Hello, friends! And happy Tuesday! Did you all see the news about the LAST KidLit Dance Party? If not, make sure to head on over to THIS post to read all the details and register. Valerie Bolling, Kaitlyn Sanchez, and I will be giving away books and critiques to celebrate the end of this great year dancing together. Truly, you do not want to miss this!
As we're about to round out this year, I am so grateful for all that has happened (and super anxious to actually be able to SHARE it with you all *wink, wink*). So thank you for being on this journey with me.
And now, enough about me. Let's jump in to this amazing Tuesday From The Trenches interview with the wonderful Carolyn Bennett Fraiser!
Hi Carolyn! Thank you so much for joining us today. I’m excited to share your story with my readers, so let's just jump right in, shall we?
Can you share your query stats with us?
Time Spent in the Query Trenches: On and off for 6 years.
Number of Agents Queried: 55 different agents (102 editors queried)
Number of Requests for Additional Work/Full Manuscript: 6 agents requested additional work
Number of Twitter Pitch “Likes”: 14 requests from both agents and editors
Number of R&Rs: 1 from an agent, 1 from an editor
Number of Rejections: 32 rejections from agents (and a lot more from editors)
Number of Offers: 2 offers from agents (plus 2 offers from publishers)
Agent and Agency: Tara Gonzalez, Erin Murphy Literary Agency
That is wonderful! Big congratulations! I am so interested to hear more about your experience submitting directly to publishers. I haven't been able to interview many people who took that route, and I think that is such an amazing route and an excited to hear more about that. So over the course of 6 years, how did you keep track of it all? What was your method for organizing queries? Spread sheet? Query Tracker? Etc.
Oh my. It didn’t take me long to realize that I needed to get organized! I started out using Excel and eventually switched over to Google Sheets, so I could check on things wherever I was. I kept a cheat sheet of all the agents and editors that accepted author-only picture books with wishlist information about each one. Then, I created a running list of all the agents and editors I’ve submitted each project to along with their responses. All my query letters were stored in folders under each project so I could refer back to them as needed.
That is some amazing organization! And you are so right that if you don't organize from the get go, it's easy to have things fall through the cracks.
So tell me, how did you handle rejections? Did any sting more than others?
I honestly got better at it the more I submitted out. Rejection was hard at first. I had written for years for the adult magazine market and never saw so many rejections! But then I began looking at each rejection as simply not being the right fit. I’d mark it off and move on to the next query. But yes, some rejections still stung, especially when I really liked a certain agent and had taken a lot of thought in cherry-picking a project out for them. Those were the hardest. But as I became better at targeting my submissions, I also began receiving some incredible feedback from the agents and editors I submitted to. I celebrated each one of those.
Good for you! I think that's a big part of the process, learning which agents are the right fit and really targeting those submissions. But you are so right, some will still just sting, no matter how much we try to avoid that.
How did you find agents to query/how did you decide who to query?
In the beginning, I wasn’t very selective. But as I attended conferences more often, I realized I had to dig deeper. I took every opportunity I could to learn more about an agent before sending out a submission. I attended classes they gave, googled interviews with them, followed them on social media and of course, always kept up-to-date on their wish list (which can change a bit). The information is out there. We just need to look for it.
When listening to an agent speak or reading an interview about them, I looked for things we had in common – not just an interest in a book topic I had written about. Signing with an agent is a partnership and I wanted to connect with someone that I would get along with personally as well as professionally. I often used those common interests as a launching place for my queries. One agent even thanked me for being so personal with my query letter! That’s when I knew I was on the right track.
That is really wonderful. I love that you took the time to make those personal connections and really learn about those you were querying. Sounds like it made all the difference. So with all of that research and preparation, 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 with a closed agency, so I first connected with her through a conference in 2020. Since we couldn’t meet in person, our regional SCBWI Carolinas conference was conducted online. Although she didn’t present, Tara accepted submissions through the conference that year. It was the perfect open door. By this point in my submission process, I was doing very little cold querying. Most of my submissions were in response to some request (a Twitter pitch party, a class/conference, or an open submissions call that was advertised either through the SCBWI or Children’s Book Insider). I have found that I received much better responses from targeted querying than sending submissions to the slush pile. Tara had mentioned on her wishlist that she had an interest in London and I just happened to have two nonfiction picture book projects set in historic London! So I thought, it’s worth a shot and it paid off.
