12 x 12 Member Heather PreusserI can’t even begin to say how excited I am to share my friend Heather Preusser’s “How I Got My Agent” story with you. You see, Heather is a real-life friend who lives right here in Colorado, and we’ve been in a critique group together for four years. I’ve loved Heather’s writing since Day 1, and trust me when I tell you she is going to be a SUPER star. Not only does she write heartfelt and hilarious picture books, but she’s also on submission with a middle grade novel. She does both high-concept and humor, and quiet and meaningful, equally well. Please welcome… Heather!

How long had you been writing before seeking an agent, and what made you decide it was time to look for one?
I started writing children’s picture books in the spring of 2011 when I enrolled in a class with Linda Ashman at the Lighthouse Writer’s Workshop in Denver. (If you ever have the opportunity to work with Linda, I HIGHLY recommend it.) Of course, that summer I made the rookie mistake of sending out manuscripts too soon. Crickets. I attended my first SCBWI Rocky Mountain conference that fall and realized just how much I had left to learn.

True story: While my query letter was being critiqued in one of the conference sessions, I actually put my coat on in an attempt to cover up my nametag; I didn’t want anyone connecting me with that awful query letter, the one where I sounded like a high school English teacher applying for a teaching job rather than a writer trying to capture the tone and style of a picture book manuscript. That humbling learning experience helped me see that I had no idea what I was doing; I wasn’t ready to submit my manuscripts. I spent a few years focusing on craft, going back to school for my MFA in Creative Writing, joining critique groups, and participating in both online and in-person workshops. Almost three years later, some of my stories were placing in little contests, and the critiques I was receiving from agents participating the Writer’s Digest webinars I’d signed up for encouraged me to submit to them through traditional means. I was getting closer.

What kind of research did you do before submitting?
While focusing on craft, I started following blogs, like Kathy Temean’s Writing and Illustrating: Sharing Information About Writing and Illustrating for Children and Chuck Sambuchino’s New Agency Alerts. Every time they mentioned a new agent who fit my criteria, I added the information to my Excel spreadsheet, which I cleverly titled “Dream Agents.”

The dreaded questions: How many queries? How many rejections?
In the winter of 2014, I queried eleven agents. Three responded asking for additional manuscripts (My soon-to-be agent Janine Le at the Sheldon Fogelman Agency got back to me in one week!). I received a form rejection from one agent and never heard from the others.

Was it difficult to find an agent who wanted to represent an author focusing solely on picture books?
I wasn’t looking for an agent who focused solely on picture books. As part of my MFA, I wrote a middle grade novel, so, ideally, I wanted an agent who represented picture books through young adult; however, I didn’t think my novel was submission-ready, so I didn’t mention it to Janine initially.

How did you know your agent was “the one?
In addition to Janine’s patience and understanding (a family emergency came up shortly after I contacted her, which meant we had to postpone our first phone conversation), I appreciated every piece of editorial feedback she gave me. Every comment rang true. When she told me she was also a wordsmith, I knew we’d be a perfect fit.

If 12 x 12 helped you in any way during your agent search/development of craft, can you tell us how? (P.S. It is TOTALLY okay if the answer is no. I am not trying to “lead” you 🙂 )
Although I didn’t find my agent through 12×12, the community most definitely helped me, particularly when I was living in Germany with my new husband and his family. I felt isolated and uninspired; because of the language barrier, I couldn’t glean story ideas by eavesdropping on conversations or checking out books from the local library. (My husband, however, did translate and read picture books aloud to me whenever we went in bookstores.) That year my husband and I rented an apartment in Berlin, and after throwing our own Thanksgiving feast, I sat down determined to make the 12×12 Winner’s Wall. I entered what Donald Graves calls “a state of constant composition” and managed to write eight first drafts between Thanksgiving and Christmas, eight new stories I wouldn’t have birthed then and there without that Julie-imposed deadline. They were far from elegant, but at least I had something down on paper, something to work with. Sadly, I have yet to make the Wall; that year I was one manuscript short.

There’s also a wealth of knowledge that’s shared in the 12×12 community, which was instrumental as I researched agents, how to write query letters, etc. It was through 12×12 that I learned of other wondrous kidlit resources, such as Tara Lazar’s PiBoIdMo, Miranda Paul’s Rate Your Story, and Susanna Leonard Hill’s “Making Picture Book Magic” class.

Has your writing process changed at all since signing with an agent?
I’m still exploring what it means to have an agent and how that affects my writing process. Janine has encouraged me to run ideas by her in any genre, and – more importantly, I think – she’s encouraged me to work on projects I’m passionate about.

