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: , , , ,


12 x 12 Member and Author Amy MooreI‘m so pleased to bring such a heartwarming “How I Got My Agent” story to you today. Not only are Ginger Harris and Liza Fleissig from the Liza Royce agency two of the biggest and best supporters of the 12 x 12 Picture Book Writing Challenge, but, like Amy, my own commitment to my writing career deepened after the loss of my father. It’s inspiring to see someone turn loss and sorrow into pursuing their dreams. Please give a warm welcome to Amy Moore!

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 stories my whole life, starting with my poem “People” in first grade and my first book “The Waterproof Boots” in third grade (which included a hastily added last chapter about boots after I finished and read the whole book only to realize my masterpiece had nothing to do with boots!)

I persevered after that mishap and studied journalism in college and took my first writing for children course the fall after I graduated. I was hooked and knew this was what I wanted to do with my writing. I worked at it for many years and slowly got better at it as I got older. I started receiving personal rejections and got an honorable mention in a Writer’s Digest contest shortly before I got married. Things seemed on the upswing!

I kept working at it and then my first baby girl came along. Little did I know how much my writing would be put on the back-burner! Though my writing was on a pretty large hiatus, I spent five years reading, reading, reading every picture book my two baby girls and I could get our hands on. (It’s so much fun raising little bookworms!) This time of reading and constant inspiration from my girls really got my creative juices flowing again.

After losing my Dad suddenly a year before, I had a long, hard cry on New Year’s Eve of 2013. It was one of the saddest, most gut-wrenching nights of my life. I was determined to put the most horrible year of my life behind me and make all of my dreams come true in his honor, even if he would never be able to share in my joys and success.

I decided to “make something happen” with my writing my New Year’s Resolution. I wasn’t even sure what that something would be, I just knew it was time to get really serious about it. A few weeks later I found 12×12 and went for Gold right away. What a decision! I can’t tell you how therapeutic it was to sit and work on my writing every night and to connect with other writers in this amazing 12×12 community. Needless to say, this is when I decided I should be targeting agents rather than publishers. The opportunity was in front of me!

What kind of research did you do before submitting?
I read everything I could find on the internet about the agents I submitted to. Some had more information available than others but I did my best to read any articles I could find and look up authors and books that each agent represented if possible. Twitter also proved helpful in seeing what kind of rapport they had with their authors.

The dreaded questions: How many queries? How many rejections?
I submitted to three agents through 12×12 in 2014 (two of them at the same agency) and got one rejection…after I had already been offered a contract from the other agency. (Though oddly enough that rejection still stung a bit.) Mind you, this does not include many rejections from my early years submitting to publishers before I was truly ready.

Was it difficult to find an agent who wanted to represent an author focusing solely on picture books?
Thanks to 12×12, no! I had a whole group of picture book agents ready and waiting to read my manuscripts.

How did you know your agent was “the one? Ginger Harris and Liza Fleissig
When I was researching which agents to submit to, I kept coming back to a photograph of Ginger Harris and Liza Fleissig of the Liza Royce Agency just beaming. Something about the smiles they had in every photograph I could find made me hope their agency was the one for me.

After submitting separate manuscripts to both Liza and Ginger, I heard from Ginger that they’d like to represent me for both books. Obviously I was going to jump at the chance. But I truly knew Ginger was “the one” the first time she sent me a list of revision requests. I can’t even explain how spot-on her requests were and how she clued me in to the things I didn’t even realize were missing from my story. She turned out to be the critique partner I have been looking for all my life!

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 🙂 )
12×12 has honestly been the single best thing I’ve ever done for my writing career. The level of talent and support in the community is unmatched and the opportunity to submit to agents directly was well worth the enrollment fee.

Has your writing process changed at all since signing with an agent?
Not too much, although I have become of fan of major revisions. I think prior to this I would write a story, fine-tune it as much as I thought it needed and move on to the next story. Now, as I’m moving toward the submission process with my agent, I’m learning how amazing the revision process can be. I’m also inspired to write a lot more frequently.

What advice would you give to picture book writers looking for agents today?
Read, read, read! Then write, write, write!

Also, write what is inside of you. We all know we are not supposed to write in rhyme, not supposed to do this, not supposed to do that…but I am here to say I was signed based on two rhyming picture books. Because that is how I naturally write best. Write what YOU do well and the rest will hopefully fall into place.

Do you think your platform (blog, social media) helped you find your agent?
It did not since I currently only use social media on a personal level with family and friends and to promote my dance business.

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 really want to see Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in person at least once in my life. I love New York City (living there is also a dream!) and would love to experience the thrill of the parade I’ve watched on TV all my life up close. I’m just not sure how I’d handle missing Thanksgiving dinner with my family.

And I really, REALLY want to be one of Santa’s elves. A girl can dream.

What’s up next/what are you working on now?
I’m currently working on revisions of my first accepted manuscript with my agent. I’m also working on a few new picture book manuscripts and a revision of one I wrote a few years ago that I LOVE but just can’t seem to get “just right”.

