Puffy stickers on a Trapper Keeper, a smile glistening with strawberry Kissing Potion, and a pencil box filled with scratch-and-sniff markers, and you were off to a great start for the school year. But how do you restart your writing after a summer of listening to the Pretty in Pink soundtrack on your Walkman? This Back-to-School Retro Summer post has the perfect checklist.
~ by Amanda Smith
The luggage is unpacked. The house is put back together. The kids are settled in their back-to-school routines. Which lends me to ask, in the words of our good friend Joey,
As much as we itch to get back to writing, finding our groove after the summer can be challenging. Here are a few strategies that help me focus my writing for the last quarter of the year.
Do you belong to a critique group or book discussion group? Often these groups take a hiatus over Summer. Don’t forget to press reset and get back to your normal routines.
When I was a kid I used to hate the “back to school” commercials that appeared on TV mid-vacation. We used to say “back to jail” or “back into the cage.” Now I view this time of year differently. I love the excitement of new teachers and learning. I appreciate routines clicking into place, like the gears of a well-oiled machine. And I enjoy the quiet house and increased productivity that it brings. This fall, may you find your desk, reset your schedule, go back to school, and set aggressive goals to finish the year strong!
During the dog-days of summer we are time-traveling back to elementary art class. Grab your Crayola Caddy, draw Harry, and while you are adding Pound Puppy features, consider your story's structure and details, just like my first graders taught me back in 2018.
~ by Amanda Smith
As a substitute teacher I often walk into an emergency, with lesson plans drawn up quickly by someone whose mind was in a much more urgent place. On one such a day, the art teacher left me, in her words, “sketchy plans” – most of which involved students finishing current projects followed by open studio. Now, I’m all for open studio and free draw, but first grade had no projects to finish first. That meant 45 minutes of free draw: The definition of chaos.
Thankfully, I had a planning period. And an ally in the school librarian. After thinking for a second or two, she pulled Harry the Dirty Dog by Gene Zion off her shelf.
“You know,” she said, “kids love dogs. And they always enjoy Harry’s adventures.”
Together we studied Margaret Bloy Graham’s illustrations, and a lesson plan was born.
Fast forward to the first-grade class. I read the book. The kids were delighted. Then I held up Harry the Dirty Dog. “We are going to draw Harry,” I said.
Shock and mayhem.
“We can’t draw like that!”
I turned a deaf ear to the protests as I handed out a sheet of paper with a rectangle already drawn on it. I explained that we would have to work together to draw Harry, as it is a step by step process. Then the students and I drew Harry using the parameters of a rectangle.
As their dog drawings took shape, their joy was contagious. And here’s the thing: even though they all followed my instructions, not one of the dogs looked the same. We had skinny, long nosed dachshunds, and pudgy, round nosed puppies. We had droopy eared dogs and shaggy tailed dogs. Boy Harrys with spiky collars and girl Harrys with pink bows. Every student loved their own Harry, and was amazed that they could indeed draw like that.
Here’s what I learned by drawing Harry, and how it pertains to writing:
This week's throwback blog was first posted in 2018. This rad post recognizes that you may be looking to catch a wave this summer, but offers tips to make sure your don't wipeout on those writing goals! Enjoy as our RETRO SUMMER continues!
By Annie Cronin Romano
Summer is here. It’s a time for sun, sand, and sangria! A time for hanging out with friends and family, relaxing vacations, and outdoor fun. So, my fine writer friends, where does your writing fit into the summertime equation? Because, as most of us know, summer is also notoriously known as a time for slacking.
Don’t be a slacker, my writer friends! This is where those writing goals come in handy. Hopefully you included that “forgiveness clause” into your writing goals (see Set Your Writing Goals With a Little Forgiveness, 1/23/18). But if you didn’t, or if you haven’t set your summer writing goals yet, here are some tips for keeping the ink flowing while enjoying this active time of year.
Tip #1. Going on vacation? Take a journal with you and write in it daily. It doesn’t have to be long. Just a few reflections on your day, or perhaps a description of a scene that you don’t want to forget. Maybe you came up with some story ideas. Jot them down. Keep your writer’s mind active even when you’re not working on an actual story.
Tip #2. Read! What better way to become a better writer than to read consistently. Writers hear it all the time and, naturally, love books, so there’s a good chance you read regularly anyway. But in case time is more elusive for you the rest of the year, take some time this summer to crack the spine on a few books you’ve been wanting to dive into. You may notice some new writing approaches or styles along the way.
