Tag Archives: Sophie’s Squash

Thoughts on being star-struck …

Emma's StarIn the past two weeks, I’ve found out that my picture book, SOPHIE’S SQUASH, received starred reviews from two industry journals — Kirkus and Publishers Weekly.

As a debut author, I’m new to this, but I knew enough to know this was a big deal. My publisher was happy. My agent was happy. My writing friends were happy. I was, to put it mildly, ecstatic. After all the work and the waiting and the rejection and the waiting and the revision and the waiting, people who didn’t know me or my book thought it was worthy of some distinction.


And Lisa Morlock, an author friend of mine, even sent me two stars of her own to go with my Kirkus and PW stars. One, shown at the upper right, was drawn by her daughter, Emma. That was even nicer.

When things calmed down a little, I started reading other book reviews. I looked up my favorite books. Books I have displayed on my desk as inspiration that maybe, someday, if I’m lucky, I’ll be a good enough writer to write a book like that.

I was surprised to see that many of the books I adore did not get starred reviews. And one of my absolute favorite books, one that many people regard as something of a classic, not only did not get a starred review, it didn’t even get particularly positive comments.

This didn’t shatter my illusions, but it did make me pause. And remember something I knew all along.

Art is subjective. Two equally intelligent people are capable of reading the same book or watching the same movie or listening to the same music and having equally passionate — but completely opposite — responses to it.

So when all is said and done, your book is your book. Loved, loathed or overlooked, it was your best effort to tell the story you wanted to tell at the time you told it. You control that part. How others perceive it and what they see in it may have more to do with them and their life experiences than you and yours.

I’m happy my first two reviews have been positive. I’m not, by nature, a huggy person, but I’d hug Kirkus. Or Publishers Weekly. Or Lisa Morlock. The whole thing has kind of been like having an extra birthday without having to turn a year older.

But, I’m mentally prepared for the less-glowing comments as well. They may come from another well-known review journal. They may show up on Amazon or GoodReads. Or in a private email to my inbox. Or be reflected by lackluster sales and remaindered copies.

I think my mantra for when that happens will be: “It’s out of my hands.”

But for now, I’m going to enjoy the stars I have — especially the ones provided by my friend, Lisa — and focus my efforts on things I do have some control over. Promoting SOPHIE’S SQUASH the best I can. Writing and revising my next books (Maybe even using the Carol Brendler non-outline method.) Working to be a better and better writer so I can live up to the standards set by the books on my desk.

STAR-ting right now.


Filed under Happiness, Reviews

Breaking news! Sophie’s Squash by our Pat Zietlow Miller–

CoverBreaking news! Sophie’s Squash by our Pat Zietlow Miller–STARRED REVIEW from Kirkus!


by | May 17, 2013 · 6:53 am

A new year of new experiences

SOPHIE'S SQUASH artwork by Anne WilsdorfIt’s now 2013.  And that means many of the folks at EMU’s Debuts can say something they’ve been waiting quite a while to say:

“My book comes out this year.”

I’m one of those people, and it still seems a bit surreal that my first picture book, SOPHIE’S SQUASH, will be coming out Aug. 6 from Schwartz & Wade.

People who don’t write books are often surprised at how long it can take for a book to be published. (And don’t get me started on how long it can take to sell a book. That’s a separate post.) So I’ve developed a little speech that I trot out whenever people ask me, “So, is your book out yet?” and I respond, “No. It won’t be out until the fall of 2013.”

It goes like this:

Well, it takes a lot of time to publish a book. First, I had to make some changes to the text and then the book had to be copy-edited and there were a few more changes to make. Then, the publisher had to find an illustrator, and it can take a year or more for the artist to draw all the pictures. Then, the book has to be designed and printed, which often happens overseas, and most publishers only release new books two or three times a year, so anyway …

I find myself talking faster and faster while I explain this and when I’m done the person is usually looking at me like I’ve made the whole thing up and perhaps I don’t have a book coming out at all.

Fortunately, a few things happen during the long path to publication that remind you a book really is being made. Here are a few of the highlights:

  • Seeing the art for the first time. For a picture book writer, this might be the coolest milestone. It’s great to see how someone who is totally objective envisions your story. Some picture book writers I know say they see scenes in their heads when they write. I usually don’t, so I was very excited to see how illustrator Anne Wilsdorf pictured Sophie, Bernice and their family. When I got the illustrations attached to an email, I smiled for three days straight. Plus, seeing the illustrations with the text made the whole thing really look like a book. As a side note, the most second-most common question people ask me after “Is your book out yet?” is “Did you get to pick who did the illustrations?” The answer is “No, and I’m glad.” I have a lot of skills but evaluating artists and styles is not one of them. I was happy to leave that in the capable hands of Schwartz & Wade. Check out the sample of Anne’s wonderful art to the upper right!
  • Seeing the book listed online. I was passing time one evening Googling myself. (Don’t judge, I know I need to get a hobby.) And to my surprise, a listing popped up for SOPHIE’S SQUASH on amazon.com. There it was with an ISBN number, page count, release date and a lovely summary written by the Schwartz & Wade folks.  (They called me a “creative force,” which is the sort of thing you could never say about yourself, but you can blush modestly if others say it.) It was even available for pre-order! I did some more digging and found SOPHIE was also listed on IndieBound, GoodReads, Barnes and Noble and Powells.com. Be still my beating heart.
  • Hearing people talk about it. SOPHIE’S SQUASH is far from an Internet sensation like, say, “Gangnam Style,” but recently I was Googling again and found an interview with Lee Wade, who is half of Schwartz & Wade. She was answering questions about her career, and she listed SOPHIE’S SQUASH as one of the books she’s most looking forward to have coming out. Very exciting.

