This week's throwback blog was first posted in 2021 as part of our Road to Publication series and is chockablock with information about preparing your work for publication. Welcome to RETRO SUMMER!
~by Amanda Smith
So, you wrote something. And now you wonder what the steps are for getting it published.
First of all, congratulations! Writing on a consistent basis, to the point where you have a book, is a huge accomplishment. (If you want to write children's books and aren't sure where to start, this blog by Kelly is for you.) Writing a book, however, is only the first step. Sending a freshly written manuscript to an agent or publisher would be like asking Paul and Prue to judge a cake after you had only gathered the ingredients.
Here are some basic steps towards publishing:
You need someone else's eyes on your work (not family!). Ideally your critique partners should be up to date on the current market and knowledgeable about writing. They will look at content, structure, plot and character development, language use and, if you need, line editing. It is imperative to have someone else read your work. Sometimes we get so caught up in the excitement of a new project, or have read the same words so many times we don't see the plot holes, unclear details, or glaring mistakes.
Where to find critique partners?
Local writing organizations
Online groups such as Kidlit 411, Storystorm, Children’s Book Authors & Illustrators, 12X12, to name a few.
Craft workshops and courses
If your critique partners are worth their salt, you will receive lots of revision notes. Depending on the depth of the notes, you will have to revise or, in some cases, even rewrite. Regardless of the scope of revisions, you will likely have a couple of critique-revision rounds. Do not skip this step! It is during this phase that your work continues to mature and become the best it can be. It is hugely rewarding to dig deep and polish away the rough edges of your story.
Beta Readers: (Not necessary for picture books)
After critiques and revisions, you need Beta readers, who consist of readers the age of your intended audience or readers deeply familiar with your genre (think teachers, librarians). A beta reader questionnaire is a helpful tool for gathering focused feedback. Another round of revisions will likely follow beta readers.
Once you have completed these steps and you feel that your work is ready to send out, you need to decide whether you want to take the traditional publishing route or explore independent publishing?
The rest of today's post will focus on traditional publishing. Next time we will learn about independent (self) publishing. Make sure you know the pros and cons of each option.
If you choose traditional publishing, you should know that it can take months or even years. Most of the bigger publishers are closed to unsolicited submissions and you need an agent to represent your work.
Some publishing houses however, do accept unagented submissions. Books, such as THE CHILDREN’S WRITER’S & ILLUSTRATOR’S MARKET, can provide guidance as to which publishing houses are open to unagented submissions. Always check the publisher’s website for their latest guidelines.
While you can certainly do research online and through publishing trade journals to find publishers who are open to unagented or unsolicited manuscripts, it is very helpful if you have a more personal contact with an editor at the publishing house. One of the best ways to make this connection is to attend a class or workshop taught by the editor. Also, editors who attend writing conferences will often accept unsolicited submissions from conference attendees for a limited time, so be sure to look into this possibility when attending these events. Always do your research to be sure a specific publisher publishes the genre/age level you write.
A good literary agent will help you polish and edit your story, send submissions to publishing houses, negotiate contracts, and handle advances and royalties. They are super knowledgeable about the industry, and know what editors are seeking. Your agent is your ally and business partner. Therefore it is important to carefully research agents, not only for what genres they represent or what their interests are, but also whether they will be a good match for you. Once you have narrowed down agents you would like to approach, you need to query.
Places to research agents:
SCBWI The Book
Manuscript wishlist (www.manuscriptwishlist.com/)
Publishers Marketplace (https://www.publishersmarketplace.com/)
Some writing websites also offer a treasure trove of information in the form of agent interviews and guest blogs. A few to browse are http://www.literaryrambles.com/, https://www.pbspotlight.com/, and The 12x12challenge
Most agents are active on social media
Acknowledgements of books you have read
A query is a letter in which writers pitch their work and introduce themselves to an agent. It is a business letter that follows a specific form. Stay tuned for a guest blog regarding query letters by the Query Godmother, Kris Asselin, later this month.
Queries are used for picture books, both fiction and nonfiction, as well as all other fiction. Nonfiction writers send a cover letter, proposal with outline, and some writing samples.
Each agent or agency has their own rules regarding submissions. It is very important that you read and follow each specific agency's submission guidelines. Not only does it streamline the process for them, but it also reflects well on you, their future client, and your ability to take direction.
Be prepared for several rounds of querying. If an agent would like to represent you, they will contact you and usually schedule a phone call with you to further discuss the details. Remember, not only is the agent interviewing you to see whether they want to take you on as a client, but you are also interviewing the agent to see whether they will be a good match for you.
Once you have received an offer of representation and contracts have been signed, you and your agent may go through another round of revisions before they submit your manuscript to publishers. There might be several rounds of submissions before you receive an offer for your book.
At this point the process is out of your hands. You have baked your cake to perfection. You've trimmed and filled and frosted. You've decorated and delicately flavored. Editors, acquisition boards, and marketing departments are your proverbial judges, and once your delectable offering hits the right palate, you will get your Hollywood-handshake: A published book!
Boogie on down to the other two posts in this series, about Independent Publishing and Writing a Query Letter. Catch you on the flip side!
By Kelly Carey (reposted from December 2018)
Often, when a family member, friend, or acquaintance learns that you are a children’s writer they comment back, “I’ve always wanted to be a children’s writer,” or “I’ve written a children’s book too”. As a seasoned member of the KidLit community you will want to be helpful and encouraging while still providing realistic and practical advice and information.
The following blog is a post that you can share with folks you meet who want to become children’s book writers. Share it as a way to kick-start their writing journey and provide them with the first step information every writer needs to move from thinking about being a children’s writer to becoming a children’s writer.
Becoming a Children’s Author
The dream of becoming a children’s author is a wonderful bubble that floats into the heads and hearts of many creative people. The trick is to take that dream and make it a reality.
There are three key first steps that every dreamer needs to take in order to kick start their writing journey and move it from a thinking about phase to a doing phase.
Step One: Write
The first step to becoming a children’s author is to write.
This may seem like common sense, but this is the point where many writing dreams sit stagnant. Aspiring writers may think about a story, and have a desire to be a writer, but often they will not take the time to sit down and put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard.
To become a published writer you have to sit down and write. It can’t be on a whim or as a hobby. It has to be a real endeavor. Until you decide to make writing a priority, everything and anything - kids, family, chores, appointments, friends - can and will derail your efforts and interrupt your progress. Think of writing as a job that requires your undivided time and attention.
