Name: Valerie Bolling
What you Write: I write picture books that I hope will make children feel at home in a book, especially those who are often underrepresented in books and in society. I want them to feel seen and heard, valued and validated.
Agent: James McGowan
Why BookEnds? Book Ends is a reputable agency that has been in business for over 20 years and has a “passion and love for books and the authors who create them.” I’m especially pleased to know about the recent work the agency has done to support #BVM and the Solidarity Day efforts in which you engaged. What some may find interesting is that my very first query was to another BookEnds agent. Life is funny, isn’t it? I’m back where I started – full circle.
JM: I’m so thrilled to be working with Valerie (as you’ll see from this post!) and I can’t wait to share with everyone the fantastic projects she’s got up her sleeve. Thank you for choosing BookEnds, Valerie!
Describe your experience with “The Call.” What do you write? When did the agent catch you? What was it like to get the call of your agent offering on your book/work? How long had you been querying/submitting, etc.? Share as much as you’d like!
I write picture books, some that rhyme and some that don’t. My debut book, Let’s Dance!, is a 60-word rhyming book that celebrates dances from around the world and the diverse children who enjoy them. It was released in March 2020; I didn’t have an agent at the time but am overjoyed to be represented by James now. It makes me want to dance!
On June 1, I reached out to James, via DM on Twitter, in response to his offer to respond to questions from Black writers in support of #BVM. I asked if he’d be willing to provide specific feedback about a story I’d sent him in December that wasn’t a fit for him. I was surprised when James promptly responded with, “Thanks so much for getting back in touch with me. Your name has been on my radar recently, since we share a publisher (and even an editor) … I’d love to reconsider and see more.” I sent James the manuscript for which I’d requested feedback as well as two others.
I was shocked when I received an email the next morning in which James said, “I still absolutely love your writing,” and he described the writing in one of my manuscripts as “utterly beautiful.” I was beaming, but the sentence that floored me the most was, “I would love the opportunity to speak with you about these manuscripts and possible representation if you’re interested?”
WHAT? How was that possible? I had simply reached out to James to get feedback on one manuscript that I knew didn’t interest him. In no way was I expecting an offer of representation. I was totally caught off guard!
I arranged a time to speak with James two days later, and we talked for two hours!
I felt so comfortable talking to James. I asked him my list of questions (for anyone who knows me or who’s read the bio on my website, you know that I’m the Queen of Lists). James took his time answering each of my questions. At no time did I feel he was rushing me or annoyed by questions – and follow-up questions. Not only did James provide critique on the manuscript I’d asked about, he did so on the other two as well, feeling that they were close to being sub-ready. After ending that phone call, I was in a quandary.
Why would this be the case when I had felt such a connection to James? We had talked so freely. He shares my passion for picture books, values, and energy. He’s open, honest, professional, and personable. He has a pleasant sense of humor, too.
The reason for my uncertainty was that another agent had recently requested to see other manuscripts of mine, and, in addition, a writer-friend had offered to introduce me to her agent. Having options is good, but it also makes choosing difficult … even when you believe you know your answer.
Five days after “The Call,” I emailed James to let him know I’d decided to accept his offer. He wrote back: “If I could physically perform a backflip, this would be the time to do it. I’m so, so thrilled we’ll be working together, and can’t wait to get started.” How could anyone read that and doubt she’d picked the right agent?! James and I talked two days later; I asked more questions, and I shared my Zoom screen with him, so he could see me sign the contract!
After three years of querying — sending out about 150 queries — I’m thrilled to be James’ client and part of the BookEnds family. I had written on my website that I was “seeking an agent who shares my vision and passion of inclusiveness in children’s literature, engages in honest communication, and works earnestly to ensure that my manuscripts become published books.” I believe that I have found that in James and am grateful that he chose me … and that I accepted.
James and I are off and running, and I’m looking forward to our continued agent/author relationship. Hopefully, he’ll be backflipping soon, and I’ll be dancing, when we can announce that another manuscript of mine will become a published book!