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. 

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