To put true intention into your writing ambition, layer measurable goals into your dream:
For help setting your writing goals check out the posts under the Writing Goals section of the 24 Carrot blog archives.
Step 2: Find Your Tribe
Writing can be a very solitary business. You’re not working for a company. There is no boss or co-worker. It is you alone with a laptop or a notebook. BUT you cannot work in a vacuum. You will need a group of fellow writers on your journey for the following reasons:
There are some practical ways to find your writing tribe. For example:
Engage in the community of writers in order to find valuable critique partners and a support system. For more help finding a writing tribe, check out the posts under the Writing Community section of the 24 Carrot blog archives.
Step 3: Read
There is a difference between reading a book as a reader for enjoyment and entertainment and reading a book as writer. Readers will enjoy a book, while writers will study why a book was enjoyable. In order to become a published writer, you need to read like a writer.
There are three primary reasons why writers read in their genre:
For more help becoming a writer who reads, check out the posts under the Read section of the 24 Carrot blog archives.
If you have been thinking about becoming a children’s writer take these first steps.
Write, Find a Tribe, and Read.
Good Luck on your journey!
by Annie Romano
Form submissions such as Query Manager have become the new normal for writers submitting to agents. Fading are the days of email queries (though some agents still accept them). At a glance, it seems like completing a submission form is straightforward: Fill in the blanks. Easy, right? But there are common missteps that might create a negative impression for agents before they even read your sample pages.
What follows is a walk-through of the most encountered submission form features with notes on common errors or shaky habits. Avoiding these missteps will help your submission present as professional and polished. (Note: Since agents can customize their forms, only the most common fill-in-the-blank features are covered here. Also, agents have their own style of considering submissions. Some read the query letter first; others jump right into the sample pages. These are simply tips to help you ensure your submission shines.)
WORD COUNT: Approximate word count is fine. If your word count is 97,256 words, 97,000 will suffice. This isn’t a make-or-break issue by any means; just something to be aware of.
GENRE: This IS important. Writers sometimes try to fit a genre that agents don't accept into their inbox by choosing another category. For instance, I do not represent science fiction, so there’s no “Science Fiction” option in my genre dropdown menu, but I’ll often get submissions for this genre submitted under the “General Fiction” category. Once I read that query/pages and it becomes clear the manuscript is sci-fi, I’m not going to accept it. And it’s not because it’s not well-written; it’s because I don’t represent sci-fi. It’s simply not in my wheelhouse, and writers should want their work represented by someone who knows the market for their genre and is familiar with what editors are seeking for that particular category.
QUERY LETTER: Yes, it’s a form, and yes, you clicked this specific agent’s link and typed in your name in the spaces above, but the query letter should still be a letter. In other words, it should be addressed to someone. (Some agents might not care about this detail, but to me it shows you’re taking care with your submission.) Include the agent's name: Dear “X,” and be sure it’s the correct name! Even with a form link, I still get query letters addressed to other agents. In the body of your query letter, provide your pitch/hook, brief book/project description, and any biographical information that is relevant to your writing (some agents have a separate section for your bio). If you don’t have any specific writing credentials or publications to include here, consider mentioning the inspiration for your story or why you're querying that particular agent (i.e., because they’re seeking “x” genre or because they represent books similar in tone to yours). A simple statement indicating you’ve researched an agent’s interests goes a long way in helping your query stand out.
SYNOPSIS: A synopsis should be approximately one page in length (single-spaced) and should give an overview of the storyline. It should include spoilers. If I receive a fiction synopsis that’s slightly longer than a page, that doesn’t bother me. But if it’s clear the writer doesn’t know how to write a synopsis (i.e., the synopsis is only a few sentences, or it's twelve pages long with character sketches and a chapter-by-chapter breakdown), that leads me to question the writer’s preparedness. Writing a synopsis can be challenging, which is why a solid effort is impressive. If you’re not sure how to write a novel synopsis, do some research and educate yourself on it before submitting. For picture book writers, one brief paragraph should suffice (though I do not represent PBs, so check individual agent websites for their specific guidelines). If you're submitting an adult nonfiction book proposal, chapter summaries/outlines are acceptable, but again, be sure to check individual agent websites for submission preferences/guidelines.
SAMPLE: Regardless of whether the agent has included an upload link or asks that you paste in your sample pages, be sure to include only the page count the agent requests (though most agents don’t mind if you round up or down to the closes section/chapter break). Do not paste 20 pages if the agent asks for five. It shows a lack of respect for the agent’s guidelines. Also, sample pages should begin with the opening pages of your manuscript (or full picture book manuscript) unless otherwise indicated.
PITCH: Yes, you probably included this in your query letter, and the form can often feel redundant, but consider this an opportunity to recapture the agent’s attention. Make sure it’s compelling and catchy. Some agents do not care for hypothetical questions as a pitch, so consider rephrasing if your pitch is formatted as a question. Also, read the prompt carefully. If the agent asks for a one-sentence pitch, give one sentence. If they ask for a paragraph, be sure that’s what you include.
SIMILAR TITLES: Don’t leave this blank unless it’s optional. If you included comp titles in your letter, simply retype the comp titles in this section. Some authors do not include them in their query, so this question is an agent’s way of ensuring the writer provides them. This prompt shows the agent that the writer has considered the market and where their manuscript sits within it. Writing something like, “nothing compares to my novel,” “I couldn’t think of any,” or “my idea is completely original” isn’t the best way to approach this section. The “similar titles” question isn’t insinuating that your manuscript isn’t unique; it shows that you understand there are categories and genres in publishing and that you are informed regarding where your book would sit on the shelves.
TARGET AUDIENCE: This is another way for the agent to gauge your understanding of your manuscript’s appeal. If you’ve written a horror novel dripping with violent scenes and gore, stating it will appeal to children might raise some eyebrows. Of course, that’s an extreme example, but take care to give this prompt some careful thought. Stating your rom-com will appeal to readers of Emily Henry or those who enjoy Nora Ephron films is a solid, sensible response. Stating that your book is “perfect for everyone who loves to read” indicates an unrealistic expectation of your book's appeal.
Adhering to an agent’s guidelines and thoughtfully responding to all the sections of their query form will go a long way in showing your effort and respect for the submission process and will help your query stand out from the many submissions agents receive each week.
You’ve put in the time and effort to submit a polished, professional query, and now you wait. When you receive a response, hopefully it’s a request. “I’d love to see the full!” is the message writers dream of reading. When that isn’t the case, a form letter is the usual response. Below is a note about the dreaded form rejection. It won’t erase the sting they deliver, but hopefully it will offer some perspective.
