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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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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12 x 12 new banner

It’s prize time! Our September Featured Author, Erzsi Deak, is giving one 12 x 12 member a chance to submit THREE picture book pitches to her. She will then give feedback on which she thinks is the strongest, most marketable. Plus, if she is interested in one or more of the winner’s pitches, she may ask you to submit to her. Since Hen & Ink is closed to submissions, this is a fantastic opportunity.

And the lucky winner is…

ANDREA ALLEN!!

Congrats! Please contact me at JulieFHedlund (at) gmail (dot) com to claim your prize.

It’s time to FALL back in to writing! Write those drafts and revise, revise, revise for your chance to win October’s prize.

Categories: 12 x 12, 12 x 12 Featured Author, Agents, Authors, Children's Books, Giveaway, Picture Books, Queries, Writing · Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

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12 x 12 new banner

It’s been a bit of a month. Some sad – we lost my Aunt and my mom’s only sister. Some happy – the release of MY LOVE FOR YOU IS THE SUN and the celebrations that ensued. Some productive – the launch of my new How to Make Money as a Writer course.

What fell onto the back burner, unfortunately, was the writing. BUT, I make this pledge to you here and now — by the end of today, September 30th, I will have written a new draft. It’s one that has been on my mind for months. I have a meeting with my in-person critique group tomorrow, so I am going to vomit the thing out and show up with something in my hands. So I guess that means I’ll have a September draft even if it takes me all day to do it. (And it probably will)

How about you? Did you get your draft or revision done this month? Let us know in the comments and in the Rafflecopter. Special thanks to our featured author Erzsi Deak for sharing with us a peek at the life of an author/agent. Be sure to stop back tomorrow to meet our October author!

Here is what you need to do to check in for a chance to win a Picture Book Pitch Critique with Erzsi:

  1. See the Rafflecopter widget at the end of this post that says “Picture Book Pitch Critique” at the top.
  2. Click on the “Comment on Erzsi’s Blog Post” button. It will reveal the task, which is to comment on Erzsi’s blog post. Commenting on Erzsi’s post is mandatory and gets you one point even if you didn’t complete a draft in September. If you haven’t yet commented, click here to do so. Then you click ENTER on that option in Rafflecopter, which will then open the next two options.
  3. Click on the “Wrote a PB Manuscript” button. This will ask if you completed a PB draft in September. If you did, click ENTER, if you did not, move on to the next step.
  4. Click on the last “Revised a PB Manuscript” button. This will ask if you revised a PB in September. If you did, click ENTER. If not, move on to the next step.
  5. Submit your entry. Rafflecopter will track your points.

You have until midnight Eastern on October 1st to enter your results. Rafflecopter will draw a winner and I’ll announce it on the blog on October 2nd.

Keep on writing!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Categories: 12 x 12, 12 x 12 Featured Author, Agents, Authors, Children's Books, Giveaway, Writing · Tags: , , , , , , , ,

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This could quite possibly be the latest an author has ever announced the arrival of his/her book on publication day. But I have been working on a special commemoration video of this event. I hope you enjoy this “story behind the story” and MY LOVE FOR YOU IS THE SUN‘s long journey to publication.

If you are a regular blog reader, you know this book is particularly close to my heart. In fact, it IS my heart in 118 words. I only hope it brings as much joy to those who read it as it gave me to write it, and that it will give families everywhere a way to express the depth of their love for one another for years to come.

I owe an eternal debt of gratitude to our backers on Kickstarter, without whom this book simply would not have been possible. My sincerest thanks to all of you for loving and supporting this book. You’ve made this girl’s dream come true, that’s for sure!

Huge thanks also go, of course, to Susan Eaddy for illustrations they defy belief, toStacey Williams-Ng at Little Bahalia for taking a risk on me once again, and to Erzsi Deak, my agent, for bushwhacking the path.

Here is… MY LOVE FOR YOU IS THE SUN.

Categories: Crowdfunding, Picture Books, Poetry, Writing · Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

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Erzsi DeakToday I have the honor of turning the tables on my agent, Erzsi Deak, and interviewing HER about HER writing. As the author of the newly minted picture book, PUMPKIN TIME!, she makes a perfect featured author for September. Being on both sides of the writing/agenting table also gives her a unique perspective to share on writing great picture books.

But before we get into the interview, I need to tell you about the fabulous prizes you might win this month. One is the end-of-month drawing we always do, and that winner will get the chance to submit THREE picture book pitches to Erzsi. She will then give feedback on which she thinks is the strongest, most marketable. Plus, if she is interested in one or more of the winner’s pitches, she may ask you to submit to her. Since Hen & Ink is closed to submissions, this is a fantastic opportunity.

Erzsi is also offering the chance to win a copy of PUMPKIN TIME! Here’s how: the FIRST person who emails Kelli with the correct answer to what GBID stands for wins the book. Ready, set, GO! 🙂

Now please welcome Erzsi as our September featured author.

Which came first, the writing or the agenting?

I’ve been writing since before I was born, so I guess you’d say, that writing came first. Seriously, I wrote from as soon as I could conceptualize ideas and hold a writing tool. As for the agenting, it’s something I thought about for at least 25 years before doing (mostly because I wasn’t going to go through the traditional agenting ladder).

You represent PB through YA, but what is your favorite genre to write in and why? Which is your favorite to read and why?

You will laugh, but I started out (you know, before I was born) writing poetry. From there I went to journalism and back to poetry and essays. My first picture book text had a faint (read: heavily faint) resemblance to THE CAT IN THE HAT, though I never liked Seuss as a child (only later did I come close to understanding, or at least, enjoying what he was doing). I love picture books — the interplay of text and image. I studied graphic design in post-graduate school and always wanted to work with words and pictures. Picture books allow for that. Now middle-grade and YA do, too. And “big people” books, too, for that matter. As a writer, I’ll write whatever comes to mind and finds its way onto the screen/page in front of me. I don’t have a favorite genre to write. I don’t really have a favorite genre to read, either; though, that said, my go-to place is probably gentle or humorous picture books, well-rounded literary middle-grade and humorous, heartfelt YA. Intelligent and honest humor, overall, is of huge importance to me. If I laugh and cry, all-the-better. But I’m not the reader/agent for self-conscious serious works, nor particularly socially-correct works. I like to laugh at myself and with everyone else.

Julie’s note: I DID laugh! Erzsi and I have had MANY discussions about rhyme. Reading what she said here about Dr. Seuss makes me understand why it took so long for her to sign me – LOL.

During one of our conversations, we laughed about how you gave your clients the advice not to write about topics that are overdone (like seasons), and then you sold a “Pumpkin Book.” But Pumpkin Time! isn’t really about pumpkins. Give us your one-line pitch for the book! (Ha – how fun to turn that exercise around on an agent!)

PUMPKIN TIME! is actually a harvest tale. And at its heart is the story of process and stick-to-itiveness. I think it’s really a writer’s book! BIC and all that! In this case it’s GBID (the first 12×12 writer who can figure out what “GBID” means receives a free copy of PUMPKIN TIME! We’ll announce the winner on http://www.pumpkin-time.com. Send your responses to KELLI!).

Here’s the pitch: Evy, wearing her spiffy gardening boots, is so focused on her garden and the feast at the end of the year that she doesn’t see the wondrous things going on around her; luckily, her sidekick Turkey (in matching gardening boots) sees everything and keeps the pages turning. Gardening boots, btw, are very important; everyone should have his or her most beautiful pair.

PUMPKIN TIME! did not arrive fully hatched (or, maybe I should say, ripe); it went through a good number of versions before happily finding its home at Sourcebooks. IF anything sounds or feels familiar, cross it out (aka, kill it) and come up with something else. There’s always room for the best in a genre; make yours the best. (Is that obnoxious enough?)

Because you read so many picture books each year, is it difficult for you to make “room” in your head for your own writing – your own voice?

Nice question. I try to leave room for my authors’ voices. That said, I definitely know what I like to read and know when something doesn’t ring true. As for my own voice, it’s still here; I keep it in a separate room. 🙂 I do far less writing of my own picture books than of cover letters for Hen&ink, however.

In my role as the leader of 12 x 12, I provide opportunities for PB authors to submit to agents. Some of the agents, like you, are also writers. Sometimes people express concern about whether a person can be as dedicated to both, especially since they are both time-consuming. How would you address those concerns?

