What with the Valentiny Contest and such, we haven’t had a Tuesday Debut for a couple weeks, but I’m thrilled to be back today featuring the birthday of a wonderful book I’ve watched come along pretty much from its inception. And I can’t wait for you to meet our Tuesday Debut-ess, the lovely and talented Kirsten Larson (who once upon a time participated in Phyllis’s World Tour back in March of 2012 by taking Phyllis to the Mojave Desert to ride on an F-117 Night Hawk! 🙂 )
First, have a look at this terrific book!
WOOD, WIRE, WINGS: Emma Lilian Todd Invents an Airplane
by Kirsten W. Larson
illustrated by Tracy Subisak
Calkins Creek, Feb. 25, 2020
nonfiction for ages 7 to 10.
Even as a girl, Emma Lilian Todd saw problems like gusts of wind – they set her mind soaring. When Lilian saw the earliest airplane designs, she knew she could build something better, trying and failing repeatedly until her biggest dream took flight.
SUSANNA: And now, please help me welcome Kirsten Larson! We are so excited to have you join us today, Kirsten! Where did the idea for this book come from?
KIRSTEN: In 2014, I was exploring an idea I’d jotted down in my writer’s notebook: Rosie the Riveter. I had a stack of books from the library including Andrea Beatty’s Rosie Revere, Engineer, illustrated by David Roberts, which included Lilian Todd in a list of female aviation firsts. I have no idea what made me pick up a fictional picture book (in rhyme) only tangentially related to my original topic, but I’m so glad I did. Reading books of all kinds has always given me ideas and improved my craft.
SUSANNA: How long did it take you to write this book?
KIRSTEN: Well, as you know, I wrote the first draft of this book in your March 2014 Making Picture Book Magic class, and you were one of my first readers! I had started my research that February and worked on this book until August 2014 when I started a new project.
SUSANNA: Did you go through many revisions?
KIRSTEN: A million! Even after those first six months of concerted effort, I revised the book periodically in response to conference critiques or a brainstorm I had for a new way of approaching things. I even wrote it as a middle grade historical fiction (only a chapter). Because I started my career writing school and library books to spec on tight deadlines, I don’t become too attached to my words. And in Making Picture Book Magic you encouraged a flexible approach, making us write multiple first lines and endings, for example. Honestly, revising and tinkering with structure and approach is my favorite part of writing and revision.
SUSANNA: When did you know your manuscript was ready for submission?
KIRSTEN: Do we ever REALLY know? I think our instincts get better as we go along, but all of us submit work before it’s ready. This book was no different. I sent it to agents when I probably shouldn’t have (including the half-written middle grade opening. Yikes!). But once I’d made it the best I could with the help of many critique partners and professional critiques, and wasn’t making meaningful changes, I felt it could go out to agents. Now that I have an agent, I’m happy to have another sounding board for when work is ready.
SUSANNA: When and how did you submit?
KIRSTEN: Early on I decided writing for children was going to be my career, and I wanted an agent. I only sent this book to one publisher via an SCBWI conference submission. In my opinion, it’s important to pick a path: either submit directly to publishers or to agents, not both. One or two submissions to publishers while querying agents may be fine, but if you query too many, you’ve limited an agent’s options. And they won’t take you on as a client.
SUSANNA: When did you get “the call”? (Best moment ever! 🙂 )
KIRSTEN: When my agent took WOOD, WIRE, WINGS out on submission, it racked up the rejections over a period of seven months. I’ll be forever grateful to Carolyn Yoder who saw the potential in Lilian’s story, was willing to work with a developing writer, and asked for a revise and resubmit. I finally had an offer about nine months after we first sent the story out. I truly believe it’s about finding the publishing partner who’s the right fit for a particular book. And Calkins Creek was so worth the wait.
SUSANNA: How did you celebrate signing your contract?
KIRSTEN: For me, I’ve always found the most magical moment to be when you get an offer (from an agent or a publisher) since contract negotiations can take awhile. Still, when my contract finally arrived, I made my kids pose for a signing photo with me even though they had no idea what was going on. And my husband bought me some really cool paper airplane earrings.
SUSANNA: Was the contract what you expected in terms of advance, royalty percentage, publication timeline, author copies etc.?
KIRSTEN: If it hasn’t been mentioned already, I would refer folks to author Hannah Holt’s survey of picture book advances. (link: https://hannahholt.com/blog/2017/9/25/writing-picture-books-a-look-at-the-number-part-2) I will say my offer was in line with what one would expect from a small-to-mid-sized publisher, and I am thankful to have an agent negotiating my advance, royalty rates, and other elements of my contract. But compensation is really only one consideration when evaluating an offer. It’s important to know about a publisher’s reach (distribution and marketing), the editor’s vision for the book, and in my case, the fact-checking process. The best offer isn’t always the highest offer. You have to look at the whole package.
SUSANNA: What can you tell us about the editorial process?
