12 x 12 Member Danielle DufayetYou guys are going to love today’s installment of “How I Got My Agent.” Danielle Dufayet‘s story illustrates a point so important it bears stating in my introduction: No agent is better than the wrong agent. I’m so happy Danielle waited for “the one” that she so definitely deserves. Take note, too, if the number of queries and rejections. Keep writing, people! If you keep working and keep learning, you WILL succeed. Please welcome Danielle. 

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 off and on all my life. I started submitting to publishers starting in 2004, but I made a serious commitment to my children’s writing back in 2010. I made the decision to find an agent right about the same time.

What kind of research did you do before submitting?

The first thing I did was go to the website and check what kinds of books they were publishing. I would read all about the agent, including blogs, tweets, etc.

The dreaded questions: How many queries?

In total, about 150 to agents How many rejections? 149 🙂 But that’s for my numerous manuscripts.

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

I targeted my queries and submissions to agents who had a strong interest in picture books.

How did you know your agent was “the one?

My agent is the fabulous Karen Grencik at Red Fox Literary. I attended one of her talks, The Heart of Picture Books, at the Oakland SCBWI conference. She gave such a genuine, heart-felt speech that I just knew it would be a dream to have her as my agent.

I actually had another agent that offered me representation but I felt like I was left hanging. She emailed me that she loved my manuscript and wanted to represent me. I became a little hysterical (crying, hyperventilating) when I got that email. It was so out of the blue! So I responded to her email but then I wouldn’t hear anything for weeks. This went on for a good month or so. Even though I heard that that was not uncommon, I knew that I would not be happy with that kind of communication style so it was a blessing in disguise that I didn’t sign a contract with her.

The very next day after the SCBWI conference I sent Ms. Grencik a pretty heart felt letter of my impression of her and included one of my manuscripts. She wrote back immediately that she loved it so we emailed back and forth a little more then scheduled a time to talk. She was not as enthusiastic about my other work, (too wordy) but I knew I could get them in tip top shape so I wasn’t worried. I really liked her personality, (super sweet and kind) her character (hard working, loyal) and her communication style (professional, good follow through) and that is the most important thing for me. When we talked I think we both felt a good connection. She asked me if I still wanted to submit to other agents, etc. I said, “No! I’d like you to be my agent” and she said “OK!” I was on cloud nine. Getting an agent is hard enough, but getting one that you love and admire? I immediately notified the other agent thanking her for her time and interest and that I had found other representation.

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 was such a great support. Through 12×12, I joined a great critique group online which was invaluable. It was also a great place to critique others’ work, which I find so helpful with my own writing. I also got some positive feedback from some of the agents there which was definitely encouraging!

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

Yes, I can already tell that it’s more focused and geared to the industry. When your agent tells you, “Editors want this…” it takes the guessing game out of it. Then, it’s up to me to deliver!

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

Beside the tried and true: keep writing and improving your craft, read as much as you can which will help you understand the market. But I have to emphasize not to submit unless you feel in your heart that it’s really ready – it’s the best it can be. It’s not so much a “numbers game” but a timing game.

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

No. I think it was my manuscript, but I think it helped I had a website of my pre-published work. I think it shows that I am a serious writer that’s in it for the long haul.

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 🙂 )

Going to Africa and meeting Desmond Tutu and giving him a copy of my (pre-published) book, UBUNTU which celebrates global oneness and unity consciousness.

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

I have joined Toast Masters to help me get ready to do speeches. It’s scary, but a must in this industry!

Thank you!!

Reader, are you looking for a picture book agent? Grab this 7-step submission checklist to help you avoid mistakes and make your submission shine. 🙂

Categories: 12 x 12, Agents, Guest Blogging, How I Got My Agent, Queries, Writing · Tags: , , , ,

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12 X 12 Member Kaye Baillie I am delighted to bring you another installment of the “How I Got My Agent” series focused on picture book authors. It’s especially rewarding when these stories come about as a result of 12 x 12 submissions. AND, I adore Kaye Baillie’s description of Liza Fleissig and Ginger Harris as having a “zesty attitude.” Truer words might never have been spoken. 🙂 Please welcome Kaye!

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

In 1998 I’d had enough of being a personal assistant. I decided that what I really wanted to do was write for children so I began a Diploma in Professional Writing and Editing. My favorite subject was definitely writing for children. Towards the end of that year I got married. Then early the next year we moved house and by the end of the year had our first daughter. In 2002 our second daughter was born and I’d have to say, I struggled to get my Diploma finished which I finally did in 2005 via distance education.