What advice would you give to picture book writers looking for agents today?
Take your time. Learn your craft. Of the four picture book manuscripts I submitted to Janine, two were the 18th draft, while the other two were drafts 12 and 20. And we’re still revising!

In the process of revising, you’ll need to kill some of your proverbial darlings, but you’ll also need to stay true to the story and yourself as a writer. In her first email response, Janine said I caught her attention with a particular line that many people told me to cut (either they didn’t understand my humor or they didn’t understand cow anatomy or both), but I liked it so I kept it in draft after draft after draft. I’m learning over time to trust myself as a writer.

Do you think your platform (blog, social media) helped you find your agent?
Although I wrote and recorded reviews for Katie Davis’s podcast Brain Burps About Books, and Katie recommended that I create an author website, I didn’t have much of a web presence when I contacted Janine, and I only dabbled in the Twitterverse; however, in our first conversation Janine referenced my query letter, asking if I was still reviewing MG and YA novels for Katie’s podcast. It made a difference that I was involved in the industry, that I was actively participating in the online kidlit community (blogs, webinars, podcasts, etc.).

Tell us something that is on your “bucket list.” Something you’ve dreamed of doing all your life but have yet to accomplish (besides publishing a book, which is inevitable at this point 🙂 )
I’ve always wanted to learn another language. Despite living in Germany for almost two years, right now my German only consists of useful, fun-to-remember words, like Formfleischvorderschinken (ham), Eisenbahnbetriebsordnung (railroad rules) and Taschenfederkernmatratze (mattress with springs in it). Like David Sedaris, I hope that I too will “talk pretty one day.”

What’s up next/what are you working on now?
After finishing another round of revisions on my middle grade novel, we sent it out to editors. I’m also currently revising a handful of picture book manuscripts.

Heather teaches high school English in Colorado. When she’s not teaching, reading or writing, she enjoys telemark skiing, rock climbing and learning ridiculously long German words. You can find her on Twitter at @HeatherPreusser.

P.S. Are you looking for an agent who represents picture books? Four of them are participating in the Picture Book Summit online conference October 3rd, and will be accepting submissions from attendees! Registration closes Friday at midnight though, so act fast if you’re interested!

Categories: 12 x 12, Agents, Brain Burps About Books, Children's Books, Guest Blogging, How I Got My Agent, PiBoIdMo, Picture Books, Queries, Writing · Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

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htwIt’s once again been too long since I’ve posted a Gratitude Sunday. I’m going to TRY even harder to get this in every week.

Quotes on Gratitude

All three of this week’s quotes are from Anne Lamott’s book, HELP, THANKS, WOW, which I received for Christmas.

“…(L)ife can seem like an endless desert of of danger with scratchy sand in your shoes, and yet if we remember or are reminded to pay attention, we find so many sources of hidden water, in a weed or the gravel or a sunrise. There are so many ways to sweep the sand off your feet. So we say, ‘Oh My God. Thanks.”

“You say, Thank you for lifting this corner of the curtain so I can see the truth, maybe for just a moment, but in a way that might change my life forever.”

“Gratitude begins in our hearts and then dovetails into behavior. It almost always makes you willing to be of service, which is where the joy resides. It means you are willing to stop being such a jerk. When you are aware of all that has been given to you, in your lifetime and in the past few days, it is hard not to be humbled, and pleased to give back.”

Gratitude list for the week ending January 10

  1. A real-live editor liked one of my stories that’s on submission and asked for some revisions!
  2. A friend who was willing to talk ad nauseam in my hyper-excited state.
  3. I MADE those revisions yesterday!
  4. I also re-wrote a picture book draft I’d lost after my iPad broke. I like it even better now.
  5. All of the wonderful folks who participated in my 12 Days of Christmas for Writers series. Inspiring way to begin this New Year!
  6. Finally seeing Mockingjay, which ROCKED!
  7. The weather warming up enough to melt the glacier that had become my driveway
  8. Launching 12 x 12 with an interview with Tara Lazar.
  9. Watching the first Indiana Jones movie with the kids
  10. Skyping with a local SCBWI schmooze group in LA

What are you grateful for this week?

Categories: 12 x 12, Gratitude Sunday, Movies, Picture Books, SCBWI, Writing · Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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12 x 12 Member L. Michelle Quraishi

Believe it or not folks, this is our last Tuesday 12 x 12 post for 2014, and what a great one to capture the spirit of our community as we roll from 2014 into 2015. Today’s author, L. Michelle Quraishi, brought tears to my eyes because I saw myself in every part of her journey. I suspect all of you will see yourselves too. Dreams deferred, crushed. Climbing out of the rubble to take hold of them again. (Side note: WHY do so many people get clobbered in college, at the very time teachers should be encouraging young writers the most – UGH!). Then of course, once free of the rubble, a community stretches out its hands. Please welcome L. Michelle Quraishi!

