St. Patrick’s Day is just around the corner. To celebrate, the spooky middle-grade authors are sharing how a wee bit of luck helped pave their path to publication.
A few years ago, I had given up on Ollie Oxley and The Ghost and decided to move on to a new project. But as luck would have it, at the last minute, I decided to participate in the Twitter pitch party #kidpit. To my good fortune, Carlisa Cramer with Jolly Fish Press liked my pitch, and the rest is history. It was my lucky day.
In the summer of 2005, I attended the Highlights Foundation weeklong Chautauqua Workshop and had the opportunity to have then Highlights editor, Marileta Robinson, look over my very first MG fantasy, THE SLIGHTLY TANGLED TALES OF JIM-BO BAXTER. I was at a bit of a low spot in my writing career at that point. She encouraged me to keep working on my story. I did and I submitted it to our regional SCBWI contest that fall. I was amazed when I won the Ellen Dolan Mentorship Award for 2006. I spent the next year polishing TANGLED TALES with my wonderful mentor, Vicki Erwin. We even had time to start revising my new MG fantasy, FROM THE GRAVE, which eventually lead me to joining the lovely Spooky MG Authors. Vicki continues to mentor me—and five other authors, as part of a great group of talented authors called the Polished Pens. That’s the thing with writing children’s literature—I’ve found such great support and camaraderie all along the way. Lucky for me!
Tania del Rio
Warren the 13th may sound unlucky, but it’s all thanks to a stroke of good luck that it was able to be published.
Usually you write a manuscript and query agents who will hopefully sell your book to a publisher. In my case, Warren the 13th was just an idea that was created by the illustrator Will Staehle back when we went to art school together many years ago. He designed the character and concept, and I wrote an early draft of Warren’s story. It was a fun concept but we were both preoccupied with our respective majors (graphic design and animation), so we never did anything with Warren at that time.
Fast forward many years later. Will and I were at a booth in Comic Con San Diego, selling Victorian inspired art, short stories, and goods for our company, The Bazaarium. A guy named Jason came by to check out our wares, and was a fan of our stuff. It turned out he was the publisher for Quirk Books and he invited us to pitch him on a book idea inspired by our spooky Gothic/Victorian aesthetic. We knew Warren the 13th would be perfect! So we dusted off the cobwebs off the old manuscript I wrote so many years ago and we pitched it along with Will’s fantastic illustrations. Next thing we knew, we had a new series under our belts!
I feel so lucky that we got to bring Warren into the world through a chance meeting. If we hadn’t met Jason, there’s a good chance Warren would still be left in a pile of old papers, forgotten.
When I was a kid, I always wanted to be a “starving artist.” Those exact words. I have been so extraordinarily lucky to do what I love, exclusively, for the past three years. Has it been a financial struggle? Yes. Does it require some serious hustle? For sure. But the vast majority of people around the globe never get the opportunity to follow their passions in that way. And I should say that, as a former Peace Corps Volunteer, I love living on the cheap. That’s a huge part of how I can do this, as is my dog. No, she doesn’t bring home the bucks, but her adorable cuddly butt is worth way more than money.
I got a lot of luck with my first book, although it could also be that I had put myself into the right place at the right time. As the new Regional Advisor of the Austin chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators, I helped to organize an annual conference. I had a team who helped me decide which speakers we should bring in, agents, editors, art directors, authors, etc. While I was an organizer, I also had the same dreams of the attendees: that I might connect with an agent or editor who liked my work. By lunch on the Saturday, I had heard from friends that they’d made promising connections with agents and editors, and that was thrilling, to have been a small part in making that connection. But I knew I wouldn’t be making a connection because I had researched the agents we had invited and I knew it was unlikely they’d be interested in my manuscript because of the types of books the represented. It felt bittersweet, sad for myself, but at the same time joyous for others—and I at least had the satisfaction of organizing a wonderful event that inspired so many people. But luck—or fate?—had other ideas.
On the Sunday, as I carried boxes of handouts into a room, one of the agents, Liza Pulitzer Voges, pulled me over and said she’d heard about my work from my author friend Donna Janell Bowman and would like to see it. Knowing Liza’s clients, I didn’t think she’d represent my work, but I thanked her and said I would send it. The rest of the conference went great, and on the Monday, I spent the morning with the art director we’d brought in, Laurent Linn from Simon & Schuster, because we could only get him a late flight. I took him to our local indie bookstore, BookPeople, and introduced him to the children’s book buyer. Over a coffee, I told him about the manuscript I was working on. Then the conference was over and I thought no more about it.
Flash forward a month and I was not surprised to get a rejection from Liza Voges, but what did surprise me was she felt that, even though the book wasn’t right for her, it could be right for other agents. She recommended I submit to two mentioning her name. I thanked her and… did not send my work to the other agents. I didn’t see the point. My manuscript had been requested by lots of agents, and in some cases, had been sitting in their inboxes for over a year. After over 100 rejections, I had lost hope that one more agent submission would make a difference.
Three weeks later, I got copied on an email Liza Voges was sending to the agents she had recommended. She had told them about my work and both of them had asked to see my full manuscript. I was so grateful and shocked that Liza had gone that extra mile. And even though I was sure they’d reject me too, I didn’t want to let Liza down, so I immediately sent off the manuscripts. Three weeks later, I got an offer of representation from Rachel Orr, who’s still my agent today.
But that’s not all! Two years later, that manuscript sold to Sarah Jane Abbott at Paula Wiseman Books/Simon & Schuster. When it was talked about in a staff meeting, Laurent Linn recognized the story as the one we’d talked about over coffee in the BookPeople cafe two and a half years earlier. He quickly told them he wanted to work on the book. He did an amazing job, collaborating with illustrator Justin Hernandez to give THE BOY, THE BOAT, AND THE BEAST a gorgeous cover and interior, and they just collaborated again for my next novel, ARROW.
So from organizing a conference where I was sure I wasn’t making any connections that would move my career forward, I ended up getting an amazing agent and art director, and both were out of my hands. A lot of this was out of my hands: The chapter’s former Regional Advisor, Shelley Ann Jackson, had suggested we invite Liza Pulitzer Voges and Laurent Linn to speak at our conference. Donna had mentioned my work to Liza, and Liza had recommended it to my agent. And in more luck, if Laurent had been able to get an earlier flight out after the conference, I might not have had coffee with him at BookPeople, and he might not have been my book’s art director.
I’m very grateful for the people who helped me make these connections, but I also think about all the rejections THE BOY, THE BOAT, AND THE BEAST had had before, rejections that had helped me learn and revise and make the manuscript better. So much luck helped me make those connections, but one of the things I’m also grateful for, is that the luck came when THE BOY, THE BOAT, AND THE BEAST was ready, which was perhaps the luckiest part of all.
My lucky break came when I got a super-last-minute critique, due to a cancellation, at a conference I decided to attend a few days before it started, and that critique was with Alyssa Eisner Henkin, then an editor at S&S. I sent off my stuff in time for her to read it on the plane. At the conference I was disappointed when she announced she was leaving S&S – to become an agent. But………in my critique she gushed over my pages, saying she’d been wishing for the plane to fly faster, and she wanted to see the whole manuscript as soon as she was in her new office. Two months later, I became her first client, and she was my first agent, who sold my first novel to Penguin in a two-book deal.
I crossed the luck of the Irish during my writing journey thus far a few times. The most memorable would be how I signed with my first agent. After months of querying, gaining requests but no offers of representation, I decided to submit to publishers on my own and I received seven offers of publication. I then recontacted a few agents and that’s how I signed with my first agent! Guess you could say I found the lucky backdoor.