As I stretch my Emu’s debut fledgling wings, I remember not “the call,” but several calls that kept me fluttering and striving for flight toward my goal of becoming a published author.
Call #1 came on the evening of May 29th, 2008, as I was reading to my then six year old daughter. I quickly checked the caller ID; I didn’t recognize the name, so I let it go to voicemail. After my daughter was tucked in bed, I listened to the message. The caller was Susan Goodman, a nonfiction writer and judge for PEN New England’s Susan Bloom Discovery Award. I knew I hadn’t won the award—the winners had recently been announced—what could it be? Susan told me how much she loved my submission, a nonfiction picture book called Terrific Tongues. She thought its strength was its structure, a form of direct address that had an engaging, kid friendly voice. And then came the surprise: it had been a contender for the award, but the deal breaker was its too technical ending. We then had a conversation about how to make the ending more organic, and a pleasant conversation about writing in general. Though this was technically a rejection call, it gave me hope. Susan had taken the time out of her busy schedule to give me encouragement, and that’s exactly what I needed.
Fast forward nearly one year later: I revised and revised and revised Terrific Tongues, and re-submitted it for the Discovery Award in 2009. Call #2 came on March 23, 2009. This time when I saw “Susan Goodman” on my caller ID, my stomach began flipping and flopping—could it be? As I picked up the phone and said hello, Susan happily told me I was one of four winners (along with the fabulous Anna Staniszewski, another EMLA member!) I couldn’t believe it! I was overjoyed and terrified: I would have to read my manuscript aloud along with the other winners at the awards evening. That evening came late in May, and I was thrilled to be reading it along with the help of my daughter, now 7. Afterwards, I greeted old friends, and met new ones, one in particular who would become most instrumental in my journey toward publication: Ammi-Joan Paquette.
Joan had also been honored with a Susan Bloom Discovery Award, I came to find out. She congratulated me on receiving the award, and asked if I’d ever considered getting an agent. We exchanged information, and met for coffee. At the time, I had only two submission ready manuscripts, both of which were nonfiction picture books. The timing wasn’t quite right for representation, but Joan was kind and thoughtful and hopeful about my work, encouraging me to keep in touch, and re-submit once I had more completed projects. So I wrote and re-wrote; drafted and revised.
Fast forward again: May 2011. I met Joan briefly at the NE-SCBWI conference, as I was waiting for my critique. She said a hearty hello, and invited me to submit my manuscripts. After a trip x-country, the end of the summer arrived, and I submitted multiple manuscripts to Joan. I obsessively checked my email. A couple of months later Joan’s name appeared in my in-box: she was very interested in my writing and asked me to do some revisions. Hooray! We emailed back and forth as I worked on revisions. Call #3 came on precisely August 27th, 2012: Joan wanted to represent me! She was so excited about my work that she sent out some submissions before I had even returned the signed contract! Woo-hoo!
Valentine’s day 2013 arrived, and so did the so-called “call.” I had just returned home from picking my daughter up at school, when I heard a voice on the answering machine: Joan’s! I picked it up mid call: she had received an offer on my picture book, then called Penelope, Untalented, from Cynthia Platt at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt! This is what the conversation sounded like on my end:
Me: “Oh my God.”
Daughter: “What, mom? Who is it?”
Me: “Oh, my God!”
Daughter: “What is it?!”
Me: “I can’t believe it! OH MY GOD!”
At some point, Joan asked me if I wanted to sit down, she then told me that we had an offer for a two-book deal debut! The best Valentine’s day present ever! After a thousand thank-yous, and a happy dance with daughter and dog, it was time to make calls of my own, to my husband and mother, and eventually, to my family and friends to thank them for their encouragement, and for believing in me and my work. The years before these calls were long, lonely years of hard work and rejection, but they were also filled with cheering and bolstering my writing friends as they cheered and bolstered me.
Now my dream of being a published author will soon be here! My debut picture book, now titled Penny & Jelly: The School Show, will be released in July 2015, and the second Penny & Jelly adventure will arrive in Spring 2016.
Maria writes fiction and nonfiction picture books while dog Becca snores at her feet. This is what they do when they’re not writing (or snoring). Her debut picture book, Penny & Jelly: The School Show, illustrated by Thyra Heder, will be published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in July 2015, with a second Penny & Jelly book to follow in Spring 2016. Maria has both fiction and nonfiction picture books forthcoming from Roaring Brook Press, Aladdin Books and Boyds Mills Press. She is represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette of Erin Murphy Literary. To learn more, please visit her website: mariagianferrari.com, or visit Maria at Facebook.
Photos of Maria & Becca by Monogram Arts Photo.