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Tuesday From The Trenches: Stephen Briseño

Hello KidLit friends! And welcome to this week's Tuesday From the Trenches... on Wednesday! I was busy worrying about the state of the world yesterday, so we postponed this interview a day to watch... things. And while things still aren't completely settled... we all need a little bit of awesome in our lives right now, so I am THRILLED to be sharing this interview with Stephen Briseño! I was able to live chat with Stephen over a month ago and I've been so anxious to share this story because I had SO much fun chatting with him. If you missed the last few interviews, you can catch them HERE.

And now, join me in welcoming Stephen Briseño to the blog!

Hi Stephen! Thanks so much for joining me today! I’m so excited to be doing this interview!

Hi Kailei!


This is great!

Agreed! I love these interviews so much!! Should we dive in?


I am thrilled about this new blog series and can’t wait to share your story. I was one of those people in the query trenches that would google absolutely every possible thing I could think of to give me an idea of what was “normal” in the trenches or what a response time was like for an agent, etc. It was maddening. I know that everyone’s path is different, so I’m really excited to have a one-stop-shop so to speak to show everyone’s different paths and to hopefully help people know that they are not alone in the trenches.

I’d love to start off by asking about your “query stats:”

Time in the trenches:

Number of agents queried:

Requests for additional work:

Twitter Pitch “Likes”:

Number of offers?

Oh sure.

I’m kind of an anomaly. I began querying March of 2019 after writing two picture book drafts.

I have a daughter who’s now seven and since she was in the womb, I would read to her. 3 books every night, with a few nights here and there where I didn’t.

It wasn’t until she was almost five that I began writing. So I feel like I had a firm grasp of how picture books worked.

I began writing in December 2018 and dove into the process of “how do these words of mine become a book?”

So, I was in the trenches from March 2019 to December 2019.

I queried 28 agents.

I had 7 agents request to see more work.

I did several Twitter pitch events and got a total of THREE likes. It was those three likes that really got the ball rolling.

I had two offers of rep before signing with my agent, Natalie Lakosil at Bradford Literary.

That’s all so awesome, Stephen! I think that reading picture books is such a huge part of a Picture Book author’s education and you are a testament to that… so ready to write because you read so much. I love bedtime stories with my girls too! What a great story.

Thank you! I was almost late to this interview because of picture book time! Haha!

That’s so great! NOTHING should get in the way of picture book time with the littles!

So you say that the pitch events got the ball rolling. Did Natalie like your pitch?

Well, there were two things that got the ball rolling.

1. I stumbled across Justin Colon’s PBChat Mentorship in its first year after reading an interview he did with my agent. I read every agent interview he gave and I thought, “She seems legit. I’d LOVE for her to be my agent!” So I queried her and I got a fairly quick rejection.

So I decided to submit to author Patricia Valdez, author of Joan Procter, Dragon Doctor, and in a total surprise, she chose me as her mentee. I was so thrilled because her book was one of my daughter’s favorites (she loves animals).

We worked on several manuscripts and I waited and worked for the agent/editor showcase at the end.

2. In the meantime, though, I still participated in Twitter pitch events. During #DVpit, I got a like from another agent and Asia Citro, editor at The Innovation Press. She ultimately passed on the manuscripts, but told me to keep sending her stuff. Right before the showcase, she emailed me asking if a manuscript I had mentioned was done, so I sent her what I had, and she said she wanted to publish it!

Well, the showcase rolled along and my manuscript got 6 requests from agents (one of them being Natalie) and one editor. So I sent my manuscripts off into the world. It was a flurry of emails. I had two agent calls back to back on the last day of school before the Christmas holiday. I didn’t even attend our Christmas party--I was in my classroom having these insane conversations that I’d never thought I’d get to have. At the end of my conversation with Natalie, she offered rep and...I know this is bad...but I immediately accepted. We just clicked and I knew this was a once in a lifetime opportunity.

That is amazing! And I would say nothing wrong with that at all. I think there is something to be said for that spark and just knowing! That is an amazing story! I felt that same “zing” with Emily, and I just knew she was the right agent for me. And I feel you on the string of nos followed by a sudden and unexpected yes. It’s an amazing feeling.

Oh yes. It was just this string of nos, one after another, and then this door swung wide open and I walked through it. It was a surreal Christmas break!

It’s so cliche that phrase, “It only takes one yes,” but IT’S SO TRUE.

And absolutely so well deserved for you! I loved your pitches and I am already anticipating buying your amazing books!

Oh my goodness, thank you! I can’t wait to see what you and your agent, Emily come out with!

Thanks, Stephen! I’m excited for the future as well!

So let’s talk a little more about “the call” with Natalie. How much time passed between sending her your MS and setting up your call?

It was a fairly quick turn around...maybe a couple of days!

That’s so nice! The waiting can be the worst part.

For real--I was totally anticipating this waiting game again, which I was ready for, so when she emailed saying she wanted to set up a call, I was floored for multiple reasons!

