I had been writing fulltime for a couple of years (selling to magazines, and submitting manuscripts to editors and agents) when some kidlit friends told me about their favorite of all writing conferences and urged me to apply. I’m glad I took their advice, because that is where I met my editor!
The conference, Falling Leaves, is sponsored by the Eastern Upstate New York chapter of SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) and has been run for years by the talented writer Nancy Castaldo. It’s held at the old Silver Bay YMCA camp on Lake George in the Adirondack Mountains. The setting is fabulously beautiful, the accommodations cozy, and the company unparalleled. Applicants must submit a manuscript or portfolio to be considered. About 30 are accepted to participate, which makes the gathering the perfect size for meaningful interaction with other writers and illustrators and the five or six editors who attend, critique, and present.
So in November of 2014 I went to Falling Leaves. One of the presenters that year was Holiday House executive editor Grace Maccarone. Grace impressed me right away during the three-day gathering. We sat at the same table for the first night’s dinner. At Falling Leaves, the editors sit with participants at all meals, and everyone has a chance to talk informally over meals. Grace didn’t dominate our conversation. Rather, she asked what we participants hoped to get out of the conference, and she listened carefully to our responses. When she gave her presentation a couple days later, I noticed she incorporated our input into her talk.
I also listened carefully to Grace’s description of what she was looking for in manuscripts. I thought one of my manuscripts fit her criteria. (This is despite the fact that the Falling Leaves editor with whom I had my one-on-one critique loved a different manuscript—still unpublished today—but didn’t like this one.)
I revised and polished some more. A few months later, I sent the manuscript for Hey, Hey Hay (at that point subtitled, “Mower, Tedder, Baler, Hay!”) to Grace, and crossed my fingers. She pronounced it “adorable,” and a few months later we had a contract. When I attended the 2016 national SCBWI conference in New York, Grace invited me to her office on Madison Avenue (thrills!) and we had lunch. She reported that she’d signed the talented artist Joe Cepeda to illustrate the book. And now, three years after we signed, Hey, Hey, Hay! will be released in August. Hey, Hey!
The moral of the story? “Listen to your writing buddies!” Many thanks to my critique partners, to Grace, to Joe, and to the many others who helped make Hey, Hey, Hay! a reality.
HEY, HEY, HAY! (A Tale of Bales and the Machines That Make Them) by Christy Mihaly, illustrated by Joe Cepeda
Holiday House, August 14, 2018
Available for pre-order now. See pre-order details on author website: http://www.christymihaly.com/hey-hey-hay.html
I’ll always remember the story of how I met two of the most important people on my writing journey: my publisher and my editor.
I met my publisher, Callie Metler-Smith from Clear Fork Publishing, by sending her a query for a picture book about a squirrel. In that email, I mentioned that I also had a time-travel chapter book manuscript ready. Callie responded saying I should send the PB manuscript, but what really interested her was the time-travel story.
Callie bought my chapter book series. Book One, THE ENCHANTED SNOW GLOBE COLLECTION: RETURN TO CONEY ISLAND, released in August 2017, and Book Two: THE LIBERTY BELL TRAIN RIDE, will come chugging down the tracks this year. And the squirrel story? I’m still revising that one!
At the same time, I was working on a manuscript about a girl who paints with a magic paintbrush. This story was inspired by my love of art history and the Impressionists specifically. I discovered that Callie is also an artist and is similarly fond of Impressionist painters. I pitched my story idea to Callie, and later signed a contract for my debut picture book, SCARLET’S MAGIC PAINTBRUSH!
Then, enter my editor. I had been taking several classes and was an assistant for Mira Reisberg’s Children’s Book Academy (www.ChildrensBookAcademy). Lucky for me, Mira became an Art Director and Editor at Clear Fork, and is art directing and editing my picture book. And Mira paired me with one of her former students, the extremely talented illustrator Sandie Sonke (www.SandieSonkeIllustration.com). I am truly thrilled with the team on this manuscript!
