Hello kidlit friends and welcome to another Tuesday From The Trenches!! I hope you are enjoying these as much as I am, because I am seriously having a blast! I love hearing all of these different stories and learning about different paths to representation. We've had people in the trenches for years and years and others in the trenches for only a few weeks. It's all so different, but an overall theme is: It only takes ONE yes! So keep at it friends. And in the mean time, as your trudging through those trenches, help me welcome the amazing Ebony Mudd to the blog. She is an extra bright spot in the kidlit community and I have loved connecting with her. You can't help but smile when you interact with Ebony and I'm thrilled to be sharing her story today!
Thank you so much for joining us today, Ebony! I have loved connecting on Twitter and you are such a light and support to the KidLit community. I love how you are always encouraging others. Welcome to the blog today and thank you for taking this time!
Kailei! First of all, this is amazing. Tuesday from the trenches?! As soon as I saw that this was going to be a thing, I was like.....People. Need. This. So what I’m trying to say is, congrats on being a genius- haha! Secondly, thanks so much for even considering me and for being so kind/welcoming to me. I always refer to myself as the “new girl” in kidlit and so I really appreciate the fact that you want to know more about my journey! I truly just want all of the books on the shelves for kids and I love this community so much! (Ps: this whole interview is about to get real exclamation point heavy!!!)
I love a well-placed exclamation point (or three)!!! My CPs are always reigning me in. haha! And wow, thank you so much! These interviews have been such a blast. When I was in the query trenches, I was one of those people who would google the agents I had queried, desperately trying to find blog posts from their clients to see what average wait time was, when to expect a follow up, etc. So it's been so fun to create a whole series answering those questions. And you are just so lovely! You might feel new in the Kidlit community, but you have jumped in with both feet and have been so kind and "all in." It's been great to get to know you! So let's jump in...
Can you share your query stats with us? (as far as you know/remember. It’s okay if some of these numbers are zero):
Time Spent in the Query Trenches: 2 months :)
Number of Agents Queried: 18
Number of Requests for Additional Work/Full Manuscript: 5
Number of Twitter Pitch “Likes”: 26
Number of R&Rs: 0
Number of Rejections: I had 8 actual rejections sent to me from people who didn’t request more work. And of course some agents who have a no response is a rejection policy.
Number of Offers: 1 (Thankfully, the only one I needed!)
Agent and Agency: Lori Steel with Raven Quill Literary Agency
WOWZA! Only 2 months in the query trenches and 26 twitter pitch likes! That is amazing, and congratulations!! How did you keep track of it all? (Especially all those twitter likes!) What was your method for organizing queries? Spread sheet? Query Tracker? Etc.
I initially started off with a fancy excel spreadsheet that my husband spent so much time putting together. But, to be real.....I eventually just started updating things in the notes section of my phone. However, I did also use query tracker which was actually satisfying to update.
Gotta go with ease for sure! But bless your husband for being so awesome and involved in the process. I know your time in the query trenches was fast and furious, but you did still experience some rejection. So tell us... How did you handle those rejections? Did any sting more than others?
I’ve spent my adult life dancing professionally so I’m real acquainted with rejection. I also spend a lot of my time judging dance auditions. I have the perspective of the other side. Even some dancers that are super talented, won’t get a part. I think that’s helped me in the publishing world. Rejections don’t bother me. I get it.
With that being said, if I had to pick a rejection that was hard it would be all rejections that came after full requests. Not so much because an agent “got away”, but because those rejections fan the flames of your already brewing imposter syndrome. Because those rejections aren’t just about one manuscript that’s not a good fit so it was harder to swallow.
However, I truly wanted an agent who was in love with my work and passionate about it so I never stayed down for long.
I felt the same way about rejections. The hardest ones were the ones that were nos after the request for more. But you are SO right. You want someone who is completely passionate about your work.
How did you find agents to query/how did you decide who to query?
I’m an information snob and absolutely love to research. This part was so much fun for me. The main resources that I used were query tracker comments, publisher’s marketplace, agency websites, the manuscript wishlist website, and agent‘s twitter accounts. Yes, twitter helped me. I wanted to make sure that the agents I chose to query seemed to be interested in the types of books I want to build a career with. Did they want all funny? Because your girl isn’t funny so that probably wouldn’t be a great fit.
I love that! I was a total twitter stalker while in the query trenches. I wanted to know everything I could about and agent. And I love how thorough you were in researching agents. So amongst all of those awesome resources, how did you ultimately connect with your agent? Did you cold query? Participate in a twitter pitch event? Or connect in some other way?
