It’s Tuesday, and you know what that means!
It’s the day to remember all the things you didn’t get done Monday. . .
. . .and push them off until Wednesday! 😊
It’s also time to meet a brand new author!
Today, I’m thrilled to introduce you to Nell Cross Beckerman and her wonderful debut picture book Down Under The Pier!
DOWN UNDER THE PIER
By Nell Cross Beckerman
Illustrated by Rachell Sumpter
Publishing House: Cameron Kids
Date of PublicationL April 7, 2020
Fiction with non fiction back matter
Age range: 5-7 years
There’s lots of fun to be had up on the pier—the Ferris wheel, cotton candy, the carousel—but it’s down under the pier, at low tide, where the real magic can be found.
SUSANNA: Welcome, Nell! Thank you so much for joining us today to share your journey to publication! Where did the idea for this book come from?
NELL: I was taking a picture book writing class at UCLA Extension taught by writer Michelle Markel. At the very last class, we did an in-class writing prompt that was a “How to” format. On a whim, I thought of, “How to have fun at the pier,” thinking of my hometown Santa Monica Pier, where I spent a lot of time with my kids. As I was writing about all the fun stuff to do on top of the pier with the thrill rides and arcade games, the words just flowed, going from how to have fun ON the pier, to have to have fun UNDER the pier. I shared it out loud with the class and another student whose opinion I respected gave me a deep look and said, “That’s a really good idea.” I got goosebumps because I felt it, too.
SUSANNA: How long did it take you to write this book?
NELL: The first draft came very quickly, but it did not have the same structure or format that the finished book does. After my UCLA class ended, I realized I craved even more instructor attention. Rather than signing up for more classes where you only get perhaps one or two chances to get feedback, I decided it would be smarter to spend my money and time working directly with a freelance editor. She helped me with the structure and format and I learned a lot about picture book writing in general from her.
SUSANNA: Did you go through many revisions?
NELL: Yes, I went through a bajillion revisions…even after final illustrations came in, I tweaked some words! I previously worked in television so I’m very used to having to make tons of revisions and incorporate notes from other people. I don’t take it personally at all and (especially at this point) feel like I’ve developed a good sense of what notes to listen to and what notes to ignore. It’s hard when you are starting out and try to please any reader who has an opinion—that can lead your to spiral out and lose track of your original vision and intention.
SUSANNA: When did you know your manuscript was ready for submission?
NELL: After a few rounds with my freelance editor, she said something to the effect of, “I feel good about this manuscript’s marketability.” And I agreed—I was happy with it!
SUSANNA: When and how did you submit?
NELL: From all the classes and the research I had done, it looked like the best way to start a career was to have three polished manuscripts before you start querying or submitting. So, I just put it aside and started to work on other stories. I went to my first summer SCBWI conference and I didn’t even bring it to my manuscript consultation (in retrospect: bad move! Send your best stuff!) because I wanted notes on my work in progress.
Coincidentally, I noticed that an old friend from college was now an agent who was on a panel at the conference. We caught up and she invited me to send her my story for notes. I was thrilled to get notes from a professional, of course. After we did a little back and forth with notes, she offered to start sending it out. It was not the path I had planned, but I was grateful for the opportunity and took the plunge!
SUSANNA: When did you get “the call”? (Best moment ever! ☺)
NELL: Pretty early on an editor at Chronicle took it to acquisitions, but it was ultimately a pass. That was still so exciting—I felt truly legit! In the meantime, my agent and I started submitting another MS, but then she did another round for PIER about seven months later, and about a month after that she got the email from Cameron Kids that the editor loved it and would be taking it to the publisher in a few weeks. It was hard to be patient but it was worth it! I got “the email” on our way to the waterslide park. It was a great way to celebrate the good news.
SUSANNA: How did you celebrate signing your contract?
NELL: I bought my family presents.
SUSANNA: Was the contract what you expected in terms of advance, royalty percentage, publication timeline, author copies etc.?
NELL: My agent helped put the offer in context for me, saying it was normal for a publisher the size of Cameron Kids. I was just happy to have my first book sold, to be honest!
SUSANNA: Can you tell us a little about the editorial process?
NELL: I loved working with Amy Novesky (who is an accomplished picture book writer, herself!) We did some notes over email, then we spent a good hour going through it line by line. It felt like a good collaboration.
SUSANNA: What was your experience of the illustration process like?
