Welcome back to another exciting episode of Tuesday Debuts, Everyone!
We had a bit of a hiatus there where no one stepped up for the limelight!
But now we’re back and better than ever, starting strong in 2019 with none other than the fabulous Vivian Kirkfield!
I have known Vivian since she first dipped her toe into the world of writing picture books, and it has been such a pleasure to see her grow as a writer to the point where she has 3 picture books coming out this year! THREE!!! I feel like a proud mama bird watching her little chick take wing and fly 🙂
So, welcome, Vivian! THRILLED to have you here, sharing your very first published picture book on its very first day in the world!
VIVIAN: Thank you so much, Susanna, for featuring me on your blog today! And how auspicious – as today is Pippa’s birthday since February 5, 2019 is the official launch date of Pippa’s Passover Plate!
Pippa’s Passover Plate
by Vivian Kirkfield
illustrated by Jill Weber
published by Holiday House
February 5, 2019
Fiction, ages 3-7.
Quiver! Quaver! Shiver! Shake! Cats and snakes and owls make Pippa Mouse cringe and quake. But, when Pippa Mouse can’t find her special Seder plate, she ventures out, questions each one, discovers that friends come in all shapes and sizes, and uncovers the whereabouts of her dish before the sun sets and the Passover holiday starts. A Joyful Tale of Courage and Friendship.
SUSANNA: Where did the idea for this book come from?
VIVIAN: When I jumped into kidlitland in 2012, I began participating in challenges like Tara Lazar’s PiBoIdMo. (Picture Book Idea Month which is now called Storystorm and held in January and is a FABULOUS way to connect with the community, get inspired, and generate ideas for the coming year) In 2013, one of her guests was Kar Ben editor Joni Sussman who put out a plea for Jewish holiday picture books. I was thrilled that I’d be able to submit directly to an editor and so I sat down to write a story.
SUSANNA: How long did it take you to write this book?
VIVIAN: At that time in my writing career (I had been writing for a bit less than 2 years), I loved to write in rhyme (still do) and so this rhyming pb story about Pippa Mouse flowed from my pen. I usually start my stories in longhand in a composition notebook so I grabbed one and started writing. A picture of a little mouse came into my mind and I saw her hurrying and scurrying to get her house ready for the Passover holiday. But there had to be a problem, right? Our main characters need us to put obstacles in their way. For me, that is the hardest thing to do because in real life, I like to make things smooth for everyone. But I knew that wasn’t going to work for a picture book story. “Throw rocks at your hero,” they tell us. I decided to throw a couple of big rocks at Pippa Mouse…not only couldn’t she find her special Seder plate, but she would have to confront 3 of her natural enemies in order to find it. This story, unlike many others I have written, seemed to flow from my pen and I think I had a rough draft by the end of the day. But it was VERY rough!!!!
SUSANNA: Did you go through many revisions?
VIVIAN: Pippa’s Passover Plate went through many revisions. What I usually do is write the rough draft. Then I read it aloud and start revising, smoothing it out. This is especially difficult with a rhyming story because you need the rhythm (meter/beat) and rhyme to be PERFECT. But it also has to tell the story…and often, when you ‘make’ it rhyme, it is not what you really want to say or need to say to move the story forward – but you are using certain words because they rhyme. When I feel my story is where I want it…or as good as I can make it, I give it to a couple of my critique buddies. NOTE ABOUT CRITIQUE BUDDIES: DON’T LEAVE HOME WITHOUT THEM! Just kidding about leaving home, but I am serious about a writer’s need for trusted feedback AND the support and encouragement that critique partners give you. When I get their feedback, I revise again. And then read it aloud again. And sent it to other critique partners.
SUSANNA: When did you know your manuscript was ready for submission?
VIVIAN: As a general rule, if my critique buddies say it is ready and it sounds good to my ear and feels good in my heart, I know a manuscript is ready. It still might not be successful (AKA get a book contract)…but we can never make our manuscripts perfect – we have to send them out when they are ‘ready’ which could mean different things to different people. I often record my voice reading it because we hear our voice differently when we are talking from when we are listening to our voice on tape and I often find places that trip me up or that don’t sound quite right and I want to fix those before I submit.
SUSANNA: When and how did you submit?
