Welcome to another scintillating episode of Tuesday Debuts, everyone!
More by luck than design, we’ve had a nice mix of fiction and nonfiction so far – wonderful so we can learn about the approach to publication of different types of picture books. Today’s book is informational fiction – something a little different still – so I’m sure you’re as eager as I am to jump right in and see what today’s Debutess has to share! Let’s have a look at her beautiful book!
100 Bugs! A Counting Book
Author: Kate Narita
Illustrator: Suzanne Kaufman
Farrar Straus Giroux, a Macmillan Imprint
June 12, 2018
“Little explorers will learn 10 different ways to count to 10, using 10 different kinds of bugs—and will get all the way to 100 by the end of their adventure. With Suzanne Kaufman’s bright, whimsical illustrations and Kate Narita’s clever rhyming text, 100 Bugs! is part look-and-find, part learning experience, and all kinds of fun!”
SUSANNA: Hi Kate! Thank you so much for joining us today! Where did the idea for this book come from?
KATE: The secretary at the school I work at has a sign behind her desk. It reads, “You can learn something new every day if you listen.” That’s what happened. I was on the interview committee for a math specialist when my colleague said, “If students don’t understand the combinations of ten, they won’t be successful in math.” As the day passed, I became more and more excited because I couldn’t think of one book about the combinations of ten. That night at my writing group, I tried to give the idea to another author who was revising a book about math. She said, “I don’t want to write that book. You write it.” So, I did. As I drove home, the first line of the text came to me like magic, “Dragonflies, dragonflies, zipping all about.” The rest of the words continued to flow and as soon as I was home, I wrote it all down. If you’re interested in reading about more experiences like this, check out Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert.
SUSANNA: How long did it take you to write this book?
KATE: As I mentioned above, this book came to me very quickly. But, I’d been writing for twelve years before I had my first sale. When I woke up the next morning after the idea came, a few more verses streamed into my consciousness and I wrote them down. Two weeks later I took the first draft to my writing group and they all said, “This is the one.” They were right. The original draft featured five different dragonfly species and five different damselfly species. They convinced me I needed to add more bugs. So, I revised the manuscript to include two dragonflies, two damselflies, two butterflies, two bumblebees, one ladybug and one firefly species. There were no other revisions until the publisher bought the manuscript. The words were a gift from the universe.
SUSANNA: Did you go through many revisions?
KATE: In addition to what I mentioned above, when my writing group saw the first draft, they pointed out that one of the verses contained a forced rhyme: farrow and cosmos. That’s because I love cosmos. But, I had to give them up and go with yarrow instead. It sounds so much better! Unfortunately, nothing rhymes with cosmos except for gizmos and that word didn’t fit the tone of the book. Other than that, there were no revisions until the sale.
The ill-fated Cosmos The Yarrow that made the cut!
SUSANNA: When did you know your manuscript was ready for submission?
KATE: This was a very unusual circumstance because I knew the manuscript was ready from the get go. I took the revised manuscript back to my critique group, and they agreed it was ready to go. This particular critique group meets twice a month. So from inception to submission was only a month—much shorter than anything else I’ve written.
SUSANNA: When and how did you submit?
KATE: The manuscript came to me in late spring of 2015. First, I sent it to an editor who had mentored me during my MFA program. She rejected it because she already had an insect book on her list. Then, I attended Rutgers One-On-One Plus Conferencehttp://ruccl.org/
If you haven’t attended this conference, you’re missing out. It was my fifth time attending. So, I knew what to expect. I had researched all eight editors and agents who would be attending. Since I’d been writing for twelve years, I had several manuscripts that were ready to submit.
At Rutgers, you get a forty-five minute one-on-one critique with your mentor and later in the day you get a forty-five minute group session with your mentor and four other mentor/mentee pairs. I knew the manuscript I had brought wasn’t a match for my mentor, but she still gave me lots of helpful feedback. Then, during the five-on-five session, Susan Dobinick, an editor at FSG at the time, said she loved publishing books by teachers and librarians. This surprised me because I hadn’t read that about her or FSG anywhere. As soon as I returned home, I emailed her 100 Bugs!
I also emailed my agent, Stacey Glick https://www.dystel.com/meet-our-agents/
Stacey’s one of the conference organizers and had presented at a panel. She had recently sold a counting book, Tap the Magic Tree by Christie Matheson. So, I thought maybe she’d be interested in my manuscript. She was.
The conference occurred on October 17th. The call from the editor came on November tenth, and the call from the agent occurred later the same week.
SUSANNA: When did you get “the call”?
KATE: When I opened the email from Susan Dobinick, I thought for sure it would be another rejection. After all, I’d received hundreds over the years. Why would this one be different? But it was. When we spoke on the tenth, she said they loved the manuscript. It was shocking. I didn’t say much. I listened. At the end of the conversations she said that they knew I was a full-time teacher and they knew I had a family, but that in addition to the text they had, they wanted ten different insects, not the six I had. Also, they wanted scientific back matter on the ten different insects and plants within a month’s time. Every day for a month I researched two-to-three before school and two-to-three hours after school. It was intense, but I’d do it all over again in a second.
SUSANNA: How did you celebrate signing your contract?
