It’s time to bid adieu to 2021! While for me it wasn’t a sustainable or repeatable affair, it was a year of trying a little bit (OK, a lot) of everything PB-wise. I went for it. Not that I hadn’t been going for it (I had) and not that I won’t continue going for it (I will), but it was certainly worth a blog post!
I’m currently participating in 12 Days 4 Writers, an awesome (and free!) community and process for writers to reflect on their past year and prepare for the upcoming year. Yesterday’s prompt involved listing all the successes, and there were many. I’m so grateful! It seemed like the perfect time to share the story of how I got my agent and how my journey has threaded together so many awesome, generous resources hosted by the PB community. So many amazing people and events have inspired me this year.
First, let me rewind for a little context.
During my first go-round trying to get a picture book published, I had wonderful critique groups but hadn’t discovered the incredible PB community and the plethora of resources for PB writers. And because I’d gotten an agent very early in my writing journey, I hadn’t pursued (or even discovered) the many opportunities available.
When my “agented” status changed in the summer of 2019, I made a snail’s pace entrance into the querying trenches—querying ONE agent and one agent only in 2019. I honestly didn’t know where to begin. Weren’t there millions of agents? How did a writer know who to query?
I mention several resources in the story of how I got my agent, so I created a glossary of sorts for these resources! Because it got long, I gave it its own post! https://motherhoodblockparty.net/2021-pb-resources-glossary.
I learned about the 12×12 Picture Book Challenge . . . as registration closed for the year. But when the pandemic shut-down happened, 12×12 reopened registrations, and I took the leap: a challenge to write 12 PB drafts in the calendar year. Not only that, but 12×12 connected me to incredibly talented PB writers. But the talent and skill, tbh, had me questioning my own.
A member of SCBWI already, somehow I learned about the SCBWI summer conference . . . on the last day to register and buy a critique. My critiquer (an acquisitions editor) spoke words I needed to hear and won’t forget: “You’re one of the best writers of rhyme I’ve read.” (Insert nervous laughter-thank-you from me.) “No, I’m serious. I’ve been in this business for decades. I wouldn’t say it if it weren’t true.” That 10-minute phone call poked every hole possible in my manuscript, delivered a private, personalized PB-writing mini-course, and inspired me to believe in my work again.
I learned about PB Critique Fest . . . on the last day of the giveaway (are you seeing a theme?) and jammed a gazillion entries into the contest and was shocked to win a critique from a NYT bestselling author. Her feedback was incredibly helpful and somehow exactly what I needed when I needed it.
Feeling a bit lost in a sea of manuscripts and a discouraging querying scene, I determined what I most needed
(a) a mentorship
(b) help prioritizing my manuscripts
(c) to read more current PBs, not just the ones I loved when my kids were tiny
(d) a multi-manuscript critique with an agent
I researched options for 2021 and, while I could guarantee only one of those happening, landed on a Christmas wish list of some Storyteller Academy courses, the Children’s Book Academy PB course, and a Writing Barn webinar. Throughout the following three months, these courses filled in a craft gap that I’d unknowingly been missing while previously agented.
By Dec. 31, I’d written 15 new drafts (!) and sent 34 queries (a marked increase from one in 2019, huh?). During 12 Days 4 Writers (which seriously launched me into 2021), I’d heard the suggestion to aim for 100 rejections. I figured, why not.
As part of the 12 Days 4 Writers process, I created this vision page for what I wanted to accomplish in 2021. Of course, rejections were outside of my control (as well as the “offer” box someone suggested I add, which I did, after I took this photo). Every time I achieved one of these things, I colored in a box. It satisfied the box-checker-offer in me!
Throughout 2020, I learned about a ton of other awesome PB opportunities—you guessed it—right after each one happened, so I added these to my 2021 list:
Storystorm and a Bestie CP (Critique Partner)!
I participated in Storystorm (challenge to generate 30 PB ideas over 31 days) and recorded 100+ ideas (and wrote five PB drafts!). During my Children’s Book Academy (CBA) critique, the editor noted that while the title of one of my manuscripts (which we’ll call “Manuscript X”) wasn’t the best title for that particular manuscript, it would make a fantastic title for another PB. She suggested I write it. Boom. Storystorm idea #53 (with some help!).
Near the end of the month, I asked a question in the 12×12 Facebook group, trying to decide which of two agents I should submit to from my Writing Barn webinar. A very amazing person (Gennie Gorback!) recognized my name from the 100+ writers in our CBA course and reached out to me over DM, generously shared her insight. We became instant friends in a way I can’t adequately explain. Most of the rest of this post wouldn’t exist without her.
In February, I drafted two PBs. While neither of them was technically for the Critique Train (I missed it that month but made it eight months this year!), both of these 12×12 manuscripts would play an important role in the year’s successes! I took my first Storystorm idea and drafted a 50-word story. I was shocked when it won 3rd (out of 770!) in Vivian Kirkfield’s 50 Precious Words contest the following month (and won me an hour with Renée M. LaTulippe, the queen of rhyme!).
