Advice on How to Query Agents From Students

 Are you ready to query picture book agents?

For the last several weeks, I’ve been pulling together resources to make researching and querying agents easier. I asked some of our successful Storyteller Academy students if they and their agents would be willing to share advice (and even the queries they sent their current agents), and they came through.

Today, I’m going to share querying experience and advice from our students. And yes, my questions for each of them are basically the same, but you’re going to find some variety in their answers. There isn’t one path to getting an agent that works for everyone, but I hope you find that more reassuring than frustrating. Agents want to connect with dedicated writers and illustrators just as much as you want to connect with them.

I'm also giving away a couple of our students' books at the end of this post.

I did noticed some things these students all have in common that you might not notice by just reading this post.

  1. They all have professional-looking websites.
  2. These students all took research and personalization seriously.
  3. They all had more than one story before they signed with an agent.
  4. All of them were ready for representation.

Next week, I’ll share advice from their agents, and we’ll release our “How to Query Agents” mini-class/intensive. But for now, let’s dive in and learn something from our students with agents.

LaRonda Gardner Middlemiss was the first student to respond to my request with answers. You can read my interview with LaRonda if you'd like to learn more about her.

Beaming Books will be releasing LaRonda’s debut picture book, I LOVE ME!, in just two weeks. Beaming Books sent me an advance copy, so I can truthfully tell you that I love LaRonda’s empowering message and the diverse cast of characters illustrated by Beth Hughes. This is a picture book that includes all kinds of children without talking down to any of them.

Myrna: How many queries did you send out before you signed with your agent?

LaRonda: For the particular story that caught Stephanie’s attention, I had sent out nine queries before her interest and one after (it was an open invitation in SCBWI that month to query a featured agent). If I include other manuscripts, then my query count rises to thirty-one before I actually signed with Stephanie.

Myrna: What advice would you give picture book authors who are querying?

LaRonda: Don’t send out generic queries. Do your research and share why you think the agent is a good fit. Don’t be discouraged by a ‘pass’ or non-response, this business is subjective, all will fall in place at the right time.

Mirka Hokkanen is one of the best friends I’ve made through Storyteller Academy. She recently won SCBWI’s Narrative Art Award, and you can read her interview here. If you’re interested in illustration, it’s full of wonderful tips, including a demo video. She illustrated Vivian Kirkfield’s FOUR OTTERS TOBOGGAN. I also own this one, and it's beautiful.

Myrna: How many queries did you send out before you signed with your agent?

Mirka: I think I had queried about 10 agents when I signed with Essie. Before I queried, I spent two solid weeks researching every kidlit agency AND agent that I could find. I made a list of about 20 names, ranking them in groups of 5. I also searched for any blog posts or articles written by those agents to get a better feel for them and sent emails to current clients, to see how they liked working with that specific agent.  

Myrna: What advice would you give author/illustrators who are querying?

Mirka: 1. Research. Know the agencies, who the agents are and who they represent.

2. Attend SCBWI events, where you get to meet and know agents.

1+2= Yes, it takes a lot of time, but that way you can make a more educated decision on who to query and have a clear goal, instead of aiming at every target out there.

3. Get your work out to Twitter and Instagram, especially if you illustrate. I know many folks who have found an agent after posting quality work on social media or through SCBWI events.  

Lily LaMotte and I were actually in Jim Averbeck’s mentored critique group last year, so it’s been fun for me to see all of her book news this year. We focused on her picture books, so I haven’t read her forthcoming graphic novel, MEASURING UP, but I think it looks wonderful.

Myrna: How many queries did you send out before you signed with your agent?

Lily: I queried about eight agents for my picture books, but I actually got my fantastic agent, Laura Rennert of the Andrea Brown Literary Agency, because of my middle grade graphic novel script. I had a manuscript critique with Jennifer Laughran at ABLA. She requested the full and passed it around the agency. Laura loved my graphic novel script, and after our wonderful phone conversation, she offered me representation.

Myrna: What advice would you give picture book authors who are querying?

Lily: One word: persistence. If you don’t keep moving forward and making the work, then getting published will never happen. There are so many factors over which we have no control. The only thing we do have control over is continuing to do the work.

