*Successful Query Letter Included (;
This December, I signed with my agent, Samantha Wekstein at Writers House as an author illustrator. Here's the story of how I did it. The road was long and bumpy... but it led to a great place!
I can't believe I get to write my own one of these! *faints*
I read SO many "How I Got My Agent" posts while in the querying trenches. And I'm sure you have, too! Hopefully mine can give you some inspiration to "NEVER GIVE UP!", to "STAY POSITIVE", and all that jazz, because you for sure need to do all of that to stay sane in this industry.
It was thrilling to think that one day, I *could* be one of those people. It felt like an elite club - How did these writers possibly snag an agent?! What were their secrets? I had to know everything. It seemed that every writer had their own unique story: some won twitter contests, others cold queried, some, even, had connections in the business. My own (short version) explanation is simple: I attended a conference. The SCBWI NJ Conference to be exact. And that is how fate propelled me to connecting with my now agent.
My long version is well, much longer. During my first year of writing with the goal of being published, I committed a the cardinal sin; I queried WAY before I was ready. I mean like way, WAY before. Like before any agents eye's should've even made CONTACT with my work. At the time, I swore this wasn't the case. I worked hard on this book, surely all the warnings about querying too early didn't apply to me. I put enough time into this book. The third draft would be fine to send out. Boy, was I wrong.
I'm not going to share the actual book, but let's just say it was garbage. It rhymed. It was 800 words long. It featured rushed sample illustrations that I figured an art director would want it cleaned up anyway. It was about Zoo Animals! (So basic, right?) Basically, it had every no-no in the book.
As bad as the book was, the query was even worse! I researched agents, but I didn't research HOW to write a query. My final letter began with, Hello, my name is Korrie Harkins (my maiden name). *MAJOR CRINGE*
Form rejections came in hot. You know the ones: it felt like no human read my work. Nothing personal in the email back, besides, maybe, my name. And honestly, I deserved it.
Instead of doubling down on that book. I took a long hard, critical look at it. Instead of relying on memories of picture books from my childhood for comparisons, I started to study picture books that came out in the last year or two. I spent hours reading Query Shark. (If you're querying now, you should totally check it out.) I watched youtube videos on illustrating for kids. As much time as I spent actually writing and painting, I spent double the amount of time reading and researching.
Something clicked. Everyone has a book idea. Everyone can write (no doubt, some better than others). Everyone would LOVE to be a published author. But not everyone has the patience to tweak their book idea ten, twenty, THIRY times! Not everyone can write, only to rewrite again and again for weeks, months, YEARS! And finally, yes everyone would love to be a published author, but not everyone has the perseverance and the drive to be told NO over and over again and still be able to work towards that dream. Not everyone has the patience to do the NON-creative work that goes along with the art.
This was going to be harder than I thought.
After months of rewriting, redrawing, researching, and reading, I took a real step forward in my writing career; I signed up for the SCBWI NJ Summer Conference. June 2018.
I went and tried to absorb everything. I came back from the weekend inspired and motivated. I made writer friends for the first time and got to hear first hand what editors and agents were looking for. Conference goers were also given a list of editors and agents who were actively looking for new clients and those conference attendees would be pushed to the top of the agents' inbox. *GASP*
My manuscript was almost ready (for real this time) and with this new opportunity available, I pushed myself to finish it. My query knowledge was way beyond where it was the last time.
I sent out my queries a month after the conference. And this time, I wasn't getting form rejections. I got actual feedback and advice. I even got compliments on my art. I was on the right track!
**SUCCESSFUL QUERY BELOW***
Dear Ms. ****,
I am seeking representation for my illustrated picture book, Getaway Box. After researching agents and learning that you are interested in unique settings and represent genres from PB to YA, I felt that we would be a good match.
Cassie’s wailing baby brother is no longer a problem when a box takes her across land, sea, sky, and space to escape the sound. She learns that even though a quick getaway is sometimes necessary, you’ll always find your way back home.
GETAWAY BOX is 420 words and is geared towards 5-8 year olds. It explores the universal themes of siblings and growing up through imagination and adventure.
I am member of SCBWI and Julie Hedlund's 12x12 Picture Book Challenge. I am also an intern for Entangled Publishing’s YA imprint.
I have several other picture books available upon request and am currently working on a middle grade fantasy novel.
Thank you for considering my work. I have included my word doc. manuscript, and PDF dummy and samples.
(Looking back, I can see that it's not the perfect query letter. Some parts make me cringe. But it worked. *shrug* Live and learn, I guess.)
Summer turned into Fall and I had to assume that the unanswered queries were a "no." And that was ok! I would keep going!
I was actually in the middle of moving (driving) across the country, when my now-agent, Samantha, responded. As I'm sure you all do, I opened it expecting an "I'm sorry, no thank you." But instead, it said (summarized), "I love the concept... your text needs work.. if you're open to it, I'd love to help."
UMMMMM. WHAT!? This was the most positive response I had received so far. But what did it mean? I reached out to my online writing groups (12x12 Challenge and KidLit411 both have a great FaceBook groups) and together we established it must be, in one form or another, a R&R (revise and resubmit.)
I graciously accepted Samantha's help revising my text and art. I used her advice over the nest couple weeks to turn my manuscript into something I was ecstatic to say was mine. At this point, the fear of resubmitting was completely gone, I felt that even if Samantha did not want to represent me after this experience, my work was enough. I was truly proud of the outcome and grateful for her help.
When I emailed the updated manuscript back on a Friday afternoon, I literally held my breath when I pushed send. Minutes later she responded. She loved it and wanted to set up a call for Monday morning.
It was the longest weekend of my life.
The call led to an offer of representation, which I excitedly and stupidly, asked for a day or two to think about. (Samantha was super upfront and told me at least a week was more customary to let other agents know.) *Whoops* Did not play it cool.
I used the week to reach out to other agents to let them know I was offered rep. and a week later I emailed Samantha back and accepted her offer. Then, I popped a bottle of champagne and got back to work!
Right now, the picture book I queried her is out on submission to publishers. I plan to blog about that process soon!
Good luck to those querying now! Never give up. (: