Lisa RogersIt’s a special thrill to introduce an inaugural 12 x 12 member (5 years going!) in a How I Got My Agent post who now SHARES my agent! Lisa Rogers is now a chick in the Hen & Ink Coop with Erzsi Deak as the mother hen. To put it as Lisa does, we are both very “clucky.” 🙂 Lisa and I also share an intense love for all things Italy. The 12 x 12 community is also clucky to have Lisa, who has made wonderful contributions to the community over the years. Please join me in congratulating Lisa!

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

I started writing for children in 2010, when I finally decided to do something about my lifelong goal of becoming an author. That year, I joined SCBWI and formed a critique group with another writer. The first manuscript I submitted resulted in a fabulous, hand-written rejection from my dream publisher, but I didn’t know what to do next. I had a critique at a New England SCBWI conference, and an editor recommended that I seek an agent because I had a bunch of manuscripts.  In 2012, I joined 12 x 12 (yay!) and that’s when I began submitting to agents.

What kind of research did you do before submitting?

I was a reporter before I became a librarian, so I’m all about research. 12 x 12 made it easy by providing all of the links I needed. I read everything I could, but you really never know what will pull at an agent’s heart. The advice I took to heart (see Julie Falatko’s post) was to do your best work, try to find the best match and see what happens.

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

One of the mistakes I made was getting stuck on a couple of manuscripts, tinkering here and there to get them just perfect, and resubmitting them rather than letting go for a while and starting fresh. Given that I had a career as a writer, I was used to doing a pretty competent job on any topic. But to get to that next level—that took inspiration. Once I started writing books I was passionate about—for me, it’s nonfiction—everything changed.  I sent out 12 queries to agents for several different manuscripts and received lovely rejections and three requests for more. The one that gave me chills while I was writing it clicked with the first agent who saw it—the incredible Erzsi Deak!

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

I never had a problem with that, but then again I had a pretty laid-back approach to submission. I just didn’t send out that many queries. I have a middle grade novel in progress, so I’m glad that my agent has a wider focus.

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

I’m super clucky to be with Julie and my fellow chickens in Erzsi Deak’s “coop:” Hen&ink Literary Studio! I submitted to Erzsi through 12 x 12 in August 2015. I had just returned from Italy, where I had written a manuscript in a rush of inspiration on the train from Venice to the Italian Riviera. After Italy, I started the school year and was so wrapped up in teaching that that I was totally surprised to open my email in October and find her encouraging note suggesting a revision. I promptly took that on and sent it back. I was away during our February 2016 school vacation when she offered representation. Too bad I didn’t take Carter Higgins’ advice about saving my work on Dropbox! I scrambled to get together everything I needed. It felt absolutely terrific to find someone so encouraging, professional and supportive. I literally jumped up and down and then ran a few miles barefoot on the beach and did some burpees in between (something NO ONE does voluntarily!) I was THAT excited!

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

When I looked back, I realized I had submitted to Erzsi twice before—both picture book fiction manuscripts. Her rejections actually gave me advice for reworking them! I loved that she saw potential in the manuscript that led to representation and gave me a chance to revise.

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 🙂 )

There is no doubt that I would have either given up or just taken forever to get anywhere without 12 x 12. That’s why I signed up for the FIFTH time in 2016! I knew that persistence is crucial to success. Even though writing colleagues told me I was close, I was discouraged. But I have a LOT of stamina. I reminded myself that no one would ever read my stories if I just let them sit in my computer.

I made a conscious effort to bump my work up a notch and, of course, hoped I was getting it to the right person. And I guess the only way to do that, without knowing all of the complexities of this process, is to keep on going. 12 x 12, with its forum, Facebook page, webinars, access to experts and agents, is a fantastic source of support and information.

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

I am SO inspired to keep going and make my work the absolute best it can be! I’m always one who works well with deadlines (see my guest post for 12 x 12: Lessons Learned on Deadline) and any challenge is a big motivator. Besides having writing as my passion, being able to show my work to someone with high expectations really helps me get moving.

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

Yikes! I’m no expert at that, but I am an expert at reading aloud to children. Please DO read aloud your work to someone else. Find a mentor text. When I was looking to improve one of my manuscripts, I very carefully inspected a book in the same genre that I admired. What exactly was it that made it stand out? I noticed the book’s rhythm and pacing in a new way. That helped give me something special to add to my work, and I think agents noticed.