Teresa Robeson‘s debut picture book, QUEEN OF PHYSICS, recently won the APALA Award. The story moved me to tears when I read it. You can read about both of her picture books in this interview. Her second picture book, TWO BICYCLES IN BEIJING, just released this month.

Myrna: How many queries did you send out before you signed with your agent?

Teresa: For the version of Queen of Physics that Jane Yolen mentored me on, I sent it to 25 agents and 11 publishers. 

Myrna: What advice would you give picture book authors who are querying?

Teresa: I recommend using Excel or a paper spreadsheet to keep careful track of where you send the story to and what feedback was given, if any. Bookkeeping is immensely helpful so you don't send the story to the same person or house by accident. If feedback is given, it can help you revise a bit before sending out to the next round of people. And do send your story out in batches of 5-7 people at a time because it will take a long time to hear back from people. 

Joana Pastro shares an agent with Teresa Robeson, even though it looks like they write different kinds of picture books. Their agent agreed to answer questions about both of them for next week's post. LILLYBELLE, A DAMSEL NOT IN DISTRESS, which looks awesome, debuts in September. And BISA'S CARNAVAL, her second book, comes out next year.

Myrna: How many queries did you send out before you signed with your agent?

Joana: I confess I hadn’t been querying for too long before I signed with my agent, Natascha Morris. My first eight queries went out on May 2017 with the manuscript I believed was stronger. Then in June 2017 I participated in #PBPitch with two different manuscripts. The pitch for the manuscript I hadn’t been submitting was the one that caught Natascha’s eye. 

Myrna: What advice would you give picture book authors who are querying?

Joana: Research agents, learn about the books they represent, their likes and dislikes, and talk to their clients. Trust your gut and don’t query only established superstar agents. Remember, they were newbies once, and authors gave them a chance too!

Abi Cushman’s first picture book, SOAKED!, releases in July. (She also has another book in the works, but I didn't see it up on her website yet.) SOAKED! is hilarious. I can’t wait to own a copy.

If you’d like to know more about Abi, you can read her interview here. And I did her interview before her book was available for preorder, so I'm going to give away a copy. Details will be at the end of this post.

Myrna: How many queries did you send out before you signed with your agent?

Abi: I sent out around 20 queries. 

Myrna: What advice would you give author/illustrators who are querying?

Abi: The very first step should be to find a critique group. That way you'll find out if your cashmere sweater joke is funny to everyone or if everyone just has really terrible taste in cashmere sweater jokes. Once they give you mostly positive feedback or a standing ovation, you'll know your story is ready to query.

For picture book authors and illustrators, the query letter should be brief and to the point. (There are lots of online resources on how to write a query letter. Follow the formula.) Most likely, the agent is just going to skim the letter and get right to reading the manuscript/dummy if the story title or concept is intriguing to them. So the most important thing is to have a compelling story with a really funny cashmere sweater joke included.

Isabella Kung is teaching a mini-class for us next year on painting, and we're thrilled to have her back as a teacher. I also interviewed her before NO FUZZBALL! was available for preorder, so I'm also giving away a copy of her book. Details will be at the end of this post.

If you’d like to know more about Isabella, you can read her interview here

Check out this cover! I fully expect Fuzzball to bring the heart and humor.

Myrna: How many queries did you send out before you signed with your agent?

Isabella: I've gone through three rounds of queries. My first round was right after I graduated. I submitted to 10 different literary agents and art representatives. I eventually signed with an art rep. A few years later, I decided I wanted to write and illustrate my own stories too. With that goal in mind, I parted ways with my art rep. and queried maybe 4-5 literary agents. I didn't hear back from any of them. Though a few months later, I meet my former agent at an SCBWI conference. She had a great reputation then and was excited about my work, so I quickly signed with her.

Ending my contract with my former agent was quite an unusual circumstance; she unexpectedly closed down her agency due to unprofessional practices. The surprising news came two days before my big family trip to Peru! Fortunately, the kid lit community really showed those of us who were affected a lot of kindness and support; some agents even reopened their query inbox to us. I knew I had to take this opportunity and submit something before my trip. Partly for my own sanity too, we were all very much in shock and felt so betrayed. With the time constraint, I had narrowed down my choices to my top three and sent out my submissions before my doubts got the better of me. I did submit to one more agency upon my return (after I got a rejection and before I heard back from anyone else). In the end, I'm so glad I picked to my super-agent Jenn Laughran to represent me. She got me my debut author/illustrator book contract two months after signing with her!

