Updated: Jul 28, 2021
Hello, wonderful Tuesday From The Trenches Readers! I am so excited to be sharing this wonderful interview with Margo Sorenson! Her persistence is incredible and inspiring. I hope that you will know that your "yes" will come! You will find your path!! So please join me in welcoming Margo to the blog!
Hi Margo! Thank you so much for joining us today! I’m thrilled to share your story with my readers!
Thank you, Kailei---I'm honored to be here!
Can you share your query stats with us? (as far as you know/remember. It’s okay if some of these numbers are zero):
Believe me, they're not zero!!!
Time Spent in the Query Trenches:
About fifteen years, give or take a year—but (take a deep breath!)—these figures represent ALL of my various manuscripts queried to all the agents on my list, not only the manuscript that landed me my awesome agent. For that manuscript, it was about two years of querying off and on, revising, and resubmitting.
Number of Agents Queried:
For the manuscript that landed me my agent, it was forty carefully-vetted, other agents. As we all do, I tried to pay close attention to what agents were looking for and worked hard not to do the "throw spaghetti against the wall and see what sticks" process, as tempting as that might be. 😉 The kid lit writing community is very generous, and authors as well as agents willingly share their query processes and insights, which were an indispensable aid, and for that I am most grateful. As a result, I am beyond thrilled with my super-agent Dan Cramer.
Number of Requests for Additional Work/Full Manuscript:
There was one full request for the picture book manuscript that got me my agent. As you know, most picture book agents want the full manuscript up front; Jennifer Flannery wants only the query letter first. Thus, the "only one" full request. The other agents already had the full and a few did request additional work.
Number of Twitter Pitch “Likes”:
Number of R&Rs:
At least fifty for various other manuscripts overall and two for the manuscript that got me my agent.
Number of Rejections:
Are you kidding? If you mean number of rejections for ALL of my different manuscripts, I stopped counting and started weighing them. 😉 For the manuscript that got me my agent, there were about fifteen.
Number of Offers:
One—the very best! Others demurred, once they knew I had an offer, and wished me the best.
Agent and Agency:
Dan Cramer, Agent, Page Turner Literary Agency, a sister agency to Flannery Literary
Margo, this is such an amazing story!! I love your dedication so much and I know it is really going to inspire our readers! How did you keep track of it all? What was your method for organizing queries? Spread sheet? Query Tracker? Etc.
I did it the old-fashioned way—hard copies on lined notebook paper, organized alphabetically by manuscript title (I always submitted about a half-dozen different manuscripts at the same time, in rotation) and another set alphabetically by agent, and I kept a "tickler file" to remind me when to "nudge." Because I also submitted to publishers, "post-agent search," I had another, separate folder for those, as well.
That sounds like a great system! How did you handle rejections? Did any sting more than others?
I handle rejection pretty well, because I was a middle school and high school teacher. 😉 Regarding all of my different manuscripts, not the one that landed me my agent, a rejection that stung a bit was when an agent LOVED one of my YA manuscripts and strongly encouraged ("read this or else!") another agent in her agency to take it on, and that agent kept it for months, but finally passed. Another was an R&R on another YA, and that agent was really enthusiastic, but, eventually rejected it. As you know, we writers understand that this is a "business," after all, with a bottom line. Rejection isn't personal, although it can feel like it, sometimes. 😊 Many agents said they had something similar coming up and others said it just didn't resonate with them, (they just "didn't love it"), and all the kind and positive feedback helped me handle the rejections. The agent rejections were very encouraging and professional. Yes, as we know, there is such a thing as a "good rejection"—it's not an oxymoron! Most of all, I think what helped me deal with rejections was that I kept writing new manuscripts and revising current ones, listening to my critique partner, and submitting to publishers (after enough good agents had passed whom I thought would be a fit). There is always hope. 😊 As a side-note, a few of the manuscripts that agents rejected I was fortunately able to sell eventually on my own to traditional publishers. We all know it's a subjective business. Believe in yourself!
Such a good reminder to keep believing in ourselves. Because you're right... it's so subjective. It sounds like you found a good way to deal with those rejections... just keep writing!
So, how did you find agents to query/how did you decide who to query?
I did a lot of research by reading interviews and publishing blogs and newsletters. Yes, it's work! Thank goodness for the kid lit community of authors, agents, and editors, who graciously share their experiences online; they were an amazing help in researching agents. It was a new world for me, because I had been submitting on my own to traditional publishers for thirty years, and I'd had the good fortune to have had over thirty of my books traditionally published by small to mid-size publishers (no Big Six/Five). I'd been around the block a few times, (yes, I am that old 😉) and, because very few kid lit authors had agents when I began writing thirty years ago, I had always just felt I was all right on my own, without an agent. You can certainly tell this is "back in the day"! That was why I had never tried for an agent until the doors began to close in traditional publishing to un-agented authors. (Slam—slam—slam! 😉) Even those editors with whom I'd had good relationships were more than apologetic in their rejections, saying they could no longer accept un-agented manuscripts. This also forced me to confront an issue I'd tried to ignore for years. If I had an agent, I could spend a great deal more time writing and revising, instead of spending hours and hours in researching publishers and editors, writing query letters, and following up with editors. That clinched it. That was the turning point, so my agent search and research began. As an author, it's important to me to have clear, honest, and timely communication, and from a few of the sad stories I'd read, there were a few agents out there who weren't that professional or who lacked integrity, as well as good communication skills. I knew that would be a disaster. 😊 So, I carefully and painstakingly researched who might be a good fit for each manuscript as far as what they were looking for, and then read as much as I could about the agents, to try and gauge how conscientious and communicative they were. Again, I send my unending gratitude to all the fellow trench warriors out there who unselfishly contributed their insights, helping me make my choices.
