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the fact that the Falling Leaves editor with whom I had my one-on-one critique loved a different manuscript—still unpublished today—but didn’t like this one.)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