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Julie originally made this for my assistant, Kelli, and me last year to celebrate 12 x 12.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Julie originally made this for my assistant, Kelli, and me last year to celebrate 12 x 12.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: , , , , , , , , , ,

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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. Susan Hawk from The Bent Agency will be accepting picture book submissions from 12 x 12 Gold members May 1-15. Jodell Sadler from Sadler’s Children’s Literary will be accepting picture book submissions from 12×12 Gold members May 16-31. Susan’s profile appears first, followed by Jodell’s. Please read BOTH and then decide who would be the best fit for your work.

 

Susan Hawk- 12x12 Featured Agent May 2014SUSAN HAWK

Susan 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

I could not be more delighted to welcome Susan back as a featured agent for 12 x 12! She even emailed me recently to tell me how excited she was to get back to those 12 x 12 submissions. She is so wonderful to work with in this capacity, I can only imagine how fantastic she is with her clients. 

Please do note that at this time Susan is accepting submissions from author/illustrators only. Full guidelines for submitting to her will be in the Forum.

The most up-to-date interviews with Susan:

 

JODELL SADLER

I have not had the good fortune (yet) to meet Jodell Sadler in person, but if her immediate enthusiasm and willingness to participate in 12 x 12 is any indication, I’d say picture book authors will be in good hands with her. Not to mention the fact that she’s practically a written a whole library of resources on the subject writing picture books. And as a graduate of the Hamline MFA program, she knows her writing. I’m thrilled to have Jodell here for her first turn as a 12 x 12 featured agent.

A little bit about Jodell from the Sadler’s Children’s Literary website:

Jodell Sadler - 12x12 Featured Agent May 2014“Jodell earned her MFA in Children’s Writing from Hamline University. She is working on the writing craft book on picture book pacing and has produced five Writer’s Digest University Tutorials on Children’s Writing on this same topic. Her published articles include “Picture Book Pacing: Verbal and Visual Tools for Writers,” and “Picture Book Pacing: The ultimate 20 editing tools for your work,” in the Children’s Writer’s & Illustrator’s Market, 2011 and 2013, respectively.

Jodell is interested in YA, MG, and CB (especially funny) , fiction, creative nonfiction, freeverse, and picture books. She loves a well-paced story that moves the story to move the reader between joy and tears.”

Articles featuring Jodell Sadler:

Full submission guidelines for Susan and Jodell 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 Susan Hawk from May 1st – May 15th at 6pm EST/3pm PST.

Submissions will only be accepted for Jodell Sadler from May 16th – May 31st at 6pm EST/3pm PST.

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

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I am so excited to present my first-ever author/agent duo for the How I Got My Agent Series.  Thanks to Jennifer Mattson for agreeing to go under the microscope participate alongside Linda. I decided on a She Said/She Said format, with their pictures as the indicator for their responses.  Of course I couldn’t resist sprinkling in a few of my own comments, which appear in italics.

Linda Ashman is the award-winning author of more than two-dozen picture books.  She has had three books released in the past three months, and you can enter to win one of them (details below).  Yesterday’s post includes my reviews of the books, and you can earn double points in the giveaway if you also comment and share that one.  Linda lives right here in the great state of Colorado with her husband Jack, son Jackson, and dog daughters Stella and Sammy.

Jennifer Mattson is an Associate Agent at Andrea Brown Literary Agency.  Before joining ABLA, Jennifer spent nearly five years  reviewing children’s literature as part of the Books for Youth staff of Booklist magazine. Prior to Booklist, Jennifer was an Associate Editor at Dutton Children’s Books. She represents authors across all children’s genres – picture books, MG and YA.  Jennifer is also the co-author of THE OFFICIAL EASY-BAKE COOKBOOK, which we happen to own! (although I hide it because truthfully, I dread the days my daughter asks me if we can “Easy Bake.” Same thing with Play-Doh actually, but enough about me…)

Let’s dig into the questions shall we?

Linda, when did you seek an agent for the first time, and how/why did you know it was time to look for one?

I signed on with my first agent around 1999, after selling seven manuscripts on my own.  Although I wasn’t actively looking at the time, a writer friend spoke highly of her new agent and suggested I talk to him.  Since I’d been “negotiating” my own contracts (as in, “Where do I sign?”), it made sense to work with someone more knowledgeable about contracts — and the business in general — than I was, and who had relationships with more editors and knew their particular tastes.

Jennifer, the first question this audience will have is: Are you currently accepting submissions from picture book authors and/or illustrators?  If so, what kind of manuscripts are you looking for?

Yes, of course.  I am accepting text-only picture book queries and queries from author-illustrators, but at this time I’m not looking to sign up illustrator-only clients.

It impresses me when an author knows how to develop a character and tell a complete, satisfying story with extreme concision, with 750 words as a target maximum, and under 500 words much preferred.  I’m not looking for issue-driven/teachable moment stories, stories with historical settings, fairy tales or fairy tale retellings, nor, as a rule, nonfiction picture books – though I’ve been known to take a shine to nonfiction that illuminates some truly surprising corner of history or science with strong kid appeal (I loved The Day Glo Brothers, for instance – wish I could have represented it!)  What excites me most, though, are humorous stories that turn on universal conflicts resolved in memorable character-specific ways.

