Saturday, February 28, 2015

PATH - a Four Letter Word by Tracy Holczer

The time from agent query letter to my first sale was five months. Quite frankly, it was a breeze. I sent out one batch of query letters on December 17, 2011 and settled in for the long wait. Over the next couple of days, my full manuscript was requested by all parties. I settled in for another long wait. By January 11, 2012, I had a revise and resubmit request and then an offer of representation upon resubmission four weeks later. My deal with Penguin was finalized in May, 2012 and the book was published May 1, 2014.

BUT, the path leading up to the moment I pressed send on my first ever query letter was anything but a breeze.

I joined SCBWI in 2002. I slaved over a book for five or so years that I recognized wasn't good enough. I took classes and workshops and spent a fortune on craft books as well as read, what felt like, every book in my library. Then I got Grace in my brain one Sunday afternoon and wrote the first fifteen pages. I submitted for the manuscript critique at the SCBWI Summer Conference in 2007 and was quite shocked when a couple of months later, Steve Mooser called with the good news that I'd won the Sue Alexander Award. I went to New York for the winter conference, met with some editors, and went back to my novel feeling ready to conquer the world.

Which is precisely NOT what happened.

I may have figured out how to write a novel. But I hadn't yet figured out how to write a GOOD novel. Like Ira Glass says (see full video - SO WORTH IT), but to paraphrase:

 "Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work."

It took me three more years to write THE SECRET HUM OF A DAISY. I probably wrote eight thousand drafts, seven thousand ninety-nine of them weren't good enough. But number eight thousand? That one was good enough. I finally felt like it had that "special something."

I have no doubt that if I'd queried those seven thousand ninety-nine drafts, I would have been rejected countless times. Perhaps I would have given up. I'm so glad I'll never know.


Thursday, February 26, 2015

Guest Post: Our Journey To Publication by JillEllyn Riley and Deb Levine

 I'm delighted to welcome Deb Levine and JillEllyn Riley to Smack Dab today! Their journey to publication of their co-authored SATURDAY COOKING CLUB: KITCHEN CHAOS is a lot like the story itself -- full of food, friendship, fun, and more:

Can their friendships take the heat? A trio of mothers and daughters will find out when they sign up for a cooking class from a famous chef in the first book of the Saturday Cooking Club series—it’s mother-daughter bonding and so much more!

Liza and Frankie have always been best friends. But when new girl Lillian arrives from San Francisco, suddenly three’s a crowd. Especially after the trio is grouped together for a big sixth-grade social studies project—can they put aside their animosity long enough to succeed? When Liza suggests they all take a cooking class with the chef from her favorite cooking show for the project, the girls are on board, but they need an adult to take the class with them. It seems like the perfect opportunity to snag some quality time with their overscheduled, overstressed mothers…if they can convince them to sign up!

Several headaches and close calls later, the girls at last find themselves in Chef Antonio’s kitchen with their mothers in tow—but the drama is only just beginning!"


Our journey to publication began--literally--on a quiet brownstone block in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn. Quiet might not be accurate actually. The block is disappointingly staid--underwhelming for Halloween trick-or-treating, for instance--but we met casually over the din of a whole gaggle of small children and toddlers, our own and other friends'. Bumping into each other sporadically in the neighborhood, as kids climbed over decorative iron railings or swung upside down from scaffolding, we realized that we both worked in media/publishing. We started to consult about our separate creative projects and discovered that we loved working together. We talk a lot, we laugh a lot, and we edit and revise each other's writing with ease, comfort, and very little ego. Then we had the idea of three girls in Brooklyn who long to make changes in themselves, their lives, and their families. Since most kids love to sift; stir; mix; concoct their own delicacies--and cooking shows are tremendously popular with kids--it seemed like an appealing way to watch our characters start to mold their lives. Taking inspiration from girls we knew, girls we once were, mothers we became, and the rich and varied population of Brooklyn--especially the incredible food options and traditions that abound--we dreamed up our three girls and their lives...


