November 16th, NCTE 18, Houston TX 12:30-1:45 pm, presenting on a panel “The Power of Quiet: Helping Introverts (Quietly) Speak Up” with four other awesome authors: Jennifer Chambliss Bertman, Erin Entrada Kelly, Nancy Tupper Ling, and Tamara Smith. 3:30 pm, Signing at the Penguin Booth on the exhibit floor.
November 24th, Book Signing, Annie’s Book Stop, Worcester, MA
Funny thing! My Dad told me this a lot growing up: “Go ahead! It never hurts to ask!” As a shy child, I wasn’t so sure. Secretly I hoped things would work out on their own so I wouldn’t need to say a word. Requesting information, like “how much does that movie cost” or “where do you shelve the toilet paper,” took a monumental dose of bravery on my part. I am the model child for Susan Cain’s book Quiet.
Whether we like it or not, life provides opportunities to stretch ourselves, even on a daily basis. Contrary to popular belief, I don’t stick my head into books all the time as a librarian. I am called to be social and help our patrons. Likewise a big part of my day is spent answering patrons’ questions, which means asking a few of my own. And, as I’ve discovered, asking the right question at the right time can sometimes bring surprising results.
Case in point, several years ago I asked a question that changed my life. For years I’d submitted my poetry to June Cotner’s anthologies. When several of my poems first appeared in Baby Blessings, I was over the moon. After that first acceptance, June and I began corresponding regularly and she soon became my mentor in so many ways.
Then in the summer of 2012 I discovered I’d be heading from Boston to Seattle for a writer’s retreat. At last June and I were to meet in person!
Before my trip June happened to mention that she was overwhelmed with work because her assistant had recently moved away. Without hesitation, I asked the simplest of questions: “June, is there any little thing I can do to help you from the East Coast?” I thought I might assist her by reading a few of the many submissions she receives regularly.
I was completely shocked by her answer. “Well Nancy, how would you like to coauthor a book together?”
I don’t think anything could have knocked my socks off more. I could barely reply with a “Wow!” and a “Really?” and yet my travels to Seattle began a new phase in our relationship. We were becoming coauthors! Of course, that initial question was followed by many more. What project should we work on first? How should I gather entries to our anthology? Who would we submit our proposal to?
As it turns out, Toasts: The Perfect Words to Celebrate Every Occasion was our first book together. June graciously walked me through every step of the way. While I’d written poetry and children’s books before, this was a whole new experience for me. I had so much to learn. What am I talking about? I am still learning.
This New Year’s Day we signed a contract with Andrews McMeel for our second co-authored book entitled Family Celebrations, and thanks to the fabulous work of our agent, Anne Marie O’Farrell (Marcil-O’Farrell Literary LLC), we are excited to say our first children’s anthology, For Every Little Thing, has been accepted by Eerdman’s Publishing. On top of that, we have co-authored a children’s manuscript called Be Creative that my agent, Ammi-Joan Paquette (Erin Murphy Literary Agency) is shopping around.
Yes, I have to say, I find that I am pinching myself on a regular basis these days. Could this all be real? It is hard to believe this long and winding road to publication is part of this shy girl’s journey. To think it all began with a question, or maybe two or three. What do you think about that?
What a busy spring with school visits galore! And yet there’s nothing like a spontaneous hug from a student, the creation of classroom poems, and the signing of a book to a new reader. After all, isn’t that what writing for kids is all about?
Here’s a few photos of my most recent visits to local schools (Wrentham & Norfolk), a Boston school (Joseph P. Tynan), the Coolidge Elementary School (Shrewsbury) and the Tuscarawas County Public Library (OH). Did I mention I had a blast!?
I love all of the poems that the students created, each and every one, but there are always a few that are unforgettable, like the boy who wrote about his bed being his favorite place in the world (yes, I agree wholeheartedly).
Happy Summer, my school friends! See you again in the Fall (should I have said that four-lettered word?)
In many ways, I’m still the girl who needs advice on how to get published. Sometimes it’s hard to believe that in the last 10 years, I’ve had 7 books published, three of them for children.
That said, a lot of people have been asking me how to break into the world of children’s publishing lately. After a great guffaw (as in, “you’re asking me?”), I would say the following 6 items are essential. I’ve written them in the form of a letter.
Dear Future Children’s Author,
Here’s my advice to you:
1. Join a critique group. Yes, it may take a while to find the “right” group, but I don’t know anyone whose manuscript is ready to submit by the first draft, or even by the 25th draft, in the case of my story, Double Happiness.
2. Join and attend a SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) conference. Not only will you meet others who are striving toward the same goal, but you will connect with agents, editors, and well-known authors who know their stuff.
3. Look for an agent. The right agent not only moves your manuscript out of the publisher’s infamous slush pile, she makes your stories shine. Not to mention, it’s a little known fact that the best agents are fully trained as counselors who will wipe away your tears and tell you to get back in the writing saddle.
4. Write (and illustrate) more than one story. I can’t tell you how many people have told me they have a story, but they haven’t written it yet. Or they’ve written one story, but that’s all. You need to have at least 5 quality manuscripts in your back pocket when you’re working on Steps 1-3 above.
5. Learn to listen and have a bucket load of patience. It’s the only way your dreams will come true. Each rejection, each road diverged, is a learning experience. If you close your ears to some of the best advice you can find along the way, you’re going to end up at a dead end vs the mountain top.
6. And, once you’ve “arrived,” once you’ve been published, never forget that you, yes you, asked a lot of questions along the way. Maybe it’s your turn to share your knowledge. After all, a generous author is a happy author.
Confession! I am completely biased. I have loved The Nian Monster ever since I heard Andrea Wang read her manuscript at one of our writing retreats. Wang and I both belong to the Erin Murphy Literary Agency (aka The Agency with the Best Client Retreats). And, yes, Alina Chau illustrated my book, Double Happiness, so I fell in love with her water colors quite some time ago.
That said, who wouldn’t want to take a journey with The Nian Monster? Wang has created a thoroughly beguiling story of the Chinese New Year with her feisty character, Xingling. Xingling is as loveable as Kungfu Panda and smart and wily as Word Girl.
For years the Nian Monster has been afraid to return to Shanghai during the new year because of the three things— “loud sounds, fire, and the color red.” However, Nian has grown accustomed to these tricks and has returned this year to devour Shanghai. Of course Nian begins to realize what a wise, brave girl is challenging him. Xingling knows that the way to tackle this pesky monster is through his mind and his stomach, as well as a few firecrackers in the end.
With Wang’s lyrical text and Chau’s heart-warming illustrations, children will want to jump into Chinese New Year in this new way. They might even discover a unique way to frighten the Nian Monster, perhaps with a few Shanghai dumplings of their own.
When I sat down to write out my resolutions for the year, something occurred to me. The very place where I work, the public library, holds the key to many of my future goals and desires. How can that be, you might ask? Check it out here!
I am always amazed to hear stories of authors and illustrators who never connect during the picture book process. How can this be? I know publishers can be a bit leery of any author-illustrator relationship pre-publication. After all the author might attempt to influence the illustrator, or squash her creativity. But I LOVE to find my illustrator on social media right away. If the chance arises to meet her in person, all the better. And the ultimate meet up? You got it! A book signing together.
Chronicle Books was the perfect matchmaker when they paired illustrator, Alina Chau, with my story Double Happiness. Besides being uber-talented, she’s delightful and humble and fun. While I’ve known this for some time, this summer was the first time I was able to see her in action at our signings in California.
First, we visited Luan Stauss’ Laurel Bookstore in Oakland. Alina’s dog, Coco, joined us. When you’re reading Double Happiness, see if you can find Coco in the book.
Photo by Selina Liu
We had a few celebrities join us at our signings, too. Here’s Mike Jung and his famous donuts:
The next weekend we were privileged to be part of an inaugural event thanks to the Book Shop West Portal and West Portal branch of the San Francisco Public Library. Alina and I read Double Happiness in two voices (Gracie’s and Jake’s) at the library. Alina showed the audience how to draw a few of the characters.
We had a celebrity there, too–the lovely Deborah Underwood.
Our last stop was a totally new venue for me. Trickter is a gallery/bookstore in Berkeley, run by Anita Coulter.
See what happens when you hang with your illustrator! A whole new world opens before you.
Now if I can only entice Alina to visit the east coast for a few double signings here. That will be extra happy occasion, for sure.
(As an aside, I had the best fig pizza ever from Summer Kitchen in Berkeley, but I didn’t get to try Mike’s donuts)
I had such a fantastic visit at the Hardy Elementary School in Wellesley last week. Together we created seasonal poems about winter and summer. I also gave them a creative writing assignment. They answered 10 questions about their favorite place. These questions served as prompts for their Poetry of Place poems. You won’t believe what amazing poems these first graders wrote. Click on FirstGradePoemsMsGiampetro to read their work!