I hope I addressed that in the question above, but basically, my focus is the agency and my clients. I’m pretty good at departmentalizing, however, as I wear many hats to make everything tick (ever-so-smoothly): agent, writer, editor.

Any parting advice on writing great picture books?

I can only repeat that which I hope everyone has heard before: Read 1000 picture books (or whatever genre you want to write in or are writing in) and keep reading; make the genre your own with original ideas and beautiful writing; avoid clichĂ©s at all costs; think active verbs and vibrant words and language; leave room for the illustrations (they are part of the story-telling experience). Finally, less-is-more remains a strong maxim for today’s market.

Categories: 12 x 12, 12 x 12 Featured Author, Agents, Authors, Books, Children's Books, Picture Books, Poetry, Writing · Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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12 x 12 Member Laura GehlThis is an especially fun “How I Got My Agent” post for me to share because Laura Gehl not only got her agent through the 12 x 12 picture book writing challenge, but she signed with MY agent, Erzsi Deak! That makes us fellow chicks in the Hen & Ink “coop.” When you read Laura’s story and see how hard she works and how accomplished she is with her writing, you won’t be surprised she landed an agent. AND, I’m very excited that she’s getting started building her platform with a brand new website and blog. Recently, she blogged about her writing process at Hen & Inkblots, our agency blog.

If all that weren’t enough, her first picture book, ONE BIG PAIR OF UNDERWEAR, releases next month – the SAME DAY as my book release!! So get ready for a party on September 9th! In the meantime, please welcome Laura.

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 for about ten years…but mostly magazine articles, not books. Once I decided to look into publishing picture books, I could see that I would have a lot more options if I found an agent. I did get my first two picture book contracts without an agent, though…it is not impossible!

What kind of research did you do before submitting?

I read everything I could find on-line. And I do mean everything.

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

I’ve never counted! I did send out a large number of queries before finding an agent. The agents who took the time to write a personal response helped me keep going. I started by querying only with rhyming manuscripts, and I think I would have found an agent much sooner if I had dropped the rhymes. However, my first two picture books (ONE BIG PAIR OF UNDERWEAR/Beach Lane, fall 2014; AND THEN ANOTHER SHEEP TURNED UP/Kar-Ben, spring 2015) are in rhyme. So if you love writing in rhyme, don’t give up.

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

I did feel daunted by the number of great agents who said they only wanted to represent author-illustrators. And I felt particularly worried when one agent said she loved my picture books but only wanted to sign me if I had a submission-ready middle-grade text in addition (she explained that picture books are just too hard to sell). In the end, though, several agents ended up expressing interest in my picture book texts.

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

I read an interview with Erzsi Deak, who is now my agent. In the interview, Erzsi said that she tries to make sure all of her writers and illustrators feel attended to, or coddled (she probably put it better than that). I am NOT patient and definitely couldn’t go weeks without hearing from my agent, so I thought Erzsi’s style would be perfect for me. Sure enough, if Erzsi ever gets impatient with my constant emails, she hides it well! ONE BIG PAIR OF UNDERWEAR by Laura Gehl

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 provided me with the chance to submit to Erzsi and encouraged me to develop picture book texts, two of which are now under contract (PEEP AND EGG: I’M NOT HATCHING/FSG, spring 2016; HARE AND TOROISE RACE ACROSS ISRAEL/Kar-Ben, spring 2015). Equally important, 12 x 12 set me up with my fantastic critique group. I cannot imagine how I ever wrote anything without them! When we started, no one in the group had an agent. Since then, three of us have found agents, and I know the others are getting very close.

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

Not really. I try to get my manuscripts into the best possible shape before sending them to Erzsi. Which means my mom and my husband read a manuscript (and say “This is great!”), and then my critique partners read the manuscript (and say, “This is great…but here are 28 things to change”). Only after I fix those 28 things, and probably 27 more things that are wrong with the next few drafts, do I send the manuscript along to Erzsi.