I always thought that what I needed in order to write was an audience. So much writing in me never makes it onto the page unless there’s someone out there waiting to read it. I write MORE when I have a deadline connected to a real person. I joined 12 x 12 because it offered readers and deadlines—a ready-made audience to stand-in for the nurturing agent and editors I have yet to meet.

As a child, finding an audience was easy. My mom typed my stories before I could write them myself, on a real old-fashioned clackety-clack.

© Jorge Royan / http://www.royan.com.ar / CC-BY-SA-3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

© Jorge Royan / http://www.royan.com.ar / CC-BY-SA-3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

My teachers glowed and encouraged when I set pages in their hands. My great-grandmas wrote back to every letter I ever sent them, letters that survived fire and flood, still tied up in bundles in my garage. By the time I was old enough to get in trouble for speckling my dad’s typewriter with white-out (I’ve always loved revising 😉 ), Creative Writing classes and literary journals gave me an outlet and an audience.

And then came college. I loved college, but nobody cared about my writing anymore. I applied and was accepted to the Creative Writing Department, which included the remote but enticing possibility of working with Toni Morrison, an opportunity lost that I’ll never cease to regret. Nothing in my young life as a writer had prepared me to swim with the big fish, and a freshman semester with a scathing graduate student in fiction seminar sent my writing voice scuttling to hide under a rock. I dropped out of Creative Writing and instead majored in English with a focus on children’s literature, to spend three years reading and writing about the children’s books I treasured.

De grote vissen eten de kleine, Pieter Brueghel the Elder (1526/1530–1569)

De grote vissen eten de kleine, Pieter Brueghel the Elder (1526/1530–1569)

I never stopped writing, but my failure to connect to an audience in college put Maleficent’s enchantment on my writing ambition, cursing it to a deep sleep. Ten years of my young adulthood were dedicated to writing about education, as I struggled with the dilemmas urban teachers face in underfunded schools, and took solace in my classroom library of picture books.

 

Louis Sußmann-Hellborn (1828- 1908): Dornröschen - Mutter Erde

Louis Sußmann-Hellborn (1828- 1908): Dornröschen – Mutter Erde

I stopped teaching to stay home with my children, writing in scraps and corners of time stolen from each day. Then, when my youngest turned two, I could see the time looming when the financial contribution I’d been making to our family—childrearing—would have to be replaced with something else. And at that moment in 2012, I determined that the something else would be my writing. Somehow, I would learn to make my way as a writer in the world again. It was my daughter’s promise to grow up that rousted my ambition from sleep.

I went to the Children’s Writers & Illustrators Conference at Book Passage, three years in a row. There I learned about SCBWI, and have attended every local event since. Heard about Tara Lazar’s PiBoIdMo, where I read about 12 x 12, and joined this year for the first time. All along I thought that it was audience I needed. Turns out, what I really needed was community.

I’ve been mostly quiet here in 12 x 12, and feel pretty shy about sending this little essay to Kelli. But I also get pretty choked up when I think about how 12 x 12 has transformed and enlivened my writing life since I joined. I wanted to share my gratitude for those badges, the “Well, done, Michelle,” the thoughtful feedback on 250 words, Query Corner and Pitch Perfect, and the support of my online critique group.

Long ago, I locked myself into a tower where my writing dreams withered. And I rescued myself, too. All it took was putting my hand on the doorknob, and turning it. But when I opened the door, all of you folks at 12 x 12 were right there waiting for me, and you welcomed me as if I already belonged. Thank you.

Born to a Pakistani father and American mother in California, L. Michelle Quraishi was raised in Half Moon Bay, CA, on a balanced diet of donuts and liverwurst, Madeleine L’Engle, and sitar music. She now lives in Walnut Creek, finding inspiration for her books in goddess lore, brain science, animal behavior, her children, calculus and kung fu. Inspired by Julie Hedlund’s How to Make Money as a Writer course, she’s just started work on her author website. You can also find her on Twitter or check out research for her new novel about Baba Yaga in middle school on Pinterest. When she’s not busy making up stories, Michelle blogs at amomnextdoor.wordpress.com, folds origami, collects rainwater in jars, pickles green beans and keeps knives in dangerous places.