I was fortunate that in 2001 and 2004 I had two educational leveled readers published which are still selling to this day. But I really wanted a trade book published. I dabbled with stories and submissions for many years and have to admit I wasn’t really putting in the effort required so had no success. In 2011 I decided to get serious. I began entering competitions, writing more and submitting to publishers more often, going to workshops and seminars and trying to immerse myself in the children’s book world. I was getting some results of highly commended or first prize in competitions and favorable feedback from some Australian publishers for my picture book submissions.

Then in 2013 I discovered a Writer’s Digest Webinar. Hmmm, access to an agent I thought. This could be a good direction as submitting directly to publishers is proving to be unsuccessful. The Webinar was on picture books and the agent running the Webinar would critique our submissions. Well I was shocked when the Agent replied how much she loved my story and would I consider reworking the ending and resubmitting to her. Absolutely! I did this and waited, and waited and waited. She kept in touch with me, each time saying that she would be discussing my story at the next staff meeting.

This went on for months with me nudging in between. In February 2014 I told the Agent that I would now like to submit to agents through Julie’s 12×12. In early April the Agent told me that she would not take on a new author but that one of the other agents in the agency would like to talk to me. I was excited again although still waited to speak to the next agent. Now we were into April. I decided to submit to Ginger Harris of Liza Royce the same story that the Agent had liked. Two things happened at once. The earlier Agent came back to me with an offer of representation AND Ginger had also made an offer.

What kind of research did you do before submitting?

The information on the 12×12 site each month is terrific. I read all links about the agents and Google them also. I also look at the agents through Twitter and try to find out as much as I can about what books they have represented and sold.

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

I ducked across to my Excel spreadsheet and would say that over a four year period, I submitted 9 different manuscripts to publishers in Australia, which totaled about 70 queries. Each of the 9 stories would usually be sent to the same list of publishers. Most of the rejections were standard form letters with only several offering encouraging feedback. After receiving encouragement from the Agent through Writer’s Digest, this is when I really focused on finding an Agent instead of the submission process I had been taking.

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

Not really. I have had discussions with three agents in the last few weeks and two of them wanted to see more of my picture books. There was no mention of other genres.

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

Well, to continue on from what I said above, I had the unexpected dilemma about what to do with two offers at the same time. My gut was telling me to go with Ginger and Liza. I was impressed with their swift offer of representation, their friendly style and zesty attitude. We discussed who might be a good publishing fit for my story and I straight away felt like I would be in good hands. I also felt that Liza Royce Agency would be accessible and that we would have regular communications.

If 12×12 helped you in any way during your agent search/development of craft, can you tell us how?

12×12 gives incredible background information on top agents, who we are fortunate to have an opportunity to submit to. I think this is a golden opportunity for authors. Being able to choose between agents each month is not only a privilege, but also is a great learning device that made me think about the differences within agencies and between agents. It is so important to find the right fit and to understand what an agent is looking for. Being able to read discussions and posts from other members leads to wonderful opportunities where we can follow links on craft development. 12×12 really showed me what is possible and then it was up to me to follow those leads.

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

As I have only just signed it is hard to say, but I am thinking about my story which the Agent chose to represent and am now using that as a benchmark for future work. I definitely feel that I have to work more solidly and regularly and that ‘Children’s author’ is my actual profession. I will also be preparing to meet deadlines and to put my writing first rather than allowing ‘daily grind’ duties to take over my day.

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

I would say that 12×12 is a glowing opportunity. There is support, shared knowledge and opportunity for authors. Through 12×12 you will learn about agents that you may not have known about (which is what happened to me.) I would also say to learn about pitches and queries. I don’t think they are as complicated as I had thought and once you have them under control, they are easier to send out.

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

Not really. I think it’s in the query and the manuscript. I have used Twitter for a few years and still like it but it did not play a part in me finding an agent. I have a website which I think is a good thing to showcase what you’ve done. Facebook is a nice way to communicate with peers but I don’t think it’s helpful to find an agent. I don’t blog.

Tell us something that is on your “bucket list.” Something you’ve dreamed of doing all your life but have yet to accomplish.

Probably finding the right hairstyle is something I’ve been trying to achieve my whole life and have failed. Something that I have dreamed of doing for many years though is taking a long long train trip across beautiful country-sides and having my own private compartment and I get to dine in the old style dining carriage. I would gaze and write and sip fine wines.

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

I am working on a picture book about one aspect of World War I and I have just come up with a cute idea for another picture book. I seem to have two stories on the go lately as I want to keep up with the 12×12 challenge. I also will be fine tuning my manuscript for Liza Royce agency so they can start submitting – gosh, can hardly believe I’m saying that.

I’m also off to the SCBWI conference in Sydney in July. One of the master-classes I’m taking is run by Connie Hsu of Roaring Brooks.