FORM RESPONSES: We writers tend to be a diligent, detail-oriented bunch, so form letters often send us over the edge. You’ve poured your heart into your manuscript, agonized over your query letter, read dozens of books to find the perfect comp titles, and then…Bam! You receive a form rejection. The nerve! As a writer myself, I understand the frustration with form responses. I receive them, too, and I don’t like them. But as an agent? I understand they’re a necessary evil.
When I started agenting, I was determined to send personalized feedback to all who queried me. I soon found myself drowning under the volume of submissions in my inbox and falling behind at an exorbitant rate because I wanted to include specific feedback in each response. I wanted to prove I had considered every query. It wasn’t long before I had to face facts: if I wanted to reply to everyone (and not have a “no response means no” policy), I’d have to incorporate a form letter for passes. It wasn’t an easy decision, but it was necessary. While this is my opinion, other agents have expressed a similar sentiment: It gives them no pleasure to send form rejections, but it’s the only way to keep up with the volume of queries received while still attending to their other agenting responsibilities. So yes, form rejections are frustrating, but they’re a result of time constraints, not a measure of an agent’s respect for your efforts or talent. Please remember that.
In summary, making it to publication is extremely difficult, but putting your best foot forward when completing an agent’s submission form will help you get there. When you send a submission, celebrate! You’ve written a book! Don’t forget to embrace that accomplishment. Cheers to you and your writing!
Annie Romano is a literary associate with Olswanger Literary. She represents adult fiction and select nonfiction projects. She is also a published children’s book author and one of the founders of 24 Carrot Writing. You can learn more about her at www.anniecroninromano.com.
~ 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.
“June Cotner's book proposals are the gold standard.”
~ Denise Marcil
Marcil-O’Farrell Literary LLC
~ Guest blog by June Cotner
If you’re a nonfiction writer who would like to have your book traditionally published, you will need a book proposal. In this post, I will be sharing ideas I have used to secure contracts with large publishers such as HarperCollins, Random House, and Hachette, as well as medium-size publishers such as Chronicle Books, Henry Holt, and Andrews McMeel Publishing.
The most important principle is that your book proposal is a business plan prepared for the publisher to show them why your book will be successful.
Here is a sample Table of Contents:
2. Description of the Book
3. Comp Books
4. Delivery Date
5. The Market (or The Audience)
6. Special Sales
9. About the Author
10. Sample Content
A proposal may vary from 5-35 pages in length, plus sample content.
You will create:
More about this later.
2. Description of the Book
This includes number of pages and perhaps a suggestion about the book package—trim size, hardcover or paper, and number of photos.
3. Analysis of Comp Books
There are three types of comp titles: competitive, complimentary, and comparative. Also mention why your book will stand out from the competition.
4. Delivery Date
When will you deliver the complete manuscript?
5. The Market that exists for this book
Include statistics—if your book is about dogs, you can list the number of households in the U.S. who have dogs.
6. Special Sales
This section lists places that sell books outside of a traditional bookstore, such as Paper Source, or a catalog such as Bas Bleu. Be very specific and selective about your suggestions. You should be clear about your rationale why various special sales markets will have an interest in your book. Perhaps your children’s book is about art museums, so you should include a link of all art museums in the U.S. If you think it’s perfect for The Land of Nod and Pottery Barn for Kids, go online and see if they sell your type of book. If so, list the chain’s online books link in your proposal.
I often call this section “Author’s Promotional Contribution,” so it’s clear to the publisher what I will undertake to make the book successful. In this section, I list traditional media (print, TV, radio) and blogs in which I’ve been featured. I include all of my social media links and the number of friends or followers for each one.
If you have a sequel or series idea, list it.
9. About the Author
Write in third person. List why you’re an expert on this subject, along with any major book sales and awards.
10. Sample Content
List all of your chapter titles and give a succinct description of each—no more than 3-5 sentences. After that, insert your first chapter. For your second sample, use a chapter that demonstrates why your book is a unique contribution to the marketplace.
My favorite book about writing book proposals is How to Write a Book Proposal: The Insider’s Guide to Proposals that Get You Published, © 2017 by Jody Rein with Michael Larsen.
The rest of my post is devoted to something new I’ve developed. I use the first page after the Table of Contents to present one page that will serve a dual purpose: First, I want to give the publisher a succinct overview of the book, why the market is perfect for it now, and why my target audience will be eager to read the book. Secondly, I make the first paragraph bold and I write it like a book description that would appear on Amazon.
Here is the first page from the proposal for BLESS THE EARTH, coauthored with Nancy Tupper Ling. It resulted in a contract from Convergent/Penguin Random House.
BLESS THE EARTH
Overview and Description
Bless the Earth: A Children’s Book of Prayers and Poems for Honoring the Earth celebrates the miracle of our planet Earth and offers a spiritual dimension of caring for our world through universal prayers of gratitude and earth-related inspirational poems. Bless the Earth is the only children’s anthology for 4–8-year-olds that knits together humanity, the environment, and spirituality in an engaging way that is simple for young readers to understand.
Moreover, nine-in-ten Americans believe in a “higher power” (Pew Center).
Bless the Earth will be a welcome addition for 90% of families.
We live in an age in which 17-year-old climate activist Greta Thunberg received TIME’s 2019 Person of the Year award. Climate change and environmental awareness are at the forefront of topics that parents and teachers discuss with children. While no one wants to alarm young readers, a book like Bless the Earth fosters an awakened appreciation for the world around them.
In support of these developing environmental efforts, Bless the Earth shows the importance of caring for our world, treating our neighbors—humans, plants, and animals alike—with respect, and imagining a positive future. While many contemporary children’s books focus on “being green,” Bless the Earth introduces a spiritual dimension not featured in comparative books.
The book is compiled by bestselling anthologist June Cotner, whose books have sold more than one million copies, and multiple-award winning author Nancy Tupper Ling, whose children’s books have been published by major publishers. In Bless the Earth, writings from Karla Kuskin, Mary Oliver, Theodore Roethke, Emily Dickinson, Lao Tzu, Paramahansa Yogananda, and Kahlil Gibran intermingle with voices of celebrated poets such as Charles Ghigna, Patti Tana, Janine Canan, and Barbara Crooker.
Bless the Earth will contain approximately 60 selections divided into five chapters below.
