12 X 12 Member Peter McCleeryNever has a How I Got My Agent Post made me laugh out loud, but Peter McCleery’s did. When you read it, I’m sure you’ll know why. It’s tough out there, folks, but with persistence it IS possible to reach your dreams. I sense a Sid Fleischman award in Peter’s future. Many congratulations!

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

Like a lot of newbies to the world of children’s lit, I came out of the gate a-kickin’ and a-buckin’ and ready to take the kid lit world by storm. Little did I know what little I knew. That first year I sent a few manuscripts to a select group of top agents and waited for the slew of offers. Instead I learned what a “form rejection” looks like. And what a “no response” feels like. Luckily, there’s a little thing called the Internet. So slowly but surely I learned what I didn’t know. I wrote. I researched. I read. I did that for another year or so. Then I subbed. I was really ready this time. And this time I got. . . personalized rejections! I was on to something! So I did it all again. Wrote, researched and read. Every few months I thought I was ready and sent out a small batch of queries (1-3). I got a few more rejections, but this time I also got more encouragement. A kind word here, a request for more there, a positive conference critique, etc… Enough to keep me going until I actually WAS ready. From my very first draft to landing an agent, it was probably about four to five years, off and on.

I’d like to share with you my all-time favorite rejection. It shows just how crazy and subjective subbing can be. This is the entire email: “This was hilarious and so vivid. Somehow the writing just didn’t appeal to me.”


What kind of research did you do before submitting?

I scoured the internet. Websites, blogs, twitter. As every writer knows, it’s not procrastination when it’s research. I dug deep and not only did it help me find out what agents would be a good fit, it helped me avoid sending manuscripts to the wrong agent. If I wasn’t truly excited to send something to a particular agent, then I didn’t. And now having landed the perfect agent, I’m so glad I didn’t end up with someone I was “meh” about.

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

I was rather choosy about who I sent my manuscripts to (see above) so I don’t have a ton of rejections. Maybe 15. But the ones I did get stung extra hard.

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

Yes, definitely. In fact I got frustrated enough that I started working on a middle-grade novel. And, when I started mentioning it in my queries, I noticed better responses right away. Agents’ ears perked up for sure. If you work in other categories DEFINITELY mention it in your query.

How did you know your agent was “the one?

I had previously researched Heather Alexander back when she was an editor. I loved her books and had planned to query her (they took unsolicited manuscripts) but never got around to it. I started following her on twitter and thought she was delightful and smart and funny. So, when I heard that she moved over to the agent side at Pippin Properties, I was pretty excited. One day she tweeted that she was looking for “smart-funny” manuscripts. She mentioned Monty Python. I couldn’t get to my email fast enough.

If 12 x 12 helped you in any way during your agent search/development of craft, can you tell us how? (P.S. It is TOTALLY okay if the answer is no. I am not trying to “lead” you 🙂 )

12 x 12 is basically a support group for people crazy enough to write picture books. When you are in the midst of querying and writing and revising and getting rejections, being part of a community of people going through the same thing is very important.

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

One thing that surprised me after signing was how much more pressure I feel. Things suddenly got real. Now there is someone with a vested interest in what I do and I don’t want to let her down. To steal a line from pregnant women: “Now I’m writing for two.” But it’s actually more of a positive, inspiring kind of pressure.

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

Have confidence in your writing. Be bold. Take chances. Don’t write what you think they (agents, editors, etc…) will like. Write the thing YOU like. The thing that’s uniquely you. That’s the kind of manuscript that gets noticed.

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

I don’t think it played much of a factor because I don’t have much of a social platform. Heather probably did a quick google search on me but only AFTER she liked my manuscript.

Tell us something that is on your “bucket list.” Something you’ve dreamed of doing all your life but have yet to accomplish (besides publishing a book, which is inevitable at this point 🙂 )

I would love to write a screenplay that gets made into a movie starring Nick Cage.

