new author

Processing: quickest rejection yet

First, let me catch you up to speed a bit. I currently have about 10 picture book manuscripts that I’ve written in the last year. Two of these I have submitted a few places. I am unagented, and up till now I have focused my submissions more on editors, at first because it just seemed like a starting place, and then because I began to get good feedback. I went back and forth with an editor at a fabulous publishing house for a few rounds of revisions on one manuscript, and during that time I stopped submitting it (rookie mistake), even though I didn’t have a contract. Her feedback was immensely helpful and I have zero doubt that it made my story stronger. Ultimately after about six months, though, she passed. I stretched that manuscript every which way trying to improve it after that. But the stretch shows and the story is tired and I’ve tucked it away for the time being. A break will do us good, and I’ll come back to it in the coming months.

I have likewise received a couple of nibbles on the second manuscript I submitted; the encouraging not-quite-yesses and champagne rejections: editors that ask for revisions, dream agents that say not yet but to keep submitting to them. And in this business, when you get those responses, you, or at least I, do break out the champagne (okay, prosecco) to celebrate. I brought the second manuscript to Picture Book Boot Camp with me and to a critique at NESCBWI, and the feedback from both places launched a new round of revisions.

The story is ready for a new round of submissions and check-ins with the editors that asked for revisions. I began by submitting it to some agents that had been recommended to me this morning. Because of the short nature of picture book manuscripts, typically you either copy and paste the entire text within the body of your submission or attach it as a word doc or pdf. One of the agencies had me fill out a form and not include the text, though. It said something to the effect of if they were interested they’d request the manuscript. Again, this is unusual with picture book submissions.

Well I heard back from them in less than two hours that they were not interested in moving forward with representation. I.e. they didn’t even want to read the story! Oof! I guess it’s kind of a relief to hear back that quickly. In most cases it takes weeks and months to get a response, and in some cases you never hear back. But it also stinks.

What do I do after such a speedy, disheartening rejection? Well, I cut myself a slice of strawberry rhubarb pie (if you’re interested in my baking escapades you should follow me on Instagram), made a cup of tea, indulged in both. I wrote this blog post, because I promised I would include you in my process, and, as I expected, it’s already helping me.

And now I will get back to my lists and figure out who to submit to next. Onwards! 

Strawberry rhubarb pie

My imperfect but tasty pie came to the rescue!

 

 

Processing: an invitation

Spreading my wings at the Eric Carle Museum

In the last month I’ve attended Picture Book Boot Camp with Jane Yolen, spoken on a high school Creative Careers Panel, gone to NESCBWI Annual, and spent a day in Augusta at Reading Round-Up. In between I’ve worked on picture book revisions, and written some drafts of new picture books. I’ve also received notes from friends and acquaintances asking about next steps they should take as they write, prepare to publish, or think about marketing.

 

While I’m still processing all of these experiences, together they’ve made me think about how I tell stories. How I write my manuscripts, of course, but also how I write about my experiences here and on social media.

 

I noticed a common thread woven through the events of the past month, not a main theme, but a repeated sidenote: what we see of an artist’s experiences represents their successes. But even the most successful authors (and yes, I do mean J. K. Rowling), have faced loads of rejections and setbacks in their careers.

 

I’m at the beginning of my writing career, and I don’t have tons of books to celebrate. Maybe (hopefully!) someday, but not yet. I have one, and believe me, I continue to celebrate the heck out of it! The truth is I haven’t encountered the bulk of my rejection letters. The majority of them lie ahead.

 

And I think I’d like to share them with you.

 

The world of children’s book publishing is full of mystery, even to those of us in the thick of it. I have worked on both ends of it, and there remains so much I need to learn! At the same time readers, teachers, librarians, and other writers enjoy hearing about an author’s process and journey, especially the obstacles. After all, we share a love of stories, and any good story includes a good challenge. So while I can’t yet offer you news about my next book contract (I don’t have one), I can let you in on my process. I can include you on my journey. Maybe it will be useful to you. More likely it will prove helpful to me.

