Monday, December 12, 2016

The agent who replied, and more.

About two weeks ago, I was opening my email at 8pm when I noticed a message in the inbox labeled "QUERIES".

I knew what that meant. An agent was getting back to one of my query submissions! She was from the Andrea Brown Literary Agency. I saw that it was in response to a lyrical picture book I sent her a couple moths previous. My stomach boiled with excitement as I clicked the message and read the following statement:

"Hi Debbie,

This is lots of fun, and I appreciate both the wonderful word play and the information imparted.  Do you have other picture book manuscripts that you can share with me?"

"Mike!!!" I squealed to my husband. "An agent just got back to meeeeeeee!!"

That night I stayed up late organizing my best manuscripts to send to the agent that has represented New York Times Best Sellers.

The next morning, I shakily replied with what I felt was six of my best stories attached. The agent quickly responded and said she'd take a look and get back to me in two weeks time.

Here's what she sent back two days ago:

"Dear Debbie,

Thank you so much for giving me the opportunity to look at your picture books.  You've certainly got a way with words!  Unfortunately, after carefully considering all of your manuscripts and sharing them with my colleagues, I've decided that they are not quite right for my list, and I am therefore going to pass.  Editorial opinion is, of course, subjective, and another agent or editor is likely to feel differently.  I wish you every success in finding the right home for your work."

Deep breath. Whoo. Ok. First of all, don't cry.   Just a sec...Ok, I'm good....   Now.   Here's what I can glean from this experience:

#1 My work was good enough for an agent from Andrea Brown Lit. to notice. Even though she ultimately didn't take me on, this fact is validating. Sometimes you feel like you are just writing and writing and you don't really know if it's any good or if you are just fooling yourself. After several rejection letters, you begin to wonder, "Am I just wasting my time? Am I crappy at writing??" The validation of having an agent notice your work is incredibly motivating. It's still a rejection, yes, but it was closer than a "No, I'm not even remotely interested," which makes me want to keep trying!

#2 She did say that "other agents/editors" are likely to feel differently. I don't know if she tells that to everyone, but I appreciated that she said it to me, and I'm going to choose to believe her. I'm not giving up. There is a " right home for my work" out there!

#3 Since this agent responded, It's inspired me to write more stories that I probably wouldn't have otherwise. It's also given me a whole new set of ideas for future projects. So hey, there's that.

#4 I now know that my query letter is enough up-to-par to solicit an agent response. Because, who doesn't doubt their query letter?

So anyway, that's the story of the agent who replied. In conclusion, I'm more motivated than ever, I'm writing lots, and I'm determined to keep trying!

In other writing news, did I ever tell you I got a membership to SCBWI? (Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators) It's kind of a must-have for children's writers, so if that's you, consider joining! It's around 80$ a year. My husband got me signed up for my birthday present a few weeks ago, and it's already been a great resource full of tips, ideas, and opportunities. Check out my profile here and be sure to take a look around at all the website has to offer.

Lastly, I want to remind you that my book, Itchy Mitchie, makes a wonderful gift! Get your copy in time for the holidays here. And now for my promotional message of the day: I recently got a note from a customer who reminded me of one of the big reasons I keep writing. She bought Itchy Mitchie for her child who complains of being itchy often. After reading the book, here's what that customer said:

"Debbie, your book was perfect! ... [My child] even said, 'yes mom, when I read books, I don't have to scratch.' ...Thank you!" 

I love when the message of my book connects to the reader! If  that message can help a child in some way, then I feel like I'm doing something significant and it's worth it!

PS. I've actually sold Itchy Mitchie to a couple parents who say their kids complain of being itchy! I didn't write the book specifically for itchy-only customers, but because the book uses the example of itchiness as the main characters' problem, it has helped people with that specific problem. Cool! That makes me happy. The book was, after all, based on a true story of a little first grader who hated wearing shoes to school. :) 

Friday, November 25, 2016

The kids tell me a story

My boys new favorite activity lately is having Mom tell them a story. I love it because it gets my creative juices flowing, and also because that was one of my favorite memories of my dad growing up, so it's pretty special to pass on the tradition . Well, today I asked them to tell ME a story and the result was pretty adorable. It looks like my boys will be story tellers too! Yes!