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

I agree with the frequent advice that you should research agents in advance and submit only your best work. On the other hand, I think it is important to get your work out there. At some point, you need to stop researching, stop revising, and just submit. Also: have a list of agents ready before you submit to even one. That way, if you get a rejection, you can just move on to the next agent on your list, which will limit your moping (eating chocolate while moping briefly is still definitely allowed). Lastly: keep a file of any positive words you get from agents. Literally cut and paste JUST the positive words from a rejection and put them in that file. Then read through your positive words file when you start getting discouraged.

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

In my case, no. I am currently working on a website, in advance of my first book coming out in September, 2014. I’m also trying to figure out how to use social media without it becoming a black hole that sucks up all of my writing time.

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 🙂 )

Riding a tandem bicycle. I can’t wait to have my husband do all the work while we zoom uphill.

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

I am always working on a gazillion projects at once. Right now I am working on several picture books, an early reader, three fiction chapter books, a nonfiction chapter book, and a middle grade novel. I’m also excited to announce my new website is up! Come and find me at www.lauragehl.com.

 

Categories: 12 x 12, Agents, Books, Children's Books, How I Got My Agent, Picture Books, Publishing, Queries, Rhyming, Writing · Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

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12 x 12 Member - David Martin

Well, it’s fair to say that today’s Tuesday 12 x 12 author, David Martin, blew me away with this post, given the seemingly uncanny coincidences that led to our connection. Our one-degree of separation was closed by my now-agent, Erzsi Deak. As writers we know that a coincidence is really a nudge from the universe to set you on your correct path. Who knew Erzsi and her writerly and literary self would be so pivotal for both of us? I am glad that David found his route to 12 x 12 and look forward to celebrating his publishing success. Please give him a warm welcome!

Why you should be preparing for Success

I read this week in PublishersWeekly.com that Julie Hedlund’s agent, Erzsi Deak, negotiated North American rights on a YA novel about Paris written by Ann Jacobus Kordahl. I had the good fortune of being a member of SCBWI France when both Ann and Erzsi were aspiring writers and hyper-dedicated club presidents. They led our group through a fantastic schedule of events, workshops, and conferences where stellar writers and illustrators shared their knowledge and energy.

Like Ann and Erszi, many of the members I met during those inspiring years have reached publication, including Sarah Towle who is active in 12 x 12. Proof that rewards come to people who do the work, even me. My picture book, Troy’s Tuba, was named among the finalists for the 2007 SCBWI Barbara Karlin Grant.

My time for success had almost come, right?

In March 2008 I rode to Erzsi Deak’s apartment in the center of Paris to meet Franny Billingsley as part of a mentorship program. As we discussed my work, Franny asked me why I wasn’t actively trying to connect with publishers. All I could say was I was thinking about piranhas.

Piranhas thrashed in my mind. I thought everyone could see them too. I went home and boxed up my stories. Ten years of writing, sketches, dummies, drafts, and notes. Everything. I knew it was useless to bother editors and agents until I was prepared for success.

A few months later I attended a Toastmasters meeting in a café a block from Erszi’s apartment. As an English teacher, I enjoy speaking in public so I wasn’t sure why I was there. My pride almost made me turn around. Luckily I stayed.

I wrote and delivered speeches that surprised me. The humor I had developed in my stories came to life on stage. Fellow Toastmasters encouraged me to compete in competitions. I adapted a story written while in SCBWI France into a zany speech which I delivered wearing colorful oversized oven mitts. The speech won first prize.

I wanted to tell better stories and so looked deeper inside. I told the story of the terrible accident my brother and I had when I was 15. An accident which put our names on the front page of our city newspaper. As I told that story, I realized that the piranhas were the black letters which formed my name in that old newspaper article. The reason I was not sending out stories became clear. Did I really want my name in print again? Was I prepared for success?

To beat the piranhas, I became president of the Busy Professionals club and exposed myself to new challenges. I took up stand-up comedy on stage in Paris, expanding my network to comedians and clowns.

And picture books? In February, a Linkedin.com article led me to 12×12. When I read Julie Hedlund’s agent was Erzsi Deak, I knew my path had led me back to the beginning. I reopened my boxes and discovered a letter from a prestigous publishing house. It offered advice for revisions and an open invitation to submit any picture book manuscript I wrote. I had ignored it in 2008 because I had only seen piranhas. Today I see differently because I have been preparing for success. I’m participating in 12×12 with the knowledge that I now have the skills to accept advice, modify, and rewrite. I can pitch my ideas to publishers and connect with audiences. Today I am not only writing, I am preparing for success. Are you?