Since poetry is Linda Ashman’s specialty, it’s clear that I’m open to rhyming manuscripts. Having said that, I now have a few clients who primarily write in verse, so for the time being I’ll be most active about adding writers-in-narrative to my roster.

Note, in a few months I will be taking a hiatus from reading queries for a while because I’m going on maternity leave (my e-mail autoresponse will be clear about when that goes into effect).

What an excellent reason for a query hiatus. Many congratulations!! One more voracious reader of children’s books is about to enter the world…

Linda, Jennifer was not your first agent. What have you learned from working with three different agents?

I’ve learned that it’s really important to get a sense of how an agent works.  When you send her a story, will she read it within a matter of days, or does she, for example, devote one week a month to reading clients’ work?  Does he have an overall submission strategy for your manuscript, or does he send it to one editor at a time and wait for a response?  Does she notify you right away when she hears back from an editor, and — if it’s a decline — discuss with you the next plan of action?  Is the agent a one-person shop, or part of a larger organization?  (Neither is necessarily better than the other, but I really appreciate the support Jennifer gets from her colleagues at Andrea Brown.)

In order to avoid annoyance on one side and frustration on the other, expectations are everything.  Be very clear about communications.  How often should you expect to hear from him — only when there’s news, or will he check in periodically?  Is she accessible by phone or email if you have questions?   Beyond that, make sure you like this person, and feel comfortable asking questions.  This could be — hopefully will be — a very long relationship.   You don’t need to be best friends, but respect and compatibility are important.  And, above all, make sure the agent is genuinely enthusiastic about you and your work.  This is a tough business, and it helps to feel you have a professional ally looking out for your interests.

Wow, that is such a great answer.  I so often think that in this competitive market, writers think any agent is better than no agent and forget that it’s a business relationship that should benefit both the agent and the author.  Thanks for giving us some great questions to ask!

How did you find Jennifer and then come to the conclusion that she was “the one?”

I met Jennifer when we both were on the faculty at the “Big Sur in the Rockies” writing retreat in Boulder in May 2010.  I really liked her, and was impressed with her thoughtfulness and intelligence.  I knew she’d worked with Meredith Mundy, my Sterling editor, so I asked Meredith about her.  I really trust and respect Meredith, so when she gave Jennifer a ringing endorsement, I decided to contact her to discuss working together.  I’m so glad I did — Jennifer has been a dream to work with.

I’ve met Jennifer at two different ABLA events, and she is so knowledgeable, but also so friendly and approachable.  Readers, query her if you think your stories are a good fit!

Likewise, Jennifer, what drew you to Linda’s work and made you want to sign her as a client?

I’ve known Linda’s work for a long time, because when I was an associate editor at Dutton Children’s Books in the late 1990s, she would regularly submit (and be published by) the head of our imprint.  The publisher would bring promising manuscripts to an editorial board meeting, so I recall seeing Linda’s work and being impressed by her professionalism and her gift for poetry.  Later, Linda went on to publish with a former colleague and friend of mine, Meredith Mundy at Sterling.  The degrees of separation kept getting a bit smaller over time – and finally Linda and I were faculty members at the same writers’ workshop, Big Sur in the Rockies in Boulder, CO, cosponsored by our agency and the Rocky Mountain Chapter of SCBWI.  In a way, meeting Linda felt like greeting an old friend, partly due to our professional connections, and partly because I had spent so much time reading my daughter her board book, BABIES ON THE GO!  I was thrilled when, several months later, I received a note from her asking if I’d like to discuss working together.  Honestly, it didn’t take much thinking!

BABIES ON THE GO is great! But you guys have probably already figured out that we’re big Linda Ashman fans in this household.  By the way, at that very same Big Sur in the Rockies meeting, I was fortunate to have Linda as one of my faculty members.  From that experience, I can tell you that her manuscript critiquing service is well worth the price.

Linda, the picture book market is tough right now, and it seems many agents don’t take PB clients only.  I know your situation is a bit different because you had already sold many books before signing with Jennifer, but what advice would you give to a pre-published PB writer seeking an agent today?

Sometimes, in our eagerness to get published, we send our work out there before it’s ready.  I certainly was guilty of this when I first started writing, and I cringe when I come across old manuscripts which should have landed in the recycling bin instead of on an editor’s desk.  So before even thinking about editors and agents, I’d advise writers to become students of the picture book.  Reading them to your kids or your students — or recalling old favorites from childhood — isn’t enough.  Study the really good ones, especially those published in the last five years or so.  Start with year-end “best of the year” lists from ALA, School Library Journal, Bankstreet, the children’s blogging community, etc.  Really look at what makes these books successful and appealing (or not; this is highly subjective, after all).  Pay attention to the voice, the pacing, the escalation of the drama, and how the story is resolved.  Then make a dummy of your own manuscript and see if your story fits the picture book structure, if you’ve cut out every extraneous word, if your voice is distinctive, your story dramatic and visually interesting, and your ending satisfying.