There is no one right way to write a book proposal. Do make sure you have shown the publisher why they should invest their money in publishing your book.
June Cotner is the author of 38 books including the bestselling books, Graces, Bedside Prayers, Wedding Blessings, and House Blessings. Her books have been published by both major houses and mid-size publishers. Collectively, her books have sold more than one million copies and have been featured in many national publications. To find out more about June and for helpful publishing tips, visit her website at www.junecotner.com. You can also find her at https://www.facebook.com/June.Cotner.Books and on Instagram (@junecotner) where she posts sections from her book proposals.
Thank you to 24 Carrot Writing for asking me to blog for them today. It’s a pleasure to be here talking about one of my favorite things: The Query Letter.
A bit of background: It’s no secret that I’d queried a lot in the early 2010s (I’ve written about it in a bunch of places -- Articles about Querying and Writing - Query Godmother). After a few false starts, I signed with my third agent in the summer of 2013. This past summer, after seven years with the same agent, we parted ways—and I was honestly feeling like a bit of a failure. I’d been hoping for feedback on a manuscript and wasn’t prepared for my agent to be downsizing their list. In the middle of 2020, I took it really hard.
All this to say that anyone can be in the query trenches.
Writing a query can be scary. Remember, a query letter is a tool. It’s a way to put your words into the world. Don’t overthink the query letter. It’s manageable. There are parts to it.
1. Introduction (and opening paragraph):
Sometimes this is called the “hook” part of the query. Include the title, the word count, the target age, and the genre of the book. A short tagline (elevator pitch) can be included in this section as well. It is not mandatory, though. If you have something personal to add, like that you met the agent at a conference, or took their workshop, do that here. If you don’t have anything personal, don’t force it.
2. Book section:
Think of this as your back cover copy. This is the most important part of the query. Be specific, but brief. Try to express how your book is different than others. Use specificity about character goals, stakes, and motivations. This section should be the longest—after all the query is about your BOOK. Make sure you are answering these questions in this section:
Something about yourself and your expertise. What makes you the person to write this book? If you have any relevant published works, mention them here. Keep this part business. Don’t include things about your family or hobbies.
I’ll be honest, I have yet to sign with a new agent. However, my request rate is over 20%, so I feel like my query letter is working, and there are several people considering my work. Keep track of this sort of data, so you know when to revise and/or move to the next manuscript.
Jumping into the querying pool can help you put aside your fears and anxieties about your work. Querying is forward motion. It is taking control of your career.
Know yourself and what works for you. I wish you all good luck in 2021.
Kristine Asselin is the author of several works of children’s nonfiction, co-author of the middle grade novel The Art of The Swap, as well as the YA novels Any Way You Slice It and Falling for Wonder Boy. She loves being a Girl Scout leader and volunteering with the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. She is a sucker for a good love song (preferably from the 80s), and can’t resist an invitation for Chinese food or ice cream (but not at the same time!). She lives in Central Massachusetts with her teen daughter and husband, and spends part of everyday looking for a TARDIS to borrow.
~ Guest post by Heather Kelly and Kristen Wixted
Hold onto your hats, folks, this will be a long post. But our goal is to give you a blueprint for following your dreams of holding your book in your hands!
It’s Heather Kelly and Kristen Wixted here, publishers and editors at Writers’ Loft Press and Pocket Moon Press. Not only do we indie-publish our own stuff, but we publish anthologies and mentor other writers to publish their own work. Check out our previously published anthologies: Firsts, An Assortment of Animals, Friends & Anemones, and Heather’s workbook to help you get the writing done, Jumpstart Your Writing in 30 Days.
Today we’re going to take you on a journey to publication using Tom Franklin’s brand new steampunk Middle-Grade adventure story, The Pterrible Pteranodon, as a guide.
Tom started with a very clean draft that had been critiqued and edited.
Pro Tip: Throw your manuscript into Pro-Writing Aid for a final polish!
We recommend hiring freelance editors and copy editors at places like ALLi—the Alliance of Indie Publishers, Reedsy, or other indie-friendly forums.
Next, Tom hired Robert Thibeault to create a genre-specific cover. Tom did his research by checking out his genre bucket at Amazon. Make sure to check out your genre-bucket best-sellers at Amazon before you choose a type of cover.
For example, here are the best sellers of middle-grade steampunk at Amazon:
Robert Thibeault designed an amazing and genre-specific cover:
Hopefully, you can see how it would not only fit alongside the books in its genre but also stand out. It looks great as a thumbnail. Very important in this digital age!
Pro Tip: Choose a type of cover that sells well in the genre. What you love as a book cover might not be what your reader loves. Sometimes as authors, we have to put our personal preferences aside!
Here’s a closer look at Tom’s cover, so you can see the details:
You can see here how an artist and book designer make a cover—it wraps around. Isn’t that cool?
REACHING YOUR READERS:
While Tom was waiting for his cover art masterpiece, he put up a freebie so people would sign up for his mailing list.
Having an email list—direct contact with fans—is the most important piece of the publishing puzzle.
Without this, every time you publish a new book, you start from scratch looking for fans.
Tom gave away the first few chapters of his book and audio files of his book to entice people onto his list. Check it out here. Go ahead and sign up—Tom is going to KICKSTART this book, and you get to walk through the steps with him! (See the countdown page here!)
Don’t just hide your freebie and the sign-up to your list on your personal website—plug it into one of the sharing sites that go directly to fans. Right now, two of the biggest sites are BookFunnel and StoryOrigin. Using sites like these, Tom doubled the number of fans he had on his list!
Pro Tip: Story Origin is still in beta, so it’s currently FREE to use! Nothing beats free!
Once you have fans, interact with them on a weekly or regular basis. Use email companies like MailChimp or mailerlite to do this professionally.
Pro Tip: Make sure to consider who your fans are and give them what they are looking for! Remember that the people who sign up for your list are readers of your genre (or parents of the readers) and not just other writers or your friends.
Formatting/Book Design: Use a program like Vellum (only for Macs) to format the inside of your book, or use the free program at Reedsy. Reedsy is a great one-stop-shop for finding indie-publishing support in general.
While growing his email list, Tom finished all the production pieces.
Here’s a list you can use:
Upload all the pieces (formatted correctly) along with the final cover artwork to Ingram Spark.
Pro Tip: if you pay to be a member at ALLi you get a code for free uploads and Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP has free uploads.