Since we both adore middle-grade books and their readers, it seemed natural that we'd write a middle-grade book ourselves. As moms of middle schoolers--and former tweens--we thought the pushing-away/pulling-closer dynamic between pre-teen girls and their mothers would add another layer to our characters' story. It didn't take long before we landed on the idea of a mother-daughter cooking class--and once we did, we realized we didn't have to contain our story in a single book. Envisioning The Saturday Cooking Club as a series rather than one novel helped us develop detailed character arcs for each of the girls, and a narrative thread between each book in the series.
After we'd plotted out the series, we had to figure out how we'd actually do the writing of the books as a team. I don't remember which one of us came up with the idea of alternating chapters in the voices of each of the three girls, but we decided in the very beginning that doing so would truly bring their unique personalities and perspectives to life for our readers. Narrating the book in three different voices also made it easier for us as co-authors to divide and conquer the chapters. And when we finally finished off the last chapter and clicked save, we discovered how close to our characters we'd become, and how much we were going to miss them when we weren't inside their three very different heads every day.

*Spoiler alert* the next book in the series, which will be published later this year, is written primarily in one character's voice, but the other girls definitely still have their say throughout the book.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015


Everybody says the path to publication is long and bumpy--and it is--and I'm no exception. Yeah, it took seven and a half years of full-time effort to get the first yes. Yeah, I nearly chucked it all four years in. Yeah, I had down times. Yeah, I submitted and resubmitted. Yeah, I was rejected. Yeah, I've still got a hole in the drywall of my office to show for the years of frustration.

The thing is, though, the "path to publication" doesn't end with the first yes.

At this point in my career, I think of "path to publication" not as I did in the beginning--as my name at the bottom of a contract. I think of it as figuring out what your own successful niche is as a writer. What gives you the most satisfaction, allows you to put out work at the right pace, makes you the amount of money you need to exist?

I'll admit, I'm still figuring it out. I've pubbed with a small house and two of the "Big Five." I've published in multiple genres for multiple age groups. Within the next few weeks, I'll start branching out into independent publishing. The first release will be a New Adult rom-com (another new age group and genre).

The thing is, getting a "yes" from the publishing world is an important step...But now, I'm asking myself, "What makes ME say yes?" That is, where do I most happily intersect with my readers? Where does my career most happily intersect with the rest of my life--allowing for room to explore within the industry AND room to breathe?

Jury's still out...But I'm anxious to find out what I learn on the next step of the journey...

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

A Long and Winding Road: Feb. Post Jen Cervantes

I didn’t set out to write a novel, (I’d never written a word of fiction). And then my youngest daughter, Juliana asked me to write her a story. I picked up a pen and something magical happened! Call it a coincidence, call it a God wink, call it destiny. After, joining a critique group and editing over and over, I sent out queries to agents and signed with my first agent. Within a year she’d sold the ms.

Tortilla Sun won awards, made school lists, and was met with wonderful reviews. It has gone into several printings, including a paperback edition. After five years, it is STILL selling strong.

Since my first novel I’ve signed with another agent and have been out on sub three times. Each time has been met with CLOSE calls. I’ve had projects go to sales and acquisitions only to be rejected.

I have no idea why the timeframe seems to be longer for this next project. I’ve stopped worrying about it. My focus is on the work at hand and writing what I love.

I received a letter a couple of weeks ago from a fourth grader. she wrote, "Please please please keep writing and make sure the next book is as good as the first.” I smiled, thinking I couldn’t agree more.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Smack Dab in the Classroom by Dia Calhoun: Better Author Reports.

When I was a kid, we were required to do reports on the authors of our favorite books. I often thought the questions my teachers wanted us to answer were boring. So here are a few questions I 'd have found more interesting.

  • If the author were lying in a hammock, what would she daydream about?
  • If the author could take a trip anywhere in the world (or universe) where would she go and why?
  • If the author could choose between waltzing in a glittering ballroom, or riding a horse through the hills, which would he choose and why?
  • What do you think the author's favorite childhood book was, and why?
  • If you could do one thing with the author what would it be, and why?
  • If the author could only hang one object on the wall of his house, what would it be and why?
You get the idea. How I would have loved to have answered questions like those, questions that engaged me imaginatively with the author. And how I would love to answer such questions, now, as an author myself.

Happy Imagining!

Sunday, February 22, 2015

My Circuitous Path to Publication by Laurie Calkhoven

Like many writers, my path to publication wasn’t a straight line. It was more like a circle, with lots of zigzags along the way. When I left college with my shiny new journalism degree (majoring in creative writing, which I really wanted, seemed too loosey goosey), I looked for jobs in the magazine industry. Then an employment agency sent me on an interview at a book publishing company. My intention was always to be a novelist, and book publishing felt like a good fit.

