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: , , , ,


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. Marietta Zacker from Nancy Gallt Literary Agency will be accepting picture book submissions from 12 x 12 Gold members July 1-15. Laura Biagi from Jean V. Naggar Literary Agency (JVNLA) will be accepting picture book submissions from 12×12 Gold members July 16-31. Marietta’s profile appears first, followed by Laura’s. Please read BOTH and then decide who would be the best fit for your work.


Marietta Zacker - 12 x 12 Featured AgentMARIETTA ZACKER

I have not had the pleasure of meeting Marietta in person, but I have several friends who have submitted to her and/or met her at conferences and workshops who have spoken highly of her enthusiasm and passion. They also say Marietta is very patient and enjoys working with and finding new authors.

When I asked Marietta what she looks for (or wants to avoid) in picture books, she said she’s open to anything – she just has to fall in love with the story. 🙂

A little about Marietta from the Nancy Gallt Literary website:

“Marietta has experienced children’s books from every angle – teaching, marketing, publishing and bookselling. She thrives on working with authors who make readers feel their characters’ emotions and illustrators who add a different dimension to the story.”

Articles and interviews featuring Marietta:


I have not had the pleasure of meeting Laura Biagi in person either, but her enthusiasm for picture books jumps right off the email exchanges we’ve had about her participation as a featured agent. When I asked Laura if she had particular likes or dislikes in the genre, this is what she had to say:

“I don’t really have any particular likes or dislikes; I mostly know what works when I see it! That said, these days, given editors’ preferences, it’s very difficult to work with picture books that are 1000 words or more (ideally, a manuscript will be even fewer words). Also sweet but quiet books are very difficult; the books need to have some sort of strong character readers can get behind and/or an intriguing plot, etc. That’s not to say I don’t go for the sweet and quiet books if they’re exceptional, though. It’s just that, again, given editors’ preferences these days, they are much harder.  

Types of books I am particularly interested in finding are those with stand-out humor and also high-concept picture books. I’d love to find some great author-illustrators too as I think it’s really exciting when someone can do both well–though it’s rare.”

A little bit about Laura from JVNLA’s website:

12 x 12 Featured Agent Laura Biagi “Laura Biagi joined JVNLA in 2009. She is actively building her own client list, seeking adult literary fiction and young readers books. She also handles the sale of Australian and New Zealand rights for the agency. She has worked closely with Jean Naggar and Jennifer Weltz on their titles, as well as Jennifer Weltz on the submission of JVNLA’s titles internationally.

Laura’s writing background has honed her editorial eye and has driven her enthusiasm for discovering and developing literary talent. She studied creative writing and anthropology at Northwestern University. As a writer, she has participated in workshops at the Squaw Valley Community of Writers, the Juniper Summer Writing Institute, and the New York State Summer Writers Institute. She is the recipient of a Kentucky Emerging Artist Award for fiction writing.

Laura grew up in a small town in Kentucky and maintains a fondness for Southern biscuits and unobstructed views of the stars.”

Articles and interviews featuring Laura Biagi:

Full submission guidelines for Marietta and Laura be 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 Marietta Zacker from July 1st – June 15th at 6pm EST/3pm PST.

Submissions will only be accepted for Laura Biagi from July 16th – July 31st at 6pm EST/3pm PST.

Good Luck!
Categories: 12 x 12, Agents, PiBoIdMo, Picture Books, Publishing, Queries, SCBWI · Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

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