VIVIAN: When I submitted Pippa’s Passover Plate to the Kar Ben editor, I did not have an agent. And I got a lovely personal rejection, but no encouragement to revise and resubmit. I put the story away and continued writing other stories. I got hooked on writing nonfiction picture book biographies and so the Pippa story sat in my drawer till three years later when, in 2017, a friend reminded me that PJ Library had a contest for Jewish picture book stories and I should submit it. I pulled the story out of the drawer and gave it to one of my new local author/illustrator critique buddies to look over. She read it and fell in love with it and asked if she could bring it to her long -time editor in NYC who she was going to have lunch with the next week. “Sure” I told her. “Why not?”
So, I gave it to Jill Weber on a Friday and she said she’d bring it with her when she went to the city.
SUSANNA: When did you get “the call”? (Best momen t ever! 🙂 )
VIVIAN: To tell you the truth, I had kind of forgotten about it and late Monday morning I got an email from the editor, telling me she had just read my lovely manuscript and she asked where she should send the contract, to me or to my agent. I WAS SHOCKED! And thrilled, of course. Immediately, I emailed my agent with this subject line:
WE DID IT AND WE WEREN’T EVEN TRYING!
There was only one change the editor asked for…the original title was Pippa’s Pesach Plate – Pesach is the Hebrew word for the holiday and it fit very well with the rhythm/beat of the story. But the editor felt that the English word for the holiday, Passover, would be more widely known/accepted because a story about facing fears and overcoming obstacles and making friends is a story for all children, not just those of the Jewish faith.
SUSANNA: How did you celebrate signing your contract?
VIVIAN: I did a happen dance! Then I emailed my son and daughter. And then I had an email exchange with Jill who was as thrilled as I was!
SUSANNA: Was the contract what you expected in terms of advance, royalty percentage, publication timeline, author copies etc.?
VIVIAN: The contract was a standard one and there were no surprises. I was happy with the terms. But having an agent is helpful because they look over the contract and make sure there aren’t any funny clauses. But even if you have an agent, I urge authors (and illustrators) to educate themselves by checking out the resources on the SCBWI website and other websites. Every publishing house is different, but the ball park figures for advances are approximately (please don’t hold me to this):
Small house: 0 to $3000
Medium house: $3000 to $5000
Large house: $5000 and up
Of course, these numbers are only approximate and from my own experience…many variables can change them (if you have other books with the house and they sold well, if you are a big-name celebrity, if this is your first book, etc.).
And the thing of it is, it really doesn’t matter what your advance is. (other than for your own personal vanity or some bill that needs to be paid) In the end, if your book does okay, you will make the same, whether you get a big advance, small advance, or no advance at all. And, if the publisher gives you a big advance and your book doesn’t do well, and it doesn’t earn out what they paid you, they may not be anxious to buy your next book. Whereas, if they give you a smaller advance, but the book does well, you will make the money in royalties (because you don’t get a PENNY until your book earns out…that means, until your book sells enough copies to pay back the publisher for your advance). And, if your book earns out, the publisher will be more willing to buy another book from you.
Here’s a link to an SCBWI FAQ on this: https://www.scbwi.org/online-resources/frequently-asked-questions/
And here’s a link to a wonderful survey author Hannah Holt conducted: https://hannahholt.com/blog/2017/9/25/writing-picture-books-a-look-at-the-number-part-2
SUSANNA: What can you tell us about the editorial process?
VIVIAN: The editorial process for Pippa’s Passover Plate was, as I mentioned, almost non-existent for me. The editor emailed and asked for a word doc of the manuscript. She asked if I minded changing the title. And that was that.
However, that is not how it usually goes. With four other book contracts under my belt (and one of them is a 9-story compilation book), I can attest to the fact that usually, there is a lot more revision that goes on. With Sweet Dreams, Sarah, that editor had several minor tweaks to suggest, plus she wanted an additional line in the ending. Then, when illustrations needed to be changed for historical accuracy, the editor and I decided there should be some minor text changes as well and I completely rewrote the author’s note.
With Four Otters Toboggan: An Animal Counting Book,the editor had almost no changes in the text of the story, but we had quite a few revisions for the back matter.
With Making Their Voices Heard: The Inspiring Friendship of Ella Fitzgerald and Marilyn Monroe (Little Bee Books, Spring 2020), the editor and I had an intense back and forth email communication for a week…every day, she would email the manuscript with a minor suggestion and I would fix it and send it back that evening. And the next morning, she’d send it again, with a new little tweak request. But, by the end of the week, we were done and they were ready to hire the illustrator. As I mentioned, every publishing house is different, every editor is different, every manuscript is different…it’s hard to say what the process will be like for a future story.
SUSANNA: Can you tell us about your experience of the illustration process?