Once you’ve got several strong stories, and you’ve followed the manuscript formatting requirements (and a meticulous friend has checked for typos), then you can turn your attention to agents.  Here again, research is key.  If you can go to conferences and meet agents in person, that’s great.  But it’s not necessary.  Fortunately, you can find tons of information on the internet.  Study agency websites, and make a list of agents who appeal to you and seem open to your writing style and interests.  Then google them.  Many have been interviewed on blogs, and a few have blogs of their own.  The more information you have, the easier it will be to target your submission and write an informed and personal query letter.

I’m chuckling as I read this because Linda shared one of her early manuscripts with us at a rhyming workshop she gave. Don’t worry Linda – I won’t name it here! Suffice it to say it’s inspiring to see how much a writer can grow if they truly commit to studying the craft.  And now, for a shameless plug of one of my own posts: If you want more information on how to research agents and editors, go here.

Jennifer, Linda writes almost exclusively in rhyme, yet we hear agents and editors say (often) that they don’t want to see rhyming manuscripts.  What separates a saleable rhyming story from one that is not?

That’s a great question.  I think that there is a note of inevitability communicated by the best rhyming manuscript – in other words, one barely notices the rhyming, except to be delighted by it, and one can’t imagine another way of expressing the same idea.  It’s a combination of perfect rhythm / scansion and absolutely perfect end rhymes:  I’m never fond of slant rhymes.  (When I was a kid, I used to hate reading British poems that rhymed things like “again” and “rain”!)

Apart from technical perfection, to be saleable in the picture book market, editors need poetry to be more than just gorgeousness and musicality.  Linda and I have had the same comment on a number of manuscripts recently, and it’s not uncommon at all:  “This needs a stronger story arc!”  So, writers of verse face an exceptionally high bar.  Their manuscripts must be technically flawless but also must advance a storyline.  It is so rare for a writer to have mastered all of those elements simultaneously that I think many editors and agents have simply found it more efficient to put the kibosh on rhyme preemptively.  For whatever reason (perhaps the prominence of Dr. Seuss?), it seems that amateur writers gravitate to verse before trying their hand at anything else.

This might be some of the best advice I’ve seen on what makes a rhyming manuscript work – thanks!

Given how tight the picture book market is these days, what advice would you give to PB writers looking for agents on how to stand out?

An exquisitely professional query letter that references specific, comparable, recent titles on the market always catches my eye.  We receive tons of queries from people who clearly don’t read much in the contemporary picture-book marketplace, so it’s nice to include any sign that you’re engaged in the industry in an active, ongoing way (it’s also nice to mention membership in SCBWI and critique groups).

Other aspects of your submission will convey the professional level of your work, too.  It helps when a project reflects the typical length of a frontlist picture book (rather than the typical length of a published-long-ago classic, like Robert McCloskey’s wonderful but 2000-words-long TIME OF WONDER…).  I also look for writers who know how to creatively anticipate the contribution of an illustrator, e.g., by not overwriting description and, when appropriate, leaving certain key beats of story development to the visuals.

I always recommend that authors of picture books line up three or four projects that they feel are ready to share with an agent before first submitting.   Agents usually ask queriers to focus on one manuscript, but if an agent is interested in continuing a discussion, normally he or she will ask to see more of your work.  You’ll want to be ready for that.

Linda, dogs are frequent characters in your books, including your latest release, No Dogs Allowed!  Can you tell us one of your favorite real dog stories based on one of your own pets?

Sammy, our Lab mix, is very smart and has an impressive repertoire of tricks.  When appropriately bribed, she’ll fetch the paper, wake Jackson (our son), deliver canned goods from the kitchen cabinet, jump like a kangaroo, roll over, speak, whisper, dance, spin (once, twice, or three times, as directed) and more.  But she has a lot of attitude, and feels that this sort of performing is really beneath her.  And she has a way of showing her resentment.  After every meal, she goes on a raid and finds a sock — on someone’s dresser, in the laundry basket, in a closet — and runs off with it.  She never actually chews it.  She just likes to hold it hostage for a while (usually until we tell her how funny and cute she is, thereby rewarding her for her naughtiness).

Awww, too cute! I want to give her a hug just reading this. If I’d thought ahead I would have asked you for a picture of her.  🙂

Jennifer, please complete this sentence:  “If I could take just one book with me to a remote desert island, it would be….”

I hate to compromise the children’s-lit focus of this blog, but I’d probably choose something lush and long-lasting, like George Eliot’s MIDDLEMARCH or Thackeray’s VANITY FAIR.

Nope. I totally get that.  If you’re stuck on a desert island, you need something a bit broader in scope than a children’s book.  My own choice would be A PRAYER FOR OWEN MEANY, by John Irving.

Let’s all give it up for these two lovely ladies for this great post!  I hope you learned as much as I did.  Also, don’t forget that Linda Ashman is giving away a personalized, signed copy of both SAMANTHA ON A ROLL and NO DOGS ALLOWED for two lucky winners. You must be a follower of the blog to enter (new followers welcome!).  Here are the ways you can enter:

  • Leave a comment on this post and/or yesterday’s post.  Be sure to say which book you’d prefer if you win. – 1 point
  • Tweet this post (include link in your comment) – 1 point
  • Like this post on Facebook (include link) – 1 point
  • Blog about the contest (include link) – 2 points

THANKS AGAIN to both Linda and Jennifer. I had so much fun putting this post together, and I hope you did too!

