Tag Archives: advice

Border Collies and Babies—It’s Never Too Soon To Start (plus a giveaway!)

The story I’m about to tell is relevant to Terry Pierce’s MAMA LOVES YOU SO. I promise.

mama-loves-you-so-coverYears ago, my brother got a beautiful border collie puppy. I remember how excited Warren was, and I remember the solemn advice the breeder gave him. It was this: Show the dog everything he’s ever going to see within the first six months of his life. In short, it was Warren and his family’s responsibility to quickly give intelligent, impressionable Comet the information he’d need to thrive.

*presses pause on dog story*

My first professional, if unrequited, love is midwifery. Permit me to geek out for a bit.

The importance of verbally communicating with babies—and I mean from about 6 months gestation onward—cannot be overstated. Auditory function in the human fetus is complete at 7 months. Not only do they hear and respond to outside noises, research suggests babies learn intonation and can develop a basic recognition of words before birth. After birth, newborns rapidly form brain synapses that correspond with their birth language. In fact, studies have shown that young children who leave their birth language behind through immigration or adoption retain an enhanced ability to relearn it. Cool, huh?

Now let’s talk about MAMA LOVES YOU SO. This book, meant for the tiny ears of the tiniest of people, employs exquisitely rich and melodic language. It describes a world that is sparkling, stony, and ablaze. These are words an adult would be happy to use on a given day. MAMA LOVES YOU SO is crammed full of such delicious and nutritious words. It’s a brain-building buffet for babies and a boon to the brave souls who care for them. Baby and Book

Babies are exhausting. I know. I’ve had two babies, and two aren’t many at all. My in-laws had ten. My parents had five. Have I wondered if  I’m a slacker in the baby department? Yes. But that’s not my point.

Babies require mountains of back-breaking, laundry-making, sleep-taking care, and that’s just to keep them alive. We’re also supposed to educate, encourage, and entertain them. While all forms of communication nourish babies’ language readiness, including singing and everyday conversation, it’s challenging to know what to sing or say to a baby all day, every day.

I ask you, how are sleep-deprived people, wracked as they are with desperate love and stabs of anxiety, supposed to dredge up words like ablaze? They need books. They need books to give them words when they are too tired or overwhelmed to think up their own. Their children are primed to quickly learn millions of discrete, dynamic words, and optimally, they’d possess this treasure trove before starting school.  Where language acquisition is concerned, variety isn’t the spice of life, it is life. Books like MAMA LOVES YOU SO are a sure and happy route to that variety.

We must encourage caregivers, all the caregivers, to talk to babies early and often. Encourage them to talk to the belly, to sing to it, explain stuff to it, and for the love of literacy, to read to it. Encourage them to talk to the newborn. To sing. To explain. To read. We can smile at them benevolently when they do all of this in public. If we get the chance, we can give the caregiver a minute to shower and eat something while we talk, sing, explain, and read.

It might be possible to show a puppy everything it’s ever going to see in six months, but it’s impossible for a human newborn. Luckily, we have opposable thumbs, and opposable thumbs are great for making bookstores and libraries. That’s where Terry Pierce’s beautiful and important MAMA LOVES YOU SO can be found, ready and waiting to offer intelligent, impressionable young people information they need to thrive.

*presses play on dog story* 

Comet lived a long and happy life. He understood his world and how to conduct himself in it, thanks to purposeful attention to his formative experiences. May we do the same for each new child. We have longer than six months to accomplish it, but we don’t have forever. It’s never too soon to start.

 

Terry is giving away a signed copy of MAMA LOVES YOU SO as part of her book launch week. How to enter? Leave a comment below! For every comment you make this week—and please comment only once per day—she’ll enter your name into the giveaway.

Additional resources:

http://www.tipsonlifeandlove.com/book-mom

Valerie Garfield, Simon & Schuster editor of MAMA LOVES YOU SO, blogs about reading to and with children.

1000 Books Before Kindergarten

https://1000booksbeforekindergarten.org/about-us/mission-statement/


Enjoy the day,

Hayley
Hayley's Author PhotoI write for young people and live to make kids laugh. BABYMOON, illustrated by Juana Martinez-Neal, celebrates the birth of a new family and is coming from Candlewick Press, spring 2019. WHAT MISS MITCHELL SAW, narrative nonfiction illustrated by Diana Sudyka, is also coming spring 2019 from Simon & Schuster/Beach Lane Books. I’m represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette.

