Welcome to Tuesday. Debut, Everyone!
Today I’m delighted to introduce you to Kelly Carey! We’re going to jump right in because she has a lot of great information to share that I know you’re going to find very interesting and helpful. Let me just take this opportunity to say don’t miss her video on the Charlesbridge site (link below) – she did a terrific job and, as a writer who does not perform well on camera!, I admire her greatly! 😊
Title: How Long Is Forever?
Author: Kelly Carey
Illustrator: Qing Zhuang
Pub Date: April 7, 2020
Genre: Picture Book – Fiction
Age Range: 3-7
Synopsis: In How Long Is Forever?, Mason is waiting for the first blueberry pie of the season and it’s taking forever. At least that’s what Mason thinks, until Grandpa asks him to prove it and sends Mason searching the family farm to find the meaning of forever.
Fans of Guess How Much I Love You will love figuring out how long forever is alongside Mason and Grandpa.
SUSANNA: Welcome, Kelly! Congratulations on your debut and thank you so much for joining us today to share your publication experience! Where did the idea for this book come from?
KELLY: The nugget that inspired How Long Is Forever? happened when I was a teenager. A song I loved came on the radio and I excitedly squealed, “Turn it up! This is the best song ever.” My friend’s Dad scoffed, “Really? This is the best song ever?”
That exchange stuck and launched the interaction between Mason and his Grandpa in How Long Is Forever?. Mason is waiting for the first blueberry pie of the season and it’s taking forever. At least that’s what Mason thinks, until Grandpa sends Mason searching the farm to find the meaning of forever. I loved the idea that what can seem like the best song ever to a teenager or feel like forever to an eight year old can be very different for an older adult.
The idea for a story can come from childhood memories that linger in your brain. Those standout moments that hold a reserved space in your mind, are probably the moments that will resonate with a reader. Those are the archives you should mine when you are looking for a book idea.
By the way, my friend’s father was right. Thomas Dolby’s, She Blinded Me With Science was NOT the best song ever! And Mason is going to find out that waiting for a blueberry pie to bake is not forever.
SUSANNA: How long did it take you to write this book? Did you go through many revisions?
KELLY: I wrote the first draft of How Long Is Forever? in 2013. At that point, the story was in first person and almost 800 words and my main character was a boy named Billy waiting for his parents to bring a new sibling home from the hospital. The opening line read:
Grandpa’s rocker creaked slowly on the front porch. I tapped my foot on the front steps.
By 2014 the story was in third person and just under 500 words. In all the manuscript went through six major revisions and a bunch of minor tweaks. I got help from critique partners and writing workshops. The final draft that sold in 2017 was about a boy waiting for the first blueberry pie of the season. It went through a few more revisions with the help of my editor, Karen Boss. Now, the opening line reads:
Grandpa’s rocker creaked. Mason’s foot tapped.
Patience and persistence is the key to creating a manuscript that will become a book.
SUSANNA: When did you know your manuscript was ready for submission?
KELLY: This is a hard one. Looking back, I know I’ve sent drafts out on submission much earlier than I should have. It’s the classic mistake. But it’s easy to get excited about a project and push it out too soon. It’s important to let manuscripts marinate. If you are really excited about a manuscript, and you think it’s ready for submission, the best thing you can do is put it away for a week or two. Sometimes, when you pull it out again, you’ll see the places that still warrant revision. I recommend reading your story aloud and taking it for a few turns through critique group before submission. This method helped with How Long Is Forever?.
SUSANNA: When and how did you submit?
KELLY: I am unagented and I submitted directly to the publisher. I credit The Writers’ Loft in Sherborn, MA for my first book sale. I took classes offered by Karen Boss, Editor at Charlesbridge Publishing at The Writers’ Loft and Karen bought How Long Is Forever? about a year after that class. I could argue that my book would have found its path to publication on its own merits, but I think connecting with Karen, forming a professional relationship through the classes, and applying her excellent teaching to my manuscript, certainly helped speed up the process.
Figure 1 Karen Boss, Senior Editor, Charlesbridge Publishing
SUSANNA: When did you get “the call”? (Best moment ever! 😊)
KELLY: Karen Boss at Charlesbridge actually took another manuscript of mine to acquisitions and it died there. I think she was more disappointed than I was judging by the huge hug she gave me the next time we saw each other. So while I was overjoyed to get “the call” for How Long Is Forever, I was a bit reserved until I actually had the contract in hand. And the lag between “the call” and the actual contract can be weeks or months – its super nerve racking! My contract came just before Christmas and I actually wrapped up a gift with the news and gave it to my mom on Christmas Eve – that was the best moment ever!
SUSANNA: Was the contract what you expected in terms of advance, royalty percentage, publication timeline, author copies etc.?
KELLY: I love the Charlesbridge model. They offer a lower advance but keep the book on their backlist for a longer time. I liked the idea that my book will continue to be sold for years. As a result my advance was smaller but I will get 5% royalty on hard cover, 3% on paperback and I just got my 15 author copies in the mail. And yes, I did the obligatory video reveal of the un-packaging.
