Today’s guest author, Sandra Feder, has just published the chapter book, Daisy’s Perfect Word. It’s the first in a series, about which School Library Journal says, “Daisy’s irrepressible but realistic enthusiasm for life is charming and irresistable.” And Sandra’s story of getting to pop a cork is equally so. Enjoy! – Meg
This was the question written in the subject line of the long-awaited email I received two years ago from my soon-to-be editor. “Long-awaited” because I had first developed a relationship with Sheila Barry, then the editor-in-chief of Kids Can Press, over six years earlier. “Soon-to-be” because she was letting me know that Kids Can was going to offer me a four-book contract for my children’s book series about a girl who loves words.
“Daisy’s Perfect Word” is a wonderful culmination of my long journey. My desire to write children’s books began when I was in third grade, thanks to an amazing school librarian who introduced her students not just to books but also to the authors who wrote them. I thought it was incredible to be able to create a world in which a child could lose him or herself.
Although I always loved making up stories, as a young adult I gravitated to the world of journalism, which was fast paced and exciting. And at the point in my life, even though fiction intrigued me, I wasn’t at all sure that I had any talent for it.
I was fortunate to work as a news assistant in the Washington, D.C. bureau of the The New York Times and then worked for several different papers as a reporter. This training definitely taught me about the power of words – a theme of my books – but also about the importance of developing personal connections. Reporters know that you always get better information if you interview someone in person. If that’s not possible, the next best option is to talk over the phone. Electronic communication is the last choice, because you can’t hear the pauses, inflections, hesitations or enthusiasm through the computer.
I mention this because that first long-ago contact with Sheila resulted in the most lovely rejection letter, in which she let me know what she liked about the manuscript I had submitted and what needed some work. She offered to chat with me via email or by phone. I jumped on the opening and told her I would love to set up a time to talk. And we did. She asked me to send her more stories. And, of course, I did that too.
But it still took years before we would be able to work together – years in which I compiled a nice stack of rejection letters from other publishers but also years in which I learned more about writing for children by being part of a wonderful writing group and by raising three daughters of my own.
During this period, of writing and waiting, it helped to have two stalwart cheerleaders. The first is my friend Ruth, an accomplished children’s book author, who invited me into her writing group and who became a mentor. She gives great advice, tells me when something is good and when it’s not, and told me I would be published some day. The second is my husband, Dan, who always believed we would one day be holding a book with my name on the cover.
Finally, after staying in touch for many years, I submitted a picture-book manuscript to Sheila. After mulling it a while, she wrote me to say, “I think it wants to be a chapter book.” Because I trusted her opinion, I decided to try rewriting it as a chapter book and found that I loved the freedom to expand the story and characters.
Around the same time, I went to a writing conference and heard a successful children’s book author say that she always thought in terms of how a singular book could work as a series. So I tried that, too. I submitted my revised story as an early chapter book, with eight additional ideas for books that could follow. Kids Can ended up buying four. Along with benefiting from Sheila’s careful and thoughtful editing, I also was paired with a fabulous illustrator and a wonderful art director, both of whom contributed hugely in making my book so appealing.
I know that my story is unusual in that I didn’t have an agent help me get my contract but instead had a wonderful editor-in-chief and an experienced children’s book author to guide my journey. I do believe there are other would-be mentors out there who want to help and who will reach out if they see someone promising. Always reach back and engage. Make that phone call, follow up on any interest an editor or more experienced colleague shows, submit more stories, go to that conference and take full advantage of any openings you get. If someone will take the time to meet with you in person or to talk to you on the phone, do it. It just may result in “Champagne?” – Sandra