Guest blog by Carol Gordon Ekster
When rejections pile up for a manuscript, it often gets tucked away in a drawer. But, you should always be ready to pull it out again. That's what happened with TRUCKER KID (Capstone, 2023).
I had written a picture book in 2013 when I visited my daughter and we dined at my favorite restaurant. I couldn't help but overhear a family's conversation at a nearby table. Three-year-old Athena was discussing a trucking trip she took with her daddy. My writing brain ignited, and I immediately had my title, Trucker Girl. I told the family that I was a children's author, how their discussion inspired a title, and I asked for their contact information.
I came home from that trip and took out library books on trucks and trucking. I knew nothing about this topic. One month later I started e-mailing with the dad to ask some questions and about a month after that I brought the manuscript to a critique group.
In the first draft Athena didn't want to go trucking with her dad but came to love it. With wisdom from my critique partners, the manuscript continued to change and improve. I also had professional eyes on it. In 2014, I took Trucker Girl to a one-day workshop at the Eric Carle Museum, "Revising and Re-Imagining Your Picture Book", with Harold Underdown and Eileen Robinson. Jane Yolen and Heidi Stemple offered some suggestions when I took this manuscript to their Picture Book Boot Camp in 2015. And even though it went through revisions, it gathered close to one hundred rejections.
Then during COVID, I pulled it out again. I had seen for myself the importance of trucks and their drivers during this difficult time. I added in back matter to show how we rely on trucks, tightened the manuscript yet again, and, finally, this ended up being one of three manuscripts that helped me secure my first agent.
That agent had a few small suggestions that made the manuscript even tighter before she sent it out on a small round of submissions. When Capstone editor Chris Harbo acquired it, he requested only minor tweaks. That made my writers' heart incredibly happy. I had been right to bring back this manuscript and not give up on it. Capstone did request a title change from Trucker Girl to Trucker Kid, and of course, I said yes!
It took about ten years from the idea of the story until I held the book in my hand. If you have patience and trust, and are willing to work and revise, you can love and appreciate the magic of a writing life.
Another title, Before I Sleep: I Say Thank You, illustrated by Mary Rojas, started out as a Jewish bedtime picture book. I woke up one day repeating a prayer that starts with, "Before I sleep, it's time to pray…" I wrote it down on a notepad next to my bed. It took a few months to get this idea down as a draft.
It turns out I had to be very flexible with this manuscript. After subbing it to the limited number of Jewish publishers and hearing positive comments but not selling it, I revised it to be secular. I had a publisher request a revise and resubmit with specific suggestions. They didn't take it, but the manuscript was strengthened.
Then one night at a critique group meeting, one member mentioned she spoke with an editor from Pauline Books and Media about their interest in a picture book about forgiveness. I left thinking that if they were interested in forgiveness, they might be interested in gratitude. I tightened the manuscript again and sent it in - to this Catholic press. They acquired it!
So, it went from a Jewish story to a secular story, to a Catholic one. This book, which took thirteen years to hold in my hand and thirty rejections, sold to the right publisher. It is now in its fourth printing and has won two awards. It was a finalist for the ACP Excellence in Publishing Awards 2016 and a third-place winner in the Catholic Press Association awards in the children's book category, 2016.
It's important to keep your ears and eyes open for possibilities and stay current in the publishing world. Check Publishers' Weekly Rights Reports and tune into the interests of editors. That way you'll know when the market might be right for your drawered manuscript. Let your manuscripts percolate if needed, polish them with revisions, but don't forget about them completely. Believe in the process! Believe in your work.
Carol Gordon Ekster grew up in Brooklyn, New York. After graduating from Boston University and getting a Master’s degree in reading and language she was a passionate elementary school teacher for 35 years. At the end of her career, she began writing unexpectedly. Her two most recent titles are SOME DADDIES (Beaming Books, 2022) and TRUCKER KID (Capstone, 2023). You can find out more about her books and writing life at https://carolgordonekster.com.
To order a copy of Trucker Kid click here.
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