Categories: 12 x 12, Agents, How I Got My Agent, Picture Books, Rhyming, Writing · Tags: , , , , ,


12 x 12 Member Heather PreusserI can’t even begin to say how excited I am to share my friend Heather Preusser’s “How I Got My Agent” story with you. You see, Heather is a real-life friend who lives right here in Colorado, and we’ve been in a critique group together for four years. I’ve loved Heather’s writing since Day 1, and trust me when I tell you she is going to be a SUPER star. Not only does she write heartfelt and hilarious picture books, but she’s also on submission with a middle grade novel. She does both high-concept and humor, and quiet and meaningful, equally well. Please welcome… Heather!

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 children’s picture books in the spring of 2011 when I enrolled in a class with Linda Ashman at the Lighthouse Writer’s Workshop in Denver. (If you ever have the opportunity to work with Linda, I HIGHLY recommend it.) Of course, that summer I made the rookie mistake of sending out manuscripts too soon. Crickets. I attended my first SCBWI Rocky Mountain conference that fall and realized just how much I had left to learn.

True story: While my query letter was being critiqued in one of the conference sessions, I actually put my coat on in an attempt to cover up my nametag; I didn’t want anyone connecting me with that awful query letter, the one where I sounded like a high school English teacher applying for a teaching job rather than a writer trying to capture the tone and style of a picture book manuscript. That humbling learning experience helped me see that I had no idea what I was doing; I wasn’t ready to submit my manuscripts. I spent a few years focusing on craft, going back to school for my MFA in Creative Writing, joining critique groups, and participating in both online and in-person workshops. Almost three years later, some of my stories were placing in little contests, and the critiques I was receiving from agents participating the Writer’s Digest webinars I’d signed up for encouraged me to submit to them through traditional means. I was getting closer.

What kind of research did you do before submitting?
While focusing on craft, I started following blogs, like Kathy Temean’s Writing and Illustrating: Sharing Information About Writing and Illustrating for Children and Chuck Sambuchino’s New Agency Alerts. Every time they mentioned a new agent who fit my criteria, I added the information to my Excel spreadsheet, which I cleverly titled “Dream Agents.”

The dreaded questions: How many queries? How many rejections?
In the winter of 2014, I queried eleven agents. Three responded asking for additional manuscripts (My soon-to-be agent Janine Le at the Sheldon Fogelman Agency got back to me in one week!). I received a form rejection from one agent and never heard from the others.

Was it difficult to find an agent who wanted to represent an author focusing solely on picture books?
I wasn’t looking for an agent who focused solely on picture books. As part of my MFA, I wrote a middle grade novel, so, ideally, I wanted an agent who represented picture books through young adult; however, I didn’t think my novel was submission-ready, so I didn’t mention it to Janine initially.

How did you know your agent was “the one?
In addition to Janine’s patience and understanding (a family emergency came up shortly after I contacted her, which meant we had to postpone our first phone conversation), I appreciated every piece of editorial feedback she gave me. Every comment rang true. When she told me she was also a wordsmith, I knew we’d be a perfect fit.

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 🙂 )
Although I didn’t find my agent through 12×12, the community most definitely helped me, particularly when I was living in Germany with my new husband and his family. I felt isolated and uninspired; because of the language barrier, I couldn’t glean story ideas by eavesdropping on conversations or checking out books from the local library. (My husband, however, did translate and read picture books aloud to me whenever we went in bookstores.) That year my husband and I rented an apartment in Berlin, and after throwing our own Thanksgiving feast, I sat down determined to make the 12×12 Winner’s Wall. I entered what Donald Graves calls “a state of constant composition” and managed to write eight first drafts between Thanksgiving and Christmas, eight new stories I wouldn’t have birthed then and there without that Julie-imposed deadline. They were far from elegant, but at least I had something down on paper, something to work with. Sadly, I have yet to make the Wall; that year I was one manuscript short.

There’s also a wealth of knowledge that’s shared in the 12×12 community, which was instrumental as I researched agents, how to write query letters, etc. It was through 12×12 that I learned of other wondrous kidlit resources, such as Tara Lazar’s PiBoIdMo, Miranda Paul’s Rate Your Story, and Susanna Leonard Hill’s “Making Picture Book Magic” class.

Has your writing process changed at all since signing with an agent?
I’m still exploring what it means to have an agent and how that affects my writing process. Janine has encouraged me to run ideas by her in any genre, and – more importantly, I think – she’s encouraged me to work on projects I’m passionate about.

What advice would you give to picture book writers looking for agents today?
Take your time. Learn your craft. Of the four picture book manuscripts I submitted to Janine, two were the 18th draft, while the other two were drafts 12 and 20. And we’re still revising!