 

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Filed under Advice - Helpful or Otherwise, Book Giveaway, Book Launch, Celebrations, Inspiration, Picture books, reading, Uncategorized

We’re All Crazy Busy, So I Kept This Short.

394 words, to be precise. Here goes:

We are each pulled in a million different directions. Someone or something is always clamoring for our devotion, our time, our finite energy. How are we to balance our responsibilities, our commitments, and our creative needs? How are we to lay claim to the time and space required for writing?

There is only one hope and it’s not easy—core strength.

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Balance, after all, isn’t the product of stasis. It’s born of movement, moment-to-moment adjustments that maintain equilibrium. The muscles required for physical balance are deep within our bodies, particularly our core. They don’t get truly strong unless we make them strong.

It’s the same with our creative energies. The qualities—determination and commitment come to mind— essential to finding the balance between our busy lives and our creative work are found deep within. They are at our core, and they won’t get strong unless we make them strong.

How? You already know the answer. Practice.

When the world wants us to do literally anything other than write, we need to dig deeply into our core, to what we know matters. We need to assert that creative work is essential for ourselves and, incidentally, the continued progress of humanity. We are the purveyors of story, after all, the Pied Pipers of literacy. Our work is a source— a bubbling, life-giving spring—of connection and challenge, hope and healing. The more that we affirm creative work’s importance to ourselves and others, the stronger it will grow.

But don’t try to force balance, hanging on for dear life until you tip over and chip a tooth. It won’t work. It never works. We have to constantly find and re-find balance. Don’t fear the unexpected shifts. Expect to wobble and make necessary moment-to-moment adjustments.

Go to your creative work when you don’t feel like it. Especially when you don’t feel like it. Treat it like a treadmill, set yourself a laughably manageable goal, say 5 minutes of focused activity, and see what happens. You may find that 5 turns into 20. You may find that you begin to take this prioritized time seriously, and if you do, others will.

So deliberately engage. Choose the deep muscles of purpose and passion and use them with intention. If this is hard, good! You’re getting stronger.

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Enjoy the day,

Hayley


About Hayley Barrett

I write for young people and live to make kids laugh. My picture book BABYMOON celebrates the birth of a new family and is coming from Candlewick Press. WHAT MISS MITCHELL SAW, a narrative nonfiction picture book, is coming in spring 2019 from Simon & Schuster/Beach Lane Books and will be illustrated by Diana Sudyka. I’m represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette of Erin Murphy Literary Agency.

 

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When We Were Twelve—EMUs’ Advice To Their Younger Selves

All this week on the blog we’ve celebrated the launch of Elly Swartz’s debut middle grade novel, FINDING PERFECT.

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FINDING PERFECT’s sweet, sensitive main character, twelve-year-old Molly, wishes her life was perfect, but family and school problems keep her in turmoil. She attempts to counteract these upsets with comforting rituals, only to find that these same rituals, bit by bit, begin to control her. As her anxiety escalates, it becomes clear that Molly needs someone to advise her, to assure her she is capable of positive change, and to help her look forward to stronger, better days.

Perhaps the best person to guide Molly would be her older, wiser self. With the perspective that comes with years, an adult Molly would know how to be supportive while encouraging growth. With this in mind, I asked the EMUs what advice they would give their twelve-year-old selves.

We’ll start with the author.  Elly’s advice to Elly Junior? “Be brave. Be kind. Be curious. And always stay true to who you are.”

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Isn’t Elly Junior adorable? See the light of creativity and compassion in her eyes? Bet this kid will grow up to be a writer or something.

The Debbi Michiko Florence of today advises her younger self, “Don’t worry so much about following trends like Farrah Fawcett feathered hair – really, it doesn’t work on Japanese stick-straight hair.”

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(I admire you, Debbi, for even trying. While my sister expertly wielded her round brush and can of AquaNet every morning, I slept in.)

