Hello wonderful readers! I hope you're having a wonderful summer. We're loving our summer days by the pool and sad that we only have 2.5 more weeks before school starts again. But then again, it will be nice to return to a routine as well. Anyways... as per usual, I digress. So...Welcome to another Tuesday From The Trenches! I'm thrilled to share June's story with you and I just know it will give you the boost you need!
Hi June! And welcome! Thank you so much for joining us today. I’m thrilled to share your story with my readers, so let's just jump right in. Can you share your query stats with us?
I started querying (way before I was actually ready or had enough information on the publishing industry) back in 2013 after I finished a MG manuscript and some picture book manuscripts. Over that first year, I joined SCBWI, attended classes, and really dedicated myself to learning more about craft and the business of writing.
Here is a snapshot of my numbers. (I didn’t track responses in detail that first year)
As you can see, I racked up a lot of rejections over a number of years, but this included picture books, chapter books, novels, and a few articles.
Time Spent in the Query Trenches: 5.5 to 6 years
Number of Agents Queried: MANY
Number of Requests for Additional Work/Full Manuscript: 28 times agents asked for more work.
Number of Twitter Pitch “Likes”: I did have a few of them, but they never got a sale, though I did get some nice personalized and encouraging responses.
Number of R&Rs: Zero
Number of Rejections: 486
Number of Offers: 2 from agents, 1 from an editor.
Agent and Agency: Golden Wheat Literary
I love that you didn't give up on your dream! Some of our recent stories have felt impossibly fast, so I always love hearing about someone who took maybe a bit longer in the trenches. I'm so inspired by the stick-to-itedness that you had.
How did you keep track of it all? What was your method for organizing queries? Spread sheet? Query Tracker? Etc.
I used a spreadsheet, even when I used Query Tracker I put the info into the sheet I already had since it also had all my notes.
Spreadsheets are the best! Tell me... How did you handle rejections? Did any sting more than others?
I didn’t take them personally. I used to be in sales and so rejection in general didn’t hurt much, but some of those personal rejections where I was “so close” and “almost” and “keep sending me more work” were hard since I felt like I was tripping at the finish line. It got frustrating, for sure.
That is so very relatable. Those close calls were the hardest for me, too.
How did you find agents to query/how did you decide who to query?
Sometimes I’d research books like mine to see who repped them. Or I’d see a MSWL on Twitter that sounded like something I was working on. I also sent work to those I’d met at conferences and classes. Finally, I spent lots of time on Google and reading interviews to see who would likely rep work like mine.
It's a lot of work to find good fits, but so worth it. Finding an agent who reps books like your really is the key. How did you ultimately connect with Golden Wheat? Did you cold query? Participate in a twitter pitch event? Or connect in some other way?
I cold queried Golden Wheat and I’d queried another agent that I attended a class with. Both offered rep, but I ultimately chose Golden Wheat. When my first agent left the industry, I moved to Jessica Schmeidler, the founder of Golden Wheat.
That's really nice that the agency made sure you were still taken care of. I like hearing that! How much time passed between querying your agent to getting “the call”?
I believe about one month, but I had received an offer on a different picture book from an editor at that same time, so I had reached out to all the agents who had my work to let them know I had an offer on the table. Then I asked for a response in two weeks or to let me know if they needed more time.
Note: I only sent work directly to editors I’d met or after I’d shopped them through all the agents that I thought would be interested.
A month isn't too terrible, but I know that can feel like an eternity. It's so great that you had an offer from an editor as well! Can you tell us more about “the call”? How did you know your agent was the right choice?
My first agent (who is no longer agenting) called me from her bathroom while construction was being done in her kitchen. She took the time to review the contract from the offer I’d received with me in detail, even though she knew I had multiple offers. Plus, she just ‘got’ my eclectic work and nerdy personality. It felt right.
It was a hard decision as both agents who offered were amazing, talented, and could be great advocates of my work. The anxiety of having to choose was more difficult than I’d imagined.
It really is so hard to choose between such great options. But I'm glad you felt that 'click' with your agent. I think that at the end of the day, that's what it comes down to. Could you tell us a little about your book that landed your agent?
I still have not sold that original picture book that interested her, though we sold others together. Including my debut, Odd Animal ABC’s with Blue Manatee Press and She Leads: The Elephant Matriarch with Familius Publishing.
SO exciting to have two books out in the world!! And I have no doubts that we'll see many more from you. If you could give querying authors a piece of advice, what would that be?
Be patient. There is a lot of waiting and you have to depend on lucky timing more often than not. Just keep steady on the things you can control. Learning the craft, actually writing (sometimes harder than you’d think), and sending out polished work.
That is such good advice! It can be so tempting to push things faster than we should, but you are absolutely right. Learning the craft and being patient in the waiting game are both so important. Before I let you go, where can we connect with you online?
Is there anything else you'd like to share with our readers?
Fun Fact: My fastest rejection was in three minutes. The longest came a whole year after I’d already published the book (and that took about a year and a half) so maybe 2+ years after sending.
Three minutes?? Woah! I've never heard of such a fast response! At least you weren't waiting! haha. And too funny about a rejection after the book was already published! Their loss, clearly!
June, Thanks so much for joining us today! I’ve had a blast chatting and learning more about your journey. Best of luck to you! I can’t wait to see more of your books in the world.
About June Smalls
June Smalls has been making up stories since she only had pets and stuffed animals to share them with. June Smalls the author of fiction and nonfiction such as He Leads: Mountain Gorilla, a Gentle Giant and Odd Animal ABC’s as well as books for the educational market. June is a member of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators and resides in Northern Virginia with her family and an ever-growing assortment of animals.
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.