David Martin is proud to be a late bloomer. Originally from Calgary, Canada, he studied English Literature at McGill University in Montreal. He visited France for a weekend 25 years ago and never left. He now lives north of Paris in a creaky old house with two children and a French wife. Nobody in the family pretends to be bilingual.

 

Categories: 12 x 12, Agents, Authors, Books, Children's Books, Guest Blogging, Picture Books, Publishing, SCBWI, Writing · Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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Author Alayne Kay ChristianWow, we have had such a surge of success stories from 12 x 12 members that we have a BACKLOG of “How I Got My Agent” posts that we’ll be sharing over the next few weeks.

Today I am delighted to introduce my friend and three-time 12 x 12 participant Alayne Kay Christian, here to tell the story of how she signed with Erzsi Deak of Hen & Ink. What is even more exciting, for me, is that Alayne and I are now agency sisters. Fellow chicks in the coop. It is my secret desire to populate the coop with all of my favorite PB writers, so I did my own Snoopy dance when Alayne got signed. 🙂

Please welcome Alayne!

Thank you for inviting me to share my story, Julie. And thank you for 12 x 12 and all the opportunities to submit to agents in 2013.

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

I have written most of my life, but I had been writing picture books since 2006. I pondered seeking an agent for many years. However, I was discouraged by the “experienced” authors who told me it is even harder to get an agent to accept your work than it is to get a publishing house to accept your work. One author even told me it took her twelve years to get an agent. She suggested I start by submitting to editors.
Between 2010 and 2011, I submitted solely to publishers (about 28 submissions).

In 2012, I was feeling pretty discouraged and submitted very little. But I did dip my toe into the agent world. I subbed to two agents because of opportunities from the 2011 North Texas SCBWI conference I had attended in the fall. I submitted to Erzsi Deak because of Hen & Ink’s Open Coop Day. While I was busy pondering the idea of agents, I was finding a growing number of publishers that would only accept agented submissions. This warmed me up to the idea of submitting to agents.

After my first year of 12 x 12 in 2012 and two years of the Picture Book Marathon, I realized I was doing a lot of writing and very little submitting. So, I set a goal to submit at least six picture book manuscripts in 2013. But who was I going to submit to? What was best for me and my writing career? Coincidentally, 12 x 12 in 2013 offered the new benefit of an opportunity to submit to a literary agent each month. Ta-da! My decision was made. Agents would be my submission focus for 2013.

What kind of research did you do before submitting?

I started by reading about Literary Agencies through “Book Markets for Children Writers” and “2013 Guide to Literary Agents.” To an extent, that was like looking for a needle in a haystack when it comes to picture book submissions. I was fortunate that a couple lists of agents who accept picture books circulated around 12 x 12, and I was able to narrow down my research.

Many agents offer information about what they are looking for and who they represent on their agency websites. There are often articles, blog posts, interviews and so on that offer a wealth of information about agents. A lot of my friends submit to agents, so sometimes they would tell me what they had learned about the agent. In the case of 12 x 12 submissions, Julie offers links for each agent to get us started with our research. I also followed agents on Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook.

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

In 2012, I submitted to 3 agents and received 3 rejections.
In 2013, I had 26 submissions to agents and 20 rejections.

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

Once, I learned which agents accept picture books, I don’t feel like it was difficult. However, I personally did not want an agent who represented picture books only, as I might want to shop chapter books, MG, or adult books at a later date.

How did you know your agent was “the one?

My agent, Erzsi Deak, Hen & Ink Literary Studio, was one of the three agents I submitted to in 2012. Over time, as my rejections built, I never forgot the lovely rejection she sent me in 2012. If not for that rejection, I might not have had the courage or confidence to continue submitting to agents. Given most of the form rejections that I received, or the lack of responses that indicated a rejection, I grew to appreciate Erzsi’s style and kind consideration even more. On top of that experience, I paid attention to what was being said about various agents around the virtual writing community water cooler. Erzsi seemed to be highly respected in the community.

