I am so pleased to bring Teresa Robeson to the “How I Got My Agent” series. I think of her as a “fireball,” and you’ll see why when you read this post. Here’s a gal who can teach you how to make a vodka creamsicle, can bushels of garden beans, and carry on a lucid discussion about the laws of motion — all while making you laugh! Not to mention this is a story that began with two participants of 12 x 12. Read on and have fun…
How long had you been writing before seeking an agent, and what made you decide it was time to look for one?
The short version is: I’ve been writing for submission since the early 90s, and only started looking for an agent at the start of 2013.
The long version (and you might want to get some caffeine now, or skip to the next question) is:
I learned English at the age of eight when my family immigrated to Vancouver, Canada, from Hong Kong. As soon as I learned this beautiful language, I started devouring books in English, going from “Matt the Rat” readers to Little Women in a year. As is the case with many avid readers, I also started writing, penning everything from crossword puzzles for my younger sister to poems to short stories — probably in order to catch the excess words that were spilling out of me.
But it wasn’t until around 1991, when I was approaching 30, that I decided to get serious about writing, taking a course with The Institute of Children’s Literature. At the completion of the class, I sold one of my assignments to Ladybug Magazine as a short story.
Within a couple of months of the sale to Ladybug, I sold a personal essay to Outdoor Indiana magazine. Buoyed by my success coming out of the gate, so to speak, I continued to submit to the Cricket Magazine Group (now Carus Publishing) and other places for the next little while.
My kids, born in 1996 and 1997, inspired many of the pieces that were bought by Babybug and Ladybug. But, as they got older, and I began to homeschool them, life got busy and I put writing on hold.
I didn’t start writing seriously again until around 2010 when I took a speculative fiction class, followed by another, from Gotham Writers’ Workshop with the wonderful Michaela Roessner. Science fiction had been a love of mine since I was four years old. But I hadn’t abandoned kidlit. Somehow, somewhere — I’m fuzzy on the details, but it could have been from the Children’s Writer newsletter, which I’ve been subscribing to for years — I discovered websites for kidlit writers folks to lurk on. It was in those communities such as the (then Verla Kay’s) Blue Boards and Write-On Con that I saw Julie’s posts about 12×12. What I read sounded good and I knew that I needed something to push me in my writing because I’m basically lazy and would love to sit around all day eating cookies and reading books instead of doing something more constructive.
12×12 turned out to be just the shove I needed. I considered joining at the Bronze or Silver level, but knew that if I didn’t feel pressured by having made a larger monetary commitment, and having agents practically handed to me to submit to, I’d probably slack off. As it is, I don’t get a brand new manuscript written every month…though I always get a revision, or ten, done. Anyway, the special access to agents was what made me start looking in earnest for one.
What kind of research did you do before submitting?
Prior to joining 12×12 in 2013, I wrote mainly for the magazine market and hadn’t looked seriously at agents. When I joined 2013’s 12×12 as a Gold member, I used Julie’s monthly posts about the agents who were available to us as a starting point for research. As I began to search for agents on my own, I read about them in the Writer’s Digest Guide to Literary Agents, the Writer’s Digest website posts on new agents, and a number of different online sites and blogs that feature agent interviews or highlights (e.g. Literary Rambles, Kathy Temean’s Writing and Illustrating).
Once I found an agent through those venues who represented the type of writing I do, I looked at her/his agency’s website for up-to-date details on what s/he want and how to submit.
The dreaded questions: How many queries? How many rejections?
Since March, 2013, I submitted to 23 agents, and was rejected by all of them. I don’t count my agent, Ella Kennen, among those I submitted to because I came to sign with her through an unconventional route, which you can read about at my friend Sylvia Liu’s blog post.
Was it difficult to find an agent who wanted to represent an author focusing solely on picture books?
Well, it wasn’t for me because I write for all ages, from PBs to short stories for adults. In fact, the hard part was finding an agent who actually takes all the genres and categories that I write. I was hoping that I wouldn’t have to find one agent for PBs, one for MGs/YAs, etc. Fortunately for me, Ella has eclectic (and excellent, I might add! *grin*) tastes and can represent everything I crank out, including, hopefully, illustrative work in the future.
