Bad Query, BatmanA funny thing happened the other day (seriously, it IS funny, and it did just happen the other day). Emma Walton Hamilton and I were working on adding concept book (books where the focus is on a concept – such as ABCs or counting – rather than a narrative arc) examples to the “Hook/Pitch” Unit in The Complete Picture Book Submissions System. Since A TROOP IS A GROUP OF MONKEYS is a concept book, I figured I’d go back and look for query letters I’d sent before it was published.

Emma convinced me to share my earliest one with you as proof that NOBODY starts as an expert on writing query letters and submitting. The query I am about to share with you contains many of the same errors we teach you how to avoid in the System. It also took THREE YEARS after first submitting with the query you see below before I got a publishing deal for TROOP. The manuscript improved some during that time, but honestly not much. My mistakes were mostly in my query and submission approach.

Read this query and see if you can guess what is wrong (BEFORE looking at the analysis)! If miss some of them, you owe it to yourself to check out The Complete Picture Book Submissions System. The main reason Emma and I created The System was to help you avoid train wrecks like this one and to shorten your time from submission to success.

Here it is. Take a look, then see the analysis of what went wrong.

TROOP Query

 

Let’s start at the beginning.

Paragraph 1

 

Things don’t improve much in the second paragraph.

Paragraph 2

 

Not bad, but not great.

Paragraph 3

 

Here’s where things start to go completely off the rails.

Paragraph 4 colors (2)

OMG – WHAT?

Paragraph 5

 

One final word of caution here. One reason for the debacle that is the last paragraph of this email is because I got some horrible, no good, very bad advice from an author who taught one of the first courses I ever took on children’s book writing. She gave me a lot of other advice I had to unlearn, too. It is SO IMPORTANT to consider the source of where you are getting your information!!

I mentioned at the beginning of this post that my story has a happy ending. Shortly after I got form TROOP Coverrejections or no responses from TEN different agents and editors (!!!), I gave myself a moratorium on submissions and focused on studying the craft and the business of publishing. That’s why it took three more years before I got a book deal, and another year before I signed with my agent. (The revised query that got me success is included in our Query Clinic Module as a “before/after” example.)

Once again, the intent behind The Complete Picture Book Submissions System is to ensure you don’t make these same mistakes or any of the MANY others we cover in The System. We want to shorten your learning curve significantly, so you can go from submissions to success in, if not a single bound, at least several bounds fewer than it took me. 🙂

The System is available until 6:00 p.m. EST on March 6th. After that, we’re closing registration to the public so we can focus on our new members. If you learned ANYTHING from this post, it’s likely there are aspects of querying and submitting picture books you would learn from The System. Take a look and see if it’s for you.

Have you already purchased The Complete Picture Book Submissions System and want to leave feedback? Or do you have questions? All comments/questions are welcome!

Picture Book Submissions System

Categories: A Troop is a Group of Monkeys, Agents, Picture Books, Publishing, Queries · Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

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12 x 12 WebinarTwo weeks ago, NYT Bestselling author, children’s literature professor and freelance editor Emma Walton Hamilton and I launched the 12 x 12 webinar series with a discussion on how to KNOW when your picture book is submission-ready.

Now we’re moving on to the submission itself. We have some exciting updates in the works to our product(s) on picture book submissions, but we need your help! So here’s the deal. If you click on this link and answer this ONE question, we’ll instantly send you a free video outlining the four essential elements of a picture book query.

The entire process (including watching the video) takes about five minutes.

Here’s the link again.

Oh, and this ONE time I have to ask you not to leave your question in the comments, but instead leave it in the survey at the link.

If you’ve already seen the Four Essential Elements of a Picture Book Query video, we’d love for you to leave feedback in the comments for others.

Please feel free to share this post with your picture book writing friends. The more responses we get, the better we’ll be able to help you with your submissions.

Thanks so much!

Categories: 12 x 12, Picture Books, Publishing, Queries · Tags: , , , , , , , ,

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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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anti-resolutionThree years ago I wrote a blog post that garnered quite a bit of attention. It was titled, 2012 Anti-Resolution Revolution. I skipped 2013, but got back on track in 2014. I’m bringing this tradition with me into 2015, and I’ve asked participants in my 12 Days of Christmas for Writers program to do the same.