KATE: It took a while to sign the contract. I submitted the scientific back matter in December and the contract came in April. Why the delay? The editorial team had to figure out which illustrator they would pitch the manuscript with to make the manuscript appealing to acquisitions. When I signed the contract, we went out for an expensive family dinner and bought a television that we could all watch together. That sounds funny coming from an author, but our boys were young teens at the time and we were looking for more ways to spend time together as a family.
SUSANNA: Was the contract what you expected in terms of advance, royalty percentage, publication timeline, author copies etc.?
KATE: Yes, it was. On average, large publication companies offer between $5,000-$10,000 to a writer for the first sale. One of the benefits of having an agent, is that they can advocate for small increases in all of the above. There are 10,000 copies in the first print run, and the book has to sell over 20,000 copies before my royalty percentage increases. Bottom line is, you become a children’s writer because you’re passionate about children and writing, not because you’re looking to make a quick buck or become rich.
SUSANNA: Please tell us about the editorial process…
KATE: A different editor, Janine O’Malley, edited the story. She had an amazing, incredible vision for the story. She knew right away that Suzanne Kaufman would be the perfect illustrator for the book. After she viewed one of Suzanne’s earlier dummies, Janine also knew the book had to start with the kids waking up. So, I had to write a new opening and closing spread that showed the kids in bed. I asked Melissa Stewart, April Jones Prince and Joannie Duris, critique group members, to help me out. They had lots of insightful suggestions but in the end the words for the first and last spread came to me in stream of conscious, just like the rest of the book. This time it happened as I was waking up in bed and the sun streamed through the window.
SUSANNA: What can you tell us about your experience of the illustration process?
KATE: The illustration process was phenomenal. Usually authors and illustrators don’t collaborate, but Suzanne reached out to me because she had a few questions. Here are two examples of changes that wouldn’t have happened had Suzanne and I not been in contact. The bugbane that’s featured in the book isn’t the original bugbane I wrote about; however, Suzanne wanted to use this particular bugbane because of the shape and color of the leaf. It was easy for me to reflect the species change in the back matter. Suzanne also made a change to her art. When damselflies land, their wings fold over their body instead of stretching flat out like a dragonfly’s wings. But the damselfly spread featured ten flying damselflies. So, Suzanne revised and drew one perched on the wishing well.
SUSANNA: Did you get to see advance reviews from Kirkus, SLJ, etc?
KATE: The advance review from Kirkus was a dream come true. Here’s a snippet: “Packed with great extension possibilities, visually engaging illustrations, and quick rhymes, this read-aloud would be a great addition to any STEM shelf. (Picture book. 3-6)”
SUSANNA: How long did it take from offer to having the first copy in your hand?
KATE: Two years.
SUSANNA: If your book has been out for at least one statement cycle, has it earned out yet?
KATE: It hasn’t been out that long—fingers crossed!
SUSANNA: What kind of marketing and promotion has your publisher done for this book?
KATE: The publisher sent the book to review journals and various bloggers. The publicist also helped me set up some book events during my family vacations.
SUSANNA: Describe any marketing/promotion you did for this book.
KATE: I’ve done quite a bit of marketing/promotion for the book. It’s a good thing I didn’t realize how much time, energy and work would go into promotion before I had my first sale—I might have had second thoughts about publication and then I would have missed out!
My book trailer features my class and our book buddies. I collaborated with high school students in the district where I work to film, create and edit the trailer. My older son and his friend composed and played the trailer’s background music.
In addition to making a book trailer, I featured 100 book trailers on my blog for the first 100 days of 2018. I released my trailer on the 100thday of last year, April 10th. You can check it out here: http://www.katenarita.com/blog/archives/04-2018
Educators can find ready-to-print, Common Core correlated activities here: http://www.katenarita.com/for-educators.html I created each of the activities and my colleague, Lisandra Flynn, designed them. Suzanne Kaufman generously gave us permission to use her artwork so that students could enjoy her whimsical work while engaging with the activities.
Suzanne was kind enough to make postcards to help promote the book.
As I mentioned above, I did several bookstore and library events around home and during our family trips. This was a wonderful opportunity to meet talented and energetic librarians and booksellers at amazing independent bookstores such as The Reading Bug, Anderson’s Bookshop, The Book Stall, The Silver Unicorn, Concord Bookshop, Brookline Booksmith and Enchanted Passage.
Finally, I’ve been working on expanding my Professional Learning Network. Last week, I spoke at The Global Education Symposium—my agent arranged that. In April of 2019, I’ll be speaking at the 2019 MRA Conference.
SUSANNA: Wow! You have been busy! Lots of creative ideas for the rest of us to learn from!
SUSANNA: How long was it between the time you started writing seriously and the time you sold your first picture book?
KATE: Twelve years.The average amount of time is ten years.
SUSANNA: Anything else you’d like to share about your book’s journey from inspiration to publication?
KATE: Thanks so much for the opportunity to share the story of 100 Bugs! Here’s the best advice I ever got from the sage April Jones Prince: “Whatever you do, never give up.”
Thank you so much for taking the time to participate in this series and paying it forward to other writers, Kate! We are all grateful to you for sharing your experience and wish you great success with your book!
Readers, if you have questions for Kate, please post them in the comments below and if she has time I’m sure she’ll respond.
You may purchase Kate’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
– sharing their books on social media
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!