12 x 12 member Katelyn AronsonIt is always exciting when a 12 x 12 member signs with an agent, and even more so when the agent is also one that takes submissions from 12 x 12 members outside the slush pile. That is the case with Katelyn Aronson, who has taken 12 x 12 by storm in this, her first year of participating. She sent me the sweetest thank you gift (even though her success is hers alone), and has already given much to the community — all the way from France where she lives! Please join me in congratulating Katelyn.

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

Growing up, I always loved writing (even more than reading), and I got a job in a children’s bookstore straight out of high school. (This was shortly after the release of the movie “You’ve Got Mail,” which had convinced me that I was a real-life Kathleen Kelly.) I loved that job, but somehow, selling children’s books was not enough. I knew I would eventually have to write them.

In my mid-twenties, however, I put that dream on hold in favor of another dream: living in Europe. I moved to France and began the long, painful process of learning French and integrating myself into French culture. Flash forward eight years, and once comfortably settled in Europe with the wanderlust of my 20s behind me, the desire to write for children resurfaced…with a vengeance! Suddenly, almost inexplicably, all I wanted to do was write, write, write.

So, last year–February of 2015–I decided to write a couple hours every day for one year and see where it got me. After a few months, I had written a few pieces and was getting some positive feedback from professional paid critiques. So, I started querying the very few publishers still open to unsolicited manuscripts. When that proved unfruitful, I started looking for an agent in August 2015.

What kind of research did you do before submitting?

I scoured the internet for literary agencies, their agents, and the agents’ tastes and manuscript wishlists. I became a querying machine, averaging a few queries a week, and sometimes up to six in one day. Did I make stupid mistakes? Yes. Did I send manuscripts out before they were ready? (*cringe*) Oh yes. Lots. But through trial and error, I learned from my faux pas and kept going.

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

In the past year, I have received too many rejections to count! A lot of personalized rejections, a lot of “near-hits,” but A LOT of rejections nonetheless. Rejections are a writer’s rite of passage. Victory comes to those who hang in there. I’ve found that the most heart-wrenching rejections can be those that say, “This is well-written, but I’m just not falling in love.” Ouch. But after receiving wildly disparate reactions to the same manuscript, I’ve learned that this industry is extremely subjective. You just have to hold on to the hope that one day, you’ll find your match–i.e. the agent who “gets” you.

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

It’s true that most agents are looking for MG/YA these days. But luckily, good PBs are still sought-after, and I think they’ll ultimately make their comeback. I worked in children’s books for 6 years, first as a bookseller, then as a bookstore manager and purchaser, and the market is clearly cyclical. More difficult was seeing the number of agents interested in ONLY “writer-illustrators” of picture books. Sometimes I wondered if being a good writer was enough anymore, in such a competitive market.

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

My agent is…Christa Heschke of McIntosh & Otis!

The night I got “the news,” I had been so depressed over some fresh disappointments in my writing career that I’d convinced myself that the agent I wanted most (Christa!) wouldn’t even be interested. I can get really down on myself at times. I had actually received a couple of other offers, but I didn’t feel 100% right about them, and I worried that maybe my career wasn’t heading in the direction I’d hoped. I crawled into bed early that night, in my melodramatic, “I’m feeling defeated” fashion.

I remember lying awake and hearing that distinctive “DING!” from my phone. An email from Christa flashed across the top of the screen. I prepared myself for the worst…I opened the email, heart pounding. There it was, at the end of the first paragraph: “I’d LOVE to offer you representation…!”

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

There were many things that recommended Christa to me. First, I could relate to Christa’s taste in picture books. I liked what she had to say on her blog and her “What I’m Looking For” post seemed right up my alley.

Christa also asked to see more manuscripts than others did prior to making an offer. At first, that made me really nervous. But by the time she did make an offer, when I read that she’d “fallen in love” with a number of manuscripts, those words were all the more meaningful to me.

Other agents had liked different manuscripts on my list, but often not the same ones. But Christa’s favorite manuscripts of mine encompassed quite a few of the ones I was proudest of. I’d found the agent who understood my voice and was willing to be my advocate.

Lastly, reading Christa’s description of how she saw her role as agent, and how McIntosh & Otis operated as an agency, really clinched it. She explained that she was a very editorial agent (I love that) but not dictatorial, and that her agency focused on selling authors, not just selling a single book. THAT spoke volumes to me, because I was not looking to be a “one-hit wonder,” but rather to build a long-term career.

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

Be as prolific as possible. Have plenty of manuscripts for an agent to look through. Every writer is different, of course, but I had a list of 9 completed manuscripts and 7 more in-process or idea-stage pieces when Christa asked to see more. Keep a growing “Synopses” or “Pitch” list of all your manuscripts. There is no single agent who will like everything you’ve written, but the agent who is right for you will fall in love with a certain number of your manuscripts and will believe in your “voice” as a writer for the long-haul.

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

Yes! I only became a member of 12×12 in January of this year, but the feedback and support I have found on the forum since then has proved invaluable. I have loved the challenge of creating something new every month, and then getting it critiqued like crazy by many different reviewers—something only possible through 12×12! Two of the manuscripts that caught my agent’s eye came from my January and February 12×12 drafts, and four of the manuscripts she liked had been critiqued on the 12×12 forum. I consider 12×12 a crucial element in building a successful writing career, because it challenges me to be prolific, holds me accountable, and provides great tools for polishing my manuscripts. The community spirit and friendships that spring out of 12×12 are the buttercream icing on the cake!