Natalie sounds really amazing! And if I remember correctly, you now have two book deals announced, am I right?

Yes. The Notebook Keeper will be coming out with the new Random House Studio imprint, which is a branch of the Schwartz and Wade imprint.

And Queen of Leaves will be coming out with The Innovation Press. Both in 2022.

That is amazing, Stephen! I am thrilled for you. What a year 2022 will be for you! I seriously can’t wait to buy these books

Thank you!!

You mentioned expecting a bit of a wait after sending out your requests from your mentorship. (And as an aside, I just have to say that Justin is amazing and I don’t know how he does all that he does. I didn’t interject above, but what an amazing program he runs.)

I’m convinced he is part machine! He’s become a good friend during this time and a critique partner.

The PBChat Mentorship is simply amazing. And the fact that he is pre-agented himself and yet he STILL pours out his heart and soul into it is simply astounding and a testament to how generous the kidlit community is.

I absolutely agree. I have been amazed from day one at the kindness and generosity of the community as a whole. I feel like I have so many close friends that I’ve never actually met, but they are cheering me on and keeping me going.

What got you through the rejections and the string of nos that you mentioned earlier?

Prior to picture book writing, I decided to try my hand at poetry and submitting to literary magazines.

Those rejections come fast and hard.

You send out a little batch of 3-5 poems out and it’s almost ALWAYS a no. That process taught me how to query, how to treat my work with a certain...detachment, for lack of a better word. I cared about what I wrote and put my heart into it, but the world of publishing is so subjective. You kind of have to develop a thick skin or you won’t make it.

So after a year and half of that, getting nos from agents was like an extension of that experience.

I let it get to me once and then I just told myself, “You’ll connect with the right agent. Keep your head down, keep writing, keep an open heart, and KEEP TRYING.”

I think so many of us as creatives are terribly sensitive. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but we can get in our way oftentimes. We can let the hurt, which is really just temporary, block us from writing and pursuing the dream. We need to learn to take rejections as opportunities for refinement.

Oh wow, that is really beautiful advice! I’m going to remember that as I begin submitting… rejections as opportunities for refinement.

Is there any other advice you’d give to authors deep in the query trenches?

Oh my goodness, where to begin.

I just saw a tweet from a kidlit author I follow, Kate Allen Fox. She said something along the lines of, “would you buy your own book for $17.95?” or whatever it is picture books are going for nowadays.

We also forget that publishing is a business. So we need to push ourselves to create the best art that we possibly can. If you feel like your work is there, that yes, I truly believe that this is sell-able (is that a word?), unique, and truly written from the soul, then it’s time to query.

That is really amazing advice, Stephen! Written from the soul. I love that. I like the balance between it coming from my inmost heart and also being sell-able (and yes, totally a word).

Robert Frost has a quote that I say to my middle school English students,

“No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader.” You have to put that type of energy into your work or it won’t connect to agents, editors, and ultimately the children that we’re writing for.

Beautiful! This has been so much fun to chat and connect, Stephen! I’d love to hear about anything you’re up to that you’d like to promote as well as where we can find you online.

Yes! I’m a part of #Latinxpitch, a new Twitter event to expand the voices of Latinx creators in the publishing world. Please give them a follow and if you are a Latinx creator yourself, please consider pitching during our next event. We’re doing a “second chance” event soon actually, for agents and editors to give pitches one more look!

I’ve been happily following #Latinxpitch on Twitter and love what you are doing! How can those of us who are not part of the Latinx community best support?

Read books by Latinx creators. Request that your libraries purchase them. Hype them up on Twitter. The best thing though is to read them to your children!

Yes! I love that. I absolutely want my girls to grow up reading and loving books by and about Latinx creators.

Stephen, this has been awesome! Thank you again. Where can we find you online?

I’m currently only on twitter @stephen_briseno or you can follow my website, which will be getting a kidlit update in the coming months:

Perfect! Thank you so much for sharing your story in the query trenches. I know that our readers will love hearing your experience! And again, congrats on the double debut year!

Thank you so much! I’m glad to be any help to those still in the trenches!


Thank you so much for joining me and Stephen today, dear readers! I hope that this has been a welcome distraction from current life and that you feel pumped to keep moving forward, keep putting yourself out there, and keep querying! Your yes is right around the corner. Make sure to read on for an awesome giveaway opportunity from Stephen!!


Stephen is offering one Picture Book MS critique to a lucky reader. To enter, follow both Stephen and Kailei on Twitter and retweet THIS tweet. For a bonus entry, subscribe to my blog below and tell me in the comments that you did. (If you're already a subscriber, you can still get the bonus entry!)

Good luck, everyone! Winner will be announced on Twitter on Monday!

About Stephen Briseño

Stephen is a husband, a father, an avid reader and coffee drinker (almost always those two activities are done together). 

He likes writing things--like poetry, short stories, and creative non-fiction.

He teaches adolescent teenagers English and hopes to mold them into people who love the written word and thinking about life.

He hopes you enjoy his writing.

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.


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