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

I have been blogging in the voice of my completely stubborn and lovably persnickety foxhound for seven years, but really only to entertain myself. I listened to advice about acquiring a domain name and have a website with links to my work. I finally joined Facebook a couple of years ago and even though I rarely posted, I learned through the 12 x 12 group that communicating with others about our craft is helpful and important. Though far from a social media powerhouse, at least I now have a presence and have gotten out my first tweet!

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 🙂 )

Speaking Italian with my Florentine cousins. Running a fast, injury-free Boston Marathon. Having my own pony. Mostly, continuing to create beautiful worlds through words.

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

Delving into my cache of manuscripts to buff them up, pursuing some exciting nonfiction projects that have me pumped and getting that novel completed!

Categories: 12 x 12, Agents, How I Got My Agent, Writing · Tags: , , ,

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Ariel Bernstein I love ALL of the advice in this post, especially the need to KEEP WRITING while you are submitting, keep getting feedback on your work, keep improving. Ariel Bernstein does all of that while actively participating in the kidlit community, including 12 x 12. There’s no shortcut to success except hard work, and Ariel exemplifies that ethic. Please help me congratulate Ariel on finding her agent!

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

I’ve been writing in general off and on for a long time, but in the past year I started to focus on picture book writing. I decided it was time to research agents when I had written stories that started to get a lot of positive feedback and I felt the concepts were unique enough and the writing was strong enough.

What kind of research did you do before submitting?

I looked at a bunch of websites about agents and querying, including Querytracker, Heather Ayris Burnell’s Monster List of Picture Book Agents, Literary Rambles, Janet Reid’s Query Shark, and of course the websites for each agent. Also, if I was interested in an agent and they were on Twitter, I followed them and looked if they posted something for picture books with the #mswl (manuscript wishlist) hashtag.

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

Soooooo many! I’d have to go to my query chart to count and I don’t want to do that!

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

As long as the agent I researched listed picture books as something they were open to receiving submissions for, I queried them. One agent did tell me she liked my story but generally only represented picture book writers who also wrote other types of books like chapter books and middle grade. Still, she gave me great feedback and was very encouraging so I felt it was worthwhile to have queried her.

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

Before “the call,” I knew from her agency’s website that Mary Cummings had a wonderful background in children’s literature and was open to working with debut authors so I was always interested in working with her. It was during the call when she gave spot-on suggestions to improve the manuscript, and also really understood the characters and their personalities, that I knew she would be a fantastic agent. I felt very fortunate that she liked my manuscript enough to want to represent it.

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 🙂 )

12 x 12 has definitely helped me become a better writer. Getting honest feedback on manuscripts from a lot of writers is invaluable. Plus, editing other’s work has helped me learn to self-edit. There are a ton of resources out there for beginning picture book writers and it can be overwhelming, but you don’t need to do absolutely everything. I found things like 12×12, Carrie Charley Brown’s ReFoReMo month of mentor texts, critique groups and partners, the Kidlit411 website and SCBWI’s website to be immeasurably helpful. Plus, just having a community of writers, some published and many pre-published, cheer on successes and understand the pain of rejections has been wonderful.

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

Not much. I still exchange work with my critique group and partners. If anything I think I have some more confidence in my writing, although I’m not on submission yet so we’ll see how that goes!

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

Writing picture books isn’t easy at all, but the good thing is that because they’re relatively short, you’re able to write a lot of them (even if it takes a while to refine them). If there’s an agent you really want to work with who passes on a submission, take some time until you’ve written another manuscript that you feel great about and it’s okay to query them again (not right away though!).

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

Mary said she looked at my blog and liked the writing. It’s a tongue in cheek parenting blog that doesn’t discuss my picture book writing though so I don’t think it was absolutely necessary to her decision.

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 🙂 )

I’d love to visit New Zealand for a nice amount of time. Yes, I am a fan of THE HOBBIT and THE LORD OF THE RINGS books, why do you ask?

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

Right now I’m working on my first chapter book!

 

Reader, are you looking for a picture book agent? Grab this 7-step submission checklist to help you avoid mistakes and make your submission shine.

Categories: 12 x 12, Agents, How I Got My Agent, Picture Books · Tags: , ,

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Shauna ReynoldsThis How I Got My Agent post is EXTRA special because Shauna Reynolds was one of the inaugural 12 x 12 Scholarship winners in 2015. I remember reading her application and thinking, “This girl is going places.” 🙂 I have no doubt we’ll be seeing her win buckets of money on a game show someday. Many congratulations, Shauna!

