Search

Hello friends! And welcome to our final Tuesday From The Trenches of 2020! I had no idea just how much I would love this series when I began back in September! I will be taking the next 2 weeks off as I need to focus on some writing things and prep two MSs to go out on submission, but then I will be back with more amazing stories coming from the query trenches. I can't wait to share more amazing stories with you and hope that this series has helped you on your query journey.


I'm so excited to be sharing this interview today. Please join me in welcoming Tola Okogwu to the blog today!




Thank you so much for joining us today, Tola! I’m thrilled to share your query story with my readers.


Thank you for having me, this is such a fab series. I know when I was querying, I loved reading other people’s experiences and I hope mine might be helpful to someone else.



I was the same. I couldn’t get enough of other experiences. Your story is definitely inspiring and I know it will help many people. Can you share your query stats with us? (as far as you know/remember. It’s okay if some of these numbers are zero):


Time Spent in the Query Trenches: Six months of active querying

Number of Agents Queried: 39

Number of Requests for Additional Work/Full Manuscript: 4

Number of Twitter Pitch “Likes”: I don’t know the exact number but over 25 from doing Pitmad and DVpit this year.

Number of R&Rs: 1

Number of Rejections: 32

Number of Offers: 7

Agent and Agency: Claire Wilson at RCW



Oh my goodness! 7 offers? That is incredible!! How did you keep track of it all? What was your method for organizing queries? Spread sheet? Query Tracker? Etc.


I did try Query tracker, but I don’t think it’s as useful for UK agents. In the end I used a spreadsheet, which allowed me to track who I’d queried, when and their responses or lack of. I also tracked when or even if I could chase. It’s a good thing I did, because towards the end I nearly lost track of the rejections, some of which came a whole year later.


That’s interesting to know about Query Tracker. I personally think spreadsheets are the way to go, too! Sounds like you stayed very well organized and it came in handy. How did you handle rejections? Did any sting more than others?


Pretty well I think. I view it like the prince in Cinderella. A rejection is merely a foot that’s too big or small and the perfect foot is still out there waiting to be found. To paraphrase Paolo Montalban very badly - ‘And the dearest agent in all the world, is waiting somewhere for me!’


Focusing on hope really helped me stave off any negativity. It also helped if I received feedback as I tried to use it to improve the manuscript. One particular rejection did sting, mostly because I’d met the agent and we had a great vibe.



Focusing on hope is so beautiful. I love that advice! How did you find agents to query/how did you decide who to query?


I used a mixture of Twitter, The Bookseller and the manuscript wishlist website. I love researching so I quite enjoyed learning about each prospective agent to see if they’d be a match for my work. Twitter is dangerous though as it’s tempting to nitpick every little tweet, especially after you query.



Twitter really is dangerous! haha. But I love that you looked to multiple sources in your search. I think that’s so very important! How did you ultimately connect with your agent? Did you cold query? Participate in a twitter pitch event? Or connect in some other way?


I actually started receiving full requests for the manuscript that landed me an agent before it was completed. I’d entered it into a competition in late summer 2019. When I finally finished it and began querying, the response wasn’t great. Claire was recommended to me by a friend who rated her highly and she was one of the agents I queried. She initially rejected it, but gave me some great feedback, which I really appreciated. I ended up going back and revising the manuscript A LOT.


We reconnected a few months later when I entered a workshop organized by her agency. Claire loved the new version of the draft as did an editor from an indie publisher who subsequently made an offer. I then sent out new queries to agents I’d liked from my previous round in the trenches. Claire was one of them and she offered representation for the new manuscript along with six other agents.


WOW! That is so amazing! I love the story of revision and trying again after the first round wasn’t what you had hoped for and SEVEN offers?? Again, WOW! This is going to be such an amazing book! How much time passed between querying Claire to getting “the call”?


From the very first query that was rejected, about 6 months. From the second revised query, a matter of days.



I’m so glad you didn’t have a long wait after that second submission! Can you tell us more about “the call”? How did you know Claire was the right choice?


The call was over Zoom and I already knew going into the call that I liked Claire having seen her in action. I had a long list of questions, but we ended up just having a conversation. She really understood my story and characters and her editorial notes were amazing. I also really appreciated her calm confidence. It made me feel safe and in turn confident too.