KIRSTEN: My editorial process began before I even sold the book, since my wonderful editor, Carolyn Yoder, bought the book on a revise and resubmit request. The R&R focused on adding historical context. After I sold the book, I revised again, focusing on adding interiority and emotional truth the story. Finally, in an unusual twist, we did another revision after we saw illustrator Tracy Subisak’s dummy. There was so much of the story Tracy was able to tell visually, allowing me to cut portions of the text. Going through these revisions changed my writing process going forward. I have learned to consider what part of the story illustrations can carry, and what I absolutely HAVE to say with words.
SUSANNA: What was your experience of the illustration process like?
KIRSTEN: One thing that surprised me for this particular book was the amount of input I had into the illustration process. I was offered input into who might illustrate and was thrilled when Tracy Subisak came on board. Very early in the process, I was asked to provide art references. These were visual descriptions from my written sources, as well as copies of historic photographs Tracy could use. I had input into the art at every stage, and in some cases, editor Carolyn Yoder and I made suggestions for better historical accuracy. For example, we asked Tracy to revise the shape of the room at the Patent Office to make it more historically accurate. I have such utter respect for illustrators of nonfiction, who must marry such attention to detail with their artistic vision.
SUSANNA: Did you get to see advance reviews from Kirkus, SLJ, etc? What was that like?
KIRSTEN: Waiting for reviews was one of the most nerve-racking parts of the process. Because I wrote this book so many years ago, I feel my writing has changed significantly, and I was nervous about how this earlier work would be received. I was so thrilled when the book got a positive review from Kirkus. I felt like the reviewer really “got” the book, including the deeper messages about failure being a natural part of invention and engineering, and perseverance being an essential trait for any creator. Link to full review: https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/kirsten-w-larson/wood-wire-wings/
SUSANNA: How long did it take from offer to having the first copy in your hand?
KIRSTEN: I got my formal offer Feb. 10, 2017 and received my advance copy just before Christmas 2019 all wrapped up with a shiny red ribbon from my publisher. So that’s just shy of three years.
SUSANNA: What kind of marketing and promotion has your publisher done for this book?
KIRSTEN: One of the most fascinating parts of my publishing journey has been learning what a good publisher can do in terms of marketing. While it’s very early in my publishing process, my publisher has sent F&Gs (folded and gathered copies of the book) out to professional reviewers like Kirkus and book influencers, like Alyson Beecher at KidLit Frenzy. As soon as professional reviews were published, the publisher was able to feed review snippets to Amazon, B&N, and Edelweiss, which is used by book buyers. I know Calkins Creek has wonderful distribution through Penguin Random House with a team of sales reps who are knowledgeable about my book and are able to sell the book into bookstores and museum gift shops. And Calkins Creek has a presence at many conferences, where I’m sure my book will make an appearance.
SUSANNA: Describe any marketing/promotion you did for this book.
KIRSTEN: I think one of the most powerful things I did (along with 37 of my best book peeps) is create a book-marketing group, the Soaring 20s. I’ve also recently joined @STEAMTeam2020, which is cross promoting STEM/STEAM-focused books for all ages. Sometimes it feels weird to scream and shout about your own book, so working as part of a team to cheer each other on is much more comfortable for me. Aside from boosting each other on social media and creating original blog and social media content to reach potential book readers, my groups are focused on early reviews, reaching out to book influencers, and library purchases.
I think another positive marketing approach for this book was to reach out to like-minded groups who are natural audiences for a book about a female aviation pioneer. I’ve booked some speaking opportunities and pitched articles for their publications. For me, those groups included the Experimental Aircraft Association and Women in Aviation International.
SUSANNA: How long was it between the time you started writing seriously and the time you sold your first picture book?
KIRSTEN: I wrote the first terrible draft of a magazine article for kids in October 2011, and started writing picture books in 2012 through Julie Hedlund’s 12×12 challenge. So, it will be more than eight years of honing my craft, finding an agent, learning book marketing, etc.
SUSANNA: Anything else you’d like to share about your book’s journey from inspiration to publication?
KIRSTEN: I’ve always thought writing is a lot like inventing/engineering. It’s a flash of inspiration followed by years of perspiration and perseverance as you tinker with and tweak your initial idea until it can soar.
My website: kirsten-w-larson.com
SUSANNA: Thank you so much for taking the time to participate in this series, Kirsten, and for paying it forward to other writers! Your knowledge and expertise are so helpful to all of us, and we wish you all the very best of success with this and future books!
Readers, if you have questions for Kirsten, please post them in the comments below and if she has time I’m sure she’ll respond!
You may purchase Kirsten’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
– 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 🙂
Missed any previous Tuesday Debuts? Check them out!
Karen Kiefer – Drawing God (religious market)
Theresa Kiser – A Little Catholic’s Book Of Liturgical Colors (religious market)
Lindsey Hobson – Blossom’s Wish (self pub)