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

I started querying as soon as I figured out I needed an agent but before I realized I wasn’t ready. I had finished a brilliant (but not really) manuscript and realized that it couldn’t possibly be improved upon. (I had a lot to learn. Still do.)

What kind of research did you do before submitting?

Studying Querytracker, reading countless agent interviews, looking into who represented some of my favorite picture books, and following lots of agents on Twitter. I also kept a close eye on deal announcements, making mental notes about who was selling what.

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

Dozens of queries. And yes, I’m being intentionally vague. With rejections for most! Silent rejections (the worst!) helpful and encouraging rejections (the best!) and the dreaded form rejections (the most common!) I tracked them all in a color-coded spreadsheet, and now I feel like I ought to find something else to track in a color-coded spreadsheet.

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

Knowing that I needed an agent who represented picture books, was open to unsolicited queries, and wasn’t solely seeking author-illustrators certainly narrowed the field down. But they are out there.

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

I am over the moon to be represented by Adriana Dominguez of Full Circle Literary. When I let the agents at Full Circle know that I had received an offer of representation from another agent, I got enthusiastic voice mail and email messages letting me know that Adriana was very interested. We scheduled a phone call, and Adriana offered representation. I had other offers, so I needed a few days to think things through. But I kind of knew she was the one.

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

Each offer I received was from an agent I would have been thrilled to work with. The day before I was to let them know my decision, I had pretty much made up my mind. Adriana’s vision for my story and my career seemed to line up the best with my own, and her reputation is stellar. But it’s such a pivotal decision, and I have a tendency to second-guess myself. Then Adriana sent me an email going over some of the points of our conversation, reminding me why she wanted to work with me, and pointing out why I should want to work with her. When I read it, I felt the sense of peace I was looking for about the whole situation.

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 🙂 )

The most priceless benefit of 12×12 for me so far has been finding an amazing critique group. It can be hard to find a group of writers with similar levels of skill and ambition, but I think the stars just sort of aligned with us. I’m not sure if I’ll finish writing 12 drafts in these 12 months, but having that goal in mind has increased my productivity.

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

Not really, but my goals and outlook have changed. It was hard for me to set specific goals beyond finding representation until it happened. I’m dreaming bigger now.

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

Read and write and read some more. Get involved with a critique group. They can help you sharpen your manuscripts, and you might learn even more by critiquing other people’s work. Do your research and don’t query anyone you wouldn’t be happy to get a “yes” from.

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

I’d love to say that my dumb jokes and silly observations on Twitter had agents knocking at my door, but…nope. I do think that Twitter is a good place to “get to know” agents, editors, and other authors and get an idea about what people are writing, reading, selling, and buying.

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 🙂 )

I’ve always wanted to be a on a game show. Either something like Jeopardy! where all the trivial fun facts I’ve acquired can be turned into cash money, or something silly like The Price Is Right. I want to play Plinko and spin that big wheel.

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

My top priority right now is revising what was originally my March 12×12 draft. I’m also working on getting a website up. As for new material, the other night my husband mentioned something my 3-year old said in the bathtub, and the little wheels in my mind started turning. It was a perfect premise for a picture book. Inspiration is all around me.

Hear more of Shauna’s story in her 12 x 12 Success Story here.

Reader, are you looking for a picture book agent? Grab this 7-step submission checklist to help you avoid mistakes and make your submission shine.

Categories: 12 x 12, Agents, How I Got My Agent, Picture Books, Queries · Tags: , ,

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12 X 12 Member Peter McCleeryNever has a How I Got My Agent Post made me laugh out loud, but Peter McCleery’s did. When you read it, I’m sure you’ll know why. It’s tough out there, folks, but with persistence it IS possible to reach your dreams. I sense a Sid Fleischman award in Peter’s future. Many congratulations!

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

Like a lot of newbies to the world of children’s lit, I came out of the gate a-kickin’ and a-buckin’ and ready to take the kid lit world by storm. Little did I know what little I knew. That first year I sent a few manuscripts to a select group of top agents and waited for the slew of offers. Instead I learned what a “form rejection” looks like. And what a “no response” feels like. Luckily, there’s a little thing called the Internet. So slowly but surely I learned what I didn’t know. I wrote. I researched. I read. I did that for another year or so. Then I subbed. I was really ready this time. And this time I got. . . personalized rejections! I was on to something! So I did it all again. Wrote, researched and read. Every few months I thought I was ready and sent out a small batch of queries (1-3). I got a few more rejections, but this time I also got more encouragement. A kind word here, a request for more there, a positive conference critique, etc… Enough to keep me going until I actually WAS ready. From my very first draft to landing an agent, it was probably about four to five years, off and on.

