How I Got My Book Deal and Started Writing Middle Grade
Updated: Apr 13, 2021
Hello friends! Welcome back to the dear old blog. I'm sorry that there haven't been any Tuesday From The Trenches posts recently. I've been busy with things!
I HAVE A BOOK DEAL!!!!! I still am in complete shock and just can't believe it. I love reading "how I got my book deal" stories, so I figured I'd share mine for anyone who is interested.
If you haven't read my story about signing with the incomparable Emily Forney of Bookends Literary, you can check that out HERE. That story is truly a huge piece of this story.
After I signed with Emily, we worked on edits from September til about November. We went on submission briefly in November, but then virtually all editors were taking time off for the holidays, so we put it on hold. (For my non-writer friends reading this, going on submission means that your agent started sending out your story and/or pitching your story to editors. Sometimes you pitch it without sending the manuscript and sometimes you send the full manuscript right away. It's all strategic stuff that I don't really understand, but I don't have to. That's why I have Emily and she's a rock star, so I am so grateful to just be able to fully trust her with those decisions).
At this time, KID MADE (my now-to-be-debut book) was a picture book. It highlighted 20 kid inventors in a really simple way for the youngest of readers.
Emily sent out a round of submissions on January 19th. I was hoping to hear some news by March since I knew things were slow and I tried not to bother Emily too much with my anxious excitement about going on sub (read: I totally bothered her too much and she is a saint for not just dropping me after way too many texts and emails).
January 20th (one day after sending out subs) was already a really awesome day. Inauguration day. I had been excited and looking forward to it. But I wasn't prepared for just how emotional I would be. When I watched Kamala Harris walk up the capital steps, I teared right up. A woman was about to become our Vice President! And then everything from the speeches to the music to Amanda Gorman (if you watched nothing else of the inauguration, PLEASE watch her recitation). Anyways... I digress. The point is, it already felt like a great day.
And then I get this text from Emily
I couldn't believe it. Someone at MACMILLAN wanted to talk about my book??? Emily soon sent a follow up text that this editor--Holly West--got back to her and actually wanted to move the call up to the NEXT day! Woah! So Emily and I hopped on a call and talked about what it might mean, what I was willing to accept or not accept, and Emily prepped for the call with Holly.
The next day I waited anxiously all day. And then I got a text from Emily asking if I had time for a call. Umm... YES!
The call with Holly had gone really well. She loved the book. She loved the voice. She loved the concept. But she didn't want it to be a picture book. She wanted it to be a middle grade book! Emily knew that I wasn't willing to budge on this being illustrated. I want this book to be really whimsical and yet still STEM focused, and I feel deeply that illustrations are the key to this. Holly absolutely agreed and assured Emily that it would be a fully illustrated MG book if I was interested. They chatted vision and Holly let Emily know that if I could prepare one sample section that she would then take it to the acquisitions meeting. (Again, for non-writer friends, this is a meeting where all of the imprints under a publisher--Macmillan in this case--meet together and the acquiring editors pitch the books that they want to buy. They have to convince the financial and marketing teams, and ultimately the CEO type people. Writers know that acquisitions meetings don't always come out the way you hope they will).
Emily and I talked for a long time about Middle Grade Nonfiction. I was thrilled and slightly terrified by the idea. I had wanted to get into MG NF for quite a long time. I had even started learning the craft. But I had spent 2 years learning and polishing picture book craft. I didn't know if I was ready to write Middle Grade. But I loved the idea and I figured I might as well try.
I read a LOT of MG NF. It's such a fun genre. I talked to middle grade aged kids who really eat up nonfiction at that age! And I wrote. And I revised. And I wrote some more. My critique partners were amazing to help me polish. And Emily really helped me to develop my MG voice. I was so used to making picture books as tight as possible (you have to get a lot of info into a small word count on PB). But now I could really expand and paint a picture and develop the stories. Where the PB had really limited info, the MG version could now tell the full stories. I was loving it so much. It felt right. I really hoped that Holly would love this new version and that it could make it through acquisitions because telling the stories this way was amazing.
I also had a lot of research to do. If this was going to be middle grade, I needed to highlight more than 20 kids. I needed 40. I was so excited about the kids that I found. My research skills got way better and I was finding things that I had never found before in my earlier days of researching. I had interviews with a bunch of the kids and/or their relatives and friends. It was all coming together.
We had originally planned to take our time on this, but it was just flowing out of me. After some revisions back and forth with Emily, it was ready to go to Holly on February 2nd! We sent it off and crossed all our fingers.
On February 10th, we heard back from Holly. She loved it! And she was preparing to take it to acquisitions!!!! If you thought I was a nervous wreck before, I was an absolute disaster now. For reals. Emily was the best and again, didn't drop me when I was so terribly annoying with my endless questions and *moments.*
We had thought we'd hear back about the meeting on the 17th. But then we found out they were a bit behind and Holly asked if she could have til the 24th to which we agreed.
On the 24th, I was a mess. I couldn't focus on anything. Nervous excitement. I was trying to be hopeful but not too hopeful, you know? I didn't want to be totally crushed if it was a no. By 2:00 my time (4:00 Eastern) I had decided that something must have been delayed and we weren't going to hear anything that day. I poured myself a bowl of cereal to wallow (because sometimes I'm a 5 year old) and sat down at my kitchen table to watch my kiddos playing outside. One bite in, my phone rang. It was Emily!!!!!
I answered and immediately burst into tears when she told me that we had an offer!
Emily emailed over the offer and she walked me through the details of it. We talked about next steps and cried and screamed and it was all the things you dream it will be.
I got off the phone and my husband and I danced and screamed around the kitchen and then brought the kiddos in to dance and scream. There was cake and there was much joy.
Emily told the other Editors who had the MS that we had an offer. But the next day, we ended up talking more to Holly and her vision and after a new offer, we pulled all of the other submissions and officially accepted from Holly West and Feiwel and Friends / Macmillan!!!
It's been an absolute dream since then. Holly, Emily, and I all had a call to talk more vision and I've been writing my little heart out. Going from a 32 page picture book to a 250ish page middle grade means a lot more research and writing. Talking to these amazing kid inventors and their family members has been incredible. I love these stories and I love getting to know these kids and I just cannot wait until you can all have these stories in your hands.
I'm so grateful to my husband for all of his support as I write and research long hours. I'm so grateful to my kiddos for their love and support. I'm so grateful to Emily for being the absolute perfect agent for not only this project, but my entire career. And to all my critique partners, agents siblings, and writing buddies as well. Thank you ALL. It truly takes a village to write a book. If you missed my Twitter announcement, you can see that HERE.
Thank you, friends for reading about my journey. I can't wait to see where else this path takes me.
To celebrate my news, I'll be giving away the winner's choice of a PB MS Critique, 1st 5 Pages of a NF MG critique, or a 20 min zoom call. To enter, follow me on Twitter and retweet THIS tweet. For a bonus entry, subscribe to my blog and tell me in the comments below that you did so. Good luck everyone! Winner will be announced on Twitter 4/16
About Kailei Pew
Kailei Pew is a wife, mother, and children's 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's debut Middle Grade Book, KID MADE will be coming to you from Feiwel and Friends/Macmillan Summer 2023