It Takes More Than One Awesome Picture Book To Land An Agent
So, you have a picture book you're super psyched about. You wrote, revised, showed it to your critique group, revised again, read, put it in a drawer, and read again. It is ready. Now it's time to submit to agents and start preparing yourself for the multiple offers of representation that are sure to follow. Right? Well, there's just one problem with this….
You have A picture book ready—as in one. Say that picture book you submitted really is super awesome and ready for representation—do you know what an agent's going to do next? She's going to request to see two or three additional picture books from you.
Mostly, agents want to get a feel for your full body of work. They want to make sure they jive with your overall style (i.e., that this particular project isn't an anomaly for you).
Relatedly, agents want to feel confident that they'll be just as psyched for your future books. Although picture book concepts may take a while to conceive and germinate, the actual writing is relatively quick (compared to novels). This means agents are going to be reviewing 5-10, or more picture books from a particular client per year. Most of the time this is exciting! Seeing a new picture book draft come in from a client can be like unwrapping a present on Christmas. Most of the time. If an agent signed someone hastily, you can imagine the flip-side of this scenario. Those 5-10 or more picture book drafts coming in a year can instill a bit of dread on part of both the client and author, if the agent hasn't been liking anything they've written since that first project.
On a more positive note, say your agent is able to sell that first picture book right away. Woo-hoo! The shorter format of a picture book (versus novels) means that the editor submission process can go a bit quicker, as editors are usually able to review them more quickly. (Did you take note of the italics?) Well that's dandy, but now what? Your agent is going to want to start thinking about what projects to develop for your next submission. Let's go back in time…. Even if your prospective agent KNOWS they can/will sell that first book, likely, it still wouldn't be worth it to them to take you on unless they felt they could sell multiple books for you. That first book is usually the hardest sell. When it happens, agents want to build on that momentum—to chat up the buying editor about your other WIPS, or have a WIP to pitch to another editor when she says she's looking for a book on squirrel siblings and you just happen to be writing one(!). We want to have a "next book" just as awesome, or more so, than the first, to start getting ready for submission.
This is all to say: Agents are looking for career authors. Well, you may very well have a day job, but your goal is to become a full-time author. They're not looking for one-off picture books that someone may have written for fun, or for their kid or grandkid—even if it's wonderful. Agents want clients who are serious about their craft, and about developing it, who are constantly coming up with fresh ideas. They want authors who go to conferences, have critique groups or network with other writers; who are savvy about the current market and write on relevant topics/issues.
So, what does this mean for you? It mean you should always have at least two other, polished, picture book projects ready to share with an agent immediately, upon request. Remember, you're still just sending ONE project for that initial query, but if the agent likes it, they'll be requesting to see additional projects (and you'll be ready, right?!). In your initial query, you can even briefly mention the two or three other projects you have ready, and that you'd be happy send upon request. Now, what if you only have ONE project ready? In that case, you keep writing and wait to query until you have at least three polished projects. Or, say you have just the one project, but you're just TOO excited and must query now. Well, if an agent likes it, she'll request more…and you'll have to say that you don't have any other projects ready. The agent's response? She'll tell you to get back in touch when you do have additional projects ready…or she'll just pass.
So make sure you're prepared for when those happy emails come in, with agents wanting to see more of your work (woot)! If you need more motivation, Kate Messner also has a great post on the importance of writing multiple picture books, from a writer's perspective.
In related news...to better serve picture book writers, I'm launching a new service! It's a full Picture Book Submission Package Critique, designed specifically for picture book authors preparing to query their work. With it, you receive a critique for THREE picture books, so you can be prepared for not just the initial submission, but ALSO the request for additional work that follows (fingers crossed!). To learn more about this service check it out here. It's also available for author-illustrators!