Welcome to this week’s scintillating edition of Tuesday Debut!
Sue Heavenrich has been a long-time follower of this blog, and a devoted participant in Perfect Picture Book Fridays for years, and today I’m thrilled to be welcoming her as the author of her own perfect picture book! What could be more perfect than 13 Ways To Eat A Fly? 😊
13 Ways to Eat a Fly
By Sue Heavenrich
Illustrated by David Clark
Charlesbridge, February 2021
Nonfiction picture book, ages 4-8
Math meets science as a swarm of flies meet their demise. Whether they are zapped, wrapped, liquefied, or zombified, the science is real – and hilariously gross. Includes a (non-human) guide to fine dining, complete with nutritional information for a single serving of flies.
SUSANNA: Welcome, Sue! Thank you so much for joining us today! I don’t think any of us can wait to hear about where the idea for this book came from! Please tell us!
SUE: I was reading something and jotted down “how to eat a fly.” I figured a book about animals and their fly food might be fun… and a good way to highlight the diversity of the order Diptera. Most people think flies are just pests, but they are amazing. Some pollinate the flowers in my garden, and some even eat crop pests!
SUSANNA: How long did it take you to write this book?
SUE: Counting the research and revisions – five or more years. I started with the basic idea: pair up predators with specific flies they eat. That took more time than I expected, and I even emailed a few experts. I created a spreadsheet of predators and flies, then looked for 13 different fly families to highlight.
SUSANNA: Did you go through many revisions?
SUE: Oh yes! In its first version it was pretty “listy”. I imagined each spread presenting a fly and its consumer. I think it went through about a dozen revisions. It needed more context, so I added an introduction, and some back matter. I sent it out, got a bit of interest, though the comments were usually along the lines of “this is interesting but…” it needed a hook. I put it aside for a few months and then one day while smacking cluster flies with a swatter I found myself saying “one down, twelve to go”. I’m pretty sure a lightbulb went off over my head and I restructured the entire manuscript. It became a reverse counting book. At the same time, I was working on a middle grade book about eating insects with Chris Mihaly, and I began thinking – from a predator’s point of view – what would make flies a good food source? I goofed around, creating a nutrition label (flies are full of protein) and a dining guide for insect-eaters concerned about whether the flies they order in a restaurant are “locally sourced”. After another handful of revisions, and feedback from critique partners, I felt this new, improved manuscript was ready for submission.
SUSANNA: When and how did you submit?
SUE: I took my original story to the 2012 Falling Leaves nonfiction retreat where I met my editor, Alyssa Pusey (Charlesbridge). I got great feedback and submitted it to her. But, in fly terms, my book was still a larva and needed to mature – and Alyssa suggested that I revise and resubmit. After a couple years of agent rejections and feedback, I realized that I needed to let go of what I had and find a completely different structure. So appropriate – this is exactly what happens when a fly larva undergoes metamorphosis: it totally dissolves and rebuilds something completely different. So four years later I finally resubmitted the (17th? 29th?) revision.
SUSANNA: When did you get “the call”? (Best moment ever! 😊)
SUE: I didn’t so much get “the call” as an email from Alyssa saying – hey, this has potential, and are you willing to revise? After a couple of months of back and forth with revisions, she emailed that she was taking it to acquisitions, and could I answer two quick questions. Then a couple weeks later it was “good news, we’d like to make an offer”.
SUSANNA: How did you celebrate signing your contract?
SUE: I thought I would be jumping up and down and popping the cork from a champagne bottle, but the truth is… I just jumped up and down a few times. I’m pretty sure chocolate was involved.
SUSANNA: Ah! A kindred spirit! 😊 Was the contract what you expected in terms of advance, royalty percentage, publication timeline, author copies etc.?
SUE: I knew, when I submitted to Charlesbridge, that the advance would be smaller than other houses, but the quality of their books is so high that I wanted them to publish my book. I did negotiate for more author copies.
SUSANNA: Can you tell us a little about the editorial process?
SUE: Given the revisions I’d made prior to signing the contract, I thought everything was pretty much finished. But over the next two years we continued with occasional revisions. Overall, though, Alyssa enthusiastically supported my initial vision for the story and I felt like we were working as a team.
SUSANNA: What was your experience of the illustration process like?
SUE: I was included to some extent in the whole process. It started with an email from Alyssa: what style of illustration did I see for my book? Did I have any suggestions for illustrators? I sent her a short list. Some weeks later, she asked what I thought about David Clark. I am a big fan of his work and was so thrilled that he would be part of the team – even though it meant waiting longer for publication.
Because 13 Ways to Eat a Fly is, at its core, nonfiction, I created a file of reference photos of fly-eaters and their flies. I had also included art notes in the manuscript (listing the specific flies). Through the process I got to see sketches, and was asked for comments. And I got a package of proofs in the mail. It was so cool to see how David had interpreted the story! He’s a genius.
SUSANNA: Did you get to see advance reviews from Kirkus, SLJ, etc?
SUE: The publicists sent me a preview of BookList review – it got a starred review! And I found the Kirkus review online.
SUSANNA: Starred review first time out – that is amazing! Congratulations! How long was it between the time you started writing seriously and the time you sold your first picture book?
SUE: At least ten years.
SUSANNA: What is the most important/helpful thing you learned on your way to publication?
SUE: It is easy to be discouraged. I had faith in this book, and I kept telling myself that it was worthy of a book jacket. But I also set projects aside when I need a break. And truthfully, this business is so subjective that you can’t let rejection mean anything more than “it’s not right for me at this time in the universe.”
SUSANNA: Sue, thank you so much for joining us today and sharing your journey to publication! I know I speak for everyone when I wish you the best with this and future titles!
Readers, if you have questions for Sue, please post them in the comments below and if she has time I’m sure she’ll respond!
You may purchase Sue’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!)