January 29, 2019

The "Book Launch" Part of the Writing Life, Episode 1

Image Source
If you've been following my earlier posts about "the writing life," (or my Facebook page, or my Twitter posts, or my Instagram account), or if you've seen me at a recent book event, or been waiting in line with me for the restrooms at a concert venue... or at the grocery store check out...you've probably heard that I have TWO NEW BOOKS coming out this year: Where Does a Pirate Go Potty? and Where Does a Cowgirl Go Potty? have been long in the making, and I can't wait to share them with you. Can you tell I'm excited?

There are SO MANY fun parts about launching new books into the world. Recently, I got a sneak peek at the cover art for both books. I CANNOT WAIT until it's time for a cover reveal (soon ... soon ...). Suffice it to say that Jacob Souva's artwork is fantastic, and the folks at West Margin Press are brilliant, and I'm beyond enthusiastic for what the future holds for these fun books.

I'm particularly looking forward to themed book events... pirate-themed events, cowgirl-themed events, and, or course, potty-themed events. (In fact, I'll soon be hosting a series of blog posts with ideas for this sort of thing. Please get in touch via the contact form to the left or by leaving a comment below if you've planned/implemented book events (or even parties) in any of these three themed areas--I'd love to gather and share your ideas and experiences in a future interview or via a link to an existing blog post you've written).

Speaking of themed events, I'm also having a hoot of a time exploring themed novelty items, games, craft ideas, songs, interactive links, and swag. Some might call it a waste of time...I call it research! Based on a tip from fellow author, Diana Murray, I created Pinterest Boards for each of these categories: Pirates, Cowgirls and Potty-Humor. You should check them out if you need a good distraction or a laugh.

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So far, one of my favorite finds is this flushing toilet game. You spin the TP roll to determine how many flushes you get (1, 2, or 3). The flushing sound is spot-on... and for added adventure, every so often, the toilet bowl sprays water onto the person who flushed. I'm trying to decide the best way to use this at book events. I'm thinking it will be great attention getting device at multi-table book signing events, giving passersby a reason to stop for a visit. Everyone who spins the TP and/or flushes can have a book mark, and anyone who gets sprayed on can choose from a fancier selection of potty-humor swag! I'm still noodling other ideas, and would welcome your input. Please feel encouraged to comment below if you have an idea or two for me to consider for this game.

I also love this golden poo, and the story behind it (pardon the pun).

These interactive, online resources are fun:

Toilet Flushing Sound Clip and Burp and Fart Piano .

And, THIS SONG. Please join me in downloading it and supporting the work of Lori Henriques, the musician who created it. I cannot think of a better ditty for a doodie-focused book event than one entitled THE POOP SONG.

I'm also loving some of the potty-training related products I've come across such as the Potty Rider (seriously, go check it out), and potty-training guide books for parents such as, Oh, Crap.

And then there are serious products, like the Squatty Potty, with hilarious marketing videos like this (warning: you will not be able to "un-see" this).

Yes...I have gotten a little carried away...but I am having SO MUCH FUN.

Believe it or not, although my new books don't come out until October, 2019, they are already available for preorder (IndieBound/Cowgirl, IndieBound/Pirate, Amazon/CowgirlAmazon/Pirate), and you can ask your local youth librarian to pre-order through their book wholesaler.

Not quite ready to pre-order until YOU can see the cover art? No worries....rest assured I'll be reminding you again. In the meantime, you can start thinking about who in your life has kids (toddlers, preschoolers, school-aged kids), a good sense of humor, a penchant for potty humor, a fascination with pirates or pirate-y adventures, and/or enthusiasm for all things cowgirl. These are the readers who will most enjoy these two new books.

It would also be great if you could take a stroll on over to my Pinterest site and leave me a comment below to let me know your favorite swag items so I'm sure to gather up the right collection of silliness and fun.

Thanks, Pardners! Yee-Ha!