Categories: Agents, Authors, Children's Books, Giveaway, How I Got My Agent, Picture Books, Poetry, Publishing, Queries, Rhyming, Writing · Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

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I am very late to the promotion game with this one, but just in case you are a children’s book writer and you’ve been living under a rock for the past couple of months and weren’t aware that WriteOnCon starts today, now is your chance to get on over there and register.  Three full days of online sessions led by bestselling authors, top agents and editors.  Topics range from perfecting the craft, how to write a query, seeking an agent, and marketing and promotion.  And MORE!  There are sessions on picture books, middle grade and YA and critique forums for each.  All of this is provided by the lovely organizers for the incredible cost of — FREE!

Finally, if you enjoy the conference, consider making a donation to WriteOnCon of any amount so they can continue to bring us this unsurpassed opportunity to learn, grow, and make amazing contacts.  Even $5 makes a big difference.  You can go here to donate.

As for me, now you know why my blog will be silent for the next three days…

P.S. Many of the agents participating in WoC also accept work for the adult market, so I would encourage all writers to check it out even if you don’t write for the children’s market.

So, are you going to be there?  Let me know so I can look you up!

Categories: Agents, Authors, Children's Books, Picture Books, Publishing, Queries, Writing · Tags: , , , , , , ,

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Since I officially declared the first of February the beginning of my New Year, I couldn’t think of a better way to start than by kicking off the 2011 season of “How I Got My Agent” for picture book writers.  Be sure to come back tomorrow to get the inside scoop from Tara Lazar on how she found her agent, complete with advice for those of us still looking.  See you then!

Categories: Agents, How I Got My Agent · Tags: ,

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Please give a warm welcome to Tiffany Strelitz Haber!  Tiffany not only has an agent, but she writes her PBs exclusively in rhyme. *gasp*  She has sold two books so far (THE MONSTER WHO LOST HIS MEAN – Henry Holt/Macmillan 2012, and OLLIE AND CLAIRE – Philomel/Penguin 2013) You might remember her from her session at WriteOnCon on rhythm and meter.  That is where I “met” her, and I followed up by having her critique one of my rhyming manuscripts.  I highly recommend her critique service if you write in rhyme.  She’s a miracle worker. You can find her at http://www.itsrhymetime.com and on Facebook. Take it away, Tiffany!

Thanks so much, Julie!

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

When I first started out, I knew nothing about the industry.  And that’s putting it mildly.  I’m not even sure what prompted me to pursue writing professionally, except that I had been writing throughout my entire life, and apparently, after about thirty years, obvious things begin to occur to me. Anyway, my career at that time was focused around the stock market, so I had a very business-y attitude about the whole endeavor.  I bought a book, attended an SCBWI conference and made a decision.  I wanted to do the writing and find an agent that would do the querying/subbing/follow upping.   It felt like a plan.

What kind of research did you do before submitting?

Besides attending an SCBWI conference, where I learned a ridiculous amount of information regarding the industry and made some good contacts….I used
www.agentquery.com to run a search.  Then I visited the website of every agency that came up in the results, and read about each individual agent’s tastes
and interests.  I compiled a list of who I thought would be a good match for my writing, and got familiar with their submission policies.  Finally, I narrowed those down to the agents requesting subs via email (’cause….well…you know). 🙂

Yes I do know. Who has time for paper anymore?

You write in rhyme, and we always hear that agents and editors don’t want rhyming manuscripts.  How did you break that particular barrier?

Hmmmm.  I think it might be because I am totally obsessed with rhyme.  I’ve been infatuated with it since I was like 3 years old, so when I began the quest for publication, there was no doubt in my mind I was going to write in rhyme.   Meanwhile, after confidently attending a couple first page sessions and the NJ Annual SCBWI conference (“they’ll love my stuff!” I foolishly thought), I felt like I’d been trampled by the Running of the Bulls.

I remember having a phone conversation with my Mom where I told her I was going to listen to what the faculty at the conference said and try to rewrite my stories in prose.  She was supportive, but at the same time she had major reservations.  My Mom knew how much I loved rhyme.  I wasn’t trying to write in rhyme as a gimmick to get published….and I wasn’t “kinda” into rhyme.  I was IN LOVE with it.  She kept saying to me, “There are rhyming children’s books on bookstore shelves.  Someone is writing them.  You won’t succeed if you aren’t writing YOUR stories.”  It made sense. And while I did briefly tinker with some picture books in prose, they never felt like home to me.  I mean, I love writing in prose….but for an older audience. Whenever I tried to write young, it would came out in rhyme.  So I decided…if I’m going to succeed OR fail…I want it to be while I’m doing what I love.  Rhyming my a** off.

Hats off to your mom.  What an awesome response!

In addition to the “rhyme” factor, it’s a tough market for picture books in general these days.  Was it difficult to find an agent who wanted to represent an author focusing solely on picture books?

This may have been a case of “ignorance is bliss” for me, but I really knew nothing about the industry when I first began pursuing publication.  I had no idea that it might be more difficult to find representation as a strictly “Picture Book” author, and it never even crossed my mind as I was researching agents.   It didn’t feel like I bumped up against too must resistance for focusing on PBs, but who knows.