 

 

 

Categories: 12 x 12, Agents, Authors, Children's Books, Guest Blogging, How I Got My Agent, Picture Books, Queries, SCBWI, Writing · Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

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12 x 12  Member Erik AmmonI love hearing stories like the one shared by this week’s Tuesday 12 x 12 author Erik Ammon, where 12 x 12 not only helps a writer overcome fear and inertia but also helps improve his or her writing. It’s amazing what being part of a supportive community can do for your confidence and your craft. For someone who needed to overcome a great deal of doubt to get where he is today (at a minimum, a near shoo-in for winning this year’s challenge), Erik has shown exceptional bravery. It takes courage to share your work with others, but it takes even more courage to recognize that you can get better and put in the hard work to do just that. I hope you’re as inspired by Erik’s story as I am. Welcome, Erik!

I’ve always loved writing. For a while, in the early to mid 90’s, I wrote some poetry and started the next great epic fantasy novel. Then I stopped. I’m not sure why I did, I just did. Honestly, it may have been the thought of actually writing 150,000 to 200,000 words.

Fast forward twenty years…

I started writing again while recovering from hip and knee surgery in 2013. It gave me something to do since I couldn’t run. I started with a running novella about my life in running that, in an ultimate world, would have ended with me getting back to ultra-marathons, qualifying for and racing in The Western States 100 Mile Endurance Trail Run. But, life isn’t perfect, and neither is my knee. I’m hoping to still finish that story, but it’s going to be a long time.

With a pause in the running novella, I turned to writing short stories, which I put up on a writing site. Someone on the site liked my writing and asked me to write a children’s story with a moral for a possible site published anthology to benefit multiple sclerosis (if I remember correctly- the site is now defunct, so I can’t check in to be sure). The story was quickly reviewed by many and received several 5 star reviews. With this confidence, I hired an illustrator and self-published The Rabbit Who Wished He Could Fly on February 14th, 2014. a writing blog! All things I never would have done without 12×12. If you’ve heard of 12×12 and are not sure if you should join next year, put those fears aside and sign-up!

My name is Erik Ammon. I’m a 2nd grade teacher in my 15th year of teaching. I’m also a running coach and a pre-published writer. I have a wonderful photographer wife, a trumpet playing 10 year old son and a 9 year old soccer star daughter. Oh, and a cat, Kona, that runs the house.

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12 x 12 Member Laura GehlI realize our October featured author post for 12 x 12 is a little late, but boy is it worth the wait! I’m so happy to introduce you to our OWN Laura Gehl. Laura is a 12 x 12 member who found her agent (who is also my agent and our featured author from last month!) through her membership in 12 x 12. If that wasn’t enough to already have in common, our most recent picture books released on the SAME DAY this year – September 9th. I bought Laura’s book, ONE BIG PAIR OF UNDERWEAR, right away (did you know I try to buy all books published by 12 x 12 members?). Anyway, I didn’t have a chance to read it until after I returned from my own book launch, but once I did, I realized how brilliant it was and I asked her to be the featured author for October so she could ‘splain to me us how she did it. One lucky winner this month will win a picture book critique from her too. Please welcome Laura!

When Julie asked me to write a post about “having multiple hooks in a picture book,” I realized I should start out with a related question: what the heck is a “hook” anyway?

Sometimes, the term “hook” is used to mean anything that gets a potential buyer to pick up a book. For example, I grabbed “No Fits, Nilson” off the shelf because my 4-year-old spends about half of her time having fits (and the other half asking for ice cream). I’m pretty sure I am not the only one in this situation. The word “fits” alone is enough to draw parents to a book. That’s a hook. When a parent or teacher searches for a book about sharing, bullying, sibling rivalry, positive self-image, gratitude, creativity, or tolerance, those are hooks too. (I call these hooks “emotional hooks”—more on that later!)What is a picture book hook?

Other times, the term “hook” is used to mean a premise that is out of the ordinary or takes a risk. Not just another book about counting, sharing, blah blah blah. Some premises that immediately hook the reader with their originality: A bunch of crayons airing their complaints. A baby with a mustache. A boy who eats books.

In yet another meaning of the word, “hook” can be used to mean a popular theme or character type that all children love. Any book about princesses, dinosaurs, or trains will sell, right? (Right! Except when editor after editor looks at your story and says “Sorry, we have too many princess/dinosaur/train books on our list already.”)

And then we have the “commercial hook,” also known as the “sales hook” or “marketing hook.” Can a bookstore feature your book prominently in December because it is about a snowstorm? Or in late August because the story takes place at school? Those are commercial hooks. Excuses for a bookseller to trot your book out to the front of the store.

