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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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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anti-resolutionFour years ago I wrote a blog post that garnered quite a bit of attention. It was titled, 2012 Anti-Resolution Revolution. I skipped 2013, but got back on track in 2014 and have stuck with the tradition. Now it’s time to reveal successes from 2015, and I’ve asked participants in my 12 Days of Christmas for Writers program to do the same.

Here is an excerpt from the original post:

It is so tempting to start listing all the things one wants to accomplish at the start of a New Year, but in my experience, the process (and thus the result) is flawed.

I believe the reason resolutions often don’t work is because they start from a place of lack, of negativity, of failure.  We think about all the things we weren’t happy with in the previous year and set out to “fix” them in the new one…  Lose weight = I weigh too much…  Make more money = I don’t have enough money.  Write more often = I don’t write enough

There is absolutely nothing wrong with setting goals, and achieving them is even better.  However, the goals need to be set on a strong foundation… Let’s first celebrate success and then determine how to carry that forward into the New Year rather than berating ourselves for what did not get done

It is CRITICAL to reflect on what you DID accomplish in the previous year. How else can you build from the base you already have? If you don’t take the time to tally up and celebrate what you’ve already accomplished, your resolutions will crumble. You’ll be starting from scratch in every category, and starting from scratch feels scary.

Here is what GOALS (vs. resolutions) look like when crafted this way. Lose weight = What did I do last year to improve my health, and what can I do to continue that progress? Make more money = How much money did I make last year, from which sources, and how can I increase output from those sources and add new ones? Write more often = What did I write this year and how am I going to use that writing in the new year while also writing new stories/articles/books, etc.?

Because I am a firm believer that it takes far more courage to celebrate and compliment yourself than it does to criticize and berate yourself, I’ve invited 12 Days of Christmas for Writers participants to post their successes on their blogs and websites too. Feel free to share links to your posts in the comments here!

Here is a list of my major professional accomplishments of 2015. 

  1. This was the year of revision. Nine out of twelve months this year were focused on MAJOR revisions to multiple manuscripts. All of those manuscripts ended up on submission.
  2. Two of my manuscripts made it all the way to acquisitions, one at two different publishing houses. Although those ended up as rejections, I got feedback about how “gorgeous” and “evocative” my writing was. I was also invited to revise and resubmit, which I am working on now.
  3. One of the manuscripts I’ve been working on all year is a picture book biography. I can honestly say it’s been the most difficult and most rewarding writing I’ve ever done.
  4. I wrote two new picture book manuscripts.
  5. I once again shepherded the 12 x 12 Picture Book Writing Challenge participants through a year of writing, revising, submitting, and SUPPORTING. With almost 800 members in 2015, I take pride in the fact that the community still feels like family.
  6. Successfully launched the brand new 12 x 12 webinar series with fabulous speakers such as author/editor Emma Walton Hamilton, agent Jill Corcoran, author Jane Yolen, and editor Emma Dryden.
  7. A Jefferson County school got a grant to buy 300 copies of MY LOVE FOR YOU IS THE SUN, and I spent the whole day at their school presenting to each elementary grade. One of the most rewarding author experiences I’ve ever had.
  8. Speaking of MY LOVE FOR YOU IS THE SUN, my agent Erzsi Deak sold Korean rights. The book has been translated into Korean and will likely go on sale in Korea this coming year.
  9. Co-hosted and launched the first-ever Picture Book Summit, an online conference that boasted keynote speakers Peter Brown, Andrea Davis Pinkney, and Mac Barnett. With more than 700 registrants, it was a smashing success.
  10. With my partner Emma Walton Hamilton, fully updated and re-launched The Complete Picture Book Submissions System.
  11. I managed to get my taxes done, which showed a nice increase in income from 2013 to 2014.
  12. I sought more professional help, which I desperately needed.
  13. Came up with 30+ new picture book ideas in this year’s PiBoIdMo
  14. I managed to keep up with my work despite suffering a pinched nerve due to a bulging disc in my cervical spine. The injury was quite debilitating, and while I’m much, much better, I’m still recovering. So I honestly need to give myself credit for all I accomplished in the last six months of the year, given most of it was done while in chronic pain.
  15. Attending the Rocky Mountain SCBWI conference in September, seeing old friends and making new, and learning loads in the post-conference picture book intensive.
  16. Spoke at two SCBWI Connect local events – one in Boulder and one in Colorado Springs (virtually)
  17. Was a guest lecturer at a University of Colorado Children’s Literature course. Super fun!!
  18. Presented a 12 x 12 webinar on crowdfunding
  19. Spoke with an editor at Scholastic for an hour, soaking up advice on possible revisions for my picture book biography.
  20. Got 20 agents for 12 x 12 in 2016 lined up BEFORE Christmas, plus five webinar speakers, and eight professional “critique ninjas,” a new feature for 2016. For once, I feel pretty organized for the launch of 12 x 12.

