If you're a children's book writer and you're serious about your craft, you've probably been to SCBWI conferences where there are Q&As, panels, or talks about The Perfect Query Letter. And yes: you should have a good query and if you need information on that you can find it on The Knight Agency website or you can just google Awesome Query and you'll find millions of pieces of advice. But it's not all about the query.
It's about persistence.
I felt like giving up sooooooo many times. If it weren’t for my critique group partners, both past and present, and for the children’s book community at large, I would have stopped querying. Here's how it went down:
First--the most important piece of advice I got about querying: send three queries to test the waters and wait. I did this, and got back a full request, a partial request, and a pass.The reason this was such a good idea was that I found out that the query itself was drawing people in, and the first pages were standing up to reading. If you send to an agent who only wants a query, and you get asked for pages, the query is good. If you send the query-plus-pages and they’re rejected right away, then you know you need to look at your pages, but not the query. And you go from there. After I got feedback from these first two agents, I revised deeply, cutting and reworking the character lines. Then, I sent out three again, and waited. I did about twenty queries in twelve months, very slowly, revising as I went.
What I learned during that time was to accept criticism from agents. I sat with it to see if it resonated. And after everything, I was grateful for it (once the wounds healed). I was lucky to have three particular agents who spent a lot of time writing to me about what worked, and what didn’t. They all passed on HOPE, which of course stank, but they allowed me to move forward with strong revisions and gave me a glimpse into agents’ expectations. Their help was invaluable. So, all together I revised four separate times during the Query Year.
I’d been querying for about a year and gotten twelve full requests (many rejected) out of twenty-or-so queries. I still had four fulls out when I got the most heartbreaking rejection from an agent who’d LOVED my book and said a zillion nice, super specific things she loved about it, but she just didn’t think contemporary was selling well right now. She even said if I'd queried two years ago, she would have signed me in a heartbeat. She asked for my next project--and even wanted an exclusive on that. I mean, come on. It was devastating. So, I said to myself—well, that’s it I guess! This is the best rejection letter ever, and that’s as far as this book is going to go. By then I’d already drafted and was revising my second book, and figured that my first book just wouldn’t sell, and that would be OK.
Then two of my published writer friends, Darcey Rosenblatt and Lisa Schulman, cornered me at an SCBWI retreat and staged a writer-vention. They both said: You are so CLOSE. Don’t stop now. Don’t stop now!
I blew them off, but Lisa kept at me and wanted me to read some of my book, and she said: you’re good. Don’t give up. I still didn't listen until my critique partner, who was newer to our group and a published author said: let me read it. I'll tell you if you need to throw it away. Or not. (Thanks Stacy Stokes).
She read it and said: I missed a Muni stop because I didn't want to stop reading. You need to keep querying. Send more queries. Send more!
So, I did.
I revised one more time and then I sent out almost forty queries and follow-ups in one month. And I got twenty-two full requests--which led to an offer. Then that initial offer led to three more offers within two weeks. It was a crazy month. After an incredibly hard decision, as all of the offering agents were both wonderful people and incredible business women, I signed with Rena Rossner of the Deborah Harris Agency. Wow, saying that still gives me chills!
The moral of the story is: keep going. Revise. Keep going. Revise.
Don't give up!