I stayed for twenty years. All the while I vaguely thought I would write “one day.” I read all the time; I collected books about writing; I didn’t write. With forty looming, I realized I was going to have to make one day happen. A friend pointed me to yet another book—Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way. And I started writing what she calls morning pages—three pages a day, first thing in the morning, every day. Months later I discovered I was a children’s writer, not the next Anne Tyler or Margaret Atwood. That was a surprise, but one I embraced.

In the next year and a half I changed my career from adult to children’s publishing, took a couple of classes, joined a critiqued group, and started shopping around my first novel. It made it to the acquisitions committee at four different houses. Each time there was a long, agonizing wait and eventually a rejection. Still I began to build a network of editors who were interested in my work and that led to an opportunity to write for a series. I left my job and began my freelance career writing nonfiction, media tie-ins, and “other people’s books.” I learned a lot and continued to work on my craft and my own books when I could squeeze them in.

Then I ran into one of the editors who tried to buy my first novel at an SCBWI conference, and he asked the magic question: “What are you working on?” I was about to tell him about my current TV tie-in novel when I realized this was an opportunity. Writing one of those many series books, a biography of George Washington, I had gotten an idea for a novel about a young spy in the early days of the American Revolution. I shared my idea and pretended to be farther along than I was.

He was interested. In fact, he said he’d be even more interested if I turned it into a series, featuring American boys in different wars. I threw together a proposal. It was in front of the acquisitions committee within a week, and I got an offer the next day. It all happened so fast my head was spinning. After twenty-five books, my novel was being published.  

I continue to write other people’s books. Few have my name on them. Some have been bestsellers; others have gotten starred reviews. None of them have made me happier than holding that first Boys of Wartime novel in my hands.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

My Path to Publication (February Theme) by Kristin Levine

Just because I always think it's interesting to peek into someone else's files, here's the query letter and summary I used to get my now agent (Kathy Green) to take a look at the manuscript of what became my first book, THE BEST BAD LUCK I EVER HAD.  (It's still called MOUNDVILLE in the letter.  Thank you to my friends at Putnam for coming up with a much better title.)

Dear Ms. Green:

My name is Kristin Levine and I am seeking representation for my children's novel.  Moundville is a middle-grade novel of approximately 40,000 words, loosely based on my grandfather's memoirs.

Now before you delete this message, thinking uggh, not another "memoir-based novel," originally I didn't want to read those memoirs either.  I, a white woman living outside Washington, DC, assumed that because my grandfather spent his childhood in Alabama, he was racist.  Boy was I wrong!

When I finally broke down and read his unpublished writings, I discovered my grandfather had had black friends.  Racial tensions certainly existed, but relationships in his small town weren't as clear-cut as I had assumed.  In addition, he described a freedom to go wherever and do whatever he wanted as a child, a freedom that is lost to children growing up today.  From this setting and atmosphere flowed the invented story of a friendship between a poor, white boy and an educated, black girl in 1918 rural Alabama.

Although Moundville is the first novel I'm attempting to publish (I've got another unpublished manuscript on a back shelf where it belongs), I'm not a beginning writer.  A former elementary school teacher and avid children's book reader, I have taught screenwriting at American University for three years.  I have directed two independent films (a feature and a documentary) and have written a number of screenplays, which have received recognition from organizations including AFI, Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting, Slamdance, and the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences.  Moundville actually began as a screenplay, until I realized the story was much better suited to the novel format.

I have included my contact information and a brief summary below.  If you would be interested in reading Moundville, I would be happy to send you a hard copy.  Thank you for your consideration.


Kristin Levine

Moundville Summary:

I ain't gonna tell you this story.  No sir.  No way.  I got a million better things to do than think about that dumb old stuck-up girl and all the trouble she caused.  Everything was just fine in Moundville, 'til Emma Walker came to town.  

My real name is Harry Otis Sims, but everybody calls me Dit.  It was the summer of 1918 when she moved to Alabama, daughter of the postmaster, smart and black.  'Course I wanted to nothing to do with her.  And I ain't gonna tell you how she tricked me into becoming friends with her.  No sir.  Not gonna tell you how she caught me breaking the teacher's window, shooting a buzzard, and trying to drown some kittens.

