My story is a little different because I did not expect to be an author - I was solely interested in illustration.
I sent out my first round of queries after my second year of grad school. had no idea what I was doing - my portfolio was not united, my work was not ready, and I cringe hard now when I remember some of the cover letters I wrote. Unsurprisingly, I received only rejections or silence from that first round.
But I was learning. I had already joined SCBWI, but I started attending more events. I joined a critique group and asked successful illustrators for advice and portfolio reviews. That, plus the instruction I was receiving in school, improved the quality of my portfolio very quickly.
So I sent out another round of emails and postcards.
And I got another round of rejections.
But this time, I had a few “soft rejections” - i.e. “We don’t want you right now, but please contact us again in a few months.” Things were looking up!
I continued to work on my art. I also started writing. Writing was something I enjoyed, and I had a couple of ideas and one picture book manuscript floating around on my hard drive, but I honestly did not think anyone would be interested.
About a year after my second round of queries, I attended a webinar given by Rachel Orr, an agent with Prospect Agency. One of the perks for attending the webinar was the opportunity to submit to Prospect. I got an immediate response from another agent within Prospect asking to see more work.
After a couple of weeks going back and forth, that agent ultimately decided to pass.
It was disappointing, but the fact that I had gotten so far motivated me to put together another round of emails. One of the agencies on my list, Painted Words, expressed an interest in author/illustrators. So I went ahead and mentioned I could write in my cover letter. I had a manuscript ready, so, why not?
I was a bit surprised when Painted Words contacted me shortly and asked to see that manuscript.
We went back and forth with that story for a while, refining and revising.
Eventually, I made a trip to New York to meet with Painted Words. The owner of the agency Lori Norwicki and agent Claire Easton started off by telling me they didn’t want to pursue that particular story any further, and then spent the rest of the meeting chatting with me about my career goals while scrolling through my Instagram feed. They picked out a sketch of a little girl and asked “what’s her story?”
I spent the next few weeks working on a story for that girl with Claire’s help.
Ultimately, nearly six months after we first made contact, and two and a half years after my first round of queries to agents, Claire and Lori offered me representation with Painted Words. Ella McKeen, Kickball Queen was acquired by Lerner Books a few months later.
For me, gaining representation was a study in persistence and self-examination. I did the work, weathered rejection, constantly tried to improve, and was open to trying new things. It has definitely been a slow and sometimes terrifying process, but I am so excited about where I am and the prospect of more good things to come.
Beth Mills is an author and illustrator represented by Painted Words. Her primary interest is picture books, but she does quite a bit of illustration for the educational market as well. Beth studied illustration at the Academy of Art University, where she learned how much she loves creating characters and giving them interesting stories. Beth is currently working on her debut picture book, which will be released Fall 2019. Beth lives near Dallas, TX with her husband, children, and too many cats and dogs. Follow Beth on Instagram beth.mills.illustrations , on Facebook Beth Mills Illustrator , and on her website beth-mills.com.