NELL: Last summer, the illustrator, Rachell Sumpter, started to post her progress in Instagram Stories—I became addicted to checking for new videos! It was thrilling to see it all come to life. Her evocative, dreamy, style really felt like a good fit for my words. The schedule was a bit in flux but I ultimately respected and trusted that they had a vision and a process that worked for them. If you have seen any Cameron Kids books, they are all unbelievably gorgeous, so I focused on knowing that whatever happened, there would be a beautiful book at the end. And I was right! I was happy they included back matter to address some of the scientific education concerns I had, as well. It felt like a great way to accommodate everyone’s visions.
SUSANNA: That’s really cool that Rachell posted her progress in Instagram stories – that must have been such fun to watch! Did you get to see advance reviews from Kirkus, SLJ, etc?
NELL: The first advance review I saw was from Kirkus. I was thrilled! They were very complimentary and “got” the book.
SUSANNA: How long did it take from offer to having the first copy in your hand?
NELL: I got the offer in August 2017 and had a copy in my hand Dec 2019. I got super silly and slaphappy when I got my author copies—video evidence can be found on my Instagram page @NellCrossBeckerman if you click on “Author copies”.
SUSANNA: What kind of marketing and promotion has your publisher done for this book?
NELL: They have sent it for reviews and assisted in planning some events. They post on Instagram as well.
SUSANNA: Describe any marketing/promotion you did for this book.
NELL: I helped plan events and partnered with the Heal the Bay Aquarium to do joint events and have them sell my book on site. I also made flyers for the events and promoted them through email and social media. I did a Twitter giveaway. I hired my daughter to make a book trailer. I am sort of haphazardly doing a blog tour and approached some big blogs, one of whom requested a review copy. I am trying to pivot to online events for the book launch, but it has been hard to muster the energy after putting so much into events that are now canceled. I’ve decided I have to just stretch it out over the coming months because we are in the middle of a global pandemic for crying out loud—I can only ask myself to do so much!
SUSANNA: How long was it between the time you started writing seriously and the time you sold your first picture book?
NELL: There are different ways to answer this question, of course. I started my first picture book class in Jan 2016 and sold it by Aug 2017. HOWEVER, over a decade ago I was serious about writing middle grade, got an agent, and then could never do the revisions and basically quit writing for 10 years and focused on raising my kids. As I read and read to them, I kept having this feeling…I could do this (especially after the 30th Rainbow Magic Fairy book!). I tried again, and failed. Finally, I found my way to a creative painting class that followed along the book, THE ARTIST’S WAY by Julia Cameron. This class and book changed everything for me. It put all my creative struggles into perspective and gave me tools to nurture my inner artist. At the same time, I got to paint freely, being fully playful and creative in my class. Without this class and the book, I would have remained creatively frustrated. BIG MAGIC by Elizabeth Gilbert was also wonderful—the idea of “getting down” stories rather than “making them up” resonates with me. I love the images of stories buzzing around, looking for a portal to come though. That has been my experience. My art teacher, Helen Bradley, from The Playful Art Studio, pushed me to carve out early mornings for myself, which was also a huge step in taking myself and and my work seriously.
SUSANNA: Anything else you’d like to share about your book’s journey from inspiration to publication?
NELL: I’d like to mention that although my original goal was to publish a book, I now find that my writing community is the real prize. I am lucky enough to be part of an in-person writing group that is incredibly supportive and filled with growth. I have truly found my tribe, and when we all get together at conferences, I feel even more connection with “my people.” Even now that we all can only connect online, the kid lit community continues to fill me up. This was not something I expected to find as a writer!
Also, I’m grateful that I have the privilege of taking classes, going to conferences, etc. and try to give back to the writing community any way I can.
Please go to my website and join my mailing list—I’m planning on writing a series of newsletters DEMYSTIFYING THE DEBUT where I’ll share more in depth about all the different things I learned writing, selling, and promoting my book that I wish I had known before! Plus I’ll be sending out a full read-aloud video of the book to share with children as well, all free for newsletter subscribers.
Thanks so much for having me!
SUSANNA: Thank you so much for taking the time to participate in this series and paying it forward to other writers, Nell! We so appreciate you sharing your expertise and experience and wish you all the best with this and future books!
Readers, if you have questions for Nell, please post them in the comments below and if she has time I’m sure she’ll respond!
You may purchase Nell’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)