When I first met Marcie Colleen last June at the NJ-SCBWI conference, I ran over to her, gave her a big hug and said, “I saw your hair coming!” Prior to that, I had only known her online through the 12 x 12 challenge.
Besides having notorious and epically awesome hair, Marcie’s spitfire personality has supercharged the 12 x 12 forums for almost two years now (She was one of last year’s challenge winners!). This might be a little too much information, but I believe I have yet to be in Marcie’s presence (either in person or on the phone), where I haven’t snort-laughed at least once. Plus, there’s that whole karaoke thing that happened at THIS year’s NJ-SCBWI conference…
Needless to say I am once again thrilled share a friend’s fabulous news. Here is Marcie’s story of how she got her agent, and it’s LOADED with wisdom (wrapped in her signature humor).
Marcie, how long had you been writing before seeking an agent, and what made you decide it was time to look for one?
It was a dark and stormy night…
Well, it was nighttime. October 2010. Not sure if it was stormy…but seeing as it was night, I will assume it was dark. I was nannying. I had just put the two children to bed and it hit me. Right there in the kitchen. My hand moved at lightning speed. I was out of breath as I penned my first “picture book” on a piece of scrap paper.
I put “picture book” in quotes because I had A LOT to learn of what constitutes a picture book, but at that moment I knew what I was meant to do.
Up until that point I had dreamed about being a writer, though I had no clue what I would write. But that night in October 2010 it all became clear. It felt magical.
The next day I read the manuscript to my boyfriend (now my fiancé) and he, as a loving boyfriend should, thought it was brilliant. I, too, thought it was brilliant. He asked if I minded if he shared it with a colleague at work. I remember hesitating and asking, “do you think she’ll like it?” We agreed that it couldn’t hurt.
So that next day he emailed my manuscript to Alvina Ling. That’s right. My boyfriend (turned fiancé) works at Little, Brown Young Readers and gave my little manuscript to Alvina Ling, rockstar editor for LBYR.
Of course, by this time I was slightly inflated and my mind went wild. I envisioned Alvina calling me immediately to tell me that this story was what she has been waiting for. I braced myself for appearances on Good Morning, America and planned what I would wear for my cover shoot for Rolling Stone. Yup. Move over, Mo Willems.
Back to reality. That’s not what happened at all. Although, I do have to say, I was pretty lucky. Alvina graciously went through two rounds of very helpful emails about my piece and also gave me some of the best advice ever…1) join a critique group, 2) start reading blogs like “Harold’s Purple Crayon” and 3) join SCBWI. I immediately did all three. And thus my true journey to becoming a PB writer really began. (Thank you, Alvina!)
What a learning curve to writing picture books! I had no idea. That first story of mine (which will probably never see the light of day) broke so many rules. Although I am proud to say that it weighed in at 400 words!
I spent all of 2011 and 2012 devoting time to learning the craft of writing picture books. I took classes (both online and in person), I started my own critique group, I joined the online writing communities of PiBoIdMo (Picture Book Idea Month) and 12 x 12, and I attended a few SCBWI conferences/events. And although it is easy to get caught up with the crowd and start submitting to agents and editors right away, I held back—knowing that my time would come in 2013.
The end of 2012 was spent revising, so that I would have some polished pieces come the new year. In total I had 4 pieces that I was ready (read “not embarrassed”) to show.
Over two years since this crazy journey began, I felt prepared and ready and named 2013 “The Year to Get My Work Out There (and land an agent)”.
What kind of research did you do before submitting?
I can’t really say I did a lot of “traditional” research before submitting to agents, but I can say that I had spent lots of time with my community of writers and had listened to what was said about certain agents and agencies.
Perhaps the biggest “research” I did was checking in with myself as to what kind of agent I wanted. I think that is important. More on that in a bit…
The dreaded questions: How many queries? How many rejections?
Here is the breakdown of the 11 agents that I either queried, pitched to or started a relationship with through conferences, etc.
I received two rejections (one of which was a form letter from an agent who had requested 2-3 of my manuscripts after reading a sample so I am not entirely sure that agent read my stuff). The form letter wasn’t even signed by the agent. These things happen.
I received 5 requests or interest from agents. These were agents who asked to see my work. Some of these were from conference connections and it never got far enough for me to send my work, based on the offers I had.
I had one agent never respond to a query.
I had 3 offers of representation.
Was it difficult to find an agent who wanted to represent an author-only focusing solely on picture books?
Honestly, no. In fact, Julie has provided the 12×12 community with 11 agents this year who are willing to take on author-only focusing solely on picture books. They are out there. And so many of my friends have landed agents in the last year…be encouraged!
A quick story on how I first heard about my agent: it was at the SCBWI Winter Conference in NYC (January 2013). I paid for the roundtable critique (because remember, I was putting my work out there in the new year). Basically, the roundtable critique is when you sit at a table (preferably a round one). At the table are several other writers and one industry professional, sometimes an agent and sometimes an editor. The thing is, you don’t get to choose who you are seated with.
I was terribly disappointed when I saw that I was seated with Jenny Bent, owner of The Bent Agency, because her bio clearly stated she does not represent picture books. However, I fell in love with Jenny’s personality and when she showed some equal love to my story she said, “Unfortunately, I do not rep picture books.” And I boldly asked, “do you have someone at your agency who does?” And Jenny said, “Yes, Susan Hawk. Here is her email. You should send this to her.”