 

Categories: 12 x 12, Childhood, Children's Books, Guest Blogging, PiBoIdMo, Picture Books, SCBWI, Writing · Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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12 x 12 Member Johnell DeWittToday’s Tuesday 12 x 12 author, Johnell Dewitt, is one who can see the forest through the trees. In just a few short years she’s become an active member of the children’s writing community and most definitely part of its support system. I have a great deal of admiration for how much ambition and passion she’s brought, not just to her own writing, but also to helping other writers as she goes. As a fellow nomadic soul, I appreciate how challenging that can be when you’re always moving around, but perhaps too it is what grounds us most. Please welcome Johnell!

Every two to three years, I pick up my roots and replant them somewhere else, usually in another country. It’s a great lifestyle most of the time, but when I chose to pursue writing for children, I realized that in-person networking would be difficult. Fortunately, online forums like 12×12 provide connections vital to my growth as a writer.

There is power in community. Redwoods are the tallest trees in the world. They are able to reach colossal heights and withstand amazing environmental stresses because they intertwine their roots. Despite their towering heights, the roots of the redwood are relatively shallow, sort of like my experience in writing for children.

I started seriously pursuing a childhood dream of writing picture books just three years ago, shortly after returning to the States. Fortunately, I had a writer friend who helped me get started. First thing she told me was to get on the Verla Kay (now SCBWI) blueboards.

With our nomadic lifestyle, an online forum was a perfect way to ease in. I spread my tiny roots out into the blueboards and was immediately grasped and strengthened by more experienced writers. I grew from their support.

From there, I learned about Tara Lazar’s PiBoIdMo. I jumped on board, and loved meeting other writers through the Facebook forum. In fact, I realized that many of the people on the PiBoIdMo Facebook page lived near to my former home in Northern Virginia.

Long story short (see here for the long story), we set up a regional Facebook page and were able to arrange our own local events. Those in-person meetings were like Miracle-Gro for my budding root system. In fact, one of the writers I met through our regional get-togethers turned me on to 12×12 and that’s how I got here.

It’s easy to feel lost in a forest of towering authors and writers, but being part of a community like 12×12 jump starts the growing process. As we interlock our various life-experiences, we strengthen the entire system, making it possible for each of us to reach impossible heights.

So jump in. Reach out and extend your roots, no matter how shallow you think they are. As the redwoods attest, it doesn’t take a deep root system to thrive, just one that’s willing to give and receive nourishment from the forest of writers around them.

Johnell DeWitt is a former public relations executive and aspiring children’s book writer. Johnell blogs with her writing group at dewdropsofink.blogspot.com.

Categories: 12 x 12, Children's Books, Guest Blogging, PiBoIdMo, Picture Books, SCBWI, Writing · Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

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12 x 12 Member Joanne Sher

I am a firm believer that once you set an intention, especially one pertaining to writing, a path appears before you. So I love the story today’s Tuesday 12 x 12 author, Joanne Sher, has to tell about how she ended up in our community. Like all good stories, it involves determination, overcoming hardship, and finding mentors who help you while you get your hands steady on the wheel. I hope you find the story as uplifting as I did. Please welcome Joanne!

I love my computer: It’s where all my friends live.

For the last decade or so, I’ve wanted to be a writer. But only in the last year did I decide to write picture books. And it all happened because of the Internet. NO – really.

You see, I’d been writing devotionals and short stories, a nonfiction book, and even made a bit of headway on a novel – but I wasn’t engaged. I dabbled in writing, but not with passion – at least not regularly.

But then a couple friends I’d met through two different organizations whose primary presence is online (American Christian Fiction Writers and FaithWriters) offered to give me $900 (YES – you read that right!) to go to a writers’ conference. My husband is on disability – and has been for over ten years now. I’m a stay-at-home-mom with a ten and thirteen-year old. Needless to say, money doesn’t grow on trees. So I can honestly say there is no way I could have afforded a conference if it weren’t for my friends. (By the way – one of the “donors” had never met me in person!)

So I researched (on the Internet, of course!) writing conferences, and ended up attending the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference in May of 2013. It was a wonderful experience (where I had a chance to meet the lovely lady who helped me get there :D) – and I took a four-part practicum on picture book writing (led by the lovely Pam Zollman) that woke a desire in me to write for young children.

So once summer was over (had to spend time with the kids, yanno), I started searching the Internet for information on picture book writing. First, I found the Kidlitosphere, which sent me scanning hundreds of children’s lit blogs. And I discovered Tara Lazar and her WAY fun PiBoIdMo, which I dove into last November with reckless abandon (ended up with 47 picture book ideas). And one of the guest posts during that month was…wait for it…

Julie Hedlund. And on that day, my fate was sealed. I WOULD learn as much as I could about picture book writing. I WOULD write twelve picture book drafts in twelve months. I signed up the very first day that I possibly could.

