So long ago. So far away. Almost in another galaxy. Well, at least in the pre-Covid year of 2010, I met my agent at a small workshop in Somerville, MA. That meeting led to a trusted relationship and to the publication of several picture book manuscripts. I’m forever grateful to Ammi-Joan Paquette, both her positivity and her patience. As it turns out, she is pretty good with acrostics, too! You may find more about her books here.
Long before her first book, Baby Moon, was published or even accepted, I met Hayley Barrett. Actually, long before she shared my same agent, Ammi-Joan Paquette. Even then, I knew Hayley was going places. Why? Because she has the art of generosity down pat. She gives of herself and her talents without asking for anything in return. It has been my privilege to see that generosity rewarded in abundance. If you would like to learn more about Hayley and her lovely books, look right here!
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?
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.
For any writers in the area, I’d highly recommend the Kinship Writers. Here’s my article on that experience.
Some things don’t go as planned. When I showed up at the Armory in Somerville one Sunday morning last June, I was surprised to see the Kinship Writers coordinators, Jessica and Erin, standing outside of a locked door. I was already nervous about this session with agent, Ammi-Joan Paquette (of the Erin Murphy Literary Agency).At the last Kinship workshop, I’d felt a bit like a fish out of water. After allI’d beenthe sole picture book author in a room full of Middle Grade and YA writers. Not to mention navigating my way into the city from the sticks had been a bit of a challenge.But this looked like a great group of fellow writers gathered outside the Armory’s door, along with an agent who actually representedpicture book authors (a dying breed). The only real problem was the locked door.
About this time a few of us noticed the Little Sisters of the Poor conveniently located across the street.Erin bounded over to the Sisters and came back with good news. Not only did they have room, but the facility was an even better fit. As it turned out, so was my experience that day. Immediately, I felt drawn to Ms. Paquette. She had a graceful and generous spirit, and her critique of each person’s work was truly insightful. Since we were a small group, Ms. Paquette spent plenty of time with each person and her work.
Still, the process of “hooking” an agent felt like dating at this point in my writing career. One has to experience a whole lot of toads and polliwogs before discovering “the prince.” I’d almost given up hope before taking Erin and Jessica’s workshop. After my first book (My Sister, Alicia May), I’d assumed it would be easy to find a publisher for my other manuscripts. Instead I’d spent years researching publishers and waiting for their reply. I was in need of an expert, and that’s exactly what I found in Ms. Paquette. Thankfully the Kinship Writers helped me to reach the castle’s drawbridge.
As I sat at the round table that day, I could tell I’d found “the one.” But as with all relationships, the question was whether it was mutual admiration. At the end of the day, I found an invitation on my stories to submit my revisions to Ms. Paquette’s attention. The tiniest spark of interest is, of course,a cause for celebration for any writer. But I had been down this road before, having spent a year revising for an agent in NYC-only to be let down in the end. So I revised and wrote and revised again. Basically I held my breath until February 3rd, 2011. That is the day I received a call from Ms. Paquette asking if I’d be interested in working with her. By then I’d witnessed her wonderful critique skills up close and there was no way I’d turn away from such invaluable advice. Just like the famous insurance company says, it’s really nice to have someone “on your side.” And it all began with a small step, and one very special workshop.
If you are searching for an intimate setting in which to hone your craft, or a chance to meet face to face with an editor or agent, I wouldn’t look any further than the Kinship Writers.