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

Going strictly by memory, I sent out about 8 subs, got 7 rejections and 1 maybe. Well, I milked that “maybe” for all it was worth, (baby)….offering to send more and more manuscripts which she read and liked, but they just weren’t “right” for her.  Eventually I was out of finished material, and she had become a “no”.  But in the meantime I had cultivated another “maybe” from a friend’s agent and one other from an SCBWI conference contact.  Other rejections poured in, but I continued to communicate with the two “maybes”, compulsively refreshing my email at all moments of the day and night…..until one day, a “yes” arrived!  Best thing that ever happened.

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

She seemed really excited about my stuff.  We’d gone back and forth quite a bit, and in the process, she had read numerous manuscripts of mine.  Her suggestions to me were eye-opening, and based on her feedback I was really able to take the stories to the next level.  Basically, it felt like a reciprocal relationship.  She also made me all warm and fuzzy inside, and both our names started with T, and the bio on her website quoted a song that I had written a picture book version of, and…ok….you get the point!  She was IT!

Has your writing process changed since signing with an agent?

While I don’t think my process has changed…I do think my writing has improved. Working closely with someone who has so much inside experience in the world of children’s books- you can’t help but learn (and at a pretty rapid pace), what your weaknesses are, what your strengths are, and how to make the best of both.

We sometimes hear that picture book writers don’t really need an agent.  What do you think the advantages are of having an agent?

How much time do you have? No, seriously, kudos to those who choose to “go it alone,” but I quickly discovered that it’s a big, bad world out there, and I wanted a local to be my guide, ya know?  Get me the VIP pass to the front of the line, or the key to the dreaded “no un-agented submissions” door.  Besides just speeding the whole process up, it felt amazing to have someone in the industry on my side, vouching for me. In addition, (and this I learned much, much later), sometimes contracts need work.  They aren’t always standard. There can be issues, and as a first time- or even tenth time author, odds are you are not going to know what those issues are, or how to fix them.  But your agent and your agency will, and they will fight for you, and ultimately you will sign the best possible contract you can, retaining the most rights, and once again- you can just relax, and keep focused on writing.

Sounds absolutely blissful… Sigh

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

More rhyming picture books…and, a middle grade I continue to tinker with.  And by tinker with, I mean attempt to begin.

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

Put your best foot forward.  Period.

Do NOT rush to get something out to an agent you met at a conference or a dinner, because you think that while you are fresh in their mind, you should send something to them NOW NOW NOW.  Just wait.  Polish, tweak, edit, send through a critique group you trust, read it aloud, have friends (non-authors) read it aloud TO you….edit some more, tweak, revise, polish.  Then put it away for a week, and DON’T peek at it.  Then reread it with a clear head, and if you are certain it is the best piece of work you can possibly offer up, submit it.

This is SUCH great advice, and what I hear consistently from agents too.

What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

I’m an “excitement nut”.  Adventures, adrenaline rushes, new things- whatever.  I’ll eat it, drink it, climb it or jump out of it.  I pretty much subscribe to the philosophy, “…all you touch, and all you see….is all your life will ever be…” (Pink Floyd)    And my kids.  My kids, my kids, my kids.  I have no idea how I got lucky enough to have them- but they are here, and they are the most incredible experience of all.  I think the real pinochle will be combining adventures and kids and experiencing them all together as a family.  (They just need to get out of diapers first!)

Favorite book of 2010 (any genre)

This is cheating, but I’m gonna go with a favorite that I read in 2010.  It was published in 2008, and it’s Zorgamazoo, by Robert Paul Weston.  BEYOND.

Tiffany, thank you so much for sharing your story with such good humor!  I look forward to celebrating the launches of THE MONSTER WHO LOST HIS MEAN and OLLIE AND CLAIRE!!

**If you are a picture book writer with an agent or an agent with picture book writer clients and would like to be featured in this series, please email me at jhedlund33 (at) yahoo (dot) com.

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

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Reposted on October 25, 2010 to include lots of new information and links

So you’ve finally written your masterpiece and you’re ready to submit.  How are you going to find the perfect editor or agent for your paranormal, dystopian, steampunk, urban fantasy novel?

If I learned one thing at the Big Sur in the Rockies conference, it’s that a large part of the acquisitions process for both editors and agents is a “gut feel.”  They not only think your story will sell, but they love it themselves.  That’s why you do yourself a big disservice by submitting it to an editor/agent that can’t stand paranormal, dystopian, steampunk, urban fantasy novels.  Tastes can vary widely even among editors and agents within the same publishing house/agency.  But how do we find out whose taste is whose?

Research.  All of the editors and agents at the Big Sur workshop agreed that writers hurt everyone – including other aspiring writers – when they blindly send manuscripts to editors and agents without regard to their guidelines and preferences.  Sorting through hundreds of submissions takes away valuable time and often causes them to close the doors on unsolicited manuscripts.  So let’s do the research and take the time to submit only to editors/agents we think will be truly interested in our work.  With all of the information available online, there is really no excuse to skip this all-important step.  Here are six ways to research publishers, editors and agents.