Upload your ebook to KDP and choose to either have your book in Kindle Unlimited or use a distributor to go wide (like Draft2Digital)
Pro Tip: Sites like Ingram Spark and KDP are often wonky, so make sure to save all your keywords and descriptions and bios elsewhere and paste them in. We have had some tense moments in the past!
Pro Tip: You can purchase keywords that work in your genre at K-lytics, KPD Spy, or Publisher Rocket, to attract the right online buyers. Oftentimes as authors, it’s hard for us to think about what search words readers use! These keywords help people find your book when they search for it.
If this seems like it’s a costly process, it can be. We generally budget $1,000 for a novel. (For an original cover like Tom’s from an artist, it’s much more!) But you can publish on a shoestring budget, by buying your cover premade (there are so many sites to use--just search for ‘premade book cover’) or by bartering. If you know someone who is a cover designer, and you are a great editor, trade those skills!
Pro Tip: It’s okay to publish with the budget you have and then upgrade things as you go!
FIND YOUR "WHY?"
One of the most important questions to ask, before you start this process, is, “Why?”
Why are you indie-publishing?
If you want to see your book in your local bookstores:
If you want to make the most money you can:
Whatever you do, don’t go it alone. Some of the best resources for authors starting out on the Indie-pub path are Joanna Penn’s podcasts, the Facebook Group 20 Books to 50K, and joining an indie pubbing group. We have a virtual one at the Writers’ Loft if you’d like to join (email firstname.lastname@example.org to get on the email list). It’s run by Dave Pasquantonio who is also a freelance editor and knows a ton about book promotion. We promise, once you get going, things get easier, because you keep running into the same people, the same sites, and most of the people you run into are very supportive! So that’s another part of the job—be supportive of your fellow writers.
Pro Tip: Don’t shortchange your readers—oftentimes the beautiful things that we love about books are simple enough for indie-publishers to achieve. See the gears that Tom added to each page number, the way his cover artist put the Pocket Moon Press logo into a gear, and how Tom invites his reader to read on into the next adventure!
Phew, we covered a lot, right? Thanks to 24 Carrot Writing!
Feel free to leave us questions in the comments! Just out of curiosity, did we make you open up a billion tabs? We might just give a prize for the person who fesses up to opening a ton of tabs! Heather generally has at least 25,000 tabs open on her screen on any given day. (Let us know in the comments and we’ll pick someone at random.) Did you sign up for Tom’s email list so you can follow his further adventures in Kickstarting? We can’t wait for that process. (That’s another blog post)!
Kelly Carey presents a guest interview with Jordan Standridge, Marketing Associate, Charlesbridge Publishing
Prior to the release of my debut picture book, many colleagues had warned me that the marketing work for my book would fall squarely and heavily on my shoulders. That was a bit terrifying! I was new to this rodeo and the marketing bulls were rippling with scary muscles and fuming with bad smoky breath. I dove into research, determined to be a marketing bronco buster, and then along came Jordan Standridge, Marketing Associate at Charlesbridge Publishing. And suddenly, I was no longer alone.
I have been incredibly relieved to find that Jordan has proved to be both a partner and champion in marketing my book – which is really our book! I’ve invited Jordan to join us for 24 Carrot Writing’s July Marketing Month to explain how authors can help market their book, what they can expect from their publishing house, and how to have a good marketing partnership with your publisher.
Thanks for joining us Jordan!
First, can you explain your role at Charlesbridge and how you interact with authors, booksellers, and influencers and …. well, who else do you work with?
Thanks for having me, Kelly! It’s been such a pleasure working with you on How Long is Forever?.
As the Marketing Associate for Charlesbridge, I work closely with authors. So really, anything that falls under that umbrella: I’m in touch with indie bookstores across the country, and help get events set up; I submit authors and their books for festivals, if timing and fit are there, and organize the planning leading up to it; I reach out to various outlets/influencers for publicity opportunities, and mailing out advance/complimentary copies; I pitch upcoming books at bookseller regionals/conferences, too! Basically, if you’re an author with book releasing with us, we’re going to be working together.
Many debut authors don’t know where to begin in marketing their book. What are some essential first steps debut authors should take in preparing for a book release?
As much as I am going to help get your book out there in the world, it’s so helpful to have an author to work with that is willing to put in the work, right there with me. So how can a debut author be a partner to market their book?
The more we have worked together, the braver I’ve become in asking for marketing help. For example, I came up with some classroom activity ideas to go along with the book, but I couldn’t make them look professional. I reached out to you, and the Charlesbridge team designed a spiffy looking activity guide to accompany the book. I’ve also reached out to ask if Charlesbridge would supply books for giveaway campaigns – you did! What sort of support should authors feel comfortable asking for? What support do publishers want to give? And what makes the marketing partnership between an author and publisher work?
I think the most successful marketing partnership between author and publisher is when it can be a more collaborative experience. If you, the author, have relevant kid lit/book subject contacts that would help promote the book, tell us — we’d send out copies. Are you already tight with certain bookstores, and have the event coordinators’ contact info? Pass that along. And yeah, you had an idea for a tie-in activity guide that you would then be able to use at all your events. The publisher sees the value in that material, so of course we helped bring it to life! If you have a reasonable ask, that would help sell copies of the book, the publisher will try to help make it happen.
I’ve been thrilled that you have reached out to bookstores to find me virtual gigs. What helps you get an invitation for an author? What can an author do to help?
Those essential first steps I mentioned earlier are the building blocks for this question, too.
Kelly, you’ve been not only willing, but excited, to help promote your book! Do you remember our early conversations around author events (pre-Covid-19), and you essentially said "I’ll drive to any bookstore events you set up in MA and the states that touch it." Haha. That’s dedication. I knew then that you would be awesome to work with. While I don’t expect that level of determination, I admire the spirit, and it was nice to know you gave me the green light to really go for it. When events were starting to go virtual, you adapted, and even learned all of the various platforms that bookstores threw our way. You also worked on your presentation (you had a couple, depending on what the situation called for), even offering a meaningful and easy craft kids at home could make, so it definitely made my job easier.
When you’re a debut, bookstores don’t have a backlist/sales to consider when making event decisions. However, if you’re putting in the extra work, I can better attempt to paint a picture in an event coordinator’s mind on what an event with this author will look like, what we can offer, and how that would be a draw for their community’s families. So, in short, be willing to open up your schedule and prepare!
Hosted by Francine Puckly
I so enjoyed meeting and chatting with Christy Ewers and Chris Tugeau, the mother and daughter team behind The CAT Agency, at the 2019 New England SCBWI Spring Conference. 24 Carrot Writing is thrilled to host this interview with Christy as Illustrator Month comes to a close.