And here I am, halfway through the challenge, and what do I have to show for it? Eight picture book drafts. Incredible resources – both human and material – to keep me motivated, on the right track, learning, and growing in my writing skills. A sense that I am writing what God WANTS me – what He has led me – to write. People who GET ME. Incredibly talented folks who probably realize by now that I’ve never met a picture-book-writing challenge I haven’t at least tried. (Can you say Start The Year off Write? ReviMo? RhyPiBoMo? Debut PB Study Group? Summer Sparks? PPBF?)

Does it matter that 99.9% of the people and resources that have helped me get to this point disappear when I turn off my computer? (You DO believe that, don’t you?) I don’t think so. Cuz though I would LOVE to meet these folks face to face, their impact on my life – on my writing journey – is no less important. I still have a lot to learn, and I’m not ready to send my babies out into “the real world” yet, but with the help of 12 x12 in ALL its facets, I will some day.

Joanne Sher is a Jew by birth, a Christian by rebirth, and a children’s writer by gift. A native Southern Californian, she now lives happily in West Michigan with her husband and two school-aged children. In addition to writing, she is also a freelance editor, the blogger at at the FaithWriters blog, and posts monthly at Jewels of Encouragement, The Barn Door, and Internet Cafe Devotions. Visit her at www.joannesher.com or connect with her on Facebook or Twitter.

 

Categories: 12 x 12, Children's Books, Guest Blogging, Perfect Picture Book Friday, PiBoIdMo, Picture Books, Writing · Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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12 x 12 Member Dani Duck

I need to begin today’s Tuesday 12 x 12 post from Dani Duck by making a correction. Dani is not, as she described herself, unpublished. She is PRE-published. This is an important distinction we make because for someone like Dani, working hard on her craft and actively engaging in communities like 12 x 12, publication becomes a “when” not an “if.”

Now that that’s out of the way, I’ll allow you to be inspired and encouraged by how Dani has taken ownership of her identity and path as a children’s picture book author/illustrator. Her contributions to 12 x 12 have been many, and you can bet that we will be there cheering her on WHEN her first book is published. Welcome Dani!

My name is Dani Duck and I’m an unpublished Writer/Illustrator. It feels like an admission at an AA meeting. It’s not that I’m trying to quit, but actually the opposite. I’m finally admitting to myself, and more importantly others, that I am a Writer and Illustrator.

I’ve struggled most of my life with identity issues. I’ve always wanted to be this great _____. I didn’t know what it was, but I knew it was creative. My whole life I’ve fought discovering myself by doing things that weren’t suited to me.

I never had that eureka moment (at least not just once)! I picture my path coming at me like a hammer. This hammer followed me around smacking me upside the head. I’d feel it connect, and then worry about everything else over the big bump on my head.

I don’t know what made me ignore that nail being smacked. As a Freshman in high school I had to create a picture book and mine was the best in class. *Wham* Second year I was the most invested writer in my English Class. *Wham* In University my favourite books were kidlit. *Wham* I attended a Grad. Level Picture Book Illustration Course, created my first submission package, and loved it! *Wham* *Wham* *Wham*

It wasn’t until I had my son David (January 2011) that I had no doubts about my path in life. It wasn’t just that I decided my path, but also I became passionate and focused creatively. I don’t know if this was a result of having almost no time to work, but it seems that way.

2012 brought my first SCBWI conference. I brought a terrible portfolio, but got great tips in the conference for improvement. I joined later that year, all ready to become a great Picture Book Writer/Illustrator. I was still missing a bit of motivation, but mostly opportunity. That opportunity came with the 12×12. The fly swatter by 12 x 12 illustrator Dani Duck

Last year I joined the 12×12 for the first time. I wanted it to be the best year ever, so I joined at the gold level (without having a polished manuscript). I knew that this was something I needed to do for my career. Then I shot myself in the foot – figuratively speaking. I took on too many responsibilities and my focus was not on picture books. Sure, I wrote a few books, but soon ran out of ideas. The stories I wrote never got farther than a first draft despite having a wonderful critique group.

I don’t regret joining the 12×12 last year even though I didn’t submit anything. Because of the 12×12 I was able to make concrete(ish) plans for achieving success. My first step was making blog posts of my goals. I also decided to have a smaller critique group, and to work on a full dummy submission. Two events last year helped me out: The first being Tara Lazar’s PiBoIdMo so now I have no excuses for not having enough ideas! The second was in Jamie Morrow and Erin L. Funk’s “What’s Up Wednesday!” which keeps me scheduling my time and motivates me weekly. I also can’t forget Meg Miller (who was actually in my critique group last year) started ReviMo this year. ReviMo helped me with revising my neglected stories. It all sounds like a lot of non-12×12 things, but if it weren’t for the 12×12 I wouldn’t have known about these events. I certainly wouldn’t have found the motivation to continue my craft.