I admit, when our town's barber was accused of murder, she was the one that came up with the plan to get him off.  But I helped.  I did most of the work.  And don't let nobody tell you it was my fault he got in a fight with the sheriff in the first place.  'Cause it wasn't.  No sir.  'Cept if I'm being real honest, maybe it was - just a little.

And don't you believe a word of it if anyone tells you I cried when she left.  'Cause I didn't.  No way.  Not even a little.  'Course, I have been known to lie now and then.  Emma said it was one of my worst traits, but I think she kind of liked how I could spin a good yarn.  Still I ain't gonna tell you this story.  'Less you ask real real nice, and then, well, maybe I will.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Writing My Own Rejection Letter (February theme) by Claudia Mills

It's 1979, and I've left graduate school in philosophy to take a position as an editorial secretary at Four Winds Press/Scholastic. Throughout my years in graduate school, while my fellow students stayed up late to discuss obscure puzzles in the philosophy of language, I was curled up reading children's books checked out from the public library. So was thrilled to be able to flee academia for the enchanted world of children's book publishing.

Except that I can't master how to type editorial letters on my IBM Selectrix typewriter, making that little sandwich of letterhead, carbon paper, and second sheet so that the copy doesn't come out on the BACK of the original. And I can't figure out how to transfer phone calls. And the bus commute each from Princeton to NYC is so long, a good 90 minutes each way.

But on the bus ride I sit with my clipboard, pad, and pen writing picture books (they're so easy, right?). I start submitting them to publishers. They all come back rejected: standard form letter, no feedback, no clue re what I'm doing wrong - even my masterpiece, Campbell the Tomato, starring a stuffed toy tomato who is ostracized by the other stuffed animals until he rolls across a nursery fire ("Stop, drop, roll") to put it out, save the day, and become a hero. Why on earth would any editor reject THAT?

I say to myself, "If only I could be there in a publishing office to hear what editors are saying about Campbell. If only I could eavesdrop, invisible, to learn more...."

That's when I have my brilliant idea of submitting Campbell the Tomato to Four Winds Press under a pseudonym. I could be sitting there at my desk, typing, filing, answering the phone, ready at hand to hear the editor's shriek of delight when she races out of her office: "I've found the book I've been waiting for, for twenty years! I will be known forever as the editor who discovered Campbell the Tomato!"

Alas, Campbell was rejected, yet again.

And I was the one who had to type the rejection letter.

I sent in a second pseudonymous story. I typed myself a second rejection letter.

Then I sent in a third. This time my boss, Barbara Lalicki, came out of her office with my story, handed it to me, and asked me to write her an editorial critique.

What did I think of my own story?! Well, for starters, I thought it was amazing, astonishing, and sure to sell a million copies. I rolled a piece of paper into my typewriter and readied myself to write the critique. But then I read my story over again, as if a stranger had written it. For the first time I saw flaws I had never seen before. A picture book, this wasn't. It was too long, too old, too dark. The ending didn't work. But what if it were developed into a full-length novel? So I wrote Barbara a balanced and objective critique, highlighting both strengths and weaknesses. Barbara sent the critique by her editorial secretary (me) to the author (me),  with a letter (typed by me), saying that if the manuscript was revised according to these suggestions, she'd like to see it again.

That was the manuscript that became my book At the Back of the Woods. Of course I had to tell Barbara who I was. Luckily for me, she has a good sense of humor. This was my path to publication.

Few people are going to get their work published in this way. But I think I can distill some more general nuggets of advice from it.

1) Know your market. From working in the industry, I learned a lot about what gets published and what doesn't, and why. That made me more able to critique my own work. A good substitute here is to go your local bookstore or public library and read as much good new work as you can. Talk to your bookseller and librarian about what they think works, doesn't work, and why.

2) Be prepared to re-conceive your initial conception of a project considerably. In my case, a picture book became a middle-grade novel.

3) Be prepared to put some projects away forever in a carton in your attic or garage. Campbell the Tomato is still there in mine.

4) Keep writing new work as you wait to hear the fate of old work. Even after Four Winds Press accepted my first book, and a second one, they rejected my next four manuscripts in a row.

5) Don't take rejection too personally. Everyone gets rejected. Just be glad you don't have to be the one rejecting yourself!

