Writing is a solitary profession. Sitting on our bed, laptop balanced on a pillow, wearing mismatched jammies all day (well, that’s how I work, anyway), we don’t gab at an office water cooler or take swanky lunches with colleagues. We’re alone with our characters—who can drive us nuts! We’re alone with our ideas, our words, and a vat of java.
Most writers I know are hard on themselves. We are our worst critics. We can spend all day writing and feel as though we’ve accomplished nothing. It’s nice to hear someone say what we’ve written has potential, has vision, has made someone spit all over their keyboard in laughter (the highest compliment, I think).
So today I bring you the story of three kidlit friends who came together with one goal in mind—to take an author’s career to the next step. To provide an encouraging, supportive environment in which she can thrive. Folks, you gotta have friends. Luckily, the kidlit community includes some of the best people around.
TL: Brenda, your debut picture book TEN TURKEYS IN THE ROAD was released by Marshall Cavendish last year and quickly earned both critical and commercial success. Most people think you publish one book and you’ve got it made. But you felt your career needed a boost. How did you come to this conclusion?
BRS: Thank you for this thoughtful blog post, and for interviewing the three of us.
I sold 10 TURKEYS IN THE ROAD in 2008 and at that time I was represented by another agent, but in 2010 we parted ways and I was left trying to navigate the children’s lit world, alone.
I queried for many months and got personal, kind rejections. After a long period of going it alone, I knew that I needed to find out what was holding me back from finding my perfect-for-me agent. I had heard of Emma Dryden for years, and had great respect for her. She was and is knowledgeable in all aspects of publishing. I was confident that by hiring Emma she would know what needed tweaking, and what I needed to do to progress in my quest. I contacted Emma and she agreed to consult, we set up a phone call, and I sent her my manuscripts.
TL: Emma, what was your reaction when you read Brenda’s work? What did you propose as the next step in her career?
ED: When Brenda first contacted me, she explained her situation—she was a new writer with one book under contract; she’d been with an agent and was currently seeking a new agent; she was “trying to do everything right,” but it didn’t seem to be paying off and she was starting to question how she could keep her dream of being a children’s book author alive. There’s nothing that concerns and upsets me more than to hear an author or artist is questioning their dream. Coming up with a strategy to find an agent would be the easy part; helping a distressed author regain their confidence and adjust their outlook was something completely different—and that’s what our consultation was really all about.
Brenda’s ideas and writing are strong and smart. Her nervousness about doing everything right was what was holding her back, blurring her vision. We focused not only on figuring out a calm, focused strategy to query agents with her strongest possible manuscript, but we also talked a lot about how best to conduct oneself in a fickle marketplace, the importance of flexibility, the benefits of patience, and the significance of not giving up.
After several hours of email correspondence and phone conversations, I felt confident in encouraging Brenda to query Karen Grencik, an agent whom for various reasons I felt would not only be delighted by Brenda’s work, but who would have a compatible sensibility and outlook to suit Brenda’s own.
TL: Karen, what made you fall in love with Brenda’s work and make an offer of representation?
KG: First of all, a great big “thank you” to you for taking the time to tell our story. It is a bit unusual, the manner in which we all came together, and I hope your readers will find it to be inspiring!
It is an honor to receive a referral from Emma Dryden, as I know the thought she puts into everything she does. I talked with Emma right away and when she stated that she thought Brenda had an untapped talent similar to two of the best picture book rhymers in today’s children’s book world, I knew I had to look at Brenda’s manuscripts. Brenda and I set up a phone appointment to discuss expectations, as there is always some concern about this when a previously represented author is seeking a new agent. I was worried that I might not be able to meet Brenda’s needs and I knew Brenda was feeling a bit gun-shy to jump back into the fray, but right off the bat we developed a sense of comfort and comraderie that’s made working together quite easy.
Not only did Brenda take proactive steps to jump-start her career again, but she took seriously and applied each and every practice Emma discussed with her, putting aside her considerable worries about what had come before and focusing instead on what she needed to do to accomplish her goals as a picture book author. This laid excellent groundwork for her to secure new representation. Yes, Brenda did need an agent—a strategic partner who shares her goals—but what she needed more was validation and a positive, safe working environment, which I’ve been delighted to be able to help provide. Now it’s my turn to find good homes for her fabulous picture books!
Brenda appeared in my life at just the right time, as Red Fox Literary had recently opened its doors, and I had the kind of time available to service my clients in a way that most agents only dream about. Over the past year that we’ve been working together, Brenda has learned to trust that I will do everything I can as quickly as I can, and that has allowed her to relax during the times that I’m not immediately available. And I’ve learned to trust that Brenda is a very hard worker, a perfectionist about her writing, and will only send me her very best work. Trust is a significant element of the best author/agent relationships, as it is of the best author/editor relationships as well.
For authors out there who feel isolated and alone, we three want to remind you that the universe is preparing for your success. An editor and an agent might be just waiting for you to show up. Be sure to pay attention to the signs. We certainly do!
TL: Karen, thanks! Your story is indeed inspiring!
Now back to Brenda…what are your goals for your career?
BRS: My goal remains the same as it was 8 years ago, and that’s to write the best, most original children’s books that I can. It’s important to me to help and make a difference where doors are opened, I strive to inspire, educate, and work as hard as humanly possible. I feel innately blessed to work with Karen and with Emma, and look forward to all good things coming our way. Thank you for your time with this Tara, I am truly appreciative for this opportunity.
TL: Thank you for sharing your story! I know it will help many writers as they examine their career progress. We should all recognize when it’s time to make a change and be brave enough to take action.