Debbi goes on to recall a relatable tween dilemma with all its requisite drama. She asks her younger self, “And that gold belt trend you just had to follow? Remember how you begged and pleaded with your mom to get you that gold belt and how you lost it the first day you wore it to school? And remember how you convinced the teacher to let you go look for it and then convinced your friend’s teacher to let her leave her class to help you look for it? And how you looked and looked and couldn’t find it and you were so afraid you were going to get in trouble and you were freaking out? Then upi found it. The belt had slipped under your shirt and you were still wearing it! Don’t sweat the small stuff ! Or even what you think is the “big stuff.”

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I don’t have a picture of Debbi  back then, but I know she was much, much cuter than a sleepy desktop ducking.

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Like the seasoned picture book writer she is, Terry Pierce is superbly succinct. She advises young Terry to, “believe in yourself, be courageous and strong. Stand up for yourself if someone wrongs you. Don’t let others define you. You’re bright, a hard worker, and have a kind heart, and that will take you far in life.”

IMG_2512 - WEBJason Gallaher gives his former self a real pep talk, exhorting him, “to not stress out so much about how things are going to turn out in life. Everything is going to be just fine, so sit back and enjoy the ride.

Right now, dear 12 year-old, you’re quirky, a bit gangly, and your suspicions about liking boys are correct. But don’t worry about that because everything turns out better than fine.Keep focusing on your dreams because they will come true. And I know you’re going to roll your eyes and say, “Everybody says that.” But I’m not just saying this like your teachers or guidance counselors say it. I’m saying it knowing this for a fact about you, about us.

Every dream you have comes true: You move to a big city, your quirky talents get appreciation from people in a legitimate industry (publishing, in case you’re wondering), you *finally* get past that horrible middle stage when you grow out your hair and find out what it feels like to have long locks (You’re robsessed with it. Also, when Robert Pattinson becomes a thing you’ll understand the term “robsessed”), and you find love.

So keep trucking along. Love yourself, which I know will be a struggle, but in times when you feel down, know that even now, nearly two decades later, I love you and wouldn’t have made it here if not for you.

Sadly, Jason didn’t provide a tweenage picture of himself, so I’ll just leave this here.

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Oh, and this:

robert-pattinson

Only one more, I promise.

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Darcey Rosenblatt says, “I would tell myself there will come a time when you truly treasure all the things that make you weird and different than the normal kids – really – trust me.”

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Spoken like a true environmental planner/scuba diver/mother/artist/story farmer/hiker/conference founder/wife/costume-maker/ soon-to-be published author, Darcey. You put the actual in self-actualized!

EMU Elaine Vickers advises her young self to value friendships, saying, “There are great things ahead, 12-year-old Elaine! You will soon outgrow this hairstyle and this shirt. But the friends you make this year will stay with you. You’ll laugh and grow and travel together. One will sing at your wedding, another will help deliver your babies. And one day, they will take you out to dinner the night before your first book launches. Hang on to these friends.”

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Stay true to yourself. Don’t sweat the small stuff. Stand up for yourself and be kind. Love yourself. Treasure what makes you different. Hang on to good friends.

Good advice for FINDING PERFECT’S Molly and everyone else. Congratulations and thank you, Elly!!!

Enjoy the day,

Hayley

 

Curriculum Guide for FINDING PERFECT:

http://images.macmillan.com/folio-assets/teachers-guides/9780374303129TG.pdf

A Teacher’s Guide For FINDING PERFECT

images.macmillan.com

A Teacher’s Guide For FINDING PERFECT About the Book To twelve-year-old Molly Nathans, perfect is: • The number four • The tip of a newly sharpened No. 2 pencil

To purchase Finding Perfect:

http://amzn.com/0374303126

http://www.indiebound.org/book/9780374303129

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/finding-perfect-elly-swartz/1122889663?ean=9780374303129


hayley-at-12Hayley's Author Photo

I write for young people and live to make kids laugh. My picture book BABYMOON celebrates the birth of a new family and is coming from Candlewick Press. WHAT MISS MITCHELL SAW, a narrative nonfiction picture book, is coming in spring 2019 from Simon & Schuster/Beach Lane Books and will be illustrated by Diana Sudyka. I’m represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette.

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Filed under Advice, Anxiety, Book Launch, Character Development, Characters, Inspiration, Launch, Panic, Uncategorized, Writing and Life

Sentiment and Stakes

I was in New Orleans this past weekend visiting my son and continuing my quest to find the ideal plate of shrimp and grits. The August air was swampy, but the city was packed with what I first thought were tourists. Then I looked again. I saw families sporting brand-new shirts with matching baseball caps. I saw younger kids trailing behind an apparently aloof older sibling.

