Saturday, June 15, 2019

The Importance of Patience and Perseverance


I’ve long studied American folklore and history. In fact, I earned my MFA in writing for children from Vermont College in 2001, and was awarded honors with distinction for my MA in children’s literature degree from Simmons in 1995. During both of these degrees, I studied the folklore process in children’s literature. Children’s literature at that time showcased the best storytellers of the genre, including Eric Kimmel, Rafe Martin, and Aaron Shepard, among many others. Folklore was a staple in picture book collections. I graduated from Vermont with a four-book contract for picture books that highlighted my love of American folklore and history. But, as much as I knew about writing and story, I knew nothing of the business of children’s publishing.

And publishing is, foremost, a business.
I signed on with the first agent who would help me with the multi-contracts. What I didn’t realize is that an agent-writer relationship is akin to a marriage. While this agent helped seal the deal with the contracts, other issues arose. Needless to say, that relationship didn’t work out. I was referred to another agent, and more problems arose. It turned out that the contracts contained a couple of damaging clauses. According to this new agent, I couldn’t submit work elsewhere, and she couldn’t renegotiate the clauses. In other words, my career was not only stalled, but completely derailed. The relationship ended, of course. Determined, I went to Author’s Guild, learned what I had to in order to understand these clauses and renegotiate the contract myself.

My first two picture books came out in 2009, eight years after signing the contract. The third book came out in 2012, eleven years after signing the contract. The fourth contract, however, was cancelled. Thankfully, I had a strong circle of friends, in particular Eric Kimmel and Marion Dane Bauer, who understood that business side of things and shared their wisdom and support through the years.

But there was yet another, stronger riptide I had to steer through. Beginning in 2001, the children’s market was changing dramatically. The folklore picture book market was bottoming out. The very genre that I had studied, loved, and sought as my career was no longer an option. What the heck do I do now?

Writers have to find a way to adapt. So I moved to middle grade fiction. 

The challenge became in combining all that I had learned and loved in folklore and history with this new format. For a long while, it was a hit-and-miss effort. Finally I had this manuscript, Big River’s Daughter. By now, I was unsure if it even fit in a market that no longer viewed folklore as relevant. Even historical fiction was having a hard time.

And that’s when I learned my greatest lesson: the importance of patience and perseverance.
 
I met Emma Dryden via Facebook, when she was describing her recent experience as a passenger on a Windjammer cruise – the very one I had gone on as I was researching my book, Big River’s Daughter! I’ve known about Emma for decades; she’s legendary in the field. It turns out, she had just started her own business, drydenbks. I signed up, asking her a crucial question: Where do I fit in now?
And of course, Dumbledore that she is, she helped clarify my thinking and create a plan that would help me achieve my goals. Not only do writers have to adapt to the shifting markets, sometimes they have to make their own place. And we need a business plan!

Part of that plan included an introduction to agent Karen Grencik, who it turns out had just started a new agency, Red Fox Literary. This time I wasn’t shy about asking questions – even dumb ones. One month later after teaming up, Karen sold Big River’s Daughter to Holiday House. Three months after that, she sold my second middle grade novel, Girls of Gettysburg, also to Holiday House. 

All things happens for a reason at the time they are supposed to happen. As River plunges into the wilds of the frontier, taking on the Pirates Laffite and the extraordinary landscape of the mighty river herself in the rough-and-tumble Big River’s Daughter, there is that truth of River’s journey:

If one perseveres, life can be full of possible imaginations.


--Bobbi Miller


5 comments:

  1. I am proud to have been part of your journey, Bobbi.

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  2. You continue to inspire us, Bobbi. And I have a soft spot for gutsy Big River's daughter!

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  3. What an inspiring post! And I just started publishing with Holiday House, too, and love them so much!

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  4. You are so right that the agent/author relationship is like a marriage, and the severing of it is like a divorce. I'm with Red Fox too and love them! :)

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  5. This post has so much wisdom. And I love that last sentence.

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