We were speaking in the wake of BLM and the way it had shaken up the publishing industry. It was important to me to have an agent who understood the unique struggles a Black, female writer would face navigating the publishing world and that as my agent, she would be my ultimate advocate. Claire showed me she could be this person.



That is so perfect! I love the start in the right direction we’ve seen in publishing to amplify Black voices. I know we have a long way to go, and I hope that we can come to a much better place. It sounds like Claire will be a wonderful advocate for you and your work! Could you tell us a little about your book that landed your agent?


I can’t say a lot, but it’s a speculative middle grade fantasy about a young girl with telekinetic hair!



That is awesome! I can’t wait to hear about a book deal and get my hands on your book!


If you could give querying authors a piece of advice, what would that be?


There really is more than one way to get an agent or even a book deal. I landed mine AFTER I got an offer from a publisher. I got that offer because I attended workshops and other events designed for aspiring authors, in particular those from marginalized backgrounds. I would strongly encourage writers to seek these opportunities out. Do your due diligence of course, but you never know who you might meet or who might get to meet your work.



That is wonderful advice! Those connections really can be everything.

Where can we connect with you online?

You can find me on Twitter or Instagram (@tolaokogwu) or keep in touch via my website https://tolaokogwu.com.



Thanks so much for joining us today, Tola! I’ve had a blast chatting and learning more about your journey. Best of luck! I can’t wait to see your books in the world.


Thanks again Kailei, I really enjoyed myself!





About Tola Okogwu

Tola Okogwu is a journalist, author and Hair Care Coach. She has written for multiple publications, including Black Ballad, Metro UK, Huffington Post and Refinery29. Born in Lagos, Nigeria but raised in London, England, she now lives in Kent and writes children's books, including the Daddy Do My Hair series and, under the pen name Lola Morayo, the AZIZA’S SECRET FAIRY DOOR series. Tola is an avid reader, music lover, and sucker for melted cheese.


About Kailei Pew

Kailei Pew is a wife, mother, and picture book author represented by the amazing Emily Forney of Bookends Literary. She is an active member of SCBWI, a 2019 Write Mentor Mentee, and a finalist in Susanna Leonard Hill's 2019 Holiday Writing Contest. She loves writing picture books that help kids see they can do anything they set their minds to. Kailei can't wait to get her stories into your hands.


Hello wonderful readers and Happy Holidays! I hope that you are finding ways to enjoy the season even in this very odd year. May the New Year be filled with book sales, kindness, health, and love. I can't wait to see what 2021 brings us all.


I'm excited to be bringing you another Tuesday From The Trenches and can't wait to share David McMullin's amazing story to representation with Kaitlyn Sanchez!


Thank you so much for joining us today, David! I’m thrilled to share your query story with my readers.


Thanks, Kailei. I’ve been loving this series, and I’m so happy to be a part of it. I wish I had had something like this to read when I had first started querying. I would have devoured it.


Oh, thank you so much! I have had so much fun with it and would also have loved to know these stories while I was in the trenches. Let’s jump in!

Can you share your query stats with us?

Years of hard work went into each of these sizable numbers, so I wear them as a badge of honor.


Time Spent in the Query Trenches: 5 years

Number of Agents Queried: 332 submissions to 136 agents from 85 agencies

Number of Requests for Additional Work/Full Manuscript: 7

Number of Twitter Pitch “Likes”: About 10

Number of R&Rs: 2

Number of Rejections: 32 of those oh-so-close personal champagne rejections, 85 form letters, 208 no response at all

Number of Offers: 1

Agent and Agency: Kaitlyn Sanchez at Olswanger Literary



Wow, David! That is incredible!! And what a testament to your dedication and determination. It really only takes that one ‘yes!’ How did you keep track of it all? What was your method for organizing queries? Spread sheet? Query Tracker? Etc.


The simple answer is that a comprehensive spreadsheet worked well for me. The expanded answer is that I always had four spreadsheets open as I sent out submissions. There was lots and lots of cross checking involved. My system was complex, but as I stumbled into the hundreds of submissions, I didn’t want to make any silly mistakes.



Wow, that sounds super organized. Good for you! How did you handle rejections? Did any sting more than others?


