So glad to see you all again!
I hope you all had wonderful summers, got the kiddos off to school, and are ready to return to writing, reading, teaching, and/or librarying refreshed and full of energy and enthusiasm!
Jumping back into blogging gear with a Tuesday Debut seems just right, because there is nothing like a brand new author sharing her brand new book to inspire us all!
I am thrilled to introduce today’s debut-ess, Shannon Stocker, and her entertaining picture book, CAN U SAVE THE DAY!
CAN U SAVE THE DAY
By Shannon Stocker
Illustrated by Tom Disbury
Sleeping Bear Press
Pub date: August 15, 2019
Age range: 4-8 (and up)
Distraught by bullying consonants, the vowels decide to leave the farm (and the story), one by one. Once A, E, I, and O are gone, a mess of concerned consonants and stammering animals must face a pending (but humorous) disaster that can only be saved by U.
SUSANNA: Welcome, Shannon! Thank you so much for joining us today. Where did the idea for this book come from?
SHANNON: CAN U SAVE THE DAY began as one of those “moments-before-you-fall-asleep” ideas. I couldn’t shake the thought that a book with departing vowels would be funny, and animal sounds without vowels kept playing in my drowsy mind. Eventually, when a stanza came to me in rhyme while I was still trying to sleep, I got out of bed and started writing. By the next afternoon I had a great idea and a horrible first draft. In that drafting process, though, I googled a number of farm animals to play with the sounds they make as vowels departed (first A, then E, etc), trying to see how I could create fun noises and unusual rhymes (like “brk” and “crk” instead of bark and croak, though that particular rhyme didn’t make it into the final story). I played with words and sounds a ton during the writing process.
SUSANNA: How long did it take you to write this book?
SHANNON: I wrote my first draft in late 2015 and it was purchased in spring 2017, so it took well over a year to polish this enough to be sold. Although I have an agent now (whom I adore), I sold CAN U SAVE THE DAY without an agent. I do think it can be harder to get an agent than a book contract. Subbing to houses that are open to unsolicited queries and meeting editors at conferences and online events is such a great way to get your work noticed.
SUSANNA: Did you go through many revisions?
SHANNON: Since this was only the second manuscript I’d ever written, I don’t think I really understood how bad it was. I had no inciting incident, no real reason for the vowels to leave, and no stakes. But since I didn’t know any better, I subbed it to some agents and editors, got a few nibbles with great feedback, and kept revising. I worked with critique partners and revised more, and more, and more. Eventually I paid for a critique with my fabulous editor, Sarah Rockett (Sleeping Bear), and she made a few additional suggestions that really resonated. Fifty plus revisions after that first draft, I’m so excited that it’s actually come to fruition.
SUSANNA: When did you know your manuscript was ready for submission?
SHANNON: This is such a great question. When I’d just started writing, my critique partners were also newbies. When they all felt the manuscript was ready, I began subbing to a few agents (though in hindsight, I think we all jumped the gun a bit). Many people had told me that agents rarely respond, so I took the responses that I did get seriously. I didn’t really get constructive feedback from any agents but I did get positive remarks on my voice and the idea behind the story, so I took an online class. In one of the sessions, I had the opportunity to read the manuscript aloud and everyone loved it. I knew I was onto something.
SUSANNA: When and how did you submit?
SHANNON: I submitted to my first agent in January 2016. I always submitted through guidelines as outlined on website/SCBWI/Children’s Bookwriters and Illustrators/#MSWL/etc. I did as much research as I could to see if an agent would be a good fit, looking at their client list, books they repped, and houses to which they subbed, before deciding if I should query someone. I joined Publisher’s Marketplace and kept up with the picture book section religiously, too. I would also scour the internet for interviews and follow people on Twitter to see if I thought we’d gel, or to try and find some little pertinent pearl that I could mention in a query to show them I’d done my homework. Spring 2016, I got a nibble from an editor at a different house from Sleeping Bear (I’d subbed through the slush pile). She and I made revisions, then she took it to the other editors for approval. That’s really the first time I started increasing the stakes, focusing on the bullying theme, and she even had me take the animals off the farm. I learned a lot from her and really appreciated her insight. Unfortunately, someone on the editorial team felt the idea was too abstract and it got cut. So, I continued attending conferences, getting feedback, and revising. In early 2017, I paid for an online critique with Sarah Rockett (Sleeping Bear). She suggested I clean up the logistics of the manuscript and remove the vowels from all the dialogue when they left. She also wanted the letters to stay on the farm, and she wanted more tension. Once the manuscript went to Acquisitions, I received an offer for representation from my first agent. Unfortunately, that relationship ended shortly after it began due to some honesty issues. It was a really heartbreaking and confusing time; I liked her, personally, but couldn’t trust her. I didn’t know if all agents would be like that (they’re not). So I ended up selling the book myself, hiring a contract attorney, and asking my published CPs for advice.