It’s been a long journey, and I’m very excited that my debut picture book will be releasing soon! I am especially grateful to my mentors, Callie and Mira, for believing in this project and supporting me at every stage of the process.
Thanks for reading about how I met my publisher and editor! Good luck with your submission process!
SCARLET’S MAGIC PAINTBRUSH
by Melissa Stoller, illustrated by Sandie Sonke
Clear Fork Publishing, August 2018
Available for pre-order at https://www.clearforkpublishing.com/store/p66/ScarletMagicPaintbrush.
Around this time of year, we’re often thinking about the many things in our lives we are thankful for. In my case, this year, I’m especially thankful for a particular decision I made early on in my career- the thing that led me to meeting my editor, Jonathan Eaton of Tilbury House Publishers, and becoming the illustrator for MOTH AND WASP, SOIL AND OCEAN: REMEMBERING CHINESE SCIENTIST PU ZHELONG.
It is well known in the children’s book industry that being a member of the SCBWI definitely has its perks and rewards. So when I began my journey to publication, back in 2009, starting a membership and putting together an artist profile was at the very top of my priority list. At first, I was very involved in keeping up with all the news and going to the conferences. But then over time, life got a bit busy, and I had all but forgotten about it.
A few years ago, I received a surprising email from an acquisitions editor at Tilbury House Publishing. She had asked whether I was interested in illustrating a picture book for them. I was in absolute shock. I hadn’t sent anything to Tilbury House prior to receiving this email, of which I could recall. We arranged a telephone interview. I was SO nervous! It turned out that she was very easy to talk to, and I felt more comfortable by the time our conversation had ended. It was then that I learned how she found me- through my SCBWI Illustrator Profile! She had been browsing the site and came across my art and felt that it would make a great match for a book they were publishing.
She asked me to read their current manuscript and that I should send some sketches and sample spreads, and she also asked for any other projects I’d like to submit for their consideration. I was thrilled! Their story was Non Fiction, and there were many topics I needed to do a bit of research on before I could even consider doing proper sample art. Hours of research, thoughtful planning, and sketching ensued.
And then I was told the project was to be put on hold! The story needed additional research and editing to make the story truly shine.
Although I was bummed, I figured it was for the best. I believe that every story deserves every bit of hard work and research to make it the best it can be. So I worked on other projects, traveled, planned to start a family and started shopping around for our first home. Two years later, I was in the middle of doing all of those very things when I received a phone call from a mysterious number. My husband answered the phone, and his eyes were round as saucers when he handed it to me. “It’s a PUBLISHER. A REAL PUBLISHER!” he whisper-screamed.
I answered, and it was Jonathan Eaton from Tilbury House! He explained that their story about the Chinese entomologist was finally ready to be illustrated. He asked if I would be interested in taking on the job!
I couldn’t believe my luck! I wanted to say yes right away! But now I was an expectant mother, and in the middle of moving into our new home. Would the timing be right? How often does the very same opportunity arise more than once in one’s life? And where on earth was I supposed to DO all of this painting? My studio was packed away in boxes!
Needless to say, I did say yes. And I am ever so thankful I did so! Furthermore, my editor was absolutely amazing and very understanding of my changing circumstances regarding my home life and pregnancy. I somehow managed to move into a new home, have a baby, and illustrate a picture book all in a year’s time.
I couldn’t have pulled it off without the help from my editor Jonathan, my supportive family and friends, and my awesome critique group! (Tune in to Jeanette Bradley's post on the 23rd to hear that magical story!)
Oh... and let’s not forget SCBWI!
Melanie Linden Chan
MOTH AND WASP, SOIL AND OCEAN: REMEMBERING CHINESE SCIENTIST PU ZHELONG by Sigrid Schmalzer, illustrated by Melanie Linden Chan
Tilbury House Publishers. February 6, 2018.
Available for Pre-order now!