Friday, April 6, 2012

On Top of the Hen House -- Meet My Literary Agent!

Hen in bucket at Barrington Living History Farm

Life can turn on a dime. Or if you're a hen living in a coop, life can turn when your egg hatches. And this week my egg that I'd been sitting on for so long, finally hatched! I'm happy to announce that the enormously talented  Erzsi Deàk, founder of Hen & ink, A Literary Studio is my agent!!! To learn more about her, click HERE. And the other chicks represented by Hen & Ink!

Okay, here's the coop. I mean scoop. The thing I'm going to stress here is never. Ever. Give up. Erzsi and I had been corresponding since early fall of 2011. Yes, for over six months. Her original response was very positive but left me knowing I still had work to do. She didn't say no, but she didn't say yes. So it was time for me to push back my feathers and get back to work.

Over the next six months, I worked on one of the manuscripts over and over and over again. I felt it was the one holding me back. And I was right. Something kept needling me. Or rather several things. After I sat down and had a one-on-one critique with editor Diane Muldrow at Random House/Golden Books at our Austin SCBWI Conference, I knew what the problem was. She said there wasn't a lot to critique. She liked how I didn't overwrite. She liked my style and language. The 3 act structure was in place. The character arc in the story worked nicely. But she wasn't exactly connecting with the main character.

Hold everything. That's HUGE!

In a character-driven picture book if you can't get your audience to connect with your character than you might as well close up shop and head back to the farm.

So I began to listen even more intently. She told me that the MC's voice was a bit too close to the narrator's. A little too much telling was occurring. There were a few spots where the MC didn't sound like a child. Was I ending the story in the right place? And did the secondary character need more space in the story?

There was plenty to critique wasn't there. Now, here's the thing. You have to sort through all of that good information and decide what resonates with you, the writer. I knew the character I wanted wasn't emerging the way I wanted her to. She needed more distinct dialog. Her personality needed to shine through. More showing had to occur. But I also knew that the secondary character didn't need any more space. IF -- a big IF -- I could fix the other things.

So I revised. Then I sent it back to Erzsi. Months went by. And I was working on it again. Because it still wasn't quite right. So I revised again. And this time, it worked! She LOVED the changes I'd made and offered me representation. Which I was honored to accept.

And I want to let everyone know that during this time, I was beginning to doubt myself and my ability to write for children. I thought what if I'm just not good enough to get there. What if I'll always be at the mediocre level? Not bad writing. But not what children deserve. Well I banished the grumblings to the outer areas of my mind because I wasn't ready to throw in the towel. I knew I could do this. God hadn't brought me this far and given me skills as a writer to fail. So I picked up my pencil and made the chicken scratching on my manuscript  that opened the door to Hen & ink.

I remember reading a similar experience by Tamika Fryer Brown on Cynthia Leitich Smith's blog Cynsations when she interviewed her about her first picture book Around Our Way on Neighbors' Day illustrated by Charlotte Riley-Webb (Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2010). She'd almost thrown in the towel and walked away from writing. But she didn't. She pushed through. And aren't we all glad she did! If you want to read the interview between Cynthia and Tameka, click HERE. It's fabulous!

So I guess what I'm saying is that you can't give up. No matter how tough it gets. No matter how many times you have to revise. The revising is what helps you to get to know your character. Revision for me is chatting with my character. And I also want to say that you can't do it alone. You need people that support you. Who believe in you. Especially when the days come that you don't believe in yourself. They're fleeting. But they still come. So lean on your critique partners. And ask your writing community for advice. And learn to trust yourself and your character. And then celebrate when that agent comes knocking. Or in my case crowing.

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