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

Besides numerous picture book drafts in various states of condition, I’m also very excited about the previously mentioned middle-grade novel I’m trying to finish.


Peter McCleery has been a member of 12 x 12 since 2013. His debut picture book BOB & JOSS GET LOST will be published by HarpersChildren’s in Fall 2016. Peter was awarded the Author of the Month Award in October 2014 from Highlights for his story, “Invasion of the Space Monkeys.” He lives in Portland, Oregon with his wife and kids. You can find Peter at www.petermccleery.com.

Categories: 12 x 12, Agents, Children's Books, How I Got My Agent, Picture Books, Works in Progress, Writing · Tags: , , , , , , ,


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. Kathleen Rushall from Marsal Lyon Literary Agency will be accepting picture book submissions from 12 x 12 Gold members November 1-15. Heather Alexander from Pippin Properties will be accepting picture book submissions from 12×12 Gold members November 16-30. Kathleen’s profile appears first, followed by Heather’s. Please read BOTH and then decide who would be the best fit for your work.

12 x 12 Featured Agent Kathleen RushallKATHLEEN RUSHALL

I have not met Kathleen Rushall in person, but every agent I’ve asked who they would recommend as a featured agent for 12 x 12 have recommended Kathleen. I also love that Kathleen is dedicated to developing “debut” writers and says, “There’s no better part of this job than calling a writer to tell her she’s been offered a contract for her very first book.” Absolutely, I say! It’s also wonderful to welcome such a committed agent to 12 x 12 as a first-time featured agent.

A little bit about Kathleen from the Marsal Lyon website:

“Kathleen Rushall joined Marsal Lyon in 2011. She represents writers for all age groups of children’s literature, including picture books (fiction and non-fiction), middle grade, and young adult novels. Kathleen is also looking for fresh new adult, women’s fiction, and romance projects. The most important element that draws Kathleen to any project is a strong voice and unforgettable characters.

Kathleen graduated from Seattle University with her bachelor’s degree in English and minor in fine arts. She moved back to her hometown of San Diego to earn her master’s degree in English, specializing in children’s literature, from San Diego State University. When she’s not at her desk, Kathleen enjoys hanging out with her Australian Shepherd, Finn, and German Shepherd, Abe.”

Find out more about Kathleen:

  • Check out the rest of Kathleen’s profile on the Marsal Lyon website here
  • Find Kathleen on Twitter
  • First Five Frenzy on Catching the Crazies
  • Profile on Quick Brown Fox here
  • Kathleen was featured on Stacy O’Neale’s blog here
  • Kathleen on Literary Rambles
  • Operation Awesome interview and Kathleen’s pitch picks here
  • Interview on Love YA
  • Kathleen being interviewed by one of her clients J.R. Johansson here
  • Interview with Deana Barnhart here
  • Interview with YA Fusion
  • Krista Van Dolzer interview here

12 x 12 Featured Agent Heather AlexanderHEATHER ALEXANDER

First, I am incredibly envious of Heather Alexander’s ability to pull off such an adorable hairstyle. 🙂 But in seriousness, I have huge admiration for Heather’s experience and passion in the field of children’s literature. I heard her speak last year at the NJ-SCBWI conference and was so impressed by her breadth of knowledge. I’m happy to welcome Heather to 12 x 12, also as a first-time featured agent.

A little bit about Heather from the Pippin Properties website:

“Heather Alexander comes from a family where the constant ​​refrain was, “Don’t forget to bring a book!” In college, she hid THE PRINCESS DIARIES between Dickens and Hawthorne. One Children’s Lit class later, and her path in publishing became obvious. Heather landed in editorial at Penguin, where she happily stayed for six years, working with ​both​ debut and veteran authors and illustrators. As an agent, she is ​excited to develop new talent and help shape careers, which is what she loves to do best.”

Articles featuring Heather:

Full submission guidelines for Kathleen and Heather will 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 Kathleen Rushall from November 1st – November 15th at 6pm EST/3pm PST.