I fall into the camp of close calls being the worst. But rejections never really bother me. As a former Broadway singer/dancer/actor, my life was a series of daily auditions, usually ending in, “Thank you.” (In actor speak that means, no.) Constant, face-to-face rejection left me with a very thick skin. Of course, doubt creeps in now and then, so here are the thoughts that helped me get through.


First, I hold in my heart, that my writing is good enough to be published. With that in mind, I look at each NO as being one NO closer to my YES. I don’t know how many NOs there will be, but each time I hear one, my YES is one less NO away!


Second, I turn my thoughts upside down - Instead of feeling bad for myself, I feel bad for the agent or publisher who isn’t going to have the opportunity to work with me. This isn’t exactly a humble approach, but I accept that flaw, and move on to the next submission with a smile.



First of all, that is awesome. I had no idea you performed on Broadway. WOW! Secondly, I agree that those close calls are so hard, but how wonderful that you could keep a level head and move forward to the next thing. How did you find agents to query/how did you decide who to query?


Everywhere. Some ideas:

Search for other writer’s lists on blogs.

Look at agents who are actively “liking” during Twitter events.

Read the acquisitions reports in Publishers Weekly to see who represents the authors of current sales.

Dig through Manuscript Wish List.


Every time I found a new agent, I added them to my “agents and agencies” spreadsheet. I ended up with a list of about 275 agents who represented PB clients. I researched each one through their agency websites and in online interviews. Then, came the decision on who to submit to. Many were easy to eliminate because they were closed to queries (although this changes, so I rechecked often), or only accepted illustrators or author/illustrators. That eliminated many. I also wanted someone:

-editorial (I need the help).

-who would represent my career, not just one manuscript.

-nice (I need nice).


Other things I considered were, sales, size of agency, client list, book list, experience, online presence. In the end, I used all of this research and information to... get a gut feeling.



I love how much thought you put into it! And that you knew exactly what you were looking for. I think that is really important to have a vision of the kind of author-agent relationship you’re looking for.

How did you ultimately connect with your agent? Did you cold query? Participate in a twitter pitch event? Or connect in some other way?


My agent is also a writer, and active member of the kidlit community. She runs an annual writing contest called “Fall Frenzy.” In the Fall of 2019 I entered, and when prizes were announced, I was on the list. Hooray! In addition to the prize I won, Kaitlyn wrote me a note saying she enjoyed my writing and offered me a personal critique. Hooray! That was followed by an offer to join her all-rhyme critique group. Hooray!


A few months later, she became an agent. Although I had a personal connection, I approached this submission like I would any other. I responded to her open submission call along with hundreds of other writers.



That’s amazing! Those connections are so important. And Kaitlyn is so wonderful. I truly don’t understand how she does it all. So how much time passed between querying her to getting “the call”?


About a month and a half, but it wasn’t simply that simple. Just two days after submitting, she asked for three more stories. I sent them the next day and later that afternoon she asked for three more. Then a month passed. This time she asked for revisions on three of the seven manuscripts. I spent a good week making changes. On two I made considerable changes based on her suggestions. With the third, I took a big risk - I made no changes, but explained my reasons. I held my breath, pressed send, and within minutes she wrote back saying she loved the rewrites, and wanted to set up a call.



WOW! I love that so much. Especially that you stood your ground on your vision for your story that you felt strongly about while still being open to her suggestions on the changes on the others. I love that in an author-agent relationship. The ability to talk about why something matters to you and find a way to make it work together.

Can you tell us more about “the call”? How did you know Kaitlyn was the right choice?


Although Kaitlyn and I were critique partners, we had never actually spoken. The call was like catching up with an old friend. I’d wanted an agent who was more than just a business partner. I wanted a collaborator, confidant, cheer leader, coach, friend. I could tell she would be all of those things. Our life views, humor, and love of the industry lined up perfectly. Kaitlyn was new to agenting, and I debated weather finding a more established agent would be to my benefit, but in the end, I realized that Kaitlyn’s drive, enthusiasm, and ability to connect with people are all next level! I would have been crazy not to say yes.



That is so wonderful! I love to hear how comfortable you were. And I think new agents are amazing. My agent is also brand new to the game, but she is hungry and passionate and I think that is a huge plus.

Could you tell us a little about your book that landed your agent?


