Tuesday From The Trenches: Kimberly Lee
Happy Tuesday, KidLit friends! I hope that you've all had wonderful weeks and that you all got that email you've been waiting for! I'm super excited to bring you another Tuesday From The Trenches. These stories have been so much fun to share. Every story is so different, and truly there is no one correct path to representation! I'm thrilled to bring another agent sibling to the blog! Join me in welcoming fellow Picture Book Author and Agent Sibling, Kimberly Lee!
Hi Kim!! I'm SO excited to share your story today! I feel like a tiny part of your journey since you were the first potential client that I was able to gush to about Emily. I was absolutely thrilled when you decided to accept her offer! Let's jump right in and we can both chat more about how awesome Emily is soon! Can you share your query stats with us?
Time Spent in the Query Trenches: About a month and a half :)
Number of Agents Queried: 7
Number of Requests for Additional Work/Full Manuscript: 2
Number of Twitter Pitch “Likes”: 4 agent likes, 4 editor likes (and many more well-meaning, accidental hearts from friends haha)
Number of R&Rs: 1
Number of Rejections: 5 (including some gracious passes after I received my agent’s offer of representation)
Number of Offers: 2
Agent and Agency: Emily Forney at Bookends Literary Agency
A MONTH AND A HALF?? Oh my goodness! Rockstar! You didn't have a ton of time in the trenches, but still tell me: How did you keep track of it all? What was your method for organizing queries? Spread sheet? Query Tracker? Etc.
So, the first thing you have to know about me is that organization is pretty much a non-existent word in my vocabulary (working on it though, I promise!). To keep track, I just ended up using QueryTracker, which was very helpful in collating all the information I had hastily scribbled down on any random bits of paper I could find at the time!
Ha! Organization is a struggle for sure! But your fast and furious experience in the trenches really didn't need to be complicated either. Of the few you received, How did you handle rejections? Did any sting more than others?
I was a lawyer in my past life (before motherhood and writing led me down a different path), so experiencing a win one day and a loss the next wasn’t foreign to me. That said, I think I still reacted to my first literary rejection with a healthy dash of righteous indignation (followed by copious amounts of consolatory chocolate).
One rejection, in particular, stood out. The day before PitMad, I received a rejection from someone who was on my “magical unicorn/dream agent” list for the second time, which definitely made me question my writing abilities! I had quickly shake this off and amp myself up for PitMad the next day - which I did (and which successfully landed me my awesome agent, Emily!)
One thing that this taught me though, was not to place too much weight on the concept of a “dream agent”. Ultimately, your true “dream agent” will be that person who’s willing to get in your corner and get as giddily excited about your work as you do! I’m lucky to have found this with Emily.
Ah! She really is the very best. And so very true about finding that agent who is excited and a true advocate for you. Tell me, how did you find agents to query/how did you decide who to query?
There are tons of resources out there to help querying authors find the right agent for their books. The Manuscript Wishlist website was incredibly helpful, as was searching the MSWL hashtag on Twitter.
I also referred to SCBWI’s The Book and read blogs and interviews conducted by terrific members in the kidlit community such as Justin Colon, Brian Gehrlein ...and a certain Ms Kailei Pew!
Aww! Thanks so much for including me in that list. Justin and Brian are AMAZING. (And I lucked out with Brian as a CP) I am so grateful for all they both do. Both PBChat and PBSpotlight were huge on my journey. So through all of those resources, how did you ultimately connect with your agent? Did you cold query? Participate in a twitter pitch event? Or connect in some other way?
I’m actually a PitMad success story! Emily had already been on my radar as this amazing new agent from Bookends (an agency that I loved) but she was closed to queries at the time.
I decided to try my luck at PitMad in December - not expecting much, save for learning from the whole experience - when BAM! My pitch suddenly took off and the retweets and comments started flooding in. It was, frankly, a little overwhelming for a Twitter newbie like me who had just joined the month before!
And before I knew it, I received my first agent like from...you guessed it... Emily :) All I can remember then was emitting a squeal so shrill that only dolphins could hear, and the rest, as they say, is history.
YES YES YES!!! I love that so much! I was also a PitMad success story back in September. Readers, Emily loves pitch contests! So once you came down off the PitMad cloud, how much time passed between querying your now agent to getting “the call”?
The day after PitMad, I sent off my query to some of the other lovely agents who had requested my manuscript - Emily included. I then tried to put everything out of my mind (unsuccessfully) and tried to resist the urge to keep refreshing my inbox (also unsuccessfully).
Two days later, I received an email from Emily saying that she enjoyed reading my manuscript and asking to see more material. I remember rereading that email from her multiple times, just to make sure I understood it correctly!
Once my further material was sent off, I waited anxiously for another two days before receiving an email from Emily asking for “the call”. Cue more dolphin squeals.
EEEEEEEEE! YES! That waiting, even for just a few days, can be so hard! Sometimes those 2 days feel like aaaages. Can you tell us more about “the call”? How did you know Emily was the right choice?
I was a bundle of nerves right before the call, even though I knew I had prepared well for it and had my list of questions at the ready. I kept trying to manage my own expectations - “maybe it’s just a call asking for a R&R? Or maybe she just wants to let you down nicely over the phone?!”.
Instead, I was met with complete warmth and excitement by Emily, who put me at ease straight away. We spoke about my career goals, what she loved about the books I had sent to her and what I was looking for in an agent. Importantly, we also spoke about my unique concerns as an international author attempting to enter the publishing industry in the US.