Now it’s your turn to make YOUR list! Share in the comments if you’d like! 🙂

Categories: 12 x 12, Agents, Children's Books, Creativity, Goals, Holidays, My Love For You Is The Sun, PiBoIdMo, Picture Books, Publishing, Works in Progress, Writing · Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

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There’s a Twitter hashtag today, #pb10for10, where folks are sharing 10 of their favorite picture books in different themes and categories to provide inspiration for teachers getting ready for a new school year.

I couldn’t resist jumping on this and featuring a few books published within the past year (or coming soon!) by some of the many talented participants of the 12 x 12 Picture Book Writing Challenge. (NOTE: I edited this post to include a BRAND NEW picture book by one of our members that releases tomorrow!!). So now there are 11 books on the list. 🙂 In no particular order:

1. One Plastic Bag: Isatou Cheesay and the Recycling Women of Gambia, by Miranda Paul

Plastic bags are cheap and easy to use. But what happens when a bag breaks or is no longer needed? In Njau, Gambia, people simply dropped the bags and went on their way. One plastic bag became two. Then ten. Then a hundred. The bags accumulated in ugly heaps alongside roads. Water pooled in them, bringing mosquitoes and disease. Some were buried, but they strangled gardens. They killed livestock that tried to eat them. Something had to change. Isatou Ceesay was that change.

One_Plastic_Bag_Cover_Miranda_Paul

2. What About Moose? by Corey Rosen Schwartz

When Fox, Toad, Bear, Porcupine, and Skunk set out to build a tree house, they know just what to do: they’ll follow a plan and they’ll work as a team. But when bossy Moose barges in and upends their plans with some of his own, his friends become more and more frustrated…until things go hilariously awry!

what-about-moose-9781481404969_hr

3. I Thought This Was a Bear Book, by Tara Lazar

After an unfortunate bookcase collapse, Alien suddenly finds himself jolted out of his story and into a very strange world, complete with talking bears. Desperate to return to his book, Alien asks the Bear family for help so he can get back to his story and save his beloved Planet Zero from total destruction before it’s too late.

bear-book-final-cover

4. When A Dragon Moves In Again, by Jodi Moore

Preparations are in full swing to welcome a new family member in this sequel to the award-winningWhen a Dragon Moves In. A young boy has become a big brother and he and his beloved dragon dedicate themselves to entertaining the little baby. But when the drooling, crying baby somehow charms the dragon and his attention, the boy decides he’s had enough of this baby business.

dragon moves in

5. Buster, The Little Garbage Truck, by Marcia Berneger

Buster is a sweet little garbage truck. He can’t wait to grow up to be a big truck, just like his father. Buster practices driving and lifting and beeping with his friend, Kitty. There’s one small problem. Loud noises frighten Buster. When his father takes him to the truck yard to meet the other vehicles, their air-horn blasts and roaring engines send Buster skidding away to hide. He wants to be big and brave, but how can he work with Daddy and his friends when their loud sounds scare him?

buster

6. Circus Train, by Jennifer Cole Judd

As the circus train rolls into town, excited children and their parents get in line for their chance to experience the Big Top. Clowns paint faces and people scurry to their seats. Then the show begins, wrapping readers in all the wonders of the circus. Dancing elephants, flipping trapeze artists, and pie-throwing clowns captivate both young and old.