When offers of representation started coming my way, I had a long phone conversation with Erzsi, and I felt like we clicked. I asked her tons of questions during the phone call and many more via email. I felt like we would work well together. I also felt like she would represent me in the way that I wanted to be represented. Much of the decision was made by going with my gut. I have since learned that she is a lovely and patient person who works her butt off to support her clients. I believe we have a partnership that will lead us both to success.

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 🙂 )

When I submitted to Erzsi in 2012, it was during an open coop day. Generally, Hen & Ink is closed to unsolicited submissions. I waited and waited for another open coop day for picture books, and none came. In 2013, Erzsi was one of the 12 x 12 agents. There has not been another open coop day for picture books yet, so without 12 x 12, it could have been a very, very long time before I was able to submit to Erzsi again. In addition, I would not have been aware of the 2012 open coop day if my critique group (established through 12 x 12) hadn’t told me about it.

It is common for an agent who is interested in your work to request more work, and maybe even request a list of your works. 12 x 12 in 2012 and 2013 motivated me to keep writing. I can’t recall how many manuscripts I wrote in 2012, maybe 18? I wrote 14 in 2013. So, I had plenty of manuscripts to choose from when agents started requesting to see more.

As far as development of craft, I have discovered classes through 12 x 12. I have joined several critique groups and made many close writing friends who I can turn to with questions. I discovered other writing challenges through 12 x 12 – PiBoIdMo, WOW nonfic pic, and ReviMo – to name a few. I formed Sub Six – a group of picture book writers who support each other in achieving our submission goals. I met most of our members through the 12 x 12 Facebook forum.

12 x 12ers share blog posts with an unbelievable amount of information. Just having the 12 x 12 community to hang out with inspires me to keep writing and learning. The beauty of the group is that writing veterans help those just coming into the picture book writing world. I am honored to be a part of that. Butterfly Kisses

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

I think my writing process will gradually change. I have only been working with Erzsi since November 2013. But I can already see that I will learn from her. I think as I learn her style and preferences, my process will change to accommodate those things. I can also see that I will be spending much more time revising, as I polish stories for submission. I believe the biggest change in my writing process is that I now have someone else that I am responsible to. I have much more accountability.

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

  • Keep developing your craft.
  • Join a critique group.
  • Make sure you have several submission ready manuscripts before you start submitting.
  • Get support from other writers.
  • Do your research.
  • Remember rejections are not personal. They have nothing to do with you as a person. They are about the agent’s preferences, needs, experiences and so on. That is not to say you shouldn’t take rejections seriously, because at times, it can be a sign that you need to keep improving your craft.
  • Understand that having the first manuscript you submit accepted happens about as often as someone winning the lottery.
  • Be realistic and be prepared for rejections. One way to be prepared for rejections is to have a plan for coping with the rollercoaster ride that submitting to agents brings. Some other things that help are having other writers to vent to; keeping a journal where you can express your feelings and thoughts; trying meditation; and avoiding comparing yourself and your experiences to others.

I have learned that when I have trouble coping with rejections or the writing world, it is sometimes because I am not in the moment with my work. My ego has jumped in and is filling me with fear and doubt by putting me into some imagined future that I truly can’t predict. I have also learned that when I work to keep my ego out of the way and let go of my fears, my mind becomes clearer. I am able to write from a happy or peaceful place. When I say “ego,” I am talking about the part of me that wants so desperately to control and have things my way – I want what I want – and I want it NOW.

I believe focusing on your craft and the writing process and not getting ahead of yourself is the most important thing a writer can do. If you write it and submit it, the agent will eventually come. That is, if you don’t give up. Martha Alderson wrote the following passages in her excellent book “The Plot Whisperer.” I think it is good advice.

“Know about the energy of the Universal Story and you are better able to bypass a crisis yourself and every day to write with a sense of consciousness. YOU ARE MORE CONCERNED WITH THE NEXT SENTENCE THAN REACHING THE END, MORE CONCERNED WITH SENDING OUT QUERIES THAN ATTAINING AN AGENT, MORE CONCERNED WITH YOUR NEXT STORY THAN THE REVIEWS YOU RECEIVE.”

“See your work as perfect no matter where in the process. Know that every day you sit down to write you improve your writing. Every time you look deeper into the structure of your story, you see an even more meaningful perfection awaiting you.”

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

No, I don’t think my platform helped me find my agent. I do think making friends via Facebook and groups like 12 x 12 did play a big part because I learned about submitting to agents. Joining Twitter helped because a pitchfest resulted in positive responses about my work from agents. This built my confidence and inspired me to submit more.

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 just shared this in another interview. Please forgive me for repeating. On a personal level, I would love to see Aurora Borealis from one of the best places in the world – maybe Alaska, Canada, Finland or Sweden. One of my writer’s dreams is to learn illustration and illustrate my own picture book.

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

I am working on polishing a picture book for submission with Erzsi’s help. And I am excited about a project that I have almost completed, which is converting a picture book to a chapter book. After that, I will be polishing other manuscripts while I try to fulfill my 12 x 12 commitment to write a picture book a month.

Represented by Erzsi Deak of Hen&ink Literary Studio, Alayne Kay Christian is an award-winning children’s book author, a certified life coach and a blogger. Her independently published picture book, “Butterfly Kisses for Grandma and Grandpa,” Blue Whale Press, LLC, received the Mom’s Choice Awards gold medal and an IPPY Awards silver medal. The newly released anthology,“Jingle Bells: Tales of Holiday Spirit from Around the World,” Melusine Muse Press, includes two short stories by Alayne, “Christmas Spirit” and “Christmas in June.”

Alayne is a member of the SCBWI. She is an active participant in the 12 x 12 writing community, an annual participant in the Picture Book Idea Month challenge and a member of many other writing groups. She is the founder and administrator of Sub Six, a Facebook group intended for supporting and motivating picture book writers with their submission goals. 

“Butterfly Kisses for Grandma and Grandpa” is available in bookstores and libraries, at Amazon.com and at Barnes and Noble.com. It is also available through Baker & Taylor Books and Follett Library Resources. For more information visit http://www.butterflykissesgrandparents.com or bluewhalepress.com. 

“Jingle Bells: Tales of Holiday Spirit from Around the World” is available in paperback and Kindle on Amazon.com.

Categories: 12 x 12, Agents, Authors, Children's Books, Creativity, Goals, Guest Blogging, How I Got My Agent, PiBoIdMo, Picture Books, Publishing, Queries, SCBWI, Works in Progress, Writing · Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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This year 12 x 12 Little GOLDen Book members will be able to choose one of two agents to submit their manuscript to each month. Erzsi Deak from Hen & Ink will be accepting picture book submissions from 12 x 12 Gold members February 1-14. Sean McCarthy from Sean McCarthy Literary will be accepting picture book submissions from 12×12 Gold members February 15-28. Erzsi’s profile appears first, followed by Sean McCarthy’s. Please read BOTH and then decide who would be the best fit for your work.

Erzsi Deak 1

ERZSI DEAK

Erzsi was a featured agent in 2013. You can find our extensive profile post on her here. More recent interviews and resources appear at the end of this profile update.

Since I wrote a whizz-bang intro for Erzsi in last year’s profile, I will keep the word count down here and invite you over there to read it, as it still holds true. I would add that her best advice to writers was: “Read 1000 picture books. Study them. I’m not kidding.” I know her well enough to know she’s not kidding. So if you have read and studied hundreds or thousands of picture books, chances are you’ll be writing something Erzsi will enjoy.

This year, Erzsi generously provided us with an extensive answer to the question, “What are you looking for in picture books right now, and from 12 x 12 submissions specifically?” Here goes:

