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: Agents, How I Got My Agent, Julie Hedlund, Picture Books, Publishing, Sue Fliess, Writer