Querying picture book agents and rejection

This summer, I pulled out a draft of a children’s book I had written in 2006, while I was getting my master’s degree in Educational Theatre from NYU.  
This summer, I worked on the children’s book when I needed a break from revising my novel.  I sent the picture book manuscript to friends and colleagues for feedback.  One suggested I look into the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.  I joined and signed up for the regional fall conference just outside of Nashville.  
Once I joined SCBWI, I had access to a massive manual on publication, agents, and the market.  There is an entire section on agents that represent children’s books and what they are looking for.  I read through it in the semi darkness while rocking Matilda to sleep one night.  I circled a bunch of agents I thought would be a good match.  I spent a few days composing a query letter, and sent my manuscript to 6 agents.  
As of mid-September I’ve received three rejections.  My top choice agent, the one I really feel would be the best fit, has yet to respond, which means there is still a chance.  (Although silence is usually a no.)
These are clearly form letters, but they are very kind.  
I will say that I feel good about each of those rejections.  It was confirmation that my work was received, and more importantly, that I am joining the ranks of Real Writers.  Real Writers send out their work.  Real Writers get rejected.  It is a badge of honor and a sign that progress is happening.  This feels very different to me than the years that manuscript sat as a file on my hard drive.  This feels better, even if it is rejection.  
After joining SCBWI, I have started to learn more about publishing picture books.  You do not need an agent, and many smaller publishers will accept unsolicited manuscripts.  The SCBWI manual also lists those, and I circled the ones that would be a good fit for my project.  I opted to go the agent route more as an experiment.  The larger publishers (Scholastic, Harper Collins, Random, etc.) do not accept unsolicited manuscripts.  The agent route can get you access to more publishers, but then the agent collects a portion of any sales.  Submitting directly to publishers can present its own challenges.  How do you stand out among the other unsolicited manuscripts?  Some writers argue that agents are unnecessary.  Because I am also working on a novel, for which an agent is most definitely required, I thought I would take this opportunity to gain a new experience.    If I hear silence or receive rejections from all six agents, I will submit directly to publishers who accept unsolicited manuscripts.  
The SCBWI mid-south conference was last weekend, so please keep your eyes out for a post about the pile of things I learned and the changes I am making to my manuscript!

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