Writers@Work: Learning to Adapt by Stef Wade
July 31, 2018
Note From Rochelle
Today’s tip offers writing inspiration from Stef Wade, author of the brand new book, A Place for Pluto. I met Stef through SCBWI, where we were in a critique group together. If you live in the Milwaukee area, Stef Wade will be hosting a launch party for A Place for Pluto at Boswell Book Company on Wednesday, August 1 at 6:30 PM. This will be a kid-friendly event and will include a reading and time for questions.
Writers@Work: Learning to Adapt by Stef Wade
I didn’t set out to be a picture book writer.
That was my first lesson in learning to adapt.
Don’t get me wrong. I love writing picture books. But I never knew that’s what I’d love to write. I began my writing journey with young adult novels. But one day, while reading a book about space to my four-year-old son, I got my first inkling of inspiration for a children’s book.
Here’s where I say “and A Place for Pluto” was born. But it’s much longer and more complicated than that.
I began truly pursuing a writing career when I made the decision to stay-at-home when I had my first son. After two YA novels and years of searching, I finally landed an agent. In my agent search, I knew I had my Pluto book, so I aimed for agents who’d represent both children’s and YA. More eggs. More baskets.
When I signed with Christa Heschke of McIntosh & Otis for my YA novel, she also agreed to represent my children’s books. To my delight, she took the whole package.
Then began the submission process.
When you spend years and years being rejected by agents, the high you feel of getting an agent is extreme. You feel bulletproof. Until you go on submission.
Within a month of signing with Christa, Pluto went on another journey to find his place in the publishing world.
It was the summer of 2015 and to my surprise, we had interest.
The original story was titled Pluto Sings The Blues. As Pluto met the different people in the solar system, he sang a bluesy song, until he met the dwarf planets who rocked out with him.
The editor that expressed interest in the book said she loved the story, but she’d like me to get rid of the song.
What?! NO Song?! But then Pluto won’t be singing the blues!
It took me awhile to swallow that down. But this editor has put out some of my favorite books. I knew I had to trust her and try it.
I went back and forth figuring out how to keep the story together and get rid of the song. I tried a few different angles. I just took out the song. Not good enough. I made him more bluesy but with no song. That didn’t work. I made him sweeter and reworked dialogue into speech bubbles. And it started to come together.
A few versions later, we resubmitted it. I hung onto Pluto Sings The Blues because I could not fathom another title, even if there was no song.
Then we waited.
We went on submission with my YA contemporary novel.
Every notification of an email brought rejection.
I choked them down. Brushed them off. Wallowed for ten minutes at a time, then moved on.
The editor for Pluto was still interested, but wasn’t ready to commit. So we waited patiently.
I went to BookExpo 2016 when it was in Chicago, after about a year of being on submission and waiting. It was there I saw the Capstone booth. Many of my other Pluto rejections weren’t sure if this book would work. It’s mostly fiction but has non-fiction elements. Would the kids get it? Were they too old? Too young? Do they know what planets are?
Capstone works so well in the education space, we thought it’d be worth a try. So we sent it off.
There was interest.
And more waiting.
And a year later, we got the offer. Pluto found his place at Capstone.
But the first order of business: change the title.
This felt like an impossible task. What else could make people understand just from the title that this was a story about Pluto being told he’s not a planet.
But that’s where I went wrong.
That happens in the story. But my story is not about Pluto being told he’s not a planet. It’s a story about Pluto finding where he belongs.
When you create, when you put sentences together to make a story, it becomes a part of you. There’s a certain pride within that knows when you’ve got something good.
But you can’t let that pride stop you from making your work better. It can always be better.
What these editors saw in my story wasn’t just a clever little quip about a culturally popular idea, it was the connection to the heart. It was Pluto’s real journey for belonging and acceptance.
It was three years from submission to interest to publication before A Place for Pluto hit the shelves.
And just like Pluto, I went on my own journey for acceptance. To accept that writing takes time. To accept that this road is never going to be easy. To accept that even when I have good idea, better ideas are inside of me, and it may take other people to pull those out. Especially when those people sell books for a living.
Editing books to help “sell” them does not mean you’re selling out. It means you’re making them better. And YOU are the one that’s making them better. I wrote every last word in this book. And now, when I see my book with my name on it sitting on the display shelf at Barnes & Noble, I finally feel like I’ve found my place.
About the author. Stef Wade used to write about cardboard boxes, but thinks writing books is far more exciting. She is the author A Place for Pluto (Capstone 2018), which has been chosen by Barnes & Noble for part of their national storytime on August 11, 2018.
She was the co-creator and writer for the former cooking and home blog Haute Apple Pie. She holds a BA in advertising from Marquette University and an MBA in Integrated Marketing Communication from DePaul University. Stef is a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). She’s bounced all over the midwest with her college sweetheart husband and her three historically and literary named boys and currently resides in the Milwaukee area. Stef is represented by Christa Heschke of McIntosh & Otis.