Hello wonderful readers, and welcome to Tuesday From The Trenches! I am super sorry that I'm coming to you so late today. It was a wild day and I don't even know where to begin to tell you about it, so instead, I will just say thank you for understanding.
I am SO thrilled to welcome Layla Hersch to the blog today. Layla is an absolute gem. I am lucky to call her my agent sibling and I have truly enjoyed getting to know her over the last year. She is truly a wonderful human being and this journey is so great! Make sure to catch her generous offer at the end for one lucky MG writer!
Hi Layla! Thank you so much for joining us today! I’m thrilled to share your story with my readers, and always love when a Tuesday From The Trenches post also lets me gush about Emily and my agent siblings!
Can you share your query stats with us?
YAY!! Huge congratulations. You and Emily are such a great match! So, how did you keep track of it all? What was your method for organizing queries? Spread sheet? Query Tracker?
So I am probably going to sound like pure chaotic evil here, but I actually just jotted it down in the back of a notebook I use for work! It’s really messy and jumps around and I have notes scribbled in the margins to remind me when to nudge and such. Somehow I managed to keep track of it all!
Hahaha. I actually super love that!! Whatever works, right?
How did you handle rejections? Did any sting more than others?
I wish I could say that I breezed through every rejection! I have been writing my entire life, and queried other projects on and off before. My last novel, I queried from June 2019 to December 2020, and out of ~60 queries I got one partial and one full – both passes.
When I queried YOUNG BLOOD, I got my first full request 3 days after sending out my very first query, so I knew I was onto something special! At first, the rejections didn’t bother me the slightest bit because I kept getting SO many fulls. Out of my first batch of queries, I got four full requests. It was very dizzying.
One of the fulls turned into a revise and resubmit, but they had really great suggestions and I still felt very positive. But then the fulls started to turn into passes, and that sting really started to hurt. I started to realize that there’s still no guarantee of finding an agent, no matter how many full requests you get.
I love the difference you point out between your first go in the query trenches and your second. I love those hints that you're on the right path when you start getting those requests and positive feedbacks. But I also feel you on the pain of rejection... Sometimes, I think it hurts even more when there are so many positives, because you get your hopes up and then the passes feel extra hard. I'm so glad you kept with it though, and I hope our readers see that getting requests for fulls (or more MSs in Picture Books) really does mean you're on the right track.
How did you find agents to query/how did you decide who to query?
One of the big ones was through Twitter! As I said, I had been querying before, and I follow a lot of agents on Twitter. I already had some people in mind that I wanted to query before YOUNG BLOOD was even finished! I also searched through MSWL, which really was an invaluable tool! But also? I just googled “Literary agent + middle grade + spooky + vampires” and found a few that way, too!
I love all of that! Twitter is such a good way to get to know an agent's personality. And such a good idea to Google so specifically. I hadn't thought of that, and it's fabulous advice! So between all of those different places you looked, how did you ultimately connect with Emily? Did you cold query? Participate in a twitter pitch event? Or connect in some other way?
It was a cold query! A friend suggested that I query her because “vampire enthusiast” was in her bio, but my query was ultimately a cold query through Query Manager like anyone else!
YES! I love hearing about cold query success stories. So once you queried, how much time passed before getting “the call”?
It sounds incredible, but Emily asked for my full only 13 minutes after I sent her my query, and three days after that asked to set up a call!
WOAH! That is amazing, Layla! I think 13 minutes is some kind of record. For real. I love that Emily connected so quickly and got so excited. Can you tell us more about “the call" and how you knew Emily was the right choice?
It might sound strange, but I knew that Emily was “the one” because she shared ideas on what we would need to edit. Another agent who had offered thought my book was perfect as is. A younger me would have been flattered beyond belief, so years of querying and failing taught me to be critical of that. Emily had some incredibly insightful ways to make my book shine – and even though it required a literal rewriting of my entire book – I knew the hard work was worth it.
That is such a wonderful thing to highlight. I think an agent who believes in a project, but can see how it could be even better is golden. And I love that you were willing to do such a substantial re-write. Could you tell us a little about that book?
YOUNG BLOOD is the story about two vampire brothers, who have two very different ideas on what being a vampire should be. Adam wants to use his strengths to help track down a murderer who’s arrived to his small, PNW town, but big brother Victor would much rather act like the big-bad (and cool) vampires he sees in movies. When Adam discovers the murderer is actually a vampire hunter who is killing innocent mortals as bait to lure him and his family, he knows he has to put a stop to it – with or without Victor’s help. It just doesn’t help matters that Victor has developed a taste for young blood and would do almost anything for the murders to continue.
YOUNG BLOOD is a love letter to vampires. But this is not your typical vampire story; it’s a rebuttal. Aiming to challenge our notion of monster stories and evil creatures, the middle grade novel places the humans in the role of predator. Many of my influences on how to build this mythos came from my Jewish background—even down to being accused of drinking blood!—and struggling with negative stereotypes or pressures to feel uncomfortable in your own identity.
Oh, Layla, it sounds absolutely incredible! Every time I hear more about your book, I cannot wait to get my hands on it! And thank you for being so open and honest about your experience and influences for this book. I know your book is going to be such a bright spot of truth!
If you could give querying authors a piece of advice, what would that be?
The dream is bigger than the pain.
It HURTS to query. To create a world that’s filled with little pieces of your soul and find out that it’s not good enough. It feels so easy to give up, to avoid that. But your dream is seriously bigger than that pain.
That is such great advice. I am going to remember that one for sure. The dream is bigger than the pain. So good.
Where can we connect with you online?
Thanks so much for joining us today, Layla! I’ve had a blast chatting and learning more about your journey. I am super excited for YOUNG BLOOD and can't wait to see what else you create.
About Layla Hersch
Layla Hersch (she/her) is a middle grade fiction author. Her life has been filled with some incredible journeys - from being a punk rock hitchhiker living on top of buildings to an ancient book conservator apprentice at the Adler Planetarium to living in a college learning Arabic to being a drill sergeant (don't worry, she's gone the Bob Ross route of post-drill sergeant life) She loves infusing her works with Judaism, and adores monsters when they aren't being used as stand ins for society's fears of the other. Originally from Chicago, she has traveled all over the United States and the world -living for three years in Italy! as well as Monterey, California and Columbia, South Carolina - before finally settling in the Pacific Northwest with her spouse and two children.
Her debut novel, YOUNG BLOOD, is slated for publication in summer 2023 by Tundra Books/Penguin Random House Canada, as well as a second untitled book about Jewish Werewolves summer 2024. She is represented by Emily Forney at the Bookends Literary Agency.
About Kailei Pew
Kailei Pew is a wife, mother, and children's book author represented by the amazing Emily Forney of Bookends Literary. Kailei's debut Middle Grade Book, KID MADE will be coming to you from Feiwel and Friends/Macmillan Summer 2023