Here is an excerpt from the original post:

It is so tempting to start listing all the things one wants to accomplish at the start of a New Year, but in my experience, the process (and thus the result) is flawed.

I believe the reason resolutions often don’t work is because they start from a place of lack, of negativity, of failure.  We think about all the things we weren’t happy with in the previous year and set out to “fix” them in the new one…  Lose weight = I weigh too much…  Make more money = I don’t have enough money.  Write more often = I don’t write enough

There is absolutely nothing wrong with setting goals, and achieving them is even better.  However, the goals need to be set on a strong foundation… Let’s first celebrate success and then determine how to carry that forward into the New Year rather than berating ourselves for what did not get done

It is CRITICAL to reflect on what you DID accomplish in the previous year. How else can you build from the base you already have? If you don’t take the time to tally up and celebrate what you’ve already accomplished, your resolutions will crumble. You’ll be starting from scratch in every category, and starting from scratch feels scary.

Here is what GOALS (vs. resolutions) look like when crafted this way. Lose weight = What did I do last year to improve my health, and what can I do to continue that progress? Make more money = How much money did I make last year, from which sources, and how can I increase output from those sources and add new ones? Write more often = What did I write this year and how am I going to use that writing in the new year while also writing new stories/articles/books, etc.?

Because I am a firm believer that it takes far more courage to celebrate and compliment yourself than it does to criticize and berate yourself, I’ve invited 12 Days of Christmas for Writers participants to post their successes on their blogs and websites too. Feel free to share links to your posts in the comments here!

Here is a list of my major professional accomplishments of 2014. 

  1. I wrote 7 new picture book drafts and revised 12. Plus I wrote a book proposal. That’s a personal best for me in terms of volume of writing!!
  2. Launched the third year of the 12 x 12 picture book writing challenge with a spruced up Membership Forum. Grew to 750 members!
  3. A TROOP IS A GROUP OF MONKEYS storybook app won the Independent Book Publisher’s Association Benjamin Franklin Digital Gold Award.
  4. A SHIVER OF SHARKS storybook app won a 2014 Digital Book Award.
  5. Attended the first-ever Picture Book Boot Camp with THE Jane Yolen at her home in Massachusetts.
  6. My agent, Erzsi Deak, took my one of my books out on submission (still awaiting responses).
  7. Ran the second annual Writer’s Renaissance retreat in Florence Italy to great success.
  8. Launched a brand new website for Writer’s Renaissance.Me with MLFY
  9. Filed my first tax return as a single, self-employed person.
  10. Launched a comprehensive online course – How to Make Money as a Writer.
  11. Launched The Ultimate Guide to Picture Book Submissions (with my friend and colleague Emma Walton Hamilton).
  12. Participated as a speaker in the SCBWI-MI webinar series on the topic of being an Author Entrepreneur.
  13. Met with all Denver-area bookstores to plan events for the launch of MY LOVE FOR YOU IS THE SUN and to get them to carry the print version of A TROOP IS A GROUP OF MONKEYS.
  14. Learned, once and for all, to use Scrivener. I have to credit Joe Michael’s excellent course,* which I keep open every time I write in the program.
  15. Presented at the 21st Century Children’s Nonfiction conference on the topic of changes in the publishing industry, storybook apps, and connecting with your audience.
  16. Presented at the New Jersey SCBWI conference on the topics of author-entrepreneurship and crowdfunding.
  17. Attended the LA-SCBWI Annual Summer conference and was interviewed by Lee Wind for the Official SCBWI Blog.
  18. MY LOVE FOR YOU IS THE SUN released on September 9th!
  19. My first radio show interview took place the day before my book launch party.
  20. Held hugely successful book launch at Saturn Booksellers in my hometown of Gaylord, MI. (psst… Saturn still has signed copies of the book in their store…)
  21. Visited all three elementary schools, for free, in my hometown during my launch week.
  22. Presented at the SCBWI-MI conference on the subject of 21st century publishing.
  23. Presented at my first-ever book festival – The Southern Festival of Books – with MY LOVE FOR YOU IS THE SUN illustrator Susan Eaddy.
  24. Conducted school visits and several bookstore signings with Susan Eaddy, including Parnassus Books, The Tattered Cover, The Book Bar, The Bookies, and Boulder Bookstore. (As a public service announcement, ALL of these stores have signed copies of MY LOVE FOR YOU IS THE SUN)
  25. Fulfilled all the rewards for Kickstarter backers of MY LOVE FOR YOU IS THE SUN.
  26. MY LOVE FOR YOU IS THE SUN was nominated for the 2014 CYBILS awards in the picture book category.
  27. Spent a week in London doing research for my picture book biography.
  28. Launched a brand new website for the 12 x 12 Picture Book Writing Challenge
  29. Participated in PiBoIdMo and came up with 28 new picture book ideas, one of which is already drafted.
  30. Hired a bookkeeper and have begun to get my business finances in order, not just for tax season but also for planning and forecasting.
  31. Continued to contribute to Katie Davis’ Brain Burps About Books podcast.

