rachel-noble-headshot Today’s How I Got My Agent post, from 12 x 12 member Rachel Noble, has left me without words. All I can say is that I am honored that 12 x 12 was a stepping stone in a long and many times dark and unfathomable journey. These are the kind of stories that reaffirm my belief that anything IS possible if you have grit, determination and faith in your dreams. Please give your love and welcome to Rachel!

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

I started a blog in 2012. With four little children, I was desperate for some creative exercise. It was just little parenting stories, probably not that interesting to anyone else but me, but I loved it. Six months later, I lost my youngest son in an accident at home. Overwhelmed with grief, I started blogging my pain and devastation. My blog followers increased dramatically almost overnight and I received support and love from all over the world. Four months later, I won a national short story competition (in Australia) for a piece I wrote in honor of my son. This attracted the attention of an agent in Australia. She asked me to write a memoir about Hamish, his story and a document of my grief. I did what she asked but that book didn’t sell. Publishers said it was ‘too raw’ or ‘too sad to sell’. My agent then asked me to write a novel. I spent two years doing that (I had a baby in the middle). This novel (a romance/thriller with grief as a major theme) was turned down at acquisitions this year.

Throughout this entire process, I wrote picture books. I wrote the first one not long after Hamish’s death. I couldn’t sleep and wrote a picture book about a little boy and rainbows. I started sending my agent picture books. She wasn’t overly interested. I decided I wanted to pursue picture books exclusively. It was the genre I loved the most, the thing I couldn’t wait to do every single day. It was the light on some dark days. I wrote a picture book about a little boy grieving his brother and even though my agent wasn’t interested, I felt very strongly about this manuscript and queried a few publishers in Australia and one in the US. I was startled when that picture book received a yes from two publishers. In the end, I went with Brooklyn-based publisher, Enchanted Lion (my dream publisher for this book). Finn’s Feather is slated for Fall 2017. I recently travelled to NYC and met with my amazing publisher and saw the dummy. I can’t believe how beautiful it is.

In January, I started querying US agents who took on picture book authors. To be honest, my stories weren’t ready. I was sending a lot of ‘quiet’ picture books and I soon realized most agents are not interested in the quiet ones. So I stopped querying for a while and worked on my craft.

What kind of research did you do before submitting?

I followed every potential agent on twitter and googled every single one. I looked at Manuscript Wish List and read every article, resource I could get my hands on. I read every single 12×12 ‘How I Got My Agent’ post. I joined Sub It Club, KidLit411, SCBWI and, of course, 12×12. I became a veritable walking encyclopedia on agents. I really do sound like a stalker don’t I?

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

I probably queried between 20 and 30 agents before I got a yes. There were a couple of ‘champagne rejections’ but mostly just the standard rejection. Although, I was thrilled when I received a ‘yes’ after pitching a PB on #PitMad , I soon realized I didn’t want any agent. I wanted an agent I really loved.

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

Yes, I think it’s a difficult business. It’s not impossible though and that’s what I kept saying to myself on the days I felt like it wasn’t going to happen. I think a lot of agents want quirky, funny picture books or non-fiction and I really haven’t written anything like that yet. I tend to write stories with an emotional punch.

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

I took a big risk contacting Essie White from Storm Literary. After I received an offer from another agent, I decided to reach out to the agent I really wanted. I had a SCBWI critique scheduled with Essie, so I emailed her and asked if it would be okay if I could send her my work a little early (she was closed to submissions). I realize I broke a big rule here! Essie emailed me back straight away and gave me permission to send my work. Fortunately, she loved my stories and asked for more. I sent her more and she loved those too! When Essie agreed to take me on, I couldn’t believe my luck!

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 was Vivian Kirkfield’s post on how she got her agent on 12×12 that convinced me I needed Essie in my life! I also noticed that Essie’s clients chatted to each other in different forums and I loved the idea of having friends within the agency. Essie has created something quite unique with Storm. We can approach each other if we need fresh eyes on something. We also share our successes and cheer each other on. I love that.

Has your writing process changed at all since signing with an agent?

Not really. I’m quite prolific and I get a little bit excited about new projects and sometimes send them before they are ready. I’m learning to be a better critic of my own work. Essie is great though. She gets back to me quickly and gives me great advice if it’s not ready to submit. The best part is that I have more time to write.

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

Write prolifically and research agents thoroughly. Look at PW and see what’s being acquired and look for opportunities to get industry eyes on your work.

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

I think having those things is important but I’m not sure it helped me with Essie. The number one criteria is the work. But Twitter and Facebook groups like 12×12 were so helpful.

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 🙂 )

Everything I do, I do to honor my son and the life he didn’t get to live. I love my children with a passion, I write with fervor and I try to practice gratitude for the good things in my life. I’ve been in some dark places over the last four years but I know I’m lucky to have my children, my husband and my writing. Every day feels like an achievement to me. Probably, the only thing I need to do is stop and relax sometimes and I could probably do with learning to have a bit more fun. I’m getting there.

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

I have a new deal in the works, with a couple of potentials. I have about four or five new picture books I’m working on. I have a middle grade idea that’s been swimming around my head for over a year now. I just need to get some confidence to sit down and write it.

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32 Comments

  1. Rachel, I can’t imagine what you have gone through but it is true wonder that your grief could motivate you to share your story with others. I sense a real trend toward books that do call on our shared humanity and I think stories that touch the hearts of both parents and children are becoming more valued. I am so glad that Finn’s Feather has found a home and that you have an agent with whom you have such a trusting relationship. Best wishes for much success.

