Welcome, everyone, to another Tuesday From The Trenches! I have had so much fun with this series, and it has been even more amazing than I had hoped for. If you missed last week's interview with the wonderful Stephen Briseño, you can check that out HERE.
I'm excited to be hosting Heather Bell on the blog today! Join me in giving her a warm welcome!
Thank you so much for joining us today, Heather! I’m thrilled to share your query story with my readers!
Thank you for having me, Kailei! And thank you for sharing all of these different stories. It really helps put everything in perspective.
I absolutely agree! It has been so fun for me to see just have different everyone's journey is. It's so nice to see all of the different paths to representation. 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: 3 years (with a year and a half break after my first round)
Number of Agents Queried: 25 + 2 straight to editors/publishing houses (including multiple stories to same agents)
Number of Requests for Additional Work/Full Manuscript: 3
Number of Twitter Pitch “Likes”: Somewhere around 9 or 12…Pitch parties always gave me the push to send.
Number of R&Rs: 1
Number of Rejections: All except the one
Number of Offers: 1
Agent and Agency: Kaitlyn Sanchez at Olswanger Literary Agency
How did you keep track of it all? What was your method for organizing queries? Spread sheet? Query Tracker? Etc.
I had an excel sheet, but it was fairly simple. It mainly listed the agency/agent’s name, which story I sent on what date, and when I should hear back (if they listed that info), and of course, date of rejection. There are so many rejections! But really, all you need is that ONE person.
That is absolutely the truth! It's all so subjective, and you only need the one yes!
How did you handle rejections? Did any sting more than others?
The first ones were rough. Most of the time I never received responses (ha! I know that’s pretty normal, but I spent many nights thinking “just TELL me you don’t like it”). After my first batch (I think I sent 10), I took a long break from querying to really focus on making my stories better and to make sure I had more than a couple polished pieces. When I started querying again, I knew the break was worth it, because even though I wasn’t getting a “yes,” the agents were actually responding. Lots of champagne rejections, some with actual notes on how the story could improve. And I think the one that stung most was when I submitted straight to a house, and it made it all the way to marketing, then died there. But that also gave me hope. The story had something, and I wouldn’t give up.
Oh my goodness. That definitely would have stung for me to. Those super close calls are hard. I also love that you took time to really hone your craft. That is essential in my opinion.
How did you find agents to query/how did you decide who to query?
MSWL was very helpful. Also, even if I didn’t get a like on a twitter pitch contest, I would see which agents were scoping things out and send to them.
Very smart! I think it's a great idea to go through twitter pitch contest likes to get an idea of what agents are looking for. There's a high chance they just didn't see your pitch, and knowing what they like will really help you know who to send them to. How did you ultimately connect with your now agent, Kaitlyn?
Early on when I first really dove into children’s books, I met Kaitlyn (my now agent). We were swapping stories after meeting in a Kidlit411 Facebook group (highly advise immersing yourself here), and after a few swaps she asked if I’d like to join her critique group. So, Kaitlyn was one of my first CPs. Once she was on track to becoming an agent, she approached me about possibly being one of her clients. As a critique partner she’s always been honest and I love how she can see the tiny issues as well as the big picture. I knew I wanted an agent who would be really hands on, passionate, and open. And Kaitlyn is basically Wonder Woman for all I know. After some discussion, she asked me to revise one of my stories. All her notes felt spot on, like she knew what I was trying to say and made it so much more concise and stronger. After making the changes, I resubmitted and here we are.
That's really awesome! Goes to show you how important it is to really put yourself out there in all the great kidlit communities. Can you tell us more about “the call” with Kaitlyn? How did you know she was the right choice?
It felt like destiny (haha)! But really, it did. I still had my story out with two other agents and was waiting for their responses. When they both declined, I told Kaitlyn. I don’t think I’ve ever been happier to receive rejections! After lots of shrieking and dancing about, we discussed details. I’ve told this to others before, but she is all heart and fire. You can feel the fervor in everything she does and when she supports your work, she does so whole-heartedly. It wasn’t even a question.
Love that so much! Feeling that spark on the call is essential in my mind! You know you will be in good hands. If you could give querying authors a piece of advice, what would that be?
Be persistent. And get to know the amazing people in the kidlit community. We are all writing and illustrating stories for children, hoping that it will touch at least one child’s heart. And if you keep sending, keep querying, someone will see that in your work and feel that connection. It just takes one.
Wonderful advice! Thank you so much for such a great interview. Before I let you go, where can we connect with you online?
Thanks so much for joining us today, Heather! This was so much fun. I think my biggest take away from this awesome interview is to never stop putting yourself out there and to never stop making connections. You never know what will come from those connections, plus it's essential to have people who understand in your corner in this publishing journey.
Heather is offering a PB MS or Dummy Critique to one lucky reader!! To enter: Retweet THIS tweet and Follow Heather and Kailei on Twitter. Winner will be announced on Twitter on Monday, November 16th.
About Heather Bell
Heather Bell whole-heartedly believes that hidden within our everyday lives is a secret realm glimpsed through books, music, and children’s laughter. Holding a BFA in Painting from the Kansas City Art Institute, she is a member of SCBWI, a participant in the 12 x 12 Picture Book Challenge, a Children’s Book Academy graduate, and a mommy. When not illustrating and writing, she searches out story ideas as an undercover school bus driver.
Heather Bell is an author/illustrator represented by Kaitlyn Sanchez at Olswanger Literary Agency.
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.