Author Spotlight: Kristen Kiesling's Agent Success Story
Welcome to a special edition of Picture Book Spotlight!
Many congrats to Rebecca Gardyn Levington for winning a rhyming picture book manuscript critique by THE Diana Murray! June Small's signed book giveaway of Odd Animal ABC's is still going strong! If you missed that interview, you can read it here. Make sure to subscribe so you don't miss any Spotlight Interviews and giveaways!
It's important to cheer each other on and share in the joy of another author or illustrator's achievement. But sometimes sharing in the joy of another can feel a little bittersweet. I remember before I signed with Melissa feeling a little twinge of pain when another author announced they had been picked up by an agent. Even though we know it's not a competition, it's a very human reaction to wonder...
Will that EVER be me? When is it MY turn? I'll NEVER get there.
Perhaps that's where you're at right now. Maybe that's the story you're telling your heart.
There's something magical about the active choice to cheer someone else on. It pulls us out of our heads. It pushes against our baser instincts to think about ourselves. It tells our heart a different story...
It IS possible. KEEP going. DON'T give up.
Be encouraged as you journey on. And don't forget the immortal words of the prophet, Miley Cyrus...it's the climb...so keep the faith, fam.
In our last interview you were querying...now you have an agent?! Tell us the story!
Red Fox Literary is a closed agency but Karen accepts manuscripts from conference attendees. I got to hear her wonderful presentation and see first person her passion for children’s literature. This particular conference had an open pitch session where I pitched her one of my picture books and had a five minute conversation. Sometimes you may only get a few minutes to make a good first impression with agents/editors so I came prepared to pitch my work in as few words as possible.
Take us back to that initial moment when Karen took a bite. How did you feel?
Karen was quick to respond through the Submittable system where she requested another manuscript. I was optimistic but also I had been rejected in the past following this second step of seeing more work- I was scared to get my hopes up too much.
After reviewing more of my work, Karen sent me an email requesting a phone conversation. I researched all the questions she might ask and wrote five pages on- if she asks this…then I will say this…When the call finally came I was overly prepared - like CIA interview prepared. But she didn’t ask me ANY questions lol. She instead told me about Red Fox Literary, what she liked about my piece, and about herself. I know they tell us that in reality we are interviewing them, but until this phone call I never believed that was true! And yes, when she offered representation, I tried my best to stifle happy screams. Karen advised me to contact the other agents who had my picture books and let them know I had been offered representation in case they wanted to make an offer as well. She told me to take my time and let her know in a couple weeks. So, I followed up with the other agents and was shocked to receive another two offers. Ultimately, I made my decision on who seemed the most passionate about my work. Who would champion me?
How are you feeling now that you are on “the other side of things?”
I feel like it's a huge step towards opening the next door. Two of my manuscripts went out on submission last Monday. I continue checking my inbox daily, it’s still a waiting game, but it’s nice to know you have someone in your corner rooting for you.
Penny, Kristen's biggest cheerleader!
What encouragement can you offer friends who are still in the thick of the muddy query trenches?
Keep submitting. I know we hear this all the time and it’s hard. It’s hard to get rejections and keep going. But it’s true when you get representation it’s because your piece came across the desk of someone that needed to see that piece that day. It’s highly personal. Amazing manuscripts get rejected because that particular agent didn’t share the vision of that piece- but there is an agent that will!! Devour manuscript wish lists- find the agent that is right for your work, for that piece.
Now I write. Someone else is taking care of the submissions process while I can work on producing better material. This is by far the best perk of having an agent.
What’s something you love about working with Karen?
She is amazing. Her process is completely transparent- she copies me on all communications with editors. She is VERY quick to respond. (Sometimes in a matter of minutes) She makes me feel good about my work and sometimes all we need is a little encouragement.
Signing with Red Fox Literary!
Any teasers about your book that is going on sub?
The two manuscripts I currently have out for submission are picture books. One is about a girl named Frankie who only cares about fitting in until parts of her start disappearing. She must choose to be a part of her story or risk being erased forever. My inspiration for this book came from my time spent as a teacher in the classroom. I noticed too many times when students followed others instead of making their own choices, and I wanted to write a book that addressed how you might lose a little piece of yourself every time you don’t stay true to yourself.
