Hello wonderful readers! It has been more than a minute since I've share a Tuesday From The Trenches post! While I am not sharing these weekly any more, I do want to share a handful still this year. I know that I would have loved something like this while I was in the query trenches, so I'm hopeful that others feel the same. But, as I am transitioning my blog to new, exciting things (like the Kids' Choice KidLit Writing Contest where more and more votes are coming in), I sadly have to cut down a bit on Tuesday From The Trenches. But that actually makes me even MORE excited to run these interviews. Today, I am thrilled to welcome Tara Shiroff to the blog! Join me in giving her a big welcome!
H Tara!! Thank you so much for joining me today! I’m thrilled to share your story with my readers!
I closed my book to be here. . .so away we go!
Thank you for including me. I was DYING for this kind of info when I was querying! I feel like there’s not a lot of transparency with querying. I was so glad when I finally stumbled upon Tuesday from the Trenches–I’ve loved learning about my fellow writers and their journeys! Thanks for creating a spectacular space for all of this information.
Oh my goodness, it's seriously my pleasure! I love hearing about people who have found it useful. Thank you for being a reader.
Can you share your query stats with us? (as far as you know/remember. It’s okay if some of these numbers are zero):
Time Spent in the Query Trenches: 4 months
Number of Agents Queried: 52
Number of Requests for Additional Work/Full Manuscript: 7 requests
Number of Twitter Pitch “Likes”: absolutely none!
Number of R&Rs: 0
Number of Rejections: 36 (and I had quite a few non-responses!)
Number of Offers: 2
Agent and Agency: Jennifer Herrington at Harvey Klinger Literary Agency (harveyklinger.com)
Wow! 4 Months is actually really fast! But you got a good number of queries out in that time. 52 queries in 16 weeks is really busy! How did you keep track of it all? What was your method for organizing queries? Spread sheet? Query Tracker? Etc.
Last year, I was (glued to an IKEA chair meant for a child) helping my son with second grade for 9 months. One day, I listened to a BIG deal author’s virtual visit with his class. She was so positive and amazing that I thought–THAT is what I should be doing. I’m a lawyer and also a substitute teacher, but I’d always loved writing and kids.
I totally swung for the fences and emailed that same author’s agent. Friends, I was SO proud of myself for including on the email subject line one word: query. I seriously thought, how BLOWN away will he be that a new author knew to include the word query in my correspondence?!
Unearned confidence, dear readers. In reality, I was a ridiculous, unhinged disaster.
Thank goodness, I pumped the brakes and ended up finding out about writer Twitter. I got invited to a large Twitter chat group and one amazing writer asked me to join her picture book critique group (a big hey girl, hey to Chloe Ward!). I was like, hold up, there are OTHER people doing this?! And there’s a website to track my queries?! Query Tracker was a game-changer. I highly recommend using the Query Tracker website for tracking all of your queries, especially for picture book authors where you might be querying more than one manuscript.
Oh my goodness, what an amazing story! I love hearing the unhinged "let's do this NOW" attitude! I had a similar moment a few years ago when I was like "Oh look, I wrote a 1000 word picture book so now I'll query agents and surely this is how this works." haha. SO grateful to the kidlit community on Twitter. Like you say, seriously an awesome place!
So, how did you handle rejections? Did any sting more than others?
The rejections hurt. It felt like querying was next-level rejection and unlike anything I’d ever experienced. Because I’m on the west coast, I would wake up to rejections and that’s a terrible way to start your day! I didn’t like the round-the-clock any-day-of-the-week rejections at all. Happy Mother’s Day, wait no, BAM there’s a rejection. It’s a lot.
My advice: find a crew that is at the same stage you are and have open dialogue about the querying process.
That is seriously really good advice! That rejection is so hard, but people in your corner make all the difference. So after getting through those rejections, how did you ultimately connect with your agent? Did you cold query? Participate in a twitter pitch event? Or connect in some other way?
I know writers hear all the time that you just need one yes and it was INCREDIBLY true for me. I was intending to shelve my first manuscript and move on, but I saw an agent’s MSWL that caught my eye. I sent a very cold and very final query on that first manuscript. THAT query ultimately resulted in my offer from my unbelievable agent.
Oh my goodness, I love that! And what a testament to find an agent who is looking specifically for what you do.
How much time passed between querying your now agent to getting “the call”?
I queried Jennifer Herrington at Harvey Klinger on April 26, 2021 and received a request for more work on May 13.
And then had zero chill. Friends, let me tell you, during that time, I crushed HARD. Ooh, her favorite book of all time is Anne of Green Gables?! ME TOO! Wow, her favorite TV show is Gilmore Girls?! ME TOO!!! She likes coffee?! Decaf. . .but WHATEVER, I DO TOO!! Unhinged, I tell you!
Jenn emailed me and asked to set up a call June 10. We spoke virtually on June 16 and she offered me representation during the virtual chat. I calmed down enough to ask her some coherent questions related to my book and her offer. I think.
Oh my goodness, I love this! Sounds like a perfect match!
Can you tell us more about “the call”? How did you know Jenn was the right choice?
This whole process is about finding the right business partner for yourself–someone who will represent your work well.
I knew I had found the right agent partner for my picture books during my call with Jenn. She had put together a gorgeous virtual presentation for me about why she loved my books and why she wanted to work together. It was a very different dynamic when you’re coming off of many query rejections to hear someone saying how amazing your work is! Jenn had a clear vision for my work, she had a specific plan for where to send my work on submission and she was KIND. I don’t think people get very far in life if they cannot show some kindness. I knew I wanted an agent who was smart and knew the business, but who I knew would have built solid relationships with editors because of who they are as a person. Jenn checked every box I ever could have imagined on a checklist for a dream agent.
That is so wonderful! Could you tell us a little about your book that landed your agent?
It’s a really GREAT thing that people are so into “dad jokes” (especially puns) right now because I am super into them too. My son will tell me to stop being punny and I just roll my eyes at him. I am a grown child and act accordingly.
I think my style of writing is very obviously ME. I get told that my voice comes through on everything I write–that you’d recognize something from me even if my name wasn’t on it. I have a few books on submission and accordingly, I eat a lot of chocolate and play a lot of Wordle.
I think that my humor may have been something that set me apart when I was querying–I have a clearly-defined “brand” as an author. My agent said she knew she could sell my funny picture books and didn’t feel like I was trying too hard. (Didn’t I tell you she’s extremely kind?!). I tend to use my stories to say the things that I wish kids could get away with saying but probably shouldn’t. Wacky, unbelievable but true stories about incredible kids are my thing and I love subversive humor. To me, there is literally nothing better in the world than a child laughing while reading a book, and my goal with my books is always to get kids to love reading.
I love everything about this! Humorous picture books really are so fun and we definitely need even more of them!
If you could give querying authors a piece of advice, what would that be?
If you are a picture book author and if you’re thinking you’re ready to query, please make sure you have more than one picture book that’s polished. I read SO many websites about “how to be an author,” but I think they’re mostly tailored for novelists who will get offered representation off of just one book. I wish I would have known that picture book writers conclusively need to have 4-6 manuscripts (really!) ready to go if/when an agent requests to see more work. I didn’t know that AT ALL and was absolutely scrambling when I was first asked for more work. While you’re querying, keep writing. You’ll get better and you may end up with better manuscripts to send out.
Spend as much time as possible at your local library! I visit mine several times a week (not just for the great coffee!) and it’s a great spot to see what’s new/selling and make sure your voice is fresh/marketable. I read about 100 picture books a week and would encourage this great habit. Trying to write “funny” when the world is decidedly not funny right now is a challenge and I love interacting with kids at my local library–they give me a mountain of ideas.
Also, I would encourage writers to break “rules” and try something new with your writing. I like stories (and I know agents do too!) where you FEEL something by the end–laughter, tears, empathy, etc. I recently helped with a Twitter contest called #PitchMe with the brilliant Krista Van Dolzer also from Harvey Klinger and judged about 85 picture books. The ones that caught our eye (and then the eye of the participating agents) were the manuscripts that were unique and fresh and made us FEEL. Think about how you can stand out in the market with your own brand.
Such amazing advice! I love it all. Thank you so much, Tara. Before I let you go, where can we connect with you online?
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.
Thank you for the chat! We are all future bestselling authors–I know there’s a place on the shelf for all of our books: yours, mine, and all of your reader’s. Write on, dear friends.
Yes, yes, YES!!
Thank you, dear readers!!
About Tara Shiroff
TARA SHIROFF is an author of humorous fiction picture books from Henderson, a suburb of the exciting city of Las Vegas, Nevada. She graduated from the University of San Diego before attending law school at the William S. Boyd School of Law at UNLV. After law school, Tara worked as a civil litigator, a legal consultant for network television shows (like CSI, Bones, Lucifer and Drop Dead Diva) and a substitute teacher.
Tara writes funny books that appeal to both children and adults. She loves spending time with children and definitely LOVES to read! Her favorite picture books make her laugh and usually have a surprise ending. Tara’s best childhood memories involve traveling to faraway destinations through literature.
She loves to read many genres and is an active member of the Nevada Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). If you want to become an author, Tara recommends joining your local SCBWI and finding a critique group.
In her free time, Tara is obsessed with reading, organizing, Target, coffee, tacos, international travel, indoor cycling, tennis, softball, whitewater rafting and scuba diving.
She feels lucky to have an extremely supportive husband that appreciates her silliness. She first met her husband in elementary school (really!) and they have a super awesome son in elementary school. Tara often volunteers at her son’s school and would bet her son thinks she is a ‘cool mom.’ Sometimes.
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