Circus train

7. King Cake Baby, by Keila Dawson

When an old Creole woman bakes dessert on King’s Day, she has no idea what shenanigans will ensue. In this New Orleans adaptation of The Gingerbread Man, a mischievous king cake baby escapes his cake! He outruns a praline lady and a waiter at Café du Monde, but can he outsmart the clever baker?

king cake baby

8. Missing Nimama, by Melanie Florence

Kateri is a young girl, growing up in the care of her grandmother. We see her reaching important milestones her first day of school, first dance, first date, wedding, first child along with her mother, who is always there, watching her child growing up without her. Told in alternating voices, Missing Nimama is a story of love, loss, and acceptance, showing the human side of a national tragedy.

nimama

9. Albie’s First Word, by Jacqueline Tourville

Three-year-old Albie has never said a single word. When his worried mother and father consult a doctor, he advises them to expose little Albie to new things: a trip to the orchestra, an astronomy lecture, a toy boat race in the park. But though Albie dances with excitement at each new experience, he remains silent. Finally, the thoughtful, quiet child witnesses something so incredible, he utters his very first word: “Why?”

albies word

10. My Love For You Is The Sun, by Julie Hedlund

My Love for You is the Sun is a love letter from parent to child, expressing that timeless and unconditional love through soothing verses evoking the beauty and wonder of the natural world. My Love for You is the Sun, a Tree, the Rain, a River… but more than just familial or parental love, it captures the universal, infinite nature of love itself.

MLFY_cover

11. If An Elephant Went to School, by Ellen Fischer

Would an elephant learn the ABCs if she went to school? No way! She would learn to use her trunk as a nose, a straw, a hand, and a hose! Through a series of questions and answers, readers learn about animals and their unique behaviors. And in the end, you might find yourself asking just what would you learn.

elephant

Have you read any of these books? Have favorites? Found ones you want to check out? Let us know in the comments!

Categories: 12 x 12, Authors, Books, Children's Books, My Love For You Is The Sun, Picture Books · Tags: , , ,

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12 x 12 Member Danielle DufayetYou guys are going to love today’s installment of “How I Got My Agent.” Danielle Dufayet‘s story illustrates a point so important it bears stating in my introduction: No agent is better than the wrong agent. I’m so happy Danielle waited for “the one” that she so definitely deserves. Take note, too, if the number of queries and rejections. Keep writing, people! If you keep working and keep learning, you WILL succeed. Please welcome Danielle. 

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 off and on all my life. I started submitting to publishers starting in 2004, but I made a serious commitment to my children’s writing back in 2010. I made the decision to find an agent right about the same time.

What kind of research did you do before submitting?

The first thing I did was go to the website and check what kinds of books they were publishing. I would read all about the agent, including blogs, tweets, etc.

The dreaded questions: How many queries?

In total, about 150 to agents How many rejections? 149 🙂 But that’s for my numerous manuscripts.

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

I targeted my queries and submissions to agents who had a strong interest in picture books.

How did you know your agent was “the one?

My agent is the fabulous Karen Grencik at Red Fox Literary. I attended one of her talks, The Heart of Picture Books, at the Oakland SCBWI conference. She gave such a genuine, heart-felt speech that I just knew it would be a dream to have her as my agent.

I actually had another agent that offered me representation but I felt like I was left hanging. She emailed me that she loved my manuscript and wanted to represent me. I became a little hysterical (crying, hyperventilating) when I got that email. It was so out of the blue! So I responded to her email but then I wouldn’t hear anything for weeks. This went on for a good month or so. Even though I heard that that was not uncommon, I knew that I would not be happy with that kind of communication style so it was a blessing in disguise that I didn’t sign a contract with her.

The very next day after the SCBWI conference I sent Ms. Grencik a pretty heart felt letter of my impression of her and included one of my manuscripts. She wrote back immediately that she loved it so we emailed back and forth a little more then scheduled a time to talk. She was not as enthusiastic about my other work, (too wordy) but I knew I could get them in tip top shape so I wasn’t worried. I really liked her personality, (super sweet and kind) her character (hard working, loyal) and her communication style (professional, good follow through) and that is the most important thing for me. When we talked I think we both felt a good connection. She asked me if I still wanted to submit to other agents, etc. I said, “No! I’d like you to be my agent” and she said “OK!” I was on cloud nine. Getting an agent is hard enough, but getting one that you love and admire? I immediately notified the other agent thanking her for her time and interest and that I had found other representation.

