Hélène is the author of the Real Mermaids series, as well as several other books, including the picture book I Dare You Not to Yawn. She is represented by Lauren MacLeod of the Strothman Agency.
Connect with and learn more about Hélène . . .
**Read the query letter that landed her an agent (with notes from Lauren highlighting what hooked her) HERE.
What are some important things for querying writers to consider when researching agents?
Look for someone representing books in your genre and reading level. I wanted someone to represent my humorous contemporary tween series, but also future young adult novels, and picture books. Before I signed with my agent I made sure she was amenable to representing all those genres. Mostly, you want someone ENTHUSIASTIC about your writing because that will translate in the energy they give to the submission process.
What resources and websites did you use when querying?
I used a variety of online resources to research agents such as Query Tracker, Agent Query, Preditors & Editors, and Publishers Marketplace. I also got a lot of useful information from the Verla Kay Blueboards, which is now part of the SCBWI website.
How did you keep track of your queries?
I made myself a big spreadsheet with agent names, agency names, agency website and email info, dates of subs and any rejection or follow-up information. I’d sent over a hundred queries over a period of a year, with two different manuscripts so organization was very important.
Had you queried other books before the one that got you your agent?
I actually had eight published books sold on my own before signing with my current agent. When I queried my current agent, it took two rounds of queries with two different manuscripts before the ‘yes!’. Sure, I’d been successful on my own, placing my manuscripts with publishers, but having an agent has permitted my writing to reach larger markets and has greatly extended my reach as an author.
Did you sign as a client of a career agent or on a book-by-book basis?
My agent represents all my children’s books, fiction and non-fiction, from picture book to young adult.
Once a writer has signed with an agent, what’s the next step?
The next step is to discuss the manuscript and possibly do a round or two of revisions. Once we’re both satisfied with the state of the manuscript, she drafts a list of potential editors to pitch. I may suggest a few additions, but not usually, and then the project goes out on submission. There may be subsequent rounds of submissions depending on the feedback or the size of the first editorial pool but mostly, at this point, the waiting game begins.
How editorial is your agent? Is it what you expected?
My agent gives great editorial feedback but is not heavy-handed, which I like. She lets me figure out how to handle plot/character issues on my own and is excellent at encouraging me to dig a little deeper in a way that brings out my best self through my writing.
At what point do you share new story ideas with your agent?
My agent only has one chance to read my manuscript for the first time, with fresh eyes, so I always want to take my writing as far as possible on my own and make my manuscript the best I can make it before presenting it to her. I may share a short synopsis just to run the concept by her in the early stages but before my agent sees my actual manuscript it’s usually gone through several revisions, been critiqued by a fellow author, or even critiqued by a professional editor.
Do you see the feedback from editors?
Yes! It’s really important for me to see editors’ feedback because it gives me a sense of their initial impressions—similar to how readers might judge my book when picking it up at a bookstore or library. Sometimes the feedback is generic, like ‘wasn’t for me’ but if comments speak to me or I see a trend in their reactions, it may be an issue I’d like to revisit on subsequent revisions.
Can you check in with your agent if there hasn’t been any news in a while?
Of course! My agent is very accessible and will answer my questions whenever I have any and is always there to reassure me when I’m having submit-o-phobia. I try not to take advantage of her time, though, and only contact her when I feel it’s necessary (for actual submission information or for the preservation of my sanity). I have full trust that my agent is following up with editors and that she’s contacting me with any correspondence from the submission process (that’s what a great agent does!) but it’s nice to connect every once in a while to help manage my expectations.
Did you know there was interest in the book before you got an offer or was it a surprise?
There is normally pre-acquiring activity before an offer is presented. Sometimes an editor gets in touch to make sure the manuscript is still available. Sometimes they’d like to do a revision before making a decision. Sometimes they let us know the manuscript is going to be presented at an acquisitions meeting and they want more information from us. Of my nine book deals, there was always one of the above that happened before an actual offer was presented.
How does it work when you’re writing a series? Are both books sold together or does it depend on the success of the first?
I first sold REAL MERMAIDS DON’T WEAR TOE RINGS (book #1 of a 4 book series) as a stand-alone, and as a new author with a new publisher that isn’t unusual, but always had at least three books in mind. It was important for me to make sure the first book worked well on its own and had its own story arc with a satisfying conclusion. I always love book endings with ‘fill in the blanks’ hints of what’s to come and tend to write my endings like that whether or not there are sequels and in this case this worked well because my publisher, Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, went on to buy two more REAL MERMAIDS books, then a fourth a few years later.
Thank you, Hélène!