The path of the author is notoriously difficult. It’s filled with heaps of rejection letters and long hours of constant editing, not to mention the “snail pace” rhythm of the publishing industry.
So how does one survive these challenges and still retain an earnest love for writing? I sat down with author Debra Shumaker to get her perspective. After submitting 187 submissions to both agents and editors with 11 different manuscripts since September of 2009, she achieved one of her dreams and landed a literary agent. Here is our Q & A:
How did you remain so perseverant throughout the process?
Sometimes I wonder, myself, why I persevered in all the rejection. But that is the name of the game in Children’s Lit. And I should clarify, though I started subbing in 2009, I probably started subbing too early. I was a beginner. I had three little kids at the time so I just wrote and submitted when I “had time.” My manuscripts probably weren’t ready and my querying was a bit undirected. But, as I worked on my craft, participating in Tara Lazar’s PiBoIdMo (now StoryStorm) and joining Julie Hedlund’s 12×12, my manuscripts grew stronger and my queries more directed. Then in 2014, I started to get some nibbles: some personal rejections and one agent asked for a revise/resubmit. Though that one didn’t pan out, it gave me a confidence booster. In 2015, I received an R&R from an editor and three agents asking for more of my work. Again, those didn’t lead to offers, but I knew I was getting close. I just kept plugging away at learning craft, studying mentor texts, writing new stuff, and submitting. I am so grateful for having signed with Natascha Morris from BookEnds Literary in July.
Did you ever have moments of feeling like giving up, and if so, how did you deal with them?
Yes, I was definitely tempted to quit a few times. And in fact, I took several “submission sabbaticals,” realizing that my work wasn’t quite there and it was time to go back and either work on revisions or write new stuff. I definitely had weeks when I didn’t write, but I was always reading picture books. And for me, the best way to get out of a funk is to find a writing challenge and join it, or write something new. So often, I’d get stuck in the revising and submitting phase, that I’d forget how much fun it was to write something new.
What are the advantages of having an agent, as opposed to looking for publishers for your books?
There were several reasons I wanted an agent: While some small and mid-sized presses take unsolicited subs, the majority of the houses are closed to unagented authors. It’s HARD to get published in children’s books, and the more editors who see your work, the higher the odds of finding that one YES. Having an agent is one way to get in front of a larger number of editors. I also wanted a partner in my career—someone who had an editorial eye who could help me get my work as polished as possible before sending it to an editor and who could also take the time to find the RIGHT editors—while I focus on writing. And then, when I get that contract – I know I’m not the best negotiator, so for business reasons, an agent makes sense for me. I don’t want to stress about contracts! Natascha can now do that for me!
This is the toughest question ever! I am definitely guilty of submitting before my manuscripts were ready. But I think that is a common pitfall for most authors. It’s also a VERY subjective industry. What one person thinks is the best book ever, another will pass on very quickly. So I am never really certain a manuscript is ready. But I never submit a story until it’s gone through MANY revisions and a few rounds with my critique groups—I’m in three! If I find I’m only making superficial changes to my story and my critique groups don’t have major suggestions for changes, AND I read it aloud to make sure it reads smoothly, I send it out. At some point, you just have to take a chance! And now, of course, Natascha will help me know when a manuscript is ready.
What are the top 3 pieces of advice you would give aspiring authors currently seeking representation?
- Subscribe to the free Children’s Bookshelf newsletter from PW. Read it every Tuesday and Thursday and start taking notes of agents who sell work similar to yours.
- Research before you submit! Don’t submit to every agent that takes your genre—try to discern if they will be a good fit. Besides the agency websites and studying PW Children’s bookshelf, try to find interviews with the agents, follow them on Twitter, etc. (And follow their query guidelines.)
- Be patient and have thick skin. As you well know, the children’s lit industry moves slowly. While querying, be sure to always have a new project to work on. When those rejections start piling in—sadly, they probably will—having new stuff lessens the sting a little bit.
So many good books to pick from! In picture book biographies I am in love with I DISSENT by Debbie Levy and SWAN: THE LIFE AND DANCE OF ANNA PAVLOVA by Laurel Snyder and Julie Morstad. In lyrical fiction, I adore A VIOLIN FOR ELVA by Mary Lyn Ray or STAY: A GIRL, A DOG, AND A BUCKET LIST by Kate Klise. For humorous fiction, PRINCE AND PIRATE by Charlotte Gunnufson is really fun. Oops, that’s a bit more than three! I could go on and on. . .
Bio and contact info.
I write magazine articles and picture books, both fiction and nonfiction. I’ve had nonfiction articles published in Spider, Boy’s Quest, and Fun for Kidz. My article, “Where Did the Bison Go?” in the March 2016 issue of Spider won an Honor Certificate for the 2016 SCBWI Magazine Merit Award. I am also a cohost for the Twitter party #PBPitch.
I can be found at my website www.debrashumaker.com and on Twitter at @ShumakerDebra.
This entry was posted in Children's literature, Inspiration & motivation, Publishing industry, Resources for writers, Uncategorized, Writing, Writing tips and tagged agent, author, books, kidlit, literature, perseverance, publishing, writing.