Hello friends! And welcome to our final Tuesday From The Trenches of 2020! I had no idea just how much I would love this series when I began back in September! I will be taking the next 2 weeks off as I need to focus on some writing things and prep two MSs to go out on submission, but then I will be back with more amazing stories coming from the query trenches. I can't wait to share more amazing stories with you and hope that this series has helped you on your query journey.
I'm so excited to be sharing this interview today. Please join me in welcoming Tola Okogwu to the blog today!
Thank you so much for joining us today, Tola! I’m thrilled to share your query story with my readers.
Thank you for having me, this is such a fab series. I know when I was querying, I loved reading other people’s experiences and I hope mine might be helpful to someone else.
I was the same. I couldn’t get enough of other experiences. Your story is definitely inspiring and I know it will help many people. 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: Six months of active querying
Number of Agents Queried: 39
Number of Requests for Additional Work/Full Manuscript: 4
Number of Twitter Pitch “Likes”: I don’t know the exact number but over 25 from doing Pitmad and DVpit this year.
Number of R&Rs: 1
Number of Rejections: 32
Number of Offers: 7
Agent and Agency: Claire Wilson at RCW
Oh my goodness! 7 offers? That is incredible!! How did you keep track of it all? What was your method for organizing queries? Spread sheet? Query Tracker? Etc.
I did try Query tracker, but I don’t think it’s as useful for UK agents. In the end I used a spreadsheet, which allowed me to track who I’d queried, when and their responses or lack of. I also tracked when or even if I could chase. It’s a good thing I did, because towards the end I nearly lost track of the rejections, some of which came a whole year later.
That’s interesting to know about Query Tracker. I personally think spreadsheets are the way to go, too! Sounds like you stayed very well organized and it came in handy. How did you handle rejections? Did any sting more than others?
Pretty well I think. I view it like the prince in Cinderella. A rejection is merely a foot that’s too big or small and the perfect foot is still out there waiting to be found. To paraphrase Paolo Montalban very badly - ‘And the dearest agent in all the world, is waiting somewhere for me!’
Focusing on hope really helped me stave off any negativity. It also helped if I received feedback as I tried to use it to improve the manuscript. One particular rejection did sting, mostly because I’d met the agent and we had a great vibe.
Focusing on hope is so beautiful. I love that advice! How did you find agents to query/how did you decide who to query?
I used a mixture of Twitter, The Bookseller and the manuscript wishlist website. I love researching so I quite enjoyed learning about each prospective agent to see if they’d be a match for my work. Twitter is dangerous though as it’s tempting to nitpick every little tweet, especially after you query.
Twitter really is dangerous! haha. But I love that you looked to multiple sources in your search. I think that’s so very important! 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 actually started receiving full requests for the manuscript that landed me an agent before it was completed. I’d entered it into a competition in late summer 2019. When I finally finished it and began querying, the response wasn’t great. Claire was recommended to me by a friend who rated her highly and she was one of the agents I queried. She initially rejected it, but gave me some great feedback, which I really appreciated. I ended up going back and revising the manuscript A LOT.
We reconnected a few months later when I entered a workshop organized by her agency. Claire loved the new version of the draft as did an editor from an indie publisher who subsequently made an offer. I then sent out new queries to agents I’d liked from my previous round in the trenches. Claire was one of them and she offered representation for the new manuscript along with six other agents.
WOW! That is so amazing! I love the story of revision and trying again after the first round wasn’t what you had hoped for and SEVEN offers?? Again, WOW! This is going to be such an amazing book! How much time passed between querying Claire to getting “the call”?
From the very first query that was rejected, about 6 months. From the second revised query, a matter of days.
I’m so glad you didn’t have a long wait after that second submission! Can you tell us more about “the call”? How did you know Claire was the right choice?
The call was over Zoom and I already knew going into the call that I liked Claire having seen her in action. I had a long list of questions, but we ended up just having a conversation. She really understood my story and characters and her editorial notes were amazing. I also really appreciated her calm confidence. It made me feel safe and in turn confident too.
We were speaking in the wake of BLM and the way it had shaken up the publishing industry. It was important to me to have an agent who understood the unique struggles a Black, female writer would face navigating the publishing world and that as my agent, she would be my ultimate advocate. Claire showed me she could be this person.
That is so perfect! I love the start in the right direction we’ve seen in publishing to amplify Black voices. I know we have a long way to go, and I hope that we can come to a much better place. It sounds like Claire will be a wonderful advocate for you and your work! Could you tell us a little about your book that landed your agent?
I can’t say a lot, but it’s a speculative middle grade fantasy about a young girl with telekinetic hair!
That is awesome! I can’t wait to hear about a book deal and get my hands on your book!
If you could give querying authors a piece of advice, what would that be?
There really is more than one way to get an agent or even a book deal. I landed mine AFTER I got an offer from a publisher. I got that offer because I attended workshops and other events designed for aspiring authors, in particular those from marginalized backgrounds. I would strongly encourage writers to seek these opportunities out. Do your due diligence of course, but you never know who you might meet or who might get to meet your work.
That is wonderful advice! Those connections really can be everything.
Where can we connect with you online?
Thanks so much for joining us today, Tola! I’ve had a blast chatting and learning more about your journey. Best of luck! I can’t wait to see your books in the world.
Thanks again Kailei, I really enjoyed myself!
About Tola Okogwu
Tola Okogwu is a journalist, author and Hair Care Coach. She has written for multiple publications, including Black Ballad, Metro UK, Huffington Post and Refinery29. Born in Lagos, Nigeria but raised in London, England, she now lives in Kent and writes children's books, including the Daddy Do My Hair series and, under the pen name Lola Morayo, the AZIZA’S SECRET FAIRY DOOR series. Tola is an avid reader, music lover, and sucker for melted cheese.
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.