My other manuscript is about an older brother who doesn’t come home, and his younger brother and sister must make sense of this loss and find a way through their mourning. This pictorial narrative explores the grief and loneliness a family loss creates and how life must go on in a “new” kind of normal. This manuscript was more unique for me to write because with the exception of the 9 words, it’s written in spreads for the illustrator.
It means I’m glad I didn’t give up. I’m glad someone else in the world finds value in something I have produced- and if that’s possible- maybe there will be others that also see promise. Or at least that’s my hope!
Knowing what you know now, if you could do anything differently about your path to representation what would you change and why?
I would definitely have been kinder to myself when those rejections came. It’s easy to beat yourself up and tell yourself you suck! The key to getting an agent has been surrounding myself with an awesome critique group.You need people in your corner that “get it”, so that when those ugly demons on your shoulder say it will never happen, you can tell them where to stick it!
What were some questions you asked Karen before accepting her offer?
What her submission process looks like- small batches vs. large batch submissions? Find out if the agent wants to represent all your projects if you write in several genres. How will she/he communicate with you?
Kristen with one of her favorite craft books! How to Tell A Story by Gary Provost- she heard about this book at an SCBWI Conference and it did not disappoint!!
Any advice for authors who get a bite and an offer? What are some absolutely musts before accepting?
I would skip all the questions you can find out on your own- for example, what books she/he represents, how many have you sold, current clients. All this information is available through Publishers Marketplace, company websites, and interviews with the agent. Use your time wisely, and instead ask questions like are they an editorial agent, take me through your submission process, what do you like about this manuscript, will you represent all my work? These questions will help you make your decision, but be careful not to grill the agent. Let him/her lead the conversation. Don’t make them speculate on how much they think your book will sell for. You want this to be a relationship and you do not want to scare them off!! If you must- go to a back room and get all your crazies out before the phone call.
Thank you, Kristen! I wish you the best of luck as you and Karen begin the process of submitting your work. Fingers crossed for a big time book deal! Make that TWO BIG TIME DEALS!
And thank YOU, kidlit fam for supporting authors like Kristen no matter where they are in their journey. It's so refreshing to hear success stories and that real people actually get agents! To thank you for your support and sharing in her joy, Kristen would like to offer her hand to support YOU. She will be doing a picture book manuscript critique for one lucky winner! Who doesn't need another pair of eyes on their work?! See details below to enter.
Picture Book Manuscript Critique from Kristen Kiesling
To enter this contest:
Retweet this post on Twitter AND Subscribe to Picture Book Spotlight
The deadline for this contest is Tuesday, June 25th at 9AM CST
The winner will be contacted on Tuesday, June 25th and announced on Twitter and Facebook
About Kristen Kiesling
Kristen Kiesling is a creative napper, guardian to fur angels, elf understudy, verb slayer, and a theater-loving foodie. While sleeping she creates all kinds of worlds which entertain and inspire her, and occasionally she remembers to write a few of them down. She graduated from the University of Oklahoma and now resides in Houston, Texas with her hubby and two boys. She is a former public school teacher, an active member of SCBWI, Houston Writers House, and Julie Hedlund’s 12×12 Picture Book Challenge.
Brian Gehrlein does not, in fact, exist. I made him up. My name is Steve. I run this here blog. The pretend life I invented for Brian (the fictitious character I invented) includes made up facts such as Brian working as an educator and youth services librarian. For whatever reason, I decided that he should live in Kansas City and be married to another pretend person named Katherine. Together, they have a pretend son named Peter. Other invented facts about this person who actually does not exist, are that he is represented by a pretend agent named Melissa Richeson. She works at an agency that also does not really exist. I call it...Apokedak Literary Agency. None of what you just read is real either. I made it up. I also made up this sentence. And this one. Also this one. But one thing I didn't make up is the secret emoji code. I, Steve, would never mess with you like that. Secret emoji codes are sacred. So if you want to up your chances to win a lil' critique by Kristen (a future picture book superstar) then you should include a bat emoji in your retweet. When you do...I, Steve, will enter your name four times. If you see anyone parading around in real life or online as "Brian Gehrlein" DO NOT TRUST THAT PERSON. HE IS PRETEND. HE DOES NOT ACTUALLY EXIST. DO NOT REFER TO HIM AS STEVE. HE IS NOT STEVE. I AM STEVE. DO NOT MENTION THAT YOU KNOW ABOUT ME. I CANNOT SCREAM-TYPE THIS LOUD ENOUGH! DO. NOT. MENTION. STEVE!