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Fun Little Art Project

Today I finished a little project I've been working on the last few days for an upcoming art contest.  Kinda fun!

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Exciting news! ...And other updates.

Yesterday was a day of days! It was a day where history was made! It was a day where dreams came true! Ok, I'm sure it's not THAT big of a deal, but for me, it was huge! It's a start.

Yesterday was the first day ever that I got one of my writings published by a real life publishing company! ...(And they are even paying me for it, which makes it feel official and all). HURRAY!

Members of the New Spirit Journal are compiling a book of stories about hope - ones where the writers lost hope and gained it again. In my story, my hope came from a promise made by God. It took a little bit of time to be fulfilled, but the hope of that promise got me through years of uncertainty. The book will be called "The Book of Hope Anthology" and will be available this coming January, so stay tuned! 

I have to say, I am so grateful that my testimony of God's love and the hope of his goodness will be shared with others. I couldn't have picked a better first published project. That's really my goal in writing anything - to inspire, uplift (and sometimes make people laugh). So this is an extra special project to be a part of for me! I'll keep you updated on release dates and such, I think it really will be a great book!

In other news, I've been extremely busy Mommying lately and haven't had much time for writing projects. My little girl is now 2 months old and such a little sweetie! My twin boys (who I love, love love!) are busier than ever, and it takes all my strength to keep them from fighting or destroying the house.

The other day I was listening to a podcast on Writer's Digest where a Children's book author/illustrator was being interviewed and she was asked how she finds time to write. Her response: "Well, I really admire writers with kids- I don't know how they do it. I don't have kids and writing is all I do." Well, I'll tell you how we do it...We do it very, very slowly, one small effort at a time. And that's OK. :)

So, my plan is that in a couple months or so when things calm down, I'll get back to working on my book about Twins, which I hope to complete by next summer! In the meantime, I'll keep my eyes peeled for small contests that pop up - projects that take a day or two. For stay at home parents, or working people, this is a great way to stay in the writing world - many contests  are free, quick and easy to submit to. And you never know, one of them may get published!

Despite limited time, I have managed to join a local writer's group in the last few weeks and it's already proven to be great! I found out about the Book of Hope submissions through my writing group and also some pretty neat writing opportunities from fellow authors. Writing groups are so beneficial! I would say they are ESSENTIAL for any writer! So, if you love to write and want to improve on your craft, look up a writing group near you! They are everywhere and they are sooo worth it! I know it can be very intimidating putting your writing out there for other people's critique, but it's the only way to get to your goals of publishing (if that's what you want).

Stay tuned for more soon!

Friday, August 5, 2016

Video on my Illustration Process

Yesterday I finished this little video showing the process of how I create one of my illustrations! This one in particular is one of the final illustrations I have left in my twin book, only a few more to go! You'd think with that being the case, that I could just finish the book next week, but as you can see, even one picture takes a LOT of time to complete...hope you enjoy! :)

Thursday, July 21, 2016

A song for my baby girl

Life has been so hectic the last couple months!

First of all, it seems summer is just a busy time. Second of all, we've had a major move across the country, then there's potty training that's been happening, and last of all, preparing for our baby #3. Needless to say, creative projects have gone by the wayside. In fact, my book about twins that I so badly wanted to finish before this baby arrives is now postponed. My new goal is to finish it by the end of 2017. I had to give on something and that's what it was. It's a little depressing because that feels so far away, but sometimes the pressure of an impending deadline is just too much stress when other more important things are happening..

On the bright side! Luckily I've still been able to get my creating fix in with a couple other projects these past few weeks. One in particular was a song I wrote for my baby girl that will soon make her debut. So here's the story...When I was pregnant with my boys, I wrote them a little song, which you can find on my youtube channel by going here:   So with this little one, I wanted to do the same! After all, I didn't want her to feel left out :). So I was determined to somehow come up with a song before she arrived. Well, the inspiration came during a 6 hour car ride I took traveling back home a few weeks ago. I started to think about a tune and what I wanted to say, and then wrote down the lyrics at the gas station stops along the way. After the long drive was over, I had jotted all the verses down and the song was complete!

I sounded it out on the guitar a couple weeks later, and while the recording is far from perfect (I could've practiced it a lot more, but who has time for that!) but at least I got it recorded while I was still prego for my little angel girl who I get to meet soon, hurray!