In the process of revising, you’ll need to kill some of your proverbial darlings, but you’ll also need to stay true to the story and yourself as a writer. In her first email response, Janine said I caught her attention with a particular line that many people told me to cut (either they didn’t understand my humor or they didn’t understand cow anatomy or both), but I liked it so I kept it in draft after draft after draft. I’m learning over time to trust myself as a writer.

Do you think your platform (blog, social media) helped you find your agent?
Although I wrote and recorded reviews for Katie Davis’s podcast Brain Burps About Books, and Katie recommended that I create an author website, I didn’t have much of a web presence when I contacted Janine, and I only dabbled in the Twitterverse; however, in our first conversation Janine referenced my query letter, asking if I was still reviewing MG and YA novels for Katie’s podcast. It made a difference that I was involved in the industry, that I was actively participating in the online kidlit community (blogs, webinars, podcasts, etc.).

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’ve always wanted to learn another language. Despite living in Germany for almost two years, right now my German only consists of useful, fun-to-remember words, like Formfleischvorderschinken (ham), Eisenbahnbetriebsordnung (railroad rules) and Taschenfederkernmatratze (mattress with springs in it). Like David Sedaris, I hope that I too will “talk pretty one day.”

What’s up next/what are you working on now?
After finishing another round of revisions on my middle grade novel, we sent it out to editors. I’m also currently revising a handful of picture book manuscripts.

Heather teaches high school English in Colorado. When she’s not teaching, reading or writing, she enjoys telemark skiing, rock climbing and learning ridiculously long German words. You can find her on Twitter at @HeatherPreusser.

P.S. Are you looking for an agent who represents picture books? Four of them are participating in the Picture Book Summit online conference October 3rd, and will be accepting submissions from attendees! Registration closes Friday at midnight though, so act fast if you’re interested!

Categories: 12 x 12, Agents, Brain Burps About Books, Children's Books, Guest Blogging, How I Got My Agent, PiBoIdMo, Picture Books, Queries, Writing · Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,


Author Illustrator Julie Rowan-ZochSQUEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!

Can you hear me screaming all the way in Colorado? I’ve been looking forward to this post for two years (which is how long I’ve known Julie Rowan-Zoch‘s talent is extraordinary). I KNEW she would get an agent, and I waited patiently for the day to come. 🙂

As you might guess from the tone of this introduction, Julie is a dear friend of mine and a model citizen of the kidlit community. Her talent speaks for itself (her Facebook feed is one I check every day because I’m addicted to her art), but she is also warm, funny and generous. She supports her author and illustrator friends without fail, and is always willing to help our community in any way she can. She may not be the best at backing out of a driveway in winter (sorry, Julie!), but she has excellent taste in beer, books, cheese, and friends. 🙂

Please welcome Julie Rowan-Zoch, here to tell her “How I Got My Agent” story!

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

I had but two drafts before joining the inceptive 12 x 12 in ’12 Challenge. That first year was an eye-opener to the hard-nut-to-crack world of the kid-lit industry as well as the warm and generous kid-lit community. Luckily I had a blind passion for picture books and enough naiveté to keep going! By the time 12×12 began offering the chance to submit to agents, I had one solid manuscript. Slowly but surely I rustled up the courage to start subbing, but I still had so much to learn about researching suitable agents.

What kind of research did you do before submitting?

Julie Hedlund’s agent posts with all the links gave me a good start. I followed links, also read agent posts on Kathy

Julie originally made this for my assistant, Kelli, and me last year to celebrate 12 x 12. Yesterday, however, we were the two chickadees sharing champagne!

Julie originally made this for my assistant, Kelli, and me last year to celebrate 12 x 12. Yesterday, however, Julie and I were the two chickadees sharing champagne!

Temean’s blog, and googled the agents of author-illustrators whose work I admired. I joined Sub It Club, and another Agent/Editor discussion group online, both of which have been hugely helpful. Not methodical, but not bad either!

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

None of the agents I submitted to focuses solely on picture books, but all of them do represent children’s literature up to YA.

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

I know this makes me look careless, but because I didn’t sub to many agents, I never kept a detailed record (I should have!). I submitted to about 10 agents through 12×12, and 3 or 4 outside, mainly through SCBWI conference opportunities, and received an chance to sub by winning a design contest. Another invited me to submit through Facebook. That brings the total to about 16. I heard back from 8, received requests for more materials from 4. All was rather quiet when I got lucky, very lucky: my agent found me.

How did you know your agent was “the one?

Just before leaving town mid-December I got a surprising but delightful email from Marcia Wernick. I knew most of her agency’s clients (all of those focused on PBs!), but not much about the agency. I read every article I could find online, and asked around in the groups I mentioned above. One can determine a lot through correspondence, and Marcia’s graciousness and confidence shone through. We arranged for me to submit a package of manuscripts and illustrations, and made an appointment for a call early in the new year. After Marcia offered representation, I notified the other agents I was still in contact with. I received a total of three offers, and might have had a fourth, but before that call, I already knew. My best friend said, “You know already – you’re pitching her to me!” But the best advice I received in making that decision was to follow my gut as to which one I felt most comfortable with and genuinely liked my work.