Tip #3. Use your phone’s note-taking app. Even if you don’t have time to do much extended writing, sparks of inspiration may strike, and you probably won't have your laptop or notebook available if you’re at the amusement park or on a hike. So pull out your phone and type yourself a brief note. Store that idea or inspiration away for another time.
Tip #4. Take pictures, especially of unusual things. Vacations are full of picture taking opportunities, but step away from the selfies and snapshots of family, and take some random “slice of life” shots. Then use those images later as writing prompts. I know. Brilliant, right? You never know what the lens will capture. Your next story gem could lurk in those precious photos!
Tip #5. Enjoy! After all…it’s summer!
Dear 24 Carrot Writer,
This year you were brave!
Oh, you know it.
You sent out queries,
(so many queries)
signed with an agent,
acquired an editor,
launched a book
received glowing reviews-
and a few tough ones.
You were brave!
You were brave!
Even if you
didn’t query, sign, sell, launch because
You wrote words
You wove stories
You learned something new
Revised something old
Created something better
You were brave!
This Holiday Season,
may you celebrate grit,
encounter hope, and
to step boldly into the new year.
Amanda and the 24 Carrot Crew
~by Amanda Smith
There are few things at 24 Carrot Writing that thrills us as much as celebrating one of our own. Even though Megan is a recent addition to the 24 Carrot team, joining us in 2021 as a regular contributor, she has been “one of our own,” for a long time.
I first met Megan at a critique group organized through the Writers’ Loft. Soon after, I ran into her at the NESCBWI Spring Conference, and later that year we both attended a picture book workshop together. Somehow, during that time frame, each one of the original 24 Carrot founders’ paths crossed with Megan’s at different events, and the following year we all carpooled together to the Spring Conference. Those daily drives back and forth were filled with engaging conversations about writing, and workshops, and dreams. Megan had just signed with her agent, Lindsay Davis Auld from Writers House, and we were excitedly crossing all our fingers and toes for her. And here we are – four years later, celebrating the bright light of Megan’s debut picture book Twinkle, Twinkle, Winter Night (Clarion Books) illustrated by Nneka Myers!
Over the years we have learned many lessons from Megan's approach to writing and her work philosophy. We'd love to share some of those with you.
LESSONS WE'VE LEAREND FROM MEGAN:
At that very first critique group, one of those serendipitous, hive-mind, similarly-themed-story flukes popped up. In the past, I’ve witnessed these kinds of situations ruin writerly relationships, but Megan responded with so much grace and this-is-the-business professionalism that it was hardly a blip on the radar. Over the years we’ve witnessed her kind support to the writing community, her willingness to jump in and help at book events, her praise and appreciation for other writers, and as a critique partner, her thoughtful insight and cheerleading of our writing – always with a generous dose of Megan sparkle.
Follow Your Passions:
Before focusing on writing, Megan was a classroom teacher and reading interventionist. Literacy accessibility is one of her biggest passions. She doesn’t just love writing. She loves books, and reading, and kids reading books, and reading books to kids, and making reading available to all. This passion is sprinkled, like star-dust, onto everything she does, her audience always in her mind. Not only does it drive her to write beautifully lyrical picture books, but also to explore other ways of breaking open the written word to children, such as writing for the educational market, classroom poetry, and early readers. As a matter of fact, Megan has the first two books of an early reader series Dirt and Bugsy launching in February and June 2023. Following her passion has led her to all kinds of exhilarating opportunities.
Trust the Process:
The publishing process is long. Very long. Excruciatingly long. Megan signed with her agent in June 2018, and went out on submission later that same month. With a different manuscript. Twinkle, Twinkle, Winter Night was actually her second submission, and between the two, there were two years of ups and downs, very close-calls, and plenty of rejection before signing that contract in 2020. There are so many anxiety-causing stepping stones on the path to publishing, yet Megan trusted her team and her talent, and stayed the course, one step at a time.
Own Your Style:
When we browse bookstores or share library finds, often one of us will pull a book and announce, “This is a Megan-book.” Megan-books feature lovely language, read-aloud-ability, solid rhythm, winks of humor, and oodles of heart. While the style might be recognizable, her voice is uniquely hers. When it comes to writing picture books, Megan is a lyrical writer. She knows it. She owns it. And she excels at it.
