November 2, 2021
Note From Rochelle
I’ve been “out” on tour for the book. I’ll be sharing those links with you as they become available. I was delighted to be interviewed by Carol Paur for her Talking to Myself YouTube show.
Today I am thrilled to welcome my debut group to the blog. You remember them, right? They contributed to our “How to Form a Debut Group” post last summer. Today they’re here to share their wisdom on how to sell a children’s book.
Rochelle, the Write Now! Coach
How I Sold My Book: Eight Debut Authors Tell Their Stories
When I first started writing, I wanted to know how every successful writer sold their book. I mean, there had to be a secret sauce, right? There isn’t. But it does help to hear the stories of those who’ve been successful.
Pro Tip: Many people will tell you they HAVE the secret sauce. They’re probably exaggerating. So, if they ask you to pay big bucks for it—just say no.
For today’s tip, I asked the members of my debut group to share their success stories and favorite tips. Here they are—in mostly alphabetical order. Enjoy!
Adria Karlsson: My Sister Daisy
My story became a book through a series of people seeing its brilliance and encouraging me forward! Way back when I first wrote that terrible first draft… I noticed it had a gleam to it, so I showed it to friends, who encouraged me to pursue it. A local editor helped me polish it and encouraged me to look for an agent. My agent saw its beauty and signed me even though my lack of experience and other writing could have been a good reason not to! And finally, Capstone decided it was a fit for their list. I feel extremely fortunate to have had so many people along the way that believed in me and to have found the right agent at the right moment when I was holding the story that was perfect for them to rep.
Writing and Publishing Tips
- If you have a story you believe needs to be told and a draft that you think might have something to it, talk to your friends and critique partners. Don’t keep it to yourself!
- Follow the leads that you find. I don’t even remember which blog on the internet I found that suggested I look for agent information on Publisher’s Marketplace- but that led me to my agent.
- Develop a community. No books exist because one person willed them into being… they need critique partners, agents, editors, publishers, and, eventually, readers!
Alexandra Katona: Dinner on Domingos
I had only participated in a handful of pitch events before, but I decided to try my luck with #DVpit in April of 2020. I pitched, “Lulu and her big family gather at abuelita’s for dinner: after all, it’s Sunday. But as tensions rise, can abuelita find a way to bring everyone together again? DINNER ON DOMINGOS is a love letter to family dinners and the women who keep traditions alive: grandmothers. #DVpit #PB”
I got four likes, but two of them were my friends not realizing I was participating in an event. The other two were from industry professionals. One was an agent who ended up passing on the story and one was Lisa Rosinsky, an editor from Barefoot Books. I sent her my manuscript that week, but I was hesitant because I had been working on another draft that was a bit more lively and colorful. Lisa wrote back within a few weeks and told me she loved the writing, but felt the themes were a bit too adult. I ended up doing a revise and resubmit (R&R), since my new draft seemed to be on par with her suggestions. To my surprise, she loved the new draft. They asked for 30 days for an exclusive submission while they decided, and within two weeks, they told me they wanted to purchase the book.
Benjamin Giroux: I Am Odd, I Am New
I wrote my I am poem when I was 10 for a school assignment. I didn’t think it was any good. But my dad posted it to Facebook. Within 24 hours my poem went viral and was shared all over the world. Everyone was sharing my story, including the famous author Anne Rice. Yes, THE Anne Rice! My dad messaged her to thank her for sharing my poem and to ask her for advice on how to protect it. Turns out, it was Anne Rice’s assistant, Becket, that managed her social media and was the one that shared it. He told us that he had someone close to him on the spectrum, so that my poem really touched him. He didn’t really know how to go about protecting my poem, but asked if I minded him sending it to his agent. Of course I didn’t mind!
A couple days later, I was contacted by his agent, Naomi Davis. She absolutely loved my poem and was determined to have it turned into a children’s book for everyone to read. In time she connected me with a illustrator that she represented, the award winning Roz MacLean. Turns out Roz also loved my poem and went ahead and illustrated the entire book. With that in hand, Naomi reached out to ask her publishing contacts and in no time we got a book deal with Schiffer Publishing. And now my book, after some delays, is coming out soon!
My publishing journey has felt a bit like winning the lottery. While I’ve gone through the same process as most writers—writing, querying, getting rejected, writing some more, querying, getting rejected some more—I managed to get very lucky during a Twitter contest.
