Hi there, everyone! It’s time for another exciting episode of Tuesday Debut!
As writers, I think we’ve all had the experience of getting a fantastic idea, writing the story . . .and then finding out that someone else has beaten us to it! Great minds think alike, right?
But great minds may also begin at the same starting point and go in divergent directions.
I have a manuscript I love in my haven’t-got-it-quite-right-to-submit-yet file (and I’m not even going to tell you how many years it’s been sitting there waiting for the spark that will make it work 🙂 ) that has the same title as today’s debut, but is a completely different story! Funny how that works!
It just goes to show how we all bring our own unique twist to ideas.
Today, I’m happy to introduce you to debut author Valerie Bolling and her unique and delightful twist on Let’s Dance!
Title: Let’s Dance!
Author: Valerie Bolling
Illustrator: Maine Diaz
Age Range: 3 – 7 years
Publisher: Boyds Mills & Kane
Release Date: March 3, 2020
Let’s Dance! celebrates dances from around the world and the diverse children who enjoy them.
SUSANNA: Welcome, Valerie! Thank you so much for coming to chat with us today! Where did the idea for this book come from?
VALERIE: I have noticed that whenever music is played, most children start to dance. Babies who can barely walk will sway and /or raise their hands. Whenever music is played, my nieces dance. When they were two and four, they even danced while brushing their teeth. Now at ages five and seven, they still love to dance! They definitely inspired this book.
I thought it would be fun to write the book in rhyme to mimic the rhythms of music and dance movements.
SUSANNA: How long did it take you to write this book?
VALERIE: I wrote the first draft in May 2017 and continued to revise the book throughout the year.
An earlier draft was entitled I Love to Dance, as this line was repeated between stanzas. Marianne McShane, a friend who is a writer, storyteller, and retired librarian, suggested I read Summer Wonders by Bob Raczka as a mentor text and that I start the story with a line that appeared later in the text: “Tappity-tap/Fingers snap.” Her recommendations helped significantly in revising the book.
SUSANNA: When did you know your manuscript was ready for submission?
VALERIE: I felt it was ready when my scansion was tight. Scansion must be perfect for rhyming picture books.
SUSANNA: When and how did you submit?
VALERIE: I sent my first query on Jan. 1, 2018 – what a way to start the year, huh?! I sent two more queries on Feb. 25, 2018, and an agent was interested in the story! She requested I send her two more manuscripts, but when I did, she wasn’t as interested in those stories, saying, “I foresee a harder sell for the other projects.” Thus, she decided to pass. I continued to submit queries and also participated in two Twitter pitches in June. I received a “like” in #PitMad that was turned down when I sent the manuscript, and I received another “like” later in the month during #PBPitch. When I sent the manuscript to Jes Negrón at Boyds Mills & Kane on June 18, 2018, she emailed me two weeks later on July 2, requesting to have a conversation. During that phone call, I learned that Jes was interested in acquiring the story!
I do not have an agent. I started with query letters. I had already been querying other stories since June 2017, so I was not new to querying when I started with Let’s Dance! I submitted to agents, editors, and publishing houses that accepted unsolicited manuscripts. I entered Twitter pitches but didn’t submit this story to contests, though, more recently, I have submitted other stories to contests.
SUSANNA: When did you get “the call”? (Best moment ever! 🙂 )
VALERIE: My editor is connected directly with a publisher, so there was no “shopping around.” The original publisher was StarBerry, an imprint of Kane Press. In May 2019 I received an email from the publisher that Kane Press had merged with Boyds Mills. My book would now be published by Boyds Mills & Kane.
SUSANNA: How did you celebrate signing your contract?
VALERIE: I didn’t celebrate, per se. I did share the news with family and friends who were all excited for me. My gratitude and their congratulations were celebration enough.
SUSANNA: Was the contract what you expected in terms of advance, royalty percentage, publication timeline, author copies etc.?
VALERIE: I honestly didn’t know what to expect in a contract. When I received the deal memo, the precursor to the contract, I reached out to author friends who I believed could offer some advice. One friend, Ramin Ganeshram, suggested I join the Authors Guild because that organization has lawyers who would read my contract and offer advice. I also reached out to SCBWI, and Stephen Mooser read through my contract. I was told by him and by the Authors Guild that my contract was fair for a debut author. I did negotiate a couple of things, like my percentage (after selling 20,000 books, my royalty percentages will increase by 1%), and I was able to get 25 author copies instead of 10. There may have been a couple of other changes, but I don’t recall now.
SUSANNA: How did you find the editorial process?
VALERIE: My editorial process was atypical. It’s remarkable that my editor, Jes, changed not ONE word of my manuscript. I did have to delete two stanzas to fit within the 32-page format though.