January 21, 2019

Birth Stories for Books: PEDRO'S PAN, by Matthew Lasley

Get ready for the latest installment in the Birth Stories for Books series: Posts about paths to publication from published authors and illustrators.

Today's post is particularly special because it is written by Matthew Lasley, whose debut picture book, Pedro's Pan, is illustrated by Jacob Souva and published by Graphic Arts Books ... the illustrator and publisher for two new books I have coming out this year.

Matthew's post also provides an especially good launch into the new year because it's very inspiring and gets to the heart of the importance of perseverance. So, without further delay, I'll turn this over to Matthew:

Every Person's Story is Unique
by Matthew Lasley

Matthew Lasley Panning for Gold 
Every person’s story is unique. Each decision we make, each success and failure shapes the outcome of our life and choices we make. We are all the heroes of our story. We struggle, we persevere and sometime we just get lucky. 

In my journey to becoming a published author, I had to learn to be my own champion. I could not, can not, compare myself to others. Their journey is their own. To see someone else’s journey as easier or luckier or more fortunate is a lie that oppresses our own heroic story. What we do not often see is the turmoil and the struggle that the other went through, that they hold in that dark place that makes them wonder if they are a fraud.

It doesn’t matter if you have written a rough manuscript or 365 books, you still question your ability and worth. So here is my journey, in short.

I grew up in rural Alaska in a community of 100 spread out over nearly a hundred square miles. My school averaged a little more than ten students, kindergarten through 12th grade. We had one teacher/principal who was expected to teach us all.

Mind you, I am not complaining, I loved my childhood, but, being a teacher now, I realize the resources I missed out on. You see, I am dyslexic and this made learning difficult, especially reading and in turn, writing.

But I was determined. I wanted to read. I loved to tell stories and from early on, I wanted to tell my own. The first story I every wrote was called, “How Crooked Creek Became Crooked.” It was a “legend” about how a local creek got its name.

To be honest, it was a terrible story. But I was in third grade and it was my first attempt. I was proud of it and it was the first time I realized that the stories I wanted to tell came from the world around me and I could tell stories that affected that world.

I did some writing as I grew older and entered college. I even won some awards and got a few things published in regional publications. But writing was such a struggle. My mind moved much faster than my pencil and my penmanship is atrocious.

I wrote things in rough outlines and bullet notes to try to get it all down, but often found it difficult to go back and write my stories. So, I began to tell my stories to a tape recorder. It sounds like a great idea, but you have to be disciplined with it or else your thoughts are jumbled and the best material never gets recorded.

I had lots of ideas, but I couldn’t get it on paper. Then I heard about NaNoRiMo. I was teaching a 4/5 grade combo class and we used the month to write a manuscript. I let the words pour out onto the pages of my notebook, focusing on quantity rather than quality. And at the end of the month, I had a story.

I spent the next three months typing up the story and polishing it. And I was proud of it. I knew it needed work, but it was my story.

My school librarian was interested in writing and offered to look over my manuscript. So, during a long weekend, I gave it to her.

The next Monday, at the end of the day, I went down to help her shelve books and she gave me my manuscript back. At first look, it was a disaster. There was purple ink all over it. She seemed excited about it and began to ask me questions about my story and how I came up with it.

I told her my process and she asked me if I had ever read the book “Hatchet.” I told her I had not and she continued to ask me questions about my story. Finally, she went over to one of the shelving carts and pulled a copy off and handed it to me.

I opened the book and my heart came to my throat. Here was my story. Sure, not exactly my story, but a lot of it was the same, even down to the character’s name, though mine was named Brian Robbinson, it was close enough.

I was stunned. I flipped through the pages and read many elements of my story. Only it was not my story.

I do not remember what the librarian was saying to me, I only remember feeling the stinging in my eyes and the knots in my stomach. All I remember was finally thanking her for reading my story, handing her back the book and leaving.

When I got back to the classroom, I threw my manuscript into the recycle bin, went home and packed up my notebooks.