I’m quite happy with this list. 🙂

Now it’s your turn to make YOUR list! Share in the comments if you’d like. 🙂

*I love Joe’s course so much I became an affiliate. That means if you use my link and make a purchase, I get a small commission. As always, I NEVER recommend anything I don’t love and use myself. But it is important to do your own due diligence before making any purchase to determine whether it will work for you and/or meet your needs. 🙂

Categories: 12 x 12, A Shiver of Sharks, A Troop is a Group of Monkeys, Agents, Apps, Authors, Brain Burps About Books, Creativity, Crowdfunding, Holidays, Italy, My Love For You Is The Sun, PiBoIdMo, Picture Books, Poetry, Publishing, SCBWI, Storybook Apps, Works in Progress, Writer's Renaissance, Writing · Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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Marcie ColleenI am always excited to introduce our monthly featured authors, but this month, I am jumping-out-of-my-skin excited. Why? Because today I get to bring you one of my first and best writing friends. Marcie Colleen began 12 x 12 in its inaugural year in 2012. She first appeared on my blog in March, 2012 as part of the Tuesday 12 x 12 series spotlighting pre-published authors. She came on again in July, 2013 in the “How I Got My Agent” series. And today, she appears once more, this time as an author with multiple book contracts from major publishing houses.

November was a big month for Marcie. First, Scholastic announced their acquisition of THE ADVENTURE OF THE PENGUINAUT (which by the way was her FIRST 12 x 12 PB draft in January, 2012!!). And if that wasn’t enough, her book LOVE, TRIANGLE (Harper Collins, Balzer & Bray) was sold at auction in a two-book deal with FIVE editors vying for the deal! Her story inspired ME so much I figured it couldn’t fail to inspire all of you – especially those of you who are “just writers.” PLUS, one lucky 12 x 12 participant will win a picture book critique from Marcie at the end of the month. So please help me give the warmest of welcomes to my dear friend and now PUBLISHED author, Marcie Colleen!

*squeal of a live microphone*

Ahem, ahem. Is this thing on?

Hi, fellow 12x12ers!

I am so glad that Julie asked me to be the 12×12 December Featured Author because I have a little Public Service Announcement that I would like to make.

December can be a fun, festive time. It’s a time of celebration as we look at the achievements of this past year. Yet we also look to a crisp clean slate labeled “2015” which is full of possibility.

But if you are even a tad insecure about your journey to be a picture book writer, this time of year can be unnerving.

You know what I am talking about. You are at some nice holiday gathering and the following scene happens…

RANDOM PARTY GUEST:                   What do you do?

YOU:                                                      I am a picture book writer.

RANDOM PARTY GUEST:                   Oh, do you illustrate?

YOU:                                                      No. I’m just a writer. (Sheepishly gulp your wine)

(end scene)

Painful, right? Can you relate?

Recently, Publisher’s Weekly ran a story about a debut picture book which sold for six figures in an eight house auction. Wowee! Holy smokes, right??

As writers, we need to allow stories like this to give us hope. However, the conversation on 12×12’s Facebook page quickly turned to “Well, it’s an author-illustrator project. If only I could draw.” And the sad trombone played as the lowly “just writers” sheepishly hung their heads and opened a bottle of wine.