We are so excited that we can now pull an actual, very real, totally authentic Megan-book from the shelves. One with her name on the cover! Readers, you and your little ones will fall in love with Megan’s tight writing, her poetic phrasing, and her lilting diction in Twinkle, Twinkle, Winter Night!
Dear Megan, we are so excited for you! Shine bright!
Megan Litwin is a children’s book author, a former classroom teacher, and a forever believer in book magic. She holds a Master of Arts in Children’s Literature from Simmons University and lives in Massachusetts with her family.
She will launch Twinkle, Twinkle, Winter Night Friday, September 23 at 6 pm under the twinkly lights of The Unlikely Story. Click here for more information on this event and other upcoming bookstore visits.
Ask for Twinkle, Twinkle, Winter Night at your local bookstore or order here.
~ Having an agent isn’t everything
~ Guest blog by Samantha Gassman
In January 2020, I was flying high. After 5 months of querying literary agents with my picture book manuscripts, I had an offer of representation in hand and my first book on submission with publishers. But as the months dragged on, it became clear that my hope of seeing my book in print was not going to happen.
During the course of 12 months, my first manuscript was rejected by 30 publishing houses — big ones, small ones and everything in between.
Here’s what I learned:
1. Rejection doesn’t stop after you have an agent
When I received my first offer of representation, I was equal parts thrilled and relieved. I was ready to be out of the query trenches and into the big time! Instead, I traded in the “your work isn’t the right fit for me” rejections from agents for “It’s cute but I’m afraid it didn’t quite capture my attention as I was hoping. I’m afraid I’m going to have to pass” rejections from editors. Ouch!
Not only do the rejections continue after landing an agent, publisher rejections sting even more. When I was querying agents, I convinced myself it was “just to see what would happen.” Like a schoolchild picking daisy petals: maybe they’d like me, maybe they wouldn’t. But when a publisher rejects your work, they’re saying it’s not worth their time or money to publish your story.
On that note...
2. Acquiring a book is a risk
When a publisher acquires a book, particularly a picture book, the publisher is taking a huge risk on your book’s ability to compete and perform in an over-crowded marketplace. During the acquisition process, there will be a Profit and Loss (P&L) analysis performed by the editor or financial specialist. After all, publishing is a business, not a charity. While writing for children is often portrayed as a whimsical process, if your cute story isn’t worth the manufacturing, design or overhead costs, a publisher will pass.
In my case, the feedback from several editors was exactly that: “The energy is great, but the story doesn’t hit high enough to compete in the market right now.”
3. Agents have a really tough job
Agents get paid when the author gets paid. In other words, after your book is acquired, contracts are signed, advances are paid (or not) and royalties come in. Because publishing is such a slow industry, this means your poor agent doesn’t see any cash for 1–3 years AFTER they sell your book. They weren’t paid to read your query, offer their revisions, or go back and forth with you on edits. They do all of that in hopes that your book will be acquired by a publisher and fly off the shelves. Even then, most agent commissions are only 15–20%. On a $17 hardcover book, that’s only a few bucks.
I will be forever grateful to my first literary agent for her perseverance and patience as we received rejection after rejection. Especially since our agreement was based on her representing this one manuscript, and she had all her figurative eggs in my one basket.
4. Taking a critical eye to your work is important
If you remember nothing else from this post, remember this: Read your manuscript like a publisher. Regardless of what kind of book you’ve written, you must be well- read enough in your genre, age group, etc. to know where your book fits into the market.
What is unique about your book?
Why does there need to be another book on your topic?
What value does it provide the reader?
After the doors to my publishing dreams were closed for this manuscript, I re-read it with the editors’ comments in mind. You know what I found?
They were right.
ARTICHOKIE KARAOKE (great title, right?) is a really cute book. The rhyme style is catchy (similar to Hip Hop Lollipop) and kids would appreciate the premise of being stuck in a boring grocery store with nothing to do. But, as the 30 editors noted in their own way, it is too “slice of life.” The conflict and resolution are too tame, and without the rhyme, the story falls flat. Maybe if I had considered these things before, I could have revised it to be more compelling. Upped the stakes. Increased the friction. Landed the deal.
Take a look at your story as objectively as possible and ask yourself those tough questions before it goes on submission. If you know in your heart it could be better, make it better. There is no need to rush.