VIVIAN: As I mentioned previously, because each manuscript, house, editor, illustrator is different, what happens with one story is probably never going to happen with another. With Pippa’s Passover Plate, everything was perfect! Because the illustrator was my friend and critique buddy as well as being a fabulous artist and a truly fine person, I never had one moment of unease. I knew that my story was in good hands and Jill shared with me freely the sketches, book dummy, and finished art. It was truly a joy to work with her and with Holiday House.
This is not how it always is…in fact, I can guarantee that this is not how it usually is. Many editors do not want the authors to be collaborating with the illustrators. They fear the author will try to overpower the illustrator with her own vision for the story. And perhaps badger the illustrator and keep the illustrator from moving forward. I’ve been pretty lucky…my experiences with all but one of my books have been incredible.
I do not use art notes, except in rare instances when the text doesn’t spell out the action. That said, I went back to my old manuscript and found that there was one illustration note in the Pippa story:
At the bottom – something round.
Can you guess what Pippa found?
Ball and coin and old tin can,
bottle cap and rusty pan,
globe to circumnavigate.
Best of all – the Pesach plate!
Fish swims up with mouse in tow. (illo: Mouse is brought to the surface on the back of the fish)
To the Seder all will go.
SUSANNA: Unfortunately we don’t have the illustration available to go with that note, but here are a couple others so you can see how wonderful the art is! 🙂
SUSANNA: Did you get to see advance reviews from Kirkus, SLJ, etc? What was that like?
VIVIAN: We are just getting reviews now. I think reviews are very important for the book…but I also think as writers, we need to observe them and accept them and not let the ones that aren’t positive get under our skin. One review is, after all, only one person’s opinion. 😊The only one I’ve seen for PIPPA, other than almost a dozen lovely ones on Goodreads, was from Kirkus…and it was both disappointing and hilarious and just about the same number of words as the story itself.
A mouse searches for and finally finds her missing Seder plate. Pippa is an industrious house-cleaning mouse. And no wonder—Passover is starting this very evening. Dusting and sweeping finished, she turns her attention to setting the table as a pot of chicken stew bubbles away on the stovetop. But there is one very important object that is missing: the “special Seder plate.” Frantically, the mouse searches through boxes and cupboards and finally ventures into the yard. First she encounters a very large cat and asks if it has seen the plate. “No,” answers the cat and points her to a snake, who sends her to an owl, who directs her to Golda Fish, prettily swimming in the water. Success! Kirkfield’s little tale is written in rhyming couplets with much repetition of “QUIVER! QUAVER! SHIVER! SHAKE!” for emphasis with each interaction with a predator, so readers will be mightily puzzled when the formerly frightful critters join Pippa at the holiday table. Weber’s gouache, crayon, and collage illustrations are sweetly pretty. The final illustration features a Seder plate with transliterated Hebrew and an English translation of the components. Readers familiar with the holiday may find this mildly enjoyable, but others will likely want and need more information. In the end too much is left unanswered, making this book pleasant but only passable. (Picture book. 3-5)
Personally, as a former kindergarten and Head Start teacher, I doubt very much that children ages 3 to 5 will find it ‘mightily puzzling’ that a bunch of animals end up being friends. And if I were Jill, I’d be ‘mightily insulted’ that my beautiful art was considered ‘sweetly pretty’…and honestly, I have never seen a fish ‘prettily swimming.” I’m glad the reviewer felt that readers would find it ‘mildly enjoyable’…and in my opinion, the book is more than ‘passable’. And I don’t think there was ‘much repetition’ of the refrain – there were three instances, which, for a picture book, is just about perfect. But this is how this particular reviewer felt and she is entitled to her opinion. Hopefully, the parents who read this story and the children who listen to it will think otherwise.
SUSANNA: How long did it take from offer to having the first copy in your hand?
VIVIAN: From offer to first copy in hand? Oh, my goodness. This is a wake-up call to many of us. In fact, I just got an email from someone who wanted to hire me for a critique quickly because she wants to have her book published right away so that she can supplement her retirement income this year. Hmmm. That is not how it this publishing business works.
The offer was made at the end of 2017. Jill did an unbelievable job getting illustrations done so a book dummy could be produced for the editor to take to the 2018 Bologna Book Fair which was only 3 months away. And the book was scheduled to launch February 5, 2019 and I got my first author copy by the end of the summer of 2018. But I have yet to get the additional author copies that were part of the contract, although I am sure they will arrive in due course. With traditional publishing, I’d say the fastest turnaround might be 18 months, although with PIPPA, it will be 16 months. But it could be many YEARS, as with Sweet Dreams, Sarah, which was signed at the end of 2015 and is launching May 1, 2019. As I said before, different editors, different publishing houses, different illustrators, different manuscripts. Everything has a bearing on the time it takes to bring a book to life.
