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