I have been writing on and off for more than forty years but only considered doing it professionally four years ago. After a twenty year hiatus where I only wrote sporadically, I returned to my writing with a passion and began a middle grade chapter book about three boys. It took me about three months to actually finish the first draft and I thought that was a good start. I was writing on my own and told no one about my dreams of becoming a published author...not even my sister knew. I did this for two years where I wrote and wrote and read everything I could get my hands on about writing. I didn't know at the time a huge writing community was out there waiting to show their love and support for another newbie writer.
Then I stumbled upon a post somewhere...I don't even remember how I discovered it...but I found out about Tara Lazar's PiBoIdMo in the fall of 2011 and decided to join. The excitement of joining that challenge literally changed how I saw the publishing industry and my focus started to shift to writing picture books. I wondered if I was doing the right thing and got my answer through a series of dreams.
Every night that fall for three weeks I would dream of completed picture book stories in vivid detail. In the morning I would wake up and quickly write down my dreams before I forgot them. There was no denying there were stories clawing their way out of my head and onto paper.
Then I heard about Julie Hedlund's 12 X 12 challenge for 2012 and decided to join. That was about the same time I came across a group of professionals who gave away FREE critiques of picture books stories and rated their potential for publication. Rate Your Story was hosted by Miranda Paul and I began sending my stories to her, eager to hear from the wonderful judges who gave me their professional opinions of my work.
One of the stories I submitted to Rate Your Story that year had to do with a little girl trying to learn how to read. I thought I had a strong story but RYS returned it to me with a 5 rating. That rating meant I had a good story idea but it still needed work so I continued to revise my story until I finally thought it was ready for submissions in January of 2013. By then I had joined 12 X 12 for another year and wanted to submit this one story to the participating agents Julie had lined up.
March's agent that year was Tricia Lawrence of Erin Murphy Literary Agency. While I didn't submit this particular story at first, Ms. Lawrence enjoyed the other story I submitted to her and requested three more...one of which I sent was this one. I knew it could take a long time for an agent to let me know if they were offering representation so I continued to submit this story to different agents but never a publisher. My little story about a girl learning to read attracted many, many nice rejection letters from agents saying while they thought it was a cute story, it just wasn't for them.
Fast forward to January 8th, 2014 when I hear about a pitch contest happening on Twitter under the hashtag #Pitmad. I originally wasn't going to participate because I was really busy that day but I finally decided to put up three pitches, including my story about that little girl. Within minutes of posting I received two requests for queries on two of my stories from two different publishers. I couldn't believe my luck!
Later that night I sent off both queries with stories attached and thought it would take awhile before I might hear back from either one of those publishers. Imagine my surprise when I received an acceptance email from a publisher on the 9th stating they wanted to publish my story! And what was even more surprising is that they asked for only ONE word to be changed in the entire manuscript.
I replied to the email and after chatting with the senior editor, I told her I was interested in possibly working with them. I then spent the next two days researching everything I could find on this publisher. All my research continued to give me good vibes about potentially working with them...even though they are a start up digital-first small press publisher. I also sent an updated email to Ms. Lawrence on the 10th advising her of the status of the story she was considering for representation. My book offer now put me at the top of her list to consider.
By the 14th I had the actual book contract in hand and I spent this past weekend going over the wording with a fine-tooth comb. Many of my writer friends have stepped in to give me advice about what should and shouldn't be in this contract and SCBWI (Society of Children's Book Writers & Illustrators) has an exceptional sample book contract for members to view, along with comments on other things to look out for. THAT alone made my membership fee worth it! After two days of nothing but reading legal jargon, I created a word document listing my questions and issues to be negotiated and returned it to the publisher for their consideration.
While the actual turn around time for this story...from original Twitter pitch to query to submission to acceptance to contract in hand...was only SIX DAYS, the journey to this moment took much, much longer. Hopefully I will be able to announce soon all concerns were resolved and we have moved on to the next phase in this wonderful journey to becoming a REAL PUBLISHED AUTHOR!!