Hello! And thank you for including me!!
For a lot of authors and illustrators starting out in the children’s literature publishing world, the big question on their minds is, “What are my chances?” So what arethe chances with The CAT Agency? How many submissions do you and Chris receive each week/month/year and how many new clients do you sign?
Oh boy – lots and lots. We receive a consistent flow of submissions a day. I’d say 20 on a slow day. It can be a challenge to get back to everyone, but we try to. As far as chances? We are always open to submission – always. But right now, we are not actively looking to add to our list. We are a boutique agency, so we need to be careful that we have the bandwidth to give our attention to those we currently represent before we consider taking on more talent. That said, if there is someone whose work has blown us away, we huddle about it!
When there is bandwidth for more, we consider adding to the group. However, there are lots of submissions that have impressed us that we have had to pass on! That’s the one crux of being a small agency!
Have you ever received a submission from an artist you’ve declined and then a year or a few years later receive a second query from the same artist who you feel has grown and developed and then decided to represent the artist? What would be the changes in the submission materials that would lead you to change your mind?
Absolutely!! We have several illustrators in our agency now that have that exact story. For instance, one of our illustrators submitted to us in 2015…and after seeing her work grow stronger and stronger over the course of 3 years, I signed her in 2018. She landed a two-book deal almost immediately. I’m so grateful that she stayed in touch, evolved, grew so much as an illustrator, and had the patience that it sometimes takes!
As far as changes in the submission goes, usually when we see promise in someone’s work, we will give a brief critique, things to work on, things to add, etc. and then we ask the artist to be in touch with new artwork. Obvious progress, pushing oneself, listening to critique, and being motivated to draw every day…those things are game-changers!
Illustrators are encouraged to be fresh and original with their art. When you and Chris review potential clients, what are the factors that make you feel an illustrator’s voice is unique and authentic?
I completely agree in encouragement for illustrators to find themselves in their style and work. We can tell if they have been heavily influenced by a certain style or trend, and it makes their work less appealing to us. That said, paying attention to what is selling and what is happening in the market is of utmost importance, too!
As far as illustrators go, we really don’t recommend that they attempt to follow trends, even if their style is not one that we think would be super successful in the industry right now. Artists should stay true to themselves and create art in a way that makes them happy. We encourage practice and experimentation and growth, but only if it’s an organic process of evolving as an illustrator. I think that when people overthink being unique and authentic, it either makes them too much so— that their work becomes too niche—or it changes who they are as an artist, and it stops being fun!
If you are a talented illustrator, you will find work somewhere. It may not be in picture books, but maybe it’s in scientific illustration! Maybe it’s in educational books! Maybe it’s in children’s magazines! And then maybe there’s that one picture book that’s perfect for you and only you! My point is, everyone is unique. Do YOU!
What’s the most common mistake (or mistakes) an artist makes when seeking representation from The CAT Agency?
Beginning an email with “Dear Sirs.” Ha! (For real.) But other than that, really it’s just treating us as you would like to be treated. Spelling our names right, reading the submission guidelines, and then being human in terms of connection and correspondence.
A lot of people send out obvious group submissions, and the salutation is “Hello” and there is nothing personal in the body that gives us any idea that they care about our particular agency at all. When we respond to submissions, we do so on a personal level. Sometimes giving really thought-out critiques and guidance! When someone doesn’t give us the few minutes it takes to be a little personal, we aren’t compelled to do the same. And then everyone loses!
When you sign an illustrator or author/illustrator, do you engage in a revision process with their work? If so, what does that process look like?
Yes! Illustrations-wise, if there’s anything that we see that needs to be added to make their portfolio more robust and appealing to publishers, then we work with them to get it to that point.
If it’s an author/illustrator working on a dummy, then I am happy to help along every step of the process. Sometimes it’s so early in the process that I help in brainstorming ideas and characters, and I’m here to help with overall story-crafting. Often, our author/illustrators either write a manuscript or sketch out a dummy before sharing it with me, and then I edit, make notes and suggestions about how to get it to the point of being submission-ready.
It’s part of my job to make sure that everyone’s work—whether it be their portfolios or their dummies, or manuscripts—is as strong as it can be, and as marketable as can be when I present it. It’s also part of my job to help as our artists grow and evolve and move forward. So it’s an on-going thing; not just something that happens at the beginning of our working relationship.
Of your represented clients, what do you consider to be a “good year” for The CAT Agency and your clients with respect to the number of contracted projects? And how many projects would an illustrator typically juggle at one time?
Oh boy, is this a loaded question! The answer is that it’s different for everyone. We have some artists who can quadruple up on projects, and they have the speed and ability to complete dozens of projects a year. Of course, they’re not all picture books—but with a combination of picture books, chapter books, magazine work, educational work, and cover art, it’s possible. We represent some artists who only work on picture books and only work on one at a time. So a good year for them would be two picture books. We have some artists who have a very niche style or appeal, and perhaps one major project a year would be a good year for them and their particular genre. If someone is working on a graphic novel, that eats up a whole year – and so in that case, a good year is one graphic novel.
When I take on clients, I ask what their goals are in children’s literature/illustration, what their ideal life/work balance would be, and what their financial needs are. And then I can set goals for myself on how I can help them to make it a “good year” for them. Of course, I’m not a wizard, and this business is still freelance – and there are no guarantees in freelance! – but together we can work to hit the mark of a GREAT year! ☺
How do you work with editors to match your illustrators to specific manuscripts? How do you determine if an illustrator is a good match for a project?
Many of our projects are commissioned by editors or art directors who come to us. If our promotional efforts have worked, they’ll know about our illustrators, and they’ll come to me checking the interest and availability of an artist for a particular job.
Whenever I’m visiting a publisher, showing portfolios and dummies, etc., I’ll start by asking if there’s anything in particular they are looking for. Oftentimes, they’ll say “Yes, we have just signed up a manuscript about a penguin who thinks he can fly and we are looking for an illustrator who has a fresh, painterly style, and who can create endearing, but not saccharine-sweet penguins. Got anyone who fits that bill?” And I think for a moment, and say, “As a matter of fact, I have a few!”—and we go from there. If they have interest in any of our illustrators, then it might lead to that person getting that book!