I think you were so wise to take those conference submission opportunities! And it truly did pay off. How much time passed between querying Tara to getting “the call”?
About 4 months. While I was waiting, I received an offer from an editor for a different project than the one I had submitted to Tara, so I nudged her along with several other agents who were reviewing projects of mine, to let her know. It sped up the process. She asked to see that project along with others that I had ready. At that point, she was very interested and scheduled the call.
That is so exciting! Getting those offers really does speed up the process, I'm sure!
Can you tell us more about “the call”? How did you know Tara was the right choice?
Well, I had just had my first “call” with another agent two days before my call with Tara. I had planned a trip to Highlights for a personal weekend retreat, but with an offer on the table, I didn’t want to wait until I got back to speak with her. So we schedule it for the day I arrived at Highlights. As soon as I arrived in my room, I picked up the phone and called.
Having two agents to compare with each other actually helped me think through certain aspects of the decision that I had previously not considered. Both were very nice and I think I would have worked well with either one, but their approach was very different. I took a few days to think it over and decide. In the end, it just felt right. Tara was a newer agent. She was still growing her list, but she wanted to keep it small and personal. I also felt as if I could grow with her. As someone who is new to the publishing industry myself, that appealed to me.
I am so glad you found such a great fit. And I do think ultimately, it just comes down to what feels right. Could you tell us a little about your book that landed your agent?
Truthfully, I’m not sure which project actually landed my agent! The initial project I sent her was about a London man who came up with the classification system for clouds in the early 1800s. But when I sent her my other projects, she got excited more about my lyrical nonfiction picture books than she did with my original submission.
She was very excited to work with the publisher and me on negotiating the contract for MOON TREE, which is expected to be released in the Fall of 2022 through Reycraft Books. MOON TREE is a nonfiction picture book about some seeds that flew to the moon on Apollo 14. The story fascinated me and my hope is that it will inspire children to make a difference in their world.
As an unexpected bonus, the day after I signed with Tara, I received a second offer for a book due out in 2024. So, it’s been an exciting journey – quite the whirlwind after querying for so long.
WOW! What a whirlwind couple of weeks you had with all of those offers flying around. That is truly amazing! Huge congrats. And MOON TREE sounds fascinating. I love nonfiction so much, and I am really excited to get my hands on your book.
If you could give querying authors a piece of advice, what would that be?
Be patient and relax. There are no shortcuts. Do your research and continue to be open to learning new things. Querying can be a stressful part of the publishing process, but I learned so much through the years of querying that I probably would have never learned if I received an offer in that first year. I feel like I’m so much better prepared now than I was back then. My writing is better for it, and I am a stronger person because of it.
That is really such great advice! I love that reminder to be patient and especially to relax. I'm a pretty uptight person if I'm not careful, so that's a good reminder for me!
Where can we connect with you online?
Absolutely! I engage with the writing community mostly on Twitter (@CarolynBFraiser), but I also have an author page on Facebook (www.facebook.com/carolynbfraiser). If you want to sign up for my email newsletter, visit my website at www.carolynbfraiser.com. I’ll be posting a lot about my upcoming books and sharing some great resources in the months to come!
Wonderful. And congratulations again. You have much on the horizon and I am so thrilled for you. Thanks so much for joining us today!
Carolyn is offering one lucky reader a query critique! Simply retweet THIS post and follow Carolyn on Twitter to enter.
About Carolyn Bennett Fraiser
Carolyn Bennett Fraiser grew up just south of the Kennedy Space Center in Florida and was fascinated with the moon. A former journalist, she loves to write about nature and hidden stories buried in history. She currently lives in Brevard, NC, where she stumbled across a local moon tree and knew it was a story that begged to be told. When she is not writing, she enjoys playing the piano or photographing one of the region's many waterfalls.
About Kailei Pew
Kailei Pew is a wife, mother, and children's book author represented by the amazing Emily Forney of Bookends Literary. Kailei's debut Middle Grade Book, KID MADE will be coming to you from Feiwel and Friends/Macmillan Summer 2023