Seriously. Don’t rush it.
5. Keep trying
Although my first attempt at being a published author didn't work out, I tried again with another agent in 2020. Just before my rainbow baby was born, my new agent and I received an offer of publication for my picture book, DEAR RAINBOW BABY. It comes out on National Rainbow Baby Day – August 22, 2022, courtesy of Clear Fork Publishing.
P.S. It’s also my rainbow baby’s second birthday that day – how perfect is that!?
After my first book was rejected by 30 publishers, I felt completely deflated. The contract with my first agent was terminated and even though there are still a handful of publishers who never responded, ARTICHOKIE KARAOKE will likely never be traditionally published.
At least, not in its original form. Knowing what I know now, I may dust it off one day and revise it, and try again. Or maybe, elements of the story will find their way into a completely new piece. Or maybe, I’ll borrow the rhyme scheme to write a new story. It doesn’t matter — the point is, we learn more from our failures than our successes.
Don’t give up!
Samantha Gassman is a children's book author, Air Force veteran, military spouse, and mom to two kids and two cats. She is the author of DEAR RAINBOW BABY (Aug 22, 2022) and PEANUT AND BUTTER CUP (2024). Visit Samantha’s website to learn more.
Preorder DEAR RAINBOW BABY here.
by Amanda Smith
One of the ladies in my ceramics class, let’s call her Dee, recently made a set of cat dishes for her friend, each dish featuring one letter of the cat’s name, Mozart.
One fine day in class, we were all struggling. Like really struggling. Unable to center. Unable to throw. Exasperated, Dee left her wheel for the kiln room to check whether the set of dishes had been fired. She reappeared, holding four dishes that spelled Z-A-R-T.
“We’ve lost Mo,” she said. “That’s what’s wrong. Our Mo-jo went missing.”
And we were stuck with Zart.
Let’s be real. The last couple of years had offered more than enough incentive for Mo to pack his inspirational bags and seek greener pastures. Some of us lost our creative Mo early on in the pandemic, while others had managed to hold on, tooth and nail, for longer. But I haven’t met a single creative over the last two years that hadn’t at some point felt stuck with Zart. Deflated. Incomplete.
So what happened in the studio when we discovered the loss of Mo? Each of us dealt with the bad pottery spell differently. Dee is a power-through kind of person. She kept throwing. At the end of the three hours, she had four sloppy piles of clay drying on the plaster table – evidence of four collapsed pots. But she also had two lovely bowls.
Peg decided to abandon the wheel for the day and instead focused on glazing some of her vessels that had been bisque-fired– a differently challenging skill, and a good change of pace.
I turned my back on the blasted wheel and affixed handles to mugs that I had thrown and trimmed previously. On a whim, I decided to carve designs on the mugs. I got lost in the joy of line and form and measurable progress.
The next open studio, Mo was still missing. Dee, Peg and I together decided to hand-build little cheese boards. Collectively we figured out the process, fine-tuned each other’s technique, got expert tips from our studio’s resident master hand-builder and made something pretty cute. Confidence somewhat restored, and bravery bolstered by mutual encouragement, we left the studio rejuvenated that day.
So why am I sharing my ceramic woes with you, dear writer?
Because, just like me, you might have lost your writing Mo. What to do until Mo returns?
Along with the lost bowls, our Mo-jo returned.
Did it have anything to do with those cat dishes? Likely not.
Did it have everything to do with not giving up even when we felt like it? Absolutely.
Keep writing, work on other writing related stuff, fill your well with the frivolous, and commiserate with co-writers. But don’t dare give up. Like a stray cat, Mo will return!
(With special thanks to always inspirational DE and PC.)
Guest blog by Elisa Boxer
First of all, I’m delighted to be here! 24 Carrot Writing has felt like a friend from the very beginning. It was the first blog I turned to for insight, inspiration and community when I was pre-published, fielding rejections (that one hasn’t changed), and wondering whether my words would ever become books.
With two picture books in the wild, three on the way this year, and three more under contract, I’m here to tell you to keep at it, and keep the faith!
In this busy year of launches, writing, and revising, I’ve had to be extra diligent about organizing, prioritizing and protecting my writing time. And while I wasn’t completely aware of any concrete process I’d been using to do that, thinking about a topic for this blog post has actually helped clarify a three-pronged method that I have been loosely following, that I will now follow even more specifically, and that I am happy to be able to share!
