Tuesday From The Trenches: Elizabeth Holden
Hello my wonderful KidLit family! And Happy Holidays! I hope you are finding meaningful ways to connect with loved ones in this strange year. If you attended out Virtual KidLit Holiday Party, thank you for joining us! We had a blast and were so glad to connect with all of you! I took last week off of the trenches interviews so that I could focus on final preparations for that event, and I am happy to be jumping back in with these emails today. I'm especially excited, because I get to interview another agent sibling of mine!! So help me welcome to the blog, Elizabeth Holden!
Thank you so much for joining us today, Elizabeth! I’m thrilled to share your query story with my readers. Especially since we are agent sisters and Emily is just so wonderful!
Thank you for having me! This is exciting!
Hooray! Let's jump right in. Can you share your query stats with us?
Time Spent in the Query Trenches:
I’ve queried three manuscripts—well, kind of four, because one of them I completely rewrote. If you add up the time I spent actively querying, it was about 3.5 years. But there was a 12 year gap between querying Manuscripts 1 and 2.
Number of Agents Queried: (Brace yourself) 234. But some of those were the same agent queried multiple times, for different manuscripts. I queried 20 for my first completed novel (chick lit with werewolves) in 2006; 85 for my second completed novel (middle grade mystery) in 2018; 85 (coincidentally the same exact number!) for the total re-do of that middle grade mystery in 2020; and 23 for my YA contemporary (one of whom was Emily Forney, my agent!) later in 2020.
Number of Requests for Additional Work/Full Manuscript: My total for all 3 (or 4) manuscripts was about 35.
Number of Twitter Pitch “Likes”: I participated in the September 3rd PitMad and got 5 likes from agents.
Number of R&Rs: None
Number of Rejections: Soooooo many. Probably 175? Basically everyone I queried, except for several more recently queried agents (for both the YA and the re-do of the MG mystery) who didn’t have time to evaluate my work after Emily made me an offer.
Agent and Agency: Emily Forney at BookEnds Literary Agency
I'm so glad that you didn't give up after those first few books! Your dedication is amazing and shows that persistence really does pay off! Some time we should chat about those 12 years you took off and what that brought to your journey. So with all of those numbers, how did you keep track of it all? What was your method for organizing queries? Spread sheet? Query Tracker? Etc.
I love spreadsheets. For each manuscript, I had a Google sheet with the columns:
Name Agency Name Website with submission guidelines Time for Response Date Queried Updates Method of querying ~Response expected: Other Notes
I love those headings! Very organized! How did you handle rejections? Did any sting more than others?
Oh, some definitely stung more. Any rejections from a full or a partial always hurt more, even though that is ultimately someone who must have seen something good in your work. How I handled rejection overall was mostly fine. I’d just plug along, find someone else to query, make changes if I thought I should. But I know some days were tougher than others. One particular bad day I got three rejections before noon. I didn’t care for that. The thing that kept me positive was that even though I got rejections, I got a fair amount of personalized rejections, and I know that for an agent to take the time to do that is a huge deal and a good sign.
I absolutely agree. The personalized rejections (especially after a request for more) could really sting, but at the same time it helped me feel like I was on the right track. How did you find agents to query/how did you decide who to query?
It’s varied a lot over the years! I honestly don’t remember how I found agents for the manuscript I queried back in 2006. More recently, I looked on Query Manager (yes, sorting by response time, because I’m impatient to a fault), read articles about good children’s lit agencies, poked around on the Manuscript Wishlist website, and searched the #mswl hashtag.
Sounds like lots of great resources! I'm the same with response times. The waiting game was the hardest! So from all of those resources, how did you ultimately connect with Emily? Did you cold query? Participate in a twitter pitch event? Or connect in some other way?
I’d actually queried Emily for my middle grade mystery back in the summer, and she’d written me a really nice rejection in which she invited me to send her future work. Then, having just finished a YA manuscript in August, I participated in the September 3rd PitMad pitch event. Emily not only clicked “like” on my pitch, she also left a comment that said “Hello, yes, okay I’m obsessed” and the heart-eyes emoji. I was thrilled!
SO awesome!! I had a heart and comment from Emily that day too, so I know exactly how that felt. AMAZING! haha. I love that you had an amazing earlier experience with her kind rejection, and then such an enthusiastic response to your pitch!
How much time passed between querying Emily after that event to getting “the call”?
Not much at all! Emily had instructions on Twitter for anyone whose PitMad pitch she liked to submit the full manuscript to her. I did this immediately (again, I am not a patient person). [Side story: the next day, she tweeted that she was loving one of the PitMad submissions she was reading, and I just had this good, excited feeling it might be mine. I later confirmed that it was!] PitMad was on a Thursday, and Emily had sent me an email to schedule The Call on Sunday afternoon. When I got the email I gasped “I think… this is it! I think I got the email!” to my husband, then started full-on ugly sobbing. Emily and I scheduled our call for two days after that.