SUSANNA: There aren’t too many things as amazing as opening the box with the copies of your very first book! 😊 Can you tell us a little about the editorial process?
KELLY: It was so helpful that I had taken a class with my editor so I had a sense of her work style and we had a rapport before we began the process. Karen did ask me to make a major change to the ending that would allow my main character to have the last word, and it was spot on!
The other changes were more minor word tweaks and I really appreciated that Karen and I collaborated on making those edits. There was plenty of room for me to accept, or push back on her feedback and the results were a stronger story that I’m very proud to put out into the world.
SUSANNA: What was your experience of the illustration process like?
KELLY: I had more of an opportunity for input into the illustration process than I expected.
My editor sent me the names of three illustrators they were considering and asked for my input from the start. I instantly fell in love with Qing Zhuang’s work and advocated for her to be the illustrator. I’m so happy I did and that Charlesbridge was able to bring her into the project!
While Qing was working, I had no contact with her and my manuscript had NO illustration notes. It was tough but Qing’s creative energy was able to flow without any interruptions from me and the results were more than I expected!
I was sent black and white sketches, then color files and finally proofs and was invited to send my comments at each phase.
Sketch and final of one illustration
SUSANNA: Did you get to see advance reviews from Kirkus, SLJ, etc? What was that like?
KELLY: I knew when advance copies were sent and started clicking a google search with my book title and Kirkus pretty much daily. Yes, it was insane BUT as a result I think I found my Kirkus review the minute it went out and I was actually the one who shared it with my editor!
I know Kirkus can be tough and I was thrilled that they gave time to two debut creators and that they gave How Long Is Forever? a glowing review https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/kelly-carey/how-long-is-forever/ . I know we have a great book, but it was wonderful to have that confirmed by Kirkus.
SUSANNA: (Just butting my two cents in, but in case anyone doesn’t know, you can make google alerts for your name, your book titles, etc so you’ll get a notification if anything goes up about you or your book on the internet!) How long did it take from offer to having the first copy in your hand?
KELLY: From the signed contract to publication, it was two years. It seems long, and it is, but that gave me plenty of time to get all my marketing ducks in a row. I worked on my website, contacted blogs for guest interviews, talked to bookstores about visits, and designed school visits.
SUSANNA: What kind of marketing and promotion has your publisher done for this book?
KELLY: My publisher sent advanced reader copies out and helped me design downloadable activity sheets. You can check those out here https://www.charlesbridge.com/products/how-long-is-forever. My publisher has also helped me set up bookstore visits and they have set up author videos on their website. You can find the videos here: https://www.charlesbridge.com/pages/remote-author-content
Link to Activity Pages: https://cdn.shopify.com/s/files/1/0750/0101/files/how-long-is-forever-activity-guide.pdf?4191
SUSANNA: Describe any marketing/promotion you did for this book.
KELLY: The two best things I did to prepare to market my book was first to take Colleen Riordan’s Fan By Fan online course. Colleen’s course broke down the huge beast of marketing a book into doable chunks with great instructions. I highly recommend her course. You can find information on it here: https://courses.wildinkmarketing.com/p/fan-by-fan.
The next thing I did was join The Soaring ‘20s Debut group. We are a group of authors and illustrators who all have debut’s launching. There is a huge learning curve to all the marketing efforts that go into a book launch; pooling my energy and knowledge with those of 36 other folks has been key!
I could never accomplish everything individually that the debut group is doing collectively. We’ve got folks working on our website, a team running a blog, a committee handling giveaways and the efforts go on and on! The amazing illustrators in the group have produced wonderful book birthday graphics that I would never have been able to manage. Some members are librarians while others are booksellers and their expertise is super helpful.
My advice is to seek out a group of folks with debuts launching and pool your efforts. Kirsten Larson, author of WOOD, WIRE, WINGS (Calkins Creek, 2020) has put together a fabulous guide for starting a debut marketing group. You can check it out here: https://www.soaring20spb.com/author-illustrator-resources
SUSANNA: Wow! So much great information! Thanks, Kelly! How long was it between the time you started writing seriously and the time you sold your first picture book?
KELLY: It took me 15 years from the time I got serious to the first book sale.
SUSANNA: Anything else you’d like to share about your book’s journey from inspiration to publication?
KELLY: For me getting serious met taking a class on children’s literature through The Institute for Children’s Literature. That class helped me figure out the basics, learn about the industry and get feedback on my writing. I sold my first magazine fiction story the same year I took the class, and then I was hooked. I’ve sold a magazine story every year since and kept taking classes and workshops to hone my craft. All that work paid off. You can learn about the classes at the Institute for Children’s Literature here: https://www.instituteforwriters.com/free-aptitude-test/about/institute-of-childrens-literature/
website:http://www.kcareywrites.com/ and https://www.qingthings.com/
SUSANNA: Thank you so much for taking the time to participate in this series, Kelly, and paying it forward to other writers! You provided a lot of really interesting information that I know readers are going to find extremely helpful. We so appreciate you sharing your expertise and wish you all the best of luck with this and future titles!
Readers, if you have questions for Kelly, please post them in the comments below and if she has time I’m sure she’ll respond!
You may purchase Kelly’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)