Jes had a vision for my story that I did not originally have, but I was thrilled with her ideas! She asked me to write illustrator notes next to each stanza to signify what type of dance my words described. I hadn’t connected all of my words to particular dances, so this was an interesting exercise. I shared with Jes that “I want a lot of brown kids in this book!” Jes assured me there would be. I also said I wanted children of differing abilities and from diverse backgrounds. I said I wanted the ballet spread to have a boy in a tutu, and Jes agreed. (In the end, I got something even better, a child in a blue tutu whose gender is indiscernible.) In October 2018, Jes shared that she thought we were missing out on an opportunity to make the story more global. She recognized that some of my words could describe cultural dances. For instance, where I saw “Tappity-tap/Fingers snap” as tap dance, Jes imagined flamenco from Spain. I envisioned the electric slide for “Glide and slide/Side to side,” but Jes suggested long sleeve dancing from China. I am thrilled to have this added layer of cultural representation in my book!
Jes later requested that I write two descriptive sentences about each dance to be included in the book as back matter. This wasn’t an enjoyable exercise for me, but I’m so glad that this is a component of Let’s Dance!, which, I believe, may add to its appeal and marketability.
SUSANNA: I love that you and your editor insisted on diversity and representing all different kinds of kids in dance! What was your experience of the illustration process like?
VALERIE: Jes allowed me to weigh in on the selection of an illustrator, and she also shared sketches with me two or three times throughout the process and considered my feedback – even making changes based on it. I am aware that this does not usually happen. When I received the PDF of Let’s Dance!, before the F & G, I was THRILLED! Maine Diaz is such a talent. She brought my words, my vision, and Jes’ vision to life. Her gorgeous, energetic illustrations truly make my book dance!
Twist, whirl. [Partner dancing, maybe ballroom but not sure how many young children do that; a child/ren could be looking over his/her/their shoulder as his/her/their body spins in the opposite direction]
Twist, whirl. [Kathak, Indian dance]
And here’s how the spread looks in the book:
text copyright Valerie Bolling 2020, illustration copyright Maine Diaz 2020
Boyds Mills & Kane
SUSANNA: Did you get to see advance reviews from Kirkus, SLJ, etc? What was that like?
VALERIE: The publisher will share all reviews with me. So far, I’ve seen only one review from Kirkus. I was pleased to have Kirkus review Let’s Dance!, and it was mostly positive. The reviewer said, “Bolling encourages readers to dance in styles including folk dance, classical ballet, breakdancing, and line dancing. Read aloud, the zippy text will engage young children.” Also, “The snappy text will get toes tapping …”
There were two aspects of the review with which I disagreed, but I know that all reviews are subjective. Overall, I’m happy with my first official review. What has meant even more to me, however, is the enthusiastic reaction of librarians and bookstore personnel.
SUSANNA: How long did it take from offer to having the first copy in your hand?
VALERIE: As I said, the book was picked up on July 2, 2018; I received two F & Gs on Nov. 21, 2019. I shared one with my husband that evening and took it to work the next day to share with my colleagues and boss. On January 27, 2020, I received my 25 author copies!!!
SUSANNA: What kind of marketing and promotion has your publisher done for this book?
VALERIE: My publisher sent me an email in July 2019, detailing the marketing plan. I was also requested to complete a questionnaire with contact information for local libraries, bookstores, media, and my alumni magazines. Those are the contacts that have received F & Gs of Let’s Dance!
SUSANNA: Describe any marketing/promotion you did for this book.
VALERIE: I have a website; I have emailed over 130 bloggers requesting reviews and/or interviews; I have an email list; and I’m trying to remember to tell everyone I know or meet about my book. I really want to spread the word. It’s a delicate balance of sharing news about the book but not sounding as if I’m boasting or as if my book is the only thing I can talk about.
I have already had several articles written about Let’s Dance!, and/or myself. Feel free to look at the bottom of this page to see them. I’ve done a podcast and have several school and library events already planned.
Lisa Stringfellow, a friend and fellow author, created a beautiful flyer for my book launch event that I emailed and posted on social media. In addition, the library where I’m hosting my event, will display their own flyers. The publisher created postcards for me; I plan to pass them out to dance studios and stores that sell dance apparel. My editor also designed a coloring sheet, using the end pages of the book, which I can give to children at my launch event as well as school, library, and bookstore events. I decided that I would share information about my book, where to purchase it, and how to make contact with me on the back of the coloring sheet, making use of both sides of the paper.
SUSANNA: How long was it between the time you started writing seriously and the time you sold your first picture book?
VALERIE: I wrote two PBs in December 2016; each featured one of my nieces as the main character. I wrote other stories in 2017, and Let’s Dance! was acquired in July 2018. Therefore, it took a year and a half from the time I started writing seriously to the time I sold my first picture book.
My social media links are:
SUSANNA: Thank you so much for taking the time to participate in this series and pay it forward to other writers! We so appreciate your time and expertise and wish you all the best with this and future books!
VALERIE: THANK YOU for your willingness to feature me in a Tuesday Debut!
Readers, if you have questions for Valerie, please post them in the comments below and if she has time I’m sure she’ll respond!
You may purchase Valerie’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)