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True Story Blog

Making a list and checking it twice . . .

Santa’s not the only one who likes a good list. Below are links to lists from 11 picture-book authors—from “500 Things That Kids Like” and “7 Steps to Writing Success” to “18 Ideas for a Successful Book Launch” and “10 Reason’s I’m Thankful for Children’s Books”. I’m grateful that these writers have contributed to my Q&A blog (click on author’s name above to read their #firstpicturebook interview) and that the KidLit community is so generous with their advice and support. Happy Writing and Happy Holidays! See you in 2018!

Tara Lazar’s List of 500 Things That Kids Like

Tracy Marchini’s How Can You Tell If You’re Using Picture-Book Language

Marie Lamba’s 7 Steps to Writing Success

Rebecca Grabill’s How to Promote Your First Picture Book

Josh Funk’s Marketing Strategies

Sylvia Liu’s 18 Ideas for a Successful Book Launch

Chana Steifel’s 5 Writing Lessons I Learned from an Ironwoman

Lauri Fortino’s Tending Your Story Garden

Jami Gigot’s Creating Picture Books As An Author/Illustrator

Deborah Freedman’s Resources for Writers and Illustrators of Picture Books

Katey Howes’ 10 Reason’s I’m Thankful for Children’s Books:

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Did your #firstpicturebook receive any rejection letters?

After three years of rejection, I finally sold my second picture book biography! (Check back in a few weeks to learn more about that project.) Honestly, I stopped keeping track of how many rejection letters it received once it reached 50. “We like it, but we don’t love it” seemed to be the running theme. But it wasn’t until one publisher sent me a long and thoughtful email with specific suggestions, that my manuscript clicked, clicked, CLICKED into place. So to celebrate acceptance after so much rejection, I’m reposting 10 Q&As with these #firstpicturebook authors:

Nancy Churnin: “The rejection letters came in three phases. The first phase was for the version of the story I wrote before I realized I needed to study this craft. There were lots of those! The second phase was after my lovely agent, Karen Grencik, took me on hours after reading the version I had written after taking multiple courses and challenges and gotten help from fabulous critique partners. Those were personalized and regretful rejections which were a big step up from the form letters I had gotten after submitting to the slush piles. The third phase came after I carefully considered a common thread in the comments in the rejections….”

Deborah Freedman: “SCRIBBLE received three rejection letters, for three different versions of the story. After each “pass”, I went back and started all over again. Two years of revisions definitely made the story much stronger, and I’m truly indebted to the two editors who took the time to give me honest feedback.”

Josh Funk: “I sent it to 36 agents. Two responded as if they read it. Ten sent me form rejections. The other 24 were black holes (I never received a response). So I gave up on agents. I sent it snail mail to 10 publishers that accepted unsolicited submissions. One sent back a rejection. 8 never responded. So that all adds up to 45 rejections and ...”

Ed Masessa: “My agent, Marcia Wernick, helped me polish the draft and sent it to a half dozen or so editors over the course of several months. They all came back with a “well done, but…” And all of the ‘buts’ hit upon a central theme – the story dragged. So I kept the bones of the story and went to work on picking up the pace and the fun factor.”

Brittany R. Jacobs: “We had one heckuva time selling the Kraken, and it was because of the artwork. About 20 houses turned us down because they didn't love my illustration style. There was even a point where I considered selling the manuscript and letting someone else do the artwork. Thankfully Pow! saved the day and offered a contract for both text and illustrations, and we ended up with a lovely book.”

Lori Alexander: “Oh, yes! Pre-agent, I sent the early versions to various publishers and ended up in their slush piles. There were a handful of non-responses and some form rejections. I nearly gave up at that point. The process was so slow and I didn’t feel like I was learning enough from the rejections. But the more I read, the more I realized rejections are all part of the business.…”

Camille Andros: “A. Yes! Of course! Probably around two dozen or so from agents and then editors. But I wasn't really shopping Charlotte around as much as I was THE DRESS AND THE GIRL which was the first book I wrote and was more focused on initially. That book got lots and lots of rejections, but each personalized rejection (they weren't all like that of course) and the feedback that came with it was so helpful in improving each manuscript.”

Katey Howes: “Oh, yes! I received at least ten very nice rejection letters for GRANDMOTHER THORN before getting the incredibly exciting call from Rob Broder of Ripple Grove Press. Most of the rejections claimed to love the lyricism and symbolism of the story, but said that it would be a tough sell in the current market because it was “quiet.” Several agents who read GRANDMOTHER THORN asked to see other works from me.”

Emma Bland Smith: “I didn’t receive many rejections for this manuscript, but I want to state that I have received many dozens, maybe even hundreds, of rejections, in total, for all my of manuscripts, over the six or so years I’ve been submitting! And I still am. With JOURNEY, it was a case of the right story getting to the right publisher at the right time. I’m very grateful.”

