Welcome to another exciting installment of Tuesday Debut!
I realize, of course, that it is not yet Halloween 😊 But that is no reason not to delight in today’s debut picture book about Christmas and Hanukkah! Enjoy! (and preorder so you’re ready for those holidays when they come along 😊) and join me in welcoming today’s debut-ess, Janie Emaus!
Latkes For Santa Claus
Written by Janie Emaus
Illustrated by Bryan Langdo
Published by Sky Pony
October 13, 2020
Fiction, ages 3-7
SUSANNA: Welcome, Janie! Thank you so much for joining us today! We’re excited to hear about your journey to publication! Where did the idea for this book come from?
JANIE: The idea grew out of my own experience. Having grown up in a Jewish home, I didn’t celebrate Christmas until I married my husband. When our daughter was small, I started looking for books to read to her about families that celebrated both Hanukkah and Christmas. Not finding anything fun and playful, I decided to write one myself.
Every year the women in our family gather to make latkes. The title came to me while I was flipping over a latke. That is the only thing about the book which has remained the same.
One of my agents along the way suggested adding the recipes at the end.
SUSANNA: How long did it take you to write this book?
JANIE: I came up with the idea about fifteen years ago.
As this is my first picture book, I had to remember to leave room for the illustrator to expand the story. I had difficulty in the beginning as I was used to writing middle grade and young adult stories. I was getting too wordy and descriptive.
Early on, I had an agent who helped me shorten the word length. I worked with her until she thought it was ready for submission. Most of the editors passed on the book because they didn’t need another holiday story. Ultimately my agent left the business and I continued on my own.
Throughout the years, I would put it away and work on something else. But the story wouldn’t leave me alone. Every year as the holidays approached, I searched for books with a similar theme.
Last year I pulled it out again and was determined to work on it until it sold.
SUSANNA: Did you go through many revisions?
JANIE: Yes, dozens, if not hundreds!
It started off in verse. I dumped that rather quickly and started approaching the story from a hundred different angles. Where to begin was the most difficult decision.
In the original version, the main character was alone. Then I gave her a brother. Upon the suggestion of a critique partner, he became a stepbrother. And I amped up the cooking challenge.
Every time I had a new version, I would read it aloud to myself, listening to the flow of the story. And I kept cutting words with the illustrator in mind. If I thought I was describing too much, I hit delete. Believe me, I wore the letters off that key.
SUSANNA: When did you know it was ready for submission?
JANIE: This is a hard question to answer. I knew it was getting better with each revision. Yet, I wasn’t sure it was the best it could be. Every time I reread it I changed a word here, a word there. I took long walks, talking to myself, reciting the story. But at some point, I knew I had to get it back out in the world. I hoped an editor or agent would like it enough to want to work with me.
SUSANNA: When and how did you submit?
JANIE: I began querying agents in Oct 2019. Several passed with a polite “Thank you. Not for me at this time.” One agent did express interest but wanted some changes. She suggested I send it back to her in three months.
Meanwhile, I entered #PitMad on Thursday, December 5th, 2019. #PitMad is a Twitter event which occurs four times a year. Writers tweet a 280-character pitch for their completed manuscript, along with the corresponding hashtags to identify the genre of their work. The participating editors and agents make requests by “liking” the tweeted pitch.
Nicole Frail of Sky Pony Press liked my tweet. On Saturday, I sent her the manuscript. On Monday I received an email saying she loved my book and was taking it to her publisher. On Tuesday she offered me a contract.
I like to say it took a mere decade for me to achieve overnight success!
SUSANNA: When did you get “the call”?
JANIE: On that Tuesday, I was driving when my phone dinged. I glanced down quickly and saw an email from Nicole. I immediately pulled over and read her offer to publish the book.
I let out a scream and pumped my fists in the air. To the passing cars, I’m sure I looked like a middle aged women in the midst of a seizure!
SUSANNA: How did you celebrate?
JANIE: The day I signed the contract I had a martini with my family. And then another one!
SUSANNA: Was the contract what you expected?