This year I am making it my personal mission to end the “just a writer” response. Let’s not tolerate this talk moving into 2015.

Instead, I would like to provide you with a new script I have written. It’s my little holiday gift to you. Enjoy.

RANDOM PARTY GUEST:                   What do you do?

YOU:                                                      I am a picture book writer.

RANDOM PARTY GUEST:                   Oh, do you illustrate?

YOU:                                                      No. I am a writer. Words are my paint. I am a wordsmith. I dabble in puns like Tammi Sauer. I use brushstrokes of rhyme like Lori Degman.

I build worlds with various combinations of only 26 letters, like Aaron Reynolds, Mac Barnett and Tara Lazar.

I sometimes twist familiar worlds with my own imagination to create something fresh and new like Corey Rosen Schwartz or Jon Scieszka.

With only black text I can conjure a character so life-like they jump right off the page and into the hearts of those who read it. Like Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen, Susanna Leonard Hill and Doreen Cronin.

And on that same white paper, with the Times New Roman text, I can inspire like Alexis O’Neill, explore like Kate Messner, comfort like Eileen Spinelli, quiet like Deborah Underwood, tug at the heart strings like Ame Dyckman, and have kids and parents alike rolling on the floor like Michael Ian Black.

After all, BJ Novak helped us all see the power and value in words when he did all of this in The Book with No Pictures.

My 300-500 words in 12 point font on white can sell in a multi-house auction with comparable money to an author-illustrator’s deal.

Even without illustrations. Even if I am a debut. Like Marcie Colleen’s Love, Triangle that had a five house auction and ended up with a very nice two book deal from HarperCollins.

To answer your question, I do not illustrate. My words inspire illustrations. I come from a long tradition of storytellers.

I am a picture book writer.

(end scene)

Got it?

Now, all of my lovely former “just writers,” go celebrate. You’ve done well. Finish 2014 strong and see you in the New Year. Raise that glass of wine to those who have gone before you and those you will someday join. No more sheepish gulping.

*drops mic*

Bio:

Marcie Colleen is proud to be just a picture book writer. She is an inaugural member of 12×12 and her debut, The Adventure of the Penguinaut (Scholastic, 2016), was her January manuscript in 2012. This past November, Marcie sold Love, Triangle in a five house auction to Balzer+Bray/HarperCollins as part of a two book deal. Marcie is represented by Susan Hawk/The Bent Agency. She lives in Brooklyn, NYC with her husband—Lego artist Jonathan Lopes—and their mischievous sock monkey. To learn more, visit her at www.thisismarciecolleen.com or follow her at @MarcieColleen1.

Categories: 12 x 12, 12 x 12 Featured Author, Agents, Authors, Friendship, Giveaway, Goals, Guest Blogging, How I Got My Agent, Picture Books, Publishing, Writing · Tags: , , , , , , , ,

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Signing at Boulder Bookstore!

Signing at Boulder Bookstore!

This week was filled with the stuff of dreams. Signing books in some of my favorite stores, reading MY LOVE FOR YOU IS THE SUN to children of all ages, “playing” with illustrator Susan Eaddy and showing her around Boulder/Denver, and being surrounded by friends and loved ones. Most of all, I am grateful I was able to share all of this with my children.

Quotes on Gratitude

“Today I choose to live with gratitude for the love that fills my heart, the peace that rests within my spirit, and the voice of hope that says… all things are possible.” — Unknown

“There is no joy without gratitude.” — Brene Brown

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” Matthew 7:7

Gratitude list for the week ending November 8

  1. Susan and I got to present and/or sign books at four of my favorite local bookstores — The Tattered Cover, The Book Bar, The Boulder Bookstore, and The Bookies! You can pick up signed copies of both MY LOVE FOR YOU IS THE SUN and A TROOP IS A GROUP OF MONKEYS at all of these stores. Go Indies!!
  2. Being able to share my home and town with Susan in exchange for the wonderful time she showed me in
    Look Mom, Face Out!

    Look Mom, Face Out!