I’d like to share with you my all-time favorite rejection. It shows just how crazy and subjective subbing can be. This is the entire email: “This was hilarious and so vivid. Somehow the writing just didn’t appeal to me.”

Huh?

What kind of research did you do before submitting?

I scoured the internet. Websites, blogs, twitter. As every writer knows, it’s not procrastination when it’s research. I dug deep and not only did it help me find out what agents would be a good fit, it helped me avoid sending manuscripts to the wrong agent. If I wasn’t truly excited to send something to a particular agent, then I didn’t. And now having landed the perfect agent, I’m so glad I didn’t end up with someone I was “meh” about.

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

I was rather choosy about who I sent my manuscripts to (see above) so I don’t have a ton of rejections. Maybe 15. But the ones I did get stung extra hard.

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

Yes, definitely. In fact I got frustrated enough that I started working on a middle-grade novel. And, when I started mentioning it in my queries, I noticed better responses right away. Agents’ ears perked up for sure. If you work in other categories DEFINITELY mention it in your query.

How did you know your agent was “the one?

I had previously researched Heather Alexander back when she was an editor. I loved her books and had planned to query her (they took unsolicited manuscripts) but never got around to it. I started following her on twitter and thought she was delightful and smart and funny. So, when I heard that she moved over to the agent side at Pippin Properties, I was pretty excited. One day she tweeted that she was looking for “smart-funny” manuscripts. She mentioned Monty Python. I couldn’t get to my email fast enough.

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 🙂 )

12 x 12 is basically a support group for people crazy enough to write picture books. When you are in the midst of querying and writing and revising and getting rejections, being part of a community of people going through the same thing is very important.

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

One thing that surprised me after signing was how much more pressure I feel. Things suddenly got real. Now there is someone with a vested interest in what I do and I don’t want to let her down. To steal a line from pregnant women: “Now I’m writing for two.” But it’s actually more of a positive, inspiring kind of pressure.

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

Have confidence in your writing. Be bold. Take chances. Don’t write what you think they (agents, editors, etc…) will like. Write the thing YOU like. The thing that’s uniquely you. That’s the kind of manuscript that gets noticed.

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

I don’t think it played much of a factor because I don’t have much of a social platform. Heather probably did a quick google search on me but only AFTER she liked my manuscript.

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 🙂 )

I would love to write a screenplay that gets made into a movie starring Nick Cage.

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

Besides numerous picture book drafts in various states of condition, I’m also very excited about the previously mentioned middle-grade novel I’m trying to finish.

 

Peter McCleery has been a member of 12 x 12 since 2013. His debut picture book BOB & JOSS GET LOST will be published by HarpersChildren’s in Fall 2016. Peter was awarded the Author of the Month Award in October 2014 from Highlights for his story, “Invasion of the Space Monkeys.” He lives in Portland, Oregon with his wife and kids. You can find Peter at www.petermccleery.com.

Categories: 12 x 12, Agents, Children's Books, How I Got My Agent, Picture Books, Works in Progress, Writing · Tags: , , , , , , ,

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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.

Categories: 12 x 12, Agents, How I Got My Agent · Tags: , ,

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12 x 12 member Karla ValentiI often think that in just a few years, 12 x 12 members’ stories will be lining the shelves of bookstores, and Karla Valenti’s post today has convinced me that’s true. THREE of the manuscripts she shared with her now-agent were written and polished in 12 x 12. She has also proven you can write the stories of your heart, even if they are not considered the most “commercial,” and still achieve your dreams. So inspiring! Congratulations, Karla!

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

This is not a straightforward answer, but I suspect that’s the case for many writers. I’ve been writing my whole life, but working and raising three children made it difficult to focus on my writing in earnest. It wasn’t until 2011 that I was able to commit full-time to a career in writing. At first, I explored the option of self-publishing. After much research and deliberation, I realized that this was not what I wanted. So I set out on the path of traditional publishing and focused on improving the craft of writing.