Listen to it here:

Monday, April 25, 2016

Good News for a Monday

Well, it's official. I'm no longer living in the DC area. I just recently moved to Smalltown, Wyoming. I've been here for 12 days so far, and doing my best to jump in feet first and get involved in the community. As such, I've got all signed up to sell my book at the local Farmer's Market next week. I'm also happy to say that I've got my book in two different bookstores around town.
To top it all off, I got yet another fabulous email this morning from one of the stores where I'll be selling Itchy Mitchie:

"Hello this is ____  with ______!! We love your book and would love to carry it in our store!! My four year old has had me read it to her over and over!! I would like to buy two copies for the store and then would also love to host you for a book signing and Storytime!!"

Well, you just can't beat that for a Monday can you! 

Saturday, April 9, 2016

This Illustration took FOREVER!

Well, I finally finished this particularly complicated illustration. I think it took me almost 2 weeks to complete (Granted, I can only work on it a couple hours every few days -Mom of toddlers here!). :)

Since I shared a tiny piece of it a few days ago, I thought I'd share the whole finished product. I counted 245 Hand-cut pieces of paper in this one page.

The bookshelf alone, if you look at each piece I had to cut and glue together (each different color is a different piece of paper), took quite some time:

Luckily I'm really happy with the finished product, so I can say it was all worth it! And at this point, I'm more than half way done with all the illustrations. So, hooray! This book is coming along!

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

The best email ever!

Last night I was surprised with the BEST email ever!

So, a few weeks ago, I was a vendor at a local flea market selling my book Itchy Mitchie with a fellow author, Penelope Aaron (who is the awesome writer of YA novels Inspiraled and Inspirited BTW).

While it was a good experience as always, I learned a lesson that flea markets aren't the best places to sell brand new books. Needless to say, it wasn't the most successful day in sales. However, one of the few sales that I did make was to a lovely third grade teacher who said she would read the book to her class. Awesome! So I gave her my business card and told her to let me know how they liked it.

Well, about a month later, I get this wonderful email from her! Turns out they all liked it so much that each third grader in the class wrote a review and sent it to me.

I don't think I've ever had a prouder moment as an author than I did reading these adorable, hilarious, and heart-warming reviews! Aside from them simply enjoying the book, what made me most happy is that the students really learned the moral of the story and got a good "lesson" out of it. Now, THAT is what I truly hope for. Makes my heart smile so big! (...And to top it off, some of the kids just hammed it up big time and made me feel super special and important, which is always nice too. Hehe). 

It goes to show that even ONE sale to the right person can make a huge difference, so don't get discouraged if you have a "bad" day at your local craft fair, you just never know. 

Here's a few reviews that were my most favorite. Seriously, what sweethearts!:

"Dear Mrs. Day,

My favorite part of the book was when Itchy Mitchie’s mom told Itchy Mitchie that you can control what you think about. I liked this part because it is a very good moral and it can apply to someone's everyday life. I think it can help other people realize that if they have something bad or irritating in their life they should always focus on the good things happening instead. That is what I enjoy about your book. I found the book interesting and funny and at times educational. I love your illustrations and I hope you can teach me how to draw like that when I meet you. You are a great author. I hope to be like you some day!"

"Dear Mrs. Day,

My favorite part of the book was when Mitchie almost won the Blinkie ball game. Why? It’s because he tried his best which is more important than winning against the third graders. Trying your best is really what matters. If Mitchie was real I would’ve told him good try, even though you didn’t win the Blinkie ball game. Even though that was my favorite part I liked the other parts too."

"Dear Mrs. Day,

My favorite part of the book was the whole entire book. I really liked the part when the boy in class the teacher was trying to teach the class but all he was doing is itching his feet and not listening to one thing the teacher was saying. My next favorite part is when the itching goes away on his feet so he is able understand the Math problems his teacher  gives the class. I liked that part because he wasn't ,complaining, missing out on his problems and not being able to know what to do. I love it  that people can understand things so they know it!   Mrs. Day this is one of the best books I've read. It taught my my class and I learned not to complain. THANK YOU!"