1.    Company websites – Start by searching the websites of the publishers and/or agents you think might be a fit for your book.  Publishers put their booklists, submission guidelines (if they take unsolicited submissions), and sometimes a list of their editors on their sites.  Most agency websites state very clearly what types of books they represent and how to submit, often down to specific agents.  Take the Andrea Brown Literary Agency as an example.  Their website includes a list of their nine agents, the types of manuscripts each agent is looking for and her representative deals.  Why send a picture book to one of the agents that only represents MG or YA when just a few clicks will point you to one of their agents who does?  They are trying to help us target our submissions. Think Jerry Maguire and help them help us!

2.    Social Media – This includes everything from Facebook, Twitter, (see #3), MySpace, blogs, industry networking sites, etc.  Most big publishing houses and literary agencies have a presence on these sites, as do individual editors and agents. You can pick up a great deal of insider information by following them.  I’m continually amazed, too, by the number of editors and agents who give of their time by providing tips and feedback to writers via their blogs.  Some even host contests where you can “win” a critique or a chance to submit to a house that’s otherwise closed to unsolicited submissions.  Besides the biggies like Facebook and Twitter, here are a few social networking sites that connect readers, authors, illustrators, editors and agents, plus a couple of agent/editor blogs that are very helpful (see my blogroll for more).

•    JacketFlap
•    Children’s Book Insider
•    LibraryThing
•    Goodreads
•    Kidlit.com
•    Nathan Bransford

3.    Twitter – If you commit to participating in just one social media site, make it Twitter, which is an absolute gold mine of information.  Many agents and

Comic courtesy of http://www.inkygirl.com

editors and TONS of writers utilize Twitter.  Following key people in your genre will lead you to other websites, blogs and industry announcements, including who is editing which books and why.  Even better, you’ll make “friends.”  I am in awe of how much information I’ve gleaned and how many awesome people I’ve “met” since I joined Twitter.  Are you a Twitter newbie?  Check out this Twitter Guide for Writers from Inkygirl and this post from Elizabeth Craig on how writers can use Twitter. Here are a few other reasons to love Twitter:
•    Tweetchats – live chats where the tweets are focused on a particular topic.  Good ones for children’s writers are #pblitchat (picture books), #kidlitchat (all kidlit genres) and #yalitchat (for young adult writers)
•    Tweetups – Real life, in-person gathering of people who follow each other on Twitter.  I went to my first one at the SCBWI conference in New York.  It’s a great way to meet people and make contacts.
•    Lists – You can create lists on Twitter to categorize people you follow.  I have a kidlit list, and agent list, and editor list and so on.  This way, you can quickly filter tweets by topic.  Even better, most “tweeps” make their own lists public so you can follow their lists too.

4.    Join industry organizations and attend events – Writing is a mostly solitary pursuit, so joining writing associations and groups can help get you out there networking and meeting other people in the business, including editors and agents.  Since joining SCBWI, for example, I’ve attended regional and national conferences, writing workshops, and “schmoozes.”  I’ve had the chance to get my work critiqued by some big-name agents and editors at these events.  Meeting them in person helps me remember what kind of books they like.  I also read their monthly newsletters and the annual “Edited by…” list they make available to members.  All of these events, tools and resources have accelerated my growth as a writer.

5.    Use Market Guides – Even with the Internet, having a few good old-fashioned market guidebooks at your fingertips is essential.  Here are a few to consider:
•    Children’s Writer’s & Illustrator’s Market
•    Guide to Literary Agents
•    The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Publishing Children’s Books
•    Writer’s Market (includes all publishing, not just children’s)

6.    Find out who edits or represents books that you like or that are like yours – This one is a little trickier, but it is often possible to find out who edits which books by Googling, “Who edited X by So and So?”  Sometimes, too, you can find this information on the author’s website.  Often they thank their agent and/or editor.  If you think that editor or agent would like your manuscript, you can now say why in a query letter.  Here are a few great sources for this information, although some, like Publisher’s Marketplace, charge a monthly fee.

  • Literary Rambles — Casey McCormick’s blog has a MUST READ Agent Spotlight series.  Always check to see if she’s covered the agent(s) you are submitting to.  Casey combs the web to find as much material on each agent as she can, and it’s FREE.
  • Publisher’s Marketplace — For $20/month you can find out who agents represent, which editors have published certain books, who represents specific authors, etc.  They also have daily e-newsletters that you can sign up for covering recent deals in all genres.
  • QueryTracker.net — Here you can look up agents and editors, see how many queries they have gotten and what their responses look like (assuming the agent/editor reports them).  You can also find out what genres they represent, submission guidelines and client information.  You can also track queries sent at the site.  The basic service is free.
  • AgentQuery.com — Comprehensive searchable database of literary agents in all genres.  You can search by agent, genre, or by agency.  The site also has great resources on writing query letters.  Best of all, it’s free!
  • AbsoluteWrite.com — Besides providing a treasure trove of resources for all types of writers, the AR Forums provide lots of scoop on agents and editors based on writers’ experiences.  There is a whole “Beware” forum to help authors identify and avoid pitfalls in their searches and relationships.
  • Publisher’s Weekly — They have a section completely devoted to children’s publishing.

So let us go forth and first do the research, then submit to a targeted list.  Good luck and happy submitting!