I heard about Twitter pitch parties early in my writing journey and thought they sounded like fun! What a great way to polish your pitch and put yourself out there. I joined a few contests and got little to no response. With the thousands of pitches streaming through the feed it seemed almost impossible to get noticed. I joined Facebook groups dedicated to helping writers perfect their pitches. I hired other writers to critique my pitch and provide feedback. And of course, I tapped into my critique groups for their much-appreciated advice. When I thought I had both a polished, marketable story AND a sparkly, attention-grabbing pitch, I entered #PBpitch, the only Twitter party devoted to picture books.
While I didn’t get any agent love, I did get two ‘likes’ from editors. One decided to pass, but the other one (after weeks of keeping me on pins and needles) finally decided they were in! I couldn’t believe my luck and still shake my head in wonder at what feels like a minor miracle. My book baby, Poet, Pilgrim, Rebel: The Story of Anne Bradstreet, America’s First Published Poet, was born 8/3/21 and I couldn’t be more thrilled with it.
Writing and Publishing Tips
- Find a subject you’re passionate about. This will help motivate you as you navigate the overwhelming, and often tedious, process of revising.
- Work hard—don’t let the sweat and tears deter you, they’re part of the process! Revising, getting feedback, and revising some more WILL help your story shine.
- Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there. You might just win the lottery.
Leah Rose Kessler: Rat Fair
The beauty of writing picture books is that several publishers will accept PB submissions from unagented authors. When I wrote the manuscript for RAT FAIR, I felt that, as a nearly wordless story, it probably wasn’t my best bet for snagging an agent to represent me for my scintillating prose. But it was a good manuscript and it was ready to send out; I didn’t want to back burner it. So, I decided to strike out on my own. I belong to SCBWI, and one of the things that comes with membership is access to The Book, a resource containing all sorts of publishing information that is updated yearly. I went through The Book with a fine-tooth comb and made a list of about 30 publishers that were accepting unagented submissions and also looked like a good match for my story. I divided the list up into three groups and submitted to my first batch of ten publishers.
After the “if you don’t hear from us by…” dates had passed, I began submitting to the next group and got about halfway through before life got in the way. Time passed and I had more or less put it out of my mind when, a year after submitting, I received an email from the editor at POW! Kids Books asking if the manuscript was still available. She had loved the story and had been hanging onto it until conditions at POW! were right. Happily, the manuscript was still available, and here we are!
Writing and Publishing Tips
- Be selective when submitting so that the time you spend is as fruitful as possible. I found dozens of presses that accepted unagented submissions, but most of them weren’t a good fit for my manuscript and I would have been wasting my time and theirs if I’d submitted to them.
- You can hire a literary lawyer or become a member of the Author’s Guild, which provides free legal aid to their members, to look over your contract for you. Even without an agent you don’t have to do this alone.
- Resist the urge to check your inbox. I’m much happier when I’m able to send out a query and then put it out of my mind. Many agents and publishers won’t respond at all and others may take a very long time for reasons that have nothing to do with you or your story. Relax, have a cup of tea, and work on the next thing.
Morissa Rubin: Dot, Dot, Polka Dot
I had previously queried agents with two other manuscripts. Dot, Dot, Polka Dot was a total pandemic book. I started working on it in late spring of 2020 and by the end of the summer I felt ready to send it out. I sent it out to four agents and received one personal nice note, but for them it wasn’t a good match stylistically. Around the same time, I had checked a library book out that was published by POW! Kids Books. I had gravitated to the illustrator, Cinta Arribas’s loose, edgy, bold style and became intrigued by who was publishing this kind of book. When I read POW’s mission statement that they are looking for books that “are visually striking, and have an offbeat or edgy sensibility” it really resonated with what I was trying to do.
I submitted the manuscript in early September 2020. The then (and no longer) editor Jordan Nielsen emailed me at the start of November asking if it was still available! Needless to say, I was thrilled and love to be included among the books POW! publishes. I have some new manuscripts and am again on the quest to find an agent.
Writing and Publishing Tip
- I am a graphic designer and author/illustrator so finding POW! Kids Books whose titles are visually driven was key. I also had critique partners who gave me meaningful feedback. I had one professional critique of this manuscript through the SCBWI summer conference 2020. Both of these avenues really helped me make substantial changes and refinements by the time I submitted Dot, Dot, Polka Dot.
Stephanie Wildman: Brave in the Water
When I retired from my day job as a law teacher, I knew I wanted to keep writing. I saw that Maxine Rose Schur was offering a class at the Writing Salon. When I looked up her and her books, I was impressed. In the first class, when I explained my idea involving a boy who was afraid to put his face in the water, Maxine said, “It’s a picture book.” I worked on that story with Maxine, even after the class ended. I can’t tell you how many drafts it took to get the word count down.
