Never 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.”
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: 12 x 12, Author, Bob & Joss Get Lost, Heather Alexander, Highlights, Peter McCleery, Picture Books, Pippin Properties