And there are more milestones to come. I haven’t seen the cover yet, which I’m really looking forward to. I haven’t gotten any F&Gs, a sort of advance reading copy for picture books. My new website hasn’t rolled out yet either. So there’s lots of fun to come.

The amazing Jeannie Mobley, whose book KATERINA’S WISH has been out for several months now, recently blogged about the top 10 lessons she learned as a debut author. I plan to apply as many of them as I can during the year ahead. And I look forward to sharing the experience with all the other EMU’s Debuts authors who have 2013 books coming out. (And if you want a look at even more 2013 releases by first-time authors, check out the Lucky 13s. I think you’ll agree, there’s a lot of good literature coming our way!)

But for now, I’m just going to take a moment to revel in saying:

“My book comes out this year!”


Filed under Celebrations, Happiness, Thankfulness

I’m Pat Zietlow Miller. And, I’m a book geek …

I’ve always been a book geek.

When I was young, that involved walking to the bookmobile and trying to convince the librarian to let me check out more books than the rules allowed.

It also involved visiting the public library whenever my parents could take me. That’s where they got me an adult card rather than a child’s so I could take as many books as I could carry home with me.

But I didn’t just read those books.

I read everything I could see. Magazines, newspapers, brochures, cereal boxes, junk mail. In fact, the first time I had to do a demonstration speech on a hobby, I loaded my backpack with all these items and shared my passion for the written word.

Maybe that’s why I wasn’t invited to more parties.

But I honestly didn’t care. Who needed parties when there were words? I remember having to put books down and stop reading because I was so in awe of how the writer had turned a phrase or constructed a sentence.

And, sometimes, I’d laugh out loud. Not because the sentence was funny, but because I especially liked a particular combination of words on the page.

Eventually, I started writing myself.

In fourth grade, I wrote awkward stories about a cat named “Salt” and a dog named “Pepper.” (Guess what colors they were?) Around that same time, I wrote terrible songs about sisters named Madeline and Adeline. I read “If Life Is a Bowl of Cherries, What am I Doing in the Pits?” and then tried to write essays that sounded like Erma Bombeck. All I remember is that one of them made my mother mad.

But in fifth grade, I wrote a poem about a yellow duck on the run from the law that made my teacher laugh so hard he cried. And in sixth grade, I wrote a paper about my grandmother’s swishy, swirly, square-dancing skirts that another teacher said gave her chills.

When she asked me how long it took me to write it, I answered honestly — about a half hour. Everyone in my class gasped. That was the first time I realized that writing wasn’t easy or fun for everyone.

Then one day, I was flipping through the school library’s card catalog when I realized something. Every book in there was written by somebody. A real person. And maybe someday, I could write a book too.

I flipped to the Zs to see where my name would fall.

Well, my name will probably never be in a card catalog. I’m not sure any still exist. But it just might be on amazon.com and goodreads and in the Library of Congress.

If all goes well, my picture book, SOPHIE’S SQUASH, will be illustrated by Anne Wilsdorf and published by Schwartz & Wade in the fall of 2013. And I find that — almost — too cool for words.

Here’s how it happened:

  1. Four years ago — after writing newspaper articles and a wide variety of technical memos to pay the bills — I decided I wanted to write books for children. No, I did not quit my day job.
  2. Instead, I started spending three hours each night after my kids were in bed writing manuscripts. They weren’t as bad as my songs about Madeline and Adeline, but they were far from lovely. Miss Clavel of MADELINE fame might have said, “Something is not right.”
  3. So, I brought piles of picture books home from my new public library and read them. I read everything Kevin Henkes has ever had published. Everything by Mem Fox.
    Everything by Judith Viorst. Everything by Kari Best and Jill Esbaum and Dori Chaconas and Mo Willems. Plus a ton of stuff by authors whose names I don’t recall.
  4. I went to my my first SCBWI conference and hid in the back row hoping no one would realize I didn’t belong and ask me to leave.
  5. I joined two critique groups and got feedback on my stories.
  6. I kept writing. I kept reading.

Then, I cautiously began sending out submissions.

Lots of form rejections. Lots of silence. Then, one day, a little blue card with a handwritten note. “Cute, but not quite right for us.” I almost had it framed. A real, live editor thought my story was cute.

As I kept writing, I got enough tiny bits of encouragement in between the rejections to keep me from giving up. More personalized rejections. A story that sold to Highlights magazine. An honorable mention in a writing contest. A few requests to revise and resubmit.

But always, ultimately, a rejection.

Until my phone rang almost exactly a year ago. The area code said “212,” and the caller ID said “Random House.” And the voice on the other end said, “Hi! This is Anne Schwartz. You probably don’t remember sending us SOPHIE’S SQUASH, but …”

That was the fateful moment that led to my being part of this EMU’s Debuts blog. I’m so excited to count down to my book release — and those of my talented agency-mates — with all of you.

Because a confirmed book geek like me can never have too many books.


Filed under Celebrations, Introduction, rejection and success, Thankfulness, The Call