It’s the friendly, Tuesday writer’s club coffee hour here on Blueberry Hill!
Take off your shoes, tuck yourself into a comfy chair, wrap your hands around a nice hot mug of coffee or tea, and let’s settle in for a cozy chat with today’s Tuesday Debut-ess!
(What do you think? Is debut-ess an improvement on debutee or is debutee better? I’m still trying to think up a good word 🙂 )
While you’re thinking on that, coffee cake anyone?
Before we get started, I want to take this opportunity to invite you all to evaluate the information you’re getting from these Tuesday Debut posts. As you read, please think about whether you’re getting all the information you hoped for from the weekly posts. Do you have burning questions we’re not addressing? Specific things you’re dying to know about the publication process? If there are questions you’d like to see included in future Tuesday Debuts, please share them with me in the comments or email me! It is easy to make changes and I definitely want to make improvements if there are any you can see to be made. I want this series to be as helpful to everyone as possible!
Now, it is my extreme pleasure to introduce today’s Tuesday Debut author, the lovely and talented Beth Anderson and her wonderful book:
AN INCONVENIENT ALPHABET: BEN FRANKLIN AND NOAH WEBSTER’S SPELLING REVOLUTION
by Beth Anderson
illustrated by Elizabeth Baddeley
Paula Wiseman Books/Simon & Schuster, 9/25/18
Narrative Nonfiction, age 4-8
Do you ever wish English was eez-ee-yer to spell? Ben Franklin and Noah Webster did!
SUSANNA: Thank you so much for joining us today, Beth! We are all so glad of the opportunity to learn from your experience! I’m chuckling because entirely by coincidence, the book I posted for PPBF a few days ago was Noah Webster And His Words by Jeri Chase Ferris – a nice companion to your book! Where did the idea for this book come from?
BETH: Ben Franklin had me at “ish.” When I saw a news blurb item about how he wanted to change the English alphabet, including six new letters (one of which was “ish”), I was immediately interested. As a linguistics major, reading specialist, and English teacher, how could I resist? When I read further, his quote, “Those people spell best who do not know how to spell,” hit me. The kids! They’re sounding words out. So sensible. Just what Franklin wanted. His quirky humor went straight to my heart. From there, I had to dig in and find the story. (For more on the inspiration, see this post. )
SUSANNA: How long did it take you to write this book?
BETH: After the initial exploration confirms that a topic has potential, I research for a few weeks, organize ideas, then start drafting. AN INCONVENIENT ALPHABET took about six months to reach “ready” for an editor critique. (I was working on a couple other manuscripts in various stages at the time, as well.) After the critique, I revised for another month and a half. It involved more research, some “reframing,” and tightening.
SUSANNA: Did you go through many revisions?
BETH: My revision process has changed as I’ve learned more and more about how to shape a story. AN INCONVENIENT ALPHABET went through about 40 revisions. An earlier manuscript, which will be my second picture book, had 91 revisions. Part of the difference is the story itself. But much of what accounts for far fewer revisions with “Alpha” is that I did a lot more organizing of information and brainstorming of possible structures and “vital idea” before I wrote. Also, I made many more changes with each revision as I’m not only fine tuning sentences, but looking at structure, conflict, characterization, etc. I think the key to making revisions that matter is to go beyond the sentence level where you keep reworking the same “story,” and, instead, push yourself to experiment with structure and holistic level changes. Finding just the right thread to make a story marketable and being able to reframe it that way is an ongoing challenge!
(There’s more on revising this manuscript HERE. )
SUSANNA: When did you know your manuscript was ready for submission?
BETH: Probably like most of us, I often think a manuscript is ready before it really is. We write the story we love and revise it until it’s just right, but often fail to see the big picture, or the marketing picture, or the irresistible premise picture—all things editors see. That’s why critique groups are so important. (Not your kids, or spouse, or neighbor.) That’s also (just one reason) why an agent is so valuable. A good agent has “editor eyes.” All these people help us see a story in different ways and can tug on the reins when we want to go ahead and submit before its ready.
With this manuscript, after I had taken it through many revisions, various critique groups over and over, and past my agent several times, I purchased an editor critique. With that, I took each piece of feedback and made sure I had applied it to the entire story. Then, when feedback came back with tiny tweaks, and the story itself got a genuine “yes!” it told me that the manuscript was ready to sub.
SUSANNA: When and how did you submit?
BETH: At a writing retreat, I purchased editor critiques on several manuscripts. My agent, the wonderful Stephanie Fretwell-Hill, advised which manuscripts fit which editors. After the retreat, I worked with Sylvie Frank’s feedback to revise AN INCONVENIENT ALPHABET, and then we sent it to her on a 30-day exclusive submission. Ta-da! She loved it. (Note: Sylvie said that acquiring a manuscript in that way is rare for her.)
That all sounds so easy, right? Well, there was a lengthy process leading up to that. If you’re interested in how I got to that point, HERE’s more.
SUSANNA: When did you get “the call”? How did you celebrate signing your contract? (If you care to share 🙂 )
BETH: To be honest, the thrill of both the news of the offer and the signing of the contract were tempered by sad events. The contrast of emotions served to remind me of what’s truly important and that life is a balance. My joy settled inside, nestled with gratitude, encouragement, and anticipation of the new adventure.
SUSANNA: I’m so sorry that what should have been a joyous occasion was tempered by sadness, Beth. But you are right. It does help us keep perspective.
SUSANNA: Was the contract what you expected in terms of advance, royalty percentage, publication timeline, author copies etc.?
BETH: Mostly, I didn’t know what to expect! This too is a learning process. I asked some questions of my agent to better understand it all and am so glad that I had her to lead me through it and do the negotiations.
SUSANNA: Tell us about the editorial process and your experience with the illustration process…
BETH: There were few revisions to make for the editor since I had already revised per her feedback. She got an illustrator on board very quickly – the amazing Elizabeth Baddeley! About 3-4 months after the contract was signed we had sketches. That’s an exciting moment! Copy edits came soon after. I made a few tweaks to the text here and there. I was kept in the loop throughout, and the process was smooth and comfortable. The editor’s vision never conflicted with mine, but rather enhanced everything that I had envisioned.
As a rookie, I was wishing I had more knowledge of the editorial process, what to expect when, etc. Here’s how I would explain the process:
Imagine the editor drives up to your house in a limo and invites you to go for a ride. You sit up front and chat along the way. You know the destination, but don’t know the route. So you spend much time looking out the window, wondering, asking a question now and then. Along the way, you pick up other people – the illustrator, art director, etc. But…there’s that limo barrier between the front and back. You can’t talk to the people back there, but the editor can, and once in a while relays a bit of what’s going on. You ooh and ahh at landmarks along the way, feel a festive spirit permeate the vehicle, and, finally, after a long trip, you arrive at the book!
As I work on more manuscripts, I see that each one is a bit different. So…basically, sit back and enjoy the ride!
SUSANNA: Did you get to see advance reviews from Kirkus, SLJ, etc? What was that like?
BETH: Seeing the advance reviews from Kirkus and SLJ was a joyful moment – a bit of relief combined with anticipation at getting the book in the hands of kids.
SUSANNA: How long did it take from offer to having the first copy in your hand?
BETH: 2 years
SUSANNA: Describe any marketing/promotion you did for this book.
BETH: I’m really only beginning this aspect of the book and learning as I go. I have lots of lists!! Here’s what I’ve done so far:
- scheduled a release party at a local Barnes and Noble,
- requested F&Gs be sent to a number of bloggers in hopes that they will want to review AN INCONVENIENT ALPHABET and have been lucky enough to receive invitations for interviews from friends within the kidlit world.
- postcards, bookmarks, additional business cards
- contacted bookstores in the area about opportunities such as local author signing days and festivals, as well as school visits they coordinate. (I don’t think this book is the best for story times with toddlers.)
- planned activities for events
- completed authors pages on Amazon, Goodreads, etc., SCBWI opportunities
- added pages to my website
- blog posts for my own site on my writer’s journey and process
- created Pinterest boards related to the book
- working on a presentation for schools and paperwork associated with that
SUSANNA: What is your publisher doing to market and promote your book?
BETH: I’ve been assigned a publicist and am copying her on any plans I make so she can coordinate books being available. She will arrange signings I request when I travel and send F&Gs to people I’ve requested. I’ll work with her on any conferences, but at this point have none scheduled. The publisher has sent copies to reviewers and created an educator’s guide.
SUSANNA: How long was it between the time you started writing seriously and the time you sold your first picture book?
BETH: I made the decision to jump into writing for children in the fall of 2013. In the beginning of 2016, I signed with an agent, and in September 2016, I had my first offer.
SUSANNA: Anything else you’d like to share about your book’s journey from inspiration to publication?
BETH: I think each book has lessons to teach us as writers. As I got to know the characters in AN INCONVENIENT ALPHABET, Ben Franklin’s philosophy of letting your ideas “take their chance in the world” really struck a chord with me. In contrast, Noah Webster wanted to force his ideas on people. One approach is stressful, the other not. One approach considers you know best, the other accepts that maybe you don’t. One approach lets rejections quash the spirit, the other takes them in stride.
So, do your best, and put those manuscripts out there. Let your ideas “take their chance in the world!” 🙂
Beth Anderson, a former English as a Second Language teacher, has always marveled at the power of books. Armed with linguistics and reading degrees, a fascination with language, and penchant for untold tales, she strives for accidental learning in the midst of a great story. Beth lives in Colorado where she laughs, wonders, thinks, and questions; and hopes to inspire kids to do the same.
website and social media links
An Educator’s Guide is available HERE.
Beth, thank you again so much for being with us today, and readers, thank you for stopping by to read. If you have questions for Beth I’m sure she will do her best to answer if she has time.
I think it’s interesting that the interviews from both Jessie last week and Beth this week showed how much writing is but one piece in the puzzle of life. It’s so easy as an unpublished writer (or even a published writer hoping for another sale) to think that if you can get published, everything will be perfect! There is no denying that getting published is wonderful! It is the dream. It is what we all work so hard for. But for Jessie it came with a new baby, and for Beth it came with sadness in her life. Both things put publication in perspective. Jessie’s book was drawn from her life experience of having a grandfather with Alzheimers, and Beth was able to write her book because of her background as a teacher and her knowledge of and interest in linguistics. So if you’re looking for inspiration, you may, like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, have no need to look any further than your own back yard. You may find it right there in your life.
Whether you’re published yet or not, write for the joy of writing and enjoy the process and the journey. It’s hard work, but we do it because we love it, and I think most of us would agree that there aren’t many occupations that can rival making up stories, or sharing the wonders of the nonfiction world with kids 🙂
Happy Tuesday! 🙂 and don’t forget to let me know if there are questions you want answered in future posts!
Missed any Tuesday Debuts? Check them out!