SUSANNA: When did you get “the call”? (Best moment ever! 😊)
SHANNON: I actually got an email instead of a call! Every time I saw Sarah’s name in my inbox, my stomach dropped. I’d always heard about getting “the call,” so I didn’t want to get an email from her; I thought an email would equal bad news. Sarah had written to me at the end of April, 2017, to tell me it was going to Acquisitions. At the end of May, she wrote to tell me CAN U had made the 2019 list. My husband and I share an office and our desks face one another, but computer monitors obscure our view of the other. My jaw dropped and my voice slid up the musical scale as I let out a sort of “Greeeeeeeeg” whoop, and I stood up so he could see me above my monitor. He said, “What? WHAT?” My whole body just vibrated, I was so excited. I screamed, “THEY WANT MY BOOK!” Then I called my CPs and we all squealed and danced together. That’s such an amazing moment!
SUSANNA: It sure is! It’s the moment we all dream about, and it’s just as exciting every time it happens – it never gets old! 🙂 How did you celebrate signing your contract?
SHANNON: I celebrated signing my book contract with a bottle of champagne and a family night. The whole family chattered about how fun the launch would be. We talked about party possibilities, maybe writing a song to go with the book (which I did), maybe doing a music video to go with the song (which we shot a week ago), and, of course, cake. You can’t have kids and a party without cake. It was hard for them to understand that all these things wouldn’t happen for two years, but somehow, they kept their excitement up that whole time. The launch was a blast!
SUSANNA: Was the contract what you expected in terms of advance, royalty percentage, publication timeline, author copies etc.?
SHANNON: I’d done a lot of research about first-time authors and publication, so I knew there wasn’t a lot of money to be expected. Royalty rates and number of author copies allowed were both reasonable from Sleeping Bear; I’d definitely recommend people submit to them. The quality of their books is fantastic, and Sarah’s been so communicative. I was surprised by a publication timeline that was over two years away, but I’ve since come to learn that’s pretty normal for many of the smaller to medium-sized houses. Patience is non-negotiable in this field!
SUSANNA: Tell us about the editorial process…
SHANNON: Honestly, this may have been my favorite part of the whole process, outside of that initial rush you get with the first draft. Sarah knew exactly what she wanted from me, but she was always respectful of my vision. When I wanted something she didn’t, she clearly (and kindly) explained why we needed to move in a different direction. I never felt like I was losing my voice, and I never worried that the meter of the story would be lost (it’s a rhyming manuscript). It was an open, honest collaboration that led to a story I loved even more. We had several back-and-forths before we got to the manuscript on shelves today.
SUSANNA: Tell us about your experience of the illustration process…
SHANNON: Sarah initially asked me to send her names of illustrators that I liked, which pleasantly surprised me. I’d been told to expect I would have no input regarding illustrations, so I tried hard not to really envision my characters. I didn’t want to be disappointed. Still, that’s almost impossible to do! So when Sarah told me that Tom Disbury would be illustrating, I looked him up and was thrilled. I envisioned playful letters and animals in the same style and colors that he used. I hadn’t envisioned them on a simple, white background, but that’s why I don’t illustrate – I don’t have an eye for that kind of thing! I just love what he did with the book. Sketches came to me each step of the way in digital form until I received the final pdf of the book. What a fabulous moment that is!
SUSANNA: Did you get to see advance reviews from Kirkus, SLJ, etc? What was that like?
SHANNON: I did, I did! We celebrated the Kirkus review because it was so positive, and I know Kirkus can be tough on authors. The last line of the review is, “Stocker’s wordplay is icing on the cake.” We printed it out and stuck it to a window right by our kitchen table. Because this industry is so tough, we celebrate each little step as a family. I think it’s important to get excited when something positive happens! SLJ’s review actually just came out last week (after the release), but it’s also very good. A snippet from that says the book is a “fun rhyming addition to elementary libraries and classrooms.” It also says CAN U “will guarantee laughs as a read-aloud and will teach a lesson in cooperation and respect and give some pointers on how to apologize.” I’m thrilled with the two reviews I’ve received so far!