    • Thank you Lisa. I think all bereaved parents look for a way to honor their child. This is my way and in the process, I hope we have helped other children who’ve lost their sibling. Rx

  2. My heart goes out to you, Rachel. I wish you continued success in your writing journey and will be sure to look for Finn’s Feather. (Enchanted Lion does have beautiful books!)

  3. Thank you for sharing your story.

  4. Hello sweet Rachel…so so so thrilled to have you on the Storm team! And I definitely agree with you about Essie and her agency…there is a beautiful camaraderie present, even though most of us have never met each other. In a business as difficult as this one, it’s so important to have a support system to turn to…Storm Literary and 12×12 fill that need in an incredible way. Excited to applaud all of your successes!

  5. Hi Rachel, I really enjoyed reading about your journey and success, thank you so much for sharing this.

  6. Sweet story. And, you and Vivian have the same agent, Essie White.. Wow!!!

  7. Wow, Rachel! Congrats on your writing and publishing success! I am so sorry for your loss, and You have found a wonderful way to honor him. I look forward to seeing your books!

  8. Rachel, as the mother of three little ones, your story of your sweet Hamish really made my heart ache. I’m so very sorry for your loss, and so impressed by your resilience and determination. Thank you for sharing your agent experience, and I look forward to reading your upcoming books.

  9. Rachel, you are such an inspiration.

    Life has dealt you darkness, and here you are, giving back hope and light.

    May you reap the rewards of your resilience and determination. May you find peace and healing, and may your words reach many readers! We need courageous books like yours in the world.

    Thank you for sharing your “heart’s work” with us.

  10. I’m so sorry for your loss. Losing a child is devastating. I’ve watched my sister go through it.

    Finn’s Feather sounds like a story I’d like to read. In fact, it might be a good book for my niece, who lost her brother. We need stories about real things, books that get to the heart of matters.

    I met Essie at a conference this summer. She is fabulous. You are lucky to have her as an agent. And Vivian is in one of my writing groups. She is amazing and so sweet. You are in good hands, all around.

    • Thank you Linda. I wrote the story for my children and other children who’ve lost a sibling. I wrote it for your niece. I only wish it was here now. Yes, I’m very lucky to have Essie and Vivian. x

  11. Hi Rachel! Thanks for sharing. I’m going to look for Finn’s Feather and looking forward to your future picture books! Many blessings being sent your way!

  12. Oh my Rachel, your post alone is inspiring. Hi from across the ditch in NZ. Somewhere I have read about Hamish. Is it your blog? – I’m not sure. I missed the Sydney SCBWI meet by one week this year. Next time I’ll make a point of coming over. I believe Essie is a wonderful agent and Vivian (who is my critique buddy) is just the sweetest person. You are in good hands. Will look forward to Finn’s Feather. Thank you so much for sharing your story.

  13. Thank you, Rachel for sharing your story! I’m so happy you found your dream publisher for Finn’s Feather, I look forward to reading it! Congratulations on breaking the big rule – Storm Literary sounds like an amazing and collaborative environment!

  14. Thank you Rachel for sharing your story. I’m saddened to hear about Hamish, but it’s so inspirational to hear how you were able to share his story and get published, and find an agent! I’m putting Finn’s Feather on my list of books to read. Good luck with all your upcoming books!

  15. I’m so sorry for your loss, Rachel. I can’t imagine what you’ve gone through. Your story is an inspiration for all of us. Thanks for sharing. I can’t wait to read your book!

  16. Thank you Rachel for sharing your experience and grief with us. It seems you have found some peace and that writing has helped. Wishing you all the best and many book deals with Essie. Will keep an eye out for your book next year.

  17. Rachel, I’m so pleased to hear about your recent successes. You have persevered during difficult times in your life and your writing but have come out on the other side working with those who love your work and will help you continue in your accomplishments. Congrats! Anxious to read Finn’s Feather.

  18. Rachel, no words I can say can bring you comfort but I can tell you that I believe your son is guiding you on this writing journey which from your answers above, I think you know that already. My heart is broken for you and your family. I send you hugs and positive vibes and encouragement to keep doing what you are doing. I am so happy to hear you found your dream publisher and a wonderful agent who believes in you and your work. Thank you for sharing such an emotional testimony with us all. I look forward to reading your books and sharing them. 🙂

  19. *hugs* This was a beautiful post. Thank you for sharing your loss and your success to inspire the rest of us. I look forward to reading FINN’S FEATHER. Enchanted Lion really does create lovely books.

  20. Oh my goodness. I am amazed. Thank you for sharing your story. Please know from your grief you have brought comfort to others. What a blessing you are. All the best to you!

  21. Jeannie Bossert

    Our neighbor across the street lost her third child to a backyard accident. Her perspective on life changed at that point. She appreciates things in a way that others may never be able to achieve. That was 2005. Her life today has an unusual depth and richness. Best wishes, Rachel. I am so happy for you that you could channel your energy and emotion into writing stories for the rest of us.

  22. Rachel, Thank you so much for sharing what has been a journey more difficult than most of us can imagine. I look forward to reading Finn’s Feather – I love all of the books I’ve seen from Enchanted Lion & think you have both a wonderful publisher & agent. Congratulations on your success.

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