Myrna: What advice would you give author/illustrators who are querying?

Isabella: Read and research carefully before you submit! Each submission takes so much effort, energy, and hope. So why waste all that to submit to an agent who doesn't represent the type of work or genre you do, or who isn't taking any new clients? Learning from my own experiences, it is better to be selective and send out a few great and personalized submissions. Quality over quantity! Also, agents are busy, and they receive SO many emails and queries each day. If your query sounds like you don't know anything about them, didn't follow their submission guidelines, or worse, you spell their name wrong or don't address them at all, they most likely won't even consider your work. Why should they? This is going to be a partnership, and with luck, a long term one too. Respect and good communication form the foundation of any good relationship. So try to make a great first impression!

I recently interviewed AJ Irving for our blog. She gave some great advice on continuing to find inspiration in these hard times, and you can enter our giveaway for her debut picture book, DANCE LIKE A LEAF, until midnight on April 11.

Myrna: How many queries did you send out before you signed with your agent?

AJ: I sent 12 x 12 submissions, slush queries, participated in Twitter pitch parties, entered contests, submitted through SCBWI conferences, and participated in webinars that included submission opportunities. I’d say probably 80+ submissions to agents and editors from 2012-2018. I received 25+ form rejections, a dozen champagne rejections, and a whole lot of no responses.

Myrna: Thank you! I think your numbers are more realistic than most of the numbers I've been given for this blog post. What advice would you give picture book authors who are querying?

AJ: It’s important to have multiple polished picture book manuscripts (3-5) because agents will ask to see more work if they are interested. It’s also crucial to do your research, follow submission guidelines, and be professional. I suggest making a list of things that are important to you as well as a list of questions for potential agents. Are you an editorial agent? What’s your communication style? What’s your submission strategy?

Keep in mind that this is a subjective industry. It took me awhile to realize this. I received form rejections and requests for more work on the same manuscript, for example. That manuscript is on submission right now. It makes my heart smile to see so many authors that I’ve known for years sign with agents and get book deals. It’s a long game. Continue to improve your craft, connect with other kidlit authors and illustrators, listen to kidlit podcasts, make genuine connections with agents and editors etc. I was invited to submit a manuscript to an editor because she asked for a very specific topic on Twitter. I just happened to have that story! After a major revision, that manuscript went to acquisitions but ultimately didn’t sell. Writers must have tough skin. There will be a lot of no’s along the way. My motto is to dream big and never give up. If you want it bad enough and work hard enough, you will get a yes.

I don't have a cover to share for Todd Sturgell just yet, but I'm sure that I will in the future. Todd took Arree's class with me in 2017, so I actually saw (probably an earlier version of) the dummy that his agent (Molly O'Neill) fell in love with.

Myrna: How many queries did you send out before you signed with your agent?

Todd: A ton. Though, to be honest, half of those were sent out on my first project which was NOT ready. It was a learning process.

For the project that got me an agent:

  • 22 queries sent
  • 8 no response
  • 10 rejections (A handful of those were personalized.)
  • 1 pass to another agent
  • 3 requests for more (2 of those turned into serious interest.)
  • 1 offer of representation

I'd also submitted 22 queries for a previous project that wasn't really ready.

Myrna: Thank you for breaking down your responses for us! What advice would you give picture book authors who are querying?

Todd: 

Send your queries out in batches. I sent out five at a time and personalized each one. I waited one week in between batches.

Be patient. There are a million factors that can influence how each agent receives your query. I had marked Molly O’Neill's response to my query as ‘closed, no response’ on QueryTracker because she didn’t respond in the time frame she provided online. I was following her on Instagram and she posted a picture from a famous landmark. When I looked through her posts, I discovered she’d been traveling. I surmised that she was likely backed up on queries, so I went back and made a note in my records for her that she was still a maybe. Not long after she returned, I received an R&R from her. Here’s how that played out:

3/14: Electronic Query
5/1: CNR (Closed, no response)
5/23: R&R! Very positive request to revise and resubmit.
7/1: Submitted R&R to Molly.
7/30/19: Accepted offer of REP!

It was 138 days between query and acceptance of the offer.