My heart has always been in PBs but they are the most difficult kid lit to sell so I decided to try my hand at a YA. My rejection rate was 120% (I’m sure I got rejections from people I didn’t even query). In retrospect, I realize my query was awful and I doubt many agents made it past the query (Tip: Plan to spend as much time writing your query as you spend on your ms – Query Shark is my favorite resource on query writing.). This was so utterly crushing that it plunged me into a mini identity crisis. My whole life I had thought of myself as a writer, but for the first time I wondered if perhaps I’d been wrong. And if so, then who was I? Obviously, defining one’s identity on the personal (and highly subjective) opinion of a group of strangers is never a good idea, but so be it.

Buried under the blanket of my injured pride, I started to get visits from characters who wanted to tell me their stories. No matter how much I tried to explain to them that I was cutting my losses and closing shop, these characters insisted on having their story told. And so I had to pull myself out of bed and give them all a voice. One voice in particular was haunting me, a story so heart-achingly sad and beautiful that I did nothing for four weeks but write the 40,000 words that would become a MG ms. I queried this ms and received seven requests for full and three agent offers. I signed with an agent and the ms went out on submission within a month (yay!) then languished on the desk of many editors for almost a year (boo!).

During that time, I tried writing a number of other MGs but kept writing PBs instead. As my agent didn’t rep PBs, in November I decided to part ways with her and began my search for an agent yet again. I also started taking PB writing courses, participated in PiBoIdMo, and signed up for 12 x 12. I felt like I had walked through the doors of a secret society that had everything I could possibly need to make a successful run of this. So, I wrote and revised, I critiqued and pitched and polished and began querying PB agents. I received a number of champagne rejections and was in discussions with a handful of agents when I connected with Essie White at Storm Literary Agency. I had an offer within 24 hours of querying her and signed on with her a day later.

What kind of research did you do before submitting?

I tried to find as much information about each agent as I could. Obviously, I researched the agency’s website and agent profile page, but I also checked Editors and Preditors and Absolute Write’s Beware and Recommendations forum. I read interviews with the agents or blog posts they’ve written, I reached out to agent’s clients whom I knew or were members of writing groups to which I belonged, and I checked out the books the agent reps and the publishers that printed the books. There’s a lot of information out there (for better or for worse).

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

For my YA, I sent out 67 queries and received hundreds of rejections.

For my MG, I sent out 50 queries and received 7 requests for full and three offers for representation.

For my PBs, I sent out 108 queries (but this also includes different manuscripts) and received interest from five agents.

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

Yes. It’s a lot harder to find an agent who focuses solely on PBs. However, they are the true experts in the field so if that’s what you really want to do, it makes sense to target an agent who knows what she/he is doing.

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

I signed with Essie White at Storm Literary Agency. I queried her with two very different PBs and included the pitches for a number of other PBs I’ve polished (three through 12 x 12). I also mentioned my MG which had gone out on submission with my previous agent. Essie quickly wrote back asking to see more work and we began emailing back and forth. The next day I had an offer waiting in my inbox. We set up a call and by the end of the talk I knew she was the right agent for me.

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

The stories I write are not necessarily commercial so finding the right agent has been a bit tricky. From the first email, Essie was tremendously enthusiastic about the work I showed her and her excitement was contagious.  From her other clients I knew that Essie works tirelessly and is a fierce advocate of her client’s work. As Storm Literary is a boutique agency, Essie has the time and resources to focus on each client and it shows in everything she does from her detailed feedback to her prompt and highly responsive communication. She is also incredibly nice and friendly.

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 🙂 )

12 x 12 has played a huge role in this success story! First, it provides a wealth of resources to improve our writing skills. In addition, the 12 x 12 community is unparalleled. I have never met a group of people who are more generous in their time and knowledge, supportive, encouraging, and incredibly creative. Being part of this group has been truly inspiring. Three of the manuscripts I submitted were written as part of 12×12 and critiqued by 12×12 members as well as the pitches that went with them. Finally, I have connected with some incredibly gifted critique partners through 12×12 who have pushed me to become a better writer and without whom I would not have achieved this success.

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

We all know to write and read often. But I will also add that it’s really important to learn how to critique well and to critique other people’s work often. We are all creative thinkers. However, writing is not just about creating, it’s also about editing and that’s a different skill-set. For that, we need to know how to think critically and analytically. The best way to train your mind to do that is by digging into other people’s work and figuring out what works (or not) and why. I’ve learned a great deal about my own writing by critiquing other people’s work. Also, ReFoReMo is a great way to hone these skills using mentor texts.