Submissions will only be accepted for Heather from November 16th – November 30th at 6pm EST/3pm PST.

Good Luck!
Categories: 12 x 12, Agents, Publishing, Queries · Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,


Elena Mechlin Giovinazzo of Pippin Properties will be accepting picture book submissions from 12 x 12 Gold members in October.

Elena Mechlin Giovinazzo - 12 x 12 Agent October 2013I met Elena Giovinazzo (formerly Mechlin) three years ago at our Rocky Mountain SCBWI conference. I gave my first-ever manuscript pitch to her and queried her afterward. Although she rejected that manuscript, she did so in the nicest, most encouraging way. 🙂 I was still fairly new to querying and submitting at the time, and I learned SO MUCH from her in that weekend.

But what I really remember was how easy-going, approachable, and nice she was. A few of us hung out in the bar (I know, I know… hard to imagine me in a bar…) after the banquet, and we sat and chatted about weddings (she was anticipating one in her future), to cheese or not to cheese, and many other non-writing topics that helped me realize agents are regular humans like the rest of us. I have a huge amount of respect for both Elena and Pippin Properties, and I wish participants the best of luck as you submit to her! 

A little bit about Elena from the Pippin Properties website:

“Elena Giovinazzo joined the team in June of 2009. Having begun her publishing career in subsidiary rights, moving on to children’s book marketing with a stint in audio, she realized that a position in agenting would enable her to continue to be involved in the many aspects of publishing about which she is so passionate from one place. She is thrilled to be pursuing her love of children’s literature and the industry from her seat at Pippin and especially enjoys the treasure hunt that is sorting through the daily query emails.”

Here are a few of the guiding beliefs at Pippin Properties:

“Part of the success of Pippin is due to a philosophy shared by all Pippin artists and authors:

The world owes you nothing. You owe the world your best work.

Evergreens—we want to create books that will stand the test of time.

We want to work with people in all media who share our philosophy.”

When I asked Elena what she looks for in picture book submissions, here is how she responded:

“I tend to gravitate towards spare, funny texts. I have a STRONG aversion to rhyming text as 9.8 times out of ten the story would be so much better if told in prose. I like books with a funny twist or a little ambiguity to them.”  ​

Full submission guidelines for Elena will be posted in the Membership Forum September 30.

Good Luck!

Elena will be speaking at the Minnesota SCBWI Annual Conference October 12-13, 2013

Elena’s Interview with Middle Grade Ninja – Check out #3 – What are the qualities of your ideal client?

Elena’s Interview with Writer’s Digest

How to Write a Winning Query – summary of Elena’s 2010 session at RMC-SCBWI on my blog

Query Questions with Elena

Interview with Elena and her Pippin colleagues on Cynsations

Elena on Children’s Publishing Blog

Interview on Writer Unboxed

Elena on Literary Rambles

Hunger Mountain Interview

Interview with Scribe

Brian Henry’s Quick Brown Fox blog post

Elena’s Bio on the Highlights Foundation website

Elena’s Bio from the Unicorn’s Writers Conference

Find Elena on Twitter

Find Elena on Facebook

Elena is on the list of Top 25 Agents – Highest Children’s Book Sales April 2012-April 2013




As of 8:00 a.m. on Wednesday, September 4, GOLD members of 12 x 12 are free to submit to John Cusick.

Categories: 12 x 12, Agents, Children's Books, Picture Books, Queries · Tags: , , , , , , , , ,


*ETA – This list is a compilation of my thoughts after reading loads of articles and dozens of draft queries in different venues (including critiques of my own queries).  It is NOT based on any one particular query I may have seen in a particular venue.  🙂

That’s right.  I couldn’t stop at ten, so fifteen it is.