Aloof

The moms would gaze at my son and turn to me with a small, sisterly smile, eyes often brimming with tears.

Mom crying

The dads were generally hale and hearty as they lugged huge duffles around, but I wasn’t fooled.

Crying

You guessed it. It was freshman move-in weekend at Tulane.

This is a familiar autumnal scene. Whether it’s kindergarten or university, parents dust off and put on their brave faces and launch their children toward growth and change. Hopes and fears alike accompany them. There’s a great deal at stake. After all, lots of time and endless hard work go into the making of a person, and all that time and hard work offer no guarantee. Sorry.

Harry Potter Goodbye

Writers must know about stakes too. There’s a old blacksmith saying that says, “No hoof, no horse.” Well, writers could just as easily say, “No stakes, no story.” Without stakes, a story simply won’t hold the interest of the reader. The genre doesn’t matter. Tiny children know how to care about what a character stands to gain or lose. They know enough to throw a boring book across the room too. A carefully constructed setting peopled by well-developed characters and a masterfully layered plot are all helpful, but stakes—life, death, hello, goodbye, friendship, enmity—are what make any story worthwhile.

If your aim is to pack up your story, to oust it from the cozy confines of home and ship it out into the world, be sure you know what’s at stake for it. Your characters must face step-by-step choices with real consequences. Will they go to the Social Justice barbecue? Or will they swarm en masse like thirsty locusts to the campus bar instead? In the case of Tulane, it’s called THE BOOT. I wish I were kidding. (See? Stakes!)

The Boot

When you’ve done all you can to challenge your character, to test their mettle, to compel them to change and become who they are, when you’ve finally pushed them out of the nest with a quick tap on the “send” button, Wipe your tears and be good to yourself. I recommend a nice plate of shrimp and grits.  You’ve surely earned it.

Shrimp and grits

 


Hayley's Author Photo

About Hayley Barrett

I write for young people and live to make kids laugh. My picture book BABYMOON celebrates the birth of a new family and is coming from Candlewick Press. WHAT MISS MITCHELL SAW, a narrative nonfiction picture book, is coming in spring 2019 from Simon & Schuster/Beach Lane Books and will be illustrated by Diana Sudyka. I’m represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette.

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Hold the Vision

Look what I got in the mail the other day! My signed contract for THE NIAN MONSTER! I was so excited that I hugged it. But not too hard, because that might crinkle the pages. If you look closely, you’ll see that the contract was issued last August – 7 months ago. And that was nearly 7 months after receiving the offer to buy my story.

My first book contract!

My first book contract!

I found out that this is not at all unusual in the publishing industry. It’s still hard to get used to, though. When I worked as an environmental consultant, we never did any work unless we had a signed contract from the client. Sometimes, we even asked for a retainer — payment in advance! But over the past year, I have done a lot of work on the book — all without a signed contract. It didn’t make me feel better to read this line at the bottom of the offer letter: “Please note that this offer is subject to contract and in no way does this offer represent a binding agreement.”

 

And that got me thinking about trust. From the very beginning, when it was just me and the blank page, there had to be trust. I love what Neil Gaiman says about this part of the process: 2016-03-24 07.04.53

After the story was written (and re-written many, many times) and an offer had finally been accepted, there was still no guarantee that there would be a book at the end of the tunnel. I had to trust that my editor and art director shared my vision of the book. I had to trust that my illustrator would bring my words to life and add a layer of emotion and richness that I couldn’t. I had to trust that people were working on my book when I wasn’t there to watch. It was hard. I’d never met any of these people in real life; I hadn’t even spoken to them on the phone. Communication was done over email. I’m sure I could have called, but I didn’t want to hover — I was afraid that if I made any demands, the offer would just vanish into the ether. So I just took a deep breath and chose to believe in them.

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I realized that although it felt like I had lost control, I really hadn’t. My editor had to learn to trust me, too. And I could do something about that. I listened to her feedback on my manuscript. I revised to the best of my ability. When she asked for information on the landmarks and the monster himself, I researched for days and produced what felt like reams of photos and data. And strangely, the more work I did, the more comfortable I felt with the situation, despite the lack of a “binding agreement.” The fact that my editor and the art director were asking for more information proved that they were working on my book. Just like when I was writing the story, I had to trust the process — but this time, it was the process of publication. My editor, art director, illustrator and I ultimately had the same vision: a beautiful book butterfly emerging from its publishing house cocoon.

