Our local Barnes and Noble launched the holiday season by hosting Tampa Bay children's authors: Nancy Cavanaugh, Shannon Hitchcock, Rob Sanders and Augusta Scattergood. The authors introduced their books, led a lively Q&A session and shared their writing history. I recognized many in the audience as fellow Tampa Bay writers. Most of the questions were aimed at querying and publication which I imagine authors must get tired of hearing. But this panel handled the questions with grace. Three themes emerged from their shared experience: persistence, serendipity and community.
Nancy Cavanaugh is persistence personified. She spoke of the sixteen years it took to get her debut middle-grade novel This Journal Belongs to Ratchet published. Her motto is "Steady Goes the Race" and Nancy stressed, she wasn't in it to win the race, she just wanted to finish. Researching agents online, she sent small batches of queries at a time. After forty-five rejections, an agent responded with an offer of representation. Augusta Scattergood started her award-winning middle-grade novel Glory Be in 2001 and it wasn't published until 2012. Rob Sanders (Cowboy Christmas and upcoming: Outer Space Bedtime Race and Ruby Rose on her Toes ) says he has faced more rejection since he signed with an agent and successfully published his first picture book. But having the good fortune to know Rob, he's only seeing more rejections because he's producing book after book for his agent to submit to publishers. Rob never stops. His agent advises: Fingers to the keyboard and chin up. Rob lives that advice. And so do the others. While they submitted, they kept writing, kept working hard to improve their craft, and they continue to do so.
Rob and Shannon said serendipity played a role in their success. After being told no one would buy a picture book featuring three adult cowboys, Rob met his editor who just happened to have cowboys in her family and she loved Cowboy Christmas. Shannon Hitchcock's middle-grade book, The Ballad of Jessie Pearl (about a girl who raises her niece after her sister dies of tuberculosis) was reviewed at a Highlight's Founders' workshop by an editor who had battled tuberculosis.
All of the authors agreed community was essential in their writing careers. They praised the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators as an invaluable resource. Having met their agents at SCBWI conferences, Rob and Augusta encourage face to face interactions with industry professionals. The panel urged writers to join critique groups, attend conferences and workshops to improve writing skills and network.
I started writing a story all alone on my back porch in 2008. Then I joined SCBWI and a critique group. Now, I can't imagine my life without the ever-expanding community of writing friends, including those I only "see" online. Serendipity is beyond my control and persistence isn't part of my nature. But I left Barnes and Noble buoyed by these four authors and determined to not let rejection interfere with my journey. They have fought the good fight. My gift back to them is to encourage others to buy books this gift-giving season. If you have a picture book or middle-grade reader on your list, enhance their lives with Cowboy Christmas, Glory Be, The Ballad of Jessie Pearl and This Journal Belongs to Ratchet.
I write middle grade and young adult books with a magical twist. And creatures, always creatures. I'm represented by the fabulous Leslie Zampetti of Dunham Lit.
Lorin Oberweger - Freelance Editor