Hello wonderful KidLit friends! I am so excited to be back at Tuesday From The Trenches and I have some wonderful stories to share with you! We have stories of authors who landed an agent after only a month in the query trenches all the way up to authors who spent 15 years querying. Each story is unique and there is no "wrong" path. So don't give up! You never know when your yes will come.
I'm excited to welcome Jyothi Nookula to the blog today and hope that you love her story as much as I do!
Thank you so much for joining us today, Jyothi! I was so excited to see that you recently signed with Joyce! And I’m thrilled to share your query story with my readers.
Can you share your query stats with us?
Time Spent in the Query Trenches: 2 months
Number of Agents Queried: 7
Number of Requests for Additional Work/Full Manuscript: 5
Number of Twitter Pitch “Likes”: 7 agent likes, 3 editor likes
Number of R&Rs: 1
Number of Rejections: 4 (including passes after I received my agent’s offer of representation)
Number of Offers: 3
Agent and Agency: Joyce Sweeney from The Seymour Agency
WOWZA! 3 offers in only 2 months. That is amazing and definitely unique! You didn't have a lot of need to organize your queries, since you didn't have a ton, but I'd still love to know... How did you keep track of it all? What was your method for organizing queries? Spread sheet? Query Tracker? Etc.
I’m old school when it comes to keeping track of things- spreadsheet is my way to go. I created a few columns representing wishlist summary, status, request for additional manuscripts and a few other standard details.
Spreadsheets seem to be the most common method of choice. I did the same. Again, you didn't have many, but I know that every rejection, big or small, can hurt. So how did you handle rejections? Did any sting more than others?
I’m a pretty hardened shell. As a computer scientist with some pretty stellar credentials, I was rejected at 200 job interviews! So rejections don’t sting me much. But I also have to say that the side effect of a hardened shell is that successes don’t excite me as well. Don’t get me wrong- I’m happy when something good happens, but that’s pretty much about it. I don’t feel like screaming from the rooftops or such.
That is super interesting. And 200 job interviews?? Wow! I'm glad you didn't give up.
How did you find agents to query/how did you decide who to query?
For a very long time, I didn’t believe in my stories. I never thought anyone would be interested in what I had to say. So, I didn’t bother thinking about querying. After joining the CBA writing course, I found a great support system- I made friends who encouraged and supported me. Their honest feedback and faith in me built my confidence. I honestly wouldn’t be where I’m without them!
There was a pitch party on Twitter (PBPitch) and my writer friends were excited. I thought to myself “what do I have to lose other than 280 characters”. So, I joined them. I polished my pitches and participated. I was so focused on boosting my friend’s pitches and had a very critical product launch at work (and remember I always thought my stories didn’t matter?) that I forgot to check for likes. When friends started congratulating me on messages is when I went and checked to find agent and editor likes!
The interest I experienced during the event changed me- I became aware of wish lists. I mostly queried to agents who expressed interest during pitch events (PBPitch and PBParty), but I made sure I read their wish lists and identified manuscripts in my portfolio that might interest them.
I think imposter syndrome is so common, so I know that feeling of not believing in yourself, but I"m so glad you worked through it! The world needs your stories. And that is amazing that you didn't even notice the likes coming in. Glad your friends helped you see them! haha. That all sounds very exciting! How did you ultimately connect with Joyce? Did you cold query? Participate in a twitter pitch event? Or connect in some other way?
I’m a PBParty success story. I was a PBParty finalist. I had my eyes on Joyce for quite a while but she was closed to submissions then. When I read on Twitter that she was one of the agents participating in PBParty, I was filled with hope. I could hardly sleep the night of the showcase. I woke up at 5.30am PST to check in and saw that Joyce ‘liked’ my entry. I was so excited that I woke up everyone at the house, including my 19 month old daughter (which didn’t bode well for me on hindsight!)
SO neat! I'm super excited because I believe you are my first PBParty Success Story on Tuesday From The Trenches. I love hearing about how taking every opportunity opens doors! And what excitement in your house that night!
How much time passed between officially querying Joyce to getting “the call”?
Joyce was blazing fast. I sent her my manuscript on the very same day she ‘liked’ my entry. Within a day, she asked to see additional manuscripts and after 3 days, I was on a call with her!
It all felt very surreal. I felt like I was on a rocket ship blazing into the milky way!
I adore fast turn arounds! The waiting game is SO hard, but so common. You lucked out with that fast turn around! Can you tell us more about “the call”? How did you know Joyce was the right choice?
Joyce makes you feel comfortable instantly. She is very personable like that. I was all nervous and jittery but once she started speaking, I was immediately put at ease! We had a natural conversation, like I would have had with a friend over a cup of coffee.
I wanted someone who values the culture and diversity I bring. Joyce instantly understood what I was trying to do with my stories- in fact she summed it up better than I ever did. She has created this amazing community of author/illustrators that I immediately wanted to be a part of it.
Joyce encouraged me to explore topics that I was unsure of, advocated for me, and brought so much positivity that I knew in my heart that she was the right agent for me!
I love that so much. How important to find an agent who values you, understands you, and will advocate for you. Could you tell us a little about your book that landed your agent?
“Dance Little Seed” is a picture book inspired by a true story. A young girl loves to dance bharatnatyam and is excited for the dance competition coming in a few months. After a tragic accident, she is fitted with a prosthetic foot. Unable to walk, her dancing dreams are shattered. Just when she’s ready to give up on dancing, she discovers a glimmer of hope in an unexpected source that helps her sprout and bloom.
Oh Jyothi, that sounds absolutely amazing!! I can't wait to see it on my shelf.
If you could give querying authors a piece of advice, what would that be?
Apply the formula that we use for querying letters: Hook, Book, Cook to your journey as well.
Hook: Pause for a moment and ask yourself the question “why are you writing picture books?” Be deliberate in getting specific. I take inspiration from my day job where I develop technology products. It’s really hard to create a product if you have a too vague problem or if you’re trying to solve many things. Finding your specific purpose will help you in writing. I have my mission statement and goals written down. Every time I write a new manuscript, I pause and reflect on its purpose and how it relates to my mission and goals. Your mission and goals can evolve over time, but the key is deliberate reflection.
Book: Spend time learning the craft. Sign up for writing classes to improve your craft- I found SCBWI, Writing Barn, Mira Reisberg’s CBA courses, Story Teller Academy, Katy Flint’s writing course and a few others helpful in my journey. Read a lot of picture books- both good and bad. Analyze story arc, character development, hook, length, tension, pacing, back matter, etc. There is no shortcut, really. Honing and perfecting the craft takes time. Soak yourself in the knowledge and nurture it. It will eventually bloom.
Cook: Take your time to start querying. Don’t feel the peer pressure- everyone is on their own timeline. I can’t help but draw an analogy to potty training (I’m dealing with this stage right now, so that’s on top of my mind!)- you got to do it when you’re ready. Too soon, and it’ll be an uphill battle.
Wow, I feel that last analogy extra hard this week (Did I try to potty train my daughter before SHE was ready... yes, yes I did). But I love all of that so much. I know I was one to try to jump the gun and rush my way through. It was only once I slowed down and took my time to really learn the craft and let stories sit that I found success.
Before I let you go...where can we connect with you online?
I would love to connect on Twitter: @JyothiWrites
I’m working on my website https://www.jyothinookula.com/
Thanks so much for joining us today, Jyothi! 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.
Jyothi is giving a winner their choice of a query critique, Twitter pitch critique or PB non-rhyming MS critique. Just retweet THIS tweet and follow both Jyothi and Kailei to enter. Winner will be announced on Twitter 6/21.
Thank you, dear readers for joining us today!! I can't wait to see where Tuesday From The Trenches takes us for the rest of this year!
About Jyothi Nookula
Growing up in India, Jyothi read chandamama stories (local folktales). Something about the stories, drew her in. When Jyothi first started writing for picture books, her opening was always “Once upon a time”. She has come a long way since then! Jyothi works on machine learning and artificial intelligence in the day and writes picture books in the night. Jyothi is a Children’s Book Academy graduate, an active member of SCBWI, and a participant in Julie Hedlund's 12x12 Picture Book challenge. She is represented by the superstar agent Joyce Sweeney.
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.