Good morning, my friends!
Welcome to another exciting episode of Tuesday Debut!
Pull up your favorite comfy chair, help yourself to some breakfast…
…and get ready to enjoy chatting with Sherry about her book!
ROCK AND ROLL WOODS
Author: Sherry Howard
Illustrator: Anika A. Wolf
Clear Fork Publishing
October 5, 2018
Fiction Picture Book
Kuda is a bit of a grumpy bear when loud noises invade his quiet woods. He finds the courage to join his friends, and discovers he loves music after all.
SUSANNA: Thank you so much for joining us today, Sherry! We are thrilled to have the opportunity to hear about your journey to publication! Where did the idea for this book come from?
SHERRY: This is one of my favorite things to talk about. I asked my then 8-year-old writing partner what she’d like to write about next. She suggested a bear named Kuda, the name of her bearded dragon. Kamora is very excited that she’s recognized for the idea in the back of the book. She often helps at book events.
The rough draft poured out from the initial idea, combining my love for rock and roll with my heart for special needs children. It was a family collaboration to determine what the loud noise would be. We needed something not obvious to a wooded setting.
Whenever I get an idea, I write it down immediately, even if it’s in the middle of the night or driving. (I dictate then.) I have more ideas than I’ll ever have a chance to write.
SUSANNA: How long did it take you to write this book?
SHERRY: The first draft poured out. The revisions didn’t change anything substantial except the title. For this manuscript, it was a pretty quick journey, a couple of months of tweaking. I wish I could say that for all of my writing. It’s important to know the manuscripts that show the most promise if you’re a prolific writer. I knew right away that this was a manuscript that “worked” and should find a home.
SUSANNA: Did you go through many revisions?
SHERRY: ROCK AND ROLL WOODS went through different critique groups several times. I’m in several critique groups, which I find helpful.
My personal bias is that fresh eyes are really important during revision, especially at the end when your regular partners might have seen a manuscript several times. I usually have “blind” eyes look at a manuscript through either a paid professional review or somewhere like Rate Your Story, which I’ve been a fan of for years! These are my last steps before submission.
SUSANNA: When did you know your manuscript was ready for submission?
SHERRY: That’s hard to quantify! I think when critique suggestions are minor, and when your gut says it’s ready, then you can try. That’s how I judged ROCK AND ROLL WOODS.
I’m not agented, so I don’t have the benefit of an agent’s eyes on my work, and my writer friends who do have agents like to be sure their work is really polished before they send it to an agent. But, that layer would be nice for feeling confident about submissions to publishers and editors.
SUSANNA: When and how did you submit?
SHERRY: I’m not agented. I submitted directly to Clear Fork. I sent Callie Metler-Smith, the lovely owner of CF, a query for another book. I’d met her on Facebook, and saw her interaction related to criticism of small publishers. She was gracious, and not defensive in that conversation. I really admired that. I made sure they were recognized as a PAL publisher through SCBWI. She didn’t accept the first manuscript I sent, but offered to look at other work, so I eventually sent this one. I’d only sent this to a handful of agents.
I go to SCBWI conferences and sometimes follow up on submission opportunities, but most often I don’t.
I enter contests sometimes, and have done well in some. The one time I won a query opportunity, it involved one of the agents who has experienced some problems, so that opportunity was lost.
I don’t have much of a submission plan. Unfortunately, I enjoy the writing more than I do querying and submitting. If I see an opportunity that fits something I have, I’ll submit. I queried some of the 12×12 opportunities. But, I actually query and submit seldom. 2019 will be my submissions year! It’s hard for me to take a break long enough from the writing to do it.
SUSANNA: When did you get “the call”?
SHERRY: Callie’s acceptance was by email, and at first I wasn’t sure she’d accepted it. Yes, when she said that I had a publisher, it was super exciting. She was one of the only places I’d submitted ROCK AND ROLL WOODS because it was recently finished. Callie asked for the ending to be tweaked. When I didn’t hear back from her for a month after I changed the ending, I assumed she didn’t want it, but I checked with her to be sure before I queried further. She did want it.
