Welcome to Tuesday Debut, Everyone!
Today our debut-ess is sharing her road to publication with a book that is perfect for summer!
If you’ve ever spent time at the beach, you’ve undoubtedly had a face-off with a seagull over some item in your picnic! We once had a seagull carry off a whole bag of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on Nantucket 😊
Please join me in welcoming Michelle Vattula as we find out all about how she got published!
The Stalking Seagulls
written by Michelle Vattula
Illustrated by T.L. Derby
Release date April 20, 2021
Fiction, ages 3-10
SUSANNA: Where did the idea for this book come from?
MICHELLE: When writing, I pull my inspiration primarily from what I know and feel. The Stalking Seagulls was inspired while we were visiting my parents in Florida. We arrived at the beach and when lunch time approached, so did the seagulls. They were quite relentless, but they never got our sandwich. After that experience, the initial idea of a battle between boy and bird came to me. I will tell anyone who wants to be an author, write what you know.
SUSANNA: What makes your book different from other published picture books?
MICHELLE: One very special aspect of my book is that my publisher, MacLaren-Cochrane, publishes them in dyslexie (dyslexic font) which is a typeface that helps enhance the ease of reading for individuals with dyslexia, but can be read by anyone. There is certainly a gap in literacy for children with dyslexia and printing picture books in dyslexie is a step in the right direction.
SUSANNA: That is fascinating! As someone who used to work with dyslexic students, I know how important it is to make reading as accessible as possible, so it’s wonderful to see publishers making this effort. How long did it take you to write this book?
MICHELLE: One of the best things I did for my writing career was to join the SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators). This organization gave me the want and desire to write. I went to my first SCBWI conference in Pittsburgh and was hooked from that moment on. I began writing The Stalking Seagulls soon after that conference in late 2015, early 2016. The manuscript itself flowed easily. I think my biggest hurdle was that I wanted to “tell” everything. As an inexperienced writer, at the time, I was very wordy and was not allowing for the illustrations to help the story along. That is where my fabulous critique groups, who I met at the SCBWI conference, really helped me. It was completed and out on submission in a year and a half. I have to give a lot of credit to my husband, Sami, who allowed me to sit in front of my computer undisturbed or watched the boys when I would go out for my critique groups. By the time I arrived home the kids would already be in bed. I would then continue writing from the critiques I received that night. Having someone so supportive was truly a game changer for me.
SUSANNA: Did you go through many revisions?
MICHELLE: Wow, this is a great question. As I stated earlier, I utilize my critique groups, even for the simplest of questions. I had and still have 3 active critique groups, and have had individual CP’s in the past. This particular story went through no less than 50 revisions. Some revisions were small and easy, while others changed the tone and direction of the manuscript. I would often read it to my kids friends to see where they laughed and what they didn’t understand. If I ever got stuck, I put the manuscript away for a while so I can look at it with fresh eyes down the road.
SUSANNA: When did you know your manuscript was ready for submission?
MICHELLE: When I realized that the ending was “perfect” (in my opinion, lol), the rest of the story truly fell into place. Ultimately, I find, when I can find a satisfying ending, the writing becomes easier since I already know where the story is going.
SUSANNA: When and how did you submit?
MICHELLE: At the point of initial submissions, I was querying agents. This process can be so daunting because I researched each agent effectively. I needed to know what they wanted, what they didn’t and the best way to query them. Each agent is different, which certainly makes querying harder. I received a lot of rejections, but I was also receiving some genuine interest as well. Knowing that the interest was there, I decided to submit to publishing companies that would accept unsolicited and/or unagented manuscripts. This too was a long process, mostly due to the research needed to be done on each publishing company. I found MacLaren-Cochrane Publishing, queried my manuscript and received a response after 6 weeks. We set up a phone “interview” and the editor offered me a contract.
During this past year I was lucky enough to connect and sign with a great agent T.J. Kirsch @ JCHLiterary.
SUSANNA: How long after you found out about your book going to acquisitions (if you did) or after you submitted were you told it was a “yes”?
MICHELLE: Because I went directly through the publisher, I did not have to wait for yes, they told me right away.
SUSANNA: When did you get “the call”, which these days is more likely to be “the email”? (Best moment ever! ☺)
MICHELLE: I queried the manuscript in late July and received a contact in early September, so it was about 6 weeks. When I received the email that MCP was interested in the story, I read the email, shut my computer screen, smiled a big goofy smile and ran to tell my husband. It was like I won the lottery.
SUSANNA: How long was it between getting your offer and getting your contract to sign?
MICHELLE: I signed the contract within a week or so of receiving the contract.
SUSANNA: How did you celebrate signing your contract? (If you care to share ☺)
MICHELLE: I believe, after lots of hugs and phone calls/texts to loved ones, we went out to dinner.
SUSANNA: Was the contract what you expected in terms of advance, royalty percentage, publication timeline, author copies etc.?
MICHELLE: MCP is a small independent publisher which changes some of the process that is usually discussed regarding larger publishing houses. I did not receive an advance on this book, but my royalties are higher than the standard 5%. I get a significant discount when I purchase my book, but do not receive free copies. Overall, the contract was pretty standard and not many changes needed to be made before signing it.
SUSANNA: Can you tell us a little about the editorial process?