Okay…I’m now going to move on to multiple hooks, which is, after all, what Julie asked me to write about. In order to address this topic, I have created a simple rule.

ONE BIG PAIR OF UNDERWEAR by Laura Gehl
Laura’s Simple Rule of Multiple Hooks:

Your Picture Book Needs (at least) One Emotional Hook and (at least) One “Other” Hook.

Julie pointed out that my debut picture book, “One Big Pair of Underwear,” has both sharing (hook #1) and counting (hook #2). Here, sharing is the emotional hook. The animals learn that they can have more fun by sharing. Note the word “learn.” The emotional hook should involve characters learning or growing or changing in some way (which in turn means the child might possibly learn/grow/change by reading the book). But of course, this learning/growing/changing needs to happen in a subtle…usually humorous…way, and not be shoved down the child’s throat.

In “One Big Pair of Underwear,” counting is the “other” hook (although, lucky for me, having the word “Underwear” in the title of a book turns out to be a hook in and of itself). In your picture book manuscript, the “other” hook could be any of the types of hooks I mentioned above. It could be a basic concept such as alphabet, shapes, or colors. It could be a popular character type or theme such as princesses, dinosaurs, or trains. Or it could be an unusual premise, such as a baby with a mustache (sadly, that one is already taken).
How many hooks should a book have?

Okay, now I’m going to pick a few books at random and see whether they follow my rule. Since I just made up the rule five minutes ago, it has not yet been fully tested.

1. Uni the Unicorn. Hook #1 (emotional): believing in the impossible; Hook #2 (popular character type): unicorns
2. Z is for Moose. Hook #1 (emotional): wanting to be special; Hook #2 (concept): alphabet
3. Goodnight, Goodnight Construction Site. Hook #1 (emotional): bedtime*; Hook #2 (popular theme): construction vehicles

*I count bedtime as an emotional hook because bedtime is a hard time for kids (and parents!). Good bedtime books soothe the anxiety/fear/grumpiness associated with bedtime, both for the books’ main characters, and for the children reading the books.

Wow, those three books follow my rule beautifully, don’t they? No wonder they are bestsellers and award winners! And, I swear, those really were the first three books that popped into my head.

Of course, I am sure there are gazillions of wonderful books that don’t follow my rule. But if you go through your favorite picture books, I bet most of them will. So when you are revising your own picture book drafts, ask yourself, “Does my book have only one hook?” If the answer is yes…throw in a few princesses (preferably sleepy princesses who are heading to bed wearing dinosaur pajamas), the Easter Bunny (preferably teaming up with Santa Claus and eating latkes), or a subtle-and-humorous lesson about standing up to bullies (while counting to 10 and singing the alphabet song). Maybe all of the above.

Laura Gehl is the author of One Big Pair of Underwear, illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld, which released last month. Laura is also the author of several upcoming picture books: Hare and Tortoise Race Across Israel, And Then Another Sheep Turned Up, Peep and Egg: I’m Not Hatching, and Peep and Egg: I’m Not Trick or Treating. Laura has not checked to see whether her upcoming picture books follow Laura’s Simple Rule of Multiple Hooks, because she is afraid they might not, and it is a little bit late to do anything about that now! You can visit Laura at www.lauragehl.com and www.facebook.com/AuthorLauraGehl.

Categories: 12 x 12, 12 x 12 Featured Author, Authors, Books, Childhood, Children's Books, Creativity, Family, Friendship, Giveaway, Guest Blogging, Parenting, Picture Books, Writing · Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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I’ve been thinking a great deal about the financial viability of being an author this week. I just completed (or rather, started) the launch for my latest picture book, MY LOVE FOR YOU IS THE SUN, AND a pre-launch (available only to my blog readers and newsletter subscribers) for a brand new course I created on How to Make Money as a Writer.

So for a Throwback Thursday, I’m re-sharing a Brain Burps podcast episode, featuring myself and Susanna Hill, on this very topic. Everything we discuss in the episode is still as relevant today as they were a year ago. If you are inspired to try the course after listening, I have a pre-launch special running through Friday, September 12th. In the meantime, enjoy the “oldie but goodie” podcast episode. 🙂

Brain Burps BadgeI’m delighted to be a featured guest on Katie Davis’ Brain Burps About Books podcast today, alongside fellow author, friend and 12 x 12 member Susanna Leonard Hill. As you’ve probably guessed from the title of this post, we discuss the topic of Making Money in Children’s Publishing, but really, it’s applicable to writers of all genres.

For those of us who are not able to live off of book royalties but still need to put food on the table, finding a way to combine the passion and love of writing with the need to earn a living is imperative.

