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.”


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: , , , , , , ,


Photo by Sandy Fry

I had the good fortune of meeting the ultra-talented Robyn Hood Black (what would you give to have that name as a writer?) at the Highlights Foundation Poetry workshop I attended. We found we were kindred spirits not just with respect to writing but as mutual lovers of wolves. When Robyn mentioned that she recently opened up an Etsy shop, artsyletters, focusing on art with a literary bent, I couldn’t wait to share it with you. The work is beautiful, affordable, and perfect for the book-lovers on your holiday list.

But there’s more: Robyn has generously offered a discount to my blog readers. If you place an order in her shop, type in the code JULIE2012 when prompted, and you’ll get 10% off any purchase.

But there’s still more: To support the cause of wolf preservation and education, I’ll be making a donation to the International Wolf Center (Robyn’s chosen organization), and you can help! Leave a comment on this post between now and noon Mountain time on November 15. For each comment received during that time, I will donate $1 to the Center.

Now, let’s get going on the interview.

Robyn, in addition to having one of the world’s coolest names, you are also a published author, illustrator and poet. What inspired you to start artsyletters as a side business?

Julie, thanks so much for having me on your terrific blog!I’ve always loved both writing and art. I needed to supplement my writing income this year and was just too stubborn after years of self-employment to go work for someone else. In my life B. C. (Before Children – 20 years ago!), I had a small art business. I decided to try that again, but this time with a literary bent. It’s been a blast!

How do you find the time to balance creating the products for artsyletters with writing and illustrating?

Oh, that’s a work-in-progress!:0! I’m hoping to settle into a more balanced schedule after a frenzied fall of launching the art business and trying to keep up with writing, submitting, and the occasional speaking. I’ve burned a lot of midnight oil in the last couple of months. (Jeff, my husband, has reminded me: You’re not in college anymore…!)He and my kids (Morgan, 20, and Seth, 17) have been supportive – and understanding about not being able to see the top of the dining room table for days (okay, weeks) at a time. My daughter has helped at art shows and with Facebook. Every new business needs a connection to a social media-savvy college student. When Morgan is home for Thanksgiving, we’ll tackle Twitter. And I’ll get serious about Pinterest.

Do you find that creating products for artsyletters inspires your writing and/or vice versa?

I think it does – both ways. Some of that has to do with simply the practice of needing to be creative on a daily basis to get everything done. No time to worry if my Muse will show up – there’s work to do! And I’m spending as much time with other artists now as I always have with writers. I love the inspiration and support creative folks get from each other.  I was fortunate to join an illustrators critique group made up of SCBWI friends that formed this past spring – the same time artsyletters was forming in my mind. Their encouragement and spot-on feedback has been invaluable.

From Robyn's Etsy shop

Right now you have lovely note cards, bookmarks, mixed-media collages and illuminated letters in the shop. Any other items you plan to introduce?

Thank you, Julie. I’ve only just begun! I have ideas brimming and lots of fun vintage finds and new art supplies just waiting for expression. I’m adding new items to my Etsy shop each week. I’ll be offering more calligraphy, more altered page collages, and art made with vintage printing supplies soon. All continuing to celebrate reading and writing!

What advice would you give other artist/writers considering starting their own Etsy or other online business featuring their work?

Great question. There are two components, I think. 1) Prepare as much as you can – decide on the look, theme, and product line for your business. Talk to folks who are selling online. (I’ve leaned on my author friend Kim Siegelson, who has co-owned a terrific Etsy vintage shop, perfectpatina, for a year.) Read – the Etsy online forums and blogs are helpful, and I read a couple of books on starting an Etsy business. (I’m such a nerd.) But that brings us to 2) Jump in! At some point, you have to take the plunge and know that you’ll learn something new each day as you go. You’ll make mistakes, fix them, tweak and improve along the way. I decided to launch artsyletters in the fall, in time for fall festivals/art shows and in time for holiday shopping.On my artsyletters blogI feature “Art Break Wednesday” – I love sharing things as I learn them and also learning from the comments of others. I hope it will continue to grow into a place where artists share ideas. So, come on by!

As a fellow lover of wolves, can you say a bit about the work you do with these magnificent animals and how they inspire your writing and art?

While researching WOLVES, I had the privilege of meeting and then working with wolf pups at a local zoo not far from where I

Reading with wolves

live – the Chestatee Wildlife Preserve in Dahlonega, Georgia. As a volunteer, I helped socialize them as they grew into mature animals. Schedules this year – mine and theirs – have meant I haven’t been regularly working with them, and I do miss it. But I treasure the experience I had there as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity which only reinforced my immense respect for and love of these animals. I still enjoy incorporating “wolf education” into school visits when discussing nonfiction. The series that the book was a part of is now sadly out of print, but I provide a copy to media centers where I do author visits.