Sometimes, an editor or art director will come to me, and say (for instance) “I am looking for an illustrator for such-and-such graphic novel. Any suggestions?” or “I am looking for someone who is willing to work on a tight budget, and who can turn a book around in 4 months. Got anyone?” Things like that. So, depending on the criteria, I will make suggestions—but then the art has to speak for itself from that point on!
Based on your website, you and Chris represent roughly twice the number of illustrators as author/illustrators. Do editors prefer author work to be separate from illustrator work? Is it an easier sell to align an illustrator with an existing manuscript or do you find that it is a case-by-case basis?
Well, when my Mom started the agency in 1994, she was one of the only strictly illustrator agencies in the business. Over time, many of her illustrators either were, or became, authors as well. When I joined, I opened us up a little more to the ‘author’ end of things, as writing is my background, and it excites me just as much as the illustrating does!
As far as editors go, I think that a one-stop-shop of an author/illustrator is great, but I don’t think that it makes a huge difference. It’s not always a guarantee that they are going to love both the story and the illustrations, so there’s always that risk in submitting author/illustrated dummies. It often happens that they like the manuscript, but not the art, or the art, but not the story. Which is why just authors should generally submit only their manuscripts, and not try to assign an illustrator to their stories, or have an illustrator do artwork for them. If they like one and not the other, it may be a pass for both.
Signing up just a manuscript adds that extra step in finding the right illustrator to illustrate it, but that’s the fun part!
What do you feel The CAT Agency offers its clients that is unique or different in the industry?
I’m not totally sure how other agencies operate, but I think that what makes us different is the family aspect of our group. My Mom and I are obviously mother/daughter, but even long before I joined her, she always cultivated an environment of “family” within the agency. She has always really cared about the people she has represented over the years; knowing and involved in their work and family life – and they were always a part of ours!
Since I joined, we have expanded a bit, but it’s still really important to us to maintain the family feel. We encourage everyone we represent to get to know one another, support one other, lean on one another, and to feel like they are part of an extended family of artists. We also want to make sure that everyone feels comfortable coming to us for any reason; in the way that you would a friend.
Of course, the agency is a business, and we respect that aspect of it, too. Sometimes caring for someone means parting ways, if - for whatever reason - we are unable to do our job as agents, or an artist is unable to do theirs. But even if we have to take different paths, we still support and care for everyone as they continue their journey – like a family does!
When an illustrator is not working on an assignment, what do you advise your illustrators do to grow their craft/art?
Draw every day! Every day. Always create and play and experiment. If you find yourself with free time, create a dummy! Or give yourself an assignment, like a mock cover, or experimenting with graphic novel illustration, or creating any number of new portfolio pieces. Try a new medium, or a new process. One thing I definitely recommend is to do a figure drawing class, or sketch from real life, or plein-air paint, or even collage. Challenging yourself or simply just practicing every day will keep you loose and creative, but you also may discover (or uncover) something spectacular in doing so. And that may just be the ticket to your next project!
Christy T. Ewers is one half of the agenting team at The CAT Agency, where she represents illustrators and author/illustrators in the children’s industry, along with her mother and partner, Chris Tugeau, who founded the agency in 1994. The CAT Agency is a boutique agency that believes in the hands-on approach in representing a diverse group of talent from all over the world. Christy works closely with the entire "family" of artists, spearheading promotion and deals for CAT Agency illustrators, as well as working closely with the authors in the group to help craft their stories and hone their writing for young readers.
Hosted by Kelly Carey
24 Carrot Writing is thrilled to welcome author Jarrett Lerner to the site. Jarrett is the author of EngiNerds, a middle grade series starter hailed by Kirkus as a “boisterous balance of potty humor and geek pride” and a “rollicking young engineer’s adventure”. Its sequel, Revenge of the EngiNerds launches next month and I know my nephew is hoping for more side-splitting fun (and farting robots!).
Jarrett knows how to have fun in his writing but he is also passionate and serious about being a contributing force in KidLit and having a positive effect on his young fans. To that end, Jarrett cofounded and helps run MG Book Village, an online hub for all things Middle Grade, and is the co-organizer of the #KidsNeedBooks and #KidsNeedMentors projects.
Welcome to 24 Carrot Writing Jarrett!
Can you tell us a bit about your journey to the printed page? How did you become a published author?
I’ve been drawing and writing since I can remember. Growing up, I definitely had other interests and hobbies – I played baseball and guitar and skateboarded. But I was always in the middle of a book or two, and I always had notebooks lying around with stories, sketches, and ideas. And while my interest in those other things waned, my interest in reading and creating only grew, and eventually flared up into a full-blown passion.
Even so, it never occurred to me that I could become a published author. In college, I was writing like crazy. And sure, I fantasized about being published. But I truly believed that that’s all such thoughts ever were and ever would be – fantasy. It took an author who I looked up to a great deal challenging me on that and encouraging me to make a go of it before I fully took myself and my work seriously. And then it took years and years to really find myself as a creator, to understand where the stories I wanted to tell “fit.” Or, to put it differently, it took years and years to accept and embrace the fact that I stopped maturing around the age of 10, and that I just wanted to write about farting robots and draw monsters all day long.
Fans of EngiNerds are excited for the sequel, Revenge of the EngiNerds. When did you decide to write a sequel? How did it feel to go back and revisit Ken and his EngiNerd crew in a new manuscript?
Even my earliest drafts of the first book ended on a cliffhanger (I’m a big fan of them!), and when the book eventually sold, it was bought along with a sequel. So I knew pretty much from the get-go that there’d be this follow-up. Revisiting the crew in a new manuscript was both fun and frustrating. I love these characters, and tossing them into a bunch of new crazy situations was a total blast. But there were times when I wished they weren’t so fully formed in my mind (and in the first book!), when if one or another character was just a little more like this or that it would’ve made the plotting of this second book a whole lot simpler. But that just forced me to challenge myself, and in the end, I think, I produced a better book because of it.
You just announced the launch of a new series, Geeger the Robot, an early Chapter Book launching in 2020. How would you compare working on your MG books to working on this Chapter Book series?
Henry James once described novels as “loose, baggy monsters.” He meant it especially when comparing them to short stories, in which there’s less room for detours and digressions and, on the part of the reader, less tolerance for “imperfection.” And if there’s a spectrum for such considerations, then poems would be at the opposite end from the novel. In a poem, a reader might notice (and be irked by) a single out-of-place syllable.