What I did not anticipate, was difficulty in finding the right words to inform the agents I was turning down. Both of them had shown such generosity and kindness.

If 12 x 12 helped you in any way during your agent search/development of craft, can you tell us how?

I can promise you, I would not have found an agent without all I have benefitted from as a 12 x 12 participant. The support, encouragement and sharing of information: to write more, read more, start blogging, doodle every day, critique artwork, join a writer’s critique group for PBs, form a local critique group, go to conferences, keep learning, start submitting, keep going, chin up, chest out, breathe, read more, write more… And above all else? Keep laughing! This is how I found my tribe!!!

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

Can’t tell, it’s only been a week! But my enthusiasm moved up ten notches!

A toast with two Julies!

A toast with two Julies!

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

Join 12 x 12, do all the things I mentioned two Q/As back, and join SCBWI. And when you are preparing for ‘the call’, and believe two pages worth of questions are enough, think again and double that!

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

I most certainly do! My agent found my blog, and I got illustration and design work through posting sketches on Facebook. To push my daily doodles, I started drawing birthday greetings: almost every day I drew something new for any friend on Facebook and posted it to their timeline. I believe, in this manner I made deeper connections within the kid-lit community, and I value that very highly.

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 🙂 )

Two things: I want to see a grand display of the Aurora Borealis, and to witness the arrival of migrating monarch butterflies in the forests of pine trees and fir in Michoacan/Mexico.

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

Sketches for one polished manuscript, and, for the first time, I’m developing a dummy while I am constructing the narrative of a story.

Julie R-Z

Categories: 12 x 12, Children's Books, Friendship, How I Got My Agent, Picture Books, Publishing, Queries, SCBWI, Social Media, Works in Progress, Writing · Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,


Oh my goodness, guess what I found in my blog’s Trash folder today? A “How I Got My Agent” post that I wrote two years ago that was somehow never published. I feel terrible about that, but I’ve brought it back from the dead and am happy to finally put it in front of you. What’s more, I met Natasha Wing this winter at an SCBWI booth during a literacy conference and could not have been more impressed. I HIGHLY encourage you to check out her book AN EYE FOR COLOR: THE STORY OF JOSEF ALBERS. It’s gorgeous! Please welcome, very belatedly, Natasha Wing.

I realize that ever since the 12 x 12 in 2012 challenge went live, the “How I Got My Agent” series has been a bit stagnant.  Well, no more! Today I breathe new life into the series by welcoming Natasha Wing, a fellow Colorado author.  Natasha is the wildly successful author of the “The Night Before” series, with Halloween, Easter, New Year’s and Mother’s Day just a few of the titles available.  What is even more exciting is that her latest book in the series — THE NIGHT BEFORE FATHER’S DAY — releases today!  I am so glad to host Natasha and not only hear her agent story, but also help celebrate her book birthday!  Welcome Natasha!

Natasha, how long had you been writing before seeking an agent, and what made you decide it was time to look for one? What kind of research did you do before submitting? 

I had been writing for about 5 years and decided I needed an agent when I discovered that I had accepted less for my advance than I should have. The other thing I was looking for in an agent was to head off rejection letters. Didn’t like getting those in the mail. So I got the name of an agent from a friend and submitted to her after publishing my first book, but the agency didn’t take me, even though we had a mutual friend! In all fairness, they wanted to see that I had published more than one book. The other agent I contacted was through a movie industry friend’s agency, but they weren’t interested either. So I put looking on hold until I had more books.

The Night Before series are rhyming books, and we always hear that agents and editors don’t want rhyming manuscripts.  How did you break that particular barrier?

It was a personal challenge when I took a class at a university about writing for children and the instructor said don’t submit rhyming stories, so I set out to prove him wrong and sold Hippity Hop, Frog on Top, my first book – a counting book that rhymed. With the Night Before series, I wasn’t submitting original rhymes so to speak, because it was based on a poem that had been part of our culture for over 100 years, so it was an accepted form of storytelling. I just put my twist on it.

Likewise, editors and agents often say not to pitch book series. How did you come up with the idea for the T’was the Night series? Did it start as one book or did you always plan it as a series? 

It began as one book, The Night Before Easter. I thought, yeah! I sold a bunny book! And that’s all I thought would come of it. But I have a very astute editor at Grosset & Dunlap – Jane O’Connor of Fancy Nancy fame – who saw that sales went well for the Easter book, and asked me to write a Halloween version, then a Valentine’s Day version, then later we added school-related themes. It’s the series that keeps on giving! So no, it wasn’t planned, and you can see by the number of illustrators who have illustrated along the way that the style wasn’t pre-planned either. Fortunately, there is a connective feel to the art that ties the books together. Now Grosset & Dunlap is using Amy Wummer exclusively, and I enjoy her art. Today, The Night Before Father’s Day is being released, and another one, The Night Before My Birthday, is in the works. So this series has sort of defined my place in the children’s book industry.

