How I Got My Agent: Alayne Kay Christian

Alayne Kay Christian is an award winning children's book author, life coach, and blogger who just landed her dream agent, Erzsi Deak from Hen & ink. Alayne and I met through Julie Hedlund’s 12x12 challenge and Susanna Hill’s Making Picture Book Magic class, and I've had the good fortune of receiving several of her wonderful and insightful critiques.

She answers some questions about how she got to this point.

Q. Tell me about your writing journey. How long have you been writing for children?

First, I would like to thank you, Sylvia, for helping me celebrate this exciting time by sharing my news with your blog readers.

My first picture book was a handcrafted book that I started in 2006 for my long-distance granddaughter’s second birthday in 2007. The emotional reaction from everyone who read it, along with the repeated phrase, “You should publish this,” prompted my husband to encourage me to try to get the book published. After he approached me for the umpteenth time, I blurted out, “I can’t. I don’t know the first thing about getting a book published.”

Alayne's hand-crafted book
That is when my enterprising, fearless and ambitious husband decided to become a publisher. He did a bang-up job, and in November of 2009 my award-winning picture book, BUTTERFLY KISSES FOR GRANDMA AND GRANDPA was released. It was an excellent learning experience for me. I learned how the publishing business works. I learned about marketing. I learned what it is like to let my vision go and trust in the illustrator’s vision, and I learned what it is like to let my words go after editors and professional critique services give their advice. I also discovered that I wanted to be an author for life, but I wasn’t quite ready.

Alayne's first book available on Amazon
The next step of my author’s journey was to immerse myself in the writing community. I joined writing groups and took courses. (I am a graduate of the Institute of Children’s Literature (ICL) course in Writing for Children and Teenagers and their advanced course in Writing and Selling Children’s Books. I have taken courses with Anastasia SuenSusanna Leonard Hill, and Mira Reisberg and Marsha Diane Arnold). I read every writing craft book I could get my hands on. I wrote picture book after picture book and joined critique groups. In the process, I learned more than I could have ever realized that I DID NOT know when I started my writing journey. 

Q. Have you always been a writer?

Yes, I have written most of my life. I have enjoyed creative writing, newsletter writing in various occupations, poetry, greeting card writing, journal writing, self-help book writing, murder story writing, and my all time favorite - writing for children. In addition to BUTTERFLY KISSES FOR GRANDMA AND GRANDPA, two of my short stories, "Christmas Spirit" and "Christmas in June" are included in an about-to-be released anthology, JINGLE BELLS: TALES OF HOLIDAY SPIRIT FROM AROUND THE WORLD.

Q. You have been a life coach. How did that come about? Do you still do that?

After deciding to retire from the corporate world, I found myself feeling a bit lost. Someone I knew recommended a life coach. I loved the process of looking forward, setting goals and taking action. I loved it so much that I decided to become a certified life coach and start my own life coaching business. After twelve years, I recently decided to hang up my coaching hat to focus 100% on writing. However, there will always be a little life coach lurking inside me. I use self-coaching in my writing career and when I can find the time, I like to try to combine my coaching skills with my writing knowledge to write blog posts.

Q. Can you walk us through how you got your agent?

I first started submitting to publishers in September 2009, because I had been told that it is even harder to get an agent to consider your work than an editor. 

The very first agent I submitted to was Erzsi Deak during the August 2012 Open Coop Day (her agency has limited days to submit). I had joined a new critique group and many of the members were submitting to Open Coop. I thought, if they have the courage, I can muster the courage to give it a try. In December 2012, I received a lovely and encouraging rejection letter from Hen & ink. Given her positive and inviting response, I set my sights on Erzsi as one of my dream agents. I waited for another Open Coop Day. But submissions to Hen & ink remained closed.

As the end of 2012 grew nearer, I realized that I had been doing a ton of writing and very little submitting. I created the Facebook support group "Sub Six," asking other picture book writers to join me in a goal of submitting six manuscripts each in 2013. Observing my writing friends’ commitments to submitting their work motivated me to submit mine.

