Welcome to Tuesday Debut, Everyone, where at the moment, in addition to learning from newly published authors about their journey to publication – what worked for them and how you might incorporate that into your own journey – we are also trying to give them a little boost as they launch their books in this strange time of social distancing and cancelled in-person events!
I’m delighted to welcome today’s Debut-ess, Mary Wagley Copp, and share with you her beautiful picture book, WHEREVER I GO!
WHEREVER I GO
by Mary Wagley Copp
Illustrated by Munir D. Mohammed
Atheneum/S&S, April 21st, 2020
Fiction. Ages 6-9.
Of all her friends, Abia has been at the Shimelba Refugee Camp the longest; her papa says they need a forever home. Until then, though, Abia has something important to do. Be a queen..
SUSANNA: Thank you for joining us, Mary! We’re so grateful to you for sharing your knowledge, expertise, and experience with us today!
MARY: First of all, how wonderful to be a part of a community that shares joys and struggles and encourages each other. Susanna, you are a model for us all! It is thrilling to share a bit of my journey to publication.
My first piece of advice is to spend some time asking yourself how important is it that your story get out into the world and into the hands of children. If you answer with anything but a hearty YES, you might want to think twice about the time, effort and the cost that goes into this journey. I believe you have to be fully in the process – learning the craft, being truly open to feedback, connecting to writing pals and groups, supporting fellow writers, going to conferences, etc. It is a real commitment. AND there is so much joy in that commitment.
SUSANNA: Where did the idea for this book come from?
MARY: The initial idea for this book came when I was producing a documentary about refugee resettlement. When we visited a refugee camp, I was so amazed by the children – their creativity, their resilience, their joy – amidst a life of struggle. They were my inspiration.
I kept the idea alive for several years (I think writing it over and over in my mind) until I finally put pen to paper.
In terms of new ideas, my advice is to stay as open and receptive (this takes practice) as possible to your experiences, all your senses, etc. Also, cultivate quiet and space in your life. I am much more creative when I turn off my ‘automatic’, always-busy mode!
SUSANNA: How long did it take you to write this book?
MARY: About 2 years. The first drafts came easily – kind of a stream of consciousness, which is the way I often like to write. It is the least intimidating for me. For any writer, just start where you have the least resistance. For some people, it might be an outline; for others, scenes. Really, just get some words down before they escape you!
When I began studying the craft of writing for children, I knew so little about it. I was a sponge – saturated at times, for sure – wanting to fill up with information and inspiration. I went to workshops and conferences, found mentors, etc. I joined critique groups. I paid for critiques – asking for them for birthdays, Christmases and anniversaries!
I took my first drafts of Wherever I Go to various workshops/classes/conferences; it was my work-in-progress for 2 years. I’d get a good idea or a nugget of knowledge from a teacher and I’d run back to my desk and revise. It is a long process! And my learning curve is still steep!
SUSANNA: Did you go through many revisions?
MARY: Yes! Many revisions. Sometimes, they were just tweaks here and there but there were also major revisions – always getting me closer to the version that was bought! I truly believe that openness is critical to getting one closer to a polished manuscript. Sure, we all have our preconceived (and often very good) ideas of what makes a great story. But, until we suspend those notions and hear, really hear, what others have to offer, we close ourselves off too early. For new writers, try taking out a character (maybe that parent?), try another POV, trying a new ending – something unexpected? Play with the story and definitely don’t get too attached to the way it is!
Above: One of my writing spots – a little cubby-hole off the kitchen. It has photos of my kids, then and now, as well as photos of me as a child and a few quotations.
SUSANNA: When did you know your manuscript was ready for submission?
MARY: Well, I really didn’t. It was a bit of a leap of faith. I met an agent at a conference and she had given me really valuable feedback (BTW, it was valuable AND quite critical – maybe the most helpful kind!). I was able to share my revisions with her before the end of the conference and she said she’d like to see it again – when it was polished. Well, what is polished is subjective. I did what I thought was needed and submitted to her. I signed with her a few weeks later. One word of advice – sit on your manuscript for longer than you think you need to. I have to remind myself of this often. You may wake up at 2 am and have an “aha” moment!
SUSANNA: When and how did you submit?
MARY: This same agent helped me polish a bit more; we worked on the author’s note and then she submitted to editors. We received rejections but then came the YES!
My agent submitted the manuscript in early 2017 and we had a contract about 2 months later. So, I guess that is fairly prompt.
SUSANNA: When did you get “the call”? (Best moment ever! 😊)
MARY: My agent submitted to about 12 houses and we heard from all of them over the course of a few weeks. My agent would email me whenever rejections, interest, nibbles came in. I am embarrassed to say that I don’t actually remember ‘the call.’ Most of our correspondence was though emails. Yes, very exciting emails! We did speak about the contract and any proposed revisions but mostly we connected through email.
SUSANNA: How did you celebrate signing your contract?
MARY: I am not a jumping up and down person but I was extremely happy! I called my kids and my husband hugged me for a long time 😊 Then I probably went for a long walk and cried. I felt so relieved – more relieved than any other emotion. I wanted this story to be available to the world. I do remember thinking, yes, I am the author but it is so many children’s story.
SUSANNA: Was the contract what you expected in terms of advance, royalty percentage, publication timeline, author copies etc.?
MARY: As this is my first book, I did not know what to expect – except information from limited online searches. I really left it up to my agent to present me with the best offer she could get. As I am with an imprint of Simon & Schuster, my guess is that I have a pretty good deal for a debut PB writer. I have heard of artists hiring a lawyer if they don’t have an agent. I think this is a good idea –agreements like the one I received and signed can be intimidating.
