writing

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.

(Re)invented: Lessons from NESCBWI 2016

NESCBWI 2016 artwork by Julianne YoungI returned from my very first NESCBWI (New England Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) conference two weeks ago. I went into the conference excited and nervous, feelings not unlike those I experienced before going to summer camp or a new school. I expected to learn a lot, and I did, although not always the things I expected. Here are some of my overall take-aways.

  • An author’s an author, no matter how small. Okay, so this was a joint Dr. Seuss and NESCBWI lesson. I heard some fabulous authors and illustrators speak. I felt daunted by their success, their ever-growing lists of publications, their awards, their name recognition. But by the end of the conference I noticed a common theme running through their speeches: they’ve all experienced self-doubt at some point in their career, and often in between books. Whether you’ve just published your first book or your ninth, you start all over again on the next one. At some point that new project will try to break your heart, be it at the writing, querying, revising, or post-publication stage, or possibly (but hopefully not) at all of them! That doesn’t mean you’re less of an author. It means you ARE an author.
  • It’s all about balance. It was tempting to attend only workshops on subjects I already love. However, I realized through trial and error that balancing those close-to-home workshop topics with ones less familiar kept my creativity sparking and my wheels turning.
  • Get uncomfortable. Likewise, whether attending a workshop on a topic that was out of my comfort zone or doing something like reading at an open mic event, I felt most energized and excited in the places I felt the least comfortable.
  • Be kind. One keynote speaker mentioned he tries to be kind. The conference in general made me remember, for the thousandth time in my life, what a big difference kindness makes. Whether it was fellow writers telling me how much they liked my book or manuscript, or friends and hotel employees helping me find places to pump (fist bump to all the working nursing mamas out there!), those moments that glowed as they happened still glow now. I tried and am still trying to make some of those moments for others, too. That reminder to be kind never grows old for me.
  • Make stories, not mistakes. At the end of a long first conference (and travel) day I realized I’d been walking around with a lint sheet stuck to my bottom for the entire day. It was at that point I decided to laugh and said, “I make stories, not mistakes.” So let me tell you about the time I walked around with a  lint sheet stuck to rear end for an entire day…
  • Drink water. Lots of it. I thought I’d learned this years ago, but I battled a migraine after an accidentally dehydrated first afternoon. All that excitement! Oops.
  • Kidlit authors and illustrators are fun. Enough said.
  • Take the energy and run. After I returned home I could have just collapsed. Well, no, I couldn’t have. My supervisors (ages 3.5 years & 18 months) would not have allowed it. But all that travel time and conference adrenaline caught up with me fast once I walked back in my door. I count myself lucky that I happened to have a school visit coming up one week later. It kept me motivated to open up my conference notes and get to work right away. I wanted to incorporate some of the fabulous ideas and information I’d learned. As soon as I cracked that binder open my to-do list grew. I had e-mails to write, events to plan, and stories to write. Plus that presentation to fine tune and practice. (I knew all those years of public speaking contests and theater classes would come in handy some day!) If I or my boys had allowed my collapse, I might have let a lot slide. Instead, I have a presentation I feel great about, new connections online and in real life who make my writing gig feel a little less isolating, schemes afoot, and stories simmering.
  • (Re)invent yourself. The conference theme, “(Re)invention,” struck a chord with me. Beforehand, I had this vague sense of an impending comeuppance. Even before the conference I noticed that a new writer friend and I had both thought the other belonged in some way that the other one didn’t. I soon learned that “imposter syndrome” is a common symptom of being a writer. My (re)invention was just that, a re-identification, recreation, and recognition of myself as an author, a writer, and a member of a particularly fabulous and quirky group of people.

Thank you to all of the conference organizers, especially co-directors Josh Funk, Heather Kelly, and Marilyn Salerno, as well as speakers and workshop presenters, including Anna StaniszewskiJane YolenWendy Mass, Jen Malone, Ammi-Joan Paquette, Patrick CarmanZaneta Jung, Tara Lazar, Jarrett J. KrosoczkaMary E. Cronin & Bonnie Jackman, Colby Sharp, Matt Forrest Esenwine, and Amitha Knight. And to the hotel employee who opened a locked door for me rather than making me trudge back to the jam-packed elevator. You all inspired me! Here’s to an imaginative year ahead!

What are some favorite events or sources of inspiration in your professional life? What have they taught you?

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.

 

Photo showing 13 journals

Journaling

I have kept a journal since I was about eleven years old. Writing has always been an outlet for me, and a journal serves me as a way to release and cope with stress as well as to document mundane moments or celebrate the personal triumphs in my life. It is a place to experiment with styles and formats, although I confess I did this more in the past. Since grad school poetry has taken a backseat to other stiffer modes of expression, something I hope to change in the relatively near future.

Photo of journals stacked on top of each other

The bindings tell their own stories.

 

I have finished every journal I have ever started, with the exception of a very first attempt from 1995 which functioned as much as a notepad as it did a journal. After a second “start” in 1997, though, each journal is complete. In middle school my handwriting was tiny. So neat and minuscule, I could never now replicate it. My entries became into letters to the important people in my life. A couple of my friends then also kept journals, and we would spend hours reading entries to each other. In high school I crafted elaborate collages of images and quotations to illustrate the day-to-day descriptions. I was not the healthiest version of myself in high school, and one horrible day I left my journal at school. Thank goodness two friends found it, and both denied reading it but from their concern-tinted voices and eyes I knew they had. I felt mortified but mostly grateful that they had found it and not someone else. In college my handwriting changed to the hurried but legible scrawl that it still is today. At the busiest periods I didn’t write as much.  Still don’t. So, for example, there isn’t as much about the time I spent living in France and later Thailand as I wish.

Photo of two journals

These two journals are remnants of my time in Thailand. The one on the left was a gift from my husband, purchased from a journal-maker in Bangkok. The one on the right I brought to Thailand with me, but the painting on the cover was done by an umbrella artist in Bo Sang near Chiang Mai.

I don’t write as much as I did when I was younger. I have had only three journals since college. But I always have my journal on me just in case, and would feel uneasy without one. Almost all of my journals have been gifts. I haven’t received a new one in years, actually, and that hardly matters because I still have empty journals that people gave me well over a decade ago. There has never been any method to my selection process. I don’t use them in the order in which I received them. I tend to just choose whatever journal feels right at the moment. At one point I liked to reread all of my journals once I completed one, but have long since stopped doing that. Less time and more photo showing the start and finish dates in the front of a journaljournals. However, I did go through and number them, as well as add the start and end date to each journal. That way I can easily figure out which journal to look in if I ever want to reference a specific event. Two days ago I finished my fourteenth journal. (In the first picture, you may notice there are only thirteen journals. I didn’t miscount, one is just in a different box that has yet to be unpacked.)

Lately I have been wondering about the relationship of blogging and journaling. Things like, what proportion of bloggers also keep journals? How many used to but stopped after they began to blog? If I were a middle schooler now, would I still have that circle of friends to share journals with, or would we have jumped to a blog or online journal format instead? I’m sure someone has written about this and even studied it.

Do you keep a journal? How have your own journals changed? Share if you’re willing!

Photo of journals packed in their unglamorous bin.

Packed away again in their unglamorous bin.