I’m not going to give away the guidance we gave in the podcast – you’ll have to listen for that. BUT, I did figure now would be a good time to share my top three takeaways from The O’Reilly Tools of Change Author (R)evolution conference in New York last week, as the lessons are 100% applicable to this podcast episode.

  1. Writers MUST be Entrepreneurs. The debate is no longer about traditional vs. self-publishing, as there are success stories in both and many authors are taking a hybrid
    Unfortunately, it doesn't grow on trees. We need to earn it and stop making it a taboo subject!

    Unfortunately, it doesn’t grow on trees. We need to earn it and stop making it a taboo subject!

    approach. What makes the difference between a book becoming a success or languishing unnoticed among the hundreds of thousands of new books published every year? It’s the authors who treat themselves, and their books, as a business who thrive.

  2. Social Media is NOT Marketing. It’s a Conversation. If you are using social media networks exclusively to blast information about your books, you are going to bomb. Social media is all about engagement and building an audience and community by sharing, conversing, being helpful. If you come to it from that angle, it can be a very effective engagement tool to motivate your audience and community to support your work.
  3. Writers Must Build Community. A community is more specific than an audience. A community is a group of people who are loyal to you and your work and will follow you everywhere. This does not happen overnight and can be a slow build, but it’s a must for success in 21st century publishing. So for pre-published authors who are wondering whether to take the plunge into social media, blogging, etc.? NOW is the time.

What are you doing to treat your writing and your books like a business?

 

Categories: Authors, Brain Burps About Books, Publishing, Social Media, Writing · Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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Erzsi DeakToday I have the honor of turning the tables on my agent, Erzsi Deak, and interviewing HER about HER writing. As the author of the newly minted picture book, PUMPKIN TIME!, she makes a perfect featured author for September. Being on both sides of the writing/agenting table also gives her a unique perspective to share on writing great picture books.

But before we get into the interview, I need to tell you about the fabulous prizes you might win this month. One is the end-of-month drawing we always do, and that winner will get the chance to submit THREE picture book pitches to Erzsi. She will then give feedback on which she thinks is the strongest, most marketable. Plus, if she is interested in one or more of the winner’s pitches, she may ask you to submit to her. Since Hen & Ink is closed to submissions, this is a fantastic opportunity.

Erzsi is also offering the chance to win a copy of PUMPKIN TIME! Here’s how: the FIRST person who emails Kelli with the correct answer to what GBID stands for wins the book. Ready, set, GO! 🙂

Now please welcome Erzsi as our September featured author.

Which came first, the writing or the agenting?

I’ve been writing since before I was born, so I guess you’d say, that writing came first. Seriously, I wrote from as soon as I could conceptualize ideas and hold a writing tool. As for the agenting, it’s something I thought about for at least 25 years before doing (mostly because I wasn’t going to go through the traditional agenting ladder).

You represent PB through YA, but what is your favorite genre to write in and why? Which is your favorite to read and why?

You will laugh, but I started out (you know, before I was born) writing poetry. From there I went to journalism and back to poetry and essays. My first picture book text had a faint (read: heavily faint) resemblance to THE CAT IN THE HAT, though I never liked Seuss as a child (only later did I come close to understanding, or at least, enjoying what he was doing). I love picture books — the interplay of text and image. I studied graphic design in post-graduate school and always wanted to work with words and pictures. Picture books allow for that. Now middle-grade and YA do, too. And “big people” books, too, for that matter. As a writer, I’ll write whatever comes to mind and finds its way onto the screen/page in front of me. I don’t have a favorite genre to write. I don’t really have a favorite genre to read, either; though, that said, my go-to place is probably gentle or humorous picture books, well-rounded literary middle-grade and humorous, heartfelt YA. Intelligent and honest humor, overall, is of huge importance to me. If I laugh and cry, all-the-better. But I’m not the reader/agent for self-conscious serious works, nor particularly socially-correct works. I like to laugh at myself and with everyone else.

Julie’s note: I DID laugh! Erzsi and I have had MANY discussions about rhyme. Reading what she said here about Dr. Seuss makes me understand why it took so long for her to sign me – LOL.

During one of our conversations, we laughed about how you gave your clients the advice not to write about topics that are overdone (like seasons), and then you sold a “Pumpkin Book.” But Pumpkin Time! isn’t really about pumpkins. Give us your one-line pitch for the book! (Ha – how fun to turn that exercise around on an agent!)

PUMPKIN TIME! is actually a harvest tale. And at its heart is the story of process and stick-to-itiveness. I think it’s really a writer’s book! BIC and all that! In this case it’s GBID (the first 12×12 writer who can figure out what “GBID” means receives a free copy of PUMPKIN TIME! We’ll announce the winner on http://www.pumpkin-time.com. Send your responses to KELLI!).