    Nashville

  3. GOOD NEWS on a new manuscript! Much excitement and the thrill of possibility
  4. My daughter knocked her singing solo out of the park at the 6th grade choir performance. So proud!
  5. So many friends and family came to our signings and events – an honor
  6. Doing a school visit with one of my in-person critique partner’s fourth grade class! She’s an amazing teacher and writer!!
  7. Boulder put on its best in terms of weather – gorgeous all week
  8. Dinner at Ten Ten Brasserie
  9. Seldom do I engage in retail therapy, but since I was showing Susan around… 🙂 I found a few great things for myself.
  10. The right to vote

What are you grateful for this week?

Categories: Children's Books, Family, Friendship, Gratitude Sunday, My Love For You Is The Sun, Picture Books, Poetry, Works in Progress, Writing · Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

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12 x 12 Member Laura GehlThis is an especially fun “How I Got My Agent” post for me to share because Laura Gehl not only got her agent through the 12 x 12 picture book writing challenge, but she signed with MY agent, Erzsi Deak! That makes us fellow chicks in the Hen & Ink “coop.” When you read Laura’s story and see how hard she works and how accomplished she is with her writing, you won’t be surprised she landed an agent. AND, I’m very excited that she’s getting started building her platform with a brand new website and blog. Recently, she blogged about her writing process at Hen & Inkblots, our agency blog.

If all that weren’t enough, her first picture book, ONE BIG PAIR OF UNDERWEAR, releases next month – the SAME DAY as my book release!! So get ready for a party on September 9th! In the meantime, please welcome Laura.

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

I’ve been writing for about ten years…but mostly magazine articles, not books. Once I decided to look into publishing picture books, I could see that I would have a lot more options if I found an agent. I did get my first two picture book contracts without an agent, though…it is not impossible!

What kind of research did you do before submitting?

I read everything I could find on-line. And I do mean everything.

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

I’ve never counted! I did send out a large number of queries before finding an agent. The agents who took the time to write a personal response helped me keep going. I started by querying only with rhyming manuscripts, and I think I would have found an agent much sooner if I had dropped the rhymes. However, my first two picture books (ONE BIG PAIR OF UNDERWEAR/Beach Lane, fall 2014; AND THEN ANOTHER SHEEP TURNED UP/Kar-Ben, spring 2015) are in rhyme. So if you love writing in rhyme, don’t give up.

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

I did feel daunted by the number of great agents who said they only wanted to represent author-illustrators. And I felt particularly worried when one agent said she loved my picture books but only wanted to sign me if I had a submission-ready middle-grade text in addition (she explained that picture books are just too hard to sell). In the end, though, several agents ended up expressing interest in my picture book texts.

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

I read an interview with Erzsi Deak, who is now my agent. In the interview, Erzsi said that she tries to make sure all of her writers and illustrators feel attended to, or coddled (she probably put it better than that). I am NOT patient and definitely couldn’t go weeks without hearing from my agent, so I thought Erzsi’s style would be perfect for me. Sure enough, if Erzsi ever gets impatient with my constant emails, she hides it well! ONE BIG PAIR OF UNDERWEAR by Laura Gehl

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 provided me with the chance to submit to Erzsi and encouraged me to develop picture book texts, two of which are now under contract (PEEP AND EGG: I’M NOT HATCHING/FSG, spring 2016; HARE AND TOROISE RACE ACROSS ISRAEL/Kar-Ben, spring 2015). Equally important, 12 x 12 set me up with my fantastic critique group. I cannot imagine how I ever wrote anything without them! When we started, no one in the group had an agent. Since then, three of us have found agents, and I know the others are getting very close.

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

Not really. I try to get my manuscripts into the best possible shape before sending them to Erzsi. Which means my mom and my husband read a manuscript (and say “This is great!”), and then my critique partners read the manuscript (and say, “This is great…but here are 28 things to change”). Only after I fix those 28 things, and probably 27 more things that are wrong with the next few drafts, do I send the manuscript along to Erzsi.

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

I agree with the frequent advice that you should research agents in advance and submit only your best work. On the other hand, I think it is important to get your work out there. At some point, you need to stop researching, stop revising, and just submit. Also: have a list of agents ready before you submit to even one. That way, if you get a rejection, you can just move on to the next agent on your list, which will limit your moping (eating chocolate while moping briefly is still definitely allowed). Lastly: keep a file of any positive words you get from agents. Literally cut and paste JUST the positive words from a rejection and put them in that file. Then read through your positive words file when you start getting discouraged.