Being Malaysian, aspects of my culture and experiences proudly color my life and my work. But I never wanted to be pigeonholed, or for what I write to be seen as a monolithic representation of every Malaysian voice, or to be signed on by anyone merely wanting to tick some “diversity trend” box. I knew that the person I picked as my agent needed to be someone who would advocate for me, understand where I was coming from and honor my vision. Emily was all that and more.
Hearing about her own personal journey and knowing her commitment towards uplifting BIPOC voices was so reassuring and an important factor in me making my decision. Emily understood my concerns, respected my heritage and reacted to my writing with such genuine positivity that I knew she was the right agent for me :)
(Plus, she’s whip smart and witty as anything, so that was a massive bonus!)
Sounds like an absolute dream of a call! Emily is truly so wonderful. I know exactly what you're talking about when you say she was so warm and comfortable to talk to. She really is all of those things! Could you tell us a little about your book that landed your agent?
“Boys Don’t Fry” is a picture book about a young boy who longs to learn the art of Malaysian Nyonya cooking - except his meddling aunties won’t let him! Together with his forward-thinking grandma (the matriarch of the family), they defy gender expectations in a delicious tale filled with sweetness and spice that aims to warm the heart (and the stomach!).
Oh my goodness! That sounds absolutely fantastic! I can't wait to see it on the shelves!!
If you could give querying authors a piece of advice, what would that be?
Start by identifying and establishing your connections within the writing community. I’ve discovered how many amazing opportunities there are to connect with like-minded people and to hone our craft!
For fellow picture book writers, take advantage of pitch parties, critique giveaways and special events hosted by the generous souls within the kidlit community (such as Tara Lazar’s Storystorm and Justin Colon’s PB Chat), and keep growing by joining organizations such as SCBWI or 12 x 12, engaging with your critique partners, or taking part in conferences, webinars and writing courses (the Children’s Book Academy does terrific ones!), if you can.
For anyone hoping to try their luck at a Twitter pitch party, my advice would be to always go in prepared. Hone your pitches to a polish, schedule your tweets on Tweetdeck if necessary, and importantly, have fun and make some new friends! I ended up connecting with some wonderful people during PitMad, whose support helped to boost my pitch and give it the attention it wouldn't have otherwise received. Many of these same people are now part of my group of trusted writing friends :)
Also, before you start jumping into the #amquerying trenches, just WAIT. Don’t rush that query of yours. Let it marinate for as long as it needs to. You don’t want to make the mistake of querying too soon (I learnt this the hard way!). Make sure you don’t end up writing a query letter that’s longer than your actual manuscript, and remember to let your personality shine through.
Know your agent before you query them. If an agent specifically says they don't like reading stories about animals that die, for example, then you might want to save that tragic tale of your beloved pet, Rusty, for another agent. Do some background reading before you query that agent - interviews, agent websites, Twitter (if they’re active there) - but please don’t cross the line between “respectful research” and the “I saw a picture of your neighborhood from your tweet three years ago and I’m now standing in front of your doorstep” territory!
bahahaha! That last bit of advice is golden, Kimberly! But in all seriousness, that was ALL so great. I love this advice. Take note, readers!
Is there anything else you'd like to share with our readers today?
My journey towards landing an agent isn’t commonplace - I realize that. I think I’ve been extremely fortunate in finding my agent within a fairly short space of time, but the lead up to it still took a lot of preparation and prayer.
I remember when I first joined Twitter and one of the first resources I stumbled across was your blog, Kailei! I read through all your #TuesdayFromTheTrenches posts, trying to glean helpful tips from authors who found success - I can’t quite believe that I’m here now, actually appearing in one of your interviews (and even better, that I get to call you my agent sibling!).
It feels like such a full circle moment - thank you so much for this opportunity :)
Oh my goodness, you are so welcome. And thank YOU for being here! I will always remember chatting with you on zoom after Emily had offered representation. I LOVED gushing about Emily, and I hung up thinking "Oh, I hope she says yes! I need her to be my agent sibling!" So I'm beyond glad we're sharing that piece of our journey together. Thank you so much for all of this today! Before I let you go... where can we connect with you online?
Happy to get in touch with anyone on Twitter at @kimlsywrites
and at my upcoming website (http://kimberlyleebooks.com) as long as you’re not of the “turning up on your doorstep” variety!) ;)
Ha! Agreed on that one, Kimberly! Thank you again for joining us today! I’ve had a blast chatting and learning more about your journey. I can’t wait to see your books in the world.
Kimberly is kindly offering the winner their choice of a query critique, Twitter pitch critique or a PB MS critique! Simply follow Kimberly and Kailei on twitter and retweet THIS tweet.
Winner will be announced on twitter 2/15
About Kimberly Lee
Growing up in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Kimberly Lee’s earliest memory involved her scribbling all over the walls of her childhood home. She has come a long way in her writing career since then. A former lawyer turned author, Kimberly now writes picture books that serve to empower and enchant, poetry that gives voice to the female experience, and provides freelance copywriting and content creation services for various publications and organizations across Asia.
Kimberly is also a contributing writer for makchic.com, a Malaysian-based parenting website. In May 2021, her picture book, entitled “WHAT IF?”, will be published by makchic as part of their campaign against child abuse in Malaysia. She is a merit award winner of the IMPAC Dublin Literary Award for Young Malaysians, an active member of SCBWI, and a recent recipient of the Children’s Book Academy’s 2021 Yuyi Morales Scholarship.
When she isn't busy writing, or navigating life with her husband and their two wilding boys, Kimberly can be found singing, stress baking, and covertly consuming her own baked goods. She is represented by the fabulous Emily Forney at Bookends 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.