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

My Path to Publication (February Theme, Sarah Dooley)

At a shared computer in a mountaintop boarding house, I wrote the novel in seventeen days. The fire in the wood stove crackled while the other tenants flipped channels. Law and Order. The Obama campaign. I learned to write before dawn, for the quiet.

I’d moved to Asheville by the time I revised. That’s also where I started my agent search, in a little brick house to the west. Five queries out at a time. With each rejection or extended silence, I reworked my query letter, tried again. Got a yes, followed promptly by a box of free books. Figured out I was in the right business.

After I moved into the basement apartment, we talked editors. There were two who wanted to talk to me. The other half of the basement was used as the practice space for a jazz cover band. They practiced on Thursdays, and it was a Thursday. I stood out by the road with my hand over my ear, trying to hear what each editor had to say. I was still in that basement when we got a “yes.” Followed promptly by a box of free books. Indeed. Right business.

I was back in West Virginia and staying with family by the time I finished revisions, first with my agent and then with my editor. Things were starting to happen.

Next came cover art. Bound galleys. Reviews. One exciting bit of publishing news after another. From my cold little snowbound house, it all seemed thrilling, but surreal.

In the driveway of my city apartment, holding a box of my very own books – that’s when it sunk in.

“I got … I got this book published!”

“What’s it about?” my new neighbor asked, plucking a copy off the top of the stack. He turned it over and over in his hands.

I couldn’t think what to say. I wasn’t practiced at this part yet.

“It’s about a girl,” I said, “trying to figure out where she wants to live.” 

Monday, February 16, 2015


We're thrilled to be asked about the humor in the Jaguar Stones series, because it's such a large part of the story. Too many books and movies present the Maya as grim and humourless - and that couldn't be further from the truth.

            Ask most middle-graders to draw a picture of the ancient Maya, and theyll reach straight for the red paint to depict a human sacrifice. But if you ask them about the Romans, they dont automatically draw a slave being slaughtered in the Coliseum. (In fact, the Maya were nowhere near as violent as the Romans - and they were equally adept at straight roads, magnificent arches and indoor plumbing.) 

            So one of our missions is to highlight the Maya sense of humour (British spelling).

            When you study Maya art, you can't help but smile. Paintings running round Maya pots often depict scenes from mythology in a style very similar to comic strips. Its not just how they draw the figures, but how they tell the story, captions and all. The scenes are often very funny, with hidden jokes and wild facial expressions. 

            Another element that inspired us is the slapstick quality of Maya mythology. The good guys usually win through cunning and wit rather than brute strength. This makes a lot of sense when you meet the modern Maya and discover how much they love telling jokes and playing tricks on each other.
            But it's not all fun and games. The Maya Lords of Death, a gang of skeletons and putrid corpses, can be seriously scary. So we use humour to diffuse the fear. If you think of the movie Ghostbusters and how terrifying it would be if it wasn't so funny, that's the balance we're aiming for. 

            Sometimes the Maya do the job for us. Take Ah Pukuh, the god of violent and unnatural death. He rules the deepest, darkest layer of the Maya underworld and wears a necklace of human eyeballs. But, happily for us, hes also known as Kisin - the farter. Its not often you get to write characters that are pure evil and insanely fun at the same time, but that's Maya mythology for you.

            The other reason for including so much humor in the books is the age of our readership - wonderful, imaginative, giggling middle-schoolers who never heard a fart joke they didn't like. But more than that, most kids are wired to look for the funny. I've seen my own kids joke around where I've just wanted to cry: like, for example, when our car broke down recently on a freezing night in the middle of winter on a deserted New England road at just the point in the valley where there's no cell phone signal. 

            Kids are brave, creative and naturally funny. That's not to say they don't whine, but they seem to shrug things off faster than adults. That's why Max and Lola, our teenage main characters, can usually find reasons to laugh, even as they're battling the fearsome Death Lords.

            It's a fine balance, because we never make light of the modern Maya. They've endured centuries of oppression, their culture was almost destroyed and, as Lola points out, access to further education and healthcare is still limited. There's nothing funny about any of that. Of course, we can't be sure if our readers absorb the social messages in amongst all the fun and adventure. But, at the very least, we hope they realize that the Maya are still around - and still finding things to laugh about.

Keep up with the Voelkels: 


Comment below to enter all four books in the JAGUAR STONES series. Giveaway runs through March 2.

My Road to Publication in Photos by Danette Vigilante

Slush Pile (yuck!)