SUSANNA: What kind of marketing and promotion has your publisher done for this book?
VIVIAN: Holiday House connected with PJ Library, a big organization that provides books for Jewish families. They approved Pippa’s Passover Platewhich means they order a whole bunch (don’t know how many) and they create back matter and their own jacket flap information for their audience. We have a publicist who says she will help set up book events – but I haven’t heard anything about that yet. They are supposed to have sent the book to hundreds of reviewers, including the ones I recommended, as well as newspapers and other news media outlets. They have a presence at many conferences around the world and across this country, as well as catalogs that are hopefully featuring the book.
SUSANNA: Describe any marketing/promotion you did for this book.
VIVIAN: Fortunately, I’m pretty active on my blog and on social media like Facebook and Twitter. I’ve contacted many book reviewers and bloggers and have arranged for guest posts and Q&A’s (like this one – thank you so much, Susanna!) – a kind of 5-month book blog tour because it is for all three books and it started in January. I’m also a member of two debut picture book groups for authors and illustrators and we support each other by reviewing on Goodreads and Amazon. I reached out to several conferences and will be on the program for some of them. My round the world trip starting in February is one way I will spread the word about three of my 2019 books. I plan to take a copy of each and will photograph them at various landmarks and post to social media in a ‘Where in the World is Carmen Santiago’ fashion. Jill plans to create a Pippa stuffed animal which will be featured in each photo also. She’s working on bookmarks and I’m going to ask her about coloring pages for my blog for parents to print out for their kids. When I get back from the Bologna Book Fair, Jill and I will do some joint events at a local bookstore and also at a local temple.
SUSANNA: How long was it between the time you started writing seriously and the time you sold your first picture book?
VIVIAN: I jumped into writing picture books in a serious way in 2012 when I joined Julie Hedlund’s first 12×12 Writing Challenge. I’d already been blogging for a year and was reviewing picture books every Friday, linking up to you, Susanna. In fact, your Perfect Picture Book Friday posts were where I meet writers who dreamed of becoming published authors and I realized that was my dream as well. My first picture book, Sweet Dreams, Sarah (first book signed will not be the first book out), was signed at the end of 2015…four years from when I started writing seriously.
SUSANNA: Anything else you’d like to share about your book’s journey from inspiration to publication?
VIVIAN: As I mentioned, it took four years from when I decided to become a picture book author. This picture book writing journey is a process…it’s like making a pizza…in fact, that’s my presentation for the Sydney SCBWI conference in a few weeks. There are certain ingredients and you have to follow the steps.
And if you don’t give up, it will definitely happen.
SUSANNA: Thank you so much for taking the time to participate in this series and paying it forward to other writers, Vivian! We are all grateful to you for sharing your experience and wish you great success with your book!
VIVIAN: Thank you so much for having me, Susanna. And for providing such a vibrant platform for aspiring and seasoned authors and illustrators.
Writer for children—reader forever…that’s Vivian Kirkfield in five words. Her bucket list contains many more than five words – but she’s already checked off skydiving, parasailing and banana-boat riding. When she isn’t looking for ways to fall from the sky or sink under the water, she can be found writing picture books in the quaint village of Amherst, NH where the old stone library is her favorite hangout and her young grandson is her favorite board game partner. A retired kindergarten teacher with a masters in Early Childhood Education, Vivian inspires budding writers during classroom visits and shares insights with aspiring authors at national writers’ conferences. She is the author of Pippa’s Passover Plate (Holiday House); Four Otters Toboggan: An Animal Counting Book (Pomegranate); Sweet Dreams, Sarah (Creston Books); Making Their Voices Heard: The Inspiring Friendship of Ella Fitzgerald and Marilyn Monroe (Little Bee Books); and From Here to There: Inventions That Changed the Way the World Moves (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt). You can connect with her on her website, Facebook, Twitter,Pinterest,Instagram,Linkedin, or just about any place people with picture books are found
Readers, if you have questions for Vivian, please post them in the comments below and if she has time I’m sure she’ll respond. (Although I think she might be traveling around the world at the moment, so you might have to be a little patient 🙂 )
You may purchase VIvian’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!