Here’s the pitch: Evy, wearing her spiffy gardening boots, is so focused on her garden and the feast at the end of the year that she doesn’t see the wondrous things going on around her; luckily, her sidekick Turkey (in matching gardening boots) sees everything and keeps the pages turning. Gardening boots, btw, are very important; everyone should have his or her most beautiful pair.

PUMPKIN TIME! did not arrive fully hatched (or, maybe I should say, ripe); it went through a good number of versions before happily finding its home at Sourcebooks. IF anything sounds or feels familiar, cross it out (aka, kill it) and come up with something else. There’s always room for the best in a genre; make yours the best. (Is that obnoxious enough?)

Because you read so many picture books each year, is it difficult for you to make “room” in your head for your own writing – your own voice?

Nice question. I try to leave room for my authors’ voices. That said, I definitely know what I like to read and know when something doesn’t ring true. As for my own voice, it’s still here; I keep it in a separate room. 🙂 I do far less writing of my own picture books than of cover letters for Hen&ink, however.

In my role as the leader of 12 x 12, I provide opportunities for PB authors to submit to agents. Some of the agents, like you, are also writers. Sometimes people express concern about whether a person can be as dedicated to both, especially since they are both time-consuming. How would you address those concerns?

I hope I addressed that in the question above, but basically, my focus is the agency and my clients. I’m pretty good at departmentalizing, however, as I wear many hats to make everything tick (ever-so-smoothly): agent, writer, editor.

Any parting advice on writing great picture books?

I can only repeat that which I hope everyone has heard before: Read 1000 picture books (or whatever genre you want to write in or are writing in) and keep reading; make the genre your own with original ideas and beautiful writing; avoid clichés at all costs; think active verbs and vibrant words and language; leave room for the illustrations (they are part of the story-telling experience). Finally, less-is-more remains a strong maxim for today’s market.

Categories: 12 x 12, 12 x 12 Featured Author, Agents, Authors, Books, Children's Books, Picture Books, Poetry, Writing · Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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12 x 12 Member Teresa RobesonI 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: , , , , , , , , , , ,

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12 x 12 Member Kelly Lenihan

I have a huge amount of admiration for anyone who, like today’s Tuesday 12 x 12 author Kelly Lenihan, can make up stories on the spot. I’ve never been good at that; I always freeze up (perfectionist much?). A few weeks ago at the LA-SCBWI conference, Tomie dePaola said that courage is what artists need most if they want to have a sustainable career. Kelly’s story reminded me of that, since she not only had the courage to create those stories in her head, but to write them down, and eventually even to self-publish one of them. Please welcome Kelly!

I’m a book lover, both to read and to write. Growing up, I was lucky enough to have parents who designated a room in the house as the “den” — reserving one wall, floor to ceiling, for books — and in so doing gifted me with a love of books that has stayed with me my entire life.

I grew up with a pen in my hand.

As a child – pretty much all the way through college – I was forever making up stories. The imagination is a wondrous thing and I was often lost in mine, my head filled with fanciful characters’ adventures in magical lands. I’m not sure when I started writing things down, but once I discovered that writing provided me a creative outlet for the abundance of daydreams swirling around in my head, I knew what my purpose was!

A shy child, the pen gave me a mighty voice.

Over the years, as I turned to other interests, my writing evolved into essays on multicultural arts and crafts or exploring gardening and nature through science and art, including hands-on projects. These days, tapping into my background as an avowed foodie, I have been sharing original recipes on my food blog: In the Kitchen With Kelly. Sadly, my childhood stories were long-forgotten, both on paper and in my imagination. Until I had children.

Reading aloud to my two sons every night at bedtime reminded me of my own childhood delight in the power of stories. As a stalling tactic, once we finished a bedtime book, my younger son would beg for “one more story”. He’d look at me, his big brown eyes filled with hope, placing his tiny hand on mine – how could I refuse? So I started making up stories right there, in the moment. Some of these stories delighted my son so much, he would have me tell them again, night after night, especially the ones he starred in. Thankfully, I was smart enough to write some of these stories down.

The Skipping Stone – a self-published children’s picture book – was one of these stories. Even though it took me a few years to publish it (my son is now grown), it remains a beloved family favorite. I am extremely proud – if not a little awestruck – to finally be sharing my precious story with children everywhere.

This year, I joined the online community, 12×12, providing me access to the motivation and accountability to get 12 picture book drafts finished in one year, all with the support of the friendliest writing community on earth. Although I’ve written a lot over the years, until now—much of it has remained unpublished. I’m ecstatic to be working on changing that, one book at a time. I’ve actually managed to write three more picture books and outlined ideas for four more since joining 12×12. Yippee!