Number of Rejections (!)

Finally on the 44th try, Success! (Phew!)

Sunday, February 15, 2015

The Math of Publication by Bob Krech

The road to publication is filled with conversations. I used to think authors just wrote their stuff, mailed it out, and got published. Everything I've ever published was in some way connected to a conversation I first had with a fellow author, editor, agent, or librarian.

Most of these conversations took place at writing conferences. For folks looking to get on the road to publication, I feel there is no better place to start. When attending it is probably just as important to talk to the people sitting near you in the audience (my first one I unknowingly sat next to Laurie Halse Anderson just before Speak came out) as to those editors and agents after their presentations (talk to them too!)

I met one of my editors in a line at lunch and another milling around in a lobby. Be ready to talk about your work, why it excites you and should excite them. Even if you're not published do not hesitate to identify yourself as a writer (as long as you're writing, right?) wherever you are. I met a parent at a school I worked at, out who turned out to be James Michener's agent. He doesn't handle children's books, but he's proved to be an invaluable sounding board for me over the years.

Since most of my books are actually about math, I will summarize with an equation: Conferences + Conversations = Connections (which equals publications) See. Math can be fun.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

On Valentine's Day, Love and Authorship Melt Together - February Theme by Tamera Wissinger

When I ask students how long they think it took for Gone Fishing to become a book, their guesses usually begin at a month, then two months, six months, a year. And after several guesses, each upping the timeframe a bit more, when I reveal the answer: six years (four years on my own, then two more years with the help of my editor) – their eyes grow big – for some of them that’s a lifetime. The topic we don’t get into is: how long it took to prepare myself to be ready to write books before I began writing Gone Fishing. The answer to that question is a lifetime – my lifetime.

Grandma Will reading a big book to
my sister & me (notice my grabby hand.)
I started to become a writer when I was a baby – it’s true. I was lucky enough to have parents who read to me, to have grandmas and grandpas and uncles and aunts who gave books as gifts, to have an older sister who would read to me then with me, and a younger brother who listened to me read to him. As a very young child I fell in love – with rhythm, rhyme, stories. Eventually, with the help of thoughtful librarians and patient teachers, I began reading and writing stories and poetry on my own. 

On this Valentine’s Day, love and authorship are melting together – I get credit for writing down words in a way that could form a book that others might enjoy reading – I give credit to those who cared enough about me to put engaging books in my hands, ensured that I knew how to enjoy reading them, and taught me how to write. My road to publication began long before Gone Fishing and involved great acts of affection, patience, kindness, faith – from many people who loved me and wanted me to be happy.

This Valentine’s Day I’m feeling fortunate and grateful. I hope you all have a happy day.

Tamera Wissinger writes stories and poetry for children. She is a graduate of Hamline University's MFA program in Writing for Children and Young Adults. Her first book, Gone Fishing, arrived from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in 2013 after six years in development, and her first picture book, THIS OLD BAND, arrived last June from Sky Pony Press. You can connect with Tamera online at, on Twitter: @TameraWissinger,  or on Facebook.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

My Path to Publication by Darlene Beck Jacobson

       It began with a pitch at our annual NJSCBWI Conference in June 2011. Friday night was the Meet & Greet where we would-be authors got to hang out with agents and editors over cocktails.  The regional adviser - Kathy Temean - introduced me to agent Ginger Harris of the Liza Royce Agency because she was looking for "new writers" to add to their "new agency". Having practiced my elevator pitch out loud several times before, I was ready.
        I told Ginger about Wheels of Change (then called The Carriage Maker's Daughter).  She was excited and asked me to send her 30 pages and a synopsis.
        I did.  As soon as I got home.  Then I waited.  You know the drill.  Two months.  Three.  I sent a follow up e-mail and heard nothing.  Then I asked the RA what the proper etiquette was for follow up on the requested submission.  When she found out I'd sent it to Liza Royce Agency, she contacted Liza Fleissig - the other half of the agency - who immediately said, "We never got that submission or e-mail.  Have her send it to me ASAP."
       I did, and within a week, she requested a full manuscript.   A few days later she offered representation.  Her and Ginger's excitement and enthusiasm for the story was a great boost and it was a no- brainer to sign up with them.
       After a round of polite rejections with constructive comments, I did some minor editing before we went to round two. This time, it landed at newly formed CRESTON BOOKS, led by author/illustrator Marissa Moss, who loved the story and wanted it.  The lucky combination of Liza and Marissa has made the journey an amazingly satisfying one.
       If there's a lesson to be learned from my path to publication it is this: If an agent or editor requests a manuscript and you don't hear back from them, don't assume they aren't interested.  Maybe they just didn't get the e-mail.  And, don't be afraid to go with a smaller publishing house. The TCL I get from CRESTON is amazing and the bottom line is: The best place for your book is with those who love it so much, they can't imagine NOT publishing it!

