Saturday, August 1, 2009

Publishing Pains- Maggie's Monkeys

By Guest Blogger- Linda Sanders-Wells

I'm happy to share the story of how Maggie's Monkeys made it into print. The history of this book is that it took about nine years from when I wrote the first version of the story until I had the book in my hands. It was rejected 18 times in the six years between first submission and acceptance by Candlewick. I'd been writing picture books for about three years and already had dozens of rejections in my file, so I wasn't surprised when editors said no. (I generally keep sending manuscripts out until they've amassed at least 12 or 15 rejections. In total, I have received something like 250 rejections on 15 or 20 different stories, ranging from picture books to YA novels.)

This story, originally called Monkey Madness, wasn't just one of the manuscripts in the pile, though. From the beginning, it got more positive reactions than other things I'd written. First from my writing group and then from editors. One editor at a major house who was on my A list said she'd taken it to the editorial director, who thought it was too old for the picture book crowd. Another high-ranking editor felt the ending was too flat and asked for revisions -- and then took two years to reject the revised story.

Here's part of the story that I do think has value for other writers. The revised ending had a lot of fun elements, but it didn't feel quite right to me. It was a little too hyped up and pulled the story away from the family too much. I struggled with the decision about which ending to use when I sent it out after that, and opted to go back to the original. Since the editor who asked for the revision still wasn't persuaded, I decided to go with what felt right to me. I'm glad I did.

I was getting close to giving up on it when I read an interview with Candlewick editor Joan Powers by Robin Friedman as part of the research I routinely did into editors and their tastes. I was shocked to realize I knew Joan. We worked together briefly in New York many years ago (at Mademoiselle magazine, which if you knew either of us would probably come as a surprise).

When I started submitting, I had spent time at my daughter's bookshelf, pulling out the books I liked and listing who published them. The house that had the most of my favorite titles was Candlewick. But Candlewick only accepts submissions through agents, and I don't have an agent.

I decided to take a chance. I wrote Joan, not even sure she'd remember me, and asked if she'd read a manuscript. She agreed and later sent me editorial notes that were wonderfully helpful. I used her suggestions to revise, among other things making clearer why Jack didn't want to play along with Maggie (she's practically a baby!). I briefly considered going back to the second ending, but my writing group and my own conscience argued against it.

Finally, the call came. And it was like I'd always imagined. I talked through the details with Joan (and the offer was generous -- Candlewick is a very author-centric publisher, and I couldn't be happier to have published with them), then spent three days walking on air, calling everyone I knew and pinching myself to see if it was really true.


storyqueen said...

Linda, thanks for sharing your story! I especially like the part about staying true to what you liked about your own story (as you knew writers would!)

Obviously, your persistence really paid off, as did your belief in yourself and your willingness to revise when necessary. These are such key ingredients in going from Writer to Author, don't you think?

Wishing you the best!


Tricia J. O'Brien said...

I am in awe. Thank you for sharing this and congratulations on your determined climb to the mountain top. I see the flag up there and it looks mighty fine.

Stephanie Faris said...

I love hearing stories like this. Wait...people stop sending manuscripts after so many rejections? I just keep sending them, letting my rejection folder get thicker and thicker...

Sherrie Petersen said...

Very cool story! I love hearing how people get their foot in the door. Thanks for the inspiration =)

Linda said...

Shelley, I'm no expert after one acceptance but I think you nailed some of the key ingredients. I admit that luck played a role for me, but it only happened because I spent lots of time doing research into editors and publishers -- I think that's also vital.

My hat is off to all of you who keep sending your work out, especially in these tough times. As Jack learned about welcoming Maggie's invisible monkeys into his home, you've got to believe!

Tana said...

Wow that was a great story! I suppose every good work is worth the effort. Good for you for following up and getting to your dream. (great guest blog)

BTW, Thanks for twittering my 10 commandments link that was too cool!

J.A. Palermo said...

As another unlikely Mademoiselle alumna, I doubly enjoyed your story!

Mrs. Major said...

What a great story. Inspiring to us unpublished souls! Go with your gutt is a great thing to hear from someone who has been there.

Corey Schwartz said...

Wow, J.A. what a coincidence!

I loved hearing Linda's story, because I have PB manuscripts that have been rejected 10 or 12 times,and this means there is still hope for them!

Hardygirl said...

Truly inspiring (especially since I'm amassing quite the rejection file).

Candlewick is such an incredible publisher--all of their books are beautifully done.