I would not pick up a pencil for three years.

It took me that long to realize that I had not written a bad story. In fact, I had written a story well enough that it could potentially be published and win a Newberry. It just wasn’t my story.

I had a story inside of me still. It is still there, waiting for its time in the world. I have struggled to write it for nearly 9 years. But it is not the only story.

I sat down and decided to write another middle grade novel. It too is waiting for its time to shine, but after really sitting down and committing myself to write again, I met my wife Jena. She is also a teacher and a writer, and my soulmate.

She was working on picture books and I thought I would take a stab at it. After all, less than a thousand words, how hard can it be. Short answer, it is harder than writing a novel.

I wrote a few stories and had one critiqued at my local SCBWI (Society of Children’s Books Writers and Illustrators) here in Anchorage, Alaska. A national editor was brought up and to be blunt, she pointed out that I was a newbie. She was nice about it, but it was obvious that I didn’t know what I was doing.

Matthew Lasley at the Felix Pedro Monument in Fairbanks, AK 
I had written a long story about a prospector by the name of Felix Pedro who founded the Fairbanks Gold Rush. The story was good, but not a picture book. 

Over the next few months, I studied and read books. I listened to webinars and learned the rules of picture book writing. The best thing I learned, to let your story rest. So I did, I shoved it in a drawer and did not look at it for months.

That next spring my SCBWI chapter held a writer’s retreat and I decided to pull the stories out and work on one. I chose my story of the prospector. I stripped down my story and realized it couldn’t be told as it was. And that is when I heard it, I heard the voice.

I scrambled and let the words flow onto the page. And after a couple of critiques, I sent it off to be reviewed by one of the guest authors attending the retreat. And she loved it. She loved it enough to tell me who I should contact and sent a recommendation off with it.

I made the few corrections she recommended and sent it off. It took a few grueling months to get an answer since the company was hiring a new editor, but they loved it too!

What is amazing is that from the time I started writing picture books to getting a contract was about 15 months. My very first submission was accepted. That is unheard of. That is up there with a rookie hockey player in his first game scoring a goal on his first shot.

While you may see my success as being able to get a book published in a short time and on my first try, but my journey was 33 years in the making. And it was not made alone. My wife taught me how to write a picture book. I benefitted from her years of learning. And then I found a champion for my story who saw its potential enough to put her reputation on the line for it.
by Matthew Lasley and Jacob Souva

On February 19th, my debut book, Pedro’s Pan, will be launched. 

When you see someone else’s success, do not think of how talented or easy it is for them. It is not. Everyone struggles to write and get published. Even prolific writers know that they only get better over time.

What is important is that you focus on your journey. Learn. Grow. Find your champions. Be a champion for others.

Wow! Thank you, Matthew, for sharing your story of persistence and perseverance and for teaching us that there is gold to be found in each of us. I can't wait to see PEDRO'S PAN when it comes out next month! (And for those of you, like me, who want a little sneak peek, here is a link to the book trailer for Pedro's Pan.)

Matthew Lasley grew up in rural Alaska living the quintessential Alaskan life while mining for gold with his family in Alaska and the Yukon. He now lives in Anchorage with his wife where they both teach first grade. When he is not writing or teaching, you can find him wandering the local streams searching for a few flakes of gold. Visit Matthew on Facebook or follow him on Twitter,  @Lasley_Matt 

January 19, 2019


I'm excited to LAUNCH a new blog series today: Have Swag, Will Travel: Tips for Planning Book events. Like my other recent series, Birth Stories for Books, this will be a collection of guest posts from other authors and illustrators, in this case sharing their experiences planning and implementing book events (versus sharing their paths to publication).

Today's guest is author, B. J. Lee, sharing her experiences as she prepares for the February 1, 2019 launch of her debut picture book, THERE WAS AN OLD GATOR WHO SWALLOWED A MOTH, illustrated by David Opie.

