How I Got My Agent - Jennifer's Story
My entry into kidlit was less like a “tiptoe,” and more like a careening roller coaster, flying from 0-70 in just a few seconds. I went from stay-at-home Mom to an agented picture book author in a period of three months. Cue the eye rolling, right? I PROMISE, I WORKED FOR IT…and maybe I didn’t sleep so much. It was a combination of determination, preparation, deliberation, and seizing the right opportunities. (I also happen to be searching for an agent right now, even though at this time last year, I WAS represented by an agent. That’s right, folks. I’m querying, post-agent. I hope my experiences will encourage those in the hunt, regardless of your current progress.)
Simply put, the week I decided I wanted to publish a picture book, my husband bought me a book on publishing (“THE ESSENTIAL GUIDE TO GETTING YOUR BOOK PUBLISHED: How to write it, sell it, and market it…successfully”), and I inhaled it!
Then I read another, and another—immediately. What happened next can only be described as possession.
Maintaining insane working hours (with a newborn in my lap and two preschoolers at my feet), I dove into research. Any moment that was not spent keeping my children alive, I was online, studying the kidlit world: learning about craft, professional organizations, and how best to get my work published.
Within 2 weeks, I became a member of SCBWI, and attended the annual New York conference just days later. While there, I instantly felt surrounded by “my tribe,” and learned about hooks, takeaways, and how to market your writing. All of what I learned corroborated my research in publications like CHILDREN’S WRITER’S AND ILLUSTRATOR’S MARKET.
Then, I discovered Julie Hedlund’s 12x12 Picture Book Challenge, and enrolled. I wrote every day, read hundreds of picture books, revised with critique partners, and took multiple classes on query-writing, revisions, and other topics that help prepare authors for the query process. I submitted a manuscript to an editor before it was ready (yes, we ALL do it), but I also learned from that, and strengthened my work. Did I mention I attended a few other conferences last year? When I say a flurry of activity and a whirlwind of intense passion drove me into this field, I’m not exaggerating.
So perhaps you’ll believe me, when I say something unbelievable. I signed with my agent via the VERY FIRST batch of queries I ever sent out. THIS IS NOT TO SAY IT CAME EASY. It did NOT. I immersed myself in the warm network of kidlit authors, interacted on Twitter, and interviewed a multi-published author friend about her experiences. I participated in exchanges of work. Something like 700-working hours brought me to the querying stage. My two representation contracts with Mary Cummings of Betsy Amster Literary Enterprises were the result of extremely deliberate queries, sent with specificity, and tailor-crafted to match my polished work to her voiced tastes in picture book manuscripts.
When I decided, with the loving scrutiny of my critique partners, that my work was query-ready, I compiled a list of agents that appealed to me (based on sales history and works they represented). I studied resources like SCBWI’s THE BOOK, QueryTracker, Publisher’s Marketplace, and CHILDREN’S WRITER’S AND ILLUSTRATOR’S MARKET, as well as Writer’s Digest articles that listed agents who were currently looking for picture book authors. By heavily studying the websites, manuscript wishlists, and published interviews of the agents, I knew who I was interested in working with, and I knew which of my manuscripts would pair well with their tastes.
That’s how I found Mary Cummings. That’s how I queried her. That’s how 10 days later, we had our “CALL,” and we signed two project-specific representation contracts, each with 6 month terms (*NOTE, these are different from career-based contracts). That’s how I blasted onto the desks of editors. And even though we weren’t able to secure any sales in that time, we got some great “no” responses. Truly, I’m invigorated from the experience.
Although Mary and I agreed to let those two manuscripts rest, she has invited me to send her more work, if I so choose. She also welcomed me to query other agents, if I feel called to do that. So now, I’m back out on the hunt! It’s all about pairing the right work with the right agent/editor, at the right time. Luck and God’s grace also played big roles in my success.
Building positive working relationships with agents, I continue to attend conferences and agent/editor critique sessions regularly. With the same work ethic and dedication that helped me sign an agent on a cold-query last year, I’m actively seeking representation (plus I have several more polished manuscripts in my body of work). I’m thrilled to say that I’m still being propelled forward, with deep enthusiasm, encouragement from peers, support of critique partners, and a constant feeling of vitality. I’m aflame with picture book writing!
If you feel the same way, just remember: persevere. Be voracious in your research and tenacious in chasing your goals. Put in the hours (sorry, there’s no short cut around that). Write regularly and read like it’s your job, because it is. Study craft and research agents. Take classes and attend conferences if you can; they’re life-giving. Interact with other authors and illustrators, who are so eager to light another candle, with their flames. Enjoy those high highs, and embrace the low lows as opportunities for growth. And as I like to say, carpe every diem. Every single one. You CAN do this. I promise.
Jennifer Broedel is a nurse-turned-writer who enthusiastically follows life wherever it takes her. Years spent living abroad and moving regularly have given her an appreciation for varied culture, art, study of language, and adventure in general. A pre-published author of picture books in rhyme and prose, Jennifer nurtures her creativity, humor, and love for language by writing daily. Her other hobbies include painting, singing, and growing three small humans. Actively seeking agent representation, Jennifer regularly studies craft and is an active participant of SCBWI and Julie Hedlund’s 12x12 writing challenge. As a military spouse and mother of three, she loves travel, wit, and looking at piles of laundry that accumulate as she works on new manuscripts.
You can join her in her authorly networking and appreciation of children’s literature on Twitter (@JBroedelAuthor), or find her on facebook (@JBroedelAuthor).