It 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?
- 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 ?)
- 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: Christa Heschke, Katelyn Aronson, MacIntosch & Otis