Okay, I just have to start by saying–I CAN’T BELIEVE I GET TO WRITE A “How I Got My Agent” POST!!
Ahem. Sorry. It’s just that reaching this milestone is so exciting!
Okay, I’m ready now.
There are actually two versions of my agent story.
In one version, I defied the odds and landed both a publishing contract and agent in about 12 months.
That, my friends, in the publishing world, is pretty much an overnight success.
Under this timeline, my journey began when I wrote the first draft of my nonfiction picture book. It ends 12 months later with me signing a contract.
But I’m sure you know where I am going with this.
In the second version, like so many “overnight successes” in the creative world, my journey was really several years, even decades, in the making.
It took me at least a decade of learning, writing stories, and trying and failing to reach this amazing goal of signing with an agent.
But for purposes of keeping this post to a manageable length, here’s the “quick” version. I hope there are pieces from my experience that can serve as a guide to others.
I Got Serious in the Summer of 2019
In something akin to committing to a New Year’s Resolution, I decided in 2019 that I was going to make a serious run at writing a children’s story and getting it published.
It was not an auspicious beginning. For one, I was pretty late with my “Resolution”–it was already July.
Nevertheless, I sat myself down and figured out what my next steps should be. Here are the things I did that I think really helped me move forward in important ways.
Tip #1: Don’t Try to Do It Alone
First, I decided I needed help.
I used to think I could figure this whole writing for children’s thing on my own. But years had passed and I had only a few, sad, rejected stories to show for it.
I needed someone to tell me what to do. So I decided to look for a mentor.
Luckily for me, my extensive research into mentorships (basically Googling “children’s writing mentorships”) led me to Justin Colón’s PBChat Mentorship program. This was its inaugural year, and I was impressed by the number of authors who had signed up to be mentors. However, the deadline was looming in two weeks, and I didn’t have a polished manuscript.
I didn’t have much time.
But I poured my heart into the application. I asked for help with my one picture book manuscript, asking people to critique it. I rewrote it once, twice, three times.
Amazingly, I was selected as a mentee by author Katey Howes!
Tip #2: Work on Improving Your Craft
There are many great free and low-cost resources available to help you become a better children’s writer. I’ve done quite a few of them over the years.
But at this point I needed something rigorous, and I needed something that would hold me accountable. I explored several children’s writing courses and found the Children’s Book Academy (CBA) picture book course met these criteria for me.
The CBA course gave students many opportunities for feedback on pitches and story ideas. You also could sign up to be part of a critique group. To get the most out of the course, I dutifully did all the homework. I took advantage of all opportunities for feedback and participated in all the live events.
I also had the incredible added help of Katey, who gave me advice and feedback on my work.
Tip #3: Take Advantage of Opportunities
At the end of the course, all participants had the opportunity to submit a pitch to a group of agents and editors.
I was thrilled when I received two requests for my full manuscript from two editors!
One of them was Christina Pulles with Albert Whitman.
Over the course of several months, Christina asked for a revise and resubmit (an R&R) of my story. Then she asked for another one.
And finally, Christina informed me they wanted to take my story to acquisitions! I was euphoric! Then I waited. And waited. A few more months went by.
Then one day, Christina emailed me to let me know Albert Whitman wanted to publish my book!! I was overjoyed!
So What About the Agent Part?
I have a confession to make.
I hardly queried any agents.
I actually had some opportunities to query agents, as a result of getting “likes” on my pitches from #DVPit (and I do recommend participating in Twitter pitch parties). But I hardly followed through on these opportunities.
In total I queried six agents.
The reason I wasn’t querying was because I only had one really polished manuscript, and one decent one. Most agents like to see at least three polished manuscripts before offering representation. And I just couldn’t seem to get that third story written.
So I didn’t query.
But now, here I was, with a publishing offer. Many people urged me to query agents. It can be used as a way to get their attention, and you can even get away with asking for a fast response!
So I did. I sent out half a dozen queries.
I was shocked to receive interest from two agents within two weeks’ time. They both asked for more stories. One actually asked to see three more manuscripts.
With only one other story in my arsenal, I was in kind of a pickle.
I took a VERY rough draft of another story I had and reworked it. I asked my critique group to give me feedback. (A good group of critique partners is a tremendously valuable resource!) They gently pointed out its flaws, and I reworked it a few times.
For the agent who asked for three manuscripts, I didn’t know how I could come up with yet another story. Then one of my critique partners (what did I tell you about a great critique group?) suggested I send a pitch for my third story. Great idea!
I submitted my additional manuscripts and my pitch, and hoped for the best.
Both agents responded and asked if we could talk.
Panicked and overjoyed, I contacted my critique group. “Help! I need advice!”
“When is The Call?” one asked me.
“Wait. Is this THE CALL? How do I know if this is it?”
My critique partners replied: “Carol, this is THE CALL!” “There is no call except for THE CALL!”
They were right. And both offered representation!
In the course of a few weeks, I had gone from zero agent prospects to suddenly receiving two offers.
I was and am so grateful to have such an incredible choice to make. I spent the weekend agonizing because they were both excellent agents. How to decide?
Finally I did what EVERYONE told me to do. “Go with your gut.”
On the following Monday, I accepted Charlotte Wenger’s (Prospect Agency) offer!
There is More Than One Way to Get to Your Goal
I broke a lot of rules on my way to getting a book contract and agent. I am hardly recommending you follow my example. But I want you to see that you can have success even when you are not doing things perfectly.
Here are some things I think you need to keep in mind:
- If you are writing picture books, you really do need more than one polished manuscript.
- You must believe you can achieve your goal.
- You must be persistent.
- True allies are a tremendously helpful resource.
There really are no overnight successes in the quest to become a published children’s book author. It takes time to learn the craft and understand how to get an agent and contract. It is also a very subjective business, and hard to predict which of your works will actually get picked up.
But I do know one thing for sure: if it can happen for me, then unquestionably, without a doubt, it can happen for you, too!
For a more detailed rundown on how I got my picture book deal, you can read about it here.
If you are interested in exploring how to get started writing for children, check out my post on Want to Write for Children–But Have No Idea How to Start?
Struggling to find ideas for stories? Take a look at How to Brainstorm Ideas for Your Children’s Book.
If you are interested in exploring more about my work as a children’s book author, hop on over to my website at CarolKimBooks.com.