I think most authors have done it... queried an MS that wasn't *quite* ready... At least, I like to think I'm not alone in this. For me, the first MS I queried was not even close to ready. I decided in December of 2018 that I wanted to write picture books. I was jazzed. I wrote a story that I loved. A Mom was the MC and narrator... and it taught a pretty dandy lesson... and I subbed it at 900 words in January 2019 without any other eyes on it. *FacePalm*
Truthfully, I had no idea about the ins and outs of picture books. But surprisingly, one agent sent me a super kind personalized rejection praising the idea and pointing me to rewrite with the focus on the child and taking away the heavy moral. And my eyes were open to what could be. Truthfully, I still haven't fixed that MS. I've tried, but I just can't seem to figure it out. But I took the lessons learned from that experience and decided in February of 2019 to get serious about writing picture books.
I read books about writing picture books. Blogs with ideas for craft. Articles explaining the query process. Really, anything I could get my hands on about the art of picture books. And I wrote, wrote, wrote, wrote, wrote. I formed a super flexible Critique Group based on my availability at the time, and they have become invaluable friends in the process. I applied for the WriteMentor mentorship in 2019 and was selected as a mentee! That was a hinge point in my writing journey as I was able to work closely with my mentor and really delve in to what makes a good picture book.
In June of 2019 I jumped into the query trenches for real with the MS I had worked on during the mentorship. And I actually got a few requests from agents for more work! I was jazzed. So I sent off the additional MSs (that I truthfully hadn't worked nearly as hard on) and waited for the offers to come rolling in.
Only they didn't. Rejection after rejection said pretty much the same thing. Something like "I just didn't connect with the full body of your work in the way I had hoped to." Man... one shining MS and three weak MSs weren't enough. I needed to get serious.
So I joined a second critique group that critiques weekly. I stepped back from the query trenches and focused on creating stronger stories. And I wrote and wrote and wrote and wrote. And then revised, revised, revised, revised.
And now, after 7 months without sending any queries, I'm jumping back into the trenches. I'm excited and ready. I know that a good submission packet doesn't guarantee an offer of representation. I mean, how many times have we heard that this is all so subjective? I know that to be true just from giving and receiving critiques... not every MS is a good fit for everyone. But this time, I actually feel like I have something great to send out into the void. Something that I'm proud and excited about. Something that I feel is the best I could make it. And something that I know could still change and develop under the experienced eyes of an agent or editor.
So what are my takeaways for knowing when to jump into the query trenches?
1. Learn the Market
Know what agents are looking for. Yes, absolutely write the story of your heart. But if you're writing a 900 work fictional PB told by an adult... you might want to try something new.
2. Revise. And then Revise Again.
Don't send out the first, or even 5th draft of your WIP. Take the time to truly make it shine. Step away from it for a week or two and see if you still love it when you come back. Try writing it in a new POV just for the fun of it. And make sure that you seek some critiques. That leads me into
3. Join a Critique Goup (or two!)
Your critique partners will be invaluable in helping you know when an MS is ready to send into the query seas. They'll see flaws and holes that you aren't able to see because of how close you are to the project. Don't change everything they suggest right away. Take some time to let their suggestions settle in and see what resonates with you. And don't be offended by constructive criticism. Remember that your critique group is there to help. Even when it stings.
4. Wait--But Not Too Long
Make sure that you give yourself a little bit of time to ask "is this the best it can be?" I don't mean that it won't ever change, because I'm sure that agents and editors will both have notes on any MS they offer on. But I mean, don't send it in with any known flaws. If you're thinking "I know that I need to work X out, but I don't know how," wait until you figure out how to work X out. Don't query an MS with a known flaw. On the opposite hand, don't be paralyzed by "what ifs." Don't be afraid to query an MS because you don't know what an agent will think. Basically, don't self reject. If you feel like the MS is in the best state it can currently be in, and your critique partners have given you the green light, query that sucker! But only if you...
5. Have Additional Manuscripts Ready that Shine
Picture Book Agents will almost always request to see more MSs if they like your first query. Make sure you are ready with additional manuscripts that are proven in the same way you proved the original. My mistake on round 2 of querying was that I had one strong MS and about 15 weak stories. Make sure you are ready with projects you are proud of for when the requests come in.
6. Remember That It's All Subjective
While I'm really happy with my current submission package, I know that doesn't ensure an offer of rep. Agents have different tastes, see different holes in the market, and might even represent clients with something too similar to yours. Don't take the rejections personally. (Easier said than done, I know). But my experience is that agents are some of the nicest people, and a rejection isn't a reflection on you or even your work. It just means you weren't the right fit. So send out another batch of queries when the rejections come in.
7. Keep Writing While you Wait
I find that it's best to stay busy now that I've sent my work out into the query trenches. Otherwise, I would be starting a support group for people who check their emails too often. Hi. I'm Kailei. And I check my emails approximately 3941 times a day. So write something new. Something that doesn't even have to be good. Just write.
8. Keep Your Chin Up
The query trenches can be really draining. Multiple rejections can really start to hurt. Remember that every no is one no closer to your yes. I am a firm believer that we can all make it if we don't stop writing, don't stop querying, don't stop trying. One day, we will get those books published, and I can't wait til all of our stories are on next to each other on my bookshelf. Let's do this, friends!
What have you learned in the query trenches?
Meet Kailei Pew
Kailei believes in books. She believes in imaginative play. She believes in having fun, getting messy, and being silly with her kids. Thus For Little Readers was born. Kailei also writes picture books and is currently seeking representation. She loves creating books that bring children and parents together. Kailei hopes that her own books will one day be featured in her blog. Prior to staying home with her children and writing picture books, Kailei worked as a reading teacher and middle school mentor. She was a 2019 Write Mentor Mentee and a finalist in Susanna Leonard Hill's 2019 Holiday Writing Contest.