 

So let’s make it official: welcome. I am an unagented, traditionally published children’s book author, a librarian, a historian, and a mom. I’m scared to make public a path that includes sometimes personal and sometimes even bitter disappointments. At the same time one of the most important things I’ve learned so far in my career is that there are rejections worth celebrating, and closed doors that lead to open doors. We’ll talk more about those another time. For this next year I will try to offer you an honest glimpse of what it’s like to write, submit, revise, learn about a peculiar and secretive business, connect with readers, and find triumph in unexpected places. I invite you along on my steps and stumbles.* Here goes nothing!

photo of young boy on rock ledge at Acadia National Park

Braving the path. Okay, my kiddo, not me, but he’s much braver, anyway.

 

*I reserve the right to end this experiment at any time and hide back in my writing/waiting hole.

The Getty Trip: Woven Gold

Happy New Year! It’s 2016, the year of Thérèse! The official publication date is March 8th of this year, woohoo! But right now I’m here to actually share some of my experience from the end of 2015 when the first small wave of publication occurred. Thérèse Makes A Tapestry became available for purchase from the J. Paul Getty Museum — on site and online — in mid-December. I was fortunate to be able to travel to Los Angeles for this initial “soft launch” as well as the opening of Woven Gold, the exhibit to which Thérèse is tied.

Image of the Getty Museum from the bottom of the main steps

The Getty Museum (photo by Alexandra Hinrichs)

Photo of Bruce Dean and Julie Southwell, an uncle and his niece, at the Getty Museum

Bruce Dean and Julie Southwell (photo by Alexandra Hinrichs)

Most of my trip was spent at the Getty Center, and honestly I would go back and do the same thing all over again. What an incredible museum! I couldn’t get over the fact that it is free to the public–you just have to pay for parking if you drive (which obviously, in LA, you do). The site alone is spectacular: the architecture, the views, the gardens. Then there are the exhibits. I had a single track on repeat in my head: “Wow.” In another landscape it might all be sensory overload, but weaving in and out of the museum was completely relaxing. The breaths of fresh air, the sunshine, and the glimpses of hills and ocean built pauses into the days. Except at night where the cold wind was more a shock to the system, but that was a different story.

On Sunday I stopped by the main bookstore to sign copies of Thérèse. Walking into a bustling store and seeing my book on the shelf was an event in and of itself. My father and my cousin and their friends were with me which brought on all the oohing and aahing I could hope for. If you want fanfare for things like the publication of your first book, it’s best to travel with family.

Photo of Alexandra Hinrichs with Thérèse Makes A Tapestry on the Shelf at the Getty Bookstore

Ta da! After my first sighting of Thérèse Makes A Tapestry on the bookstore shelf (photo courtesy of Bruce R. Dean)

These are the things I learned from signing copies:

  • I should have a favorite pen I like to use. I do not yet. I’m working on this. (That’s not entirely true–I have a type of pen I love to use and I fondly recall the experience of writing with it, but I can’t remember what kind of pen it actually is and whether I own it. I have tried unsuccessfully to reproduce this writing experience.)
  • I am clearly a newbie at this because I plowed through the towering stack of books and even signed another towering stack and laughed off a comment about my hand cramping. As if hand cramps could stop me from signing! I was so excited! Some day I hope to be a really famous, hand-cramped author who cannot bear to sign another copy. Or at least who will do a better job a playing it cool.
  • where to sign my name on the title page.
  • that it is actually possible to misspell my name.

On Monday I finally got to meet members of the book team in person! This included my wonderful editor for Thérèse, Elizabeth Nicholson, who took us on a tour of Getty Publications. The set-up brought me back to my American Girl days and I felt right at home, except there were wall to ceiling windows that let in the most incredible amount of natural light everywhere and had some unbeatable views. Then it was off to the big press event up the hill.