The second Feb. 12×12 draft was . . . “Manuscript X.”
ReFoReMo, Champagne Rejections, a Request for More Work, and New CPs
Following an energizing SCBWI webinar, I submitted my very favorite manuscript (title everchanging!) to a prominent editor. She responded within the hour with the most champagne rejection ever. While it wasn’t a fit for her list, she encouraged me to find an agent who would get it in the right hands because she thought it was better than most of what she gets from agents (her words!). This was the lift I needed. I launched more queries, fueled by that rejection . . . and got my first request for more work! Happy dance! I tried not to get my hopes up (but, yeah, forget about that!). A whole lotta amazing CPs (critique partners) quickly read and power critiqued eight manuscripts to help me decide what to send.
One piece of CP feedback prompted me to hold “Manuscript X” back and seek out the right CP to read it first. That manuscript got into the right hands, one of them being the lovely human named Chloe Ward, who generously invited me to a twitter DM thread with an assortment of awesome PB writers (you know who you are!). If it weren’t for not sending “Manuscript X” off to that first full request, I never would have met my CPs!
Also in March, I participated in ReFoReMo (Reading for Research Month), reading 5–10 PBs every day. While the organizers recently retired this event, it was one more of the great resources that has pushed me forward in my journey so far (and all the old posts are still there!)
Kidlit Zombie Week, More Champagne Rejections, Requests, and Critiques
In May, I won a pitch critique from Bea Birdsong, and she seriously flipped my pitch on its head in a way that I think helped bring the eventual requests I received in the next several months.
In June, I participated in Kidlit Zombie Week and worked on revising a manuscript (that I’m again re-revising currently) and won a manuscript+pitch+query critique from Justin Colón, which helped get my query (and a manuscript and pitch!) in tiptop shape.
Throughout the spring and summer, I received a handful of champagne rejections (some arguably as good as the first), exciting requests for more, and a surprisingly encouraging agent critique. I also had two, what I now call, “false alarms” on signing with agents—situations that looked like they’d become representation, before falling through.
I’d been submitting a first page to Kathy Temean’s Writing and Illustrating blog each month, hoping to get picked for the featured-agent critique. In September, Kathy featured Keely Boeving of WordServe Literary. Having determined “Manuscript X” to be a good match for Keely, I sent off the first page to Kathy. Not only did my manuscript get picked (a pleasant surprise!), but I could tell from Keely’s critique that she really liked it. I made revisions based on her feedback and queried her. She responded the same day, and soon we had a call scheduled and an offer of representation!!!!!!!
The PB writing world is an incredibly generous community. I wish I could name every amazing CP I’ve met, every webinar/conference/website/course/critique that’s moved me forward in my writing, every PB that’s inspired me or taught me something. I’ll limit it to a few more highlights and mentions for 2021:
- Critique groups and critique partners that continue to shape my work!
- Making Room for Rhyme
- PB Workshop on Discord
- SCBWI online conferences and webinars
- Critique opportunities from Melissa Richeson / Page Turn, Sara Kruger, and Sarah Meade
- Madness Poetry (I learned about this one just in time to apply and be accepted! What an experience to be surrounded by such rhyming talent.)
- In 2021, I was thrilled to receive awards or requests from many of the contests I participated in: Valentiny, 50 Precious Words, PB Party, Spring Fling Kidlit, RateYourStory, PitchFest, PitchMe, Halloweensie, the Holiday Contest, CookiePitch, and RUCCL
- QueryTracker (the annual subscription is so worth it while querying!)
By the end of the year, I’d colored in all my boxes (yay!) and added a few more.
My 2021 by the Numbers
Day 3 of 12 Days 4 Writers involved recording every success of the year. I had fun filling a page and am including the number-y ones here:
- 100+ PB ideas
- 30 PB drafts
- 30 PBs revised (a million times each)
- Hundreds of critique swaps and hundreds of PBs read (I lost track)
- 5 2/3 completed challenges (12×12, ReFoReMo, Storystorm, Kidlit Zombie Week, Susanna Hill’s 7-week Mix & Match, and 8 of 12 critique trains)
- 78 queries (to 63 agents)
- 10 manuscripts queried (primarily 3—oddly enough, I queried only one other agent with the one I queried my agent with)
- Passed the 100 mark on lifetime agent rejections
- 8 requests for more work
- 8 champagne rejections (4 from editors, 4 from agents)
- 1 beautiful contract signed on the dotted line!
I’m thrilled by what 2021 brought and excited for the possibilities of the future.
Thanks for reading this ridiculously long post. So many of you have been a support in 2021, whether it’s a boost in a Twitter pitch party, a critique swap, a well-timed gif in a thread, an emoji or comment on Discord, a social-media share, a blog subscribe, a contest vote, an encouraging DM, an idea, an insight, a resource share, and so much more! Not to mention how much you inspire me with your work and journey!
May your 2022 be filled with all the wonderful writerly and bookish things you can dream of (and other wonderful things too)!