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.
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 . It is also available through Baker & Taylor Books and Follett Library Resources. For more information visit http://www.butterflykissesgrandparents.com or .
“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: 12 x 12, Agents, Alayne Kay Christian, Authors, Erzsi Deak, Goals, Guest Blog, Hen & Ink, How I Got My Agent, Julie Hedlund, PiBoIdMo, Picture Books, Publishing, Queries, SCBWI, Works in Progress, Writing