Author Sue Fliess is a 12 x 12 in 2012 participant who is a SCBWI Crystal Kite award finalist for 2012 for her book, Shoes for Me! Her next book, Tons of Trucks, is releasing on July 3rd. With all of this excitement and good news, I was honored that she took the time to participate in the How I Got My Agent series. Please join me in both congratulating Sue on her recent success and welcoming her to the blog today!

Sue, 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 started writing (or attempting to write!) children’s books in late 2005. I believe I sent my first agent query in mid-2008, when I had roughly 10 publishable manuscripts under my belt. I’d also started writing a YA at the time. I bought an Agent Guide book and dog-eared all that accepted children’s books, (in particular picture books), and then Googled them up, down and sideways. I met agents at SCBWI events and attended an SCBWI Agents Day. I visited Absolute Write Water Cooler, Verla Kay’s blueboards, and asked many authors whom their agents were, and if they were happy with them. I made a shortlist, and began querying in small batches.

Your books are rhyming books for younger readers, and we always hear that agents and editors don’t want rhyming manuscripts, AND that books for the youngest readers are hard to sell.  How did you break those barriers? 

I wish I could say it’s because I’m 7 kinds of awesome! You’re right. Editors and agents do shy away from rhyme, but I think it’s because they receive so much bad rhyme. I’ve been musical all my life (played instruments, been in choirs, had roles in musicals and was even in a garage band), and I think this had given and gives me an ear for meter. I think as long as you let many people read what you’ve written, to test if your meter is on, you’ll be all right. If you’re just starting out trying to rhyme, write your story in prose first. Then, if you still feel the desire to rhyme, choose a short rhyme scheme. The longer the meter, the harder it is to stay on the mark.

I think the short rhyming books naturally lend themselves to the youngest readers. So I think by default, I managed to break 2 barriers at once!

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

I knew because she was the only agent willing and excited to rep me for my picture books alone. Remember that YA I mentioned? Well, it definitely helped me get the attention of agents, but I knew in my heart it may never become saleable. Agents liked that I could write something longer—it showed diversity—but all of them focused on that novel. I had an agent offer representation for it too, if I did the work behind it, but I knew she didn’t truly want the picture books. When I told Jennifer (my agent now) I wasn’t sure I could get the novel in the shape it needed to be in, she said she loved my picture books and would rep me even if the novel never quite got there. And that was it!

Has your writing process changed since signing with an agent?

It’s freed up more time to write, although I have certainly found enough ways to fill that, what with taking on a nearly full-time writing position with eBay in 2011. I don’t keep an insane spreadsheet anymore of whom I’d submitted what to, whom I should be following up with, and I’m not as on top of who’s who in the editorial world as I used to be. I still keep up with the industry, but there is a lot less pressure to make those connections myself, knowing that my agent can reach out for me. I usually write a manuscript, rewrite it a few times, then show it to my critique group. It’s only when I feel it’s really polished, that I send it to my agent. She’ll let me know if something isn’t working for her, or if it’s something that she’ll start subbing right away.

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

Have more than one trick up your sleeve. I’d caution against querying until you have at least a small handful of manuscripts you feel are publishable. Enter contests, apply for grants, pay for critiques at conferences. All of that gives you exposure, and you could win—which gives you street cred. (before I was published, I received a letter of commendation for the SCBWI Barbara Karlin Grant for picture books Shoes for Me! and Tons of Trucks, 2 years in a row). If you write more than picture books, let them know it, and offer to show it if you think it’s ready. It shows you have breadth. You’re selling them a whole package—YOU—not just 1 or 2 manuscripts, so make your package the most attractive one with the big red bow.

I noticed you have quite a few books that will be published in the coming years. Tell us a little about those and what is further on the horizon for you.

I have had an admittedly amazing year. I’m on a streak I can’t explain. I’ve sold 5 new picture book manuscripts in 2012 alone, and have another going to acquisitions in July. However, it should be noted that I sold my first 3 books in 2009 (still admittedly wonderful!), but then nothing for 2 years but an article to Writers Digest (which was fun). Peaks and valleys. My agent, who also didn’t see this coming, said, “Well, we’ve been sowing the seeds for 2 years. Now we say yes, yes, yes, because who knows what next year will bring.” So, I’m just enjoying the ride!

We sold 2 to Little Golden Books (I met the editor at SCBWI LA), 1 to Albert Whitman & Co., and 2 more to my editor at Cavendish (now Amazon). All are standalone except Books for Me! which will be the third in the ‘for me’ series. My next book coming this July, Tons of Trucks with HMH, is a push, pull, lift-the-flap novelty book. I’m very excited about it!

You are also a member of 12 x 12 in 2012. As a multi-published author, what has the challenge meant to you?

