February 26, 2020

Birth Stories for Books: HELP WANTED, MUST LOVE BOOKS, by Janet Sumner Johnson

One of the things I love most about the work that I do, is meeting fellow creatives. Many of the people I "meet" are folks I get to know by interacting with them online. Similar to in-person friendships, it's not unusual that "remote friends" will introduce me to someone they know, and the creative network gets bigger... and bigger ... and bigger.

Case in point: Many years ago I came to know author Kathy MacMillan because of our mutual interests in American Sign Language, libraries, and books. Last year, Kathy introduced me to Janet Sumner Johnson, a friend of hers who also writes for kids. Fun fact: Janet first "met" me, by reading a post about my books that was featured on author and Storystorm founder, Tara Lazar's blog last year. And today, I have the pleasure of introducing YOU to Janet Sumner Johnson and her debut picture book that releases in March: HELP WANTED, MUST LOVE BOOKS (illustrated by Courtney Dawson, Capstone, March 2020).

by Janet Sumner Johnson and Courtney Dawson

Take it away, Janet!

Help Wanted, Must Love Books
by Janet Sumner Johnson

I have always loved picture books. I love how the pictures and words work together to create the story. I love how they say so much in so few words. And the stories can be so powerful!

But picture books are challenging to write (and if you write them, you know that "challenging" is an understatement). I took classes, joined picture book writing groups, and studied the great ones . . . still, I never felt confident enough in my own stories to take the next step.

One night, right before bedtime, my daughter came into our room. "It's story time, Daddy!"

(In our house, Daddy is bedtime storyteller supreme. I mean, yeah, I may write books and tell stories for a living, but whatever, our kids always wanted Dad.)

But that night my husband was busy. He was stressed. He had a presentation the next morning. "I'm sorry kiddo. I just can't tonight."

I piped right up. "I'll read you a story!" But she rejected me right away. (Good thing I've had so much practice being rejected.)

She stomped her foot. "I'll read my own story!" Then stormed back to her room.

I laughed at my husband. "Wow, Hon. I think you just got fired."

As soon as those words were out of my mouth, the lightbulb went off. "Pen! Paper! Quick!" Within an hour, I had my first draft. Yeah, I totally stayed up late for that, and boy was it worth it.

Of course, that draft needed work, but I knew I had something special. I went through several rounds of revision with my critique partners and made some key changes, but it wasn't long before I dared show the manuscript to my agent. . . . my agent who didn't represent picture books.

But she felt it, too. There was something special in it, and she agreed to represent it. We went through a few more rounds of revision, then six months on submission (and so many close calls!), until finally an offer arrived.

I still remember where I was: sitting in my kitchen, lamenting via text with my author friends that I had no good news to share (true story). My phone rang, and it was my agent. Now, I know for some people, that always means good things, but my agent will call for bad news, so I had no expectations.

"Are you sitting down?" she asked. "You have an offer."

I might have been rendered speechless.

There was still a lot of work to be done, but I've learned a lot from this experience:

First, kids are great for inspiration.
Second, you never know when THE idea will strike.
And last, but most importantly, the work you put in is never wasted.

I took classes for years. I read and read and read mentor texts. I learned to watch for story ideas in the world around me. I wrote several picture books (that will never see the light of day). I exchanged manuscripts with critique partners. All that work paid off. When the idea struck, I was prepared. I could write this book because I'd put in the time.

So, don't give up! Keep working. Because it will put you in the right place at the right time . . . whenever that is for you.

What a GREAT post, Janet. I love to hear about the moments when inspiration strikes... especially when those inspirations turn into stories... and those stories turn into books! 

Thank you so much for sharing your Birth Story for HELP WANTED, MUST LOVE BOOKS

Friends, the best way you can say thank you to Janet for spending some time with us today, is to support her work. Janet's books are available everywhere books are sold. 

Janet Sumner Johnson lives in Northern Utah with her husband and three children. She sings in the shower, attends dance parties in her kitchen, and ruthlessly beats her kids at card games. Her first picture book, Help Wanted, Must Love Books releases in March, 2020 (Capstone). She is also the author of The Last Great Adventure of the PB&J Society (Capstone, 2016), a middle grade novel. You can visit her website at janetsumnerjohnson.com.

Website: http://janetsumnerjohnson.com/
Twitter: @MsVerbose
Instagram: @janetsumnerjohnson
Facebook: @janetsumnerjohnson


Birth Stories for Books is an occasional feature of Dawn Babb Prochovnic's blog. Dawn is the author of multiple picture books including Where Does a Cowgirl Go Potty?, Where Does a Pirate Go Potty?, and 16 books in the Story Time With Signs & Rhymes series. Dawn is a contributing author to Oregon Reads Aloud and a frequent presenter at schools, libraries, and educational conferences. Contact Dawn using the form at the left, or learn more at www.dawnprochovnic.com.