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I know that the path to publication isn’t always smooth; I’ve had it easy in comparison to some. But even when the road is bumpy or full of detours, trust is involved. Trust in yourself and your story. You will both be fine.

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Andrea WangAndrea Wang’s debut picture book, The Nian Monster, is a Chinese New Year folktale retelling set in modern-day Shanghai. The Nian Monster will be published by Albert Whitman & Co. in December 2016. She has also written seven nonfiction books for the educational market.

Andrea spent most of her first grade year reading under the teacher’s desk, barricaded by tall stacks of books. At home, she dragged books, chocolate chips, and the cat into her closet to read. Not much has changed since then, except now she reads and writes sitting in a comfy chair in a sunny room. With a lock on the door. Before embarking on the writer’s journey, Andrea was an environmental consultant, helping to clean up hazardous waste sites. She lives in a wooded suburb of Boston with her very understanding husband, two inspiring sons, and a plump dumpling of a rescue dog.

You can find Andrea online at http://www.andreaywang.com and on Twitter under @AndreaYWang. What’s the “Y” stand for? Take a guess!

 

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Finding (and Protecting) the Why

emu whyI may be an Emu with a debut coming next fall (!!!), but I’m already a published author. Oh, yes. I am the author of five articles about molecule-based magnets, published in national chemistry journals. They are every bit as riveting as you’d imagine.

Why did I write them? Not for fun, I promise you that. I wrote them because I wanted to teach, and to do that I needed a graduate degree. Those papers were a necessary step in proving that my research was valid and valuable so that I could earn that degree.

But here’s the thing: nobody really asked why I was going to grad school or writing these papers or why I wanted to teach. People somehow seemed to understand. That has not been my experience with the writing I’ve done the last few years.

Why do you write books for kids?

Somebody asked me this recently, and it was hard for me, in that moment, to come up with an answer that satisfied either of us. Even when they don’t ask directly, I feel the why so often, like the vaildity and value of the type of writing I do now are being called into question. If I were a real writer, wouldn’t I be writing for adults? Or writing something academic? There are definitely people who get it, but there are so many who seem totally baffled by the why.

The bigger problem comes, though, when we begin to lose sight of the why ourselves. When we’re faced with that question in another’s eyes or words, as I was, and come up with an answer that’s far short of satisfying, as I did.

So if you haven’t done it yet, or if it’s been a while, take some time to really think about your why. I tried to really articulate mine here, but answers will definitely vary.

Your why may be the stories inside you that just have to come out. The characters who won’t leave you alone until their story is told.

Or the love you have for the craft of writing.

Or the wonderfully supportive kidlit community that you love being part of.

Or the legacy of amazing children’s literature that you want to add your voice to.

Or the kid you once were, or the kids you know now, and the stories you want to share with them.

Whatever your why, take some time to actually put it into words. Then protect it and nourish it and remember it. And whatever your publishing path may throw at you, don’t you dare let go of it.


View More: http://morgansladephotography.pass.us/vickersfamily

Elaine Vickers is the author of LIKE MAGIC (HarperCollins, 2016) and loves writing middle grade and chapter books when she’s not teaching college chemistry or hanging out with her fabulous family. She’s a member of SCBWI and represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette of EMLA. You can find her at elainevickers.com on the web, @ElaineBVickers on Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram, or generally anywhere there are books and/or food for her consumption. 🙂

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The Entirely True Confession of a Fibber

Confession time.

My introduction post for EMU’s Debuts was about remembering to have fun. In it, I promised myself that I would try to have fun in the months between signing and publication. Now that my book has finally launched, I feel like I can share something that I didn’t really feel comfortable talking about for the past year and a half.

I didn’t really have a lot of fun.

Wait! Keep reading. That’s not a complaint! It’s the build up to a revelation. Because a couple of weeks ago, I finally figured out why I hadn’t been having much fun.

The epiphany came to me as I wrapped up my first school visit in front of an assembly of 500 K-5 students in an elementary school in Naperville, IL. The answer was so simple that I felt impossibly stupid—and overwhelmingly relieved.