Have SWAG, Will Travel
by B. J. Lee

Image provided by Author
It's only recently, with the publication of my first picture book, that I’ve come to appreciate book swag. THERE WAS AN OLD GATOR WHO SWALLOWED A MOTH, illustrated by the fabulous David Opie, releases February 1, 2019 from Pelican Publishing. Needless to say, I’m in book promotion mode and a big part of book promo is SWAG. Have SWAG will travel!

I've gone to lots of author book events over the years and picked up much swag along the way, especially buttons and bookmarks. Thinking about my own launch, I did a lot of reading about swag and here's what I ended up doing:

Because  I read it was important to get your cover in front of as many people as possible, most of the swag I made has the book cover on it, including business cards. I was also sure to include information about myself as an author, my website, and some social media contacts on the back. And then I put my book cover on my website with links to retailers, including my favorite local indie, Tombolo Books.

Image provided by Author
The information I include on the back has been adjusted. My first batch of cards were, apparently, difficult to understand, as I got asked:

1. Did you self-publish?
2. What is your name?
3. Are you the illustrator?
4. Did you draw this picture?

So on the second batch, I tried to be very clear!

I hand out cards everywhere I go, to young kids in Trader Joe’s and their moms, to my doctor’s receptionist, to my doctor, to people I meet in the park. I figure everybody that I hand a card to will have information about my book and will have the book cover image in their mind. They may be interested in buying the book, they may not, they may put it on the refrigerator, they may pass it along to someone else. It’s all good! The image is out there in the world. The information on how to order it is on the back.

Then I made some bookmarks. I included an elongated cover photo on the front, but not the title. I put the title and the other information on the back, thinking that bookmarks might be more appealing to people without being so “selling.” I give these to librarians, along with my business card, and I leave bookmarks at the circulation desk and in the children’s section, if permitted, so folks can just grab them.

Then I experimented with postcards. Since my husband has some printing experience, he said that people are not going to want a postcard with the title on it so, as with the bookmarks, I made postcards with images on the front and wording on the back. I chose three scenes from my book and in subsequent printings, reprinted the two most popular. I was sure to leave plenty of room for people to write on and address. The idea behind postcards is that people will think it's a cute image and send it to someone, thereby spreading my cover image and information to others.

I also got an ingenious idea from bookseller Stefani Beddingfield at Inkwood Books in Tampa. I was showing her images from my book and we were chatting about note cards, as I was interested in maybe making some. She said that unless an image was tied to a holiday or a theme that is typically seen in note cards, they won’t sell. For example, the image of my cover would not sell as a note card. Then she saw the following image, and she said, “These would make adorable get well cards.” And so the gator get well card was born.

Swag was also instrumental in helping me navigate my book launch. I took my images around to booksellers to see if they would be interested in doing a launch with me. I also took them to Boyd’s Hill Nature Preserve because: gators. They loved the gator character and, when I showed them the paperback version of my book that I printed from the e-galley, they really embraced it. They suggested having a Gator Day in conjunction with their already-existing alligator walk event, which would include a book launch, education about alligators and even a live juvenile alligator. Local bookseller Alsace Wallentine of Tombolo Books has agreed to partner with me for this event. And all of this came together because of – SWAG! You can order a signed copy of my book from Tombolo.

I'll be having additional swag at my book launch including signed posters as door prizes, bookplates, coloring books which the illustrator, David Opie, provided black-and-white images for, and I’ve ordered a gator doll/character from a local crafter.

I’m currently having a preorder swag giveaway party on Facebook and Twitter.  You can enter to win fabulous swag, now through January 31st! Find details on my website.

If you will be in the Tampa Bay area of Florida on March 10, 2019, stop by Boyd Hill Nature Preserve, to hear me read, possibly sing, and pick up a signed book. The gator festivities start at 10 AM.

Swag is a wonderful thing!

1. It can show people what your book is all about.
2. If your picture book is character driven, it can communicate your character to people.
3. It can make people rally around you and your book.
4. It can bring disparate groups together to work for a common goal.