I feel like the 12×12 is helping me with my final exam of getting published. All the members are like my graduating class. I love that we are all here motivating and helping each other. I have a long way to go before I’m published, I know. When I do finally get that first book published I’ll have Julie Hedlund and everyone involved with the 12×12 to thank!

—–
Born in Ohio, Dani now resides in the outer, outer reaches of the greater Vancouver area. She lives in constant fun and loving chaos with my husband, Peter, & three year old son, David. Dani blogs several times a week at http://daniduckart.blogspot.ca/ where she has artwork, updates, interviews with writer’s/illustrators and anything else she can think to post. You can find her website is: www.daniduck.com. You can connect with Dani on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/duckgal and Twitter at: https://twitter.com/DaniDuck. Any mistakes you see in this post are imaginary.

Categories: 12 x 12, Guest Blogging, PiBoIdMo, Picture Books, SCBWI, Writing · Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

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PatMiller_3907_4x5

Today I am ecstatic to bring you a different kind of “How I Got My Agent” story. This one is special because it is the first, of hopefully many, success stories of authors finding agents through 12 x 12. Once again I was moved to tears by a member’s expression of what 12 x 12 has done for her confidence, her writing and her career. I can honestly say the only time I’ve ever been more pleased to announce that someone signed with an agent is when it was me! Without further ado, congratulations to Pat Miller, who recently signed with Stephen Fraser of Jennifer DeChiara Literary Agency! May there be many more 12 x 12 participants who come after you! 🙂

I began my writing career out of green-eyed jealousy in 1994 with a magazine article. (That’s another story.) I mostly wrote for school librarians. I reconnected with children’s writing, thanks to Tara Lazar’s Picture Book Idea Month challenge, in November 2012. Tara mentioned Julie Hedlund’s upcoming 12 x 12 Picture Book Challenge. Perhaps it was the timing, perhaps the financial investment, but I decided to commit. Here’s how 12 x 12 has made 2013 my luckiest writing year.

ENCOURAGEMENT I began reading other people’s work and submitting my own in the 250 Words Forum. I had done more than six months of research on the sea captain who invented the hole in the doughnut. Now I felt encouraged to stop researching and start writing.

COMPANIONSHIP The 12 x 12 Facebook page peopled my writing space with amiable fellow writers. I was surrounded by their hopes and encouraged by their work. My difficulties were theirs–I wasn’t alone. I began showing up at my desk every morning at 7:00, feeling the invisible but warm company of kindred spirits.

ANSWERS TO QUESTIONS Is a particular conference worth the money? Which writing books are most helpful? How does one format a picture book? The 12×12 group reminds me of a trampoline—throw out a question and within hours, answers bounce up from all over! When I asked if anyone had experience with making book trailers, Julie connected me with Katie Davis. I’ll be joining her Video Idiot Boot Campin May.

RESOURCES Members often suggest sites, blogs, and resources that inspire and educate. Lori Degman told us about a site called Rate Your Story. Over the next couple of months, I submitted three stories. My Stone Soup variant rated a 7, The Hole Story of the Doughnut earned a 3, and Lone Star, Lone Star convinced someone to give it a 1. Encouraged, I sent Lone Star out to several regional publishers.

EXPERT HELP I committed to bringing my Hole Story to completion. I returned to Rate your Story to peruse their list of editors for hire. From a list of heavy hitters, I chose Jill Esbaum, author of 11 picture books and former instructor for the Institute of Children’s Literature. She helped me revise my story, and with high hopes, I submitted it to the Highlights Fiction Contest.

I had more than 200 pages of research on my doughnut inventor. In February I began to feel a book was necessary. But where to begin? What to include? What to leave out? On January 23, Elaine Kearns recommended Dear Editor.com, where you send in questions to editor Deborah Halverson. Deborah’s answer to my questions appeared the next day. I began the book.

NEW DIRECTIONS In mid-January, Janie Reinart posted a site about building one’s author platform. Reading it convinced me I needed to learn about using social media to promote my work. In a marvelous coincidence, another member recommended marketing magician Rivka Kawano. On January 28, I took her three-hour online seminar called “Author Success in 2013”. It was so helpful that I signed for her twelve week course,  Author’s Marketing Class.

CRITIQUE GROUP In early February, Laura Carpenter posted on the forum’s Critique Connect that she wanted to form a group. Lickety-split, nine of us joined her from seven states and Canada—my first critique group! Soon the stories began to fly, as well as posts about our vacations, our discouragements, and our delight in the group.