Kids.

I’ve spent my entire adult career working with kids in one capacity or another. I was a classroom teacher for a number of years before moving on to a more administrative role in my school. I left that position to start an enrichment business. The whole reason I began writing was because I love sharing stories with kids. When my book first sold I was thrilled for a number of reasons—not least among them was the fact that I knew that having a book out there would give me the opportunity to engage with kids and story in whole new ways. So when I had to back off on my enrichment work to make time for my writing, I did so confident that it would be an equal trade.

But it’s a funny thing. You write a book for children. If you’re lucky (I was very lucky!) you sell that book. But then for the next 18 months the only people reading that book are other adults.

It wasn’t until I found myself in front of that group of kids that I realized just how far removed I’d grown from my intended audience. As old habits, old management styles, and (yes) old jokes kicked back in, I began to feel more like myself that I had in months. I was—finally—enjoying being a children’s writer.

We call our field Children’s Literature, and I think that name speaks to the dual nature of the genre. At the risk of generalizing, I think that those of us who write for children like to have a foot in two worlds—the story world of children and the literary world of adults.

The period of pre-publication forces us to place more weight on the foot that rests in the world of adults—of editors and revisions and reviewers. I wasn’t prepared for that. It unbalanced me. I share this post in case anyone else finds herself or himself experiencing a similar loss of balance.

The good news? Once the book is published, things change. The weight shifts. A friend recently told me that the night after my first school visit I sounded more like myself than I had in months. She was right. For the first time since getting the news that my book sold, I’m excited—really excited—about being an author.

So go ahead! Ask me if we’re having fun yet!

I’m finally able to give the answer I’ve been wanting to give all along.

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A college friend sent this photo of reading FIB with her daughter—one of the first times I saw a kid with my published book!

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In It For The Long Haul

I’m a debut EMU (and so proud of it!) but this is not my first rodeo. I’m the author of four published books. The first, a little non-fiction book, I sold myself and it’s still ticking away. The second and third were novels sold by my previous agent, and the fourth was solicited by my publisher.

My hometown indie, Country Bookshelf

My hometown indie, Country Bookshelf

With each launch I’ve felt the same sense of trepidation – that feeling never goes away. After all, you want the world to greet every one of your babies with love. You want each to soar. You’ve suffered through multiple revisions with each (that never goes away, either) and there are times when you’ve felt you can’t make another book.

Not to dampen your enthusiasm but here are a few sobering statistics, courtesy of marketing guru Tim Grahl:

  • the number of books published in 2013 – 750,000
  • the number of copies most sell in their first year – fewer than 250
  • most sell fewer than 2000 copies in their lifetime
  • odds of being stocked in a bookstore – less than 1%

I’ve been on both sides of these statistics. I’ve sold upwards of 20,000 copies of two of my books, and fewer than 2000 of one (which has gone out of print.) Ironically, the out-of-print book garnered awards and high praise. There are no guarantees that any one book will rise above the huge crowd of competitors. And let’s not even talk about earning a living wage.

But that’s where it’s all about sticking with it. Because, first, this is what we do, isn’t it? We write. And when we finish one book we write the next. Because we can’t imagine living in a world in which we aren’t writing.

And second, here’s the good, if not great news. If you feel as passionate as I do about writing, and you keep writing, and honing your craft, and making each book the best you can in that moment, you will indeed find an audience. Most authors do not spring out of the box as best sellers like Athena springing from the head of Zeus. Most authors who gather an audience do so bit by bit, book by book. With each book, new readers come to the library. With each book, appreciative booksellers grow in number. With each book, reviewers and librarians sit up and take notice. This career has a very, very long tail, and readers can and will discover your earlier work when they fall in love with your newer work.

I tell beginning writers that, as soon as they finish (and polish and vet and polish again) that first manuscript, and hit the send button, they should begin working on their next book. That beauty of a debut may be a hit and, if so, fantastic! But more often than not, readers find authors they love because the authors they love keep writing, and with each book readers want the next.

Write every day. Write the next book. Build a body of work. Build an audience, book by book. I’m in it for the long haul because writing is what I love to do and I can’t imagine doing anything else.