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

Social media helped me keep an eye on the various agents out there, and gave me some great pitch events and writing contest opportunities to attract agent attention. That said, I don’t have much of a “platform” to speak of (yet), so I can’t say that it led me to Christa. I do suspect, however, that an agent can be reassured by a writer’s online presence, in the sense that it shows a writer is 1) keeping informed about the book industry, 2) open to networking, and 3) willing to do self-promotion.

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 J )

Hmm…How about two things?

  1. I’d like to be trilingual. I’ve actually always preferred Italian to French, but because there weren’t any Italian courses available to me back in high school, I opted for French! Little did I know that language would shape the course of my life. I’d love for Italian to be my next language. (Meet up at the next Bologna Book Fair, Julie? Anyone? D’accordo ?)
  2. When I get around to marrying the Frenchman in my life (who is wonderful, patient, bilingual too, and always the first one to critique my manuscripts!), I dream of bringing my Californian family over to Europe to celebrate a French wedding. Call me old-fashioned, but that girlish dream still lingers. And those dreams which nag at you and never go away? Listen to them. Embrace them.

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

There is one inevitable thing in a writer’s life (besides death and taxes): revisions. Other than that, I am really looking forward to flying to New York and meeting my agent in person this summer!

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

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46 Comments

  1. Congratulations Katelyn! Your hard work and tenacity paid off. Your story is inspiring and I am so glad you shared it! I have been on the same path as you for about the same amount of time so I know I will be right behind you and that is encouraging. I look forward to reading your books and I wish you much success! #justkeepwriting #justkeepwriting

    • Thank you so much, Traci! I’m glad you’re encouraged and I’m sure I’ll hear YOUR good news very soon 😀 Keep it up!

  2. I love hearing about the process each person goes through in finding an agent that clicks with them. Thanks Katelyn for sharing. Can’t wait to see the finished product(s)!

  3. Congrats, Katelyn! Thank you for sharing your agent story! I can’t wait to see your books!

  4. YAY Kate!!! I loved reading your piece! You have been an inspiration to me and many others in 12×12 – and you deserve everything coming your way. I wish you nothing but great things always. Could I convince you to have your book launch party in France? I’m sure we can get a 12×12 posse to head over 🙂

    • Jen, YOU are the buttercream frosting, girl! (Actually, you have a lot more substance than that. And talent, imho…) Cannot wait to see YOUR How I Got My Agent post. Thanks for being there for me on this roller coaster. Keep on writing! 2017 is waiting for you, as is France 😀

  5. Congratulations Katelyn and thanks for your inspiring story. Hard work and persistence pays off!!

  6. Congrats Kate! You are such a talented writer and I am absolutely thrilled for you. I can’t wait to see your books in print!

  7. Thanks for sharing your story and letting us celebrate with you! May all your dreams come true!

  8. So so so excited for you, Katelyn…you are a wonderful writer…and Christa is a super agent! Sending all good wishes for a partnership that makes both of you smile. 😉

    • Dearest Vivian, You have always been there to encourage every one of us. Thank you for your kindness, and best of luck to you in your own career.

  9. Wow. I love your story and enthusiasm. Congratulations, and much continued success to you.

  10. Midge Ballou Smith

    I remember one of your little stories in 12×12– it was a delight to read.
    Good luck to you, Katelyn!

    • Midge, I am such a fan of what I read of yours on 12×12. Really excited to buy your books in the not-too-far-off future ;-). So, best of luck to you and please keep in touch. Thanks for being here to “celebrate” with me.

  11. death, taxes and revisions – but not in that order!

    • Haha! You are so right, Angela. And thank goodness, revisions are certainly the most fun of the three.

  12. Katelyn, I loved hearing your story, and your advice is so helpful. Best wishes for great success!

    • I’m so glad to hear that this offered you some encouragement! Thank you, and best of luck to you in your writing, Lisa!

  13. Congratulations!!! Sounds like you found the perfect agent! Your story is so inspirational! Best wishes for your continued success!

    • Thank you Ginger! Stay on the path to publication and don’t give up! (Still preaching that to myself 😉 )

  14. Félicitations! ¡Enhorabuena! Congratulations! Trilingual praise for you, Katelyn. Way to go!

  15. Congratulations, Kate! It is really nice to hear your inspiring story. Thanks for sharing it, and I look forward to reading your published books someday.

  16. Congratulations! I loved hearing your story!

  17. Great work K8. Am looking forward to checking out your books.

  18. Hi Kate, Very inspirational interview. Thank you for sharing your story. Ciao!

  19. What an amazing story! I think you’re going places, girl! As for me, I’m “going” to get it in gear and start submitting again. Thanks for sharing and congratulations! 🙂

  20. Congrats and Thank You for sharing your personal story. I, also, cannot wait to read your books in print:>

    • Hi Polly! Still grateful for your input on my stories in the past. Thank you SO much for your support!

  21. Congratulations! Can’t wait to read your books! :o)

  22. Hi Kate! Thanks for sharing your story. Such courage and tenacity! Best Wishes.

    • Thank you, Carole! (Not actually being the most courageous/tenacious person, I do think if I can get this far, it’s thanks to kind people like yourself who helped and encouraged.) I’m grateful!

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