Today’s How I Got My Agent post, from 12 x 12 member Rachel Noble, has left me without words. All I can say is that I am honored that 12 x 12 was a stepping stone in a long and many times dark and unfathomable journey. These are the kind of stories that reaffirm my belief that anything IS possible if you have grit, determination and faith in your dreams. Please give your love and welcome to Rachel!
How long had you been writing before seeking an agent, and what made you decide it was time to look for one?
I started a blog in 2012. With four little children, I was desperate for some creative exercise. It was just little parenting stories, probably not that interesting to anyone else but me, but I loved it. Six months later, I lost my youngest son in an accident at home. Overwhelmed with grief, I started blogging my pain and devastation. My blog followers increased dramatically almost overnight and I received support and love from all over the world. Four months later, I won a national short story competition (in Australia) for a piece I wrote in honor of my son. This attracted the attention of an agent in Australia. She asked me to write a memoir about Hamish, his story and a document of my grief. I did what she asked but that book didn’t sell. Publishers said it was ‘too raw’ or ‘too sad to sell’. My agent then asked me to write a novel. I spent two years doing that (I had a baby in the middle). This novel (a romance/thriller with grief as a major theme) was turned down at acquisitions this year.
Throughout this entire process, I wrote picture books. I wrote the first one not long after Hamish’s death. I couldn’t sleep and wrote a picture book about a little boy and rainbows. I started sending my agent picture books. She wasn’t overly interested. I decided I wanted to pursue picture books exclusively. It was the genre I loved the most, the thing I couldn’t wait to do every single day. It was the light on some dark days. I wrote a picture book about a little boy grieving his brother and even though my agent wasn’t interested, I felt very strongly about this manuscript and queried a few publishers in Australia and one in the US. I was startled when that picture book received a yes from two publishers. In the end, I went with Brooklyn-based publisher, Enchanted Lion (my dream publisher for this book). Finn’s Feather is slated for Fall 2017. I recently travelled to NYC and met with my amazing publisher and saw the dummy. I can’t believe how beautiful it is.
In January, I started querying US agents who took on picture book authors. To be honest, my stories weren’t ready. I was sending a lot of ‘quiet’ picture books and I soon realized most agents are not interested in the quiet ones. So I stopped querying for a while and worked on my craft.
What kind of research did you do before submitting?
I followed every potential agent on twitter and googled every single one. I looked at Manuscript Wish List and read every article, resource I could get my hands on. I read every single 12×12 ‘How I Got My Agent’ post. I joined Sub It Club, KidLit411, SCBWI and, of course, 12×12. I became a veritable walking encyclopedia on agents. I really do sound like a stalker don’t I?
The dreaded questions: How many queries? How many rejections?
I probably queried between 20 and 30 agents before I got a yes. There were a couple of ‘champagne rejections’ but mostly just the standard rejection. Although, I was thrilled when I received a ‘yes’ after pitching a PB on #PitMad , I soon realized I didn’t want any agent. I wanted an agent I really loved.
Was it difficult to find an agent who wanted to represent an author focusing solely on picture books?
Yes, I think it’s a difficult business. It’s not impossible though and that’s what I kept saying to myself on the days I felt like it wasn’t going to happen. I think a lot of agents want quirky, funny picture books or non-fiction and I really haven’t written anything like that yet. I tend to write stories with an emotional punch.
Who is your new agent? Tell us about getting the news.
I took a big risk contacting Essie White from Storm Literary. After I received an offer from another agent, I decided to reach out to the agent I really wanted. I had a SCBWI critique scheduled with Essie, so I emailed her and asked if it would be okay if I could send her my work a little early (she was closed to submissions). I realize I broke a big rule here! Essie emailed me back straight away and gave me permission to send my work. Fortunately, she loved my stories and asked for more. I sent her more and she loved those too! When Essie agreed to take me on, I couldn’t believe my luck!
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 🙂 )
It was Vivian Kirkfield’s post on how she got her agent on 12×12 that convinced me I needed Essie in my life! I also noticed that Essie’s clients chatted to each other in different forums and I loved the idea of having friends within the agency. Essie has created something quite unique with Storm. We can approach each other if we need fresh eyes on something. We also share our successes and cheer each other on. I love that.
Has your writing process changed at all since signing with an agent?
Not really. I’m quite prolific and I get a little bit excited about new projects and sometimes send them before they are ready. I’m learning to be a better critic of my own work. Essie is great though. She gets back to me quickly and gives me great advice if it’s not ready to submit. The best part is that I have more time to write.
What advice would you give to picture book writers looking for agents today?
Write prolifically and research agents thoroughly. Look at PW and see what’s being acquired and look for opportunities to get industry eyes on your work.
Do you think your platform (blog, social media) helped you find your agent?
I think having those things is important but I’m not sure it helped me with Essie. The number one criteria is the work. But Twitter and Facebook groups like 12×12 were so helpful.
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 🙂 )
Everything I do, I do to honor my son and the life he didn’t get to live. I love my children with a passion, I write with fervor and I try to practice gratitude for the good things in my life. I’ve been in some dark places over the last four years but I know I’m lucky to have my children, my husband and my writing. Every day feels like an achievement to me. Probably, the only thing I need to do is stop and relax sometimes and I could probably do with learning to have a bit more fun. I’m getting there.
What’s up next/what are you working on now?
I have a new deal in the works, with a couple of potentials. I have about four or five new picture books I’m working on. I have a middle grade idea that’s been swimming around my head for over a year now. I just need to get some confidence to sit down and write it.Categories: 12 x 12, Agents, How I Got My Agent · Tags: Essie White, Rachel Noble, Storm LIterary