Photo of tapestry curator, author, illustrator, and editor in front of The Getty's version of the Chateau of Monceau/Month of December Tapestry

Exhibit curator Charissa Bremer-David, Author Alexandra Hinrichs, Illustrator Renée Graef, Editor Elizabeth Nicholson in front of the Chateau of Monceau/Month of December, part of The Getty’s collection (photo by Alexandra Hinrichs)

The highlights, not in chronological order, from the press event were:

  • meeting Renée Graef in person. I can’t state enough how in love I am with Renée’s illustrations of Thérèse, and I was glad to finally be able to give her the hug I’d been hanging onto for so long! In fact, I’d actually met her briefly back in Madison at a Wisconsin Book Festival Event after an illustrators’ panel (that also included Kevin Henkes). Funny that our next encounter should be in Los Angeles, and amazing that it should be after working together on a picture book! Things worth noting: she wears fabulous hats.
  • meeting Charissa Bremer-David in person. Charissa is another person about whom I can just gush. Curator of sculpture and decorative Arts at the Getty, she is an expert on French decorative arts, and her expertise shines through in the new exhibit catalog Woven Gold as well as her other books on French tapestries. Charissa is so knowledgable and gracious with her time and willingness to share that knowledge. She always took time to talk to me on the phone or by e-mail, answer questions and even to do original research when we ran across a stumbling block over how gilded thread was made, all while organizing this monumental exhibit, working on two books of her own, and contributing to goodness knows how many other projects.
  • signing more copies of Thérèse for various reporters and especially signing copies to each other (Renée, Charissa, Elizabeth, and I called this our “yearbook signing,” and it was full of smiles and laughs).
  • the chocolate peppermint cookies.
  • and finally…seeing the tapestries.
Me, a very happy author, after seeing the Chateau of Monceau/Month of December tapestry for the first time. The tapestry is on loan to The Getty Museum from the Mobilier National (photo by Alexandra Hinrichs)

Me, a very happy author after seeing the Chateau of Monceau/Month of December tapestry for the first time. The tapestry is on loan to The Getty Museum from the Mobilier National (photo by Alexandra Hinrichs)

Close-up of the Chateau of Monceau/Month of December (photo by Alexandra Hinrichs)

Close-up of the Chateau of Monceau/Month of December (photo by Alexandra Hinrichs)

Oh my goodness. Walking into a room full of these enormous tapestries is truly spectacular. Breathtaking. There is nothing that compares to seeing them in person. No photographs or descriptions can possibly do them justice, because their grandeur in size and in material cannot be adequately captured. I felt extra lucky to be seeing them with Charissa as a tour guide. She is quite the storyteller herself. For me, seeing the tapestry called The Chateau of Monceau/Month of December was particularly emotional. This is the tapestry that inspired Thérèse, and Thérèse weaves its likeness. I had looked at this tapestry in books, on computer monitors and iPhone screens, and lived with it in my head for a couple of years. So when we entered the final room of Woven Gold and there it was…well…my eyes weren’t exactly dry. The gold threads glint in the light in a way they just can’t in pictures. The range of colors and the minute details are extraordinary.

Detail of Chateau of Monceau/Month of December border which better displays the gilded thread (photo by Alexandra Hinrichs)

Detail of Chateau of Monceau/Month of December border which better displays the gilded thread (photo by Alexandra Hinrichs)

The textures beg to be touched. I wanted to touch it. I didn’t. But I really really wanted to. The Chateau of Monceau/Month of December was actually cleaned in Belgium and conserved by weavers at the Gobelins Manufactory (now part of the Mobilier National) over a period of 9 months in preparation for the Woven Gold exhibit.

Thérèse Makes A Tapestry on display in the Woven Gold exhibit (photo by Alexandra Hinrichs)

Thérèse Makes A Tapestry on display in the Woven Gold exhibit (photo by Alexandra Hinrichs)

Across the room in mirror image is another smaller version of the tapestry. The first was made for Kind Louis XIV, the other for a private patron at a slightly later date. Both these versions of the Chateau of Monceau/Month of December are depicted in Thérèse Makes A Tapestry. In between the two tapestries in the exhibition room is a table with a couple of books on display, including Thérèse. I love that she is there, hugged by the tapestries she “made” and that made her.

By the time we went to the exhibit opening that night, I didn’t think I could feel much happier. Champagne toasts with the book team and another visit to the tapestries proved me wrong. And this time I got to show my family– my dad, my cousin, and my brother– the tapestries, too.

