Nothing is better than a good Tuesday Debut except. . .when you get to announce the winner of a PB MS critique offered by the last Tuesday Debut!
The randomly chosen lucky winner of a PB MS critique from Christine Van Zandt is MDK45!
MDK45, come on down! (You’ll have to contact me, I think because I don’t have contact info for you! 😊)
Now! Onto today’s Tuesday Debut where we get to meet the lovely and talented Candice Marley Conner, hear about her journey, even get to see some of the original notes she wrote in her journal which were the first seeds of her debut picture book, SASSAFRAS AND HER TEENY TINY TAIL! (How can you not love a squirrel named Sassafras?!)
SASSAFRAS AND HER TEENY TINY TAIL
written by Candice Marley Conner
Illustrated by Heath Gray
June 8, 2021
With her scraggly, bristly tail, Sassafras is teased right off her tree branch. But when danger strikes, what makes her different might just help her save the day.
SUSANNA: Welcome, Candice! Thank you so much for joining us today! We are excited to hear all about how SASSAFRAS came to be! Where did the idea for this book come from?
CANDICE: The idea for this book came from a stroller-ride and a neighborhood squirrel. My one-year-old (now ten) was teething, I was writing my first young adult novel, and we both desperately needed to get out of the house. I’ve learned that anytime I hit a writing block, or my kiddos start whining, that fresh air is best at fixing what ails us. On our walk, we saw a squirrel in a neighbor’s yard that had the scrawniest, stubbiest tail I had ever seen. Immediately, the brainstorms began: squirrels use their long tails for balance, so could this one leap from limb to limb? Squirrel tails signal danger, etc, so did this one have a hard time communicating? And on the other side of the coin, what advantages could this squirrel have by being different? By the time we returned home, Sassafras’s story was ready to be put down on paper.
SUSANNA: How long did it take you to write this book?
CANDICE: The initial draft wrote itself in my head, then all I had to do was get it written down in my journal before the idea-spark disappeared. The problem I ran into was that I’d never written a picture book manuscript before. I was writing YA and had written poetry, short stories, and what I thought was middle grade (spoiler: it was not, lol) in college. I had a LOT to learn about concise writing and page turns and everything that makes picture books re-readable. Even character names! Initial drafts had cutesy alliterative names like Sam and Sally for the side character squirrels, though those quickly changed when I realized my kiddo audience would expect better 😊 (disclaimer: alliteration is my fave).
SUSANNA: Did you go through many revisions?
CANDICE: The main idea stayed the same but it went through a lot of tightening. I love alliteration and word play so every picture book I read to my daughter showed me how to do this by example. Then I learned about making book dummies through SCBWI and that helped me with tension and page turns.
SUSANNA: When did you know your manuscript was ready for submission?
CANDICE: I did make the mistake of submitting too early before I learned everything I needed to. Such as show versus tell. Children’s author, Ariel Bernstein, offered a picture book manuscript review to pre-published authors on twitter, and while I didn’t win, she graciously gave me great tips on how to show and cut the tell. So I kinda did win in that regard since my next query resulted in a yes 😊
SUSANNA: When and how did you submit?
CANDICE: I submitted directly to publishing houses and received form rejections. Probably because I hadn’t learned everything I needed to yet. I didn’t have the writing community I do now and that makes such a difference. In the meantime, I had finished the YA mentioned earlier and signed that with an agent. She mainly represents YA and adult so when I stumbled across MacLaren-Cochrane Publishing on Facebook and connected with one of their authors who had a great experience with them, I asked her if I could submit and she gave me the go-ahead to query.
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”?
CANDICE: MCP is a small publishing house so it didn’t go to acquisitions. I submitted my manuscript and cover letter August 3rd, 2017 and by that afternoon the editor responded to make sure I knew it was royalty-based.
SUSANNA: When did you get “the call”, which these days is more likely to be “the email”?
CANDICE: Yes, it was an email about three weeks later which I was grateful for as phone calls make me nervous, haha! (< that was nervous laughter just thinking about a phone call)
SUSANNA: How long was it between getting your offer and getting your contract to sign?
CANDICE: She sent the offer a couple days before the contract. I have awesome critique partners who were already published so they helped me look over the contract and I signed it on September 1st, 2017.
SUSANNA: How did you celebrate signing your contract?
CANDICE: Lots of spontaneous dancing with the kiddos, wine cheers-ing with the hubs, exclamation points in that day’s journal entry, and a blog post I had been eagerly waiting to write for five years. My parents sent me a beautiful bouquet of flowers to celebrate.
SUSANNA: So nice! 😊 Was the contract what you expected in terms of advance, royalty percentage, publication timeline, author copies etc.?
CANDICE: Yes, MCP was very upfront that since they’re a small house, the contract would be royalty only. A couple of my critique partners had told me stories about authors not able to pay out their advances so I was okay with it. Especially since my royalty percentages were higher—25% on both hard cover and paperback. I also receive two hard cover and two soft cover author copies. I did have to re-sign a contract last year as originally the contract was for one book printed traditionally, and another in dyslexie font which makes the books more accessible to dyslexic readers (both kiddo and their adult readers), and due to COVID making things so hard on everyone, MCP decided to focus solely on dyslexie font. That was fine with me because printing in dyslexie was a main draw to this company. The only thing that wasn’t expected was the publishing timeline. SASSAFRAS was originally set to come out in 2019. Such is life and publishing!
