How I Sold My First Book

This was first printed in the SCBWI-MI Mitten Winter 2014 Newsletter.
Everyone always asks, “How did IT happen? How did the editor pick you?”

My answer? “Flip-turns.

You see, long before I was a writer, I was a swimmer. I was trained to go as fast as I could into a cement walls. If you are a writer, you crash into lots of cement wall rejections. However, swimmers never let the wall stop them. Instead, swimmers do a flip-turn and go as fast as they can to another cement wall. Successful writing takes a lot of flip-turns!

A few years ago, I was working with an agent. If fact, two agents—one for novels and one for picture books. Surely, I would be published. I had two agents, right? WRONG! The economy was bad and the book business was in a slump. Any book that didn’t have a vampire in it was hard to sell. However, thanks to a generous grant the PJ Library was buying and sending free Jewish-themed books to any Jewish kid who signed up. So my agent who is Jewish suggested I write Jewish books because after all, I am Jewish.

I admit I wasn’t so thrilled about making Jewish books. I like my heritage, but I really didn’t want to write about it. But, I could be at the Jewish Book Fair. This was always the first question a Jew asks when I say I write children’s books. “Are you at the Jewish Book Fair?” So I was willing to try—I already had every Bubbie in Detroit lining up to buy my book.

Also, I needed to get a foot or toe in the door somewhere. So I wrote a few stories. My agent loved them! However, she couldn’t sell them. And she couldn’t sell a lot of other picture books by other clients too. So my agent decided no longer to represent picture books.
After crying and eating a tub of ice cream, I decided to send the stories out on my own. Kar-Ben accepted unsolicited manuscripts. Kar-Ben is the largest children’s Jewish publisher. The other small Jewish presses rarely publish new picture books, and if they do they are more religious than my books. So I submitted. The editor asked for a revision. Then she rejected it, but encouraged me to send more.

And I did.

I wrote about Shabbat fairies, dogs having bark mitzvahs, magic tallis rides, and dragons coming to Shabbat dinner. I wrote twisted tales with such titles as Little Red Hoodowitz, Mr. Wolfman and the Boarman’s, Golda and The Bearbergs. I even wrote a story about making pickles and included pictures of me and my grandmother in a yellow flowered wallpaper kitchen circa 1978.

The editor rejected every story–personally. In fact, we were on first name rejection basis. However, she always encouraged me to send more.

And I did.

I decided I was going to keep sending until she either accepted a story or gave me a restraining order! When one story didn’t work, I just did another flip-turn and went onto the next story idea.

Meanwhile the free Jewish books kept arriving monthly for my daughter. Each one mocked me—“You didn’t get picked.” And responded to each book, “YET!”
And finally, on December 10, 2013, as I was doing a quick email check before I made dinner and completed all the “mom jobs” I got the email! Good News re: Paint the Town

It took over two years and twenty manuscripts!


So my advice to all writers is practice your flip-turns and keep swimming.