Hear ye! Hear ye! It’s Monday and that means it’s time for #AuthorAcrostics. You’re probably getting the hang of this now, but I’m privileged to have the fabulous Nandini Bajpai here today. Please enjoy her fun acrostic and check out here website here
I know this is a big week, and most people are eagerly awaiting other news in this country. That said, I hope you’ll take the time to check out this week’s #AuthorAcrostics with my friend, Josh Funk. His books are so contagiously silly, we all become kids when we read them. Check out his website here.
It is a special day when Lynda Mullaly Hunt stops by as my guest for #AuthorAcrostics. I often say “I knew Lynda when…,” meaning I knew her before her first book sale, back when she ran the Whispering Pines retreat. Lynda attended my first book-signing for my first picture book, My Sister, Alicia May, back in 2009. Well, guess what? She’s the same easy-going, kind-hearted person after becoming a New York Times bestseller as she was beforehand. But you probably knew that already. Hope you enjoy Lynda’s words on this page. You can link to her website here.
It’s been a bit daunting, this new world of COVID-19. As difficult and overwhelming as it’s been, however, there has been an amazing outpouring of goodness from the world of libraries and authors.
While my spring school visits have been canceled, I’ve had some wonderful opportunities to still “meet” with children and families online.
I had one visit with my coworker, Ms Kate, from the Morrill Memorial Library. You may find that conversation here
Likewise, I was able to lead a Double Happiness poetry workshop online that Kate Messner posted on her blog
I hope you find a little time in the midst of this chaos, to nurture your writing and your self.
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?
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.
All the best,
(a grateful client of the Erin Murphy Literary Agency)
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.
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.
Our last stop was a totally new venue for me. Trickter is a gallery/bookstore in Berkeley, run by Anita Coulter.
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)
A novice children’s author rarely has a say in the choice of illustrator for her book. That said, I’ve been delighted every time by my publishers’ match-making abilities. When I first saw Jessica Lanan’s illustrations, I fell in love. In great part this was because her art carried me into the story. It flowed beautifully. If you click here, you can learn about the Golden Spiral and how it helped Jessica illustrate The Story I’ll Tell.
One afternoon in July, my Grandmother and Auntie Babe decided to take me and my cousin, Beth, for a hike up Blue Hills. We were ten or eleven. I’m not sure. It was one of those memorable days, not because of the weather (hot and sticky) or the scenery (I remember watching for rattlers someone reported). No, it was because of our silly commentary. My cousin and I sounded more senior than the seniors we were with, as if we’d stepped off the nursing home bus.
“My legs are killing me,” I said.
“You can say that again,” my cousin chimed in.
With that my Grandmother and Aunt howled. We weren’t even a quarter of the way up the hill. And this became one of those legendary family stories. How wimpy the next generation is, or something like that. Doesn’t take much, does it?
Getting up that hill took quite a bit of effort. Needless to say we were pooped after the first few switchbacks. This was quite a surprise to us. We had our walking shoes and sticks. We were young and energetic. We thought we could beat our relatives to the top, no problem. Boy did we have a few things to learn.
So too with writing, and more so with publishing. I thought writing came easily. It was natural, a gift. After all, this is where I excelled. Chemistry was a natural disaster. Economics ruined my first semester in college, but give me an article to write, a short story to create, and I was golden.
Or so I thought. But when I began to submit my poetry for publication on a cold day in 1999, I got a reality check. My first rejection letter appeared in the mail. Soon I was keeping a pin cushion by my desk. I stuck red pins in for all of my rejections. Now and then I’d add green for a meager acceptance. I was starting to see this took leg work, and my legs were killing me.
You can say that again! It wasn’t as easy as whipping out a poem one night and seeing it in The New Yorker the next month. This was a climb. Allowing your work to be workshopped and critiqued is never easy, but for most of us, it’s the only way to perfect your art.
With picture books, it’s the same story. I can work and rework a story. I can revise for editors and agents, change my characters from boys to ducks. I can add words, subtract metaphors, and editors will claim to love it. Still, the Big Kahuna editor who sits on the top of Blue Hill may decide it’s not quirky enough or too quiet. *)(*^%&)_4%# So I rework it, and send it out again.
So when is it done? I have two answers. Ellen Bryant Voigt is famous for telling one poetry student, “Honey, it’s all draft until you die.” Certainly this is one thought, but I have another. When I received a phone call announcing my grand prize from Writer’s Digest, I was on a mountain, literally. I was attending the Frost Festival of Poetry in Franconia, New Hampshire. The poem (White Birch) that won the prize was being critiqued when I received that famous call. Some people had no idea what the poem was about. Some people suggested fewer words. Others thought I should expand it. And many had valid points. Still, in the middle of all that, several editors at Writer’s Digest thought it deserved grand prize.
My point? Work hard. Rewrite, and rewrite some more. At some point it will be a winner in an editor’s mind, even if “it’s all draft until you die.” Someone will always have another criticism to add to the pile. Only you, the author, can decide when it’s done. But it’s worth the back-breaking climb and then some. “You can say that again!”