Susan Hood: “My first version had the same main character and the same ending, but it was a completely different story. A more modern story. My editor thought it had possibilities, but it was rejected in Acquisitions. I was so disappointed, I stuck it in a drawer for years.”

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A former architect, award-winning author and illustrator Deborah Freedman looks back to 2007 and talks about how she constructed her first picture book SCRIBBLE—"a clever gem of a book" (Publishers Weekly).

Q. Was SCRIBBLE the first picture book manuscript that you ever wrote? If not, what was the first picture book you wrote and what happened to it?
A. Oh my goodness no, SCRIBBLE is not the first picture book I ever wrote! I’d been messing around with picture book ideas for years before SCRIBBLE. My first books were tiny, personal little things that I made for my daughters when they were babies; eventually I started taking myself more seriously and made books with titles like THE PRINCESS SISTERS, and HERE COMES THE MARCHING BAND. I think of them now as ‘practice books’, an absolutely necessary part of my writing education, but tucked away in a dead-dummy drawer, where they belong.

Q. What inspired SCRIBBLE?
A. My daughters would have spent their entire childhoods drawing at the kitchen table, if I’d let them. They would draw one elaborate scene after another, and say, “write this down, Mommy. This is a picture of… the kitties are dancing around a maypole and then they will have cake,“and I’d dutifully write whatever along the bottom of the picture. I adore kids’ drawings, and one of my favorite things about them is that there is almost always a story behind them. Ask a child about even the scratchiest scribble, and chances are, there’s an imaginative narrative that goes with it. So all of that gave me the idea to tell a story about two sisters who like to draw, and the story behind their drawings.

Q. How did you pick the title of your book?
A. I really don’t remember… the title was there from the very beginning.

Q. What is your favorite part of the book? And was that part in the first draft?
A. My favorite part is probably when the two drawings, Scribble and Aurora, fall in love — an essential part of the book which was not there until the final draft. Which just goes to show —sometimes the best ideas arrive during revisions!

Q. How did you select the names for your characters? 
A. The sisters were named after my daughters, Emma and Lucie, although looking back, that was probably not a very good idea! Because the story isn’t true, and I still feel bad when people assume that it is. The real Emma and Lucie were mostly very kind to each other when they were little, but that would not have made a very interesting story. The Princess’s name, Aurora, comes from Sleeping Beauty.

Q. Why did you decide to tell the story in third person?
A. The story is, in part, a slanted take on Sleeping Beauty, so I wanted it to have a fairy tale voice.

Q. How much of the story did you know when you began writing SCRIBBLE? 
A. I knew that it would be about a child who imagines her drawing coming to life, who runs away with her drawing.

Q. Did you write the story first, then illustrate it? Or did the images appear before the words?
A. I tend to “write with words and pictures” together. If I'm not doodling in a sketchbook or making thumbnail sketches while I’m writing, I at least have images in my head. It’s hard for me to separate the two.

Q. When you submitted SCRIBBLE to publishers, did it receive any rejection letters? If so, how many (ballpark)?
A. SCRIBBLE received three rejection letters, for three different versions of the story. After each “pass”, I went back and started all over again. Two years of revisions definitely made the story much stronger, and I’m truly indebted to the two editors who took the time to give me honest feedback.

Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on SCRIBBLE.
A. Thrilled… and a little flabbergasted! After working on the book for so long, I could hardly believe it would one day be “finished” and that an editor was actually calling me.

Q. How long did SCRIBBLE take to be published—from the time you received an offer until it was printed?
A. SCRIBBLE was released about two years after the initial offer — one year after I turned in the final art.

Q. Is there anything you would change in the book today if you could reprint it? (Was there a part that you really loved but had to edit out? Or did you think of something later that you wanted to add?)
A. Well… I would redo the art. My skills have improved in the last ten years! But I’m still proud of the story as it is.

Q. When you do readings of SCRIBBLE, which part of the book gets the best reaction?
A. No question, the spread where Scribble gives Aurora a kiss! I never know if kids will say “awwww….” or “eeeeewwwww!” Either way, it’s always a funny moment.

Q. Can you share any funny or memorable parts of letters from kids about SCRIBBLE?
A. I love getting children’s drawings, their versions of Scribble and Aurora. But here’s the best ever letter I received, after a SCRIBBLE school visit: I loved the presentation with Deborah Freedman and the book of SCRIBBLE. The presentation was so AWSOME. I want to read the book SCRIBBLE for every second of my life!

Q. What is your #1 tip to those who want to write picture books?
A. READ READ READ, and then read some more. With intention.

Q. What are you working on now?
A. My 7th picture book. I feel so lucky to be saying that.

Thanks, Karlin, for asking me to revisit SCRIBBLE!

To learn more about Deborah's works including her upcoming book SHY, visit her at her website or @deborahfreedman.
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