In short, it can create community. SWAG is the bomb, and for this debut picture book author, this saying is true: “Have Swag will travel.”

Thank you for having me on your blog, Dawn. It’s been a pleasure.

Thank YOU, B. J., for a really informative post! I've learned so much. I especially love the idea of the Get Well cards, and it's fabulous to SEE so many great examples of the materials that you've put together to get the word out about your book. Let us know how Gator Day goes! 

And now, dear readers, head on over to B. J.'s website to get in on the SWAG giveaway before it ends, January 31, 2019! And...if YOU have tips to share about planning book events, please get in touch via the comments or the "contact" link to the left so we can hear YOUR Have Swag, Will Travel story! 


B.J. Lee is a former college music librarian turned full-time writer and poet. Her debut picture book, There Was an Old Gator Who Swallowed a Moth, is releasing on February 1, 2019 with Pelican Publishing. Additionally, she is an award-winning children’s poet with over 100 poems and stories published/forthcoming in major anthologies and magazines. Anthology credits include Construction People (Wordsong, 2019), I Am a Jigsaw (BloomsburyUK, 2019), National Geographic’s Poetry of US (2018), National Geographic’s Book of Nature Poetry (2015), One Minute Till Bedtime (Little, Brown, 2016), Moonstruck (Otter-Barry, 2019), Spaced Out (BloomsburyUK, 2019), and many others. Magazine credits include Spider, Highlights, and The School Magazine. B. J. blogs at Today’s Little Ditty, where she is an authority on poetic forms. Connect with B. J. on Facebook and Twitter, or find out more at http://www.childrensauthorbjlee.com/. 

January 16, 2019

Birth Stories for Books: ONE SNOWY DAY by Diana Murray

I'm so happy to share the latest Birth Story for Books: ONE SNOWY DAY written by Diana Murray and illustrated by Diana Toledano. I first became familiar with Diana's work when I read NED THE KNITTING PIRATE, back when I was doing market research in preparation for submitting my own pirate story to publishers. I soon learned that she has MANY fun picture books. Today we'll hear from Diana about: 

How One Concept Book Became Three

ONE SNOWY DAY (Sourcebooks, 2018) had a long, long journey beginning with the first draft of CITY SHAPES (Little, Brown, 2016) which I wrote around 2009. You see, CITY SHAPES sold in a two-book deal after I got my agent in 2012. There were some publication delays and it didn’t get released until 2016. Because it was a two-book deal, I began sending some options for a second book to the publisher around 2013. When you have a multi-book deal with a publisher, things move a little more slowly since you can’t send new work to other publishers until they’ve chosen your second contracted book. I found the wait frustrating since I’m very prolific. 

Anyway, the editor chose a manuscript that the team was interested in around 2014. It was a manuscript about the four seasons. But when I spoke to her in detail about her thoughts on it, it turned out, she wanted a major rewrite. It would basically be a different manuscript entirely and I’d have to start from scratch. I was so nervous I wouldn’t be able to pull it off, but I finally garnered my strength and plowed forward. After discussing with my editor, I felt I knew what they were looking for. They wanted something similar to CITY SHAPES, a kind of companion book, even though the illustrator would be different. They wanted something lyrical, poetic, descriptive, and a bit more on the literary side.

So I sat on my patio (listening to the pitter-patter of a passing shower) and began to write SUMMER COLOR! (which was originally called “Summer Rain”). I deliberately set it in the country to contrast with the urban setting of CITY SHAPES. Going with colors as the concept seemed like a natural choice. I ended up loving the final result and felt fortunate that the collaborative process led me to a manuscript that I wouldn’t have written otherwise. Thankfully, the publisher loved it, too, and accepted it as their second book.