I’ve broken it down into three questions:
1. What wants to be worked on?
2. What time can I carve out for it?
3. What intention do I have for it?
What wants to be worked on?
I’ve phrased that in the dreaded passive voice for a reason. To me, each project has its own feel; its own energy. Like a living thing. And it’s our job to tap into that energy.
Try this: Think of one of your works in progress. Really focus on it. How do you feel about it mentally? Emotionally? Do you feel a sense of possibility? A spark? A readiness to connect with it and move it forward, even in some small way?
Or do you feel resistance, like this one might be better put aside for the time being so you can work on something else?
Now how do you feel physically? I measure this by a sense of expansion and contraction in my solar plexus. When you think of this project, do you feel lightness and openness (this is the one!), or tightness and constriction (maybe not this one right now).
I go through each project and assess each one, paying attention to these feelings. Kind of like I’m opening the door to check on them. This all goes out the window, of course, if I’m meeting a deadline. Then I just have to plow through any resistance. But for example, I’m writing this blog post two weeks before it’s due, because I woke up and felt that niggle of “write meeee!” even though I had planned to work on something else this morning.
What time can I carve out for it?
This is a helpful re-frame for questions like: What do I have time for? and Where can I slot this in? The truth is, we’re all so busy and have so much going on, the only writing time we get is the time we proactively carve out for it.
Writing time, in my experience, doesn’t ever present itself. It has to be actively dug out of a busy schedule. So, each week and each night, I will look ahead and pen in blocks of space for works in progress. Some days it’s only a 15-minute block for a writing sprint in between calls, meetings and appointments. Other days it’s a 2-3-hour block for deep work.
But if I don’t commit to carving out time in advance, specifically for writing, other things will move in and take over that space.
What intention do I have for it?
Once I’ve identified the project that’s calling out for progress, I set an intention for it. Sometimes that intention is a short writing sprint where I set a timer, close all open tabs, turn off all notifications, and write nonstop, as much as I can, in the allotted minutes. Examples of other intentions include: Writing a thousand words, brainstorming titles, doing a revision, coming up with a more detailed secondary character, or putting together a bibliography.
Some days my intentions are things like securing photo permissions, organizing my research files, or lining up interviews with sources. The key to setting intentions, for me, is to make sure they’re do-able. Kind of like writing items on a to-do list that you know you can complete. If something is more of a stretch, I consider that a goal, rather than an intention. Goals are great too, but intentions, to me, are more manageable day-to-day.
I am sending you so much good energy for whichever project wants to be worked on, the amount of time you can carve out for it, and whatever intentions you decide to set for it!
Elisa Boxer is an Emmy and Murrow award winning journalist whose work has been featured in publications including The New York Times, Fast Company and Inc. magazine. She has reported for newspapers, magazines and TV stations, and has a passion for telling stories about people finding the courage to create change. She is the author of The Voice That Won the Vote, A Seat at the Table, and the forthcoming One Turtle's Last Straw. Elisa lives in Maine, and she has several more picture books on the way. Visit her at https://www.elisaboxer.com/ .
Pre-Order Elisa's upcoming 2022 books, ONE TURTLE'S LAST STRAW coming in May, SPLASH! coming in July, and COVERED IN COLOR coming in August, at Print: A Bookstore and get pre-order bonuses like prints and stickers!
~By Megan Litwin
A former K-2 teacher, I’m a big fan of schedules and routines. I know how important it can be to have a structure to the day you can count on, yet one that also leaves room for organic detours. Schedules can be powerful - and comforting - for children and adults alike.
Of course, life hasn’t made it easy to keep to any sort of schedule lately. But this January, I felt determined to start off on the right foot. 2022 brings with it my debut picture book, and I could not be more excited! At the same time, that means I’ve found myself with extra balls to juggle and new roads to navigate: a website, a wonderful co-marketing group, planning for events and school visits. All very good things indeed. But all NEW things, too. Now, besides time to write (to daydream, draft, revise, and more), I need a chunk of time just to keep up with being an “author.” No matter where any of us are on this journey, there is a certain amount of attention that needs to be paid to the business side of things.
But how to make time for these different roles, without dropping any balls or feeling frazzled?
I needed a comfortable routine I could count on.
