Tuesday From The Trenches: My Story
Hello KidLit friends! If you missed my Twitter announcement, I am beyond thrilled to tell you that I am now represented by the amazing Emily Forney of BookEnds Literary Agency! I am seriously giddy over this development in my writing journey and I am so happy to be one step closer to getting my books into your hands.
Because I know that the hunt for an agent is not for the faint of heart, and because I feel like so many people get discouraged when things don't happen more quickly, I'm excited to start a new Blog Series called "Tuesday from the Trenches."
I'll be sharing interviews with various authors about their querying process and path to representation in an effort to see that there is no "one size fits all" path. Yes, some get there very quickly while others take many long years to find their agent. And others end up somewhere in between. My hope with this series is to inspire you to keep moving forward. Send another query. Revise another time. Write another book. You can do this!
Today, I'll be sharing my own journey through the query trenches. If you'd like to share your story with the KidLit world, please reach out to me and let's get something scheduled!
My query stats:
Months in the Query Trenches: 20 (On and Off)
Queries Sent: 71
Agents Queried: 49
Requests for Additional Work: 11
Twitter Pitch "Likes": 16
Revise and Resubmits: 2
Offers of Representation: 2
1 Amazing Agent!
So to look at those numbers a little closer, you can see that I sent more queries than the number of agents that I sent to. This means that I queried the same agents more than once with different projects. You can also see that I had a number of "close calls" with agents asking for more work, even being super enthusiastic... which ended in nos. We'll talk more about that later. You can also see that over the course of 20 months, I didn't send nearly as many queries as I could have. I know some people who are much better about putting many lines into the water... more lines in the water=more likely a fish will bite, right? But quite truthfully, for my mental health, I could only send one or two queries a week max. And I did take quite a few breaks from the trenches to improve my craft, write better stories, or just take a step away from the rejections for a moment. Remember, this is your path. Do what works for you.
If you've been around these parts before, you might remember reading about the one time (okay two) that I queried too soon. That tells quite a lot of the story I'm about to tell you about my time in the query trenches, with some more details about my writing process and learning how to write better stories.
I jumped into the query trenches in January of 2019. I jumped in way before I was ready, but I didn't know that at the time. Luckily, one agent responded to my query, telling me why the story didn't have a place in the modern picture book market, and that was a game changer. So after only 3 weeks of querying, I took a break from the trenches to really hone craft (you can read about that in the post linked above). When I felt like I had some good stories, I jumped back in in August of 2019.
To organize my queries, I created my own simple spreadsheet. I listed agents down the left side, agencies next to them, and my story titles across the top. When I sent a query, I would fill in the date queried. Once I got a response, I filled in the corresponding color--bright red for a form rejection, deep red for a personalized rejection, yellow for a request for more, or blue for a "no response." And finally, green for an offer!
Here is a screenshot of about half of that spreadsheet:
I know it maybe looks messy and wouldn't work for everyone, but it worked for me. I know there are way better spreadsheets out there, and even some that automatically update the color when you change the date (for fancy people who understand excel way better than I do), but this worked well for me.
I found agents to query mostly through Query Tracker. You can search for agents by genre they represent, which was a great resource for me. I also googled different agencies, and even things like "new picture book agents." I feel like recently, I heat a lot of complaints that there aren't many agents taking author only PB clients, but there are definitely plenty who are. And like I mentioned before, you can query the same agents with a new project once you have a completely new submission packet ready to go.
As you can tell from my screenshot above, I had a few "close calls" with agents. A
couple that even said they loved my work but that their PB list was simply too full. While I appreciated that honesty and wouldn't want an agent who was stretched too thin, those rejections did truthfully hurt more than the others. Knowing that the work was there, but the timing was wrong was tough. But at the same time, those rejections really kept me moving forward. They told me that I could do it. That my work was good enough. And I just had to find the right agent at the right time.
Another trouble that I often ran into in the query trenches was that an agent would really enjoy one of my MSs, but not connect well enough with the others. This taught me two things:
This business really is super subjective. One agent would love something that another didn't connect with and visa versa.
I needed my additional manuscripts to be at the same level of my other work
If you take a close look at the screenshot above, you can see that the column on the far right was getting way more personalized rejections and requests for more work. I feel like my breakthrough in the query trenches was writing the right story. Once I wrote that manuscript, I saw a tangible change in the rejections. They were more personal and more encouraging. I felt like I was on the right path.
Back in June of this year, I received a number of requests for that MS through both PitMad and PBPitch. I sent the queries off, and received a few "I love this idea, but didn't connected with the pages as much as I connected with the idea." But one agent took the time to send an R&R that changed that MS for the way better. I spent three months on the revision and sent it back her. In the mean time, another PitMad event was fast approaching. I got my pitches ready, and hoped for some new attention, feeling very strongly now that the MS was truly ready to go. I knew that if I didn't get any "hearts" that it would be okay, because I would just jump into the query trenches in full force.