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 🙂 )

12×12 was such a great support. Through 12×12, I joined a great critique group online which was invaluable. It was also a great place to critique others’ work, which I find so helpful with my own writing. I also got some positive feedback from some of the agents there which was definitely encouraging!

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

Yes, I can already tell that it’s more focused and geared to the industry. When your agent tells you, “Editors want this…” it takes the guessing game out of it. Then, it’s up to me to deliver!

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

Beside the tried and true: keep writing and improving your craft, read as much as you can which will help you understand the market. But I have to emphasize not to submit unless you feel in your heart that it’s really ready – it’s the best it can be. It’s not so much a “numbers game” but a timing game.

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

No. I think it was my manuscript, but I think it helped I had a website of my pre-published work. I think it shows that I am a serious writer that’s in it for the long haul.

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 🙂 )

Going to Africa and meeting Desmond Tutu and giving him a copy of my (pre-published) book, UBUNTU which celebrates global oneness and unity consciousness.

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

I have joined Toast Masters to help me get ready to do speeches. It’s scary, but a must in this industry!

Thank you!!

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, Guest Blogging, How I Got My Agent, Queries, Writing · Tags: , , , ,

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Suddenly, the trees burst into bloom.

Suddenly, the trees burst into bloom.

I am trying to be more mindful of getting the Gratitude Sunday posts out each week. I always feel more grounded when I do. Today is a gorgeous day for gratitude. I was also quite pleased to find a quote on gratitude from none other than Casanova! 🙂

Quotes on Gratitude

“It’s wonderful to be grateful. To have that gratitude well out from deep within you and pour out in waves. Once you truly experience this, you will never want to give it up.” — Srikumar Rao

“I have had friends who have acted kindly towards me, and it has been my good fortune to have it in my power to give them substantial proofs of my gratitude.” — Giacomo Casanova

“The discipline of gratitude is the explicit effort to acknowledge that all I am and have is given to me as a gift of love, a gift to be celebrated with joy.” — Henri Nouwen

Gratitude list for the week ending April 11

  1. Getting girl time with my cousin, culminating in seeing the new Cinderella movie. 🙂
  2. My trainer, for helping me get back into shape (even though I am seldom grateful in the middle of the workout!)
  3. Flowering trees, tulips in bloom, green grass, spring in the air
  4. Mother-son bonding time featuring a spaghetti dinner and watching The Empire Strikes Back
  5. Phenomenal 12 x 12 webinar on Picture Book Trends with Susannah Richards!
  6. Being introduced to some new music that has moved me AND my son’s creativity in creating on GarageBand
  7. Luxurious, long conversations spanning everything from the meaning of existence, to poetry, to what’s for dinner
  8. Lovely, vivid, and energizing dreams
  9. Homemade rigatoni with sausage, tomatoes, basil, and mozzerella
  10. I started a new picture book draft this week!

What are you grateful for this week?

Categories: 12 x 12, Cooking, Creativity, Family, Gratitude Sunday, Picture Books, Writing · Tags: , , , , , , ,

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TimMcCanna_8x10_smToday I have the great pleasure of introducing someone to the How I Got My Agent series who is not only a mind-blowingly (that is totally a word) talented writer and musician, but also someone I’m fortunate to call a friend. Tim McCanna tells the story of how we first met and came to collaborate on a couple of my projects, so I won’t steal his thunder, but let’s just say that the first time you encounter Tim’s work – whether his writing, music, or blockbuster videos – the only viable response is, “Wow!” Add to that the fact that he is just about the nicest person on the planet, and Tim becomes a “quadruple threat” on his way to sure stardom in the children’s writing world. It’s been an honor in every way to work with him and to have him “in my corner” on this crazy publishing journey. Please welcome Tim! 

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

Thanks for having me, Julie! You know, I had zero strategy when I started out writing picture books in 2009. Within months I was submitting to slush piles and I have a binder full of form rejection letters to prove it. I eventually mixed in some agent submissions here and there, but I really didn’t know what I wanted or needed in an agent.