IMG_8226bJanet Fox writes award-winning fiction and non-fiction for children of all ages. Her published works include the non-fiction middle grade book GET ORGANIZED WITHOUT LOSING IT (Free Spirit, 2006), and three YA historical romances: FAITHFUL (Speak/Penguin Group, 2010), FORGIVEN (2011), and SIRENS (2012). Janet’s debut middle grade novel THE CHARMED CHILDREN OF ROOKSKILL CASTLE is an historical fantasy set in 1940 Scotland (Viking, 2016). Janet is a 2010 graduate of the MFA/Writing for Children and Young Adults program at Vermont College of Fine Arts, and she lives in Bozeman, Montana. You can also find her at www.janetsfox.com

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When Your Idea Gets Published By Someone Else First

Writers, does this scenario strike fear in your heart? You’re working on a project, you’re invested in it, excited, feeling confident that finally, finally, FINALLY you’ve hit on an idea that’s really clicking for you. And then *screeeeeching brakes*: A book is published with a too-similar premise.

If you relate to this, or worry about it happening, then I have a story you might like to hear:

51ysrNDhV3L._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_I started writing Book Scavenger in 2003. The beginning seed of my idea was this image of kids finding a mysterious book in a BART station, but I wasn’t sure where to go from there. I thought maybe the book they found would be special because the characters could come out into the real world. Yes! I got really excited about this idea. It seemed cool and original–and then I read Inkheart by Cornelia Funke. If you’re not familiar with Inkheart, read it, it’s fantastic, but it has a similar premise to my initial idea and I lost all confidence in myself being able to do something similar.

But I was stch_book1till stuck on this image of kids finding a book in a BART station and having an adventure in San Francisco. I switched gears and latched onto a new puzzle mystery direction, and came up with the idea for this website/real world bookhunting game . . . In 2004, there was still a big divide between the internet and publishing. Terms like “multiplatform storytelling” and “transmedia” weren’t being thrown around for books back then. I was sure I had latched onto something original and fresh–and then I heard about a new series Scholastic would be launching the following year called 39 Clues with Rick Riordan heading the first book. There would be ELEVEN books, each written by a big name author, with the characters on a worldwide scavenger hunt for clues, and there was also a website/game tie in.

I was crushed. While it wasn’t my exact idea, it shared enough similarities that I no longer felt confident mine would stand out.

9780316003957_p0_v1_s260x420My grand vision deflated like a balloon, and the only thing that kept me moving forward with this now floppy idea of a book was a one-on-one session I had with an editor at a SCBWI conference. She had read the first ten pages of my draft and her written feedback was a short paragraph that began “This is really cool,” and ended with, “Would you send me the whole manuscript? I’d love to read it!”

Wonderful, right? It was, absolutely, but the problem was that I had less than 40 pages written. Not only that, but the idea I had in mind for this book felt too ambitious for my writing skills at the time. I wasn’t sure I could execute it, and definitely didn’t think I could execute it quickly. What if I invested all this time writing this book only to find out I couldn’t pull it off? Or what if I invested all this time and did pull it off, only to have editors and agents point to 39 Clues and say, “Too late. Been done.”

What it bpuzzlingworldoiled down to was this: If I turned down the dial on all the noise–the industry gossip, what else is being published, what do editors want/not want–if I just thought about my characters and my story, I was still incredibly passionate about my idea. I still wanted to understand the mystery behind the book these kids had found in the BART station. I still wanted to see if I could create a Goonies-esque story set in San Francisco. The personal challenge was worth it to me, even if one of my worst-case scenarios came true.

So I kept going with my book. I’d be lying if I said from that moment on I was a fiery ball of confidence that could not be extinguished. But I kept going. I think I was on my third re-write 9780061214509when The Mysterious Benedict Society was published and became a bestseller. There was also The Gollywhopper Games series and the Winston Breen puzzle mysteries, and too many more similar-sounding middle grade mysteries to keep track of.

The summer I sold Book Scavenger in a three-book deal, ALL eleven of the 39 Clues books had been published as well as the first few books of a second 39 Clues series. Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library was published and has gone on to be a long-running NY Times bestseller.

Fast forward to today16054808, my publisher is including Book Scavenger on a read-alike poster for libraries which says “If you liked The Mysterious Benedict Society, try Book Scavenger.” (They were going to use Mr. Lemoncello, but that title was included on their poster the year before.) And Jody Feldman, who writes the Gollywhopper Games series, was kind enough to blurb my book. I’m friendly with Eric Berlin, who writes the Winston Breen series, and we share the same agent.

