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KID-LIT WRITING WISDOM PRESENTS LONG AND WINDING ROAD: PUBLICATION (USUALLY) DOESN’T HAPPEN OVERNIGHT (Part 1 of 3)

kid-lit writing wisdom

Copy of What was one of the most important lesson learned on your road to publication_

This “Wisdom” round’s question isn’t exactly a question. I asked the team to tell us about their travels down the long and winding road to publication. One of the reasons I wanted us to cover this topic is because every once in a while, you’ll see blog posts from an author who tells you the very first manuscript they sent out was acquired overnight—as though it’s the easiest thing one can do. That is not the norm nor is it reality. I also wanted emerging writers as well as those who have been at it for a long, long time to see similarities and differences in each writer’s experience. My wish for you and all our readers this round is that you might be inspired or pick up just one bit of wisdom that will help you in your journey. But also, that you adjust your expectations, so that if you find yourself on a long and winding road, you’re not disappointed or discouraged. And if you are one of the lucky ones who gets a contract overnight, you will be surprised and appreciate the moment even more than you might have.

Because it has been a long road for the “Wisdom” authors, we all had a lot to say. So, this topic will be shared in three parts over the next three weeks.

I’ve seen some similarities in answers, but everyone’s path has been a little different. I’m going to start with my own answer because it brings up a topic that didn’t pop up in any of the other answers.

Before we get started, I’d like to share some good news and congratulate Rob Sanders has a book birthday coming on May 4 with  TWO GROOMS ON A CAKE: THE STORY OF AMERICA’S FIRST GAY WEDDING. HAPPY BIRTHDAY! I’d like to also congratulate the illustrators of my picture books for winning the Story Monsters Approved Award. Polina Gortman illustrated THE WEED THAT WOKE CHRISTMAS: The Mostly True Tale of the Toledo Christmas Weed. And Milanka Reardon illustrated AN OLD MAN AND HIS PENGUIN: How Dindim Made João Pereira de Souza an Honorary Penguin.

Congratulations!

Two Grooms on a Cake

AWARD WINNER FOR MAKING A DIFFERENCE!Winner for (1)

 

Words of Wisdom

 

WHEN YOU SAY “YES” TO ONE THING, YOU ARE SAYING “NO” TO ANOTHER

by Alayne Kay Christian

I’m guessing, as with most team members, it would take an entire book to share my long journey. I’ll do my best to keep this short. My first picture book BUTTERFLY KISSES FOR GRANDMA AND GRANDPA was released way back in 2009. It won some awards and got great reviews, so I thought for sure, this kid-lit writing thing was going to be a breeze. I was wrong. I spent the next several years taking children’s book writing courses, attending SCBWI conferences and workshops, and getting involved in the online writing community. In 2013, I was on top of the world when I signed with an agent (my choice out of three agent offers—wasn’t I something?). I knew for sure that I was going to conquer the kid lit world now! Well, once again, I was wrong. In 2015, I parted ways with the agent. That set my confidence back for a couple of years. I did very little submitting, but I did continued to write, study children’s book writing, and work to grow my online presence. I also started a professional critique service and wrote an independent-study picture book writing course, Art of Arc. I also started working as a critique ninja for Julie Hedlund’s 12 X 12, which I did for three years. In 2016 I signed with a small publisher and in 2017, my chapter book series Sienna, the Cowgirl Fairy was launched. I continued to study children’s book writing and submit. Also in 2017, I helped my husband relaunch Blue Whale Press where I was the acquisitions editor and creative director. In addition to that, I spent the year going back and forth with an agent who I thought was going to sign me for sure. Once again, I was wrong. We even had what I thought was “the call.” But it turned out to be a “let you down easy” call. She loved one of my stories, but didn’t fully connect with the others I offered. That set me back for a while. But I had so much going on with Blue Whale Press and my other writing related work that I didn’t have time to fall into negative thinking. In 2019, I started offering affordable children’s writing webinars. But even with all of the above, I also continued to study, write, and submit. 2020 was an exciting year for me when finally; my next two picture books were published. I am so proud of AN OLD MAN AND HIS PENGUIN and THE WEED THAT WOKE CHRISTMAS and my latest Sienna book COWBOY TROUBLE. I’m so excited that THE WEED THAT WOKE CHRISTMAS recently won the Story Monsters Approved award for books that make a difference. And THE OLD MAN AND HIS PENGUIN won an award in the nonfiction picture book category.

It took thirteen years of hard work, but more than anything, perseverance, to get (soon to be) four published picture books and two chapter books into the world. I tried to include what I consider to be major parts of my journey to demonstrate that it’s not necessarily just about writing and submitting. It’s about learning, growing, and finding ways to apply your knowledge and creative energy when it sometimes feels as though all has failed. And like in the stories that we write, finding our way through our darkest moments will lead us to a satisfying ending.