I’m actually a PBPitch success story! I participated in the June 2020 twitter event and Lori liked TWO pitches (different manuscripts) that day. That really showed me that she was intrigued by my body of work. After that, I did some research and then decided she was someone I wanted to query.
That's amazing!! I love twitter pitch success stories so much. And her liking two must have been such an amazing day! How much time passed between querying Lori after her "like" to getting “the call”?
Query sent - 6/25/2020
She requested more- 7/8/2020
And we had THE (BEST) CALL- 7/21/2020
Less than one month!
Wahoo! That is really exciting! Can you tell us more about “the call”? How did you know Lori was the right choice?
So’m going to try really hard not to say, “when you know, you know” because I’m sure people want more than that.
The way Lori spoke about my work and her reasons why it needed to be in the world lined up with my why behind writing those manuscripts. It was magical. I was like this woman is surfing my brain waves! The two manuscripts she was most drawn to were the ones closest to my heart. They represented what I wanted to write throughout my career. She just got me and got my books. I felt really safe thinking about collaborating with her.
Then of course, I spoke to her clients. I found out what type of editorial style she had. I spoke to Lori about the challenges that will come up for me being Black in this industry and again, I felt very seen, heard, and safe. I definitely KNEW on the call, but as I dug deeper and took my time to think about it....it was further confirmed that Lori was my agent! I had a really unique situation because I got an offer very early into my writing and querying journey. So for me, I wasn’t necessarily in a rush to sign with whoever offered. I am only 29 years old and want a long career with one agent so I really wanted to be sure. And months later, I don’t know how I could ever have anyone else represent me besides Lori!
I love everything about this so much! That feeling is something that's so hard to explain, but you nailed it. I especially love you feeling seen, heard and safe. How perfect. I cannot WAIT to see all that you and Lori accomplish together. I remember your pitches and they were fire. The world needs these books.
If you could give querying authors a piece of advice, what would that be?
I’m going to try and limit it to three things, because this could be a whole separate interview, am I right?!
For reals! This is probably my favorite portion of these interviews!
First thing is, don’t query too early.....it’s not worth it. That manuscript that you think is ready? Put it away for a week and then look again. Do this several times. Get critique partners that will challenge you. Paginate it. Study it line by line. Really give it the time and care it deserves. There’s a difference between your work that won’t ever sell and your work that was queried too soon.
Don’t let other people’s query experiences be imprinted so deeply on you that it stops you from believing in yourself. Again, I’m an info snob. I love to know what all of the outcomes CAN be. I love to hear people’s experiences. But most stories that I’ve heard are nothing like mine. I started writing this year. I queried this year for the first time. And I got an agent this year. All from a pitch contest. It can happen. But the word on the street was that it could never happen that fast. I’m glad I knew that so I was mentally prepared for a marathon and not a sprint, but I’m even more glad that I didn’t use what other people experienced as law.
Lastly, make yourself a rejection care box and a “wins” box. Maybe it’s mini bottles of wine? A face mask? A gift card to your favorite restaurant? A coupon to watch a trashy tv show? A book on your TBR list you can start reading? A bath? A note to yourself? A copy of the first draft ever of your manuscript so you can be proud of where it is now? Maybe you should print out positive critique notes from critique partners and put it in there, too? Decide what you need. Figure out how you will celebrate each win and what you’ll do when each rejection comes in. And yes, celebrate EACH win. You get a full request? That’s a win. A nice rejection? Win. It all counts.
Love, love love this advice! Especially the note to remember that every journey is different and there is no "one right path" to representation. You had a whirlwind of a year, Ebony, and I am absolutely thrilled for you!! Thank you so much for taking this time to share your story. I have been inspired and I know that our readers will be too! Before I let you go, where can we connect with you online?
I’m on Twitter at @ebonylynnmudd and I feel super fancy saying this, but I have a website
Thanks so much for joining us today, Ebony! And THANK YOU so much for this insanely generous
Ebony is offering one lucky winner a complete PB submission packet critique! This includes a query letter and FOUR (4!!!) PB Manuscripts!
Winner will be announced next Monday on Twitter.
About Ebony Mudd
Ebony Lynn Mudd writes picture books for underrepresented kids who don’t see themselves in the media. She is intentional about the diversity of her son’s bookshelf, and now she writes to contribute to the diversity in children’s literature. Ebony spends her time fighting fiercely against inequalities, toxic masculinity, and gender stereotypes. As a former professional dancer and current owner of a tuition-free dance company, she is a bridge for underprivileged kids that hope to work in the arts. She appreciates the creative freedom that choreographing to a song gives her and often compares it to creating a story from a blank page. Her other interests include restaurants with all-you-can-eat sushi, quoting Phoebe from FRIENDS, and eating anything edible that she didn’t have to cook.
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.