JANIE: I actually had no idea what to expect as this was my first contract with a traditional publisher. My advance was under $1,000. But I was assured the book would appear in bookstores as well as outlets, such as Target and Walmart. That aspect was more important to me than the advance.
I had no idea it would distributed by Simon and Schuster until the announcement came out in Publisher’s Marketplace in February 2020. I googled the book and then I really became excited.
SUSANNA: Can you tell us anything about the editorial process?
JANIE: I didn’t have to make any major changes.
SUSANNA: What was your experience of the illustration process like?
JANIE: From the start I was very involved with the illustration. I was asked for my vision and for a possible list of illustrators. I was given the chance to see Bryan’s work before he was offered the contract. And throughout the process I was sent digital files. All the suggestions I made were passed on to Bryan and incorporated into his illustrations. I’d have to say, I was extremely pleased.
SUSANNA: Did you get to see any advance reviews? What was that like?
JANIE: So far I have not seen any reviews. They did get blurbs for the book before it went to print. And I was very happy with those.
SUSANNA: How long did it take from the offer to having the first copy?
JANIE: At the time I’m answering these questions, I still haven’t seen a hard copy! I did see the finished PDF and I loved it!
I was told the initial print was going to be around 2500
SUSANNA: What kind of marketing and promotion has your publisher done?
JANIE: I received an email in August that B&N had picked up the book for their holiday promotion and had committed to 2300 copies. That was another middle-aged seizure moment! I was on vacation with my grandkids and I was jumping up and down with my youngest grandson.
SUSANNA: Describe any marketing/promotion you did for this book.
JANIE: I have set up interviews and contacted book bloggers. And I have an appearance in November at The Flintridge Bookstore in La Canada, California. But COVID has certainly put a damper on book signings and appearances.
I made postcards announcing the book and I put the photo on my business card as I was planning on attending several conferences between the signing of my contract and the release date. So, now I carry them with me everywhere I go and pass them out. And I mean everywhere! Starbucks, restaurants, novelty stores. I even gave one to the Geek Squad guy who came to set up our new TV.
SUSANNA: How long was it between the time you started writing seriously and the time you sold your first picture book?
JANIE: I’ve been writing seriously for over thirty years. But wasn’t always concentrating on picture books. My very first sale was a rhymed story, The Jogging Frog, to Cricket Magazine. This is it, I thought. I’m on my way. Well, I was on my way, alright, to hundreds of rejections. Years passed before I sold another story.
The first rejections hurt the most. I’d poured my heart and soul onto the page and was devastated when agents and editors didn’t accept what I had written.
But as the years passed, I realized how subjective this business is and that I wanted and deserved someone who shared my vision.
SUSANNA: What is the most important thing you learned?
JANIE: The most important thing I have learned is perseverance. Don’t give up. And believe in your vision for your story. I’ve had horrible experiences along the way. Times when I rewrote based on an agent’s recommendations and then it all fell apart So, trust your instincts.
It’s hard not to take rejections personally, but remember agents and editors are just people. I used to be in awe when pitching face to face. I would break into a sweat and stumble through my pitch and walk away thinking. Oh, why did I say that? And then I would obsess over the meeting well into the next workshop.
Oh, and one last thing. Join writing organizations. SCBWI has been invaluable to my success.
Thanks for reading. And good luck with your writing.
SUSANNA: Thank you so much for joining us today and sharing your writing and publication experience, Janie! We are grateful for the opportunity to learn. And I know I speak for everyone when I wish you all the best with this and future books!
Readers, if you have questions for Janie, please post them in the comments below and if she has time I’m sure she’ll respond!
Website – http://www.janieemaus.com/
Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/janie.emaus/
Facebook author page – https://www.facebook.com/Janie-Emaus-Books-Blogs-473633136036884
Twitter – https://twitter.com/Janie_Emaus
Instagram – https://www.instagram.com/janieemaus/
Medium – https://medium.com/@janieemaus
You may purchase Janie’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)
Julie Rowan-Zoch – Louis (picture book illustration debut!)