Now that my contract was fulfilled, I could do whatever I wanted. I thought, what the heck, maybe I should try a third concept book. I already had a city setting and a country setting, so this time I tried a small town setting with the concept of counting. Although all three books were concept books (not character-driven books with your typical problem/solution-based plot) they still needed to have a kind of story arc. For ONE SNOWY DAY, I used a day to night transition. In addition, the climax of the book involved a playful puppy stealing the carrot nose from the snowman. At that point, the numbers went from counting up to counting back down to one.

I sent it to the same publisher. My editor loved it, but it turned out, the publisher pretty much wanted an entire rewrite again. I adored my editor (and the whole team at Little, Brown), but after much thought, I decided not to accept the revision request. I felt that the story was solid, and although it didn’t fit with their particular list, I thought it might fit with the list of another publisher. After several years of writing, I had become more confident about knowing when something was generally working or not. This was a tough choice, but I’m glad I made the choice I did (and that my agent was supportive) because I ended up getting another offer from Sourcebooks and they had the same vision for the book that I did. Huzzah! It all worked out.

My journey with ONE SNOWY DAY was a good lesson in patience, hard work, self-reliance and tenacity.

Thank you, Dawn, for the opportunity to share my experience.

THANK YOU, Diana, for taking the time to share your experience. Your stories are so much fun to read. Thanks for providing a little insight about how they came to be! You've shown us the value of having a vision for your story and the importance of having confidence in your vision. 

Diana Murray is the author of over a dozen books for children, including CITY SHAPES (Little, Brown, 2016), GRIMELDA THE VERY MESSY WITCH (Tegen Books/HarperCollins, 2016), NED THE KNITTING PIRATE (Roaring Brook/Macmillan, 2016), PIZZA PIG (Step-into-Reading/Random House, 2018), and UNICORN DAY (Sourcebooks, 2019). Her award-winning poems have appeared in magazines such as Highlights, High Five and Spider. Diana grew up in NYC and still lives nearby with her husband, two very messy children, and a goldfish named Pickle. Find out more at http://www.dianamurray.com .


January 11, 2019

2018 Year-End Post (Albeit Belated)

As I've mentioned before, although fewer and fewer people send annual holiday greetings, I continue to treasure this tradition--both the receiving of cards, letters, and photos from friends and family near and far, and the preparation of my own annual update.

Each year I try to provide a relevant update embedded in some creative format. In most cases, I've also published a year-end blog post that incorporates the holiday greeting for that year. Here is a link to a summary of past years' greetings.

This year I gave some thought to why it is that I hold onto this tradition. It turns out there are many reasons:

-I like good old fashioned hard-copy versions of things. Case in point: I still use an old-style calendar/planner. (I am a little horrified to see the finger prints smeared all over my 2018 edition, but look at how fat that one is as compared to the fresh and new one for 2019. Isn't that just marvelous?)  My calendars serve the joint purpose of being a planner and a historical record of life events. This is important, given that I'm not a regular journaler (I know this is akin to admitting my other dark secret ... shhhh... I'm the only children's author I know who is not a huge fan of the Harry Potter books. Sadly, this admission may flub any chance I had of realizing my dream of working with Arthur Levine on at least one book at some point in my career. Sigh).

Anyhow, even though I don't journal in the traditional sense, I do write a variety of things down in my calendar, and I keep them year after year. I'm actually very particular about my calendars. I can only use one with this specific layout (MTW on the left, TH/FRI on right, Sat/Sun on bottom right). I've tried using other formats before, and I feel completely out of sorts (not to mention risking all types of scheduling mistakes). Wednesday absolutely must be on the lower left and Thursday absolutely must be on the upper right... Nothing else will do for me.

I should also note that my planner doesn't really take the place of a journal. My planner is mainly filled with appointments and to-dos, not "memories" or feelings. I do occasionally use a monthly calendar to write down memories. I kept a calendar of this nature for both of my pregnancies and for the first year of both of my kids' lives. (This was at the suggestion of a dear friend of mine who isn't a writer, and who I regularly encourage to journal. Go figure!)