I sent a humorous rhymer. Just two weeks before submitting to Kaitlyn, the manuscript had been awarded runner-up for the SCBWI’s Ann Whitford Paul Award for most promising new picture book manuscript. I took advantage of the momentum from that win, and submitted the manuscript to several agents.



Oooh! Sounds so wonderful! And amazing that you won that award. I can’t wait to see your book in print!

If you could give querying authors a piece of advice, what would that be?


Participate in as many kidlit activities as possible. You never know when a connection you make will lead to something more.


The dynamic between an unagented writer and an agent is going to be a bit strange. They have something you want, and they are the one who says yes or no. It feels like an imbalance. At least for me, this sometimes led to feelings of being less than, or slightly desperate, or awkward. But the truth is we are all people - equally amazing people. Whether in person or through queries, connect as equals. Of course, be respectful and kind, but also... be confident. Over the years, I found my most fruitful, interactions with agents involved conversations that had nothing to do with books or publishing (home towns, travel, pets, movies). Those interactions often led to agents asking to see my work.


Submit!!!



Wonderful advice! Those connections are gold and you never know where they will take you. Where can we connect with you online?


Twitter: https://twitter.com/davidmcmullinpb

Website: http://www.davidmcmullinbooks.com/welcome/



Thanks so much for joining us today! I’ve had a blast chatting and learning more about your journey. Best of luck on this journey! I can’t wait to see your books in the world.


Thank you. It’s been fun. I believe there is a place for all of our books, yours, mine, all of your reader’s. Best of luck to us all!


And happy holidays!!! I hope we all have a year with fewer stresses and greater possibilities.



Yes, readers. You can do this! There is a place on the shelf for all of our books. And Happy Holidays! May the new year bring peace, love and joy to all.



GIVEAWAY OPPORTUNITY!

David will be offering one lucky reader a PB Manuscript Critique. Just follow David and Kailei on Twitter and retweet THIS tweet to enter. Best of luck to all!



About David McMullin


David McMullin is a picture book writer, children’s poet, and want-to-be illustrator. His poems have been featured in Cricket Media, and in several anthologies. He is a member of the SCBWI where he was awarded runner-up for the 2020 Ann Whitford Paul Award, and won a Writing with the Stars mentorship with Marcie Colleen. In former lives he was a Broadway actor, educator, and librarian. His passions include travel (70 countries) and nature (total bird nerd). David and his husband live in Las Vegas, Nevada. He is represented by Kaitlyn Sanchez at Olswanger Literary.


About Kailei Pew


Kailei Pew is a wife, mother, and picture book author represented by the amazing Emily Forney of Bookends Literary. She is an active member of SCBWI, a 2019 Write Mentor Mentee, and a finalist in Susanna Leonard Hill's 2019 Holiday Writing Contest. She loves writing picture books that help kids see they can do anything they set their minds to. Kailei can't wait to get her stories into your hands.


Hello my wonderful KidLit family! And Happy Holidays! I hope you are finding meaningful ways to connect with loved ones in this strange year. If you attended out Virtual KidLit Holiday Party, thank you for joining us! We had a blast and were so glad to connect with all of you! I took last week off of the trenches interviews so that I could focus on final preparations for that event, and I am happy to be jumping back in with these emails today. I'm especially excited, because I get to interview another agent sibling of mine!! So help me welcome to the blog, Elizabeth Holden!



Thank you so much for joining us today, Elizabeth! I’m thrilled to share your query story with my readers. Especially since we are agent sisters and Emily is just so wonderful!


Thank you for having me! This is exciting!


Hooray! Let's jump right in. Can you share your query stats with us?


Time Spent in the Query Trenches:

I’ve queried three manuscripts—well, kind of four, because one of them I completely rewrote. If you add up the time I spent actively querying, it was about 3.5 years. But there was a 12 year gap between querying Manuscripts 1 and 2.

Number of Agents Queried: (Brace yourself) 234. But some of those were the same agent queried multiple times, for different manuscripts. I queried 20 for my first completed novel (chick lit with werewolves) in 2006; 85 for my second completed novel (middle grade mystery) in 2018; 85 (coincidentally the same exact number!) for the total re-do of that middle grade mystery in 2020; and 23 for my YA contemporary (one of whom was Emily Forney, my agent!) later in 2020.

Number of Requests for Additional Work/Full Manuscript: My total for all 3 (or 4) manuscripts was about 35.

