How I Got My Picture Book Deal

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My heart is full to bursting—I’M GOING TO BE A PUBLISHED AUTHOR!

I thought it was impossible, but here is proof that miracles can happen–with a lot of help from  many amazing and wonderful people!

This story knocked me over the head when my dad first told me how the Korean alphabet came into being—and I’ve been wanting to get it out into the world ever since. And now it’s going to be a children’s book!! It’s a dream come true!

So how did this miraculous development come to be?

To be honest, I’m not sure.

I am not a good example of someone who followed best practices toward reaching their goal of becoming a published author.

Most aspiring children’s book authors are diligent writers, who have dozens of stories written, in various stages of polish.

If you’re a writer, it’s a good idea to write.

This is a very good practice. Because it doesn’t matter how skilled a writer you are, you are not going to write your first children’s book manuscript and nail it on the first try.

Alas, I am not a diligent writer. 

And yet, I still managed to land a book deal and get an agent, despite having written only two full manuscripts.

I know–it’s ridiculous, right? How can I even call myself a writer?

I want to share my story of how I got my book deal because I know it is really easy to get discouraged. You can do everything right, and try really, really hard, and all you have to show for it is a pile of rejections.

Despite the fact that I only have a measly two finished manuscripts, and only a handful of rejections, I have also been on that same long, disappointing journey. 

I have wanted to be an author since I was a kid. It took me until my mid-fifties to finally reach that goal.

But now that it’s happening? I’m utterly convinced it is happening at exactly the right time.

I didn’t actively pursue my dream of becoming an author for most of my life. I wrote more stories before I reached the age of 10 than I did in the following four decades.

I was nearing my fifties when I finally decided to stop being afraid and to put some effort into trying to become an author.

I started exploring ways I could practice writing for kids. I wrote stories that were used as part of a reading curriculum. I wrote stories to submit to magazines. I helped co-write a book with another children’s author. I even landed a few work-for-hire projects with educational publishers.

All of these steps took place in fits and starts. Sometimes months would go by without me writing a word.

Looking back, I see the turning point happening when I sat myself down and DECIDED I was really going to try to get a book published with a traditional, trade publisher. 

I considered–what did I need to help make it happen?

I decided I needed a mentor. Someone to guide me and keep me accountable. 

So when I stumbled across Justin Colon’s #PBChat mentorship program, it was serendipity. This was EXACTLY what I needed. So I put my heart and soul into the application as if my future depended on it. 

It’s nice to have someone to answer your questions.

Here’s the funny thing. I never saw myself as a picture book writer. They seemed WAY too hard–you have to tell an entire story in 500 words? Okay, 1,000 if it’s nonfiction. But still–Impossible! 

But this mentorship was for aspiring picture book authors. So I took my one manuscript that could be made into a picture book format, and submitted it with my application.

Well, the stars aligned for me and I was selected as a mentee to Katey Howes! I knew this was an important development for me. I was so happy I cried.

Since I was now apparently an aspiring picture book author, I also signed up for the Children’s Book Academy (CBA) course on writing picture books.

During the course, we were invited to ask for feedback on story ideas. I submitted a pitch for the story I used for #PBChat. 

But I also submitted another story idea.

This one was for an idea I had been carrying around for a few years. It would require a fair amount of research that I had barely started. I didn’t think I was ready to write it.

That story idea involved the invention of the Korean alphabet by King Sejong in the 15th century. 

King Sejong statue in Seoul, South Korea

Everyone LOVED the Korean alphabet story idea. It hit so many right notes: a fascinating historical event few were aware of, involving an interesting figure who fought to improve the lives of the disadvantaged classes, and it was an #ownvoices story.

It became clear that I was going to have to write the Korean alphabet story, ready or not.

So I did. I dusted off my research, found more sources, and finished a draft. I had help from my mentor and my critique group. I got a critique from Mira Reisberg, the founder of the CBA.

At the end of the CBA course, all participants are invited to pitch a panel of agents and editors with one story–much like a Twitter pitch party. Panelists can request full manuscripts for any pitches that catch their interest.

I was amazed to receive requests from two editors!

One request was from Christina Pulles with Albert Whitman. After several weeks, she contacted me. They liked my story, and were intrigued enough to ask if I’d be willing to make some revisions. This is what is known as a Revise and Resubmit, or R & R. 

I liked Christina’s suggestions, so I spent a few weeks revising my story, and sent it back to her.

More weeks passed. Christina contacted me again. They were still interested, but felt some more tweaks would make the story stronger. Would I be willing to do another R & R?

You bet I was willing!

This time, Christina got back to me fairly quickly. They wanted to take my story, KING SEJONG INVENTS AN ALPHABET, to an acquisition meeting!

I was getting so close!

So I waited. 

And waited. 

And waited.

I can totally relate to this guy.

Months went by. I checked in with Christina. Were they still considering my book?

She assured me they were, and that she would let me know as soon as something happened.

More waiting.

Then one day, Christina emailed me. They had found an illustrator they felt was a good match for my book. They were ready to take it to acquisitions! (Just an aside, I think the practice of finding an illustrator before acquiring a book is unusual. Most publishers look for an illustrator after the book deal is made). 

And then finally, finally! After another two weeks, I got the email. Albert Whitman wanted to publish my book!

When I got the news, I happened to be sitting with my husband and younger daughter at the dining table with my computer. I leapt up and shouted, “THEY WANT TO PUBLISH MY BOOK!!!”

Finally–the offer!

My family cheered. My daughter ran outside to tell her sister (who was sitting on the front porch) the exciting news.

The agony of waiting, the years of self-doubt, the rejections that had come before–it all vanished for me in that moment.

It had been such a long journey. But when you finally reach this milestone, it is absolutely, without a sliver of a doubt, completely worth it.

If you are interested in how my book deal then led me to sign with my wonderful agent, Charlotte Wenger, check out my blog post with the completely predictable title: How I Got My Agent.

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