Author yours truly, Illustrator Renée Graef, Designer Jim Drobka, Production Manager Elizabeth Kahn, Editor Elizabeth Nicholson (photo courtesy of Bruce R. Dean)

Author yours truly, Illustrator Renée Graef, Designer Jim Drobka, Production Manager Elizabeth Kahn, Editor Elizabeth Nicholson (photo courtesy of Bruce R. Dean)

Bruce Dean and Alexandra Hinrichs in front of The Chateau of Monceau/Month of December tapestry (photo courtesy of Bruce R. Dean)

Bruce Dean and Alexandra Hinrichs in front of The Chateau of Monceau/Month of December tapestry (photo courtesy of Bruce R. Dean)

Woven Gold exhibit opening at The Getty Museum (photo courtesy of Bruce R. Dean)

Woven Gold exhibit opening at The Getty Museum (photo courtesy of Bruce R. Dean)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tuesday we returned to the Getty one last time in the morning. It’s hard to explain the connection I felt to the tapestry, it wasn’t something I anticipated to be honest. But I found myself wanting to see it one last time. Chances are I will never see the tapestry again, and I wanted to feast my eyes on it one last time and say goodbye. I did, and felt satisfied even if a bit sad. However, then I got to go to another exhibit and get some inspiration for a new book. And my dad, brother, and I spent the afternoon in Santa Monica, which was the perfect note to end the trip on before heading back to the hotel to pack up for early flights.

Throughout the visit what struck me most was how special this whole project really was. I mean, of course I like to think everyone loved this book. It was my first book! But meeting everyone in person– Elizabeth, Renée, Charissa, designer Jim Drobka, production manager Elizabeth Kahn, and others– I kept thinking, “Wow, they all loved this project, too!” It’s hard to gauge that from a distance (or at least a distance of Maine to California). The reminder of their investment meant the world to me.

If you are anywhere near the Getty or planning a trip to the area between now and May, I urge you all to run to the Woven Gold exhibit. Some of these tapestries have not been together in centuries, and most have never been so accessible to view as they are often hung at lofty heights and not at eye level. It is remarkable and luxurious and the stories within the tapestries are a treat.

Author, editor, and illustrator gazing up at the Chateau of Monceau/Month of December Tapestry (photo courtesy of Bruce R. Dean)

Author, editor, and illustrator gazing up at the Chateau of Monceau/Month of December Tapestry (photo courtesy of Bruce R. Dean)

For more information about the exhibit and the history of tapestries, take a look at the articles below:

Also be sure to watch The Art of Making a Tapestry, a video that shows the weaving process at the Gobelins Manufactory. (Getty Museum)


Explore the full gallery of photos from the trip

Check out Bruce Dean’s website to see even more of his photography and artwork.

Secret #2: Picture book coming!

It’s August. How did that happen?! It’s not only August, it’s the very end of August. As in almost September. I can hardly believe how quickly the summer has flown by, in a way that only summers can. Life here has been full of travel, visits with family, adventures by the sea, weekly trips to our CSA farm, digging around in our own small garden, work, deadlines, my son’s second birthday (holy cow, I have a two-year-old), reading (of course), and…writing.

This summer I haven’t just been writing in my journal. In fact, my journal has been about as neglected as this blog. I have been writing a story that you all can read next year when it comes out as a picture book!

I am very excited to announce that I am the author of a forthcoming children’s book fromGetty Publications, due out November 2015. Excited is an understatement. This is a long-held dream come true, and I feel just plain lucky. Does luck ever feel plain actually? I feel extraordinary and giddy in my luck!

The picture book, with the working title Therese Makes a Tapestry, tells the story of a young girl whose family works at the Gobelins Manufactory during the era of Louis XIV. It is being published on the occasion of a major exhibition of French royal tapestries at theGetty.

Through the wonders of Skype, I have been able to meet the team of incredible individuals that I’m collaborating with, including my amazing editor and the fabulous illustrator. I truly couldn’t be happier with the process so far. Again, I thank my lucky stars.

So that’s the secret I meant to share much earlier this summer. Thanks for sticking with me as I come and go! Stay tuned for more book updates in the future.