I always knew my debut publication would be a picture book. Boy, was I wrong.
When my daughter was born, I rediscovered Arnold Lobel, Beatrix Potter, William Steig and my all-time favorite, The Story of Ferdinand. As I read these books I thought, “This is what I want to do!”
In 2006, I joined SCBWI. I remember my first regional conference in Raleigh, NC where I met actual editors, agents, writers and illustrators. By the end, my head was swimming with writing, publishing and networking info. Plus I’d read at Open Mic, where the audience laughed in all the right places. Wow!
Over the next several years, I went to five more regional conferences. I got critiqued by editors, I sweated through First Pages sessions that left me either elated or deflated, and I made friends who cheered me on as much as I cheered them.
At the 2008 SCBWI national conference in New York, I had the good luck of hearing Jay Asher's talk, How to Get Published in 12 Years or Less. He shared his journey of how years of rejection brought him to the brink of quitting. But with the help of his girlfriend, he persisted, and, a few years later, his novel Thirteen Reasons Why was on the New York Times Bestseller list. After that, every rejection letter I received (so many!) felt like just another step on my journey to publication.
Also, I started a critique group in 2006, now called The Secret Gardeners. We began as a group of writers and illustrators looking for guidance and have become a group of friends committed to helping each other achieve our personal best and get published. I brought numerous picture books, two YA novels and one MG novel to this group. They helped me hone my writing and figure out the difference between a query letter and a synopsis. Then, in 2011, a Secret Gardener said, “I’m going to do a graphic novel,” and I thought, “So am I!”
Why hadn't I thought of it sooner? I love combining words and pictures but was not finding success with my picture books. I love working in black and white. I love speech bubbles. And I love my technical pen.
Then, (shall I call it fate?) in 2012, my regional chapter hosted a Graphic Novel Workshop by Mark Siegel (Editorial Director, First Second Books) in my home town of Asheville, North Carolina. Thanks SCBWI Carolinas! I attended the workshop and learned a lot about the construction, history and current hot market for this fabulous genre.
I began submitting soon after and immediately garnered positive feedback and responses. After extensive agent research, I found the excellent Lori Nowicki of Painted Words. I had previously submitted picture books to her and was encouraged to submit other projects. When I queried about Mr. Puffball, my graphic novel, she immediately expressed interest. We signed within a few months and, a few months after that, she connected me with the best editor a girl could ask for, Jill Davis of Katherine Tegen Books/HarperCollins.
Next thing you know, I had a contract for my graphic novel! Not. Jill asked me to change the format from graphic novel to illustrated middle grade novel (think Big Nate or Diary of a Wimpy Kid.) Because of her vision, I was soon working on a book that was better than I could have imagined.
Then I really did have a contract – for three books which will all star the irrepressible Mr. Puffball. His debut, Mr. Puffball, Stunt Cat to the Stars, released September 29.
I started writing when my baby was six months old. When my debut novel (not picture book!) she’ll be twelve. So I did get published in twelve years…and not less.