In short, I think a lot of the early success Book Scavenger is now finding could be partly attributed to the path paved by these similar books that came before. I didn’t have to fear the familiar. Every title I mentioned here would likely appeal to the same reader, but they are each unique stories. There is room on the bookshelf for us all.

It can be hard to find that balance between looking to what others are doing for inspiration, but then not letting what others are doing deter you from something. It’s important to remember that it is your spin that will set something apart. Don’t let news of a comparable book knock the wind out of your sails. Just look at it as a challenge to make sure you’re digging deep and tapping into the YOU essence of the story. And keep going.

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jenn.bertman-2002139Jennifer Chambliss Bertman is the author of the forthcoming middle-grade mystery, Book Scavenger (Christy Ottaviano Books/Henry Holt/Macmillan, 2015). Book Scavenger launches a contemporary mystery series that involves cipher-cracking, book-hunting, and a search for treasure through the streets of San Francisco. Jennifer earned her MFA in Creative Writing from Saint Mary’s College, Moraga, CA, and is represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette.

You can find Jennifer online at http://writerjenn.blogspot.com where she runs an interview series with children’s book authors and illustrators called “Creative Spaces.”

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Handling Rejection

Last fall, I read an inspiring article on Tara Lazar’s PiBoMo blog by Karen Henry Clark describing her struggle to get published. Eventually, in 2010, her beautiful picture book, Sweet Baby Moon: An Adoption Tale, was picked up by Knopf. Since then, all her manuscripts have been rejected.

She concludes, “What I’ve come to understand is that success requires more than writing a great story. You have to understand your writing journey. . . . Sometimes you land in a canyon, but you can write down there, too. I am.”

On the same day, I read an article by Joelle Han in Yoga Journal titled, “How to Fail Up.” Han states, “Sometimes falling short of your goal, or even missing it entirely, is the first step toward success.” She offers several steps for dealing with failure, but I found the first two to be the most important.

But I thought I was supreme dictator.

WHY me? Why ME? Why NOT me?

First, “Sit with the misery.” Your disappointment is normal. This is the canyon Clark talks about.

Second, “Decouple your ego from your action.” As a writer, I interpret this to mean, “Don’t take it personally.” Having weathered dozens of rejections – some from editors who had accepted my previous work – I’ve become a pragmatist. Yes, you may write with all your heart and soul, but that’s not what you are selling.

Your manuscript is a product. If your agent takes it on, she believes a publisher out there may choose to invest the time and money to print and distribute it. Maybe this won’t happen. Maybe, if you persevere, it will.

Writing and revising a manuscript is like designing and sewing a unique garment, hoping to find an editor who declares it a “perfect fit.” This may take years. In 2006, I began submitting my manuscript Seeds, Bees, Butterflies and More! Poems for Two Voices, to publishers who, at that time, accepted unagented submissions. It got dozens of slow rejections. Three years later, Sally Doherty at Holt “plucked it from the slush pile. ” She loved some of the poems, but wanted some new ones on specific topics to unify the theme. Would I be willing to write them? Of course!

SeedsBeesButterflies high res cvr Five years later (in this industry, everything is slow!), Seeds, Bees was published. It received excellent reviews. Kids loved it.  Teachers blogged about it.  A five-star review on Goodreads called it “Brilliant.”  In 2014 it was named a “notable” poetry book by the National Council of Teachers of English.

Yay for me right? Holt would surely want to publish another book of poems for two voices. But no. Though the editor loved my first book, the finance people said sales – though acceptable – were not stellar. Translation: they needed a bigger return on their investment.

Wah for me! I put the second “Poems for Two Voices” manuscript aside and worked on other projects. Recently, I reread the first few poems and decided to write more. Meantime, Ammi-Joan Paquette has sold Ten Busy Brooms to Doubleday and “nearly” sold another manuscript to Sterling. (Another case of the editor loving it but the sales team rejecting it.) Joan is also circulating two other PB manuscripts that haven’t yet found the right “fit” with an editor. We’re both optimistic.

Meantime, like Karen Henry Clark, I’ll write from my canyon. I’ll sit briefly with my misery.  But I’ll keep on writing. I hope you will, too.

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