Book Giveaway Details

I'm giving away a copy of Abi's SOAKED! and a copy of Isabella's NO FUZZBALL! You can only enter to win one of the two. To enter, let me know something that you've learned (and which book you want) in the comments by midnight on April 11. You don’t have to buy anything or be a student. 

Please share this post on social media for extra entries, and paste the link to wherever you shared as a reply to your original comment.

 I want to give a huge THANK YOU to all of our students who answered questions. You all are the best.

Blog Contributors

Myrna Foster writes and edits content for Storyteller Academy and the WriteRiders Newsletter for SCBWI Nevada. She has spent a lot of time teaching and coaching children, including five years as a preschool teacher. She's also worked as a journalist, and Highlights High Five has published six of her poems. 

Arree Chung is an author/illustrator and the founder of Storyteller Academy. Arree’s Ninja! series has received starred reviews from Kirkus and School Library Journal. Kirkus also gave a starred review to Mixed, which recently won the FCGB award. 

Today Arree lives a creative life, making stories for children. Arree spends most of his time making picture books, writing middle grade novels, and sharing his love for art, design, and storytelling with kids and dreamers everywhere.

Follow Storyteller Academy on Social Media

48 thoughts on “Advice on How to Query Agents From Students”

  1. OMG! I feel so greedy, (I just won another book.) but I can’t wait to get my hands on, SOAKED! I’d love to win that.

    I was saddened, but then bounced-back when I read, Isabella was caught in that terrible bad-agent mess. And I remember the kid-lit world rallying round. I’m so happy she has one of the best Agents now.
    Great interviews, Myrna.

  2. Kristen Ryals

    I am glad I took the time to read the entire article. I plan to get back into finishing my picture book. I am not an artist and I would to read more about how to find an illustrator and how that process works and how $ is split once a book is published. I’d like to receive Soaked!

    1. Hi Kristen!

      You actually have a much better chance of signing with an agent and getting a book deal if you don’t find your own illustrator. Publishers like to hire illustrators who match their vision for a book. If they’re excited about a manuscript from a new author, they will often pair it with a well-known illustrator to help with marketing. Just focus on writing the best story that you can, and let your future art director find the illustrator.

  3. Jennifer Burke

    Thanks, Myrna! Such an informative post. The PB Pitch on Twitter is something I will need to investigate. I would ove to win a copy of SOAKED.

  4. Sounds like it’s a bit of a roller coaster for everyone! I love the idea of organizing your submissions on an Excel sheet so you can catalogue feedback! And sending 5-7 at a time is great advice as well. I’m making notes! Thank-you. Fuzzball looks amazing! Can I be entered to win that one?

  5. Diantha Litwer

    Myrna, thank you for putting this together. The author interviews were extremely interesting, and the authors/illustrators shared excellent information. The advice that stood out the most to me was: (1) spend the time extensively researching agents/agencies and talking to their clients so you don’t have a shotgun approach to publishing; (2) set up a spreadsheet system to keep track of who you sent submissions to and any feedback you received; (3) have 3 – 5 other manuscripts ready to go in case the agent wants to see more of your work, and (4) develop a thick skin because this is a subjective industry. I would love to win “SOAKED!”

  6. Thank you to the interviewers and authors for this great and inspirational information! Important during these challenging times. I gained many insights, but these stuck out: 1) do your homework on agents; 2) have 3-5 polished manuscripts ready if (and when!) an agent requests more examples of your work; 3) have a professional and updated website; and, 4) keep at it!! The delightful AJ’s reveal that she’s submitted over 80 queries was encouraging. I would love a copy of NO FUZZBALL!

  7. I enjoyed this blog post, but I was feeling a little discouraged until I read AJ’s answers1 I am more along the lines of AJ’s numbers–I just sent out number 116. But I do believe I started querying a few months too early. I am failing forward and being persistent until I find my YES! Thank you for all the great information and the opportunity to win a book–SOAKED! (my choice!)

  8. Carole Meyer-Rieth

    This is super encouraging, and helpful! Thank you to all who participated! The first “lesson” for me here was actually what Myrna pointed out in the beginning, that all of the people you interviewed had professional websites. It’s time for me to get on that! 🙂

    I’d love a copy of “Soaked!” by Abi, but both books look fantastic!