I’m certainly not the model 12×12 student. Though I try not to be too hard on myself. I’ve written 3 new picture books this year, but had to revise 3 (that sold) for editors, so I’m counting those towards my 12 also. I jotted down an outline for a middle grade, and just sketched out notes for another picture book. Hoping to write that draft soon.  Another writer in my critique group is owning this 12×12 challenge (I think he’s written 24 already or something remarkable), so that helps motivate me too.

Finally, it seems we have something in common. We’ve both scooped ice cream for a living in our younger years. So, what is your favorite flavor? (Mine is chocolate-chip cookie dough)

Haha! For sure, it’s Moose Tracks! I’m definitely partial to anything vanilla-based with peanut butter in it, but Moose Tracks has it all. Plus, it’s simply a fun name for a flavor. Sounds like it should be a picture book…

Let it be noted here that the idea for the PB Moose Tracks began here! 🙂 Thanks so much to Sue for joining us today. Make sure you check out her website for info on all of her current and upcoming books!

Categories: 12 x 12 in 2012, Agents, Authors, Guest Blogging, How I Got My Agent, Picture Books, Publishing, Rhyming, SCBWI, Writing · Tags: , , , , , ,

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43 Comments

  1. I enjoyed learning about you and your books, Sue! The books sound adorable. Thanks for sharing your tips on how to get an agent. Thanks for another interview, Julie!

  2. Thanks Sue. Congratulations on all your success. I always appreciate the reminder to have multiple manuscripts and the need to have other works. I look forward to checking out your books.

    • And it’s not that an agent wouldn’t take you with one stellar manuscript, but I found that anyone interested said, Great, what else you got? Good luck!

  3. thanks! this inspires me to definitely keep on trucking – er, writing. My goal is to have that pile of MS at the end of the year so I can go to an agent….

  4. Congratulations Sue on all your 2012 sales!! I have been subbing all summer and have more than twenty complete picture books ready to send out so only time will tell if an agent loves what I write.

  5. I have 3 favorite ice cream flavors (all very good): Cookies ‘n’ Cream/Oreo(s), Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough, and Chocolate Marshmallow. I really liked the part about the finding of the agent. That will be useful some day for me 🙂 .

    • Oh, Oreo cookies and cream is a fave of mine too! Have you ever tried chocolate cake in a cup with a little milk poured on it? Yum! Thanks for reading Erik!

  6. Vanilla-based is good enough for me! Would like to know how you have managed to keep up the drive and motivation – vitamins? Congratulations and thanks for sharing the ‘views’ from the peaks and valleys!

    • Julie, I replied in a comment below, before I realized I could reply individually…I think my true motivation is that I enjoy the creative process so much and writing for kids is so much fun. My parents instilled drive in me and I’ve always said, if you’re going to do something, it better not be half-assed.

  7. Christie Wright Wild

    Sue, I really like how you not only told us that it took you about three years before submitting to agents, but more importantly that you had about 10 manuscripts ready to go. Thanks for the info!

    I always LOVE these interviews! It’s so interesting and helpful to read other people’s success stories. They are kind of similar to my HIGH FIVE interviews. The next interview with a debut picture book author will be this coming Monday, July 2. The last one I did was with Kate Slater. She was the first author/illustrator I have interviewed and have scheduled about three more in the future.

    I love Moose Tracks, Cookies ‘n Cream, Mint Chocolate Chip, Rocky Road, and Butter Pecan. Okay, I guess I don’t have a FAVORITE! If it’s ice cream, just bring it on!

    • I want to add, that the agent landscape when I was subbing seemed to be that no one was taking on picture book authors – picture book author/illustrator — yes. So, that was one big reason I chose to have many manuscripts ready to go before querying. I think this landscape has changed a bit with everything going digital.

  8. Love the look of Shoes for Me and Tons of Trucks! Huge congrats on all those successes this year, and I love how you have painted a real picture for us of the mountain tops and the valleys!

  9. Thanks everyone for your comments and congrats! About drive and motivation. I thank my parents. I guess I’ve always been driven. Never had to be asked to do homework and such. I shared a new story idea with my husband recently and he joked that if it were him, after these sales this year, he’d be sitting back relaxing. He said, “You’re one of the most motivated people I know.” But it also comes down to the basic fact: I LOVE writing children’s books!

  10. Hi Sue. Great interview. Enjoyed hearing your path to publication, congrats on your recent string of success. It really is peaks and valleys, would love to hear how you kept motivated through the 2 year valley. Looking forward to reading your new book. Hopefully, will get a chance to meet you, maybe at a local Bay Area event.
    Great job with the questions Julie!

  11. Congrats! I’m waiting to hear back from agents right now and its driving me crazy. How did you deal with the waiting?

    • I wrote and submitted to publishers while I waited to hear back from agents. There’s nothing like an offer on the table to get the interest of an agent!

  12. Terrific interview….you asked all the right questions and Sue answered them in such an interesting way. It was great to hear how you have had such success over the past few years….gives all of us hope! It’s so helpful to hear other people’s tips and experiences. Thanks for posting.

  13. Thanks for having me here today Julie!

  14. It’s so good to see you here, Sue! Remember me? I spoke to you at your book signing at Reading Bug in San Carlos. Looks like I will see you again at our SCBWI fall conference in Oakland too. Well, I truly enjoyed this interview. It’s always nice to read about an author’s journey towards publication. I am in awe by your success. Your hard work and dedication paid off. Congratulations!

    • Romelle, of course I remember meeting you! Glad to see we’ll meet up again in Oakland. Be sure to pull me aside and say hi if I don’t see you right away.

  15. I’m curious, do you think there’s the same need for agents now, with all the changes in Indie publishing?

    • It’s a good question. I do know that one of my editors said a couple of years ago that more and more houses are closed to unsolicited manuscripts–but maybe it’s because of the indie trend…could be a chicken or egg sitch?

  16. Congratulations for such a productive and successful year! Found your comments helpful. Have always felt I needed at least 3-4 really polished MS before I sought an agent. Love you enthusiasm.

    • Thanks for the congrats Patricia – I’m blown away too. I’ve been told before I’m pretty passionate about the topic…guess I can’t hide it, even on paper. 🙂

  17. This was excellent. Thank you. Thanks especially for the reinforcement of what I’ve been told that since I’m working on a chapter book series as well as a picture book series, I really need to have a couple of the chapter books submission ready as well as some of the picture books before I start querying agents. I’ve been getting impatient… but I guess it may pay me to wait and be truly ready.

    Thanks so much for sharing your story, and thanks, Julie, for this series!

    • 🙂 Best of luck with your chapter books and pbs…I’m working on a chapter book that I started 2 years ago (Yikes!)….your comment is a reminder to me to finish it!

  18. Wow! I loved this interview. You gave us so much useful information and encouragement, Sue. I was very interested in your comments about rhyming manuscripts because I love writing in rhyme…and I especially love reading the picture books that rhyme. You can bet I will be picking up yours from the library/bookstore. Congratulations on your success!

  19. I’ve had the privilege of being in a crit group with Sue for a little over a year now and it’s been fun, inspiring and educational to watch a pro at work. Sue brings a great spirit to her approach in this industry. Learn all you can from her! Hard work pays off. Great post, Sue and Julie.

    • Tim you’re such a big supporter of mine–despite the fact that I manage to get us lost driving to critique group (that I’ve been going to for years!). If anyone else is reading this comment, Tim is the one I referred to as ‘owning’ the 12×12 challenge. Tim, I wouldn’t be writing as much if you weren’t bringing your A game to the group each month– so thank you!

  20. Thanks Sue, for the “inside scoop” of your journey through the world of agents. Congrats on your published books…and those to come! I agree we need to work on a variety of manuscripts to be more versatile and marketable. Good to know I am on the right track. Speaking of tracks: Moose tracks?…mmmmm….I like peanut butter too, Julie!

    • Thanks Jarm – sometimes I still feel like I’m blindly groping my way through the industry, and I always appreciated it when I could hear the nitty gritty from someone else, so I’m happy to share.

  21. Great interview! Gives hope to rhymers like me. Check my meter at monicaveronica.net : )

  22. One more important detail I wanted to add: I sold my first three books on my own. I was able to get an agent while the 2nd two were nibbles, then offers, and then when I signed on with her, she negotiated the contracts. So…my point is that even if you’re not quite ready to get an agent, you should still submit to editors. It can still happen that you are found in the slush. You just need your ms to get to the top of that pile somehow. And that’s where the hard work comes in!

  23. Sue, thanks for your experience! You shared on some questions I was really battling with about agents, and your insights were perfect answers. I’ve heard of some of your books, so I’ll be searching them out for my library. I’m a rhymer too, so you gave me some hope in spite of the ‘conventional wisdom’ on rhyming PBs. Thanks.

  24. A great interview, thankyou Sue for pointing out to us to have sufficient ms worthy of publication before approaching an agent. Loved hearing about your successes and congrats and all the best for whats to come.

  25. Great interview, Sue! Our successful searches for agents are very similar. I’m also repped based on my rhyming picture books for youngest readers. I can’t wait to read your latest TONS OF TRUCKS. I have a feeling you’ll soon be a household name in families with little ones.

  26. Love reading about an author’s journey/successes! Thanks Julie–and I’m so craving a bowl of cookie dough ice cream right now 🙂

  27. I love hearing about others’ success stories. Thanks for the great interview, Julie and Sue. And by the way, MOOSE TRACKS really is a picture book! It’s by Karma Wilson, and we own a copy 🙂

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