That is so amazing! I love hearing about your success with 30 published books before landing your agent! I think that's a great point to remember. Some writers have highly successful careers even before the agent comes in. But 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 was a cold query. I'd read that Jennifer Flannery of Flannery Literary had hired an associate agent, Dan Cramer, and I knew she repped Gary Paulsen and had an awesome reputation in the industry for having a great deal of integrity, being tenacious and forthright, and being extremely supportive of her authors (besides all the national book awards her clients have won). I hoped—crossing my fingers—my picture book manuscript might be a good fit for the agency and for Dan, whose background was just what I was looking for in an agent.
That is so wonderful! And exciting now that Dan is starting his sister agency! How much time passed between querying him to getting “the call”?
Actually, it was an email exchange, and it was about two weeks from my emailing the initial query letter to getting a full request from Jennifer Flannery. Then, four days after I sent her the manuscript, I got an email from her associate Dan Cramer at Flannery that he'd read it and loved it and wanted to offer me representation. I was over the moon!
That is such an exciting story and fast turn around! Congrats! Can you tell us more about that email? How did you know your agent was the right choice?
In his email offering representation, Dan wrote these words: "For transparency's sake, my offer of representation to you, will come with editorial changes to your manuscript before submitting it to publishers. I can provide you with an editorial letter that would summarize the changes and allow you to understand how I want to elevate your manuscript. I know you have other agents/publishers reviewing your manuscript currently and you may want to wait to hear back from them before you consider my offer. I feel that we could have a very good agent/author working relationship." Because of his professionalism in checking all those important boxes, I was pretty much sold, even before we talked. As a former speech and debate coach and rhetoric nut, I appreciated all of the points he made, his language, his vision, and his tone. We talked ten days later, after I communicated with the other agents who had that manuscript, as well as some of my other manuscripts. He was courteous, professional, had a great sense of humor (a definite plus), and stayed on-message with me and was very upbeat. I truly felt he had my manuscript's—and my career's— best interests at heart. Dan has been an amazing agent in every way, and I feel so fortunate to have found him.
That author/agent relationship really is so important. I'm glad to hear that you found such a good fit! Could you tell us a little about your book that landed your agent?
This is the pitch for my non-fiction picture book manuscript: "Back in the days of castles and knights, girls were supposed to toe the line, but Eleanor didn’t! AND SHE DID! THE STORY OF ELEANOR OF AQUITAINE."
Oh, Margo, it sounds wonderful! I can't wait to see if on shelves.
If you could give querying authors a piece of advice, what would that be?
Do your research and keep your standards high. Don't settle—even though it can be tempting. Seriously. Washington Post sportswriter Thomas Boswell once wrote: "There is no substitute for excellence—not even success." You want an agent with integrity.
Oh I love that so much... that success isn't a substitute for excellence. I am going to remember that one for sure!! Where can we connect with you online?
Margo's website: www.margosorenson.com
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 more of your books in the world.
Thank you, Kailei, and I'm looking forward to your MG debut, KID MADE! It sounds like just the ticket for young readers today.
Aww, thank you so much, Margo! I am so excited about it and really appreciate your kind words. Is there anything else you'd like to share with our readers before signing off?
Stay true to your heart and conscience. It's tough being in the trenches, truly, but, as I've heard, it's far worse to have an agent who doesn't communicate, doesn't "get" your work, has other priorities, is unprofessional, and lacks integrity. We've all read stories on the SCBWI message board and elsewhere about "agent laments," such as "no agent is better than a bad agent," and I am so blessed that Dan Cramer and Jennifer Flannery chose to represent me and all my work. Dan has been a creative, conscientious, supportive, and professional collaborator, and he continues to help me to bring my other manuscripts to new levels. Dan thinks outside the box creatively, which has been a hoot for me. I trust him, which is key. He communicates consistently and supports all my published books, even those he's not sold, with social media posts for publicity, by even leading a book club to read one of my YA's, and generally by being an all-around stand-up, good person. I couldn't ask for more.
That sounds absolutely wonderful, Margo. Thank you so much for sharing your journey with us!!
About Margo Sorenson
National Milken Educator Award recipient, Johns Hopkins CTY Fellow, and author of over thirty traditionally-published books for young readers, Margo Sorenson has won recognition and awards for her books, including being named a finalist for the Minnesota Book Award in YA Fiction and a number of ALA Quick Pick nominations. She enjoys Zooming and Google-Meeting and in-person school visits with students everywhere. Her newest picture books are CALVIN GETS THE LAST WORD (Tilbury House, October 2020), reviewed in the New York Times, and LITTLE CALABASH (Island Heritage, 2020), selected by SCBWI for their recommended reading list for "Celebrate Asian Pacific Islander Heritage Month, May, 2021."
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.