I am often asked how I got started writing for children and can I share what I learned along the path to publication. Here is my answer to those questions and I hope it helps you get started!
I am participating in the Writing Contest: You Deserve to be Inspired. Hosted by Positive Writer you should be able to find more links there on how to jump start your own writing: http://positivewriter.com
Picture Book by Joan Leotta
Persistence Plus Equals Publication
So, it may take some time. Publication has always been my goal. As a child, I discovered bylines while reading the local paper and began to crave seeing my own in publications. Student works , student papers and even some small success in other publications fueled my passion. University and a demanding job derailed my desire.
After leaving the office job, when my children were small, I sat down to write once more. Local travel with children brought in checks and bylines but now, my appetite was increased and more specific. I wanted a book.
So, I sat down, as many mothers do, and wrote a picture book to help children learn colors and cooperation. I joined SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book writers and Illustrators), sent out my manuscript and waited. My dummy manuscript came back. I sent it out again, This time, after a solid year, I received a letter that said in spite of liking it quite a bit, they were rejecting my submission. I was crushed. I put that manuscript away. I stopped trying to get a picture book to a publisher. A year, an entire year!
However, I did not forget about my dream. I continued to write, (all manner of fiction and non-fiction for children and adults), continued to perform for children, and continued to read what was coming out in children’s literature—board books, picture books, middle grade and more.
I turned back to poetry. After my father died, I wrote a poem about him that was soon published and then I began to write more poems. More were accepted. I tried another picture book—more than one. No acceptances, but I kept everything.
Finally, about two years ago, I sat down and took out all of my efforts for children—poems, picture book drafts, essays, non-fiction articles. I reviewed both my published and my unpublished materials. After carefully considering which of the works was closest to my heart, I revised it once more. I looked carefully at the title: Sledding With Dad and changed it to the more dynamic, “WHOOSH!”. I wrote and re-wrote my bio materials and query letter.
Joan Leotta performs at 2012 Southport NC Dickens Festival
Then I began a concerted search for a small publisher who would accept work directly from a writer. For a year, I wallowed in a sea of rejections. After each rejection, I asked why? I gave the work a cold hard look, revised part of it and then said “why not?” and sent it out again. Submitting and even rejections came/comes faster now in the age of email communication. I knew my book was not “flashy” or trendy but I felt (and still feel) it carefully and lovingly explains the value of the father-daughter bond.
One night, after receiving yet another rejection, I had an epiphany! I was looking for publishers nearby, on the US East Coast. I struck out (with the help of my trusty search engine and paper Market Guide) for the US Midwest and located a publisher, TheaQ, in Minnesota, that was expanding its picture book line. I sent it to them. My book is quiet, very traditional—values I hoped were still appealing in the Midwest. Success! My contract came and the book is out in the world. Since then, THEAQ has taken a chance on three more manuscripts from me—Summer in a Bowl, Rosa and the Red Apron, and Rosa’s Shell. Two of these books started out as poems. Summer in a Bowl was a poem written to honor my Aunt Mary. Rosa’s Shell started out life as the poem I wrote right after my father died. Rosa and the Red Apron is based on my own mother and experiences as a story performer.
What did I learn?
1.Save everything. Something you wrote, an idea you had may be repurposed at some point in the future and find its way to publication.
- Don’t be afraid to revise or even to put the story in a different form.
- Seek and take advice from seasoned professionals. For me, joining SCBWI and reading articles on how to present my work in a query letter and the pros and cons of using an agent or going directly to a publisher—I read many an article on these points and worked and re-worked my accompanying material several times.
- Persist. Never give up. Never surrender. Be alert to your own good ideas (like mine to look at Midwestern publishers). Persist.
Oh, and that first board book about colors and cooperation? This summer I plan to dig it out of my files and send it out once more—maybe two or three times. I have faith in it and maybe a publisher will as well!