Done your research and now you’re ready to query?  Go visit Angela Ackerman at The Bookshelf Muse for tips on “Personalizing” Queries using the info you’ve gleaned from your research.

Any other resources you can’t live without?  Leave them in the comments!

Categories: Authors, Children's Books, Publishing, Social Media, Writing · Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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Agent Elena Mechlin, from Pippin Properties, gave a talk at the Rocky Mountain SCBWI fall conference on writing a winning query letter.  Of all the advice she gave, the one point that struck me the most was her statement, “You have 30 seconds to get my attention.”  That may seem harsh, but it’s probably the reality everywhere.  With that as a backdrop, she made these key points:

  • Open with an intriguing line.
  • Don’t be boring.  Start with the hook of the book.
  • Don’t use the full synopsis for a hook.  Give teaser/hook to create suspense.
  • Keep it short, and get to the point.
  • Talk about the book first, then about yourself (best to give bio at the end of the query).
  • Make sure your research shows.  Address the letter to a specific person and say why you think your book is a good fit for him/her.  By all means, mention if you met her at a conference or some other event.
  • Keep marketing ideas out of the query letter; it’s premature.
  • Try to avoid sending attachments if possible.  A picture book manuscript can be sent in its entirety in the body of an email.  Likewise with a three-page sample.  Don’t attach more unless the material is requested.
  • Focus on only one project in the query (your best manuscript), but it’s okay to mention that you have multiple projects underway.
  • Have fun with the query!  Don’t take it all so seriously.  (If anyone has any ideas on how to execute on that suggestion, please let me know :-))

Elena also said if she rejects one project, it is okay to query again with a different manuscript.  She described reading queries as “a treasure hunt.”  Hopefully if you query her, you will strike gold.

Categories: Children's Books, Picture Books, Queries, SCBWI, Writing · Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

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Reposted on October 25, 2010 to include lots of new information and links

So you’ve finally written your masterpiece and you’re ready to submit.  How are you going to find the perfect editor or agent for your paranormal, dystopian, steampunk, urban fantasy novel?

If I learned one thing at the Big Sur in the Rockies conference, it’s that a large part of the acquisitions process for both editors and agents is a “gut feel.”  They not only think your story will sell, but they love it themselves.  That’s why you do yourself a big disservice by submitting it to an editor/agent that can’t stand paranormal, dystopian, steampunk, urban fantasy novels.  Tastes can vary widely even among editors and agents within the same publishing house/agency.  But how do we find out whose taste is whose?

Research.  All of the editors and agents at the Big Sur workshop agreed that writers hurt everyone – including other aspiring writers – when they blindly send manuscripts to editors and agents without regard to their guidelines and preferences.  Sorting through hundreds of submissions takes away valuable time and often causes them to close the doors on unsolicited manuscripts.  So let’s do the research and take the time to submit only to editors/agents we think will be truly interested in our work.  With all of the information available online, there is really no excuse to skip this all-important step.  Here are six ways to research publishers, editors and agents.

1.    Company websites – Start by searching the websites of the publishers and/or agents you think might be a fit for your book.  Publishers put their booklists, submission guidelines (if they take unsolicited submissions), and sometimes a list of their editors on their sites.  Most agency websites state very clearly what types of books they represent and how to submit, often down to specific agents.  Take the Andrea Brown Literary Agency as an example.  Their website includes a list of their nine agents, the types of manuscripts each agent is looking for and her representative deals.  Why send a picture book to one of the agents that only represents MG or YA when just a few clicks will point you to one of their agents who does?  They are trying to help us target our submissions. Think Jerry Maguire and help them help us!

2.    Social Media – This includes everything from Facebook, Twitter, (see #3), MySpace, blogs, industry networking sites, etc.  Most big publishing houses and literary agencies have a presence on these sites, as do individual editors and agents. You can pick up a great deal of insider information by following them.  I’m continually amazed, too, by the number of editors and agents who give of their time by providing tips and feedback to writers via their blogs.  Some even host contests where you can “win” a critique or a chance to submit to a house that’s otherwise closed to unsolicited submissions.  Besides the biggies like Facebook and Twitter, here are a few social networking sites that connect readers, authors, illustrators, editors and agents, plus a couple of agent/editor blogs that are very helpful (see my blogroll for more).

•    JacketFlap
•    Children’s Book Insider
•    LibraryThing
•    Goodreads
•    Kidlit.com
•    Nathan Bransford

3.    Twitter – If you commit to participating in just one social media site, make it Twitter, which is an absolute gold mine of information.  Many agents and

Comic courtesy of http://www.inkygirl.com

editors and TONS of writers utilize Twitter.  Following key people in your genre will lead you to other websites, blogs and industry announcements, including who is editing which books and why.  Even better, you’ll make “friends.”  I am in awe of how much information I’ve gleaned and how many awesome people I’ve “met” since I joined Twitter.  Are you a Twitter newbie?  Check out this Twitter Guide for Writers from Inkygirl and this post from Elizabeth Craig on how writers can use Twitter. Here are a few other reasons to love Twitter:
•    Tweetchats – live chats where the tweets are focused on a particular topic.  Good ones for children’s writers are #pblitchat (picture books), #kidlitchat (all kidlit genres) and #yalitchat (for young adult writers)
•    Tweetups – Real life, in-person gathering of people who follow each other on Twitter.  I went to my first one at the SCBWI conference in New York.  It’s a great way to meet people and make contacts.
•    Lists – You can create lists on Twitter to categorize people you follow.  I have a kidlit list, and agent list, and editor list and so on.  This way, you can quickly filter tweets by topic.  Even better, most “tweeps” make their own lists public so you can follow their lists too.