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

I met my agent at a conference in New Orleans quite accidentally. I had a major migraine (which I never get), but I wanted to go to the Newbery dinner so I forced myself to attend. After the dinner, I was hanging out in the lobby and happened to be standing next to Linda Pratt who at the time was representing Sheldon Fogelman Agency. We started talking and she asked me to submit samples and a career goal summary. I wasn’t actively looking for an agent, but I wanted to take the submission part off my shoulders, so I submitted to Linda. Her agency accepted me. That was 1999 and we’re still together – I followed her to her new agency, Wernick & Pratt. I knew she was “the one” because she was very calm and patient, and smart and willing to listen. She also “gets” me and knows how to motivate me and unlock my blocks. So it’s like having a friend who gives you unconditional love without judgment. Plus she’s been in the business for longer than I have so I trust her insight.

Has your writing process changed since signing with an agent?

Well, I just talked to my agent this morning, and after 20 years of writing, I apparently still need some direction and reining in! I tend to write whatever moves me: picture books, concept books, biographies, middle grade, easy reads…you get the picture. So it’s hard for me to focus on one genre and develop a Natasha Wing niche. The only thing that comes close is my Night Before series where I’ve jokingly dubbed myself The Night Before Queen. But that grew organically so it’s not something I planned. With an agent though, I write more freely without the dred of getting rejection letters out of the blue or dealing with having to research where to send the manuscript next. That part I always hated because it took away some of my energy from writing. I also try to write in a more directed way now. If I know an editor is looking for a certain type of story, I can cater it to her in hopes that she will contract it. No guarantees these days! So I guess I would say that I write with more purpose and direction, yet if you ask Linda, she might not agree! I can be like an ADD puppy sometimes who wants to fetch every opportunity!

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

Have a variety of picture books ready, don’t bank on just one to land an agent. He or she needs to see that you’re serious and a career writer, not a hobby writer. The agent will get a better idea of your writing style if you have more manuscripts to show. One other way to show that you are serious about your career is to join the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators or Children’s Book Insider.

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

I work on several things at the same time because they are in various stages of completion. Right now I am researching a new biography, waiting to hear if I still need to revise end notes for my upcoming biography on Jackie O, rewriting the first chapter (for the millionth time) of a middle grade novel, and fleshing out a middle grade underwater fantasy. That plus promoting my new book, The Night Before Father’s Day. This year I actually wrote out a list of goals and it feels good to check stuff off.

As a fellow Coloradan, what is your favorite place to visit in Colorado and why?

I love Rocky Mountain National Park in any season for its beauty and wildlife. My husband and I have so many more trails to check out still. I also love skiing at Steamboat Springs and Copper Mountain. And we always find ourselves in Old Town Fort Collins for happy hours. We’ve only been here two years, so there’s lots more to explore!

Natasha Wing has been writing children’s books for 20 years and has 21 books to her name. Her best-selling Night Before series regularly makes best-seller lists. An Eye for Color: The Story of Josef Albers was an ALA Notable. She is the Picture Book Expert for Children’s Book Insider and a mentor for Rocky Mountain SCBWI. Like her on Facebook at Fans of Natasha Wing books (https://www.facebook.com/natashawingbooks), or read Natasha’s News at www.natashawing.com. Natasha also does free Skype visits to schools.

Categories: Authors, Guest Blogging, How I Got My Agent, Picture Books, Publishing, Rhyming, SCBWI · Tags: , , , , , , ,


Bethany TellesAnother “catch-up” How I Got My Agent post from last year, today I’m so pleased to feature author Bethany Telles. Those of you who know Bethany are aware that she has faced hardships over the past couple of years that would test the strength of any mother – any human, actually.

Her oldest son has struggled with a rare form of epilepsy requiring experimental surgeries, treatments, and many hospital visits without the promise of a cure. During these trying times, the amount of courage, strength, faith, and yes, humor Bethany has pulled forth has inspired me and many, many others.

I KNOW her stories, once published, will be a beacon for children everywhere, just as Bethany is herself. Needless to say I was ecstatic for her when she signed with agent Danielle Smith (now with Red Fox Literary), another incredibly genuine and kind person. Please welcome Bethany!

How long had you been writing before seeking an agent, and what made you decide it was time to look for one?
I have been writing since I was quite little. I’m talking, since I was eight or nine, maybe? Yeah, I would make up stories about strangers in restaurants (much to my parents’ sheer joy). However, it wasn’t until I decided to make a career out of what had only been a late night habit, that I thought an agent might be the perfect aid.