SHARED SUCCESSES  We participated in the voting for Janie Reinart’s book, Love You More Than You Know, nominated for Best Cleveland Book of 2013. And she won! Tracey Cox shared news of the debut of her cleverly named Arachnabet: An Alphabet of Spiders. Cheryl Lawton Malone nearly won the March Madness Poetry Match with her poem, “Autocorrect”. The success of any of us gave us all hope.

ACCESS TO AGENTS In January, Emma Walton Hamilton taught us to write query letters and posted her analysis of 40 queries submitted by 12x12ers. In February, Stephen Fraser of the Jennifer de Chiara Literary Agency became the first of 11 monthly agents willing to look at our work and make suggestions.

By mid-February, The Hole Story of the Doughnut had been through numerous revisions and shaped up as a picture book biography. I crafted my e-query based on Emma’s advice. I followed it with the manuscript that had been through my critique group, Rate Your Story, Jill Esbaum, and Kathi Appelt, the Newbery-honor winner whose critique I won at a local SCBWI auction. With a small prayer, I hit “send” and off went my manuscript to Stephen Fraser.

A REALIZED DREAM Julie sent out interview and biographic information on Stephen Fraser when he stepped up to be our first agent reader. He sounded experienced, passionate, and kind. Just the kind of agent I would like if I had one. He amazed all of us by turning our stories around in three days or less. And he liked my story. Could I make some changes and resubmit? The day after April Fool’s Day, Stephen called me and offered to represent The Hole Story. I tried not to squeal like a pre-teen at a Bieber concert. He patiently answered my questions and said his contract would be in the mail. HIS CONTRACT WOULD BE IN THE MAIL! I was fizzy with joy, thrilled to have an agent, and very aware of how much I owe to Julie Hedlund and  the writers of 12 x 12. Thanks to them, my nineteen-year career became an overnight success.

Pat Miller is the author of 20 professional books and more than 200 articles for school librarians. Her first children’s book, Substitute Groundhog, garnered 32 rejection letters before publication by Albert Whitman. It was named a Junior Library Guild selection. Find out more at www.patmillerbooks.com.

Categories: 12 x 12, Agents, Authors, Books, Children's Books, Creativity, Goals, Guest Blogging, How I Got My Agent, PiBoIdMo, Picture Book Month, Picture Books, Publishing, Queries, SCBWI, Social Media, Video Idiot Boot Camp, Writing · Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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12 x 12 new bannerOh how exciting to have our FIRST 12 x 12 winner of 2013!! And even more exciting that this time, instead of spending an hour tallying and cross-checking, I just clicked a button on Rafflecopter and … voila! A winner.

This month’s lucky winner gets a critique from the ever-fabulous Tara Lazar, who once again kicked off 12 x 12 as our January featured author.

So congratulations to …

Liz Miller!!!

I will put you two ladies in touch so you can arrange the exchange of a manuscript for critique.

Congratulations Liz and KEEP WRITING everyone!

Categories: 12 x 12, 12 x 12 Featured Author, Giveaway, Goals, Picture Books, Works in Progress, Writing · Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

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12 x 12 new bannerI can hardly believe we’ve already come to the end of the first month in the second year of 12 x 12! I know we’re all still getting accustomed to the new features, especially the Membership Forum, but I’d say it’s been amazing month! There’s so much activity on the Forum with people sharing resources, critiquing each other’s work, not to mention 40 FABULOUS query critiques provided by Emma Walton Hamilton!

In the midst of all the Forum excitement, how did your writing fare? I only got 1/3 of the way through a PB draft, but I DID write the first chapter of a chapter book that will be the first in a series. Given the fact that I was wrapping up one 12 x 12, launching another, and celebrating both of my kids’ birthdays, I consider that a good result.

Now it’s your turn to report, which is all on the honor system. If you say you did these things, you did. It is after all, your karma that’s at stake. 😉

I’m running the check-in posts through Rafflecopter this year to reduce the admin burden. Here is what you need to do to check in, even if you didn’t complete a draft!

  1. See the Rafflecopter widget at the end of this post that says “Critique from January Featured Author Tara Lazar” at the top.
  2. Click on the first “Invent your own option” button. It will reveal the task, which is to comment on Tara’s January 4th post. Commenting on Tara’s post is mandatory and gets you one point even if you didn’t complete a draft in January. If you haven’t yet commented, click here to do so. Then you click ENTER on that option in Rafflecopter, which will then open the next two options.
  3. Click on the next “Invent your own option” button. This will ask if you completed a PB draft in January. If you did, click ENTER, if you did not, move on to the next step.
  4. Click on the last “Invent your own option” button. This will ask if you revised a PB in January. If you did, click ENTER. If not, move on to the next step.
  5. Submit your entry. Rafflecopter will track your points.