On the day of PitMad, I woke up extra early so I can engage. (You can read my post on how to have a successful pitch event HERE). It was an amazing and absolutely crazy day. My critique group was amazing at letting me send them the play-by-play as agent and editor likes came in. I ended the day with 6 agent hearts and 4 editor hearts. I was floored. I stayed up til midnight to send the queries off, got way too tired after sending off the queries to 4 of the agents, and tried to go to sleep. But I couldn't sleep well, knowing I wanted to send the remaining 2 queries off. I woke up at 4 AM and sent the other two queries. By 6 AM, I had an email from one of the agents (who had requested that I send her 4 MSs right away) asking for a call that afternoon. I was literally in shock. All of my other requests in the past had taken many weeks, and even months on the turn around. This time, it had been about 6 hours! I responded to the agent, and we set up a call for that afternoon.
The call was very fast, and I left with an official offer of representation! I couldn't believe it. I emailed the other agents (some who I had cold queried days or weeks earlier) to let them know that I had received an offer and to inquire if they were still interested. For 5 agents, I basically said something along the lines of "I know that I just send you this query this morning, and I apologize for the quick turn around. I'm still in shock myself." (Hopefully I sounded more professional than that, but I can't be sure because I literally couldn't believe it was happening).
Emily Forney was one of the agents that had requested my MS through PitMad. And quite truthfully, I had been obsessed with BookEnds Literary since day one in the query trenches. So I really hoped that she would respond! I think I screamed out-loud when she responded just a few hours later, requesting more stories. The next day, Emily sent me an email saying that she loved and was passionate about the MS she had requested, but she had some questions about the other stories I had sent, but said if I was interested that she'd like to jump on a call. I was so excited and so nervous, and I didn't know what to expect from this call, or what questions she would have about my additional work. We set up a zoom call for the following Monday (it was a Saturday that she emailed me to offer a call and a Sunday that we set it up), and I spent the next 24 hours on pins and needles.
As soon as Emily said "hello" on the zoom call, I felt at ease. We had an amazing call! Emily gushed about my Nonfiction manuscript (which was awesome to hear), and explained where she was coming from with the others. She actually had some really wonderful ideas to improve the others that I definitely connected with. I shared the pitches/ideas of some of my other manuscripts that I hadn't sent her, and she was very open to them. She answered all of my questions, and she had some for me as well. Overall what I can say about the call, is that it felt amazing! While the other call had been good, this call with Emily was exactly what I had hoped for on "the call." We had this energy and excitement between us that made me feel like Emily was the right person for the job. It's one of those things that's really hard to explain. It just felt right.
When Emily officially offered representation, it truthfully took all I had to not just accept on the spot because I felt so good about it. But I did want to be fair to the other agents who had my work, especially to the one who had requested the revision months before since I felt like it was thanks to her suggestions that the manuscript was in its current state. She ultimately responded that the revision was very good and she felt like it would definitely sell, but that her plate was too full with PB right now and she just didn't have the time to take me on. That was super kind of her, and made me feel really excited to move forward with this story.
I emailed both offering agents some follow up questions (because as prepared as I thought I was for the call, other things come to mind when it's over and your adrenaline is so high during the call that you just miss some things that are even sitting right there on your list). I weighed both of their answers, read both mock contracts that they had sent me, and reviewed my experience with both calls, and knew that Emily was the right choice for me.
When the two weeks was up and I had heard back from all the agents who had requested more, sending a polite thank you to decline the other offer was one of the hardest things I had ever done. To have to tell an awesome agent that I wouldn't be going with her was really hard. She was very gracious, and I will be forever grateful for that.
I emailed Emily and asked if she could jump on a quick call. We set it up, and I was able to officially accept her offer! That call was also really amazing. The same energy and excitement and spark that I felt on our first zoom call was there, and I knew that I had made the right choice. We chatted for awhile about the next steps and made a plan to move forward. Emily sent my actual contract over, and we signed it that night! It was amazing! BookEnds sent me a welcome packet and some amazing resources for new clients and I started on this next step of my journey feeling like I was in the very best hands.
I still feel like this is all a dream. It is such a weird feeling to go from 20 months of "nos" or "not yets" to suddenly having an agent from one day to the next. I am so very grateful and beyond excited to see where the next steps on this journey take me.
To authors in the trenches, I say: don't ever give up! You never know when your "yes" will come. Don't pass up any opportunity. Send another query when a no comes in. Write another story while you wait. Revise, revise, and revise again. Absolutely find a critique group! My two critique groups have been hugely important on my journey. It's important to find writer friends who cheer you on while you cheer them. And to have people who aren't emotionally attached to your work be able to tell you what needs to change. I'm so grateful for my critique groups.
Next Tuesday kicks off my "Tuesday From The Trenches" interview series. Make sure to subscribe to my blog below so that you don't miss an interview! I'm seriously so excited to be sharing these stories with you!!
I'll be giving away the winner's choice of a PB MS critique (up to 1200 words), or a Query Letter critique! To enter: like and retweet this post on twitter. Two optional bonus entries:
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Good luck! Winner will be announced on Twitter Monday, October 5th.
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.