…and thank you Lindsay for this opportunity to share my backstory of WHO WANTS BROCCOLI? and how our local chapter of SCBWI played a big part of making my dream come true.
In 2010 I was forced to retire from a position I had held for 20 years. Admittedly, I was ready to hand the baton to those fresh-faced, energetic graduates clambering for my job… but now what?
I had been a ‘no-show’ member of Eastern PA SCBWI for many years. My full-time job and long commute had kept me from attending events in the past – but now I had no excuse to not participate, so I signed up for my first event – Fall Philly Fest! I even signed up for a portfolio critique including my first dummy, ‘Mouse Potato Pie’…I was ready to be discovered!
During my critique I found out ‘Mouse Potato Pie’ had no storyline, no pacing, no tension, no arch (note to self; look up storyline, pacing, tension and arch) and my portfolio of homemade Christmas cards did not impress (to say the least)…but undeterred, I returned to my drawing board. The next version of Mouse Potato Pie was ready for EPA’s Pocono Retreat – and all in rhyme! (Brilliant, right?)
April 2011 I attended SCBWI EPA’s Pocono Retreat held in Shawnee. Judy Schachner was our keynote and Judy graciously looked at my dummy. Her comment was kind but truthful: 86 the rhyme… 😦
During the event I was invited to join my first critique group of ‘illustrators who want to write’, (there were more people like me?) and that summer I wrote and dummied ‘Pity the Kitty’, ‘Fuzzy Legs Brown’, ‘The Christmas Pony’, ‘YAWN’ and ‘Here’s the Thing’…it was so wonderful to have a group of talented artists to share with and learn from.
In the fall, I qualified to attend the ‘Advanced Illustrators Workshop’ presented by Highlights in the spanking-new Barn and cabin facilities in Honesdale, PA. It was MIND-BLOWING! A hands-on workshop delivered by super-talented artists and Caldecott winners! The workshop featured an illustrator’s exhibit Friday evening. As I gazed down the tables of stacks and stacks of published picture books, I stood bravely by my homemade Christmas card portfolio and (huge) portrait of my dog, Fergus.
Lindsey Barrett George was one of the presenters and she was (literally) stopped in the aisle by Fergus’s oversized painting. Lindsay asked about Fergus and suggested I write his story…’write what you know’ (what a concept!). That evening I began to write ‘Who Wants Brockley’ (yep, Brockley).
Through 2012 I faithfully met with my critique group, attended EPA SCBWI events and signed up for another Highlights workshop…held the weekend of Hurricane Sandy. Many of the Editors’, Art Directors’, and Agents’ offices in NYC were impacted by the flooding, and the Barn and cabins were on generators.
My critique was with an agent and she liked my dog story (Sign me up!), but there was too much story and (by the way) the main character is supposed to solve the problem (who knew?).
Upon returning home I emailed a sincere ‘Thank You’ to Bobbie, who had set up my critique with the agent. To my astonishment, Bobbie replied that she liked my dummy and she knew an agent who might be a good match (Agents should be a good match?). Bobbie offered to introduce me when revisions to my dummy were complete.
About a month later ‘WHO WANTS BROCCOLI?’ was ready and Bobbie introduced me to Karen Grencik of Red Fox Literary Agency (incredible!). Karen was not taking new clients BUT she really liked Broccoli and graciously agreed to do an Agent Submission. (Who could ask for anything more?)
Enter the Twilight Zone…
Three hours after Karen submitted Broccoli, Nancy Inteli, Editorial Director of HarperCollins Children’s Books loved Broccoli! It was the fastest response Karen ever had! She cautioned me not to get over excited until after the acquisition meeting, (note to self, look up acquisition meeting…).
Spring 2013 EPS SCBWI Pocono Retreat was held once again in the Highlights Barn. It was not until late Friday while checking my email I saw that Karen, my brand-new agent, had been trying to get a hold of me – HarperCollins wanted Broccoli!! Saturday morning, surrounded by SCBWI and Highlights friends, I shared the fantastic news!
…and it was only May–plenty of time to get the book finished in time for the Holidays!
…two years later,’WHO WANTS BROCCOLI?’ was released. Broccoli’s Launch Party was fabulous! I could hardly wait to see Broccoli advertised in bookstores from coast to coast and accept invitations for school visits everywhere!
Ah marketing…First – do not expect anything from anyone, including your publisher! Second – go to any event that will have you! Donate books to school libraries! Stop in every bookstore you can to sign books! So readings at indie bookstores! Write to magazines! Contact as many schools as you can drive to. Send books to newspapers, radio stations, magazines! Any idea is a good idea!
And then there’s social media. I ‘get’ Facebook, but tweeting? Pinterest? Blogging? It’s so easy for me to wander off into cyberspace for hours and hours, so I try very hard to limit time on Facebook, find relevant blogs, and keep Monday as Marketing – but I still struggle between social media and finding time to work on new stories.
Broccoli is my first book – and of course I hope there will be a next one. The whole process was such a whirlwind and of course I wish I could have done some things differently/better. I hope my story will help you during your journey and before my post ends I want to make sure I share a few things that I found most helpful to me.
- Participate in SCBWI events and critiques.
- Join a critique group.
- Take relevant workshops.
- Express your gratitude.
- Meet every deadline.
- Get your website in good shape.
- Ask wise people for advice.
WHO WANTS BROCCOLI? is a picture book for children 4-8 years old published by HarperCollins Children’s Books.
Val Jones lives in Skippack, Pennsylvania.
Please visit Val on-line: valjonesart.com and ‘Like’ her on Val Rank Jones Facebook 🙂