by Melissa Richeson, agent at Apokedak Literary Agency
Wouldn’t it be great if some magic potion existed which was guaranteed to land a publishing deal? It’s tempting to imagine…5 conferences + 7 query revisions + 25 submissions and POOF! A contract appears! Unfortunately, that’s the stuff of publishing fiction, right?
Absolutely…kinda. Every author’s story is different, which means there is no single formula for success. But I think one of the clients that I recently added to my list discovered a magic ingredient, so to speak, that can make all the difference in the crazy query process.
Brian Gehrlein (an up-and-coming picture book superstar, if you ask me) started by querying our agency with a manuscript about a bunny. Several members of our team looked at it, noting the fun voice, but we ultimately decided to pass. After receiving the rejection, Brian sent another query, this time about a dragon. Same thing—I consulted other team members because the story was strong. But the timing wasn’t right, and I passed. Undeterred, Brian sent a third query about a ninja. At that point, I was hooked. Three great manuscript queries in a row told me that Brian was highly invested in his writing career. I asked him to re-send the other manuscripts so we could take a look at his work as a whole, and ultimately I offered him representation.
I was impressed by Brian’s queries for several reasons. First of all, the sense of story really popped. When I’m reading through submissions, I mostly just skim the query letters in an effort to get right to the manuscripts. In Brian’s letters, I paused in my skimming when I saw lines like, “My humorous picture book, NINJA NOODLES, is packed with action, asiago...and alliteration.” It made me smile, and I knew I was in for a good story!
I also loved the tone that Brian used when querying a new manuscript. The first line in his e-mail caught my eye right away: “Thank you for reviewing my previous submission, THE BORING BUNNY BOOK. I am excited to share another manuscript with you and hope it may be a better fit.” By using those two simple sentences he called to mind previous work that I liked and displayed an understanding that this is a subjective process.
In addition, I appreciated the patience and professionalism Brian displayed during the process. Reviewing manuscripts takes time. In fact, at Apokedak Literary we request the full manuscript and the synopsis with every initial query, so we might even take longer than the industry average to respond. Like all good querying authors, Brian followed up, using upbeat phrases along the lines of “I just wanted to reach out to see if a decision had been made.” But he never demanded an immediate answer. I needed time to go over his stories with the care and consideration they deserved, and I also needed time to advocate for him within our collaborative team. His positively worded follow up e-mails allowed for both.
While all of those elements made for a great query process, I think the real “magic ingredient” that Brian discovered was a hearty dose of persistence. He could have given up on our agency after the first—or second—submission. But he didn’t. As an agent, this display of perseverance is important to me, because it tells me he’s developed the staying power to hang in there as I submit his manuscript to editors. He believed in his writing enough to fight for it (politely!), however many times it took.
And after we agreed to work together, Brian shared with me just how many times it took overall: 594. That’s right. Close to 600 submissions. Close to 600 rejections.
Behind the scenes, Brian’s formula for success was complicated and lengthy, but in my eyes, it can really be boiled down to two things: quality writing and persistence. Hang in there, querying authors. Keep writing beautiful stories, and keep fiddling with your own magic publishing potion. You’re always only one submission away from a “yes”…even if 1 turns into 600.
Melissa Richeson is an Associate Agent at Apokedak Literary Agency who is taking on new clients within the children’s market. To send a query (or three), she can be reached at melissa.richeson@
For more on Brian Gehrlein’s story from his perspective, visit him at pbspotlight.com.
Here's Brian's successful query:
Thank you for reviewing my previous submission, THE BORING BUNNY BOOK. I am excited to share another manuscript with you and hope it may be a better fit.
Newt is not your average ninja...he makes ninja noodles! But his family are “grab and go” ninjas, far too busy fighting fearsome foes to enjoy a real meal. Newt must help his family slow down and stop fighting all the time or risk eating alone forever. If foes became friends...they wouldn’t have anyone to fight! Newt tests fate when he brings them all together for a Fantastic Fettuccine Feast. If it works, the proof really is in the pasta!
My humorous picture book, NINJA NOODLES, is packed with action, asiago...and alliteration, and is complete at 350 words. Newt and his culinary creations will karate chop their way into the stomach and heart of any 5-8 year old!
As a theatre educator and librarian, I see myself as a steward of make believe. I’m fascinated with how picture books connect the separate worlds of adults and children, binding them together in the transformative magic of story and play. I am ready to take the next step, with your help, and make a career writing stories which nurture that magic for generations to come.
I am a member of SCBWI and actively lead a critique group. While this is my debut picture book, I have other completed picture book manuscripts available upon request.
Thank you for your time and careful consideration. I look forward to hearing from you!