Hello, friends! And happy Tuesday! What is that, you say? It's Thursday??? Shhh... I won't tell if you don't. Let's just both pretend that it's Tuesday and that I got this blog post up on the day that I said I would, deal? Deal. But in all seriousness, a huge thank you to Chiara for extending me such grace for missing the day we originally agreed on. Thank you, Chiara! And thank you, readers for your patience as I've been dealing with some personal things and not quite on top of my game.
So now, join me in welcoming Chiara Beth Colombi to Tuesday From The Trenches.
Hi Chiara. Thank you so much for joining us today! I’m thrilled to share your story with my readers!
Thank you for having me, Kailei! I’m so excited to connect with your readers, and I hope my story offers a healthy dose of encouragement and optimism to everyone on the querying journey. My own journey was a long and wending one, but worth every turn of the way.
I have loved learning about your journey and I know it will really help others! Can you share your query stats with us?
Gladly! I’m also curious to know if I’ve set a Tuesdays From the Trenches record with my first stat… ;)
Time Spent in the Query Trenches: 15 YEARS *mic drop*
Number of Agents Queried: I re-queried a number of agents over the years, so I’ll give you my total number of query letters sent, instead. Divided among 2 novels and 6 picture books, I sent a total of 207 query letters.
Number of Requests for Additional Work/Full Manuscript: 21
Number of R&Rs: 1
Number of Rejections: 206
Number of Offers: 1
Agent and Agency: Joanna Volpe and Abigail Donoghue at New Leaf Literary
Chiara, that is AMAZING! I am so happy for you and your dedication is seriously amazing. 15 years IS a Tuesday From the Trenches record tie and I LOVE it. (Check out the tie with Margo Sorenson HERE). How did you keep track of it all? What was your method for organizing queries? Spread sheet? Query Tracker? Etc.
I’m a fan of spreadsheets. Back in the day (aka 2005), I used Excel, but nowadays I prefer Google Sheets for its ease of accessibility, shareability, and instant auto-save with every minor change I make. My query tracking spreadsheets included as many columns as needed to add notes about the responses I received. Here’s an example of what they looked like. The agencies are fake; the responses are real:
I keep hearing really great things about Google Sheets, but I've never used it myself. I love to see your organization. So over the 15 years, how did you handle rejections? Did any sting more than others?
Gulping back tears was certainly a part of my strategy at times. I mean, you basically send your heart to someone, or rather to lots of someones, and they all say no. But you also get hardened to it over time. There would always be a skipped heartbeat or two at the arrival of a response, then the sinking stomach as you read through whatever words they’ve chosen to say no with. But once you’ve let yourself have those very visceral, very legitimate reactions, the best thing you can do is shrug your stomach back up to where it belongs, nudge your heart back into its regular rhythm, find the next agent on your list, personalize your query, and hit send.
The rejection that stung the most was in response to the R&R. I spent a year revising my novel with one agent in mind. 😬🤦♀️ I was convinced the R&R was a precursor to a phone call. I was quite wrong. But the agent’s feedback was quite right, so on the bright side, my novel (and my characters, in particular) only got stronger.
Oh, I feel that so deeply. I also put my heart and soul into an R&R that ended in a no, so I feel you. And you explain the process so well. It really is throwing your heart out on the line. And you are so right that allowing yourself to feel all the things is super important.
So as you went through this process, how did you find agents to query/how did you decide who to query?
Over the years, I developed a list of favorite agencies and identified many agents who were clearly in the business for the long run, which was important to me. Early on, I relied on resources from the SCBWI, and I seem to remember some sort of Who’s Who in the publishing industry tome that I may have found at the library. As things shifted to online, I absolutely loved the Agent Spotlights on literaryrambles.com—such great, well-researched, all-in-one overviews of an agent’s persona, interests, requirements, and client list.
That said, I do think I focused too much on identifying clients on an agent’s list that wrote work similar to mine. I didn’t understand how important it is for an agent to have variety on their lists, not only to avoid representing work that is too similar but also to avoid having too much of the same sort of work to submit to the same set of editors. There are only so many editors and they can only acquire so many titles. An agent has to balance the submissions of all of their clients across those editors and acquisition numbers. Something to keep in mind when considering an agent’s client list and how your work might fit in.
That is really such an important thing to understand and I'm so glad you brought it up. I didn't realize that until after I was agented either. You are so right. That diversity on the list is really important. So in all of that, how did you ultimately connect with your agent? Did you cold query? Participate in a twitter pitch event? Or connect in some other way?
Cold query on a warm October day, by email, following the submission guidelines on the New Leaf website that are still the same as of the date of this writing.
I love hearing about cold queries working!! So how much time passed between querying your now agent to getting “the call”?
From the day I sent my query:
+5 days = received “an email” to schedule “the call”
+3 days = had “the call” and “a request” for more materials
+9 days = received “THE EMAIL” offering representation 🤩🥳😭🥳🤩
YAY!!!!! Huge congrats! Can you tell us more about “the call”? How did you know Joanna and Abigail were the right choice?
