Robb Terranova Guest Blogger on www.juliehedlund.com

Today’s Tuesday 12 x 12 author, Robb Terranova, is the embodiment of what this challenge and community is all about. He decided to follow his dream, jump in with both feet and swim, swim, SWIM! For me, I find it very inspiring when people come to writing for children later in life and pursue it with all the gusto that comes from that fabulous life experience. Robb proves that it is never too late to take action on a dream. Also, the old cliche that if first you don’t succeed – do everything in your power to learn what you need to learn. The 12 x 12 community is richer with Robb a part of it, and I have no doubt he will pull that brass ring in the near future. Please welcome Robb!

This Has Become An Exciting Journey

Holy scratch-paper, where to start?

They told me I could write for kids. So, I did. I wrote a story about a squirrel who got lost on a football field. One of my friends read it to her kids. She said they loved it. I think she lied, because not one of about 18 publishers liked it enough to send anything more than a form rejection letter.

Twenty years later I decided to try it again. I had a great idea for a Santa Claus story. I submitted it to a dozen agents. One was nice enough to add a short sentence to the bottom of the form rejection, “This is much too long.”

That didn’t make sense to me. It was only about 3,550 words.

I started researching ‘how to write children’s books. I couldn’t believe it, a thousand words or less, preferably a lot less. I think that’s where a lot of people give up. It’s easy to write a 3,550 word story. It’s not so easy to write a 500 word story. I decided I was going to learn how. I like making children laugh. I always enjoyed reading to my daughter and to the first, second, and third graders I subbed for. I started reading everything I could find on the internet about picture book writing.

Eventually that led me to Julie Hedlund and 12 x 12. I found a mention of a ‘great project’ that encouraged picture book writers to complete at least one book a month. I checked it out and found it was much more than that.

“My gosh,” I thought, “I’ve stumbled across a diamond mine.” Here was just what I was looking for, a group of people very interested in writing picture books. There were three membership levels, but the top level was fantastic. Not only did it offer some guidance, it also offered online critiques of the first 250 words of a story, but a dozen different agents – one a month – were tossed in. Every month I could submit a story to an agent who would be sitting there waiting for it.

I went for the gold. It was one of the best things I’ve ever done. One thing I’ve learned about learning how to do things is that you can read, and study, and research all you want. That will help, but it’s not until you actually get your hands on the stuff and do it that you start to learn. Beyond that, if you can find someone to help guide you, your chances of success increase.

That’s the big thing 12 x 12 was offering me the chance to not only get ink on my hands, but to also get some guidance.

  • Let me tell you a few of the things that have happened to me since I joined.
  • I’ve written 16 picture books. A half dozen are making the rounds of the agents. Two are about ready to be submitted. The rest are all somewhere between first draft and submission ready.
  • Through 12 x 12 I discovered the value of joining SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators). I attended a SCBWI conference with thousands of other Children’s book writers.
  • I’ve discovered a number of courses teaching picture book writing, two of which I’ve taken.
  • I also discovered ‘Rate Your Story,’ a site that offers publish-ability ratings and a critique for submitted stories.
  • Also thanks to 12 x 12, I formed an online critique group with five other members; we discuss picture book writing and critique each other’s work.
  • I started a blog: www.robbterranova.com

12 x 12 has led me to so many possibilities, I doubt I would have found as soon and as easily on my own.

So, to answer my question: “Holy scratch-paper, where to start?” 12 x 12 is a pretty good place.

Robb Terranova always wanted to be a writer. That’s how he stumbled into radio announcing. It was his creative outlet for 20 years creating on-air skits and stories, copywriting, and news reporting and writing. He’s also been a teacher and has read stories to first graders and high school seniors as well as to his daughter when she was growing up. He was born in New York, NY, raised in the Midwest, and he now lives in Southern California. He often overhears children asking their parents, “Is he a real pirate?”

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

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47 Comments

  1. Great story here Robb. (I asked if you were a real honest to goodness pirate too.) 🙂 Love the post and I agree with Julie. We all really are all the more richer for having you among us. This writing community is a diamond mine isn’t it? Best of luck to you. 🙂

  2. Very heart warming, inspirational post, Robb! I agree, it’s a great place to start, and stay. Good luck to you. I have a feeling you’ll do very well. 🙂

  3. “It’s only about 3,550 words”–ah, yes, we’ve all been there! I wish more people (namely those outside the industry) realized, “It’s not so easy to write a 500 word story.” Good luck to you, Pirate Robb!

  4. Thanks, Pirate Robb. Life is good with so many people in the same boat!

  5. Is the squirrel still scurrying around on the football field in your mine? Would be fun to see how her/his story plays out!

  6. Glad to “meet” you, Robb and learn your story! Best wishes submitting!

  7. It’s always comforting to meet other ‘late bloomers’ on a similar path, Rob. Thanks for sharing your story. (Every time I see your Gravatar, I can’t help but giggle about reading your post about attending a conference and stumbling through small pools that you thought were floor tiles!) Have you written any pirate stories? If not, you should. I could just imagine kids’ delighting in your read-outlouds!

  8. Jennifer DuBose

    Haha! I agree with Lori. Keep at that squirrel story!

  9. Great post and best of luck to you!

  10. Rob what an inspirational and fun story of your journey!! and hey, I don’ think there are ‘late bloomers’, just bloomers!!

    • Considering I tried writing picture books more than 20 years ago, but didn’t have the gumption to stick to it, I now think I’m late. Just think of all the stuff I’d know if I’d given myself the time to get to know it.

  11. melaniebellsworth3

    Didn’t children’s books used to be 3,550 words? What happened? 🙂 Thanks for sharing your story; I can certainly relate to the learning curve. Have fun writing!

    • Personnally, I think Television happened. I think the world of our children changed from an audio and verbal world to one of pictures. I also think kids’ attention span diminished to the point that they couldn’t handle words as well as they could handle pictures.

  12. deborahholtwilliams

    Yay, Robb! As an older writer myself, I admire your enthusiasm and I think your talent and dedication will lead to an agent and a book deal soon!

  13. Great post, Robb! I was truly inspired by your story. Keep up the great work!

  14. Wonderful post, Robb! So glad you found 12×12. Success awaits you, I’m sure!

  15. This made me laugh out loud!!!
    “One of my friends read it to her kids. She said they loved it. I think she lied, because not one of about 18 publishers liked it enough to send anything more than a form rejection letter.”
    I came to the scene late, too, Robb! I’m loving it!
    Thanks for a great post!

    • I know every agent and publisher are extremely busy, but it would be so nice and so encouraging to all the fledgeling authors out there if they could somehow find the time to just scribble a little note, the core of why the story is being rejected. That’s another reason why I love 12 x 12, most of the agents we submit to give us a few words of discouragement, that actually becomes words of great encouragement – somebody important read what I’ve written and gave me a clue that I didn’t have before.

  16. Great post Robb. I can’t wait to re-join 12 x 12 next year and was sad to have to drop out this year. Thanks Julie for providing such a great incentive for children’s writers. Thanks again Robb for providing me (an older writer) with the motivation to keep trying.
    Tricia

    • Recently, I’ve found myself leaning more toward Chapter Books and Middle Grade, but I still get Picture Book ideas, so even at the base price, 12 x 12 is worth the money… It’s an idea enhancer.

  17. That’s awesome, Robb! I love the line ‘didn’t make sense to me’ LOL

    • It still doesn’t. I think if it’s a good story, children will read it. Pehaps the real problem is with saturation. I imagine if I’m an agent getting more than a thousand submissions per week. The more 250 – 500 word stories there are the better my chances are that I’ll clear my desk before next week’s stories arrive. I would rather have 50,000 words to mull over than 350,000.

  18. WOW! Lying friends! I’m shocked! Who can you trust these days?! 🙂 Great post!

  19. Isn’t it fabulous the way 12 x 12 leads you to so many awesome people and resources! I’m so glad you are here, Robb!

  20. Yay Robb! Wonderful post. 😀

  21. Holy scratch-paper! Where will we get to go!?! I am loving this journey too, Robb, and having a similar experience with my later-life pursuit of this writing passion, it’s so much MORE fun than I could ever have imagined. This community is a rousing gang of like-minded dreamers.
    (And…I think that lost-squirrel picture book idea has merit. Nothing else but a football could look so much like a big nut to a skinny squirrel!)

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