"Dear Mrs. Day,

My favorite part of the book was…

When michie was saying he was going to win the  game but he did not win and when he was very frustrated and was not happy. Also I have another favorite part of the  book was one in the morning michie’s  feet were very itchy but when he play the game he totally forgot about his feet and that they were itchy. I chose these for my favorite part of the book because they're so interesting and I love to read and this is probably one of the best books that I have read in the whole world. Also this book is so so so so so interesting and unique. You are one of the best authors in the whole world."

"Dear Mrs. Day,

My favorite part of the book was… 
When at the end when the kids feet stop itching. Because it happened to me before I was itching and i got distracted on math forgot all about my  itching hand but this is about itching feet. that is why i love this book!"

"Dear Mrs. Day,

My favorite part of the book was well if you ask me the whole book was phenomenal. I love that after the go that itchy foot the just forgot about it and just wanted to play Blinkey ball.You showed me that no matter what happens you can all way have fun.I love the rules you made like you can’t go to school if you don’t wear sockes.It was the most entertaining book i’d ever lisended to if I find any more books I will promis you  that I will read them you're books are the best"

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

It's all in the details...

One of the many parts of the current illustration I'm working on for my next children's book. You're looking at 20 tiny hand-cut pieces of paper, carefully glued together to compose a picture frame that will sit on the wall of a whole room filled with toys, books, and playing boys. Imagine how many pieces that will take - probably hundreds -maybe I'll count when it's finished. You may ask why I do this to myself.  It really is a lot of work, and a looot of patience. But surprisingly, I enjoy it. It's like putting a puzzle together. And when each illustration is complete, it's so satisfying. So hey, at least I'm having fun. 

Why every writer needs a writing group

This is a picture of my writing group. I love these women! Just looking at this picture makes my heart happy. These are my girls. They are amazing and I don't know where I'd be without them. Yes, we are a pretty small group, but don't be fooled. It only takes a a few talented writers coming together to create a highly productive, incredibly helpful, and completely awesome writing group.

You may ask yourself: what is a writing group and how does it work? Well, every writing group probably does things a little differently. But basically, it's this:

You team up with other writers in your area and say: "Hey, lets meet every week, (or every other week, or once a month) at such and such place". Before you all meet, each group member sends out something they've written via email so the whole group can read it beforehand. (Note: It's important to have a maximum number of pages to send out so that the group isn't overloaded with 500 pages to read in a 2-week time period). Each group member will edit the writings and make notes for each author. When the group meets, everyone will take a turn to get what they wrote critiqued by the entire group. The author can ask any questions and get feedback on how they could improve on what they've written.  You can also discuss any related topics, like querying agents, marketing strategies, and whatever you want really.

And that's that! So...

Are you a writer with goals of turning your stories into something more than they are now? If the answer is yes, my next question is: Are you in a writing group? If not, then you should be! And here's why:

1. If you want your writings to be the best they can be, YOU NEED CRITIQUE! No matter how good you think your writing is, there's components of it that you just can't see need to be changed on your own. You need a new pair of eyes and a fresh brain to read it over and point out what may be obvious to everyone else but you. Is is intimidating to put your writing out there for others to edit? YES! But that's why you invite nice people into your group, who will tell you the truth (extremely important that they are honest) but in a nice way. :) And hey, getting advice doesn't mean you HAVE to change your story, it's just incredibly helpful feedback - and you should get as much of it from as many people as possible if you want your writing to improve.

2. Writing groups keep you MOTIVATED TO KEEP WRITING! Even if you think you write pretty often already, being in a writing group forces you to keep it up on a regular basis and gives you incredible motivation to FINISH projects. For example, my writing group meets every other week and we each are expected to have written something new each time. How motivational is that! Are you working on a novel but stuck in a writing slump? What about an idea for a children's book that you just haven't got around to putting on paper? Not finishing writing projects is what happens to 90% of wannabe authors - making any dreams of publishing impossible. In a writing group, having to have new material written every two weeks FORCES you to at least get something down on paper, even if it's not perfect. And after a few months of this, you'll be finishing that book in no time!

3. Writing groups connect you to amazing people who will increase your opportunities and skills! In writing groups, you'll meet other artists, other creative minds. People with great ideas who can help inspire your work. People with skills that you may be able to learn from - knowledge of other writing clubs, classes, or resources. Maybe someone in the group knows how to use Photoshop really well and you need to learn that to create a successful book cover. Maybe someone has connections with the local library and can help you get an author reading day set up there. Maybe one is an illustrator and can help you illustrate your book or give you information on someone else who can. Collaborating with other authors helps you find out about local author events, gives you other authors to split table costs with at the craft market when you sell your book, helps you find out about writing conferences or helpful websites, or other books that relate to your work (which is helpful in finding the right agent for you). If you are all writers with similar goals who are all researching ways to get your books out there - then you are all bound to learn and gain something valuable from each other. 