That is so so wonderful!! Emily is so much fun with pitch events and I love her little teasers. How wonderful that her teaser this time was with your book! Can you tell us more about “the call”? How did you know Emily was the right choice?
I could tell immediately. She started by talking about what she liked about my novel but also what she would recommend changing and rearranging, and it was immediately clear that she is just so damn smart. I loved her vision for my book, and I loved her energy. We talked for a long time about the novel, about her background, about me, about the editing and submitting process, about BookEnds. It was great. She is super knowledgeable. I had been nervous that what if it was actually going to be a request for an R&R, not an offer (just because her email was super nice but did not explicitly say “this is an offer”). We had a bottle of Prosecco chilling in the fridge that I felt very superstitious about. My husband was waiting to hear downstairs while Emily and I talked on Zoom for an hour and a half. As soon as the meeting was over, I stepped into the hallway and yelled downstairs “open up the Prosecco!” I will never forget that moment.
I made sure to give other agents with outstanding queries two weeks to make counter offers before I replied to Emily, but, as I told my husband that night, I was ready to say yes to Emily right then.
I love that so much!! What a wonderful memory to have. Emily is just so wonderful and I know exactly what you are talking about. She really knows her stuff and every time I get off the phone with her, I know I am in such good hands. Could you tell us a little about your book that landed your agent? I see that you yourself are a roller derby girl and that sounds amazing!
Thanks! It IS amazing! I miss it SO much, what with the pandemic. I can’t wait till it is safe to play again. (Also, you should join your local roller derby league—you specifically, Kailei, and you generally, reader. There are off-skates volunteer opportunities, too!) (I am never not recruiting for derby.)
My novel, Mighty Millie Novak, is the story of an isolated teenage girl who has joined a junior derby team to meet new people. Millie’s older brother has just moved out for college, her parents are fighting, and her choice to attend an online high school is seeming like more and more of a mistake. She and the other rookies bond as they try to get better, and, after an unlucky injury at the rink, Millie falls hard for the cute girl on the all-star team who helps her out. The story takes Millie from the start of the season till the final tournament at the end.
Oh my goodness, that sounds amazing! So many wonderful layers and angles. Can't wait to see where it lands! And as for roller derby, I have often wondered what it would be like to try after watching the episode of Psych when Juliet goes undercover as a derby girl! But then I remember that I am the least coordinated person in the world, and decide it's maybe best to be the cheer section! haha.
Elizabeth, this has been so much fun! Thank you for joining me. Before I sign off, if you could give querying authors a piece of advice, what would that be?
Query in small batches. For my middle grade mystery, I queried, like, 25 agents, then decided I wanted to completely redo my first chapter. It would have been better to stop at, say, ten, wait for some replies, and then revamp things and submit to more.
Allow rejections to hurt, but also don’t let yourself wallow. All writers get rejected; it doesn’t mean anything about your worth as a person. As far as the content of rejections, don’t take any individual rejection as especially meaningful, but if patterns emerge (say, three agents all tell you your concept is great but they couldn’t connect with your character), then pay attention and consider revisions.
That is solid advice! Thank you so much. I think we can all get caught up in the rejections until they start feeling personal. So important to remember our value and worth regardless of what is happening in the query trenches. Before I let you go, where can we connect with you online?
Find me at elizabeth-holden.com, on Twitter as @ElizabethH_WI and email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Don’t be a stranger! If you have questions about writing (or about roller derby!) definitely reach out and say hi!
That is so kind of you, Elizabeth! Readers, Elizabeth has been so nice to connect with as an agent sister, and I know that she absolutely means that, so don't hesitate to connect. And Elizabeth, thanks so much for joining us today! I’ve had a blast chatting and learning more about your journey. Best of luck on submission! I can’t wait to see your books in the world.
Elizabeth is offering one lucky reader a query critique! Just follow Elizabeth and Kailei on Twitter and retweet THIS tweet. Best of luck! Winner will be announced Tuesday, December 22nd.
About Elizabeth Holden
Elizabeth Holden writes light-hearted young adult and middle grade fiction. She teaches physics at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville, and, along with her husband, is the co-founder of a tour company, Leaping Hound Travel, which specializes in the history of science. An avid roller derby player, she's skated with Madison Roller Derby since 2015 and leads "physics of roller derby" workshops for schools and other community groups. Her hair is bright blue, her laugh is loud, and her heart belongs to her pet greyhounds.
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.