Hello wonderful and patient readers! Welcome to another Tuesday From The Trenches! What's that you say? It's Wednesday?? Oh... well, yes. Yes, it is. This is 100% my fault and I own it. I am so sorry to be a day late. But... I am beyond thrilled to be hosting one of my agent siblings on the blog today, and I promise this interview is absolutely worth the wait. Kay is such a wonderful soul and I am just so glad to welcome her to the blog!
Hi Kay! Thank you so much for joining us today! I’m thrilled to share your story with my readers! And not only because you and I agree on the ever important truths about Vampires, or because you are my agent sibling, or because we both adore Emily Forney... but also because your story is just so great! Let's jump right in!
Can you share your query stats with us?
Time Spent in the Query Trenches: 2 months
Number of Agents Queried: 28
Number of Requests for Additional Work/Full Manuscript: 15
Number of Twitter Pitch “Likes”: 13
Number of R&Rs: 0
Number of Rejections: 12
Number of Offers: 2
Agent and Agency: Emily Forney at BookEnds Literary Agency
Wow! 15 full requests in 2 months?? That is absolutely incredible! How did you keep track of it all? What was your method for organizing queries? Spread sheet? Query Tracker? Etc.
Query Tracker was such a life saver for me! I also made different email folders to organize the emails I was waiting for responses on as well as folders for rejections and full requests!
What a good idea to use email folders! I think you're the first person on Tuesday From The Trenches to suggest that, and I love it! I hope some of our readers use that method. Seriously would have saved me from searching my inbox so frequently.
How did you handle rejections? Did any sting more than others?
Honestly, I went into querying thinking this would probably be a failed venture but that I at least wanted to learn the absolute most I could for the next books I wrote (so cynical I know.) Despite how desperately I wanted this book to be THE book that finally got me an agent, I knew the odds were stacked high. So, for my mental health I told myself the rejections were just an opportunity to perfect my query and honestly that got me through most of the rejections! I’d say the only rejections that particularly stung were the ones that came from agents who passed after asking for my full– but their feedback was also invaluable to me moving forward and I was so grateful for it!
That is actually really wise. And I am SO glad that this was the book that landed your agent. I'm still so so so ready to read it!! And I understand about the rejections after requests. I would absolutely agree that those are the toughest. So with your whirlwind story, how did you find agents to query and how did you decide who to query?
It started with a lotttttt of research. I got a master list of literary agencies and cross-referenced agents who rep’ my book’s genre specifically at each agency and organized them by best fit first per agency. Then I went through and made sure they didn’t already have anything on their lists that were TOO similar mine. I also looked through every MSWL out there and I utilized twitter a LOT and that’s how I found my agent Emily– while researching the twitters of agents who worked for BookEnds! Emily had an online vibe that was very very similar to mine AND she looked for books in my genre, so I knew I wanted to query her eventually! From there I narrowed down my top 30 agents and divided my list into 4 rounds with a randomizer (because I tried desperately not to have any ‘dream’ agents and had already narrowed my list down to only include agents I would absolutely want to work with) and sent them out a couple weeks apart at a time!
Wow! Kay, that is absolutely amazing. I love how organized you were and how you took the time to do the research. What a difference it makes to be querying the right agents who you would love to work with rather than just any agent. And I love the side advice to not have a dream agent in mind. It can be easier said than done for sure, but I think that is so wise.
So I know you found her on Twitter, but how did you ultimately officially connect with Emily? Did you cold query? Participate in a twitter pitch event? Or connect in some other way?
Ah this is my favorite part. SO, I knew I wanted to query Emily very badly, but at the time I sent out my first round she was closed to queries– though she had tweeted she’d reopen to them in a couple months so I put her in my last querying group in hope that she’d be open by the time I got to that round. Fortunately for me, however, Emily is super active and I had started developing a fun banter with her on twitter about random things (Henry Cavill, demons, burritos, etc.). This happened to coincide with a pitch event I was already planning on pitching for and she ended up seeing and liking my pitch and I got to query her through that even though she was closed to public queries!
YES! (Side note, I still very much enjoy your twitter banter with Emily... and now Elba too!) and I love that you are a twitter pitch success story! That's how I connected with Emily as well, so I'm a big believer in putting yourself out there for those events.
So how much time passed between sending your query off to Emily and getting “the call”?
Yay! Can you tell us more about that call? How did you know Emily was the right choice?
It was two hours of squealing chaos lol! Which is exactly how I knew she was the one! Emily told me all about her vision and we talked about all my goals for my career and book. We talked about the characters and I asked my list of one hundred agent questions and we just bonded! I knew immediately she was the sort of partner I wanted to have on this journey!
That sounds absolutely fantastic! I love when a connection just feels right. And I can totally picture you and Emily spending 2 hours together in squealing chaos. I feel so good about that.
Could you tell us a little about your book that landed your agent?
It’s a YA fantasy adventure with an ensemble cast of bisexual witches. It’s exactly the book I wanted when I was a teen and it’s just a ton of action-packed fun (with a nice bit of romance ;)) There’s magical dice, and sirens, and the whole thing takes place in a dangerous enchanted forest!
I'm so serious that I cannot wait until I can get my hands on that book! I am SO happy for you and all that your future holds.
If you could give querying authors a piece of advice, what would that be?
Be nice to yourself! It’s so much easier said than done but the thing is– I can’t tell you that it’s a guarantee you’re going to get an agent. The industry is just so subjective and those empty reassurances from everyone can be such a heavy burden. I know they were to me. But, what I CAN tell you, is that rejection does not mean you’re a bad writer! AT ALL. We’ve all been told no and it’s so important that you’re kind to yourself because this process is not going to be.
Oh, and please PLEASE check your word counts for your genre.
Kay, that is absolutely lovely advice. I love that realistic approach with a nice sprinkling of hope and confidence. This business is truly so so soooo subjective. Readers, you can't control that, but you can control being great authors.
And yes, word count. We won't talk about my 2000 word, didactic picture book MS...
Kay, this has been so much fun! Before I let you go, where can we connect with you online?
Thanks so much for joining us today, Kay! I’ve had a blast chatting and learning more about your journey. Best of luck to you and you know that I'm watching and waiting patiently (okay, not so patiently) to see where this book ends up and read your future stories! I literally can’t wait to see your books in the world.
About Kay Smith
Kay Smith is a queer writer and lover of all things magical and YA fantasy. She grew up in Louisiana where she frequently haunted bookstores and practiced her craft, and after getting her degree in graphic design, she decided to fully pursue her dream of being an author. When she isn’t writing or reading, she can be found at home with her menagerie of animals, practicing witchcraft, or annoying people about astrology.
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 books that help kids see they can do anything they set their minds to. Her debut Middle Grade, KID MADE, will be out from F&F Macmillan Summer 2023.
Kailei can't wait to get her stories into your hands.