As a child, Kelly Lenihan was forever dreaming up fantastical stories, inventing make-believe worlds replete with colorful characters engaging in wondrous adventures. By the end of her teens, she’d written countless short stories. Never losing her penchant for writing; she’s been published in various magazines and enjoyed her own newspaper column for several years. To this day, she is an avid blogger and has several full-length books in the works. When she’s not reading or writing, you might find her outdoors with her camera, enjoying the beautiful northern Olympic Peninsula in Washington State. A bit of a word nerd, Kelly has been known to read the dictionary for fun. And you probably don’t want to play Scrabble with her! You can find Kelly at http://www.kellylenihanbooks.com.

Categories: 12 x 12, Childhood, Children's Books, Creativity, Guest Blogging, Picture Books, Writing · Tags: , , , , , , , ,

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12 x 12 Member Teresa Schaefer

I think after you read this post, you’ll agree that today’s Tuesday 12 x 12 author, Teresa Schaefer, does an outstanding job of SHOWING us that she is a picture book writer (rather than telling). Get ready for a few belly laughs along with the standard-issue inspiration! Also, I DARE you to not to have a huge craving for pie after reading this. For me? I’m kind of dying for tart-cherry right now. Or perhaps rhubarb… 🙂 Please welcome Teresa!

Writing, Pies, and Balance

I began writing when I was eight. But being a bit of a late-bloomer, I have only recently pursued it with any great intent. Two years ago, I sought out a close friend who happens to be a published author and told her, “I want to pursue publishing books.”

“That’s exciting,” she said. “What do you want to write?”

My reply,

“Picture books for children – the ones the adults also like to read and re-read and keep forever to read to their grandchildren; the ones they recommend to friends and give as gifts – that’s what I want to write.”

Our conversation went on for about an hour and after many encouraging words she said, “You know, it’s a bunny eat bunny world – the picture book world.”

bunny eat bunny

I have since heard that quote several times. But, rub on my lucky rabbit’s foot – no, not really, I don’t have one. I saw one when I was eight and touched it, but I don’t have one. So, knock on wood, this has NOT been my experience.

Instead, it’s been much more like being at a pie smorgasbord.

cartoon pie

Forgive me, I’m on a diet.

That’s not to suggest that I believe writing for children is as ‘easy as pie’.

Nope, writing for children is definitely NOT as easy as pie. In my working hard to write publishable PBs life, I think Mem Fox nailed it: “Writing a picture book is like writing ‘War and Peace’ in Haiku.”

Writing for children is a craft, an art-form, a community, a business. And, while the business world of writing is competitive, there is a community of writers, authors, agents, editors, and publishers who make the bunny saying – well, balderdash.

The 12×12 community hosted by Julie Hedlund with her amazing elves is one of these communities. There are many more: PiBoIdMo, ReviMo, Summer Sparks, RYS, and these are just a few samplings at the pie smorgasbord. There are books on the craft, blogs galore, classes from beginner to advanced, conferences, societies, chapters, digests, whipped cream, ice cream, coconut cream….

WOOT! So many ‘pies,’ yet so little time.

As I bellied up to the 12×12 smorgasbord, I was mesmerized. Instantly, I knew why Laurie Halse Anderson said, “Pie makes everybody happy.” — The Impossible Knife of Memory

I earned badges and points. I pushed send and submitted my First 250. I read about pitches and practiced pitching. I read query letters and tried writing a couple. I’ve read many great First 250s and wanted to finish the story. I’ve written a draft a month and revised many more. I’ve been inspired and tried to inspire. I participated in show vs. tell. I’ve offered critiques and joined a critique group. I’ve made many friends and stayed up late chatting.

I dove in and became so pie-eyed that I had to push back from the table and take a breath.

I was full to the gills and like a wobbling washer with a heavy, wet rug in its belly, I was out of balance. I had overindulged in the 12×12 smorgasbord. Important aspects of my life and writing had been left idle; but life requires its own sustenance.

And, keeping all those pies in the air requires lots of balance.

Pie spinning

So, I made a pie chart (of course).

pie chart
I divided my time into slices: one for 12×12, one for family, one for work, one for chores, a slice for sleep, a slice for leisure, one for platform building; and,

lest I forget why I showed up to the smorgasbord in the first place –

a slice for writing –

I want to write picture books for children – the ones the adults also like to read and re-read and keep forever to read to their grandchildren; the ones they recommend to friends and give as gifts – that’s what I want to eat write.