First, I thought about the time frame of my work day (something that looks different for everyone). My best work hours are absolutely when my kids are in school.
Then, I thought about the flow. I knew I wanted to fiercely protect my writing time, no matter what got thrown my way each day. So actual butt-in-chair writing is the morning’s first work. I’ve committed to at least one hour a day for that. Or more! But setting a realistic minimum helps me stay true to that goal. If I’m in the groove and really deep into the work, that could stretch by hours – and I love when it can. Or I might write for just that hour and then do something else writing-related, like critiques. There is a certain amount of open-endedness built in. And a whole lot of morning coffee…
No matter how it’s going, by the time lunch rolls around, it’s time to switch gears to author business. Choosing ONE focus per day helps, and that focus varies with deadlines and such. I might work on my newsletter, write reviews, or make pins on Canva (where I definitely can fall down the rabbit hole…). But when these tasks are not creeping into my writing/craft time, I actually enjoy them!
After the writing and author work, I scheduled some reading time. Yes, I said “scheduled reading” – because it’s important to me, and my routine should reflect that. I might read a new pile of picture books, some poetry, or a beautifully crafted chapter book. My children get home around 2:30, so scheduling my reading to coincide with that allows me to model my commitment to reading AND encourages them to join me with their own books. Win-win!
And finally, we all have many more roles and responsibilities other than writer/author/reader. I might have an appointment, get called to substitute teach, or have a sick child. And even on a perfectly organized work day, it is my role as Mom that is most important to me, and that one requires most of my attention once my kids are home. At that point, I tuck the work away and promise to return to it tomorrow, just like I would if I were leaving the classroom or office.
Schedules work best when they are flexible structures. After an inspirational virtual webinar with Bethany Hegedus at the Writing Barn, where she talked about setting goals for each quarter of the year, I realized that maybe schedules could also be seasonal structures. I decided to call this a WINTER work schedule, and I already felt a lot less pressure to make it perfect. It may change when spring arrives, and then change again to fit the cadence of my summer days. But it suits me right now. It makes me feel full and warm – because I am making space for what matters to me, day in and day out, as this new year begins.
And…it is an acronym!! Because, after all, I’m forever-at-heart a primary school teacher!
A WARM Winter Work Schedule:
No time slots. No word counts. No pressure. These are simply the daily roles I want to spend time on, and in this order.
What kind of an overarching structure works for YOU? What does your “winter writing season” look like? I hope it is warm and wonderful and full of whatever you need…right now.
Megan Litwin is a children's book author and regular contributor for 24 Carrot Writing. Her debut picture book TWINKLE, TWINKLE, WINTER NIGHT, illustrated by Nneka Myers (Clarion Books) will hit the shelves October 2022. To learn more about Megan visit her at www.meganlitwinbooks.com/.
Guest Blog by Nancy Tandon
Hello and thank you to everyone at 24 Carrot Writing for hosting me on your blog during a very exciting time for me! After eleven years and close to 200 combined rejections across multiple manuscripts, my very first middle grade novel will be published tomorrow! This is especially rewarding for me since I thought I would be celebrating this accomplishment in the fall of 2017. Yes, you read that correctly. My book launch was delayed by five years.
Most 24 Carrot readers will be familiar with the concept of publishing being slow. But even insiders agree mine was one of the more slothy paths. What happened? How did I keep going? And how will you stay motivated on your journey?
I sent my first query letter, on 3/9/2010. I know the exact date because it was my 40th birthday. It was an underbaked picture book manuscript, and I addressed the letter To Whom It May Concern. Spoiler: I never heard back. But the important thing is that I was signaling to myself and the universe that I was ready to pursue publication in earnest.
Over the next several years, I did all the things. I joined SCBWI, became active in critique groups, went to conferences, read books in my genre, read literary blogs, and of course…even wrote from time to time. I was focused on learning the craft of writing picture books, while also plugging away at a longer piece that began to take the shape of a middle grade novel.
During this time, I continued to submit to agents, editors, magazines, and contests. As my little baby rejection pile grew, my belief that I would find success shrank. Then, in 2014, I learned that a selection from my middle grade novel had been awarded the Ruth Landers Glass Scholarship from NESCBWI. It was just enough encouragement to bolster my drive to keep working.