When she thought it was ready, Maxine urged me to send Brave in the Water directly to publishers. She had taken some of her work to a new, small press, Lawley Publishing. She suggested I send my manuscript there, too. The week before my birthday, as the Bay area remained in lock down, I decided I would give up writing and just help my daughter and her husband who were working at home with two of my small grandchildren. That’s the day I got an email acceptance from Lawley.
Writing and Publishing Tip
- Collect rejections. Don’t look at each query that results in a “no” as a failure. Look at the big picture. Every writer collects tons of rejections. Think in terms of percentages, i.e. if my book has a 1 out of 10 chance of being published, then I need to collect at least nine rejections. Celebrate each one because you are being a writer.
Rochelle Melander: Mightier Than the Sword: Rebels, Reformers, and Revolutionaries Who Changed the World through Writing
In 2009, I included a pitch for Mightier Than the Sword as a follow-up book in my book proposal for Write-a-Thon: Write Your Book in 26 Days (And Live to Tell About It). In 2018, I took Middle Grade Mastery with the Children’s Book Academy and pitched the book to agents and editors. When an agent requested it, I had to scramble to write the proposal! When she rejected it, I revised the proposal and submitted it to more agents.
The rejections piled up: This wasn’t a book for the trade market. The book was too educational. The book wasn’t educational enough. Finally, an agent requested a revise and resubmit—which I did. And waited. For almost a year. When an agent I met at a conference offered representation, I sent a note to the agents who’d been sitting on the proposal for months—including my R&R agent. They all rejected it. What should I do? The agent offering representation wasn’t editorial enough for me. But, I worried it was my last chance.
I tried the venue least likely to get results: #PitMad. In this Twitter pitching event, agents and editors like the projects that appeal to them. By the end of the day, I had four hearts from four different editors. I sent the proposal to two of the editors and sold the book to Beaming Books.
Writing and Publishing Tip
- Figure out why you want to get this story published: what’s your mission? How will it help readers? Knowing your WHY will help you get through days when the HOW seems impossible.
About the authors
Adria Karlsson is a writer and a parent with a history of teaching people, training cats and dogs, and tutoring kids with dyslexia. When she isn’t writing, Adria can often be found reading with a cat on her lap, attempting to replicate pastries from a certain British baking show, or zipping around town with a pile of children in the family cargo bike. My Sister Daisy is her first picture book.
Alexandra Katona is a writer and a communications consultant for the specialty coffee industry. Dinner on Domingos is her debut picture book. When she’s not writing, you can find her on an outdoor adventure, swimming in the ocean, or cooking for her family. She lives with her husband, son, and dogs in Southern California, and believes in the connective power of food.
Benjamin Giroux, author of the children’s book I Am Odd, I Am New has been featured on many websites, in the Huffington Post, and on the Today Show and Good Morning America. He was named Poet Laureate of Plattsburgh, New York and has also been the face of the National Autism Association’s antibullying campaign. His poem has been translated into more than 20 different languages.
Katie Munday Williams is a Public Health Nurse, Lactation Consultant, and Author. She lives in Santa Cruz, CA with her husband and two children where they enjoy digging for sand crabs and attempting to bring the entire beach home with them in their pants. Poet, Pilgrim, Rebel: The Story of Anne Bradstreet, America’s First Published Poet is her debut picture book.
Leah Rose Kessler spent much of her childhood up a tree with a stack of books. These days, when she’s not reading or writing, she’s an on-again, off-again elementary school teacher and a lifelong biologist. She lives in Michigan with two humans and two cats, and has a soft spot for scurrying creatures of all shapes and sizes. Rat Fair is her debut picture book.
Morissa Rubin is a graphic designer who thinks polka dots, paisleys and plaid are better together. She received her BFA from RISD and her MS from MIT’s Visible Language Workshop. Morissa lives in Sacramento where she teaches typography and other design courses at UC Davis and Sac State. Her debut board book is Dot, Dot, Polka Dot.
Stephanie Wildman wrote many books and articles in her former life as a law professor. Brave in the Water (translated into Spanish by Cecilia Populus-Eudave as Valiente en el Agua and illustrated by Jenni Feidler-Aguilar) marks her debut writing for children. She is a grandmother, mother, spouse, friend, good listener, and she is able to sit “criss-cross applesauce,” thanks to her yoga practice.
Rochelle Melander is a certified professional coach who helps people write and publish books that transform lives. She the author of 12 books, including Mightier Than the Sword: Rebels, Reformers, and Revolutionaries Who Changed the World through Writing. She’s the founder of Dream Keepers, a writing workshop that supports children and teens in finding their voice and sharing their stories.
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