By Guest Blogger- Michael Sussman
By the time my son Ollie turned six, I had read him piles and piles of picture books. Although a few were excellent, I was amazed at how many were mediocre or worse: mundane, unimaginative, and condescending to children. I decided I could do better.
Otto Grows Down was my second or third attempt at a picture book. After some rewriting based on feedback from my writer’s group, I submitted to at least 20 or 25 editors. Not a bite, despite the fact that I’d already published two nonfiction titles for adults.
I decided to spend some money and hire a freelance editor to critique the manuscript, and this turned out to be extremely helpful. I realized that I’d basically written a one-joke story about a boy who becomes trapped in backwards time. What was lacking was emotional depth.
Like Archimedes, my eureka moment arrived in the bath tub. What if time turns around because Otto makes a birthday wish that his baby sister was never born! I was so excited by the resulting rewrite that I had visions of a vicious bidding war among dozens of editors! It didn’t happen.
Once again, roughly 20 editors rejected the story. One editor at a major house loved it, but the manuscript didn’t make it through the acquisitions meeting—some of her colleagues deemed the story too complex and potentially scary for young children.
Finally, returning from a writer’s retreat, I discovered a phone message from Frances Gilbert at Sterling Publishing. She was prepared to offer me a contract, which I eagerly signed. She turned out to be a wonderful editor, and Sterling did a magnificent job producing the book, with fabulous illustrations by Scott Magoon. Today, Otto Grows Down is face-out in every Barnes & Noble in the country!