4. The Support is just the best! Being in a supportive group of other authors, cheering each other on, buying each others books and helping to spread the word for each other, having friends to go to writing conferences with or just to talk about writing with in general, having that support - emotional and physical - is just priceless. It makes all the difference. It keeps you going. It encourages you. It makes writing FUN. It's seriously like a party every time you meet. But then again, make sure the members in your group are nice, like mine...;)

5. You can meet in your PJ's and bring cookies. I think that pretty much speaks for itself. It's awesome. 

So I know it might be a little intimidating, but trust me, being in a writing group is SOOO much better than trying to figure everything out on your own. It may get you out of your comfort zone, but for those serious about writing, believe me, it's what you need. And hey, maybe you aren't really serious about writing and it's just something that gives you joy and you don't really have any goals for your works. In that case, a writing group can still be for you! If you just have a desire to share what you are writing or to just get free grammar editing, or just positive feedback, let the group know, and if they're nice like mine, then they'll be more than happy to oblige. :)

So, ask around. Find out who likes to write just like you do. You'll be surprised at how many people do! Try to find those who are truly talented and passionate writers, who will be honest - people who will inspire you and help you rather than be TOO nice to give you any critique. And then organize a writing group with these people. Even a group of two or three is better than one. If you can't find anyone you know , look up groups in your community - they are all over the place. And when you do, let me know how much your writing is improving and how much you are loving it! Because I know you will!

Monday, January 18, 2016

A New Year Update

Life has been so busy lately! December was a great month for Itchy Mitchie sales – the best month since last March when I debuted it. So , thank you to all those who bought a copy! I sure hope you enjoy it! (If you did, don't forget to write a review in amazon wink, wink).

For those of you who still haven't bought a copy, get yours here! (more winks) :)
And now it’s a new year and time to make new goals! I know it’s already halfway into January, but I’m still working on my resolutions. One goal that is certain, however, is this: Publish my 2nd book. The book about twins that I first wrote for my boys soon after they were born, (to which I have added a few things as they’ve grown).

So far, I’ve got eight out of about 24 illustrations completed, so I’m getting there! If I had just one full week of free-time, then I’d bet dollars to donuts I’d be able to finish it up. But right now I have about an hour or two a few days a week, so it just takes time. And that’s OK. :) 

I’ve got another problem besides time though, and that’s focus. One problem I’ve always had is sticking to one project at a time and just focusing on getting it done before moving on to the next one. These days, my free-time is divided in at least three ways. One is of course the twin book, another is reading a list of books I’ve assigned myself this year (another New Year’s Resolution), and third is working on my novel.

I haven’t talked about my novel since this post, but slowly I’ve been putting it together – first in my head, then eventually  mapped out on paper - chapter by chapter until the very end. Now I’m beginning the process of actually writing it, which is super exciting…and scary. Scary because I want to capture the characters’ voices right, and paint the scenes right, and add the right amount of mystery, and get it…just right! All I can say is what a blessing it is to be a part of a writing group. It helps my writing SO much. The feedback I’ve received on my novel has been incredibly helpful.
So far, I’ve written about 10,000 words. I’m about halfway into the third chapter. The book in total will have about 20 chapters. So, I’m just getting started, but again, just like my twin book, these things take time. I’m pretty sure I can say that I’ve completed one of the hardest parts anyway, which is: Coming up with the storyline-the twists, turns, and ending - and writing chapter summaries for every chapter, up to the very last page. I’ve tried to stick to the “Snowflake Method” which you can find here: I found it really helpful in planning it out. Now, it’s just a matter of willing myself to keep going and not give up!

So that’s what I’ve been working on as of late. My goal for this week is to complete two more twin illustrations, and another two or three thousand words of my novel in two weeks’ time. Other goals include finding more ways to sell Itchy Mitchie through local craft fairs or book events. So we'll see what happens.

Stay tuned for more soon!