What kind of research did you do before submitting?
I did a little, here and there, but it wasn’t something that I spent hours of research on. I found that becoming a super-stalker on Twitter gave me more information about any agent I was interested in. I figured yes, I could read each and every interview/profile/bio on whomever I was interested in, but would that give me what I needed? No. You see, having an agent is so much more than having someone in your corner who will one day whisper your name to the right publishing Gods. Having an agent is like gaining an insta-best friend. So, it was important for me to know what kind of person my potential agent was like. And Twitter gave me the opportunity to take a peek into their lives on a daily basis (sounds creepy, I know!).

The dreaded questions: How many queries? How many rejections?
Twelve queries, eleven rejections (one was done within a matter of 4.5 minutes; it was a personal one, too!).

Was it difficult to find an agent who wanted to represent an author focusing solely on picture books?
To me, it really wasn’t. Although Danielle also represents chapter books and middle grade, she sure loves picture books. I really admire her for that.

How did you know your agent was “the one?
I had won a pitch contest sometime in 2012 from an agent I really thought I’d be excited to work with. But after months and months of not hearing back, I started reading up on a few “newbie” agents. I saw that Danielle Smith had joined Foreword Literary, so like the crazy person I am, I read everything I could on her. The thing that jumped out at me first was that she lived only three hours from me. And, in California, that’s a bit of a rarity. I liked that she was professional, down to earth, and super open. She didn’t hold herself above we writers because she was an agent. When I entered a pitch contest on Twitter some months later, she quickly asked to see ALL of my pitches. In that moment I thought, Yep. I could so hang out with her. A few months later, when we were sitting at Pinkberry, surrounded by our kids and husbands, I chuckled to myself remembering that moment.

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 helped motivate me to the millionth degree. Each new agent that became available, I saw an opportunity to keep pushing through. And though I got Danielle on my own, the rejections I received early on in the year (from the 12 x 12 agents) gave me the right criticism and insight on how to perfect my craft.

Has your writing process changed at all since signing with an agent?
Honestly, I feel free. I feel free to really write and not fear that I am wasting my time/life/passion. Now I can write, and write, and write, then email my knowledgeable friend, saying, “Am I nuts? Or is this working?”, and she’ll tell me the truth. It’s fabulous.

What advice would you give to picture book writers looking for agents today?
I would beg fellow picture book writers to never, EVER, query agents whom they know nothing about. Wouldn’t you hate to be married to someone you cannot connect with? It’s also extremely important to continue to write from your heart. Don’t write a manuscript based on what you think an agent might like, just so you can impress and possibly sign with them (yes, I know of more than two people who have done this; they have all regretted doing so.). Be YOU! Dr. Seuss said, “There is no one alive who is you-er than you!” I like to repeat that to myself when I write… It was my anthem when I’d get rejections from agents.

Do you think your platform (blog, social media) helped you find your agent?
Y-E-S!! Twitter was HUGE, as I’ve said before. If you can, look into any Twitter pitch contest available. There are several throughout the year. I highly recommend exploring them.

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 🙂 )
Well, if we aren’t talking about writing goals… I’d have to admit, I have a thing for elephants. I would love nothing more than to go to an elephant reserve in India and totally play with and work with a few of those beautiful creatures.

What’s up next/what are you working on now?
I’m finally organizing my work! Yipee! I’ve found it’s the ONLY thing that one can do while they wait for that call. Also, I am constantly revising the things that I wrote in 2012 (as many of you know, 2013 was a difficult writing year for me due to all the goings on with my sweet son). But, I am working on a story right now that is another Bethany’s-heart-in-plain-sight, story. Let’s just hope those publishing gods agree. 😉

Categories: 12 x 12, Agents, Guest Blogging, How I Got My Agent, Picture Books, Queries, Writing · Tags: , , , , , , , , ,


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: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,


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 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 SchoenherrIf 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.


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: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,


anti-resolutionTwo years ago I wrote a blog post that grabbed the attention and touched the heart of none other than Katie Davis, who is now one of my very best friends. It was titled, 2012 Anti-Resolution Revolution. Katie was so inspired by that post, she created her own special tool to capture her accomplishments throughout the year and evaluate them at the end. She has graciously offered to share this workbook with you – click here for more info.

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.  So I figured, why not start with what I did accomplish this year and set goals from there.  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..

I didn’t write a similar post in 2013, but I should have. 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.?

Here’s an example from my own year. All year long, in my head, I lamented how little writing I got done. So much so that by the end of the year I was sure I’d done almost nothing. Yesterday, when I tallied it all up, I was pleasantly to find I’d written far more than I thought I had. I had written full drafts that I’d completely forgotten about. Drafts that I can continue revising and working with this year.

I am a firm believer that it takes far more courage to celebrate and compliment yourself than it does to criticize and berate yourself. So let’s get started.

Here is a list of my major professional accomplishments of 2013. 

In addition to this list, I ran the 12 x 12 challenge all year, wrote new drafts and revised existing ones, and continued to contribute to Katie Davis’ Brain Burps About Books podcast. Whew! I’ll be sure to come back to this whenever I feel discouraged about how much I “don’t get done.” 🙂

Now it’s your turn to make YOUR list!

