In 2008, after several years of writing for children, I had the good fortune to sell two manuscripts in the same year: a picture book to Kids Can Press in the spring; and a middle-grade novel to Orca Book Publishers in the fall. I did not understand the bleak book market at that time and I had no idea how incredibly lucky I was to be plucked from two slush piles in the same year.
That middle-grade manuscript became the novel, Walking Backward, which Orca published in Fall 2009. It was very well received and I couldn’t have asked for a better start to my career as a children’s book writer. (Walking Backward is currently a selection for the Manitoba Young Reader’s Choice Awards — so get reading and voting.)
That picture book manuscript has become the book, My Cat Isis, illustrated by the incredibly talented, GG-Award-winning Virginie Egger (a fellow Quebecer), to be published by Kids Can Press in Spring 2011. My editor, Yvette Ghione, is currently swamped with work preparing the pages — and those of the rest of her list — for publication. (Her recent emails all have exclamation marks.)
I will be eternally grateful to Yvette for offering me my first book contract (discounting a short story collection that fell through years ago) right at a time I was thinking of giving up. The famine was a bit too long. Not that I’d give up writing, but I thought about giving up selling. Marketing stories is a soul-sucking drag and it’s hard to keep going year after year clinging to the odd editorial praise scribbled on a form letter. So thank you, Yvette, for the first taste of a feast.
It has been some time since I signed those two contracts back in 2008. After my feast I had another, but much briefer, famine period. Publication hasn’t changed the fact that most of my writing is rejected by editors. But it has changed how I interpret the rejection. Sometimes I reread my work and realize, “No, it’s not actually good enough.” Other times I reread and think, “It’s wonderful but it’s just not the right fit with this particular publisher.” I no longer reread and think, “What’s the bloody point?”
This August, while vacationing from almost all forms of writing, I enjoyed another feast. First, Orca accepted my YA novel, All Good Children, and asked me to consider a sequel (which I’m now very excited about — so many new ways to torment my characters.) I look forward to working with my wonderful editor, Sarah Harvey, once again.
Then I very unexpectedly sold a middle-grade novel to James Lorimer for their Streetlights series. I’m excited about this one, How to Pass Grade Five in Five Difficult Lessons, because it will mark the debut of my first female protagonist, Becky Lennox, who was a joy to write. I just love that girl. I’m thrilled to work with a new editor (new for me, that is), Carrie Gleeson, on a book that is filled with humour. (I didn’t cry once writing that one!)
Next year will be the real feast for me, when I harvest the rewards of new and old contracts and see three of my children’s books published by three different houses for three distinct age groups. The launch is going to be one heck of a party!
So if you’re in the middle of a famine, book-wise, whether it has lasted years or decades or half a lifetime, don’t give up entirely on soul-sucking marketing efforts. Keep sending out your best work and writing new books and sending them out and eventually, after lots of writing and revising and submitting, with a good bit of luck, your work will cross the desk of someone who sees its potential and wants to work with you on it. And once the feast comes, you’ll forget all about the famine.