How I Didn't Get My Agent. And Then I Did.

A lot has happened since my last post in (gulp) April. My family took an amazing trip to Maui. My son enjoyed his first time at a week-long sleep away camp. My daughter jumped cross bars on a horse. I read Teeny Tiny Trucks at a number of Bay Area libraries, schools and bookstores. I attended SCBWI’s International Summer Conference in LA. Oh, and I got an AGENT!

Let’s focus on that agent thing, shall we? Back in the Fall of 2010, I had just moved from Colorado to California. In the San Francisco Bay area, we are lucky enough to have 3 regional SCBWI chapters. So, after attending the SF/South chapter’s Illustrator’s Day event, I crossed the Bay to Oakland and sat in on the North & East Bay chapter’s Fall Conference. Agent Caryn Wiseman of Andrea Brown Literary Agency spoke at one of the sessions, and a few months later, I queried her with a manuscript I’d written about a father and son in a toy store. Shortly after, Caryn responded with an email that said the work was well written (yea!) but that it just wasn’t for her. Ah well, you move on.

As much as I really, REALLY wanted to land an agent that day, I can look back nearly four years later and be glad that I didn’t. I didn’t know it then, but I wasn’t ready. In the years that followed, I became a much stronger children’s writer. But aside from developing a deeper, richer manuscript portfolio, I dove head-first into the industry. I read tons of picture books and middle grades, attended a variety of SCBWI conferences, joined a long-lasting critique group, blogged now and then, volunteered for my local chapter, and eventually became an SCBWI Assistant Regional Advisor. I participated in online groups like Picture Book Idea Month and the 12x12 challenge, contributed music and narration for several story apps, produced a series of kidlit-centric YouTube videos and book trailers, received a letter of commendation from the Barbara Karlin Grant, and sold a manuscript on my own that went on to be published traditionally and digitally, both versions receiving positive Kirkus reviews! All that while being a stay-at-home dad. Not bad, huh?

Oh, and I continually REVISED my work. That is so key. The rhyming manuscript that received the 2013 Barbara Karlin letter of commendation had been revised at least 15 times. I started writing that story in early 2011! And even after receiving the nice accolade, I still wasn’t satisfied that the story was perfect. In fact, around revision 18 I had a huge breakthrough that turned it from a good manuscript into a much better one. 

Then, this past summer my local SCBWI chapter hosted an “Agent’s Day” event. We invited six agents from around the country to come talk about the biz from their unique perspectives. Cool, huh? They also provided manuscript+query letter critiques. And who should happen to critique mine, but none other than Caryn Wiseman of Andrea Brown Literary Agency. Caryn was so enthusiastic and supportive of my work. Within weeks she offered representation and I accepted! Woo-hoo! Drop the balloons and confetti.

Then my agent—I love saying that—my agent did an interesting thing. She requested revisions. Revisions on the story that I had revised 18 times. The same story that had received a letter of commendation! And you know what? She was absolutely RIGHT. Among other things, the ending needed work. And I’m sooo glad to have Caryn pushing me to make my manuscripts as perfect as possible before she sends them off for submission. 

So, the next time you get a “No” from an agent or editor, take it in, sulk for a moment, and then get busy. Because with time and tenacity you might turn a “No” into “Not yet.”