I think James was onto something. With novels, I feel more free to take detours or linger in a scene a bit longer than is strictly necessary, just because it might be interesting or enjoyable. You don’t really have that luxury in shorter works. But at the same time, there’s something thrilling about chasing the “perfection” that is (or at least seems) possible in shorter works. I labor over all of my sentences. But the shorter a work is, the fewer the sentences it contains, the more “right” I feel those sentences need to be.
You have taken your passion for writing and used it to fuel the creation of projects and communities like MG Book Village, Kids Need Books, and Kids Need Mentors. Can you talk about how your writing journey lead you to each of these endeavors?
I think my passion for storytelling and creating has always had a tendency to “spill over.” I read as much, if not more than, I draw and write. I get really, really excited about other people’s work, and want to share it with the world, and I think my involvement in the MG Book Village sprung out of that. And Kids Need Books and Kids Need Mentors – those are both projects aimed at improving and enriching the lives of kids. That’s something I try to do with my books too. While it may look like I’m scattered or that I’ve got too many irons in the fire, I see all of these projects as related.
You have a great natural talent and interest in illustrating. How did you land on MG and Chapter Books and not PBs or graphic novels? Is there a PB or graphic novel in your future?
I’ve been drawing longer than I’ve been writing, and growing up, the two were always linked for me. But I think school – and in particular high school and college – severed them in my mind. There weren’t any pictures in the books we were reading for my literature classes. And if I’d been caught with one that did have them, I probably would’ve been ridiculed for it. And the only time visual art was linked with storytelling was in my Art History courses in college, and then in an extremely scholarly manner.
There’s a great quote from Picasso – “It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child.” I learned a great deal in high school and college. But I think it knocked me off my creative track. I was learning to write like Dostoevsky and Philip Roth and talk about paintings like I was interviewing for a job at MoMA when my heart lay with 8-year-old Jarrett making his own silly comic books in the back of the classroom. Fortunately, it didn’t take me a whole lifetime to reconnect with that kid.
And yes – there are some illustrated works in my future. I’m not allowed to talk much about them just yet, but if you follow me on Instagram and/or Twitter, I now and again give some sneak peeks (shhh… don’t tell my publisher!).
You have done an impressive number of author visits in a far reaching number of states. For example, you’ve been to California, Illinois and all over New England. How did you land your bookings? Manage your travel? And how have you planned your presentations to appeal to different audiences?
I’ve been lucky to receive a number of invitations to schools. And once I have an invitation, I usually start doing outreach to try and turn a single visit into a sort of mini-tour. Last year, for instance, an educator in Chicago expressed interest in my visiting her school. I put out a call to others in the area and was able to get a week’s worth of visits. I’ve organized several other trips in just that way. But I think it’s important to say that I wouldn’t be able to do this as successfully had I not put a lot of time and effort into connecting with educators and librarians all across the country (which is something I continue to do all the time!). I truly believe that kids’ educators and librarians and kids’ book creators are colleagues, and that the more we work together, the better work we can all do. Putting in that time and effort to make these connections has enriched my life in many ways. I’ve learned SO much. I’ve made incredible friends. I’ve grown as a person and as a creator. And, more practically, it’s helped me when it comes to booking visits.
The Dutch version of EngiNerds just launched. How did you balance excitement over a foreign edition with a new illustrator doing the cover and a new title? How can authors and illustrators, who cherish their work, make space to let the creative energy of others add to it?
I fully embrace the collaborative aspect of book-making. Sometimes I feel it’s a bit preposterous that authors get to have their names alone on their book covers! It’s almost always a team effort. I’ve also always subscribed to the idea that, once you put a book out into the world, it’s no longer yours – or no longer only yours. In engaging imaginatively with a work, each reader assumes a slice of ownership of the book too. I think because of all this, I find it thrilling to see what other creators do with “my” work. But that doesn’t mean I can’t question or challenge some of the choices they make – that’s part of the collaborative process too.
At 24 Carrot Writing we are big on goal setting. Do you set detailed writing goals, broad yearly goals or do you fly by the seat of your pants?
I think I do some combination of both – I set goals by the seat of my pants! I am never working on just one project. I always have two, three, and sometimes even four or five going at once, each of them usually in a different stage of completion (or incompletion). On any given day, I’ll take two things into consideration: (1) what I feel like working on, and (2) about how much time I’ll have to work on it. Given that, I might do some exploratory doodling, or dive into novel revisions, or work on putting together a picture book dummy. Every now and again, though, I really “land” on a certain project, and will give it my full attention and concentrated energy until it’s finished (or a draft or version of it is complete). I guess you could call it “occasionally organized chaos,” but it keeps things both fun and productive for me. And that’s huge. If I’m not enjoying the work, it shows in the results. That might not be true for all creators, but it is for me.
Of course, sometimes some of this goes out the window when you’ve got deadlines. But the majority of the time, I meet my deadlines without changing things up.
24 Carrot Writing sits on the premise that authors need to set and accomplish both writing goals and the business of writing goals. How do you balance your responsibilities to MG Book Village, Kids Need Books, and Kids Need Mentors with writing your books and hitting your writing deadlines?
I touched on this in an earlier question, but basically, I think it’s all about perspective, and about how you define your work and your goals. I love, love, LOVE making books. And yes, I could probably do that and only that all day every day for the rest of my life and be BEYOND content. But I don’t see making books as the only aspect of my work as a creator – or, what’s more, as the only facet of what I, as a human being, have to offer during my time on the planet. In addition to making good books, I want to more directly help and inspire kids, and I want to give back to the various communities that have supported and sustained me. With such goals, it’s not so much about finding balance as it is about finding the time to get it all done!
What advice do you have for beginning writers?
Embrace, explore, and celebrate the things that make you (and your creative output) uniquely you. The weirder and wonkier, the better.
To learn more about Jarrett you can visit him at jarrettlerner.com/ , or find him on Twitter @Jarrett_Lerner.
You can purchase copies of EngiNerds or Revenge of the Enginerds using these links: www.indiebound.org/book/9781481468725, www.indiebound.org/book/9781481468749, www.amazon.com/EngiNerds-MAX-Jarrett-Lerner/dp/1481468723/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1547132304&sr=8-1&keywords=enginerds , www.amazon.com/Revenge-EngiNerds-MAX-Jarrett-Lerner/dp/148146874X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1547132360&sr=8-1&keywords=revenge+of+the+enginerds .
And be ready to have Jarrett in a bookstore near you! Jarrett will be at the South Portland Public Library in Maine on February 23rd and at Print Bookstore in Maine on March 12th. 24 Carrot Writers be sure to say hello!
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