MICHELLE: The Stalking Seagulls had gone through so many rounds of revisions prior to receiving a contract, that there was not too much that needed to be changed. I did go back and add more alliteration and some wording changes, but they did not expect much to be changed.
SUSANNA: What was your experience of the illustration process like?
MICHELLE: I was very fortunate to be involved in the illustration process. My editor provided me with various styles of sketches from different illustrators and I was able to choose the style I felt fit the story the best. My editor definitely valued my thoughts and opinions regarding the style and continued to send me examples until I found the perfect one. After the initial sketches were done, I did get to see the proofs, via attachments, and I was allowed to give my thoughts regarding the page layouts and details when the book was in its final stages. I am so thankful that I was allowed to be part of this process since most writers do not see or know the vision the illustrator has taken until the very end.
As for art notes, I did include them in my initial manuscript. I believe that they helped the illustrator see my vision throughout the story. Certain pages/spreads needed a hint as to what I wanted to see. I am an advocate for art notes. Here is an example of one I used.
“Incoming!” [Art note-Alec feigns throwing this sandwich, then hides his sandwich behind his back.]
(Spread below is the resulting illustration)
SUSANNA: How long did it take from offer to having the first copy in your hand?
MICHELLE: The Stalking Seagulls was released on April 20th 2021. I received my first in hand copy April 25th. MCP is a POD(print on demand), thus when the orders come in, the book is printed.
SUSANNA: What kind of marketing and promotion has your publisher done for this book?
MICHELLE: My publisher has made sure that my book is accessible on Amazon, Barnes and Noble,
Waterstone and every book retailer online.
SUSANNA: Describe any marketing/promotion you did for this book.
MICHELLE: I have done all the marketing and promotion for The Stalking Seagulls. I started with making my own website (www.michellevattula.com). Once I was given the ISBN number and release date, I made a sell sheet. I physically went to our local bookstores and shops in other states to promote my book. I have done a podcast, interviews, blogs and media postings on instagram, twitter and facebook. Promoting your book is a constant, non-stop job. Since the book focuses on seagulls at the beach, I have researched bookstores along the most popular beach destinations and sent them a personal email with my sell sheet in hopes it would spark interest to carry my book in their store. I have contacted my hometown newspaper, The Erie Times, and they wrote a beautiful article on my book (https://amp.goerie.com/amp/5096158001). I have also contacted local schools regarding school visits, whenever those will be allowed again. My next step is to contact aviaries, local and national, to see if I can get my book in their gift shops. I am not the best in marketing plans, so I contacted my local SCORE (Service Corps of Retired Executives). This organization is a free services that help match a retired executive with your small business needs, and for me that was marketing. I am continuously seeking out interviews, bloggers and reviewers for my book as well. It can be a daunting and never ending job.
SUSANNA: How long was it between the time you started writing seriously and the time you sold your first picture book?
MICHELLE: I have been writing for over 20 years. I am a licenced Speech-Language Pathologist and practiced for over 15 years in the gereatric population. In 2015 I was diagnosed with breast cancer and my life was put on hold for a year. When I was cleared and ready to go back to work, my heart was telling me something different. I told my husband that I wanted to follow my dream and become a children’s book writer and he told me that’s what I should do. So, I became serious about my writing and immersed myself into the publishing world in 2015. I signed my contract for The Stalking Seagulls 2 years later in 2017.
SUSANNA: What is the most important/helpful thing you learned on your way to publication? (Or what is your most helpful piece of advice for up and coming writers?)
MICHELLE: First, One thing I would tell any new writer, make sure you find a critique group that you feel comfortable with and trust their opinions. Having a critique group or critique partner is crucial to help your book in the right direction. Second, write what you know or feel. Lastly, expect a hard road with rejections and critiques you might not like, but cherish the little triumphs, the wonderful people you meet along the way and never give up on your dreams, they will come true with hard work, perseverance and patience.
SUSANNA: What great advice! Anything else you’d like to share about your book’s journey from inspiration to publication?
MICHELLE: The publishing world can be an unexpected one. My book was to be released, initially, in 2019, but was pushed back for a long time (COVID didn’t help) It took almost 3 years to get it released. There were some issues from the illustration aspect. It was frustrating, but certainly worth the wait. Don’t be afraid to ask questions to your agent or editor. This is your book and the last thing you want is to lose sleep because you didn’t ask a question that is important to you. Even though you get a book deal, a release date and you have prepared everything you possibly could have, things still go wrong. My friends went to the local Barnes & Noble to buy my book and when they found it, all the pages were blank. I couldn’t believe it, there was my book on the shelves of B&N and they didn’t have any pictures!!! Thankfully the problem was remedied, but what a way to bring my head out of the clouds.
SUSANNA: Thank you so much for taking the time to join us and share your experience with us, Michelle! We so appreciate the opportunity to learn from you and wish you all the best with this and future titles!
Readers, if you have questions for Michelle, please post them in the comments below and if she has time I’m sure she’ll respond!
You may purchase Michelle’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!)
Gnome Road Publishing (publishing house debut)
Julie Rowan-Zoch – I’m A Hare So There (author/illustrator debut)
Nancy Derey Riley – Curiosity’s Discovery (author/illustrator self-published debut)