I’ve been thinking nonstop about queries lately, both because of WriteOnCon and because I am at that stage with a couple of my manuscripts. After reading many “how-to” articles and draft queries on countless blogs, forums and writing boards, I’ve come up with my own list of don’ts.  Some of these are common sense and you’ve probably seen them elsewhere.  Some of them are my own.  Keep in mind that querying is personal and subjective.  You may disagree with some of these or be able to point to examples of queries that led to contracts even though they made use of a “don’t” on this list.  That’s fine.  Always trust your gut.  These are the ones that work for me.

  1. DON’T misspell the name of the agent/editor.  Most agents say a misspelled name is not a deal-breaker for them, especially if their names have an unusual spelling.  Still, I say no excuses here.  Check, re-check and check again.  This information is readily available online.  You only have one shot to impress this person, and misspelling his or her name is not the way to do it.
  2. DON’T make any spelling, grammar or punctuation mistakes. Unlike #1, most agents are not as forgiving about careless mistakes.  If you make them in a one-page letter, they’ll assume you’ve made them in your manuscript too.  These people work long, long hours and read thousands of queries every year.  They are looking for a reason to reject you.  Don’t hand it to them on a silver platter.
  3. DON’T mention the fact that you are unpublished (if applicable).  They’ll assume you’re not if you don’t include pub creds in your bio.  If they love your writing, it won’t matter to them.  So why point it out?  Instead, focus on the credentials you do have that relate to your writing (writing associations, critique groups, awards, etc.)
  4. DON’T say “so and so” was the inspiration for this story unless it is a nonfiction biography.  The reason?  They don’t really care that your daughter said this cute thing one day and the rest is history.  They care about the story.  You’re wasting precious real-estate in your query letter to convey something that isn’t important to them.
  5. Likewise, DON’T mention anyone who loved your book unless that person or organization is highly respected and well-known in the industry.  Of course your kids love your book.  So might your second-grade class.  And your mom.  Unfortunately they don’t make publishing decisions, so their opinions don’t count for much (sorry!).  On the other hand, if you’ve written a book of poems for kids and Maya Angelou loves it and is willing to go on record and help promote it, then by all means…
  6. DON’T say how long you’ve been working on the manuscript.  Doing so is almost certain to hurt you either way.  If you admit it’s been ten years, an agent will wonder why it took so darned long and if you will ever be able to write a book again.  If you say it took ten days, they may assume you haven’t taken it as seriously as you should or you are querying prematurely.
  7. DON’T send gifts of any kind with the query letter.  Seriously.  Just don’t.  It’s creepy and it will make you stand out in all the wrong ways.
  8. Don’t say your story will be an instant best-seller or make any other promise that you don’t know for certain you can make good on.  Not only with the agent/editor not believe you, they probably won’t believe anything else you say about your manuscript either.
  9. Don’t say your book is awesome/thrilling/a page-turner.  This is similar to #8, but more nuanced.  Here you’re not making a claim about potential sales, but you’re breaking another cardinal rule of writing – “show, don’t tell.”  Your query needs to show the editor/agent how great your story is.  If you simply tell them it is, they have nothing to base it on but your opinion.  And I hate to say it, but you’re not exactly unbiased are you?
  10. DON’T use the words, “I believe…”  In my previous job, I did tons of persuasive writing, and using the words “I think, I believe, I hope you will find…” is the number one mistake writers make when they are trying to be convincing.  As writers, we are supposed to project confidence.  You want your readers – in this case agents or editors – to trust you.  Make sure they know they are in good hands.  Why should they believe what you say about your story if you’re not even sure yourself?  Luckily, this error is easy to fix.  Before:  “I believe this story is timely because the World Cup will take place in Brazil in 2014, which will spark interest in Brazilian culture.”  After: “This book is timely because the World Cup will take place in Brazil…”  Which one sounds stronger?  I know we’re all trying to be polite and respectful in these query letters, but that doesn’t mean you can’t be sure of yourself when it comes to your story and your writing.
  11. DON’T use a question in your pitch.  I once made this mistake in a query of mine, and when I got a critique from the awesome query-ninja Elana Johnson, she called it “weaksauce.”  When I asked why, she said something to the effect of, “People will either know the answer or not care, or maybe both.”  Example: “Will Prince Fancy Pants slay the dragon and make it back to the castle in time to save the princess before the hourglass runs out?”  Answer: “Yeah probably, but now I know how the story ends so why bother reading the book?”  MANY of the agents and editors commented on their distaste for questions as pitches during WriteOnCon, making me eternally grateful that Elana gave me this advice more than a year ago so I could stop making that rookie mistake.
  12. DON’T send form letters or mass mail.  The “Dear Agent” letter doesn’t work and it’s just plain lazy.  If you can’t come up with a reason why you want to query that specific agent, why would even want to be represented by that person?  Another reason to avoid mass mailing is that you also give everybody the opportunity to mass reject you.  Then what?
  13. DON’T discuss your ideas for marketing tie-ins like plush dolls, toys, etc.  Don’t we all wish our writing would lead to a TV/movie/retail franchise?  It’s not going to happen to most of us.  If you spend your precious space in a query letter going over all of your great ideas for just such a campaign, the agent will be left to wonder how important the writing is to you.  Here’s the other thing: the only stories/characters that turn into a franchise are from books that are bestsellers.  See #8 if you’re starting to think it’s a good idea to back up your marketing plans with the statement that your book will be a bestseller.
  14. DON’T lie or stretch the truth.  Just because you met one of your prospective agents’ clients or colleagues at a conference does not mean that person is a reference.  Don’t say, “I got your name from…” or “I was referred to you by…” unless it was crystal clear that person intended to refer you.  Otherwise, you will burn bridges both with the agent and with the author or colleague (because they will follow-up).  Unless a person actually says the words, “You can use my name,” or s/he makes the introduction for you, it is not a referral.  I once wrote a query where I mentioned that I had worked with one of this agent’s clients on the specific manuscript I was querying (true).  That was how I personalized the query.  I also made it very clear that I was not implying a referral.  Although that query was rejected, it came with a personal response and an invitation to query other projects.
  15. DON’T let all the dos and don’ts of querying paralyze you into never sending out any queries.  This is the most important and probably the most difficult “don’t” on the list.  It’s hard enough trying to decide when a manuscript is “finished,” much less add in the stress of writing the perfect query letter.  At some point, you just have to go for it.  I still get butterflies every time I hit the “Send” button on a query, but I also know the work isn’t doing any good sitting on my hard drive.  Sure, if I don’t send any queries, I’ll never get rejected.  But I’ll never get accepted either…

