got My Agent, Picture Books, Publishing, Queries, Writing · Tags: A Troop is a Group of Monkeys, Agents, Author, Digital Publishing, Erzsi Deak, Goals, Hen & Ink, How I Got My Agent, Julie Hedlund, Picture Books, Publishing, Queries, Storybook Apps, Writing