Categories: 12 x 12, A Shiver of Sharks, A Troop is a Group of Monkeys, Agents, Apps, Authors, Bologna Children's Book Fair, Brain Burps About Books, Children's Books, Crowdfunding, Digital Publishing, ebooks, Florence, Goals, Holidays, How I Got My Agent, Italy, PiBoIdMo, Picture Books, Publishing, Queries, SCBWI, Social Media, Storybook Apps, Travel, Video Idiot Boot Camp, Works in Progress, Writer's Renaissance, Writing · Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,


Carter Higgins - www.juliehedlund.comYou know what is almost as exciting as announcing you found your own agent? Announcing that one of your writer BFFs found theirs (and I’m going to be doing a LOT of this in the next couple of months because so many 12 x 12 members are signing with agents!).

But today is Carter Higgins‘ day, and it’s one I’ve been anticipating almost as much as she has. From the first time I saw her wonderful, wacky, outrageously original writing I knew she was going to be a huge success. We became friends online through 12 x 12, but then in person last year at the LA-SCBWI conference. We have no photographic record of our meeting, but I’m here to tell you I was going through a very rough patch at that time and Carter not only propped me up but made me LAUGH and HAVE FUN and feel LOVED. 

Since then, we’ve emailed, texted, and talked on the phone like schoolgirls. She’s now part of my online critique group, so I get to see even MORE of her stupendous writing. I knew her agent search was picking up steam, and couldn’t wait to host her in this series. She is the only person I know who would end up having an agent negotiation on the toilet! So ladies and gentlemen, I give you… Carter!

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

Once upon a time I was a librarian. I flung picture books left and right and to the rafters. One day, in a snowed-in-sized storm, I wrote my masterpiece. This was maybe 2003?! It lives in the trashcan now. Turns out being a librarian doesn’t make you an expert at writing. By 2011, I had changed jobs and coasts, but something was nagging at me from the bottom of that trashcan. I joined SCBWI, mostly because I read about this crazy awesome summer conference in LA where I could meet Jon Scieszka. Done. I definitely didn’t understand the magnitude of that snap decision at the time, but man that conference looked amazing.

There, an agent at a roundtable critique wrote ‘unique!’ on that trashcan manuscript. Although I figured that was the equivalent of the oh-so-SCBWI_rpsouthern ‘bless your heart,’ I was wholly inspired.

(For real, people. This was a thing about bratty girls who run away from home and are plain old obnoxious. No arc, just attitude. And it was in limericks.)

So the summer of 2011 was when I really began to write, and it was just over a year before I felt like I was ready for an agent. I knew I wanted an agent because I do books, not business. I knew that partnership would be beyond valuable for me. In retrospect, that seems fast, but I’ve always been a writer. I just had to find the right words for the right-sized people. I had to find my voice.

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

In 2012 at SCBWI LA, I spent my last day at the Illustrator Intensives. Now, I’m no character illustrator, but I do love graphic design. I have a PB concept that is so design-y that I could maybe illustrate it. Visual storytelling is a real natural thing for me, and this Intensive seemed like the very best way to close out my conference.

That turned out to be a pretty big deal decision for me, because it was where I first quasi-met my agent, Rubin Pfeffer of East West Literary Agency. While he was speaking, he said something like this:

As he continued to talk about what he looks for, and what his tastes are, I added star after star after star. (I realize this looks like a 7th grader’s notebook with hearts around a dreamboat. Just go with it.) I had the guts to believe this was me.

In September of 2012, I sent my very first batch of queries. Twelve hours later, I had already sent Rubin more of my work and we had set up a phone call. And I was like: Man, what the heck have I been waiting for?! This querying thing sure is easy!

Spoiler alert: It wasn’t that easy.

Rubin worked with me on some revisions on two picture books in particular, and gave me fantastic feedback on some art for one of them. We collaborated for about six weeks via email after that initial phone call. Ultimately, he said he wanted to wait until there was more work to consider.

Did it sting? Yes. Did I wine and whine and wail? Yes and no and no. I kept writing. I wrote new picture books because of Addiction and Obsession. And I wrote a middle grade novel that is pretty much my heart sliced open and scattered over 42,000 words. Rubin had seen the first five chapters of it, even though I had only written seven. It was raw and rough and I had no idea what the story was even about yet. That story was the ‘more work to consider’ that he was talking about. He saw something special before I had even figured out what it was.

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

While I dove into my middle grade, I still had a batch of picture book queries flitting about in the flotsam. From that floating remainder, I got five rejections, two non-responders, and two additional requests for more work. One of those longer conversations resulted in a rejection, and the other was still in the ether.

When my MG was ready, I had to switch query-gears. I knew Rubin would welcome the work, but I wanted to query a bit broader in case this thing that I had fallen completely in love with was like…crickets…to him. Almost nine months had passed since my initial query flurry. I researched agents that were specifically looking for the kind of MG I had, and that would represent picture books as well. I had two partials out – that one from the PB-query-flit-about, and one from a contest win. And then I queried eight agents, including Rubin. Ten total.

I knew my query letter sparkled, thanks to a critique from agent Jennifer Laughran through a Writer’s Digest webinar. So, a side note: make those things shine. You might not know if it’s the story or the query that’s not working when you get rejections. Be sure!

This is where my fairly atypical agent-finding goes bonkers and bananas with a little mayhem on the side. It was exactly one week between sending the query and Rubin’s offer of representation. (True story: when this happened, I was sitting on a toilet. The glamorous life of a writer, no? I had just arrived on a red eye to a tiny island in NY for vacation. Small studio apartment, large Italian family swarming, and that was the best place to go for some privacy in a pinch!)

Before that offer, I got one form rejection and had sent four fulls. After the offer, I sent notes to the agents who had the full, the outstanding partials, and to the few remaining who had partials based on their query guidelines. Three more full requests came in, and came in quickly, and (womp womp) this tiny island had no internet!

And then there was a tropical storm, and a bit of a family emergency, and I sent my manuscript from the front seat of an ambulance, the ER, and the ICU. (Everything and everybody is fine, promise!) Because of the whole no-internet-thing, I sent the agents links to my manuscript on Dropbox and thanked my lucky stars that I was smart enough to have the querying version there.

I figured: 1) Query. 2) Go on vacation so you don’t think about the waiting. This was a stellar plan. Remember the 12-hours-later-this-querying-thing-is-easy bit? I should have known better.

One non-responder, one more rejection, and three of the most encouraging ‘congratulations and I love your voice and can’t wait to see your success but I’ll bow out with regrets’ emails. And then, five offers of representation. It’s nuts to even see that in print and say that out loud. I talked to agents on the toilet, at an empty waterfront bar early in the morning, and after I was back in the real world, in a gasoline-soaked parking garage. I had to write rejection letters, and hoped to fill them with as much kindness as I had been shown. It was thrilling and torturous and humbling that there was so much love for a handful of people that I made up in my heart.

I signed with Rubin on 0624, which is a huge day in my novel. That was his suggestion, and spoke volumes to me about how he would champion me and my books.

It’s a tough market for picture books. What advice would you give to picture book writers looking for agents today?

I hope I would have ultimately had the same success had I stuck to just picture books. It’s harder to gauge progress when solely querying picture books, so keep that in mind. But they are a beautiful form, and lots of agents are picture book-crazed people, too. I think there’s a lot of panic surrounding rule-following for agent-finding, and while that is certainly important, it’s comforting to remember some truth. They are book people, too. Their time is priceless and their work is tireless, but they are as star-struck by a good story as you are. Take your time. Write something fantastic. Stay professional. Be intentional.

And always have your manuscripts on Dropbox.

If 12 x 12 helped you in any way during your agent search/development of craft, can you tell us how?

I absolutely wouldn’t have been ready for an agent had 12×12 not been a bastion of accountability and encouragement. It showed up in 2012 with a hug and a bouquet of balloons and at the ripest time. Without 12×12, I would have been floundering alone in a constant flailing procrasti-tailspin. Knowing there was an army of storytellers at my back was profound. It’s like encouragement and discipline wrapped up in a bunch of strangers, who are really true friends.

Do you think your platform (blog, Design Mom) helped you find your agent?

I think Julie Falatko touched on this in a lovely (and hysterical) way in her story. Not having these things would never have counted me out. But having a platform so solidly built on reading and sharing and being engaged with this community? A definite plus, I’d say. One agent contacted me first and asked to be queried. It happens!

Okay Carter, let’s pretend you’re the Little Mermaid and you have no voice. You see your dream editor at the SCBWI-LA conference and it is your ONLY chance to pitch your work. What would you do to get his/her attention before sundown?

Well, I suppose flaunting my long, flowing locks and teeny shells up top aren’t going to be all that impressive to anybody but the mirror. But, I broke my ankles ten times as a kid, so I’m really good at the body mechanics of awkward bobbling and balancing. I would hop around on that fin like a boss. Hips don’t lie, you know. Good thing I have a manuscript about a flighty, whirly bluefin tuna — those shiny scales might be a perfect selling point!

Carter Higgins was an elementary school librarian before becoming a motion graphics designer. Although they seem like vastly different careers, she attributes The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales to sparking her love of storytelling, both written and visual. Those two interests combine in her blog, Design of the Picture Book, where she celebrates picture books through the lens of graphic design principles.

She is the Children’s Book Editor for the wildly popular blog, Design Mom, and just likes to think it’s a cozy corner of the internet in which she gets to play librarian. You can find her on Twitter at @CarterHiggins.

Categories: 12 x 12, Agents, Authors, Children's Books, Goals, Guest Blogging, How I Got My Agent, Picture Books, Publishing, Queries, Rhyming, SCBWI, Works in Progress, Writer's Platform-Building Campaign · Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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