In 2010, Caryn Wiseman from Andrea Brown Literary spoke at a local SCBWI conference. I liked her right away (as everyone in the session did) and submitted to her after the event. Alas, my story didn’t resonate with her, so she kindly passed.

At some point I dialed down the submitting and focused on improving my craft and building my network. I participated in Picture Book Idea Month and 12×12, kept attending conferences, joined a critique group, and wrote lots of new stories. Three years later, I had a much more robust portfolio of polished manuscripts. Plus, I became an Assistant Regional Advisor for my local SCBWI chapter, and I even sold my picture book Teeny Tiny Trucks on my own. At that point, I felt like my work was strong enough and I understood the industry so much better that I started to think about who might be the perfect agent for me.

What kind of research did you do before submitting?

In the early days, all I had was my copy of The Children’s Book Writer’s & Illustrator’s Market. I occasionally queried agents who were spotlighted on LiteraryRambles.com. Of course, meeting folks (or at least sitting in on their sessions) at conferences to get a sense of who they are is always a good thing. I’m a total introvert at events with lots of people. But volunteering for my SCBWI chapter created great icebreakers and gave me opportunities to just talk to editors and agents without trying to wow them in sixty seconds with an elevator pitch.

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

Oh gosh. Lots of both. In the first three years before I made my first sale, I submitted around 15 manuscripts of various length and style to twenty or thirty different publishers and at least a dozen different agents. I never once got one of those personal, magical, uplifting, hand-written rejection letters of encouragement from editors you hear about. I wonder if they’re just urban legends.

For a while there, I was completely flummoxed. What was I doing wrong? Why didn’t anyone other than my critique group partners like my stories!? Granted, 2009 to 2011 were especially tight years in the publishing world, but I began to slip into a resentful dark place. I pulled myself out of that self-inflicted slump by focusing on writing shorter, snappier, more commercial stories while getting out and volunteering and joining online communities. A positive attitude and persistence is key. We’re very lucky that the kidlit industry is so friendly and supportive.

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

Not really. That never came up. I had an early chapter reader to show a slightly longer work, and I’m currently writing a middle grade novel that I mentioned in my follow-up emails, so perhaps having a little variety helped. All I knew was I didn’t want to beg for representation. I was going to wait for an agent who loved my work and was enthusiastic about partnering with me.

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

So, nearly four years after first seeing Caryn at that regional conference, she participated in an Agent’s Day event in San Francisco in early Fall 2014. I submitted my rhyming picture book Bitty Bot! for critique and she immediately connected with it. After a couple weeks of sharing additional pieces with her and talking some more, she officially offered and I officially accepted! That just goes to show that “no thanks” doesn’t necessarily mean “not ever.”

Caryn has a great business sense—and I really kinda don’t. She also offers editorial feedback, which I knew I wanted in an agent. And she didn’t shy away from my rhymers. That was crucial. I write both rhyme and prose, but I knew if an agent said, “Gee, rhyming books are tough to sell,” that we weren’t a good match.

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 🙂 )

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. 12×12 has done a lot for me. At its core, 12×12 is about writing. Getting those first drafts down. I love the simple goal-setting aspect of it. But of course, there’s much more. The community, the support, the people, the networking, the knowledge you gain from the blog and forums. It’s a great resource that became a lovely part of my journey as a children’s writer.

Katie Davis’s kidlit podcast, which led to writing a song for 12×12, which led to writing a song for Julie’s A Troop is a Group of Monkeys app, which led to my selling Teeny Tiny Trucks to the same publisher. It was a 2-year domino effect that I never planned!

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 you’ve already checked off! 🙂 )

Two words: Dog Dancing. It’s totally a thing.

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

Well, after signing with Caryn, we sold Bitty Bot! a month or so later in a 2-book deal to Paula Wiseman Books at Simon & Schuster. Woo! The first book comes out Fall 2016, and I’m tossing around ideas for a sequel right now. My working title is Bitty Bot 2: Bitty Does Something Else In a New Location, Perhaps During a Holiday, Or Not.