  • Take a look at http://henandink.com/submissions.html for favorite books to get an idea of what I like. Please note that I like intelligent humor that makes me giggle or guffaw and writing that makes me marvel at the use of language. I do not like books with messages written between the lines or even up front. I like beautiful books and books that make me see the world in a different way. I still love Owl Moon by Jane Yolen, illustrated by John Schoenherr. If you haven’t “met” Andrea Zuill, I love her humor (her book is coming out in 2016!). I love the gentle humor and love in Penguin & Pinecone by Salina Yoon and in A Visitor for Bear by Bonnie Becker. And Plant a Kiss by Amy Krouse Rosenthal, illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds. You can add Bink & Gollie to the list as well as Flora and the Flamingo by Molly Idle. Favorite characters, in addition to all the usual pig characters, include Mole and Ratty in Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame.
  • I love to be surprised and experience the TOTALLY UNEXPECTED INEVITABLE ENDING in a picture book.
  • I love stories that come full circle and yet surprise me.
  • Less is more. If you can get away without spelling it out, do.
  • I’m looking for stories with 500 words or less.
  • Love original voice and character-driven picture books that make me laugh.
  • I’m Seeking a lovable character I would want as my best friend as a kid. One who shows real emotion and makes me care about him/her/it.
  • Not looking for anthropomorphized inanimate objects as main characters, with the exception of toys, as in Toys Go Out by Emily Jenkins, illustrated by Paul Zelinsky.
  • I am open to nonfiction that tells a story.
  • All stories submitted must have a beginning, middle and an end.
  • I love crafted writing that appears natural and easy (though we know it’s one of the hardest things to do) and comes from the heart.
  • Nothing message-driven or didactic.
  • No rhyme. None.
  • I’m always on the lookout for fantastic stories and writers and illustrators who can toe the creative line. I want to say, “Wow!” at the end of the manuscript.

Thanks for reading this far and for and hearing me! 🙂

Additional links to information on Erzsi.

SEAN McCARTHY

I met Sean McCarthy at the 2012 NJ-SCBWI conference. I was pre-agented at the time and he was at the top of my list of “dream” agents. I booked a manuscript critique with him and was blown away by how helpful, insightful and constructive it was. We had a couple more conversations throughout the weekend, and afterward, I spread word of his brilliance to everyone who would listen to me. 🙂 Seriously. This guy is smart and knows his stuff. One of my good friends and fellow Colorado writers is one of his clients, and she raves about him every time I see her. Good luck choosing this month folks – bwah ha hahaha! 🙂

When I asked Sean what he was looking for in picture book submissions (and 12 x 12 specifically), here is what he said:

“I’m most drawn to character-driven stories in picture books, and I especially love quirky, off-kilter characters and unlikely heroes. I’m also a big fan of humor (though not necessarily zany or wacky), and I hope to see room for interaction between the text and the art. My absolute favorite stories make me want to flip back to the first page as soon as I’ve finished them, and I’m always looking for especially clever endings. I’m probably not the best fit for ‘slice of life’ projects or issue-oriented stories. I am not the best match for poetry, although I do love to read it!”

A little bit about Sean from the Sean McCarthy Literary website: mccarthypic_thumb[4]

“Sean McCarthy began his publishing career as an editorial intern at Overlook Press and then moved over to the Sheldon Fogelman Agency. He worked as the submissions coordinator and permissions manager before becoming a full-time literary agent. Sean graduated from Macalester College with a degree in English-Creative Writing, and is grateful that he no longer has to spend his winters in Minnesota.

He is drawn to flawed, multifaceted characters with devastatingly concise writing in YA, and boy-friendly mysteries or adventures in MG. In picture books, he looks more for unforgettable characters, off-beat humor, and especially clever endings. He is not currently interested in high fantasy, message-driven stories, or query letters that pose too many questions.”

Articles featuring Sean McCarthy:
* Sean is appearing on 2/8/14 in the SCBWI Metro “On-The Road” Series. Get tickets here.
* Find Sean on Twitter
* Sean on Literary Rambles
* Interview at Mother. Write. Repeat.
* Sean contributed to this post about writing queries
* Agent Chat on Tara Lazar’s blog
* Sean critiquing first pages on JacketFlap

Full submission guidelines for Erzsi and Sean are posted in the Membership Forum. Please note Little GOLDen Book Members may only submit to ONE of these agents. Please choose the agent who is the best fit for you and your manuscript.

Submissions will only be accepted for Erzsi Deak from February 1st – February 14th at 6pm EST/3pm PST.

Submissions will only be accepted for Sean McCarthy from February 15th – February 28th at 6pm EST/3pm PST.

Not a member of 12 x 12 yet? Say it isn’t so! You can find out more about registration here, but you better act quickly. Registration closes at the end of February and won’t reopen until 2015.

Good Luck!
Categories: 12 x 12, Agents, Children's Books, How I Got My Agent, Picture Books, Publishing, Queries, SCBWI, Writing · Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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