4.    Join industry organizations and attend events – Writing is a mostly solitary pursuit, so joining writing associations and groups can help get you out there networking and meeting other people in the business, including editors and agents.  Since joining SCBWI, for example, I’ve attended regional and national conferences, writing workshops, and “schmoozes.”  I’ve had the chance to get my work critiqued by some big-name agents and editors at these events.  Meeting them in person helps me remember what kind of books they like.  I also read their monthly newsletters and the annual “Edited by…” list they make available to members.  All of these events, tools and resources have accelerated my growth as a writer.

5.    Use Market Guides – Even with the Internet, having a few good old-fashioned market guidebooks at your fingertips is essential.  Here are a few to consider:
•    Children’s Writer’s & Illustrator’s Market
•    Guide to Literary Agents
•    The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Publishing Children’s Books
•    Writer’s Market (includes all publishing, not just children’s)

6.    Find out who edits or represents books that you like or that are like yours – This one is a little trickier, but it is often possible to find out who edits which books by Googling, “Who edited X by So and So?”  Sometimes, too, you can find this information on the author’s website.  Often they thank their agent and/or editor.  If you think that editor or agent would like your manuscript, you can now say why in a query letter.  Here are a few great sources for this information, although some, like Publisher’s Marketplace, charge a monthly fee.

  • Literary Rambles — Casey McCormick’s blog has a MUST READ Agent Spotlight series.  Always check to see if she’s covered the agent(s) you are submitting to.  Casey combs the web to find as much material on each agent as she can, and it’s FREE.
  • Publisher’s Marketplace — For $20/month you can find out who agents represent, which editors have published certain books, who represents specific authors, etc.  They also have daily e-newsletters that you can sign up for covering recent deals in all genres.
  • QueryTracker.net — Here you can look up agents and editors, see how many queries they have gotten and what their responses look like (assuming the agent/editor reports them).  You can also find out what genres they represent, submission guidelines and client information.  You can also track queries sent at the site.  The basic service is free.
  • AgentQuery.com — Comprehensive searchable database of literary agents in all genres.  You can search by agent, genre, or by agency.  The site also has great resources on writing query letters.  Best of all, it’s free!
  • AbsoluteWrite.com — Besides providing a treasure trove of resources for all types of writers, the AR Forums provide lots of scoop on agents and editors based on writers’ experiences.  There is a whole “Beware” forum to help authors identify and avoid pitfalls in their searches and relationships.
  • Publisher’s Weekly — They have a section completely devoted to children’s publishing.

So let us go forth and first do the research, then submit to a targeted list.  Good luck and happy submitting!

Done your research and now you’re ready to query?  Go visit Angela Ackerman at The Bookshelf Muse for tips on “Personalizing” Queries using the info you’ve gleaned from your research.

Any other resources you can’t live without?  Leave them in the comments!

Categories: Children's Books, Publishing, SCBWI, Social Media, Writing · Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

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Comic courtesy of http://www.inkygirl.com

Andrea Brown, president of the Andrea Brown Literary Agency won the award at the Big Sur in the Rockies workshop for giving the funniest advice on queries:

“It should be like a skirt.  Long enough to cover everything, but short enough to be exciting.”

As we writers know, sending a great query letter is every bit as important as sending a great manuscript.  Maybe even more, since the query letter often dictates whether your manuscript will even be read.

Here are a few other tips I picked up on queries over the weekend besides the obvious ones like avoiding grammatical errors and typos.

  1. State the genre, length and targeted age range of your story immediately after the salutation.  Then go straight to your story pitch.
  2. Keep queries short and to the point. Andrea advised taking all the adjectives and adverbs out of your letter.  They should be action-oriented.
  3. Don’t editorialize. Making a statement like, “this is sure to appeal to…” does not belong in a query letter.  HOWEVER,
  4. It’s okay to compare your book to other popular books on the market. Just MAKE SURE THAT STATEMENT IS ACCURATE.
  5. Don’t state the obvious. If you’re submitting to them, they know you’re looking for representation.  If you included a SASE, they’ll see it.  They’re smart people.
  6. If you are submitting to multiple agents, let them know. If they like your submission, the fact that you have sent it to others might move yours higher in the priority list.
  7. You can say that you have other manuscripts, but only query/pitch one.

These tips are just a tiny slice of the advice we received on queries, so rich was the workshop on all aspects of the craft and the business.  I’ll post more about the workshop as the week progresses, so keep checking back.

In the meantime, consider this piece of advice from Andrea on how to improve your writing:

  1. Read
  2. Read More
  3. Keep Reading
  4. Write
  5. Write More
  6. Keep Revising

Categories: Publishing, SCBWI, Writing · Tags: , , , , , , ,

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