I don’t regret my path for a minute because I love all the gifts I have given writers and illustrators over the years with my critiques, courses, work with Blue Whale Press and so on. I’ve found that for me, relaxing into where life takes me usually leads me to where I need to be. But a word of warning . . . when you say “yes” to one thing, you are saying “no” to another. In my case, I said a lot of “no” to writing and submitting by saying “yes” to helping others. Where might I have been had I been more focused? That is not a question of regret. It is a question that I pose to you as writers. Following is a little worksheet to help you see your “yes” and “no” choices more clearly. I hope some of you find it helpful. The worksheet was initially part of a much longer post I wrote on the topic. Click here to read it

say yes say no

SHEER LUCK? SOMETIMES. SHEER GRIT? MOST OF THE TIME.

by Kirsti Call

It happened backwards for me. I wrote my first couple of stories, joined a critique group, submitted THE RAINDROP WHO COULDN’T FALL about three months into my writing journey. Character Publishing gave me an offer almost immediately, and my first book came out in 2013. Then for 6 years I wrote and revised and submitted and submitted and submitted again. I FINALLY got my first agent who subsequently sold 4 books for me. Sheer luck led to my first book. Sheer grit led to others.

ALL THE TIME I PUT INTO LIVING LIFE, AND WRITING STORIES, LED ME TO STRENGTHEN MY CRAFT AND FIND MY WRITING VOICE

by Melissa Stoller

My journey to publication was indeed a “long and winding road.” I had started writing when my oldest daughter was a baby and I loved reading picture books to her and making up bedtime stories. Before that, I practiced as an attorney, taught legal research and writing to law students, and worked as a career counselor at a law school. When I received many rejections to my initial book queries, I turned my attention to writing parenting articles and doing freelance editing. But eventually, I returned to my dream of writing for children (and by that point, I had three children and lots more time doing field research into the KidLit world). In fact, I had joined the SCBWI in 1997 (!) and my first book, THE ENCHANTED SNOW GLOBE: RETURN TO CONEY ISLAND, was published in 2017! I am forever grateful to Callie Metler and Clear Fork Publishing for helping me turn my writing dreams into reality. My advice to aspiring writers is to keep pursuing your goals. Your writing journey may detour down some curving roads, like mine did, and your path to publication may not be straight. But all the time I put into living life, and writing stories, led me to strengthen my craft and find my writing voice. So, buckle up, get on whatever type of road best fits your career, and say ready, set, GO!

KEEP YOUR CHIN UP AND YOUR FINGERS ON THE KEYBOARD!

by Rob Sanders

My journey to publishing started back in college. I paid my way through college and graduate school by writing religious educational materials. A few years later, I wound up working for the company for which I’d been writing, eventually becoming an editor and product designer there. But none of those materials were things kids would ever find in their public or school libraries or local bookstores. It wasn’t until I was 50 that I decided to pursue my dream of writing picture books. Two years later I made my first sale through a paid critique at SCBWI LA. A year later, I landed an agent. Selling my second book proved to be as difficult as selling the first and that pattern continues. Each of my manuscripts has to stand on its own merits and find its own home. I often remind myself of the advice my agent gave me when we first started working together: Keep your chin up and your fingers on the keyboard!

FIVE INGREDIENTS THAT ARE NECESSARY FOR SUCCESS IN ANY PROJECT

Vivian Kirkfield

Whenever I do presentations about the path to publication, I talk about how becoming a picture book author was a lot like making a pizza. Whether I’m speaking with six-year-old school kids or sixty-year-old aspiring authors, I share the 5 P’s…5 ingredients that are necessary for success in any project: PASSION, PREPARATION, PRACTICE, PATIENCE, and PERSISTENCE. It’s a process and it takes time. I started my writing journey at the end of 2011 – we signed my first book deal at the end of 2015 – and that book launched in 2019. I had sent out a few submissions to editors on my own, but I knew I wanted an agent because I knew I didn’t want to focus on where to send my manuscripts…I wanted to focus on writing them. However, the path is different for each one of us – and what is right for one person might not be right for another. What is needed, however, whether you have an agent or not, is positivity. Oh…there’s another P…I guess you can tell I’m a picture book writer with all of that alliteration.😅 I remain positive because I know that the rejections…and YES, I do get lots of rejections…are not personal. I try to remember that this is a business…and the publisher/editor must make a profit from the books they produce. Otherwise, they have to close their doors. And if they don’t choose my manuscript, it’s because they don’t think they will make money. I also try to keep in mind that sometimes, publishers are wrong. So, when I get a rejection, I remind myself that I am in good company with J.K Rowling and Louisa May Alcott and Stephen King and many others: https://wildmindcreative.com/bookmarketing/6-famous-authors-who-once-faced-rejection.