With the help of my critique group, I completed and revised that novel and in 2016, submitted it to a small publishing house. A few months later, things seemed to happen very quickly: an offer, a phone call, a book contract! I was thrilled! Still un-agented, I used the services of a lawyer who was familiar with literary contracts, and also educated myself using a book called The Writer’s Legal Guide by Kay Murray and Tad Crawford before signing. (I highly recommend this book whether you are agented or not.)
Everything looked great. Publication was set for fall 2017. I joined a debut group. This was happening!
There was a wrinkle. The small press had been acquired by a larger publisher. They were willing to take on my manuscript as part of the deal! I was relieved, happy, even excited about this chance to be published by a bigger house.
Publication was moved to 2018. I joined and became active in another debut group. This was happening!
After a year of working to negotiate a new contract (I had learned just enough from The Writer’s Legal Guide to know the first offer was not favorable to me), I still had not heard from my new editor. And the contract negotiations were spinning in circles. I found out that the second publisher had decided they were not moving forward with my manuscript. My heart sank. I had told everyone about this book deal. I had celebrated with champagne. And now, nothing.
Worse, I had to buy back the rights from the first publisher. (Which is completely on the up and up business-wise, by the way. And in truth, the editing done by that first house was worth the cost. But still, it was painful.) I was embarrassed, disheartened, and very close to giving up all together.
Luckily, past me (the one who’d had a book contract and was all excited about kidlit) had signed up for two well-known New England spring conferences that year, NESCBWI and Whispering Pines. I forced myself to attend both.
After the New England conference, I earnestly studied the list of agents and editors and sent my work back out there. It felt like I was shouting into the wind, but at least I could still say I hadn’t given up. Not fully, not yet. Even though my heart did very much want me to.
The second conference, Whispering Pines, included a one-on-one consultation with Rachel Orr from Prospect Agency, who represented (among other amazing authors) a writing friend I’d met through the 2018 debut group (which again I was now no longer a part of – cue tears). That friend, Samantha Clark (The Boy, the Boat, and the Beast; Arrow), alerted Rachel ahead of time that she’d be meeting me and gave her the heads up about my manuscript’s twisty past.
That meeting did not result in an offer of representation from Rachel. (I know! I wanted the story to go that way, too!) But, Rachel passed my work to a new agent at Prospect and I was agented at last!!
Ready for another plot twist? Meanwhile…
Karen Boss, an editor from Charlesbridge, had gotten my query and read my fist chapters. She asked to read the full manuscript. There were other in-house readers, and a presentation at their acquisitions meeting. I hoped for the best and braced for the worst.
Then in September 2018, it came. An email that made me shriek and cause a scene in the coffee shop where I was writing with a friend. Re: Offer…
This time, I didn’t have to negotiate on my own, or spend money on a lawyer. My agent at the time, Emma Sector, made sure my interests were represented while also easing the process of getting back my rights to the work.
Everything looked great. Publication was set for 2021. I joined a third debut group. This was happening!
Due to circumstances at the publishing house, the date of publication got pushed back to 2022.
I’m not embarrassed to tell you I cried. However, my disappointment was strongly tempered by the fact that in fall 2019, my agent sold my second novel (The Ghost of Spruce Point, coming from Aladdin in fall 2022) within a week of being on submission!
And then of course 2020 and 2021 happened, which weren’t great years to debut anyway (when you can, please show love to writers who did debut in the past two years!!). During this time I also navigated an in-agency switch as Emma left agenting for a new adventure, and I gratefully landed in Charlotte Wenger’s web (Prospect Agency).
And now: I have held my first novel in my hands. And tomorrow, it will wing out into the world to have an adventure all its own. I’m revising my second and have seen amazing cover art.
Friends, it was a long road from desperation to celebration. And if you have read this far, you might be a person who is in the exact position I was in. One breath and one keystroke away from giving up. Please consider this a sign from the universe for you to keep going.
Give it time.
Give it space.
Don’t give up!
Nancy Tandon is a former speech/language pathologist and author of two middle grade novels, The Way I Say It (Charlesbridge, 1/18/22) and The Ghost of Spruce Point (Aladdin, 8/2/22). Her short story, Finders Keepers, was published with Heinemann for the educational market. Nancy lives in Connecticut with her family and is a fan of popcorn, reading, and literacy outreach programs of all kinds. To find out more, or to get in touch with Nancy go to www.nancytandon.com, Twitter @NancyTandon , Instagram @_NancyTandon_, or Goodreads.
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