SUSANNA: That is so interesting! Completely by chance, the week before last our debut – Michelle Vattula – was also published by MacLaren-Cochrane, and also had her book printed in dyslexie. You two are the first to have mentioned that in your debuts! Can you tell us a little about the editorial process?
CANDICE: The editor was happy with my vision so nothing changed there and then small changes (i.e. grammar, word choices, etc) once I received my pass pages.
SUSANNA: What was your experience of the illustration process like?
CANDICE: I was able to see character sketches and my opinion was valued as I was able to choose which sketch went with which character. Early sketches showed the squirrels with what I thought was a crazed look in their eyes (lol) and the art director was very good at relaying my concerns to the illustrator.
I didn’t include any art notes in my manuscript though I did include page breaks, which some publishers don’t like but MCP prefers, thank goodness 😊
SUSANNA: Did you get to see advance reviews from Kirkus, SLJ, etc?
CANDICE: No, though I didn’t expect to with a small publisher.
SUSANNA: How long did it take from offer to having the first copy in your hand?
CANDICE: I signed on September 1st, 2017 and held (hugged) my first copy May 29th, 2021! MCP is print-on-demand, so I ordered copies and my local indie bookstore ordered too, based on how many preorders have come through so far.
SUSANNA: What kind of marketing and promotion has your publisher done for this book?
CANDICE: MCP listed my book on Bookshop, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble. They maintain a website and social media where they post about their authors, illustrators, and books. They’re also good at sharing their author and illustrator’s posts on Facebook.
SUSANNA: Describe any marketing/promotion you did for this book.
CANDICE: I was a member of the debut group #NewIn19 and while I obviously didn’t debut with them, I learned SO MUCH about marketing/promotion. And many have offered to review SASSAFRAS which is incredibly kind since it’s two years later.
I set up a preorder campaign through my local indie for signed copies, and plan on doing a book signing, then story time in a nearby park so we can all social distance and be in the open air. Also, there are tons of squirrels which is perfect for my book and my squirrel-loving seven year-old. I also had stickers made (I used StickerMule—great quality) to give out then and a coloring sheet downloadable on my website. I’d love to do stuff with Girl Scouts too since my daughter is in Girl Scouts so figuring out how to get fun patches made is next on my list of things to do 😊
I adore fun facts so I also did a social media-wide #SevenTilSassafras marketing plan where I shared a squirrely fun fact a day the week before SASSAFRAS debuted. The teachers commenting on the posts about sharing the facts with their students TOTALLY made my day.
KidLit411 has a great resource on their Facebook page where bloggers who are open to interviews can post their contact information (including this one! 😊 You rock, Susanna) so I was able to jump on some calendars to share SASSAFRAS and my YA (which actually debuts TODAY!)
SUSANNA: Oh wow! How exciting! Better get a quick plug in for that too, as long as you’re here 😊 (THE EXISTENCE OF BEA PEARL (Owl Hollow Press, June 15, 2021)) ) How long was it between the time you started writing seriously and the time you sold your first picture book?
CANDICE: I’ve been writing my entire life but I really got serious in 2011 when I became a stay-at-home mom. So, six years to sell, ten years to have book-in-hand!
SUSANNA: What is the most important/helpful thing you learned on your way to publication?
CANDICE: I learned that the time in the trenches (whether it’s query or submission) is so incredibly valuable. I used that time to build my writing community, to accept help and advice from other authors, then pay it forward anyway I can by mentoring young writers, volunteering with SCBWI and twitter contests, and supporting the author-friends I’m meeting along the way. It’s important mentally to have people in the same writing-boat you’re in. So embrace that trench-time, up and coming writers!
SUSANNA: If your book has been out for at least one statement cycle, has it earned out yet?
CANDICE: SASSAFRAS has been out for one week today! Woohoo!
SUSANNA: Woohoo indeed! 😊 Anything else you’d like to share about your book’s journey from inspiration to publication?
CANDICE: A former boss of mine is big into motivational plaques and he gave me one many years ago that I keep on the bookshelf in my office. It’s a quote from Moliere that reads: “Perseverance: the greater the obstacle, the more glory in overcoming it.” And right next to it is a post-it note with a quote from Jess Keating: “The obstacles ARE the path.” Those two quotes help get me in the right frame of mind on the tough days 😊
CANDICE: Thank you so much for having me and Sassafras, Susanna!
SUSANNA: Thank YOU so much for taking the time to share your experience and expertise with us, Candice! We all really appreciate it and wish you the very best with this and future titles!!!
Readers, if you have questions for Candice, please post them in the comments below and if she has time I’m sure she’ll respond!
You may purchase Candice’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)
Christine Van Zandt – A Brief History Of Underpants (nonfiction)