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

Not at all. I have a website and am active on Facebook and Twitter (@kwrites3), but I think social media platforms are more relevant for MG and YA writers.

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 🙂 )

That’s a tough one. I don’t actually have much of a “bucket list.” I’m just very grateful to be at this point in my life.

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

Essie and I are putting together a submission list for manuscripts. Having been down this path before with my MG ms, I know it’s a long and emotionally-exhausting road. Fortunately, I have 12 x 12 to keep my mind off that and focused on writing writing writing!

Categories: 12 x 12, Agents, How I Got My Agent · Tags: , , ,

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12 x 12 member Katelyn AronsonIt is always exciting when a 12 x 12 member signs with an agent, and even more so when the agent is also one that takes submissions from 12 x 12 members outside the slush pile. That is the case with Katelyn Aronson, who has taken 12 x 12 by storm in this, her first year of participating. She sent me the sweetest thank you gift (even though her success is hers alone), and has already given much to the community — all the way from France where she lives! Please join me in congratulating Katelyn.

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

Growing up, I always loved writing (even more than reading), and I got a job in a children’s bookstore straight out of high school. (This was shortly after the release of the movie “You’ve Got Mail,” which had convinced me that I was a real-life Kathleen Kelly.) I loved that job, but somehow, selling children’s books was not enough. I knew I would eventually have to write them.

In my mid-twenties, however, I put that dream on hold in favor of another dream: living in Europe. I moved to France and began the long, painful process of learning French and integrating myself into French culture. Flash forward eight years, and once comfortably settled in Europe with the wanderlust of my 20s behind me, the desire to write for children resurfaced…with a vengeance! Suddenly, almost inexplicably, all I wanted to do was write, write, write.

So, last year–February of 2015–I decided to write a couple hours every day for one year and see where it got me. After a few months, I had written a few pieces and was getting some positive feedback from professional paid critiques. So, I started querying the very few publishers still open to unsolicited manuscripts. When that proved unfruitful, I started looking for an agent in August 2015.

What kind of research did you do before submitting?

I scoured the internet for literary agencies, their agents, and the agents’ tastes and manuscript wishlists. I became a querying machine, averaging a few queries a week, and sometimes up to six in one day. Did I make stupid mistakes? Yes. Did I send manuscripts out before they were ready? (*cringe*) Oh yes. Lots. But through trial and error, I learned from my faux pas and kept going.

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

In the past year, I have received too many rejections to count! A lot of personalized rejections, a lot of “near-hits,” but A LOT of rejections nonetheless. Rejections are a writer’s rite of passage. Victory comes to those who hang in there. I’ve found that the most heart-wrenching rejections can be those that say, “This is well-written, but I’m just not falling in love.” Ouch. But after receiving wildly disparate reactions to the same manuscript, I’ve learned that this industry is extremely subjective. You just have to hold on to the hope that one day, you’ll find your match–i.e. the agent who “gets” you.

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

It’s true that most agents are looking for MG/YA these days. But luckily, good PBs are still sought-after, and I think they’ll ultimately make their comeback. I worked in children’s books for 6 years, first as a bookseller, then as a bookstore manager and purchaser, and the market is clearly cyclical. More difficult was seeing the number of agents interested in ONLY “writer-illustrators” of picture books. Sometimes I wondered if being a good writer was enough anymore, in such a competitive market.

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

My agent is…Christa Heschke of McIntosh & Otis!

The night I got “the news,” I had been so depressed over some fresh disappointments in my writing career that I’d convinced myself that the agent I wanted most (Christa!) wouldn’t even be interested. I can get really down on myself at times. I had actually received a couple of other offers, but I didn’t feel 100% right about them, and I worried that maybe my career wasn’t heading in the direction I’d hoped. I crawled into bed early that night, in my melodramatic, “I’m feeling defeated” fashion.

I remember lying awake and hearing that distinctive “DING!” from my phone. An email from Christa flashed across the top of the screen. I prepared myself for the worst…I opened the email, heart pounding. There it was, at the end of the first paragraph: “I’d LOVE to offer you representation…!”

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

There were many things that recommended Christa to me. First, I could relate to Christa’s taste in picture books. I liked what she had to say on her blog and her “What I’m Looking For” post seemed right up my alley.

Christa also asked to see more manuscripts than others did prior to making an offer. At first, that made me really nervous. But by the time she did make an offer, when I read that she’d “fallen in love” with a number of manuscripts, those words were all the more meaningful to me.

Other agents had liked different manuscripts on my list, but often not the same ones. But Christa’s favorite manuscripts of mine encompassed quite a few of the ones I was proudest of. I’d found the agent who understood my voice and was willing to be my advocate.

Lastly, reading Christa’s description of how she saw her role as agent, and how McIntosh & Otis operated as an agency, really clinched it. She explained that she was a very editorial agent (I love that) but not dictatorial, and that her agency focused on selling authors, not just selling a single book. THAT spoke volumes to me, because I was not looking to be a “one-hit wonder,” but rather to build a long-term career.

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

Be as prolific as possible. Have plenty of manuscripts for an agent to look through. Every writer is different, of course, but I had a list of 9 completed manuscripts and 7 more in-process or idea-stage pieces when Christa asked to see more. Keep a growing “Synopses” or “Pitch” list of all your manuscripts. There is no single agent who will like everything you’ve written, but the agent who is right for you will fall in love with a certain number of your manuscripts and will believe in your “voice” as a writer for the long-haul.

If 12 x 12 helped you in any way during your agent search/development of craft, can you tell us how?

Yes! I only became a member of 12×12 in January of this year, but the feedback and support I have found on the forum since then has proved invaluable. I have loved the challenge of creating something new every month, and then getting it critiqued like crazy by many different reviewers—something only possible through 12×12! Two of the manuscripts that caught my agent’s eye came from my January and February 12×12 drafts, and four of the manuscripts she liked had been critiqued on the 12×12 forum. I consider 12×12 a crucial element in building a successful writing career, because it challenges me to be prolific, holds me accountable, and provides great tools for polishing my manuscripts. The community spirit and friendships that spring out of 12×12 are the buttercream icing on the cake!

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

Social media helped me keep an eye on the various agents out there, and gave me some great pitch events and writing contest opportunities to attract agent attention. That said, I don’t have much of a “platform” to speak of (yet), so I can’t say that it led me to Christa. I do suspect, however, that an agent can be reassured by a writer’s online presence, in the sense that it shows a writer is 1) keeping informed about the book industry, 2) open to networking, and 3) willing to do self-promotion.

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 J )

Hmm…How about two things?

  1. I’d like to be trilingual. I’ve actually always preferred Italian to French, but because there weren’t any Italian courses available to me back in high school, I opted for French! Little did I know that language would shape the course of my life. I’d love for Italian to be my next language. (Meet up at the next Bologna Book Fair, Julie? Anyone? D’accordo ?)
  2. When I get around to marrying the Frenchman in my life (who is wonderful, patient, bilingual too, and always the first one to critique my manuscripts!), I dream of bringing my Californian family over to Europe to celebrate a French wedding. Call me old-fashioned, but that girlish dream still lingers. And those dreams which nag at you and never go away? Listen to them. Embrace them.

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

There is one inevitable thing in a writer’s life (besides death and taxes): revisions. Other than that, I am really looking forward to flying to New York and meeting my agent in person this summer!

Categories: 12 x 12, How I Got My Agent, Queries · Tags: , ,

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IMG_4742This is the end of what turned out to be a very difficult week, in what was a pretty difficult summer. I don’t feel much like writing a Gratitude Sunday post, so that’s how I know it’s more important than ever that I do. Here it is.

Quotes on Gratitude

“Gratitude is one of the most important human virtues and the most common human deficiencies. Gratitude does not develop without effort.” — Dieter F. Uchtdorf

“Find out where joy resides and give it a voice far beyond singing. For to miss the joy is to miss all.” — Robert Louis Stevenson

“Gratitude is an art of painting an adversity into a lovely picture.” — Kak Sri

Gratitude list for the week ending 8/14

  1. Peach cobbler, made with fresh, in-season, juicy peaches
  2. The geese returning, signaling autumn is on its way
  3. Watching the Olympics
  4. Receiving unquestioning assistance from someone who didn’t have to help
  5. This week, I tasted the best scrambled eggs I’ve ever eaten (and I make EXCELLENT scrambled eggs)
  6. My dog Rocky who, despite his near constant misbehavior, is always there for me.
  7. My mom for giving up some of her time this weekend to help me with aforementioned dog at the last minute
  8. My kids are back from their vacation with their dad. Jay and I had one of the most mature, meaningful conversations we’ve ever had, and he gave me great comfort. He’s growing up!
  9. I got myself out for a run this week.
  10. Girlfriends

What are you grateful for this week?