I then queried Susan at the end of February. By April she responded that she enjoyed my piece and asked to see more work, at which time I sent one more piece. By June, I contacted her to let her know I had received 2 offers of representation from other agents and she then asked to see even more work. By June 14th I signed with her.
So, the lesson here is to be bold and ask questions. Find out who reps your friends. Become part of the community. And take any opportunities you can to get your work seen at conferences or online. I know it’s an expense, but this your career! This is your dream. It’s going to take a little investment and that’s ok.
How did you know your agent was “the one?
Remember how I said it’s important to know what you want in an agent? Well, I made a list.
- An editing agent—someone who will help take my manuscripts to the next level.
- An agent who has worked in the industry…preferably as an editor or in marketing (as authors are expected to do a lot of their own marketing these days and it’s something I am not totally good at).
- An agent who has a varied list, with no one similar to me.
- Someone in NYC, if possible…if only so I can occasionally say, “Sorry, I can’t make it. I have lunch with my agent.”
- An agent who is as excited about my work as I am…maybe more.
- An agent I connect with as a person.
So to answer your question…I knew she was “the one” because Susan was all of these things.
Before an offer was made, I really pushed that we meet in person, seeing as we are both in Brooklyn. So we set up a coffee date.
I’ll never forget it. She walked in and after a brief chat she said, “So, do you want to talk about your stories?” She pulled out my 4 manuscripts and proceeded to walk through each one, telling me what she loved about them and what might need to be revised. She was so excited. She loved my characters. It was amazing.
By the end of the coffee date (which lasted 3 hours), Susan offered rep. I tried to keep my composure.
It was left that I would think about it and get back to her. I also had a few agents I needed to get in contact with and decline, etc. A few days later, June 14th, we scheduled a phone call. I said, “Susan, today is my parents’ 44th wedding anniversary and I believe it is a wonderful day to start a long term relationship. So I want to let you know I cannot imagine being represented by anyone but you.” Yeah. It was emotional. We’re sappy like that.
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 )
It’s been said so many times before, but it is so true. 12 x 12 is the most amazing, encouraging, and supportive, creative and talented group of writers. Without the 12 x 12 community I am not sure I would have had the courage or the know-how to navigate my career thus far.
Not to mention, once I knew Julie had lined up Susan to be the April 12×12 Agent, I knew Susan must be top-notch. I trust Julie!
What advice would you give to picture book writers looking for agents today?
Own your journey. Take the time to learn your craft. It might take time. It might take longer than you wish or longer than it took another writer. But it’s your journey. Don’t be afraid to invest financially in classes and/or conferences. Ask questions. Allow relationships within the industry to happen organically. When the time comes to query, you will know. You will be prepared and you will be ready.
In addition to writing PBs, you also create Teacher’s Guides for other authors’ books based on the Common Core Curriculum Standards. Did your knowledge of CCCS contribute to your marketability to agents? How important do you think it is for authors to familiarize themselves with the standards and/or develop activities for their books?
I know many writers struggle with the dilemma regarding an online platform. I do have a fairly active blog and my Teacher’s Guide business. Do I think it contributed to my marketability to agents? Maybe or maybe not. But any time you can offer a bit of your personality online can be beneficial. Of course, I am not talking about pictures of you dancing on the bar at your local watering hole. But if you can blog or guest post or have an active Twitter feed in which you speak about the publishing world…all of that can help someone know your personality. Agents and editors sometimes look for these things. In fact, I know Susan sometimes does this. Don’t kill yourself with it…but a few online footprints here or there.
As for authors familiarizing themselves with the CCSS and developing activities for their books—anytime you can show that your book has a place in the classroom helps you garner school visits and book sales. Do I think authors should write to accommodate the CCSS? Absolutely not! Any teacher worth their weight can create academic tie-ins from even the most basic or silly story. Write what you want. Let the teachers do the rest.
I am going to ask the question I KNOW everyone wants to ask most, which is: How key of a role did your incredible hair play in securing your agent?
LOL! Do you remember that episode of Seinfeld in which Elaine learns that her bald boyfriend actually shaves his head? She finds a picture of him with hair and says, “I could be dating this hair?”
Yeah, well I guess you’d have to ask Susan if she thought, “I could be repping this hair?”
In previous chapters Marcie Colleen has been a teacher and a theatre educator, but now she splits her days between chasing the Picture Book Writer dream and chasing toddlers on the playground as a nanny. Both are equally glamorous!
Her blog, The Write Routine and her Teacher’s Guides, can be found at www.thisismarciecolleen.com.
She lives with her fiancé and their adorable sock monkey in Brooklyn, NYC.Categories: 12 x 12, Agents, Authors, Children's Books, Goals, Guest Blogging, How I Got My Agent, PiBoIdMo, Picture Books, Publishing, Queries, SCBWI, Social Media, Works in Progress, Writing · Tags: 12 x 12, 12 x 12 in 2012, Agents, Author, Authors, Children's Books, Guest Blog, Jenny Bent Agency, Julie Hedlund, Marcie Colleen, PiBoIdMo, Picture Books, Queries, Social Media, Susan Hawk, Writer, Writing