Robyn, you should see if you can get the rights back and turn it into an ebook! 🙂

As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, for each comment left, I will donate $1 to the wolf preservation organization of your choice. Which one did you choose and why?

What a thoughtful thing to do! There are some great organizations out there. One of my favorites is the International Wolf Center in Ely, Minnesota. Founded by renowned wolf expert L. David Mech, the center has been “teaching the world about wolves” since opening its doors two decades ago. There are so many scientifically based resources on the website, and they do a great deal of educational outreach. There are even web cams offering a real-time glimpse into the daily antics of their pack of ambassador wolves. In fact, Nov. 15 is “Give to the Max” day, where donations are matched!

What great timing! I’ll accept comments through noon on Nov. 15th so the donation will be matched.

Thank you for your generosity, and for inviting me over today!

You are very welcome Robyn. I hope my readers will take advantage of your generous offer to get 10% off any of your gorgeous products. Just in time for the holidays too!

Robyn Hood Black is a children’s author and poet living in Northeast Georgia. Her books include Sir Mike (Scholastic Library, 2005) and Wolves (Intervisual Books, 2008). Her poetry appears in The Poetry Friday Anthology (compiled by Sylvia Vardell and Janet Wong, Pomelo Books, 2012), in Georgia Heard’s anthology of found poems, The Arrow Finds Its Mark (Roaring Brook, 2012), and in leading haiku journals. Her fiction has appeared in Highlights and her poetry has been featured in Ladybug and Hopscotch. She enjoys encouraging young readers, writers, and artists through school visits and speaks to audiences of all ages.

Categories: Authors, Books, Children's Books, Creativity, Friendship, Giveaway, Guest Blogging, Holidays, Poetry, Writing · Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,


Photo entitled, "Jerry Spinelli held my boot while Eileen laughed."

This week’s post is mostly about the Highlights Foundation Poetry for All workshop I attended this week.

I’m sure all book lovers can appreciate the thrill of meeting writers whom you’ve long loved and admired.  This week was no exception.  It started by riding from the airport to the property with David Harrison.  I confessed to him how nervous I was, and and he gave me every reassurance that I was in the right (and in my rightful) place.  Next came Rebecca Kai Dotlich– her smile was the first thing I saw when I walked into the barn, and her voice raised in welcome was the first thing I heard.  When I managed to stammer

Rebecca's smiling face 🙂

out the fact that I am a huge fan, she humbly accepted the compliment and

then immediately began to inquire after my own writing.  Finally there was Eileen Spinelli, soft-spoken and humble (and who brought Jerry Spinelli along!).  I choked up when I told Eileen what her book WHEN MAMA COMES HOME TONIGHT meant to me as a full-time working mother after my daughter was born – before writing books for children was even a twinkle in my eye. She in turn said words about my own writing that made me cry again (later, and in a good way).

So this post is dedicated to these three people, who are as gracious and kind as they are talented. AND to the 20 fellow writers I was privileged enough to work with over the four days.  I am honored now to count you among my friends.

Quotes on Gratitude

“We must have the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless furnace of the world.” — Jack Gilbert

“Accept — then act. Whatever the present moment contains, accept it as if you had chosen it… This will miraculously change your whole life.” — Eckhart Tolle

“Grace and gratitude go together like heaven and earth.” — Karl Barth

Gratitude list for the week ending May 19

  1. Eileen Spinelli told me that a manuscript I had stopped working on two years ago, one which is close to my heart, should NOT be put in a drawer.  I am now happily revising it again with renewed hope for its future.
  2. Rekindling my love of poetry and letting go of my fear of writing it
  3. The profound and complete silence in the cabins at nighttime. Except for the steady rain.
  4. The fact that Jerry Spinelli came with Eileen Spinelli – an amazing author two-fer!
  5. The food gourmet chef Marcia made for us. What a treat!
  6. Getting a tour of the Highlights office. I’ve loved the magazine since I was a girl, so that was a special thrill.

    Our fearless leaders, plus Rebecca Davis and Melanie Hall

  7. The fellow poets who attended the retreat. It’s fair to say we were like family by the time we said our goodbyes on Thursday.
  8. Coming home with seven FREE books of children’s poetry
  9. Working with three of the best poets in children’s literature for four whole days!
  10. My daughter, inspired by Eileen’s TEA PARTY TODAY: POEMS TO SIP AND SAVOR, set up a little mother-daughter tea party on Saturday morning before I was even awake.

Backdrop decoration for Mother-Daughter tea party

What are you grateful for this week?

Categories: Authors, Children's Books, Creativity, Friendship, Gratitude Sunday, Picture Books, Poetry, Publishing, Travel, Works in Progress, Writing · Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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