Tim McCanna played accordion in a punk rock band and composed very silly sci-fi musicals in New York City before he finally got a real job as a children’s book author. When he’s not daydreaming about dancing with dogs, Tim serves as Assistant Regional Advisor for the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators San Francisco/South chapter. He lives in Mountain View, CA with his wife and two kids. Find Tim online at www.timmccanna.com.

Categories: 12 x 12, A Troop is a Group of Monkeys, Agents, Children's Books, How I Got My Agent, Picture Books, Publishing, Queries, Storybook Apps · Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

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12 x 12 WebinarTwo weeks ago, NYT Bestselling author, children’s literature professor and freelance editor Emma Walton Hamilton and I launched the 12 x 12 webinar series with a discussion on how to KNOW when your picture book is submission-ready.

Now we’re moving on to the submission itself. We have some exciting updates in the works to our product(s) on picture book submissions, but we need your help! So here’s the deal. If you click on this link and answer this ONE question, we’ll instantly send you a free video outlining the four essential elements of a picture book query.

The entire process (including watching the video) takes about five minutes.

Here’s the link again.

Oh, and this ONE time I have to ask you not to leave your question in the comments, but instead leave it in the survey at the link.

If you’ve already seen the Four Essential Elements of a Picture Book Query video, we’d love for you to leave feedback in the comments for others.

Please feel free to share this post with your picture book writing friends. The more responses we get, the better we’ll be able to help you with your submissions.

Thanks so much!

Categories: 12 x 12, Picture Books, Publishing, Queries · Tags: , , , , , , , ,

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Author Illustrator Julie Rowan-ZochSQUEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!

Can you hear me screaming all the way in Colorado? I’ve been looking forward to this post for two years (which is how long I’ve known Julie Rowan-Zoch‘s talent is extraordinary). I KNEW she would get an agent, and I waited patiently for the day to come. 🙂

As you might guess from the tone of this introduction, Julie is a dear friend of mine and a model citizen of the kidlit community. Her talent speaks for itself (her Facebook feed is one I check every day because I’m addicted to her art), but she is also warm, funny and generous. She supports her author and illustrator friends without fail, and is always willing to help our community in any way she can. She may not be the best at backing out of a driveway in winter (sorry, Julie!), but she has excellent taste in beer, books, cheese, and friends. 🙂

Please welcome Julie Rowan-Zoch, here to tell her “How I Got My Agent” story!

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

I had but two drafts before joining the inceptive 12 x 12 in ’12 Challenge. That first year was an eye-opener to the hard-nut-to-crack world of the kid-lit industry as well as the warm and generous kid-lit community. Luckily I had a blind passion for picture books and enough naiveté to keep going! By the time 12×12 began offering the chance to submit to agents, I had one solid manuscript. Slowly but surely I rustled up the courage to start subbing, but I still had so much to learn about researching suitable agents.

What kind of research did you do before submitting?

Julie Hedlund’s agent posts with all the links gave me a good start. I followed links, also read agent posts on Kathy

Julie originally made this for my assistant, Kelli, and me last year to celebrate 12 x 12. Yesterday, however, we were the two chickadees sharing champagne!

Julie originally made this for my assistant, Kelli, and me last year to celebrate 12 x 12. Yesterday, however, Julie and I were the two chickadees sharing champagne!

Temean’s blog, and googled the agents of author-illustrators whose work I admired. I joined Sub It Club, and another Agent/Editor discussion group online, both of which have been hugely helpful. Not methodical, but not bad either!

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

None of the agents I submitted to focuses solely on picture books, but all of them do represent children’s literature up to YA.

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

I know this makes me look careless, but because I didn’t sub to many agents, I never kept a detailed record (I should have!). I submitted to about 10 agents through 12×12, and 3 or 4 outside, mainly through SCBWI conference opportunities, and received an chance to sub by winning a design contest. Another invited me to submit through Facebook. That brings the total to about 16. I heard back from 8, received requests for more materials from 4. All was rather quiet when I got lucky, very lucky: my agent found me.

How did you know your agent was “the one?

Just before leaving town mid-December I got a surprising but delightful email from Marcia Wernick. I knew most of her agency’s clients (all of those focused on PBs!), but not much about the agency. I read every article I could find online, and asked around in the groups I mentioned above. One can determine a lot through correspondence, and Marcia’s graciousness and confidence shone through. We arranged for me to submit a package of manuscripts and illustrations, and made an appointment for a call early in the new year. After Marcia offered representation, I notified the other agents I was still in contact with. I received a total of three offers, and might have had a fourth, but before that call, I already knew. My best friend said, “You know already – you’re pitching her to me!” But the best advice I received in making that decision was to follow my gut as to which one I felt most comfortable with and genuinely liked my work.

What I did not anticipate, was difficulty in finding the right words to inform the agents I was turning down. Both of them had shown such generosity and kindness.

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

I can promise you, I would not have found an agent without all I have benefitted from as a 12 x 12 participant. The support, encouragement and sharing of information: to write more, read more, start blogging, doodle every day, critique artwork, join a writer’s critique group for PBs, form a local critique group, go to conferences, keep learning, start submitting, keep going, chin up, chest out, breathe, read more, write more… And above all else? Keep laughing! This is how I found my tribe!!!

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

Can’t tell, it’s only been a week! But my enthusiasm moved up ten notches!

A toast with two Julies!

A toast with two Julies!

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

Join 12 x 12, do all the things I mentioned two Q/As back, and join SCBWI. And when you are preparing for ‘the call’, and believe two pages worth of questions are enough, think again and double that!

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

I most certainly do! My agent found my blog, and I got illustration and design work through posting sketches on Facebook. To push my daily doodles, I started drawing birthday greetings: almost every day I drew something new for any friend on Facebook and posted it to their timeline. I believe, in this manner I made deeper connections within the kid-lit community, and I value that very highly.

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 🙂 )

Two things: I want to see a grand display of the Aurora Borealis, and to witness the arrival of migrating monarch butterflies in the forests of pine trees and fir in Michoacan/Mexico.

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

Sketches for one polished manuscript, and, for the first time, I’m developing a dummy while I am constructing the narrative of a story.

Julie R-Z

Categories: 12 x 12, Children's Books, Friendship, How I Got My Agent, Picture Books, Publishing, Queries, SCBWI, Social Media, Works in Progress, Writing · Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

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First 12 x 12 Webinar in the Can!

First 12 x 12 Webinar in the Can!

I spent the bulk of this week doing a task I hate above (almost) all others, and that is bookkeeping. HOWEVER, I am grateful that I am closing in on finishing off 2014 and will actually have some organization around taxes this year. As for the rest, read on!

Quotes on Gratitude

“Gratitude can make your life happier and more satisfying. When we feel gratitude, we benefit from the pleasant memory of a positive event in our life. Also, when we express our gratitude to others, we strengthen our relationship with them.” — Martin E.P. Seligman

“Breath and life, and the opportunity to try. If you have nothing more, you always have that.” — Alicia Keys

“I’m grateful for anything that reminds me of what’s possible in this life.” — Jonathan Safran Foer

Gratitude list for the week ending 1/31

  1. Making it to the end of January! The first month of the year is always a huge challenge for me, so waking up on February 1st is a special joy.
  2. My assistant Kelli, without whom I never would have survived January!
  3. My bookkeeper, who spent yet another two hours meeting with me this week
  4. The fact that I have bookkeeping that needs to be done (I’m stretching here, but I really am trying to to find gratitude in that which makes me crazy :-))
  5. My mom, who brought me wine on a day I could not leave my desk (due to bookkeeping).
  6. Ending the month of January with 650+ members of 12 x 12! This year’s group is going gangbusters already!
  7. My new favorite, life-saving service – Taskrabbit. Very nice gentleman came to help my kids clean and organize their rooms and playrooms while I worked on bookkeeping.
  8. Hosting the first 12 x 12 webinar with my friend Emma Walton Hamilton. We filled the room and brought down the house. 🙂
  9. Unexpected snowfall to pretty-up the world
  10. Have I mentioned that I am almost finished with my 2014 bookkeeping? LOL

What are you grateful for this week?

Categories: 12 x 12, Gratitude Sunday · Tags: , , , , , , , ,

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