As part of Julie Hedlund's 12 x 12 challenge, I submitted a manuscript to one picture book agent each month. I also chose to submit to some other agents recommended by friends. And I got requests for work from some agents from various pitch contests. By the end of September, I had submitted 12 different manuscripts to 24 agents and editors.

As luck would have it, Erzsi Deak was the June 12 x 12 agent. Within days of my submission to Hen & ink, I received another lovely rejection letter from Erzsi. But this time, there was a bonus. She requested more of my work! She wasn’t able to accept the manuscript I had originally submitted because she was already shopping something similar. However, I had mentioned some of my other completed stories in my cover letter, and their description caught her interest. I am so happy that I trusted my instincts and included that info in my cover letter. I sent her the manuscripts and followed up with her about every six weeks. At the end of October, we had a nice phone conversation, and Erzsi offered me representation! 

Q. When did you know you were ready to query?

I never knew for sure that I was ready to query. I think I was the most confident when I didn’t know what I was doing. When I was new at the writing/submission game, I thought every story I wrote was submission ready and would surely become a best seller. Now, I can read those manuscripts and feel embarrassed that I bothered an editor or agent with them. I can say with full confidence that I am more ready to query today than I was eight years ago, or even yesterday. I learn something new each day, and I believe there is always room for growth for any writer.

Q. How did you know the right questions to ask your agent-to-be?

My friend, Elaine Kiely Kearns, gave me a link to a Literary Rambles post, “THE CALL or, What to Ask a Literary Agent When Offered Representation.” It is a great list of questions.  

Q.  What are the best things you have done to advance your writing career?

1) Making friends with other writers and joining critique groups.

2) Developing faith and coping skills. I worked to find ways to keep the hard knocks of the writing/submission process from pushing me away from doing what I love.

3) Realizing that picture book writing is a very specific form of writing and it is much, much more than just telling a story. And then, studying as much as I could about picture book writing.

4) Living my life as a children’s book author. This includes seeing the world through the eyes of a writer, so that life can present me with book ideas; writing, writing, and more writing; editing, editing, and more editing; and submitting, submitting, submitting. 

Signing the contract!

Q. You're known for giving thorough and insightful critiques of picture book manuscripts. What are a few tips on critiquing your own or others' work?

First, I would like to say that I feel like I learn as much from critiquing other writer’s work as I do from receiving critiques on my work. I wish I could critique my own work with the same detail I sometimes offer others. It is difficult because I am so connected with my own work. I didn’t realize until recently that going back to old manuscripts and critiquing them as I would any other writers will help me find the weaknesses in my work. So this is a new process I am trying.

As far as tips, I am preparing a webinar on writing critiques. Kristen McGill Fulton is sponsoring it for her nonfiction picture book writing group WOW nonficpic. I should have information posted on my blog by this weekend. The webinar will also be recorded and the link will be posted on my blog when it is available.

Q. How excited were you when you got the call? What delicious food or beverage did you celebrate with?

I danced around the house all alone chanting something I can’t even remember. 

Unfortunately, I was packing to travel the next day, so I couldn’t celebrate as much as I would have liked. Nevertheless, I did have a nice glass of pinot noir with my husband. He was so sweet. He bought me a congratulatory card and left it on the kitchen counter as a surprise. I cried when I read it. He has been so supportive. The other night he told me something about myself that I didn’t fully realize. He was talking about what he will do when he retires, and he said to me, “I watch you at the computer, and I can see that you have found your passion – the thing that you will do until the day you die because you love it so much.” He was right.

When I received the signed agreement, I felt like a child on Christmas morning. My wish had come true. I feel like I am in a dream. I am super excited about this next step in my writing journey, and I am thrilled to collaborate with Erzsi Deak as my writing career moves forward. Looking back to Erzsi’s first lovely rejection letter in December 2012, I feel like it was meant to be.

Q. Where can readers and fans find you?

Here are my sites: