It’s been a while since I’ve posted here on my blog, but it’s almost Thanksgiving! So I wanted to take some time to reflect and share something I’ve learned to be thankful for over the past few months.
I was privileged to share a three-part series with our Michigan SCBWI blog, The Mitten, over the past few months. You can enjoy the three posts here, or read the entire story below. So many of you have been along for the ride, and have encouraged and supported me along the way. I can’t say “Thank You!” enough. I hope you enjoy not only reminiscing with me but finding out what I’ve learned along the way!
Here we go:
All Summer in a Day: The Sweet (and SHORT) Journey of a Picture Book by Patti Richards
I think I was in middle school when I first read Ray Bradbury’s, “All Summer in a Day.” Then I got to study it in more depth in high school and fell in love with the journey of Margot, the girl who believed that the sun was going to come out after seven years of rain, and her classmates who didn’t. When their lack of faith and what she knew was true ultimately collided, she ended up locked in the classroom closet, just as the sun came out. The children, forgetting about Margot, ran from the school building and stepped out into the most powerful light they’d ever seen. Then, almost as quickly as the sun came out, one raindrop, then another, and another fell, until the clouds rolled in and the sky closed over it again. How long did all of this take you might ask? One. Single. Day.
So, what does this story have to do with my publishing journey? I’m glad you asked.
Back in 2019, I participated in a Twitter pitch party called #Faithpit. Faithpit was designed for authors who write faith-based children’s books to share their pitches in the hopes of grabbing the attention of agents and editors. As you all know, finding an agent in this business is extremely challenging. Writing for both the mainstream and faith-based markets makes it even more difficult. There are very few faith-based publishers that take unsolicited manuscripts, so I knew this Twitter pitch event was a good opportunity. I had written the first draft of a manuscript called MRS. NOAH about eight years earlier, and after many rounds of critiques and drafts, I had a picture book I was ready to submit, and the #Faithpit sounded like a good place to begin. So, I pitched!
Miracle of miracles, I got a heart for MRS. NOAH and for another manuscript. I followed the submission instructions for the interested publisher, and in a few months, I got the email offer for both books. This was in October while at a writing retreat with my critique group! What a sweet moment I got to share with my dear friends. I had the contract in my hand by Thanksgiving, and by Christmas, I had signed a two-book deal with release dates planned for 2021 and 2022. This was in late 2019. Enter 2020 and. . .
In the first few months of 2020, I received my first round of edits for MRS. NOAH. Revising is one of my favorite parts of the writing process, so I was excited to dive in. By March, both of my adult daughters were back home, and now there were four of us working from all over the house. Thankfully, I had moved my office out of the corner of the dining room into a spare bedroom, so I could shut the door and enjoy the process of seeing MRS. NOAH come to life. No matter what was going on outside, I forged ahead.
It didn’t take long until the first interior sketches hit my inbox for my feedback. I still had to stop now and then, take a breath, and make myself believe this was happening. I was running around in the sun like the children in “All Summer in a Day,” enjoying every moment of this thing I had worked so hard for and waited so long to come to pass. But then. . .
As the year progressed, it became clear the continued shutdown was having a significant impact on the publishing world. Small houses were already having trouble staying afloat. My publisher began working on new projects to help increase revenue, while we continued getting MRS. NOAH ready for her debut. By the end of 2020, we were still on track for a Fall 2021 release.
First raindrops fall.
For those of you who have been through the process of publishing a book, you know that just about anything can happen after the ink dries on a contract. Illustrators walk away, release dates change, and marketing plans and budgets (if there are any) get reduced or eliminated. I knew this and hoped none of it would be the case for my book.
But before we could get to release day, my editor left. Then the release date got pushed back, and we learned things weren’t improving for the publisher. But hey, I had a book coming out! I still believed that with a strong showing from MRS. NOAH and the publisher’s other fall releases, they would survive a little while longer. Their internal struggles also meant I was on my own when it came to planning release events. I’d helped so many others along the way get the word out about their books, I was not daunted. Head down. Swim on!
Then, on October 28, 2021, MRS. NOAH was born! She was the number 1 new release on Amazon for her category for several days, and she stayed in the top 100 in her category almost the entire time she was available. I was so excited!
By the end of 2021, my fellow authors and I heard from the publisher. They were going to be doing a major restructuring of the company starting in 2022. When January rolled around, my publisher got sick with Covid. This, combined with their business woes, caused the marketing help promised in my contract to evaporate. What did that mean for MRS. NOAH? I needed to keep her strong start going.
So, I became a Canva expert and created engaging social media content to get the word out about my book. I researched contests and made a list of the ones I wanted to enter and how many books I’d need to make that happen. I ordered books from Amazon because I hadn’t received my author copies. I had done a blog tour the week the book was released, so I put all of my energy into giveaways, holiday-themed Canva posts, and the contests I mentioned above. I learned about organizations in the faith-based community and joined them. I bought more books and mailed out press kits to local and national bookstores. I blogged in places I’d never blogged before, and MRS. NOAH kept on sailing.
I attended book-selling events that I never knew existed, and I got to do a couple of story times in places I wasn’t expecting. By the summer of 2022, MRS. NOAH was in several brick-and-mortar bookstores, and on her first birthday (which I celebrated on social media), I got to see MRS. NOAH on the shelf of our local public library. All of my efforts seemed to be paying off. But. . .
Cue Storm Clouds
During the summer of 2022, I received a letter from my publisher releasing the rights to my second book back to me. I no longer had a second book coming out. We still held out hope that with a plan to reduce the number of titles the publisher produced each year, they would remain in business. But that was not to be. On December 31, 2022, one year and two months after MRS. NOAH’s release, my publisher was done.
People who know me know I’m not a quitter, so after receiving the news, instead of resting on my laurels, I went to one final book-selling event in January of 2023. With my husband’s help (he is the king of schmoozing) I mingled, visited booksellers’ booths, and even had a radio interview and book signing!
After that event, I stocked up on as many copies of MRS. NOAH as I could afford. I kept checking Amazon and Barnes and Noble, and on a day in late June I read the words “out of stock,” and I knew it was over. Approximately 18 months after her release, MRS. NOAH sailed out of online book retailers and stores. But what a ride we’d had. My picture book journey truly felt like all summer in a day!
I couldn’t possibly share how blessed I have been by this journey. The frustrations were many, but the reward of getting to see a book you’ve loved into existence in the bookstore and on the library shelf more than makes up for them. I’m also pleased to say that in MRS. NOAH’s short life, she won five awards, including a Northern Lights Book Award for best first picture book. Do I wish MRS. NOAH’S journey had ended differently? Of course! Do I think I’ll try to self-publish now that I have the rights back? Ask me again in a few months when the sting fades a bit.
When the life of a book begins and ends at this record pace, it’s important to pause and reflect.
Here are a few of my takeaways for those who are un-agented that might help someone else:
- Do your homework. If you get an offer for one of your books, find out all you can about the health of the company making the offer. Use your SCBWI membership, ask other authors who have published with the same company about their experience, and check with the publisher’s state business website. None of this is foolproof. It’s impossible to predict the future ever, but especially in publishing. Getting as much info as possible can help you make informed decisions for your book.
- Lead the discussion. In the excitement of having someone love your book, the temptation is to let the offering company lead the discussion. You might feel like you can’t ask for time to do your research and even to ask for changes to your contract. But you can! It’s also a good idea to have an attorney who specializes in contract law look over your contract to make sure you’re getting the best terms possible. At the very least, an attorney can help you know what questions to ask. Will this cost money? Unless you have a friend who can help, yes. But it’s money well spent. The Author’s Guild also provides contract reviews and other services for their members.
- Learn how to market! As you can tell from my story, I had to fast-track my marketing knowledge. If you have the luxury of taking your time with this step, then do it! Budget some of your weekly writing hours for marketing education. Learn how to use Canva. Build a professional-looking website. Take advantage of free services like Pinterest, Goodreads, and Instagram to keep information about you and your books in front of your audience. When that contract offer comes, you’ll be glad you did!
- Get your eggs out of the basket! Having a book release and then go out of print so quickly resulted in the entire process becoming almost all-consuming. The fight to keep MRS. NOAH in front of people for as long as I could forced other things to take a back seat. Writing, revising, submitting, looking for an agent…none of those things should stop while you’re in the middle of what feels like a sinking ship. It’s what keeps us balanced as writers. I’ll admit to losing my focus in the middle of the flood of work that came with MRS. NOAH’s release, but I’m grateful I have it back.
- You are more than one book. This takeaway speaks for itself. Your success as a writer should never be measured by one contract. No matter how much the end of one book can break your heart, you and your work go on.
So, there you go. The story of a book’s journey…All Summer in a Day! I’m so grateful I got the chance to experience it, and that there are many little loves enjoying MRS. NOAH. That is the best gift of all.
And did poor Margot ever get out of that closet to see the sun? I’m not telling. You’ll just have to read that story for yourself.