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Back on the Path by Jody Feldman

Sign on the right? It warns of speed bumps.

Me: I am back on the path to publication.
Other people: You’re what!?! But, but ... you’re already published.
Me: Absolutely true.
People: When did you veer off?
Me: I didn’t. The path just veers on its own.
People: So what—

Here’s what they don’t tell you. Just because you’ve had success with one book or two or four hundred (well, maybe four hundred), it doesn’t always give you an automatic YES for your next attempt. Sure, it makes it easier. You probably have an agent in your corner, an editor and publisher who’d love nothing more than to make you a successful staple on their list, and some semblance of a fan base around your existing work. The truth is, though, unless the next book you write checks most, if not all the indicators for a strong seller, the powers-that-be cannot, in good business practice, give you another YES. Even if they like you a whole, whole lot.

And so I approach each new book—from first word through the end, through revision after revision—as if I need to win over my entire publishing world again.
It turns out I’m still riddled with the same uncertainties that plagued me from the start:
Have I chosen the right book to write?
Will anyone want to read this?
Have I written from the best point of view?
Is there enough conflict?
Does it make sense?
Is it even interesting?
...and the list goes on and on.

It’s these questions that keep me on my game. The last thing I want is to cruise on autopilot, have that next book shot down, then sweep up the pieces with “I told you so; you didn’t work it hard enough” running through my mind.

Now that I’ve just handed in a draft of a very new and fresh (for me, at least) book to my agent, I’m sitting with the same doubts I’ve always had. Except one.

No matter if I get a YES or a NO, I have confidence in my growing strength as a writer. If this story doesn’t stick, I’ll adjust, shift, veer—do everything necessary—and the next one will. Probably.

Monday, February 9, 2015

The Bailey School Kids Turns 25!!!

Twenty-five years ago it all started with a really bad day...

Want to know the REAL story? Check out:

Sunday, February 8, 2015


As Shakespeare wrote, "The course of true love never did run smooth." Neither does the path to publication!

After my second novel was safely in the Random House pipeline, my agent Linda Pratt began shopping around my third novel––which we believed was "high concept." To my shock and dismay, my editor didn't want it. Neither did anyone else. I panicked. I thought I knew what I was doing. I thought I had figured this writing thing out. Clearly I hadn't. And now I didn't know what to write next.

I kept rereading some chapters I had written in 2009 about a parrot who flew into the bedroom of a sick girl. I wrote a little more--and put it away. If I couldn't sell my high-concept book, who would want a story about a girl and a parrot?

I started calling it the Forbidden Project. I hoped a better idea would come along. But like many forbidden things, it tantalized.

So I wrote the novel.

Linda fell in love with it and sent it out to editors. Liz Szabla read it in the fall of 2011. She was interested, but she wanted to discuss changes. We had a wonderful conversation about her vision for the book. I sensed that my parrot had captivated her too. Would I be willing to make the girl older? Would I get rid of her dolls? Would I add more adventures with other birds? Would I?  Of course! I tried not to sound completely desperate, but I would have done just about anything to let my Forbidden Project have a life.

In October 2013, The Desperate Adventures of Zeno & Alya was published by Feiwel and Friends. Liz and I worked together on my next novel, The Book of Dares for Lost Friends--coming in July 2015.

As I rewrite my next novel, I no longer have the illusion that I know what I'm doing. I figure it out as I go along. But I do know that everyone who writes must persist. And, even more importantly, write the characters and the stories who just won't let go.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

February Theme - My Journey to Publication Twice by Deborah Lytton

All publication journeys are unique yet they all share something in common, perseverance. The most important thing to remember is never to give up. Never giving up has kept me on the path to publication, not once but twice.