  9. Heather Stigall

    Thank you for this post! I love to hear “how I got my agent” stories and I’m so glad there was at least one person who submitted in the 80s (I’m at around 50-60, so it’s nice to know I’m not alone!). Hopefully my persistence (as so many above recommended) will pay off soon. I recognize Abi’s art from a New England SCBWI conference a couple of years ago and can’t wait to see her debut book (and all the others too, of course!) in person, so that’s the book I’d love to own, if I win.

  10. Thanks for sharing all this. So interesting how subjective it is, that one ms got both rejections and requests! I would love a copy of soaked

  11. I learned just how different every author’s journey is and that it takes persistence and finding people whose feedback you trust.
    I would love a copy of No Fuzzball, though all of these books look wonderful. Thanks for the opportunity!

  12. I would love to have a copy of SOAKED! I think it’s a great idea to do a spreadsheet to track agents.

  13. Elizabeth Westra

    I learned to keep trying and submitting even after rejection and to do your research on the agency and agent you submit to. I would love to read No Fuzzball. Thanks, Myrna for this insightful article!

  14. I hadn’t known seeking agent representation for a childrens’ book was such a “numbers game”, i.e., that it wasn’t unusual for aspiring childrens’ authors to query a very large number of agents, not just a few. I would love to win “No Fuzzball”!

  15. I love hearing author tales from the query trenches. Their experience is both shines a light on the process and brings me hope as I restart my own query journey. I’ve been following Abi Cushman and saw early drawings of SOAKED. I’d be thrilled to win a copy! It looks so funny and charming. Plus, the bear’s side eye on the cover made my instantly love him. Thank you for a great post!!

  16. This post is so helpful — hearing authors’ submission strategies, # of queries, how to research, and their shining examples of persistence. I wish them all lots of sales and more new books. Thank you, Myrna, for compiling these interviews.

  17. Something I’ve learned about queries beyond keeping a spreadsheet to stay organized, is to add what draft/version you sent to each agent/publisher in case you make significant changes to the manuscript at a later date. I think I got that tip from Jennifer March Soloway. Both books look fantastic, but I’ve had Soaked on my To Read list for quite some time! Thanks for the great interviews and tips!

  18. Soaked! looks amazing. I’m curious as to whether or not agents are still willing to take a chance on someone new right now, given the economic state of everything. Should we be holding back on querying right now or is there actually a magic window of opportunity right now. Hmmmm…

    1. Bonnie, if an agent is currently open to queries, go for it. Agents are signing new clients. I’ve seen multiple announcements on Twitter from agents that I follow this week, and I haven’t even been on there very much.

  19. Thank you for this opportunity! I learned that not only should I do research on agents, but also talk to their clients. That would not have occurred to me. I would like a copy of Abi Cushman’s SOAKED.

  20. Nicole Salter Braun

    I learned that none of the authors really had to query too many agents so I must be doing something wrong! LOL
    I would love to win both but SOAKED just looks so adorable, that’d be my pick

  21. The best reminder was to keep moving forward, keep doing the work, keep learning to improve, keep revising, and especially when the book is ready keep submitting. And don’t forget the champagne rejections and R&R received in the past. I am so excited to see how many SA peeps have agents now, and figure some of them had to have increased their success via SA engagement.
    I am waiting eagerly for Abi’s SOAKED! to come out having watched her work in community. So this has to be my first choice, though the cover of NO FUZZBALL! also looks delightful.

  22. A copy of SOAKED would be amazing. I like Teresa Robeson’s advice to keep careful track of where you send the story to and what feedback was given, if any. Thanks for the opportunity and an informative post, Myrna.

  23. Congratulations to all and Thanks for sharing the query numbers! I would love to win Abi’s book SOAKED! All the best to everyone!!

  24. This was a helpful compilation post. Hearing about sending queries in batches was a great tip.

    I already have a few of these books on my preorder list, but I’d love Lilly belle.

    Thank you!

  25. Both SOAKED and NO FUZZBALL look like fun reads! I’m in the process of querying and there were many details here that reminded me of how important it is do your homework and submit intentionally. Thanks!

  26. Thank you Myrna for putting this together! My main takeaway is to polish, polish, polish my query submissions. I would love a copy of SOAKED if possible.

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