How did you know your agent was “the one”?
Ella and I first connected through 12×12 where she was a participant in 2013. We had lovely conversations about our common interests, including homeschooling and science fiction, and I already knew I liked her as a person. When she told me that she was interning to be an agent, and was interested in one of the stories I’d shown her, I didn’t want to get my hopes up, but it did occur to me that having an agent who was already a friend I admired would be a totally awesome thing! When she called me with the official offer, hubby told me that he could hear me squealing from out in our field (about a city block’s distance away). Well, what did he expect? It was a dream come true!
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 🙂 )
Are you kidding? 12×12 was primarily responsible for my getting an agent (see answer to the above question)! If it weren’t for 12×12, I wouldn’t have met Ella and would not have an agent right now. Maybe I would have stumbled across her on my own eventually, but 12×12 was my “matchmaker.” 😉
Has your writing process changed at all since signing with an agent?
Having an agent has freed me to concentrate on
goofing off on Facebook, editing current manuscripts, as well as writing new stories, rather than spending time doing market research. Having an agent has also helped me figure out which pieces are worth working on and which should be scrapped, taking away a lot of the hand-wringing I was doing over which stories were actually publishable. It may still be just one person’s opinion, but it’s eliminated some of the uncertainty on my end.
What advice would you give to picture book writers looking for agents today?
I don’t usually like to give advice (unless you’re my offspring, and then you can’t shut me up; they’ll thank me one day), but would suggest that when you start out doing something – whether it be writing for publication or looking for an agent or tackling the fine art of ikebana – read all you can about the topic from books and online (search engines are your friends), then ask informed questions in friendly forums, like 12×12 or Blue Boards, before you actually leap into it.
And always keep in mind that publishing is a subjective field. I know you’ve heard it before and are probably so sick of hearing it, you want to throw a chair at me, but that won’t change the truism.
Do you think your platform (blog, social media) helped you find your agent?
Perhaps not directly, but it was on Twitter that I started a conversation with Ella that led to my eventual signing with her. (Yes, I committed the big no-no of whining on Twitter. Don’t do what I did, boys and girls.)
I’ve been blogging since 2006, so I have a decent, if not huge, following, most of whom are not writers, which is actually pretty nice because we know we have a friend in other writers, but we want non-writers to buy our books too.
Also helpful in platform building is the fact that my speculative fiction critique group, The Minnows Literary Group, has self-published a couple of short story anthologies (on different themes) with 100% of the profits being donated to Doctors Without Borders. These anthologies have done quite well – we’ve donated over $2,000 to MSF so far – and I’ve received fan letters from strangers about my stories in the books; I’m sure Ella can’t find fault with my building a fan base before I have books published.
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 🙂 )
There are three things I really want to do; unfortunately, they are also highly improbable for me to achieve:
1) I want to land a huge portrait commission; I would love to paint the portraits of the National Academy of Sciences members.
2) I want to sing an aria, just once, at the Met because, many moons ago, I sang with a choir for 12 years and had wanted to be an opera singer.
3) I want to do graduate work in physics — particle/quantum, or astrophysics would be lovely.
What’s up next/what are you working on now?
Besides daydreaming about the impossible things on my bucket list, I’m currently editing a couple of picture book manuscripts, revising a completed MG novel, writing the first draft of a YA novel (and doing some historical research as I go along), as well as working on a number of sci-fi short stories and a possible novella for adults. Meanwhile, Ella and I are putting the finishing touches on two manuscripts that she’ll start shopping around soon.
The fun never ends!Categories: 12 x 12, Agents, Books, Children's Books, Guest Blogging, How I Got My Agent, Picture Books, Queries, Self Publishing, Writing · Tags: 12 x 12, Agents, Books, Children's Books, Corvisiero Literary Agency, Ella Kennen, Guest Blogging, Picture Books, Queries, Self Publishing, Writer, Writing