SUSANNA: How did you celebrate signing your contract?
SHERRY: I didn’t. I know that sounds terribly boring, but it’s true. I was happy, but no one in my immediate life understood what it meant, so it was just me. I might’ve eaten a Snickers!
SUSANNA: Was the contract what you expected in terms of advance, royalty percentage, publication timeline, author copies etc.?
SHERRY: I worked with an entertainment attorney who happened to be one of my critique partners. One member had very graciously told our group that she’d review our first contracts free. With small houses like Clear Fork, there’s not much wiggle room in contracts, and I understood that. Generally, with small publishers, the advances are small, but the royalties are there. When you consider that advances are just that, an advance on royalties, it may not make as much difference to you as you think. It was most important to me that Callie shared my vision: This is a picture book that I wrote thinking of children who struggle with “new” in the way children with autism usually do. I wrote it to have a broader appeal, but that was in my heart as a I wrote and revised.
SUSANNA: Please tell us about the editorial process…
SHERRY: I was privileged to have the AMAZING Mira Reisberg as both editor and art director. She was so kind, and thorough. She made videos to collaborate and made it all so simple. She and I chopped lots of words after illustrations were completed, and we could see the actual illustrations.
There was one major editorial session with Mira, and we were on the same track. The revisions were primarily losing words that weren’t necessary. The heart and vision for the story never changed. Along the way, we decided to add an author’s note and back matter about sensory integration, and that had to be written, and tweaked.
SUSANNA: Please tell us about your experience of the illustration process…
SHERRY: I saw only a few preliminary sketches at first. I’ll share one of the first illustrations, and when I saw it I fell in love!
When I saw the art in digital files, it was pretty much finished, but we did exchange over thirty emails for one facial expression. I think we drove Anika crazy with that one!
When I saw the cover, I was shocked. I’d imagined an ordinary scene in the woods. My limited imagination could never have seen anything as awesome as they produced! Kids are so drawn to the bright cover, both boys and girls!
Anika’s vision, with Mira, was better than mine could ever have been! The art added immensely to the story! I have nothing but LOVE for the art!
I only had two illustration notes.
The first was this one: (Illustration note: Please join our rock and roll celebration.)
which turned out like this:
The second was this one: (Illustration note: tiny print: boom, whappa, whappa)
which turned out like this:
SUSANNA: Did you get to see advance reviews from Kirkus, SLJ, etc?
SHERRY: Because Clear Fork is a small publisher, those reviews weren’t available to me. (I think Callie is working on changing that as she moves forward.) There weren’t advance copies to send out in time for reviews. It’s a print on demand company, so that limited certain things. I didn’t understand all of those limitations ahead of time, but that wouldn’t have changed my decision if I had. I look forward to a continued relationship with Callie and Clear Fork. Callie just announced the sequel for Rock and Roll Woods, which she contracted soon after this manuscript. (Insert from SLH: Ooh! Squeeeee! Congratulations, Sherry!!! 🙂 )
I did submit to Kirkus when I received the digital ARC. I happily paid the fee to have an independent review. ROCK AND ROLL WOODS earned a rare starred review through Kirkus. I literally had to sit down for that. And, while I didn’t celebrate when I was offered the contract, I shared the Kirkus news with anyone who would listen! (Another insert from SLH: Ooh! Squeeeeee again!!! That is fantastic, Sherry!)
SUSANNA: How long did it take from offer to having the first copy in your hand?
SHERRY: The timeline was less than two years, which is very rare! Contract was signed in April, 2017, and I held the book in my hands September, 2018.
SUSANNA: If your book has been out for at least one statement cycle, has it earned out yet?
SHERRY: The book just released, so I don’t really know how it’s doing yet.
SUSANNA: What kind of marketing and promotion has your publisher done for this book?
SHERRY: I think Callie has plans for a big push for ROCK AND ROLL WOODS this spring. Callie uses Facebook for promotion. She also owns a bookstore in Texas. She does market fairs in Texas as well, and I assume she takes her published books to those.
SUSANNA: Describe any marketing/promotion you did for this book.
SHERRY: I’m still working on marketing, but I’ve done a book trailer, bookmarks, a Kuda model crocheted to order, book signings at Barnes and Noble, blog visits, social media giveaways, created a teacher’s guide with coloring pages, participated in fairs, and tried to work with kidlit influencers. It’s an ongoing process since the book just released. I have an appearance coming up with Jedlie’s Reading with Your Kids, a video coming soon from a little reviewer in Canada, and the book will visit Story Time with Miss Becky. My granddaughter has a book review channel on YouTube, and she just posted her review.
I haven’t sent out press releases yet, but plan to. I have an article coming out soon in a local magazine that I pitched, and they loved.
The School of Rock is involving me in their local program in an ongoing basis, which is fun.
SUSANNA: How long was it between the time you started writing seriously and the time you sold your first picture book?
SHERRY: In short, a few years. But really longer.
I’ve written and taken classes for the last twenty years, but only zeroed in on kidlit six or seven years ago. Of course, with degrees in Education, I already had a strong background, but writing for publication is different.
At first I wrote novel length, and have several finished novels, which have been revised to death. One recently came very close to getting picked up by an agent, phone call and all. (My novels have won or placed with RATE YOUR STORY openers for the past several years.)
When I had eye surgeries, and some real struggles with my vision, I worked more on short stories, poetry, and picture books. The novel-length books were too hard with my vision for a while. The vision is still a struggle, but I’m back to doing all age levels again.
SUSANNA: Anything else you’d like to share about your book’s journey from inspiration to publication?
SHERRY: I was just reaching my career goals as a successful principal in a large middle school when I was assaulted and left with a spinal cord injury that crippled me. I was devastated at having to leave my work for children. Fast forward many difficult years, and I feel like I’m once again able to help and inspire children. I use a walker to make appearances. I use adaptive pens to write lying down, so I can write whenever I want to. I keep two iPads rotating to accommodate my vision problems. I’m not saying this for pity, but to tell writers: No barrier will keep you from writing if it’s in your heart to do it. Carry on!!
SUSANNA: Sherry, I’m so sorry to hear of what you went through – are still going through – but you are an inspiration to us all. I know your courage will help give all of us some as we go forth in our writing. Thank you for sharing.
SHERRY: Thank you for having me, Susanna! I love to meet other readers and writers, so please be in touch on social media here:
Sherry Howard lives with her children and silly dogs in Middletown, Kentucky, a stone’s throw from the beautiful horse farms Kentucky is always bragging about. During her career in education, she served as a middle school principal in one of the largest metro school districts in the US; she and cat-herders share many common skills. Sherry loves to read, write, cook, and sit in the sand watching the waves when she can. She credits her ability to write a complete sentence in English to her training in classical Latin. Now her picture books and chapter books are arriving through Clear Fork Publishing. She also writes for the educational market.
Sherry, thank you so much for taking the time to participate in this series and paying it forward to other writers! We are all very grateful for your time and expertise and wish you the very best success with your book!
Readers, if you have questions for Sherry, please post them in the comments below and if she has time I’m sure she’ll respond.
You may purchase Sherry’s book at:
(all links below are book-specific)
We can help our debut authors successfully launch their careers by:
– purchasing their books
– recommending their books to friends and family
– recommending their books to our children’s teachers and librarians
– recommending their books to our local libraries and bookstores
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Thank you all for stopping by to read today! Have a lovely, inspiration-filled Tuesday! Maybe today is the day you’ll write your debut picture book 🙂
Missed any previous Tuesday Debuts? Check them out!