Please give a warm welcome to Tiffany Strelitz Haber! Tiffany not only has an agent, but she writes her PBs exclusively in rhyme. *gasp* She has sold two books so far (THE MONSTER WHO LOST HIS MEAN – Henry Holt/Macmillan 2012, and OLLIE AND CLAIRE – Philomel/Penguin 2013) You might remember her from her session at WriteOnCon on rhythm and meter. That is where I “met” her, and I followed up by having her critique one of my rhyming manuscripts. I highly recommend her critique service if you write in rhyme. She’s a miracle worker. You can find her at http://www.itsrhymetime.com and on Facebook. Take it away, Tiffany!
Thanks so much, Julie!
How long had you been writing picture books before seeking an agent, and what made you decide it was time to look for one?
When I first started out, I knew nothing about the industry. And that’s putting it mildly. I’m not even sure what prompted me to pursue writing professionally, except that I had been writing throughout my entire life, and apparently, after about thirty years, obvious things begin to occur to me. Anyway, my career at that time was focused around the stock market, so I had a very business-y attitude about the whole endeavor. I bought a book, attended an SCBWI conference and made a decision. I wanted to do the writing and find an agent that would do the querying/subbing/follow upping. It felt like a plan.
What kind of research did you do before submitting?
Besides attending an SCBWI conference, where I learned a ridiculous amount of information regarding the industry and made some good contacts….I used
to run a search. Then I visited the website of every agency that came up in the results, and read about each individual agent’s tastes
and interests. I compiled a list of who I thought would be a good match for my writing, and got familiar with their submission policies. Finally, I narrowed those down to the agents requesting subs via email (’cause….well…you know). 🙂
Yes I do know. Who has time for paper anymore?
You write in rhyme, and we always hear that agents and editors don’t want rhyming manuscripts. How did you break that particular barrier?
Hmmmm. I think it might be because I am totally obsessed with rhyme. I’ve been infatuated with it since I was like 3 years old, so when I began the quest for publication, there was no doubt in my mind I was going to write in rhyme. Meanwhile, after confidently attending a couple first page sessions and the NJ Annual SCBWI conference (“they’ll love my stuff!” I foolishly thought), I felt like I’d been trampled by the Running of the Bulls.
I remember having a phone conversation with my Mom where I told her I was going to listen to what the faculty at the conference said and try to rewrite my stories in prose. She was supportive, but at the same time she had major reservations. My Mom knew how much I loved rhyme. I wasn’t trying to write in rhyme as a gimmick to get published….and I wasn’t “kinda” into rhyme. I was IN LOVE with it. She kept saying to me, “There are rhyming children’s books on bookstore shelves. Someone is writing them. You won’t succeed if you aren’t writing YOUR stories.” It made sense. And while I did briefly tinker with some picture books in prose, they never felt like home to me. I mean, I love writing in prose….but for an older audience. Whenever I tried to write young, it would came out in rhyme. So I decided…if I’m going to succeed OR fail…I want it to be while I’m doing what I love. Rhyming my a** off.
Hats off to your mom. What an awesome response!
In addition to the “rhyme” factor, it’s a tough market for picture books in general these days. Was it difficult to find an agent who wanted to represent an author focusing solely on picture books?
This may have been a case of “ignorance is bliss” for me, but I really knew nothing about the industry when I first began pursuing publication. I had no idea that it might be more difficult to find representation as a strictly “Picture Book” author, and it never even crossed my mind as I was researching agents. It didn’t feel like I bumped up against too must resistance for focusing on PBs, but who knows.
The dreaded questions: How many queries? How many rejections?
Going strictly by memory, I sent out about 8 subs, got 7 rejections and 1 maybe. Well, I milked that “maybe” for all it was worth, (baby)….offering to send more and more manuscripts which she read and liked, but they just weren’t “right” for her. Eventually I was out of finished material, and she had become a “no”. But in the meantime I had cultivated another “maybe” from a friend’s agent and one other from an SCBWI conference contact. Other rejections poured in, but I continued to communicate with the two “maybes”, compulsively refreshing my email at all moments of the day and night…..until one day, a “yes” arrived! Best thing that ever happened.
How did you know your agent was “the one?”
She seemed really excited about my stuff. We’d gone back and forth quite a bit, and in the process, she had read numerous manuscripts of mine. Her suggestions to me were eye-opening, and based on her feedback I was really able to take the stories to the next level. Basically, it felt like a reciprocal relationship. She also made me all warm and fuzzy inside, and both our names started with T, and the bio on her website quoted a song that I had written a picture book version of, and…ok….you get the point! She was IT!
Has your writing process changed since signing with an agent?
While I don’t think my process has changed…I do think my writing has improved. Working closely with someone who has so much inside experience in the world of children’s books- you can’t help but learn (and at a pretty rapid pace), what your weaknesses are, what your strengths are, and how to make the best of both.
We sometimes hear that picture book writers don’t really need an agent. What do you think the advantages are of having an agent?
How much time do you have? No, seriously, kudos to those who choose to “go it alone,” but I quickly discovered that it’s a big, bad world out there, and I wanted a local to be my guide, ya know? Get me the VIP pass to the front of the line, or the key to the dreaded “no un-agented submissions” door. Besides just speeding the whole process up, it felt amazing to have someone in the industry on my side, vouching for me. In addition, (and this I learned much, much later), sometimes contracts need work. They aren’t always standard. There can be issues, and as a first time- or even tenth time author, odds are you are not going to know what those issues are, or how to fix them. But your agent and your agency will, and they will fight for you, and ultimately you will sign the best possible contract you can, retaining the most rights, and once again- you can just relax, and keep focused on writing.
Sounds absolutely blissful… Sigh
What’s up next/what are you working on now?
More rhyming picture books…and, a middle grade I continue to tinker with. And by tinker with, I mean attempt to begin.
What advice would you give to picture book writers looking for agents today?
Put your best foot forward. Period.
Do NOT rush to get something out to an agent you met at a conference or a dinner, because you think that while you are fresh in their mind, you should send something to them NOW NOW NOW. Just wait. Polish, tweak, edit, send through a critique group you trust, read it aloud, have friends (non-authors) read it aloud TO you….edit some more, tweak, revise, polish. Then put it away for a week, and DON’T peek at it. Then reread it with a clear head, and if you are certain it is the best piece of work you can possibly offer up, submit it.
This is SUCH great advice, and what I hear consistently from agents too.
What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
I’m an “excitement nut”. Adventures, adrenaline rushes, new things- whatever. I’ll eat it, drink it, climb it or jump out of it. I pretty much subscribe to the philosophy, “…all you touch, and all you see….is all your life will ever be…” (Pink Floyd) And my kids. My kids, my kids, my kids. I have no idea how I got lucky enough to have them- but they are here, and they are the most incredible experience of all. I think the real pinochle will be combining adventures and kids and experiencing them all together as a family. (They just need to get out of diapers first!)
Favorite book of 2010 (any genre)
This is cheating, but I’m gonna go with a favorite that I read in 2010. It was published in 2008, and it’s Zorgamazoo, by Robert Paul Weston. BEYOND.
Tiffany, thank you so much for sharing your story with such good humor! I look forward to celebrating the launches of THE MONSTER WHO LOST HIS MEAN and OLLIE AND CLAIRE!!
**If you are a picture book writer with an agent or an agent with picture book writer clients and would like to be featured in this series, please email me at jhedlund33 (at) yahoo (dot) com.
, How I Got My Agent
, Picture Books
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, Tiffany Strelitz Haber