JANE IN BLOOM was my first published book. It came out in 2009 after many years of writing. It was actually my third middle grade novel (sixth if you count three middle grade novels I co-wrote with author Susanna Leonard Hill). But it was the first one that anyone wanted to publish. I think the key to selling JANE was that I decided to write the book I wanted to write, without any regard to the market or critics. I just wanted to tell Jane's story, even if no one wanted to read it. I had landed my agent, Stacey Glick at Dystel & Goderich, after writing a novel for adults about an actress trying to find success in Hollywood. When that book didn't sell, Stacey suggested I try writing something else. I told her I had an idea for a very heavy middle grade book about a girl who was the forgotten sister in a family dealing with the other sister's eating disorder. Stacey had never sold a middle grade novel at that time but she was willing to try. And so I wrote the book. Stacey sold it to Dutton. And I thought I was on my way.

Only JANE IN BLOOM was released in 2009 at a time the market was shifting away from contemporary fiction into dystopian and vampire books, neither of which I write.

And that began part two of my path to publication. I wrote several novels after JANE IN BLOOM trying to follow up my first publication with something a bit more commercial, but none of them found a home. The truth is that they really weren't that special. By 2012, I was really frustrated. I wanted to write realistic fiction about heavy subjects, but no one was buying that. My agent, who had stuck with me all that time encouraged me to follow my heart and do what I do best. So I wrote SILENCE. It sold in 2014 to Shadow Mountain and is being released next month. It has been a long, long journey to selling my second book. And there were times I doubted myself and wondered if I was wasting my time. But ultimately, I had to write because it is a part of who I am. In the end, isn't that why we all write? So for any of you who are struggling along the way with whether to continue or give up, let my journey remind you that the most important thing you can do for yourself as a writer is never to give up. Just keep writing!

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Megan's Journey to MG Publication

My first published book, Secrets of Truth & Beauty, was a YA novel that came out in 2009. The book I wrote after that was YA, too. I called it Bottle Cap and it's the story of a mathematician in a family of artists. It didn't sell for a variety of reasons. One was market: those were tough years for contemporary realistic fiction. A bigger problem was the novel's voice: there was a slyly funny narrator living there, but she was buried in fleshy prose.

The failure to sell that book rocked me. I tried to write another YA. I thought I had an idea that was at least a little paranormal. I added superheroes and their requisite super powers. It wasn't going anywhere. So then I spun my wheels with a project I'd been working on before Secrets. I was certain I would never sell another book. It's okay, I told myself. Most people don't get to publish even one book. You should feel lucky.

I didn't feel lucky.

I went back to the superhero book, I had this idea that maybe there was something about the water in this town. Maybe it was the fountain of youth. I wrote, but it felt like such a strange book. I thought maybe it was actually a middle grade. I doubted every word.

I signed up for a workshop at The Telling Room with Monica Wood. It was about kick starting your writing. I feel stuck, I confessed. I don't trust myself.  Monica was a gentle yet exhilarating teacher. I don't think the workshop was more than two hours long, but I left re-invented. Screw it, I told myself (though I might have used a stronger word). So what if it’s a weird book, it's the book you want to write. It’s the book that only you can write, and, anyway, know what else is a weird book? When You Reach Me is a weird book. Holes is a weird book. I was working at a high school and one of my students said, when trying to describe his favorite book, "You know, sometimes the best books are the hardest to explain." Yes! I almost hugged him.

I wish I could say it was easy from there. I got the draft out but it still needed a lot of work. My agent was amazing. I worked that book until I wasn't sure if it was good or bad, but I knew it was something new for me.

The Water Castle was published in 2012 and was received more warmly than I ever could have imagined back in those doldrum days.

This month is going to be interesting hearing all of our publication journeys. It’s important to remember that every person and every book takes a different path, and that having one book published doesn’t make the next book any easier to write or to sell. Even the notion of writing the book that only you can write won’t work for everyone. Sometimes you need to write the book that will put food on your table. But for me, I was writing nothing. No good words were going to come out until I sorted out The Water Castle. I just had to wait for the time and the place and the stars and my attitude and the amazing help of mentors like Monica Wood to get it right.

A postscript: I went back to Bottle Cap. I opened a new file and did a complete rewrite. I started from word one, page one, and unearthed the wry voice that wanted to get out and tell Veronica's story. The book, now called Very in Pieces and very much YA, will be out this fall from Harper Teen.