My wife and I recently had a new baby, which means I have momentarily become terrible at organizing my schedule. Case in point, a few weeks ago, I had a Skype visit planned with the great Eric Carlson (@buffaloteacher), a Minnesota teacher who has read Peter Nimble to his class for the last three years. I love Skyping, especially for teachers as awesome as Mr. C! Here’s a picture I drew of him last year as a zombie:
So this year we had our annual Skype visit lined up, and Mr. C had his class all excited. Witness some awesome pictures they drew in preparation:
But on the day we were set to Skype … I FORGOT ABOUT IT ENTIRELY!1
Mr Carlson’s class was very forgiving, but I felt like I had to make it up to them.
So when we had our visit the following week, I added a little “punishment” for myself. I spread out a whole bunch of food from my fridge along with a bowl and spoon 2. After each kid asked a question, I let them instruct me to put one ingredient into the bowl and promised to eat it at the end. Here’s what it looked like:
I had promised to eat the entire bowl, but when push-came-to-shove, I could barely get down a single (heaping) spoonful … I may have even thrown up in my mouth a little bit while saying goodbye.
All in all, I’d say it was an AWESOME Skype visit!
Well, early reviews are rolling in on The Night Gardener, and things are looking good! Permit me to cheer for Molly and Kip:
First the book was a Junior Library Guild selection!
Then it got a STARRED REVIEW from Kirkus who said:
“Lots of creepiness, memorable characters, a worthy message … make this cautionary tale one readers will not soon forget.”
Then it was named a Big Spring Children’s Book by Amazon!
From a review at Shelf Employed:
“Historical fiction and horror intertwine in this absolutely gripping story … The Night Gardener is the stuff of nightmares.”
And finally, a review from Betsy Bird’s Fuse #8 blog with perhaps my favorite line ever:
“It is almost as if Mr. Auxier took his whimsy, pulled out a long sharp stick, and stabbed it repeatedly in the heart and left it to die in the snow so as to give us a sublimely horrific little novel.”
Woo-hoo! Pre-order your copy today!
I often get emails from people looking to break into children’s publishing. I don’t have all the answers, but I do have some general advice I find myself giving again and again. Below are three steps, in order of importance, that I think writers should focus on:
1) Write a Really Good Book
First time writers don’t sell books based on partial drafts or outlines. They sell finished manuscripts. And there are a lot of finished manuscripts in the world. That means the first step is completing a book and revising it until it is airtight. Don’t expect an agent or editor to look at a sloppy manuscript and see the potential–that same agent or manager has hundreds (not an exaggeration) of other manuscripts to consider, and they’ll take the one that demonstrates the greatest professionalism and craft. Taking an example from my first book, Peter Nimble, I did about 15 complete re-writes before showing it to an agent … and then did another 3 drafts before the book went to an editor. I have yet to talk to a professional author who didn’t go through the same level of revision before finding a publisher.
2) Join SCBWI
The “Society of Children’s Books Writers and Illustrators” (SCBWI) is a national organization with local chapters all over the country. This group is a fantastic place for both professional and aspiring writers and illustrators to gather and discuss craft and business of children’s publishing. The annual conferences are often attended by agents and editors who are looking for new books. I have a number of author friends whose careers were launched when they met an editor at an SCBWI event who requested to see their really good manuscripts (see above point).
3) Query Agents
If a lot of industries, the “it’s who you know” rule applies. Not so in publishing! Book agents read and consider manuscript submissions from unknown writers all the time–that’s their job. Nearly every writer I’ve ever met was pulled out of the “slush pile” from an agent who discovered them. Your job is to query agents who will best understand your work and be in a position to sell it. This means doing a bit of homework, by reading the Writer’s Market and finding agents who are looking for material like your book. The internet is awash with resources about how to approach agents. A good place to start might be Kidlit.com, a website run by children’s book agent Mary Kole. She answers questions about the dos and don’ts of querying better than anyone!
The above steps aren’t a guarantee of any success, but they are a good place to start! Also, I might as well link to this brief but eloquent video of Neil Gaiman talking about step one (which is really the only step that matters):
Too often Mary and I read library books or listen to audiobooks only to forget that we ever read them–without that spine on our bookshelves, it’s easy to forget. In 2013, Mary and I decided to start keeping a master list of every book we read … and we decided to make it GIGANTIC. We did this by painting over an old piece of thirftstore art with white primer:
We decided to leave a tree and girl on horseback just for fun:
Then we started writing down the titles of books that we read with a black Sharpie. I was House Scrivener because Mary has the handwriting of a serial killer:
Our rules were pretty simple. Only write each title once (per year). That means if we both read a book or if we re-read something, it wouldn’t clutter our list:
One year into the experiment, it’s become a nice ritual. You’d be surprised how the prospect of adding to the list motivates you to finish a book! Here’s the list hanging above our piano in the library:
I like the idea that in 30 years, we will have an entire room filled with pictures like this!
A few weeks ago, I did a Creative Mornings talk at the Pittsburgh Children’s Museum on the topic of “Childhood.” This was my attempt to connect children’s literature to a broader audience–specifically talking about what it means to work in an industry where the audience (children) are separate from the buyer (grownups). Of special interest might be the anecdote I tell about Tom Angleberger at minute 15 … an event he has since claimed didn’t occur (it totally did). Also, of course, I finish things off with a yo-yo show!
Creative Mornings is a fantastic organization. Find out about the next event in your own city and check it out!