Number of Twitter Pitch “Likes”: I participated in the September 3rd PitMad and got 5 likes from agents.

Number of R&Rs: None

Number of Rejections: Soooooo many. Probably 175? Basically everyone I queried, except for several more recently queried agents (for both the YA and the re-do of the MG mystery) who didn’t have time to evaluate my work after Emily made me an offer.

Agent and Agency: Emily Forney at BookEnds Literary Agency


I'm so glad that you didn't give up after those first few books! Your dedication is amazing and shows that persistence really does pay off! Some time we should chat about those 12 years you took off and what that brought to your journey. So with all of those numbers, how did you keep track of it all? What was your method for organizing queries? Spread sheet? Query Tracker? Etc.


I love spreadsheets. For each manuscript, I had a Google sheet with the columns:

Name Agency Name Website with submission guidelines Time for Response Date Queried Updates Method of querying ~Response expected: Other Notes



I love those headings! Very organized! How did you handle rejections? Did any sting more than others?


Oh, some definitely stung more. Any rejections from a full or a partial always hurt more, even though that is ultimately someone who must have seen something good in your work. How I handled rejection overall was mostly fine. I’d just plug along, find someone else to query, make changes if I thought I should. But I know some days were tougher than others. One particular bad day I got three rejections before noon. I didn’t care for that. The thing that kept me positive was that even though I got rejections, I got a fair amount of personalized rejections, and I know that for an agent to take the time to do that is a huge deal and a good sign.



I absolutely agree. The personalized rejections (especially after a request for more) could really sting, but at the same time it helped me feel like I was on the right track. How did you find agents to query/how did you decide who to query?


It’s varied a lot over the years! I honestly don’t remember how I found agents for the manuscript I queried back in 2006. More recently, I looked on Query Manager (yes, sorting by response time, because I’m impatient to a fault), read articles about good children’s lit agencies, poked around on the Manuscript Wishlist website, and searched the #mswl hashtag.



Sounds like lots of great resources! I'm the same with response times. The waiting game was the hardest! So from all of those resources, how did you ultimately connect with Emily? Did you cold query? Participate in a twitter pitch event? Or connect in some other way?


I’d actually queried Emily for my middle grade mystery back in the summer, and she’d written me a really nice rejection in which she invited me to send her future work. Then, having just finished a YA manuscript in August, I participated in the September 3rd PitMad pitch event. Emily not only clicked “like” on my pitch, she also left a comment that said “Hello, yes, okay I’m obsessed” and the heart-eyes emoji. I was thrilled!



SO awesome!! I had a heart and comment from Emily that day too, so I know exactly how that felt. AMAZING! haha. I love that you had an amazing earlier experience with her kind rejection, and then such an enthusiastic response to your pitch!

How much time passed between querying Emily after that event to getting “the call”?

Not much at all! Emily had instructions on Twitter for anyone whose PitMad pitch she liked to submit the full manuscript to her. I did this immediately (again, I am not a patient person). [Side story: the next day, she tweeted that she was loving one of the PitMad submissions she was reading, and I just had this good, excited feeling it might be mine. I later confirmed that it was!] PitMad was on a Thursday, and Emily had sent me an email to schedule The Call on Sunday afternoon. When I got the email I gasped “I think… this is it! I think I got the email!” to my husband, then started full-on ugly sobbing. Emily and I scheduled our call for two days after that.



That is so so wonderful!! Emily is so much fun with pitch events and I love her little teasers. How wonderful that her teaser this time was with your book! Can you tell us more about “the call”? How did you know Emily was the right choice?


I could tell immediately. She started by talking about what she liked about my novel but also what she would recommend changing and rearranging, and it was immediately clear that she is just so damn smart. I loved her vision for my book, and I loved her energy. We talked for a long time about the novel, about her background, about me, about the editing and submitting process, about BookEnds. It was great. She is super knowledgeable. I had been nervous that what if it was actually going to be a request for an R&R, not an offer (just because her email was super nice but did not explicitly say “this is an offer”). We had a bottle of Prosecco chilling in the fridge that I felt very superstitious about. My husband was waiting to hear downstairs while Emily and I talked on Zoom for an hour and a half. As soon as the meeting was over, I stepped into the hallway and yelled downstairs “open up the Prosecco!” I will never forget that moment.


I made sure to give other agents with outstanding queries two weeks to make counter offers before I replied to Emily, but, as I told my husband that night, I was ready to say yes to Emily right then.



I love that so much!! What a wonderful memory to have. Emily is just so wonderful and I know exactly what you are talking about. She really knows her stuff and every time I get off the phone with her, I know I am in such good hands. Could you tell us a little about your book that landed your agent? I see that you yourself are a roller derby girl and that sounds amazing!


Thanks! It IS amazing! I miss it SO much, what with the pandemic. I can’t wait till it is safe to play again. (Also, you should join your local roller derby league—you specifically, Kailei, and you generally, reader. There are off-skates volunteer opportunities, too!) (I am never not recruiting for derby.)


My novel, Mighty Millie Novak, is the story of an isolated teenage girl who has joined a junior derby team to meet new people. Millie’s older brother has just moved out for college, her parents are fighting, and her choice to attend an online high school is seeming like more and more of a mistake. She and the other rookies bond as they try to get better, and, after an unlucky injury at the rink, Millie falls hard for the cute girl on the all-star team who helps her out. The story takes Millie from the start of the season till the final tournament at the end.



Oh my goodness, that sounds amazing! So many wonderful layers and angles. Can't wait to see where it lands! And as for roller derby, I have often wondered what it would be like to try after watching the episode of Psych when Juliet goes undercover as a derby girl! But then I remember that I am the least coordinated person in the world, and decide it's maybe best to be the cheer section! haha.


Elizabeth, this has been so much fun! Thank you for joining me. Before I sign off, if you could give querying authors a piece of advice, what would that be?


Query in small batches. For my middle grade mystery, I queried, like, 25 agents, then decided I wanted to completely redo my first chapter. It would have been better to stop at, say, ten, wait for some replies, and then revamp things and submit to more.


Allow rejections to hurt, but also don’t let yourself wallow. All writers get rejected; it doesn’t mean anything about your worth as a person. As far as the content of rejections, don’t take any individual rejection as especially meaningful, but if patterns emerge (say, three agents all tell you your concept is great but they couldn’t connect with your character), then pay attention and consider revisions.


That is solid advice! Thank you so much. I think we can all get caught up in the rejections until they start feeling personal. So important to remember our value and worth regardless of what is happening in the query trenches. Before I let you go, where can we connect with you online?


Find me at elizabeth-holden.com, on Twitter as @ElizabethH_WI and email me at elizabeth.holden.author@gmail.com


Don’t be a stranger! If you have questions about writing (or about roller derby!) definitely reach out and say hi!


That is so kind of you, Elizabeth! Readers, Elizabeth has been so nice to connect with as an agent sister, and I know that she absolutely means that, so don't hesitate to connect. And Elizabeth, thanks so much for joining us today! I’ve had a blast chatting and learning more about your journey. Best of luck on submission! I can’t wait to see your books in the world.




GIVEAWAY OPPORTUNITY!

Elizabeth is offering one lucky reader a query critique! Just follow Elizabeth and Kailei on Twitter and retweet THIS tweet. Best of luck! Winner will be announced Tuesday, December 22nd.


About Elizabeth Holden

Elizabeth Holden writes light-hearted young adult and middle grade fiction. She teaches physics at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville, and, along with her husband, is the co-founder of a tour company, Leaping Hound Travel, which specializes in the history of science. An avid roller derby player, she's skated with Madison Roller Derby since 2015 and leads "physics of roller derby" workshops for schools and other community groups. Her hair is bright blue, her laugh is loud, and her heart belongs to her pet greyhounds.


About Kailei Pew

Kailei Pew is a wife, mother, and picture book author represented by the amazing Emily Forney of Bookends Literary.She is an active member of SCBWI, a 2019 Write Mentor Mentee, and a finalist in Susanna Leonard Hill's 2019 Holiday Writing Contest. She loves writing picture books that help kids see they can do anything they set their minds to.Kailei can't wait to get her stories into your hands.

Hi! I'm Kailei. Thanks for stopping by!

I believe in books. I believe in imagination.

I believe in getting silly, messy, and crazy with my kids. Thus, For Little Readers was born. 

I write picture books and hope to someday feature

my own work here. 

Read More

 

Join My Mailing List!
  • White Facebook Icon