SUSANNA: Very nice reviews!!! How long did it take from offer to having the first copy in your hand?
SHANNON: I received an offer on May 30, 2017, and the book released on August 15, 2019. But it’s sooooooo worth the wait.
SUSANNA: If your book has been out for at least one statement cycle, has it earned out yet?
SHANNON: Sorry, can’t help here – the book just released on August 15th. I’d love to know this answer for other authors, though. Great question!
SUSANNA: What kind of marketing and promotion has your publisher done for this book?
SHANNON: Being pretty new to the market, I’m still learning a lot about this. I’ve been in touch with Sleeping Bear’s publicist about a number of things, though, ranging from library readings to school visits to bookstore signings. I’ve been impressed with Sleeping Bear on so many levels. They really care about their authors and they want their books to succeed. They work directly with schools on book orders prior to signings, and they’ve submitted CAN U for a number of reviews that haven’t come in yet. The design team also helped with the bookmark, flyers, and activity sheets.
SUSANNA: Describe any marketing/promotion you did for this book.
SHANNON: I love Canva, so I’ve used that for flyers and Twitter banners and things like that – it’s very user-friendly. But probably my favorite thing that I, personally, have done for promotion is to write a song to accompany the book (co-written with my Nashville friend, Scott Sandford). I’m a musician (singer/songwriter/guitarist/pianist), so it’s fun to combine my passions this way. Last weekend, we filmed a music video to go with the song—my brother-in-law, Mark, is editing and producing it. I’ve seen a couple clips and cannot wait to see the finished product! I bought little animal ear headbands that kids can wear during readings, so they can each have their own animal sound (or one person can wear the headband and lead their own group). The video will be hysterical. Lots of kids, but a couple adults have cameos when you least expect it. I also asked an illustrator friend, Scott Soeder, to do face painting at my launch (my illustrator lives in England). Scott was a huge hit and the kids loved having the animals and letters painted on their faces! I’m also doing a blog tour and a few podcasts; you can find a listing of all those events on my website.
SUSANNA: Your video sounds terrific! I can’t wait to see it! 🙂 How long was it between the time you started writing seriously and the time you sold your first picture book?
SHANNON: Songwriting was my first love, but I always wanted to write picture books and novels. I finally gathered the courage to quit my job in the fall of 2015 and give my dream a chance. I sold my first picture book in May 2017. I feel pretty lucky—I know that’s not a long period of time in this industry.
SUSANNA: Anything else you’d like to share about your book’s journey from inspiration to publication?
SHANNON: For every success story there are hundreds of rejections, and that can be a tough place to live. Thick skin is mandatory. But, in my opinion, so are critique partners. I would not be the writer I am today—no, the personI am today—without my critique partners. When you get knocked down, critique partners do more than help you back up. They actually lie down and cry with you first, THEN they help you back up. They’ve been knocked down, too, so they understand. When things get tough, they remind you of all the wonderful reasons you love writing. They will point out the reasons a manuscript is working, but also why it’s not…gently, but firmly. They are my first litmus test, encouraging me when a manuscript is agent-ready…and helping me revise when it’s not. We’ve been through so much together already that I can call on any number of them if my world blew up, and they would be there for me. If you don’t have a critique group, I strongly encourage you to consider finding a partner or two. Check the SCBWI website, look for local people, go to conferences, join 12×12…do the work, but reach out to people, too. You shouldn’t necessarily initially expect to join a critique group with a bunch of agented, published authors, but rather look for other newer writers with whom you jibe…and look for writing that resonates with you. Then ask those people if they want to be your CP and form your own group. Or ask if they have a group you can join. Nothing is easy in this business. But it’s all so much more worthwhile when we band together.
SUSANNA: Thank you so much for taking the time to participate in this series and paying it forward to other writers, Shannon! We are all grateful to you for sharing your experience and expertise and wish you the very best of success with this and future books!
Readers, if you have questions for Shannon, please post them in the comments below and if she has time I’m sure she’ll respond!
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
– suggesting them as visiting authors at our children’s schools and our local libraries
– 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 🙂
Bonus late addition – Shannon’s super fun music video!
Missed any previous Tuesday Debuts? Check them out!