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

In my case, no. I am currently working on a website, in advance of my first book coming out in September, 2014. I’m also trying to figure out how to use social media without it becoming a black hole that sucks up all of my writing time.

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 🙂 )

Riding a tandem bicycle. I can’t wait to have my husband do all the work while we zoom uphill.

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

I am always working on a gazillion projects at once. Right now I am working on several picture books, an early reader, three fiction chapter books, a nonfiction chapter book, and a middle grade novel. I’m also excited to announce my new website is up! Come and find me at www.lauragehl.com.

 

Categories: 12 x 12, Agents, Books, Children's Books, How I Got My Agent, Picture Books, Publishing, Queries, Rhyming, Writing · Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

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12 x 12 Member Kristen LarsonI would like to say my most favorite thing about Kirsten Larson is that she always has a corkscrew in case of emergencies, but that’s not true. 😉 Having had the pleasure of meeting (and wining and dining) with her on more than one occasion, I can say without a doubt the best thing about Kirsten is her enthusiasm for everything kidlit related. I’ve learned more about the opportunities in nonfiction from her than anyone else. She is single-handedly responsible for convincing me that writing nonfiction can be fun! It has been amazing to watch Kirsten grow as a writer while accumulating success after success over the past 2.5 years. I think, once you read her post, you’ll “catch” her enthusiasm too. Please welcome Kirsten!

I almost can remember the exact moment it started – August 2011. I was retired from journalism, public relations, fundraising, grant writing, and pretty much everything else but feeding and entertaining two boys, aged three and five. We had spent our days with science experiments, playgroups, field trips, and of course reading dozens of books.

During a play date, a recently-returned-to-work-mom asked me about my plans for when the youngest started preschool in the fall. I thought about how much fun it was to watch the kids learn, their eyes lighting up with discovery. I thought about our library visits, with the boys racing through the juvenile nonfiction stacks, pulling everything off the shelves. And then I thought I’d return to writing, but this time for children.Katie Davis’s Brain Burps About Books. It was destiny. I wrote a half dozen nonfiction picture books. I joined the world’s best critique group. I submitted a few manuscripts to Rate Your Story. They got good reviews, so I subbed them … to crickets. I started writing for an online science and literacy curriculum. I joined SCBWI and went to the annual conference in Los Angeles. I was spinning my wheels.

In January 2013 I regrouped. I signed up for 12 x 12 again, but only as a bronze member. I wrote … wait for it … one picture book manuscript the whole year. Yeah, that’s pretty bad. But 2013 was THE YEAR I became a children’s writer. You see, I had a goal: to break into the children’s magazine market followed by the school and library market.

Science Fair Success! and Using the Scientific Method, from Rourke Educational Media.

In January 2014, I joined 12 x 12 for the third time with renewed gusto. This time I was going for gold. I completely revised two nonfiction PBs from 2012 and 2013 and turned them into ficinformational picture books. To date, I’ve written three more manuscripts, both fiction and nonfiction. And I’ve started subbing to agents.

I am a children’s writer, thanks in large part to 12×12 and its networking opportunities. This group introduced me to:

• Julie (ok, that’s a given), everybody loves our fearless leader
• Susanna Leonard Hill and her Making Picture Book Magic Class.
Meg Miller’s ReViMo, which forced me to completely overhaul a couple of manuscripts.
• Miranda Paul and her fantastic Rate Your Story service
• Laura Salas and WRITING FOR THE EDUCATIONAL MARKET, the best book ever on breaking into the field
• My critique groups (you rock!)
WriteOnCon, which helped me connect with my mentor in the school and library market
• I’m sure I’m leaving out others, but you get the idea. Pretty much every blog I read, craft book I buy, etc. is thanks to 12x.

When it comes down to it, the ability to submit to agents outside of the slush is nice. But the best part of 12×12 is the camaraderie and the connections you’ll make. They helped me land the best job in the world.

Kirsten W. Larson is freelance children’s science writer and book author. Her work appears in Boys’ Quest, ASK, ODYSSEY and AppleSeeds. Kirsten spent six years working for NASA and frequently writes about space for kids. She has four forthcoming science titles for children in grades two through six. SCIENCE FAIR SUCCESS and USING THE SCIENTIFIC METHOD are now available for presale here and here.

Categories: 12 x 12, Books, Brain Burps About Books, Children's Books, Guest Blogging, Picture Books, Publishing, Queries, Recipes, SCBWI, Writing · Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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12 x 12 Member Emily LimIt seems that Emily Lim and I are kindred spirits in forging less-conventional paths to publishing. We even both got breaks at the Bologna Book Fair. Moral? There’s more than one way to achieve your dreams! What I love about her How I Got My Agent post is how she was able to turn what some viewed as drawbacks and/or risks (location, self-publishing, etc.), and turned them into strengths. She didn’t give up. She kept writing. And eventually, she found an agent who shared her vision for her career. Please welcome Emily!

How long had you been writing before seeking an agent, and what made you decide it was time to look for one?
I had what appeared to be a quick start to landing an agent. The founder of a top US children’s books literary agency was on the expert panel for my Book Council Publishing Initiative where I was a winner in 2007. She said a line in my Prince Bear & Pauper Bear manuscript made her laugh, and that if you can make an agent laugh or cry, that’s a very good thing. Her agency signed me up in 2008 and marketed my story to several US publishers. It was a self-published book as part of the Initiative, and many of the publishers passed. Whilst I received positive feedback to my story, several felt the combination of artwork and text didn’t work for them and others said it was “too quiet”, amongst other comments.

With the benefit of additional grants from my Book Council, I published 3 more titles over the next two years to complete my Toy Series. I went to the Bologna Book Fair where I tried to market them directly to publishers. There, I met a foreign rights agent. Although she did not handle picture books at this time, I stayed in touch by spamming her with my occasional marketing updates. She remembered me after a year on and decided to try marketing my book. We closed a Korean translation rights deal for my Prince Bear & Pauper Bear shortly after. Following that, we closed four rights deals with more publishers in Korea, China and Malaysia for my 4 titles. My Toy Series has now sold 40,000 copies.

I became a mum shortly after and started taking on commissioned work for children’s picture books.

I started thinking about seeking an agent again after I signed up for 12 x 12 in 2013 and starting submitting to the 12 x 12 agents as a Gold Member. Seeing how everyone was so motivated with their personal and professional development made me examine my writing goals again.

What kind of research did you do before submitting?
After my first agency agreement ended, I made a list of publishers who accepted unagented work, checked out their requirements on their websites and submitted to several of them.

After I joined 12×12 in 2013, my focus changed towards getting into the momentum of writing and revising my new picture book manuscripts more actively. So, at this point, I was just trying to keep up with the Challenge and making submissions to 12×12 agents. I simply relied on Julie’s research links on the 12×12 agents which was very comprehensive.

Prince Bear & Pauper Bear by Emily LimThe dreaded questions: How many queries? How many rejections?
Let’s just say I started on a high before falling to a low. When I was first signed up by the first literary agent I met, I thought I was off to a lucky start. They submitted to about 16 US publishers who either rejected or did not respond. The US financial markets tanked shortly after. That led to the end of our agency agreement.

I went to Bologna and also wrote into publishers directly and received another 25 rejections (silence counted because those are very rejecting!). I later wrote to 9 literary agents (after looking up directories like the Children’s Writers and Illustrators Market). Interestingly enough, I received zero response from the literary agents whereas I had quite a number of publishers respond back, even though they were rejections.

Was it difficult to find an agent who wanted to represent an author focusing solely on picture books?
After what appeared as a successful start, followed by a low with multiple rejections, I was fortunate to hear from an author friend writing picture books that he had he had just signed up with Jacaranda Literary Agency. He told me that they had just opened up to authors of children’s books. I was by then thinking about finding an agent again so I checked out the agency.

How did you know your agent was “the one”?
For various reasons really.

Jacaranda has 3 agents spread out in 3 locations in Asia and Europe, which makes communication easier for me given the time zones. I like that they were just opening up to children’s book authors and I would be in their pioneer batch. Being part of something new is exciting but at the same time, I get the benefit of their existing publisher relationships and experience with selling and representing authors from Asia.