Categories: Gratitude Sunday

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03. July 2016 · Comments Off on Gratitude Sunday 152

Einstein MiracleTragedy struck the family of a dear friend this week, who is also the mother of my son’s best friend. As I write this post, my son sleeps. When he wakes, I will have to deliver news that will take a piece of his innocence away. Yet, this is part of my job as a parent–to prepare my son to one day become a man. He will be sad, but he’ll also need to be strong for his friend. Same as me. I am heart-wrenchingly sad, but I have to be strong for my son.

My first instinct when I sat down to write this week’s Gratitude Sunday post was to reflect upon the BIG things we need to be grateful for that we often take for granted, such as our precious lives, our health, the health of our loved ones. But I still believe the true path of gratitude practice lies in appreciating the small, everyday graces–some might even call them miracles. When we see the extraordinary in the mundane, the beauty in the mess, the perfect inside the imperfect, we become more connected to our humanity and to our greater purpose. If we cannot see the small things, we will not see the big things.

For that reason, my list this week will be the same everyday things I make a point to notice each week. I’ve used the Einstein quote before, but it seems particularly compelling today.

May you all have a wonderful week, and for those in the U.S., Happy Independence Day.

Quotes on Gratitude

“Can you see the holiness in those things you take for granted–a paved road or a washing machine? If you concentrate on finding what is good in every situation, you will discover that your life will suddenly be filled with gratitude, a feeling that nurtures the soul.” — Rabbi Harold Kushner

“All holy and difficult experiences are there to transform us.” — Elizabeth Lesser

AND, also from Elizabeth Lesser…

“When all else fails, love.”

Gratitude list for the week ending July 2Jack Trellis

  1. The simple sprouting of plants in my garden
  2. Jay helping me make a trellis for the beans and peas
  3. A dessert of blueberries, nectarines and fresh mint
  4. Spending a full day with a friend after the absence of travel
  5. Watching my first live rugby match since I was studying abroad in England. The gentle, joyful summer fun of people coming together to share a sporting event.
  6. My stepmother found a new, more capable doctor to help her through some health issues.
  7. Going to a summer “mind candy” movie with the kids and Mom
  8. Taking Rocky for a run along the creek
  9. My assistant, Kelli, for keeping my business running so well
  10. I WROTE this week! I wrote a new draft of a manuscript dear to my heart and I don’t hate it (yet). 🙂

What are you grateful for this week?

Categories: Gratitude Sunday · Tags: , ,

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Baby nephew

Baby nephew

I’ve gotten behind in the weekly posts, but today seems as good a day as any to get my streak going again. Much to be grateful for over the past few weeks, and this week in particular.

Quotes on Gratitude

“I don’t have to chase extraordinary moments to find happiness – it’s right in front of me if I’m paying attention and practicing gratitude.” — Brene Brown

“When we focus on our gratitude, the tide of disappointment goes out and the tide of love rushes in.” — Kristin Armstrong

“Feeling gratitude isn’t born in us – it’s something we are taught, and in turn, we teach our children.” — Joyce Brothers

And one extra for my father, whom I miss on this Father’s Day.

“To her the name of father was another name for love.” — Fanny Fern

Gratitude List for the week ending June 18

  1. Cooking a delicious dinner in great company and enjoying the results for the rest of the week.
  2. My daughter rose early the day we traveled to Florida and made me breakfast – before I even woke up!

    IMG_4087

    Em took this stunning picture of fireworks at our hotel.

  3. Fireworks
  4. Happening upon an art gallery displaying 2014 paintings painted consecutively over as many days.
  5. Now You See Me 2, also in great company, in a cinema drafthouse
  6. My stepmother has a good and thorough doctor who has steered her toward an important life-saving surgery.
  7. Visiting my brother, SIL, and seeing both my oldest and my youngest nephews!
  8. Holding my youngest nephew. Nothing more therapeutic than cuddling a four month-old baby.
  9. Watching my kids hold and love their new cousin.
  10. Body surfing in big waves at Boca Beach.

What are you grateful for this week?

 

Categories: Family, Gratitude Sunday

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