I'm a blogger of course, and also a letter writer. I've written long letters to friends in Australia (though admittedly those have slowed down over the years), and I'm still old fashioned when it comes to hand-written thank you notes. When my kids were little, I wrote them letters on the eve of their birthdays (guilty confession: I petered out on this when they got a bit older, mainly because the energy it gook to parent them, sapped me of the energy I needed to reflect on their current ages and stages and write about it...do you see a pattern here?) Since my daughter has headed off to college, I've started the practice of writing her letters about her childhood. This has been therapeutic for me, and enjoyable for her. I've also written to my son, who is still in high school, a few times, and I aim to step up my letter writing to him this year (no need to wait until he goes off to college to connect with him in this way).

I've also been fairly diligent in about writing (journaling, actually) during family trips to faraway places, and I typically write debriefing notes to myself after major trips and/or major life experiences or events. This  brings me closer to the reason that I value the ritual of creating my annual holiday greeting. This tradition provides me with the opportunity to reflect and remember, and then share. When it comes to powerful or emotional topics, I'm one that needs to ponder and mull on things before I can write about them. I admire people who can write about "today" today, but that's not me. The more intense the emotion or situation, the longer it will take for me to get it down on paper (I particularly admire the people who can reflect on and poignantly write about the current events/state of affairs in our country and our world. I'm still thinking about and pondering the injustices of last week or last month, while these speedier processors are writing about events from today or yesterday.)

But, once a year, I sit down with my calendar, and I gather up the events of the life I share with my family, and I make sure to get it down on paper. I take into consideration what is going on in in terms of world or local events (or familial themes), and I try to share our family's story in a format that is reflective of those world events or familial themes. Past greeting formats have included trail maps, graphs, trading cards, and game boards.

This year, hashtags were a big part of our national conversation ... and so hashtags factored heavily in my #2018 #Holiday #Greeting. #HappyNewYear #Friends. Here it is:

January 5, 2019

Birth Stories for Books: NO MORE NOISY NIGHTS (and other books) by Holly L. Niner

I can't think of a better way to kick off a new year for my blog than to resume the Birth Stories for Books series: Posts about paths to publication from published authors and illustrators.

Today's post rings especially true for me, because, like Holly L. Niner, I love words, and books have always been a part of my life. I can also relate to Holly's experience of pushing past rejection. So, what does Holly have to say?

Rejections Be Damned! The Words Are Calling…
If a word cloud hung over my head it would include these words: 