I also liked a few other things from my discussions with them. For one, they are willing to work with my existing self-published titles and will market them again to publishers (as manuscripts this time round) as well as foreign rights sales. They were open to all my questions and clarifications on the contract – and I had many – and were willing to work through these with me. I also get to work with two agents!

One story that inspired me to look beyond U.S. agents was Julie’s story of signing with Hen & Ink. I was pleasantly surprised to find that she decided to go with an agency based in Europe and I appreciated her sharing her reasons for her choice. I realize that my writing and publishing path has taken a less conventional route and what I need is an agency that sees value in that, wants to work with me for that reason and can appreciate that my needs will be slightly different because of that.

If 12 x 12 helped you in any way during your agent search/development of craft, can you tell us how? (P.S. It is TOTALLY okay if the answer is no. I am not trying to “lead” you 🙂 )
12×12 has definitely made a huge difference for me in the development of my craft. I’ve been going it alone for the past few years because the Singapore market is small and only started developing in recent years. We had no SCBWI chapter until 2010 and it’s only grown in recent years. Finding 12×12 has really given me that new focus to write and revise with good momentum. The 12×12 community support and information sharing has been amazing and I don’t feel as alone anymore in my little corner of this world! To borrow Julie’s line, 12×12 is 24×7!

Has your writing process changed at all since signing with an agent?
It’s a bit early to answer as I’ve only just signed with them. But I’m sure it will as they start giving feedback to my manuscripts.

The Tale of Rusty Horse by Emily LimWhat advice would you give to picture book writers looking for agents today?
I think the most important thing is still to work on our craft and have several submission-ready manuscripts at one time. 12×12 has seen so many success stories in the past months so I believe this is the right community to be a part of because we can share and learn from each other’s acceptances and rejections from publishers and agents.

Do you think your platform (blog, social media) helped you find your agent?
My agents did mention that they liked that I have a social media presence with my blog and Facebook. But what caught their attention was my book sales and all the media support and marketing presence that I have built up over here in the past few years.

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 🙂 )
Hmm…that’s a tough one because I don’t have much of a bucket list. My husband and I travelled a lot when we were younger already (sort of bucket list item checked) and also went through a 10-year period of coping with a strange voice disorder I was suddenly afflicted with (Spasmodic Dysphonia – the same one as Dilbert creator Scott Adams). I recovered my voice, both literally and figuratively, when I started writing children’s books.

But since becoming full-time mum to an energetic three year old, I’m just content with just sitting at a café reading a book peacefully when my son is in preschool! Although I’ve published and also been published with indie publishers (another bucket list item checked), I suppose I have every writer’s dream that my books will travel far and wide!

What’s up next/what are you working on now?
I’m currently taking Emma Walton Hamilton’s 12-week Just Write for Middle Grade course. I’m at Week 8 and hope to use all I learn to work on my middle grade draft.

Emily has written several children’s picture books. She is the 1st outside North America to win 3 medals in children’s books at the Independent Publisher Book Awards, the world’s largest book awards, and 1st in Southeast Asia to win the Moonbeam Children’s Book Award (where she received a Gold Medal). She also received the Honorable Mention Award at Writer’s Digest Self-Published Book Awards in 2012 and is a Finalist for SCBWI’s Crystal Kite Award 2013 (Asia/India/Middle East Region). Her books have been published in Singapore, Malaysia, China, Korea and Indonesia, and also crossed over to animation and theatre.

Emily was named Singapore Woman Award Honoree 2013 for inspiring readers through her children’s books and her memoir Finding My Voice, based on her journey of losing her voice to a rare disorder and finding it again through writing. Over 3 years back, Emily graduated from writing for children to having one of her own. She’s full-time mum to her energetic preschooler who inspired her blog http://mummumstheword.wordpress.com/ where she blogs on mummy-ing and writing.

 

Categories: 12 x 12, Agents, Authors, Books, Children's Books, How I Got My Agent, Picture Books, Self Publishing, Social Media, Writing · Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Has your writing process changed since signing with an agent?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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