COMING IN THE NEXT TWO WEEKS PART 2 AND PART 3

Next week, Ellen Leventhal and Pippa Chorley talk about their journeys, which both include dealing with imposter syndrome. And Beth Anderson shares her thoughts on what it takes to be successful as an author. Finally on May 8th, we’ll wrap up our thoughts on the path to publication with Laura Gehl who talks about how time only serves to make you a better author. Dawn Babb Prochovnic looks at the importance of continuing the work in spite of obstacles. Michelle Nott talks about trends and also demonstrates that it pays to never give up on old stories. Rosie Pova talks about how persistence pays off. Marcie Flinchum Atkins talks about enjoying the rituals of writing and having friends who “get” the writer’s experience.

TO READ THE TEAM MEMBERS’ ANSWERS TO “MY MOST IMPORTANT LESSON LEARNED” click here for Part One and here for Part Two.

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SHOULD MY PICTURE BOOK BE A CHAPTER BOOK?

by Alayne Kay Christian

I’m excited to reveal the cover of my forthcoming chapter book SIENNA, THE COWGIRL FAIRY: TRYING TO MAKE IT RAIN – coming April 2017! This is the first book in the Sienna, the Cowgirl Fairy series. Didn’t Brian Martin do a fantastic job?

sienna-cover-1

In this story, Sienna is not your normal cowgirl. She’s half-human and half-fairy. But Sienna wants nothing to do with fairies. When her ma sends her to fairy camp instead of cowgirl camp, she ain’t none too happy. Not only must she deal with cliquish fairies who reject her spunky spirit and outspoken ways, she must also noodle out how to help Mother Nature end the Texas drought. Can Sienna balance cowgirling with some tried ‘n’ true fairy skills to both fit in and make it rain? This is a story about perseverance, friendship, teamwork, self-acceptance, and acceptance of others.

This book and the second book in the series AUNT ROSE’S FLOWER GIRL started as picture books. So, how did they become chapter books? It all started in 2012. I was invited by the Institute of Children’s Literature’s (ICL) faculty to participate in their advanced program, Writing and Selling Children’s Books. About that time, I visited my then five-year-old granddaughter in Chicago.

“What if you could fly?” my granddaughter asked.

I responded, “I’d come to see you more often. What if you could fly?”

“I’d fly up to that ceiling fan and take a ride,” she said.

Boing! Idea time! I thought, There must be a picture book in there somewhere. So I started brainstorming. My first version was titled THE GIRL WHO COULD FLY, and it included a protagonist that took a ride on a ceiling fan. Then I changed the title to THE GIRL WHO SAVED TEXAS. My ICL instructor wasn’t really sold on the fairy angle I had developed, but she did say that she’d like to see me Texas the character up. That thought led her to suggesting that I make the protagonist a cowgirl fairy. I ran with those ideas and fell in love with Sienna.

In 2013, I took my SIENNA, THE COWGIRL FAIRY: TRYING TO MAKE IT RAIN picture book manuscript to the North Texas SCBWI conference. And I was lucky enough to have the first page read on stage and commented on by Lin Oliver. I could see by her smile that she liked the voice. But in her comments, she wondered if the story was too old for the picture book audience. I later found a few minutes of one-on-one time with Lin, and she encouraged me to consider expanding the story into a chapter book.

The conference gave me the confidence that I needed to submit the picture book manuscript. Three agents offered me representation. One agent was actually interested in shopping it as a picture book. I didn’t discuss it with the second agent because I chose the third agent to represent me. This agent agreed that it would be wise to turn the Sienna story into a chapter book. We worked together for about a year and then we parted ways amicably. As time went by, not being able to attract a new agent caused my confidence to wane. I spent a year floundering and nearly another year halfheartedly submitting.

In 2016, I went to a weekend workshop with a highly-respected literary agency where we presented our work in a roundtable forum. The senior agent who led the group loved Sienna’s voice and asked me to send her the whole manuscript. Yes! Perhaps my beloved Sienna would be published after all. But after months of nothing but crickets, I nudged the agent. Finally, I heard back with a form letter rejection – not one clue as to why it wasn’t right for her. I had a brief setback, but instead of letting it get me down, I immediately started submitting again. Two months later, I had a contract for the Sienna, the Cowgirl Fairy chapter book series with Spork, an imprint of Clear Fork Publishing.

So, why were the Sienna picture book stories better suited for the chapter book audience? The characters were too old for a picture book. As much as I wanted to limit Sienna’s age in my mind to a spunky eight-year-old girl, she wanted to be older. Her voice was older. Her actions were older. And since the story was written in first person (Sienna narrator), the storytelling voice was better suited for an older audience. Another reason a chapter book was a good idea is because I was able to expand on the story and further develop this fantastic character. These are only a few reasons why a picture book manuscript or picture book idea might work better as a chapter book.

Do you have any picture books that really should be a chapter book? It might be worth thinking about.

Check out Is Your Idea a Picture Book, Chapter Book or Middle Grade Novel? By Hillary Homzie and Mira Reisberg on Tara Lazar’s blog.

Anastasia Suen answers the question “Should I write a picture book or a chapter book?” on her blog.

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th (1)JUST SAY NO TO NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTIONS WITH THIRTY-ONE JUST FOR FUN

I offered my first THIRTY-ONE JUST FOR FUN CHALLENGE in 2012. Each year since, I have modified my original post and reposted it. Before I share the modified version, I’d like to thank everyone who has supported my blog throughout the year. I wish you all a very Happy New Year. May the new year bring each of you all that your heart desires.

Now for THIRTY-ONE JUST FOR FUN. . . .

A common question in life coaching is, “What’s the difference between a life coach and a therapist?” The answer goes something like this: Imagine you are driving a car through life with a psychotherapist as your driving instructor. The psychotherapist will spend a lot of time instructing you to look through your rearview mirror at where you have been. A “life coach” driving instructor will encourage you to look out your windshield at where you are going.

A NEGATIVE DRAIN

Today, I am going to swim against the life coaching current and ask you to look back at where you have been. New Year’s resolutions often have roots in the past. We look back, with a certain amount of regret, at what we failed to accomplish in the outgoing year. Focusing on our shortcomings, we resolve to make up for them in the New Year; usually with bigger and better plans than before. Although setting these goals can leave you feeling hopeful, looking back with self-judgment can sap your confidence and drain your spirit.

ENERGIZE YOUR SPIRIT

Instead of looking back at your shortcomings with regret, look back at your successes with confidence and gratitude. Looking back and acknowledging your accomplishments will give you the opportunity to celebrate your successes and energize your spirit as you look forward to your new year.

THIRTY-ONE JUST FOR FUN

Over the next couple of weeks, take some time to reflect on 2015 and list 31 things that you accomplished throughout the year. I hope you will celebrate your successes by coming back and sharing some of your discoveries in the comments section of this post or share them on your own blog. The most important part of this challenge is recognizing the positive, energizing events of 2015. Even if you are unable to list 31 achievements, come back and celebrate with us by bragging a little about your year.

QUESTIONS TO HELP YOU GET STARTED ON YOUR LIST

  • How did you grow personally, professionally or as a writer?
  • Did you have a positive impact on others?
  • What writing skills did you learn or strengthen?
  • Did you improve organizational skills?
  • Did you find the secret to time management?
  • Did you complete any writing challenges?
  • Did you join any groups?
  • What personal strengths did you gain?
  • What goals did you achieve?
  • What unplanned accomplishments did you achieve?
  • What character qualities did you strengthen?
  • Have you improved your communication skills?
  • Have you gotten better at saying no to others, to yourself, or to activities that drain you?
  • What acts of kindness did you share?
  • What special, memory building moment did you have with family, friends, writing groups, by yourself and so on?
  • Did you submit any of your writing? If you want to challenge yourself to submit more in 2016 join my Sub Six private manuscript submission support group on Facebook.
  • Did any submissions get accepted for publication?
  • Did you get any rejections with encouraging notes?
  • Did you find a positive way to accept rejections?

For tips on celebrating your achievements see CELEBRATE YOUR ACHIEVEMENTS BIG AND SMALL. Be sure to scroll down to the section about the achievement jar, so you can celebrate all through 2016.

Below I share ten of my thirty-one achievements.

  1. I started 2015 with my first SCBWI annual winter conference in New York where I met many of my friends in person for the first time, including four out of six of my Penguin Posse critique partners.
  2. I developed a highly detailed picture book writing course. This was a long and challenging process that I must celebrate by sharing. I consider it a huge achievement. Yay!
  3. I completed Renee LaTulippe’s fantastic course  The Lyrical Language Lab: Punching Up Prose with Poetry
  4. I attended the excellent SCBWI workshop, Tammi’s Top Picture Book Writing Secrets with Tammi Sauer and Janee Trasler
  5. I started art classes.
  6. I completed Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen’s and Kami Kinard’s Kid Lit Summer School: The Plot Thickens
  7. I helped as many fellow writers as possible with their manuscripts.
  8. I learned to practice one of my favorite survival skills, which is write from the heart – submit with detachment.
  9. I completed my 4th 12 X 12 writing challenge and my 5th PiBoIdMo challenge.
  10. I ended 2015 with a very successful launch of my picture book writing course ART OF ARC: How to Analyze Your Picture Book Manuscript (deepen your understanding of picture books written with a classic arc).

I’m already planning for next year. I recently signed up for the 2016 Big Sur at Cape Cod, Andrea Brown Literary workshop. This is doubly exciting for me because I will be meeting up with some of my Penguin Posse sisters once again.

Best wishes in 2016!

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