Oh my goodness, it was so much better than any variation I’d ever imagined. Yes, there was excitement and enthusiasm and praise for my manuscript. There was warmth and professionalism and a sense of my kidlit writing ambitions shifting towards something official. But there were also questions from my agents that made me think about those ambitions in ways (good ways!) I hadn’t fully considered.
It was clear that they looked for clients with long-term career plans in the same way I looked for agents with long-term career plans. And it was clear that they wanted to consider my full body of work to be sure we were a fit in the same way I searched for an agent’s full client list to understand their tastes. I’m a question asker, so having questions asked of me boosted my already very high degree of confidence that Jo, Abbie, and New Leaf were the agents for me.
I also appreciated the time they took to consider the additional materials I sent them after the call (including several picture book manuscripts, and the first 50 or so pages of a YA fantasy). Every step of the way was given due thought.
That sounds absolutely wonderful. I love the connection you felt and the same commitment to a long term career. It sounds like you sent a lot of really great work, but could you tell us a little about your book that landed your agents?
Kailei, I cannot wait to share this story with readers! I wrote it for my son, who was two years old when the idea came to me. It’s a classic case of writing the book you want to read that hasn’t yet been written. I wanted to read my son a book about a rocket ship. But not a factual book, or a book about people or animals in a rocket ship. I wanted a story about a Rocket Ship as loveable as Little Blue Truck, or Excavator in GOODNIGHT, GOODNIGHT, CONSTRUCTION SITE. I was quite surprised when I couldn’t find one on the shelves. So I wrote it.
ROCKET SHIP, SOLO TRIP is slated for publication Summer 2023 from Viking Children’s Books, with illustrations by Scott Magoon. To say that I’m over the moon is an understatement. I’m coasting past Neptune right now, on my way to say “Ciao!” to Pluto in the Kuiper Belt before hopefully orbiting back around toward Earth in time for Rocket’s launch.
Oh Chiara, that sounds absolutely wonderful!! I cannot wait to get my hands on that book. And we share debut seasons!! SO exciting!
If you could give querying authors a piece of advice, what would that be?
Find your market fit. I know that sounds very commercial and capitalistic, but I don’t mean it to. What I really mean is find your readers. Find the spot where your book belongs on the shelf. When you know where your book fits and with whom, you’ll be so much better equipped to find the right agent looking to fill that hole in the market, and to tell them why your story is the one to fill it. A strong query letter should do as good a job at describing your story as it does at conveying who its readers will be and why they can’t wait to get your story in their hands.
That is such wonderful advice, Chiara! I think finding that space is so key. Where can we connect with you online?
I’m on Twitter @ChiaraBColombi, and you can learn more about my stories and writing tips on my website www.chiaracolombi.com. I’m also on Instagram @ChiaraBColombi, and one of these days I hope to use it more frequently!
haha. I keep telling myself that I'll get on IG and then I don't. Gotta do what works for us. Well, this was so fun!
Is there anything else you'd like to share with our readers?
I’d like to add one last piece of advice, especially for anyone else juggling a full-time job, kids, a partner, home duties, and writing. Though it’s valid for all writers. Put it on the calendar. Making writing a routine, not a habit. Part of the reason I spent so many years in the querying trenches is because I didn’t realize how important it was to schedule my writing time. I wanted to wait for the muse to hit, or the moment to be right. Months would pass when I didn’t write at all, as a result.
I’m not saying you need to write every day; I don’t believe that. But I do believe you should schedule the time to write, just like you schedule the time to get the kids to school, to go to work, to get dinner on the table, etc. I currently dedicate four nights a week to my writing career, from 9:30pm to midnight, Sunday through Wednesday. Is it easy? Nope. Do I fall asleep? Yup. Am I producing stories that I love nevertheless? You better believe it. Turns out, I don’t need a muse or the “right” moment. I just need a moment.
Chiara, that is SUCH good advice and absolutely important. Find what works, and stick to it! 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, Kailei! This has been so much fun. And best of luck to everyone on the querying journey!
Chiara is offering one lucky reader a fiction PB MS critique by way of an email and 30-minute Zoom call. To enter, follow Chiara on Twitter and retweet THIS tweet. Winner will be announced on Monday on Twitter.
About Chiara Beth Colombi
Chiara Beth Colombi writes stories for young readers to inspire their courage, curiosity, and compassion. Her debut picture book ROCKET SHIP, SOLO TRIP will be published Summer 2023 by Viking Children’s Books, with illustrations by Scott Magoon. She is not an astronaut (yet). By day, she leads content strategy at a tech startup building the future of fake data. By night, she’s a scruffy-looking word herder, drafting picture books with pluck and YA fantasy that feels as real as memory. She currently lives in California with her very Italian family and an open view of the sky.
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