You have until midnight EST on February 1st to enter your results. I will then have Rafflecopter draw a winner and announce it on the blog on February 4th.

Many, many thanks to Tara Lazar for doing such a wonderful job of launching us again in 2013. We appreciate all you do for the writing community!

Remember — Registration for 12 x 12 in 2013 is open until February 28th, so there’s still time to join. Also, don’t forget to come back tomorrow to meet February’s featured author. You won’t be disappointed!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Categories: 12 x 12, 12 x 12 Featured Author, Authors, Giveaway, Goals, Picture Books, Works in Progress, Writing · Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

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Tara LazarWe have a featured author repeat. The gracious, bodacious Tara Lazar is back and for good reason. Many of you know her as the mama of PiBoIdMo, but in a way, she is also the mama of 12 x 12. Were it not for her and all the great ideas I racked up in 2010 and 2011 (that I failed to execute on), I would never have come up with the idea of 12 x 12 in the first place. I’ve told her that the January featured author spot is hers for as many years as 12 x 12 exists and/or as long as she wants it – whichever comes first. (Pssst… if you haven’t signed up for 12 x 12 in 2013, registration is now open!) 12 x 12 in 2013 participants will have a chance to win a FREE picture book critique from Tara (see the end of the post for details).

So Tara is a huge part of the reason so many shiny new picture books got drafted in 2012, and why so many more will be written in 2013. And it all started with… failure, which is the subject of her post. Strange perhaps in the season of new beginnings and optimism, but I think you’ll agree it’s an important issue for writers of all stripes. Plus failure has a strange way of breeding success. Please welcome Tara!

I’m a failure.

The year 2012 has gone and I only sold one picture book. (Before you roll your eyes at me, please hear me out.)

That was not my plan.

My goal was to sell at least two picture books a year, to keep my career sustained. I have one book slated for this year and two for 2014 release. Now it’s looking like 2015 might be a blank unless I sell something soon. By the time 2016 rolls around, will readers have forgotten me? I won’t lie; it keeps me up some nights.

OK, you can yell at me now.

Tara, you have three books under contract! You should be thrilled!

And I am. Or, I was.

All I ever wanted was to have one book published.

But then that happened. And guess what? My goals evolved.

One book wasn’t enough. I needed two. Then that happened. So I longed for a third. And then I thought two books per year would set a good pace. And now I’m not keeping up.

I could sell three picture books in 2013, who knows? That would make up for my 2012 failure. But I don’t have a crystal ball. (And as we now know, neither do the Mayans.)

Why am I telling you this? How is this in the least bit inspiring? It’s downright depressing, no?

I’m making a point. Feeling like a failure happens to everyone. As a writer, your expectations are higher than anyone else’s. I feel like a failure, but maybe you don’t think I am.

You may not have a book under contract and you feel like a failure. But I don’t think you are. You’ve written stories and revised them. You’ve read craft books. You’ve joined a critique group. You’ve submitted to agents, to publishers. And you’ve been rejected.

A rejection is an accomplishment.

Huh? How is that so?

The majority of people who want to become an author don’t even get that far. They think about it. They dream about it. But they don’t DO.

If you’re doing, you’re not a failure.

Now, I should probably take my own advice, right? I’m doing, so I’m not a failure.

But the feeling of failure is a great motivator. You work harder. You take risks. You’re willing to do anything to emerge from that funk.

You learn from failure. You understand what doesn’t work and avoid that next time. When I was a figure skater, my coach said if I wasn’t falling, I wasn’t learning.

So fall in 2013. Embrace the failure. It might just be good for your career.

Tara Lazar has fallen a lot in life, but she keeps getting up. Her debut picture book THE MONSTORE releases on June 4, 2013, so if you hear fireworks a month early, you’ll know why. Follow her silly escapades at taralazar.com.

Participants – to enter to win a critique from Tara, you must be an official participant (register here) AND you must leave a comment on this post (INCLUDING YOUR FIRST AND LAST NAME) any time during the month of January. Leaving a comment gets you one point toward the critique regardless of whether you write or revise a draft. You can earn additional points by writing and/or revising a picture book draft in January. On January 31st, l’ll put a check-in post on the blog. You get one point for writing a new draft and one point for revising an existing draft. If you do both, you get two additional points. Instructions on how to let us know about your progress will be provided in the check-in post. But don’t forget to comment on this one!

Have you ever experienced a failure that led you to success?

Categories: 12 x 12 Featured Author, Giveaway, Goals, Guest Blogging, PiBoIdMo, Picture Books, Publishing, Works in Progress, Writing · Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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