Daughter, sister, wife, mother, grandmother, aunt, friend, speech therapist, writer, author, cook, baker, reader, good listener, left-handed, happy, strong-willed, smart, baby boomer, Caucasian of mixed heritage, cat lover… I’ll stop there.  You get the point. This word cloud would be in the shape of a heart because-
I LOVE WORDS! I always have.
Books have always been a part of my life.  In our home there are books in every room, even the bathroom.  I have memories of my parents reading to me.  Saturdays meant a trip to the library.  In elementary school we could check out 3 books each week.  That was not enough! So the librarian suggested a friend and I pick our books out together and trade during the week!  Books were such a part of my life that my mother even made me books for a birthday cake. 
And yet, by education I am not a writer, but a speech language pathologist.  I’ve spent my career working in the adult population. While that is not writing, it does involve words and the power and importance of communication.
But what about writing?  How did that happen?
When I had children I stayed home for a number of years and I was immersed in the glorious world of picture books and chapter books.  I watched my children pour over pictures, fall in love with books and ask amazing questions as we read books. The desire to write something children would love bubbled to the surface when my mother suggested a correspondence writing course.
I enjoyed the course, learned a lot about writing and a little about the business of writing.  Upon graduating, I was sure I would soon be published.  I was wrong!  In those days, the 1990s, there were many publishers open to submissions.  You would send your manuscript with a self-addressed stamped envelope.  And then you would wait…usually many months, for the form letter rejection.  I wasn’t prepared for the rejections. 
Some big life changes happened and I stopped writing.  But years later I returned to it because I missed weaving words into stories.  This time I learned more about the business of publishing. With that understanding, the rejections did not hurt quite as much.  I learned the difference between stories that are right for a magazine vs a picture book. I joined a critique group and worked on the craft of writing.  The rejections continued to pour in, but now they might have a word of encouragement written in the margin.
My first success was in the magazine market.  Then in 2004 Albert Whitman published Mr. Worry: A story About OCD.  My son has OCD and, at the time, I could not find a picture book to explain it to him or his sister. That manuscript found a home fairly quickly because Albert Whitman publishes books about children's issues. I Can't Stop: A Story About Tourette Syndrome (2005) came about because I had a relationship with Albert Whitman and they were looking for a book on the subject.
And yet the rejections continued to pile up.
In 2008 I’d been working on two manuscripts. The Day I Ran Away, grew from an America’s Funniest Home Video clip where a little boy, standing in his yard, asked,  how can I run away, when I’m not allowed to cross the street. Like all ideas, it tumbled around in my mind until it became a story.  This one all in dialogue, where my heroine recounts the day’s adventures while Dad tucks her in at night.  After critique group edits, it began the lonely unsuccessful trips back and forth to editors.
At the same time No More Noisy Nights was also making the rounds. The idea came from a 1st-3rd grade writing prompt book.  The prompt: write a letter to the monster under your bed.  Jackson, a genteel mole, appeared and he moved into a house that already had a ghost in the attic, a boogey monster in the basement and a pixie in the piano.  Their nighttime activities kept Jackson awake, but he found a way to help them occupy their nighttime hours and in the process made some new friends.
Unfortunately, even with two picture books published by a well-known publisher, these manuscripts weren’t finding a home. 
Discouraged, I asked a published writing friend for advice. She suggested I contact Shari Dash Greenspan at Flashlight Press.  And so in September of 2008 a dialogue with Shari began.  A different manuscript was sent and rejected.  Sigh.  But in October of 2009 she requested a story I mentioned in 2008. We tweaked and discussed it in emails and finally it was under contract in 2012!!  That story, No More Noisy Nights, was released in the fall of 2017.  During our emails about it, The Day I Ran Away was mentioned. Shari asked to see it in 2012. It was under contract in 2014 and released in April of 2017.
Since then? Well, the rejections continue…
At school visits I show students a LONG scroll listing the 101 (and counting) finished stories; the four book and 20 magazine titles are highlighted. I show them a folder of well over 100 rejection letters. I tell them that’s ok. Each story I write makes me a better writer and the rejections show I’m still pursuing my dream!
While there are the instant success stories, most writers work hard at their craft for years before publication. That was how it was with me. Full of ups and downs, starts and stops, rejections and acceptances. That is still how the writing life goes.
But I continue. For me, the words call. They ask me to collect them and connect them. Together they are more. Just like each of us is more than our collection of words and more still, when we connect with others.

THANK YOU so much, Holly, for inspiring us with your words about your path to publication. I've enjoyed connecting with you and learning about you and your books ... and all because of our shared love of words!


Holly Niner is a speech therapist, book lover and children’s author. Her books include, No More Noisy Nights (Flashlight Press) & The Day I Ran Away (Flashlight Press).  Both received a Gold Mom’s Choice award and were nominated for Mississippi Magnolia Children’s Choice award 2019. No More Noisy Nights was a scholastic Book Club selection and featured on Storyline Online.  Mr. Worry: A Story about OCD (Albert Whitman) received the 2005 IBBY Outstanding Books for Young People with Disabilities Award, and I Can’t Stop: A Story about Tourette Syndrome (Albert Whitman) which was the winner of the 2006 Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Award and a 2005 Bank Street College of Education Best Book. She lives in Fort Wayne, Indiana with her husband, in a home with books on bookshelves, on tables, in boxes, even in the bathroom! Her now grown children, were always able to talk her into buying them a book.  Find her at hollyniner.com. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter.