I often think that in just a few years, 12 x 12 members’ stories will be lining the shelves of bookstores, and Karla Valenti’s post today has convinced me that’s true. THREE of the manuscripts she shared with her now-agent were written and polished in 12 x 12. She has also proven you can write the stories of your heart, even if they are not considered the most “commercial,” and still achieve your dreams. So inspiring! Congratulations, Karla!
How long had you been writing before seeking an agent, and what made you decide it was time to look for one?
This is not a straightforward answer, but I suspect that’s the case for many writers. I’ve been writing my whole life, but working and raising three children made it difficult to focus on my writing in earnest. It wasn’t until 2011 that I was able to commit full-time to a career in writing. At first, I explored the option of self-publishing. After much research and deliberation, I realized that this was not what I wanted. So I set out on the path of traditional publishing and focused on improving the craft of writing.
My heart has always been in PBs but they are the most difficult kid lit to sell so I decided to try my hand at a YA. My rejection rate was 120% (I’m sure I got rejections from people I didn’t even query). In retrospect, I realize my query was awful and I doubt many agents made it past the query (Tip: Plan to spend as much time writing your query as you spend on your ms – Query Shark is my favorite resource on query writing.). This was so utterly crushing that it plunged me into a mini identity crisis. My whole life I had thought of myself as a writer, but for the first time I wondered if perhaps I’d been wrong. And if so, then who was I? Obviously, defining one’s identity on the personal (and highly subjective) opinion of a group of strangers is never a good idea, but so be it.
Buried under the blanket of my injured pride, I started to get visits from characters who wanted to tell me their stories. No matter how much I tried to explain to them that I was cutting my losses and closing shop, these characters insisted on having their story told. And so I had to pull myself out of bed and give them all a voice. One voice in particular was haunting me, a story so heart-achingly sad and beautiful that I did nothing for four weeks but write the 40,000 words that would become a MG ms. I queried this ms and received seven requests for full and three agent offers. I signed with an agent and the ms went out on submission within a month (yay!) then languished on the desk of many editors for almost a year (boo!).
During that time, I tried writing a number of other MGs but kept writing PBs instead. As my agent didn’t rep PBs, in November I decided to part ways with her and began my search for an agent yet again. I also started taking PB writing courses, participated in PiBoIdMo, and signed up for 12 x 12. I felt like I had walked through the doors of a secret society that had everything I could possibly need to make a successful run of this. So, I wrote and revised, I critiqued and pitched and polished and began querying PB agents. I received a number of champagne rejections and was in discussions with a handful of agents when I connected with Essie White at Storm Literary Agency. I had an offer within 24 hours of querying her and signed on with her a day later.
What kind of research did you do before submitting?
I tried to find as much information about each agent as I could. Obviously, I researched the agency’s website and agent profile page, but I also checked Editors and Preditors and Absolute Write’s Beware and Recommendations forum. I read interviews with the agents or blog posts they’ve written, I reached out to agent’s clients whom I knew or were members of writing groups to which I belonged, and I checked out the books the agent reps and the publishers that printed the books. There’s a lot of information out there (for better or for worse).
The dreaded questions: How many queries? How many rejections?
For my YA, I sent out 67 queries and received hundreds of rejections.
For my MG, I sent out 50 queries and received 7 requests for full and three offers for representation.
For my PBs, I sent out 108 queries (but this also includes different manuscripts) and received interest from five agents.
Was it difficult to find an agent who wanted to represent an author focusing solely on picture books?
Yes. It’s a lot harder to find an agent who focuses solely on PBs. However, they are the true experts in the field so if that’s what you really want to do, it makes sense to target an agent who knows what she/he is doing.
Who is your new agent? Tell us about getting the news.
I signed with Essie White at Storm Literary Agency. I queried her with two very different PBs and included the pitches for a number of other PBs I’ve polished (three through 12 x 12). I also mentioned my MG which had gone out on submission with my previous agent. Essie quickly wrote back asking to see more work and we began emailing back and forth. The next day I had an offer waiting in my inbox. We set up a call and by the end of the talk I knew she was the right agent for me.
How did you know your agent was “the one”?
The stories I write are not necessarily commercial so finding the right agent has been a bit tricky. From the first email, Essie was tremendously enthusiastic about the work I showed her and her excitement was contagious. From her other clients I knew that Essie works tirelessly and is a fierce advocate of her client’s work. As Storm Literary is a boutique agency, Essie has the time and resources to focus on each client and it shows in everything she does from her detailed feedback to her prompt and highly responsive communication. She is also incredibly nice and friendly.
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 has played a huge role in this success story! First, it provides a wealth of resources to improve our writing skills. In addition, the 12 x 12 community is unparalleled. I have never met a group of people who are more generous in their time and knowledge, supportive, encouraging, and incredibly creative. Being part of this group has been truly inspiring. Three of the manuscripts I submitted were written as part of 12×12 and critiqued by 12×12 members as well as the pitches that went with them. Finally, I have connected with some incredibly gifted critique partners through 12×12 who have pushed me to become a better writer and without whom I would not have achieved this success.
What advice would you give to picture book writers looking for agents today?
We all know to write and read often. But I will also add that it’s really important to learn how to critique well and to critique other people’s work often. We are all creative thinkers. However, writing is not just about creating, it’s also about editing and that’s a different skill-set. For that, we need to know how to think critically and analytically. The best way to train your mind to do that is by digging into other people’s work and figuring out what works (or not) and why. I’ve learned a great deal about my own writing by critiquing other people’s work. Also, ReFoReMo is a great way to hone these skills using mentor texts.
Do you think your platform (blog, social media) helped you find your agent?
Not at all. I have a website and am active on Facebook and Twitter (@kwrites3), but I think social media platforms are more relevant for MG and YA writers.
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 🙂 )
That’s a tough one. I don’t actually have much of a “bucket list.” I’m just very grateful to be at this point in my life.
What’s up next/what are you working on now?
Essie and I are putting together a submission list for manuscripts. Having been down this path before with my MG ms, I know it’s a long and emotionally-exhausting road. Fortunately, I have 12 x 12 to keep my mind off that and focused on writing writing writing!Categories: 12 x 12, Agents, How I Got My Agent · Tags: 12 x 12, Essie White, Karla Valenti, Storm LIterary