12 x 12 member Hannah HoltOver in the 12 x 12 Picture Book Writing Challenge, we’ve all been excited to watch Hannah Holt’s career take off, and we especially look forward to her debut picture book, Diamond Man, from Balzer+Bray. Hannah and I started out together. She was one of the FIRST people I met at my FIRST SCBWI conference about eight years ago. It takes patience, and a village. I’m glad to have Hannah in our village. Please join me in welcoming and congratulating Hannah on her success.

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

I started looking almost as soon as I finished my first picture book manuscript. Note, I don’t recommend this. 😉 If I could go back in time, I’d tell myself to wait until I had three polished manuscripts.

What kind of research did you do before submitting?

My typical research included things, like:

  1. How long has the agent been an agency?
  2. If a newer agent, how long has her agency been around? Is she receiving mentoring?
  3. Who are her existing clients? And what are their books like? (Hint: Read, read, read!)
  4. What sales has the agent reported on Publishers Marketplace? (I recommend a one month membership for research.)
  5. What does the agent sound like online? Does she seem interested in the types of books I write? Do we seem like a reasonable fit?

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

I queried about thirty agents before signing with my first. That’s thirty queries sprinkled over five years—so not an overnight success. When it didn’t work out with my first agent, I felt like a big, fat failure. However, in the ashes of my career, I did some of my best writing. One such story, A Father’s Love, went on to win the SCBWI WIP award.

My second time on the query merry-go-round I had a much better idea of what I wanted and knew what questions to ask. This time I sent twenty-nine queries over six months. In the end, I had three offers.

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


Finding agents isn’t hard. However, finding the right blend of personality, experience, and interest is like the literary quest for the Holy Grail. Finding the right agent is a mix of talent, perseverance, timing, and luck. And perseverance. Did I mention perseverance? See the Children’s Writer’s and Illustrators Market if you aren’t sure where to start. Writer’s Digest also has a “New Agent Alerts” series that’s helpful.

Who is your new agent? Tell us about getting the news.

My agent is Laura Biagi of the Jean V. Naggar Literary Agency. I was thrilled to receive her offer! More on that later.

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

I talked to existing clients and asked quantifiable questions. Almost all clients will tell you they LOVE their agent. Agents won’t refer you to clients who recently terminated their contract. Sooooo, ask specific questions. Get facts. Don’t be shy…ASK.

I knew Laura was right for me because she is a highly responsive and editorial agent. My work is better because of her. Plus, she’s an expert time-manager. On top of all this, she’s just a nice person. It’s been a fantastic experience working with her.

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 🙂 )

Yes! In fact, I wrote out a person-by-person chain to my first book deal on my blog. You’ll find 12×12 in the thick of it.

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

Yes. My agent is the final polishing step of my very best work. We’ve never been on submission without a revision (or three!).

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

Be yourself and write your passion! While querying, I heard all kinds of advice, like: don’t write in rhyme; don’t be too literary; don’t write about little-known subjects; go for big—quirky—funny. Well, I like literary stories and often they rhyme.

My debut picture book, Diamond Man, is lyrical poem about my grandpa, H. Tracy Hall. He invented something that probably impacts your day-to-day life, but he’s not considered a household name. Yet…his story had a lot of initial interest and sold in a preempt!

Write the stories that make your heart sing. Be yourself.

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

Yes but probably not the way most people think. My network isn’t huge, but it’s full of close connections. I love my small but growing circle of writing friends. I found my agent because one of my friends recommended I enter a contest. My agent liked my work in the contest and requested more.

For me, building quality relationships is more important than quantity.

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’d love to visit New Zealand! And Australia. And…travel more in general. It’s been hard to do with my four young kids. Someday…

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

Picture books, picture books, and more picture books. My second project is on submission, and we are close with two other stories. Hopefully, I’ll have more good news to share in the coming year!


Hannah Holt has been an active member of 12×12 for five years. Her debut picture book Diamond Man is forthcoming from Balzer+ Bray. She’s represented by Laura Biagi of the Jean V. Naggar Literary Agency. You can find Hannah chatting on Twitter and occasionally posting on her ill kept blog.


Interested in joining the 12 x 12 Picture Book Writing Challenge? Click here for more information about membership.

Categories: 12 x 12, Agents, How I Got My Agent, Queries · Tags: , , , ,


Hannah Holt, today’s Tuesday 12 x 12 author, is one of the few I’d met in person long before the challenge started. We met at the Rocky Mountain SCBWI conference the September before her twins were born. I remember how impressed I was then with her dedication to her writing (not to mention her obvious talent). Now, after reading this post, I am truly in awe. Although she’s since moved to Portland, she’ll always be one of my first writer buddies and supporters. Please welcome Hannah!

A year and a half ago, I sat in bed editing a manuscript when a doctor walked into the room.

“You won’t be able to finish here,” he said. “We’re taking you to the operating room.”

Hi, my name is Hannah, and I’m a write-a-holic. I lived in denial of my addiction for several years. Writing was a hobby, something fun. I could stop whenever I wanted. However, on January 20th, 2011, I realized I might be in over my head.

On that night I was in labor with twin girls, and I had brought a manuscript to my delivery room. I swear, I only wanted to finish one or two more edits. My husband, a wonderful enabler, even wrote a few suggestions in the side margins. In between contractions and the occasional vitals check, I scanned my document for typos and searched for holes in my story.

I didn’t realize something might be wrong until the room change. As it happened, my hospital required all twin deliveries take place in the operating room. So, they wheeled me down the handrail lined hallway and wouldn’t let me bring my manuscript. Nooooooo!

Like many young mothers, I struggle with balance. Obviously, I’m not great at it. However, here are a few things I do to maximize creativity while staying present during important moments, like birth.

  1. Write badly. Want to waste two hours? Sit down and decide to write the next “Great American Picture Book.” Hello, internal censor. Goodbye, productivity! I can’t afford to waste time like that. Writing is like an old fashioned water pump. The first water out might be rusty and bitter, but keep at it and sweetness will flow.
  2. Write for the smallest possible audience: yourself! A while ago I started receiving rejection letters like this, “beautiful writing, but too niche. Please send something else.” So I tried writing “to market.” Oh, the painful drivel I produced! And I spent precious time on that drivel. Save yourself the wasted effort. Don’t write to market.
  3. Take the kids along for the ride. My children are an important part of my work. Sure, I need work alone time. However, as much as possible I include them. My website, Lightbulb Books (www.lightbulbbooks.com/blog) is a craft and kitchen resource site, but it’s also a snap shot of daily life with my kids.
  4. Turn off your writer’s brain. Writers like to write off the clock and off the ends of the earth. We might be at the local park but have one foot in Mordor. Sometimes I need to turn off the smart phone, the computer, and the idea factory and just be present. Once in a while, clock back into life.
  5. Join Julie Hedlund’s 12×12 group. After the twins arrived, my writing career went on indefinite hiatus. This group has been a great support on my journey back to regular writing. It’s a fountain of information and a wealth of friendship.

By the way, the manuscript I was working on during labor never sold. Still, I don’t regret my passion. My children sense my excitement, and it makes books desirable. My house will never be completely organized, and I’ll never be a helicopter parent. However, as a mother, I think I’m doing alright.

Hannah Holt is a freelance writer and illustrator based in Portland, Oregon. She’s a Barbara Karlin Grant merit recipient and Phillip E. Rollhaus Essay Competition winner. Her website is Lightbulb Books (www.lightbulbbooks.com/blog).

Categories: 12 x 12 in 2012, Authors, Family, Goals, Guest Blogging, Picture Books, Works in Progress, Writing · Tags: , , , , , , , ,

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