I received ½ the sum upon signing and ½ on the publisher’s acceptance of the complete manuscript. I believe the 5% royalty is fairly standard. And I will receive 30 free copies – which is SO exciting!!
SUSANNA: Can you tell us a little about the editorial process?
MARY: The editor did ask for a revised ending. Of all the revisions, this was the hardest – not so much because of the actual request (trust your editor!) but because I was afraid of letting go of ‘my’ story. Once I understood her reasoning (always ask if you have questions) I was reassured and was able to meet her vision without compromising the integrity of my storyline.
Advice: allow ideas in. The beauty of publishing a picture book is that one lets go of it being ‘my’ book. The collaboration with the illustrator, editor, art director, etc. is wonderful and creative and results in a stronger work of art. It is really quite a beautiful orchestration of talents and Munir and I feel so fortunate to have been able to work with the Atheneum team, who was really supportive – and continues to be!
SUSANNA: What was your experience of the illustration process like?
MARY: I believed all along that the editor had a similar vision for the artwork as I did. It is hard for me to believe how aligned we ALL were in our visions. The illustrations not only fit the text so well, they are more beautiful than I ever imagined!
I had an unlikely situation as I know the illustrator, Munir D. Mohammed. Both of us were aware of the unwritten yet wise ‘rules’ that the author and illustrator not communicate or share ideas. Munir and I were very strict about this. I think I saw one or two sketches early on (out of sheer excitement) but we really kept our communication to a minimum. Munir often told me how amazed and grateful he was for the direction the art director and editor were giving him. That was so reassuring to me!
By the way, many writers are interested in art notes. I don’t think I had any. If I had to advise a new writer, I would say less is more when it comes to art notes – unless, they are absolutely necessary for the understanding of the story. Not only do they tend to be directive, but also an editor really wants to know that you fully appreciate that a picture book is a collaboration between so many different people.
SUSANNA: Did you get to see advance reviews from Kirkus, SLJ, etc? What was that like?
MARY: Yes! That was very exciting. My editor alerted me to very positive reviews in Kirkus and Booklist! It was thrilling to read someone’s ‘take’ on the book. And I was incredibly relieved!
SUSANNA: How long did it take from offer to having the first copy in your hand?
MARY: Three years.
I believe the first printing is 20,000 copies.
SUSANNA: What kind of marketing and promotion has your publisher done for this book?
MARY: Atheneum is an imprint of Simon and Schuster so they have quite a robust publicity department. They send out F&G’s and promote online as well. They will display at conferences and submit to award committees. It is a good idea to ask your editor for the publishing house’s plans. Inquire if you have questions. They will be forthcoming with their plans. Definitely, assume you will be doing more than you ever imagined in marketing and publicity.
SUSANNA: Describe any marketing/promotion you did for this book.
MARY: There is SO much an author can do on the marketing/promotion front. It can be quite overwhelming. My advice is to do what feels comfortable for YOU. Do not compare yourself to others on the marketing front. I did not make flyers, bookmarks, stickers, etc. I sent an email to everyone in my address book describing the book and asking them to pre-order. Munir and I planned a large private launch party with about 150 guests (we live near each other) – unfortunately, that has had to be cancelled because of Covid-19. However, we wrote a ‘celebratory’ letter in lieu of the party and asked folks to purchase the book and we’d have a signing event.
Another really cool thing that has happened in terms of promotion: I found a donor who would match 1:1 each purchase of Wherever I Go, with the match going to a resettled child. This would be for all of April when ordering from our indie bookstore, which really needs the business during this precarious time. A win-win-win!
SUSANNA: What an amazing idea, that matching program! How wonderful for the kids! How long was it between the time you started writing seriously and the time you sold your first picture book?
MARY: I took my first writing for children course in the Fall of 2014. I sold my first picture book in the Spring of 2017.
SUSANNA: Anything else you’d like to share about your book’s journey from inspiration to publication?
MARY: I wanted to get this story right – not in the marketable sense but in the ‘honesty’ sense. All journeys are different, of course, but I didn’t want to gloss over or leave out something that was important. I have not been a refugee. I have never been resettled to a country I did not choose. I have never come close to experiencing what it feels like to flee one’s home, on and on.
I shared this story at all different stages with resettled folks. I do realize that this has inherent limitations. However, I received some very important and honest feedback from many. It was such a critical part of the process and I credit these folks for being an integral part of the story. They will each get a copy as a thank you.
Our writing communities are absolutely invaluable to our progress. It is one of the many incredible aspects of this industry – we really are in it together and we support each other, no matter where we are in our journeys. My recommendation is to find a local (mine is 1.5 hours away!) writing group: thank you Writers’ Loft and, eventually, a debut group: thank you Soaring20sPB
These folks become your friends and the sharing and encouragement will sustain you as you ride the rollercoaster. I am so grateful to all of them and I hope I give them a small part of what they have given me.”
I’d also like to thank all the folks at Atheneum for their belief in this story and their incredible and beautiful vision for Wherever I Go. They make up an amazing team. Also, thank you, Susanna, for the work you do to introduce us to so many books, authors and illustrators who offer so much insight, advice and encouragement.
SUSANNA: It is truly my pleasure, Mary, and it’s only possible because of the generosity of authors like you who are willing to take the time to share your experience!
Facebook: Mary Wagley Copp
Below is my headshot and Rosa, my constant companion – sleeping, or waiting patiently while I finish writing!
SUSANNA: Thank you so much for joining us today, Mary! We so appreciate your words of wisdom, and wish you all the best with this and future books!
Readers, if you have questions for Mary, please post them in the comments below and if she has time I’m sure she’ll respond!
You may purchase Mary’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)