Now for a bonus round.  If you haven’t heard of the Query Shark (Janet Reid from FinePrint Literary), get thyself over to her site at once.  These two titles came from her and gave me a laugh (even though they’re based on actual queries!)

“Don’t quote rejection letters in a query.” Uhh.. okay?  *scratches head in bewilderment*

“Don’t query if you’re dead.”  I will surely try not to.  If I’m dead, I might have bigger problems than the fact that I’m unpublished.

And here’s an article worth reading from the title alone…

25 Reasons Your Query Letter SucksWrite It Sideways

Finally, some query resources you can’t afford to overlook:

Agent Query

Query Shark – The Shark does bite, but only if you deserve it.

Query Tracker

Writing a Query Letter – Posts from the aforementioned Elana Johnson, who is also the author of an e-book on the subject called From the Query to the Call.  I own it, and I can tell you it’s very helpful.

And a couple of my own posts on the subject:

How to Write a Winning Query – notes from Elena Mechlin’s (Pippin Properties) conference talk

A Good Query Letter is Like a Skirt – from Andrea Brown’s talk at Big Sur in the Rockies

And now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go compulsively check my inbox every five minutes check my email to see if I have any responses yet…

Agree or disagree with my don’ts?  Any other resources you want to share?  Let us know in the comments.

Categories: Agents, Authors, Publishing, Queries, Writing · Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,


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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