Tuesday From The Trenches: Laken Slate
Hello lovely readers and welcome to this week's Tuesday From the Trenches! I'm still loving these interviews and I get SO much from each of them. I hope more than anything that you see that there is truly no "right" path to representation. Every path is so unique and I LOVE that!! This week's story is really unlike any others I've shared on the blog, and I'm so happy to be sharing it with you today.
As a partial side note, Laken reached out to me about an interview and I was SO glad she did. I can't see every single announcement and so if any of you have hoped to join me for Tuesday From The Trenches, I would absolutely love for you to reach out to me! I love sharing these stories and if I'm missing yours, please please please get in touch!!
And now, join me in welcoming Laken Slate to the blog today!!
Thank you so much for joining us today, Laken! I was so excited to see that you recently signed with Joyce! And I’m thrilled to share your query story with my readers.
To get started, can you share your query stats with us?
Time Spent in the Query Trenches: Eight Months
Number of Agents Queried: 44
Number of Requests for Additional Work/Full Manuscript: 3
Number of Twitter Pitch “Likes”: 0.00…Well, more like 0.5. Someone from a comic book press liked one of my pitches, but they didn’t mean to participate in the pitch event. They simply liked the idea. Haha.
Number of R&Rs: 0.00
Number of Rejections: 42
Number of Offers: 2
Agent and Agency: JOYCE SWEENEY😊from The Seymour Agency!
Wahoo!! Congrats again!! How did you keep track of it all? What was your method for organizing queries? Spread sheet? Query Tracker? Etc.
I used a combination of Excel and Query Tracker.
I documented who I sent stories to, what agency the person belonged to, why I chose to submit to them, the date I made the submission (!), and the response the agent gave.
I didn’t “track” much on Query Tracker. The “comments” feature was incredibly useful, and the “timeline” feature was incredibly addictive…lol.
Oh my goodness, YES! That timeline feature is a blessing but also a curse. I would tell myself to not check, but then I just had to. Seeing the responses get closer and closer to my submission was somehow both stressful and helpful... Weird, I know.
How did you handle rejections? Did any sting more than others?
Ah... rejections. Will we ever escape them?
I handled rejection badly as a child! Somehow, I handle it well as an adult.
While querying, I viewed every pass as feedback. I always made changes after rejections. Some may disagree with this method, because one person’s subjective opinion doesn’t warrant alterations, but I felt propelled to take a deeper look at my work after a pass.
The rejections that stung ended up being the most helpful. They stung like a shot at the doctor’s office, not like a bee (if that makes any sense at all).
A rejection after a request hit me hard, at the beginning of my query journey. But earning that initial request gave me the confidence to keep trying.
Another rejection after a request hit me harder, in the middle of my query journey. But it was from my now agent.
It sounds like you really did learn so well how to cope with rejections. And I agree... those passes after requests for more were the hardest for me too. But I love that you circled back to Joyce in the end! But here I am getting ahead of myself...
How did you find agents to query/how did you decide who to query?
I Googled agencies at random and used Manuscript Wishlist. At first, I only looked to see if an agent represented picture books. Later, I made sure to only query agents who represented picture books similar to mine, or who mentioned a Wishlist item similar to my stories. I had to work smarter and harder!
I think that is very wise. I also queried very widely in the beginning, but narrowing to those "better fits" saved me so much time, emotion, and energy. How did you ultimately connect with your agent? Did you cold query? Participate in a twitter pitch event? Or connect in some other way?
It all started in September 2020. I sent a story to Joyce, and she loved it! She requested more stories but said she didn’t want to take on new clients until the new year. She asked me to query again in December.
I queried in December and received a pass. I had so been hoping to work with her.
I decided to take a step back in January 2021. I wanted to focus less on querying and more on crafting. I wanted to attend conferences about storytelling, not webinars on acquiring an agent. I felt I needed to go back to the basics.
Two weeks later, an agent I queried in 2020 asked to schedule “The Call.” I was absolutely floored. He clearly advocated for an author’s best interest, throughout our conversation, and he said that I should take the standard two weeks to make my decision.
I began reaching out to the handful of agents who still had my stories. Out of the blue, a few days later, Joyce emailed me. She was not one of the agents I contacted about the offer, because she had given a pass in December. She asked if I still needed an agent and said she remembered my work! On “The Call” with her, a few days later, she said she had a feeling she needed to contact me soon. Signing with her felt like it was meant to be!
Oh wow! What a unique journey. I've never heard a story like yours and I love it so much!! So how much time passed between querying Joyce to getting “the call”?
Could you tell us a little about your book that landed your agent?
The story I sent Joyce in September is an imagined adventure, starring real Martian machines. Perseverance and Ingenuity attempt to rescue one of the lost solar sisters of NASA’s past.
I re-watched WALL-E recently, for the first time since High School. It is an absolute masterpiece. I kept dreaming, while watching, that my story could introduce children to the Martian rovers, in a similar, adventurous, adorable fashion.
Oh, that sounds absolutely out of this world! (sorry... couldn't help myself! But truly it does sound like an amazing book!!)
If you could give querying authors a piece of advice, what would that be?
Every time a generous professional offers an #askagent, #askauthor, or #askkidlit session, I see aspiring writers ask questions like, “Is a query letter that important for picture books?”
This is a valid question, and I have asked it myself. Looking back, however, I know my mindset wasn’t spot on. A query letter is your chance to sell your story to someone who could help you achieve your dream. Your pitch, or query blurb, could be sent to an editor one day or could be printed on the jacket of your book. If you believe in yourself, think big.
Does that mean your query must be perfect? Heavens no! I wrote the world’s worst queries! But I thought I was sending my best each time. (CPs, reflection, and growth always reveal necessary edits.)
More than anything, the story matters. Focus on the story most! But, at the end of the day, all the silly little things add up. Word count matters. Blurbs matter. Queries matter.
Give your absolute best, in every part of the process, and don’t give up!
I love that so much! Such a good reminder to not cut corners and give this journey our all! Where can we connect with you online?
I absolutely love the #Kidlit writing community. You can find me on Twitter at @LakenSlate
I am developing an early childhood writing curriculum for my M. Ed. Capstone. My website combines my love for education and writing. I share ideas for teaching little learners to write, and I blog about my own writing journey.
Oooh, that sounds like a wonderful blog! Thanks so much for joining us today! I’ve had a blast chatting and learning more about your journey. Best of luck on this journey! I can’t wait to see your books in the world.
Kailei, thank YOU so much, for including me in your fantastic series! Like so many others, I’ve read each Tuesday’s post and thought, “I wish I could be out of the trenches like they are!” This interview is a dream come true😊
Oh I so love that!! It was absolutely my pleasure to have you!!
Laken is very generously offering a complete Query Package to one luck winner! Simply follow both Laken and Kailei on twitter and retweet THIS tweet to enter. Good luck and the winner will be announced on Twitter!
About Laken Slate
Laken Slate is a teacher, toddler mom, and Navy spouse. She's had a lifelong love of picture books, even though she once failed the Accelerated Reader test for Chicka Chicka Boom Boom. Laken writes about the adventure and quirky humor we find in nature and the shared tumbles we take along the way. She enjoys traveling with her husband, playing with her son, shopping with her mom, laughing with her sister, and fishing with her dad.
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.