Teresa M.I. Schaefer is a new writer seeking to become a great writer. Not much of a cook, she does enjoy baking pies. Books and libraries have been a part of her life for as long as she can remember. As an elementary student, she helped the school librarian re-shelve books, wrote her first story at age eight, joined what she now knows was a critique group at age 10, and has continued dabbling with stories ever since. Professionally trained as a licensed psychologist, it is not uncommon for her stories to have a psychological bent. She is the proud mother of two very outstanding young adults, a clumsy bull-dog, an old cat, and a cat that thinks she is a dog. Feel free to friend her on Facebook, visit her website at http://tschaefer.wix.com/twrites, or send her a tweet @TMISchaefer. She hopes you are finding balance in writing and life and would love to hear about your smorgasbord experience.
.

Categories: 12 x 12, Children's Books, Guest Blogging, Writing · Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

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12 x 12 Member Vanessa Hatley-OwenToday’s Tuesday 12 x 12 author, Vanessa Hatley-Owen, joined 12 x 12 for the same reason I created it – to get and stay motivated. I love that I help others while also helping myself. 🙂 I know I can say that I write much more due to the existence of 12 x 12, but nothing pleases me more to hear that the challenge works the same magic for participants too. And a participant on the other side of the world no less! Please welcome Vanessa!

One word sprang to mind when I first heard about, and looked into, the wonderful 12×12 challenge; motivation. You see, like most writers (Most? A lot? Some? A few of us?) I have a big problem with motivation. Story ideas I have lots of. Time to write can be found fairly easily if I ignore the pile of washing. A space of my own to write in? Yep, did that by squeezing a wee desk into the corner. What else? Crowd of supportive family and friends – yes absolutely, and I appreciate them deeply. Awesome critique group? You betcha!

Motivation? Er…. Um… Sometimes.

Sometimes I can say to myself “Right, today I’m going to write” and I do. Slowly at first and then away I go; typing away and hunching closer and closer to the screen as my thoughts fly faster than my fingers. I love it when those days happen.

More often, in fact far too often, I say to myself “Right, today I’m going to write” and I don’t. I sit myself down and… ooooo look…. FaceBook…. oooooo look… Buzzfeed… oooooo look… cute/funny/sentimental video. By the time I actually open the current WIP it’s too late; the motivation has long gone. And besides, the kids will be home soon/have to get dinner soon (insert convenient excuse here) so there’s no point starting now. Or worse; a truthful admission that I really can’t be bothered now (I’m hanging my head in shame…) Yup. What I need, is a kick up the ‘you-know-what’ to get me motivated!

Cue the 12×12 challenge. I can’t remember where I first saw it mentioned, but I’m so glad I did!

One story a month for twelve months – I can do that. I need to do that. And even though I’m not going to get rapped over the knuckles or told off for not completing a story each month, just knowing that I should, and that the ‘deadline’ is coming up, gets me moving. Gets the old brain ticking and the conscience nagging. Bingo! There’s my motivation!

Now I find myself snatching moments to get writing and can be found scribbling away while waiting for my daughter’s hockey game because I know that I have to get started. Sure, I may still leave it to the almost last minute but that almost last minute works wonders; it seems to get my brain going and helps me to focus, which doesn’t seem to happen at the start of the month. Diamonds are created under pressure and there’s nothing like the red flashing alarm of a looming deadline to ramp things up; a technique that also worked for me all through high school (but don’t tell my kids that…). True, some of these are diamonds in their roughest form and need a lot of cutting and polishing, but I have now got five new stories – and that’s five more stories than I would have had. And I’m thrilled.

It’s also been great to test out your new work in the forum. Thanks to the feedback from the wonderful 12×12 folk, I’ve tweaked some of my stories already and have them lined up, ready to send out to publishers. I’ve still got some work to do on other stories and of course six more to write to meet those ‘deadlines’ but it will be done, and who knows, I may just surprise myself by getting some in before the end of the month!

Vanessa lives way down at the bottom of the world in Auckland, New Zealand; with her husband, their three awesome girls and a very greedy, crazy Beagle. She grew up with her nose in a book and still loves to read, read, read – there have been occasions where dinner was late because she was too caught up in her book! When she isn’t working or ‘being Mom’, she writes stories for children – which gives her a great excuse to read even more! So far she has had a Middle Grade novel shortlisted for a New Zealand award for children’s writing, and two Elementary pieces published for schools. Her most recent success was having a picture book manuscript shortlisted for an award. While as yet unpublished, she has many rejection letters to her name; each one bringing her closer to her goal of being a published children’s author. As well as picture books, she is working on a YA novel and Middle Grade chapter book series.
Together with a writer friend, Vanessa contributes to KidsWriters, a blog for other children’s writers and she also contributes book reviews for The Library Adventure blog.

 

Categories: 12 x 12, Goals, Guest Blogging, Picture Books, Writing · Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

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