Welcome, my friends, to another exciting installment of Tuesday Debut!
I am always thrilled to introduce new authors, but never more so than when the debut author about to be in the limelight is a former student, an exceptionally talented writer (a poet, no less!), and a friend. What could be better?
So without further ado, please meet and welcome today’s debutess, Renée LaTulippe, and join me in wishing her a Happy Book Birthday (yes! it’s today!) for her absolutely gorgeous debut picture book! (So pretty! 😊)
THE CRAB BALLET
written by Renée M. LaTulippe
illustrated by Cécile Metzger
March 8, 2022
The Crab Ballet is a sunset seaside show starring the dancing crab divas and their aquatic corps de ballet. A fantastical rhyming text and sea-washed watercolors usher readers through one sea-foam-dreamy act after another, from a gentle seahorse pas de deux and dramatic dolphin leaps beyond the spray to the grand crab finale.
SUSANNA: Welcome, ! We are so incredibly thrilled to have you here with us today! Where did the idea for this book come from?
Renée: Thanks for having me on the blog, Susanna!
This book actually started as a six-stanza poem (127 words) that I wrote for a poetry contest in 2015. The challenge was to use the word “iridescent” in a poem, and that word somehow triggered an image of wet sand at sunset as the waves roll back.
Then I wondered what might happen if the receding waves revealed some sea creatures, and it just developed from there. Two things that certainly helped me shape the idea are that I have a background in theater and I actually live right by the Mediterranean sea!
I also love French, so it was exciting for me to use French ballet terms in the poem. Those have been there since the beginning—but the word “iridescent” was cut in an early draft.
This is where I do most of my writing.
SUSANNA: Wow! Nice office! How long did it take you to write this book, sitting in that lovely spot?
Renée: At some point after writing the shorter poem I realized that I could expand it into a picture-book length poem, so I began where I often begin: LISTS!
-marine animals that live or can come close to shore
As you can see on the left side of my lists, I paired ballet terms with the creatures most likely to perform those moves, and this helped me shape the stanzas. I also spent a lot of time staring at photos and videos and looking up facts about these marine creatures, which is always an invaluable piece of my writing puzzle. A bit of research goes a long way in terms of sparking new ideas and directions you may not have thought about.
Working like this, I managed to get the poem up to eleven stanzas (244 words). I’m not sure how long it took, but I do know that this is the version I submitted to the agent I signed with, and that was in the summer of 2016—so about 15 months after I wrote the original poem. I’m a very slow writer!
SUSANNA: Did you go through many revisions?
Renée: This manuscript has had about ten revisions, but I count revisions even if I change a couple of words, and I tend to tinker.
The only major revision happened after I signed with my agent. I am fortunate that I have an editorial agent who specializes in poetry, so her feedback was essential. She felt that the story was lopsided in that I needed to fill out the second act of the story, which was quite a bit shorter than the first act.
This revision took me A YEAR! I kid you not. I had chosen such a difficult rhyme scheme that writing any more stanzas felt impossible. Granted, I didn’t actually write for that whole year; rather, I stuck the manuscript in a drawer and wished it would write itself. I don’t know what I was thinking, but I was totally blocked.
When I finally felt ready, I took it out and brought it up to sixteen stanzas (367 words), plus a glossary of French ballet terms. Phew!
I do not suggest doing this, by the way! I must have been paralyzed by fear or stupidity, or a bit of both. Revision can be daunting, yes, but now that I have more experience, I don’t balk at it and actually really like this stage.
What works best for me, so I don’t feel overwhelmed, is to do all the “easy” stuff first—changing a single word, fixing a little glitch in the meter, tweaking a rhyme, and so on. Then I move on to the larger bits of content revision one at a time. No more head in the sand!
SUSANNA: Very helpful advice. I work the same way. When did you know your manuscript was ready for submission?
Renée: When I sent my agent the requested revision. It may have taken forever, but we both felt that it was now a more balanced and complete story and ready to send out into the world. This was in the summer of 2017, so about two and a half years after I’d written the original poem.
SUSANNA: When and how did you submit?
Renée: My agent started submitting it in October 2017 with a round of about five editors. Over the next couple of years it went on four other rounds, always to about 3-5 editors each time.
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”?
Renée: Not long at all! I know! Amazing! Cameron is ON TOP OF THINGS. We submitted to them in February 2020, heard that it was going to acquisitions about three weeks later, and got the news they wanted to acquire it four days after that. A whirlwind romance!
SUSANNA: When did you get “the call”, which these days is more likely to be “the email”? (Best moment ever! ☺)
Renée: It was certainly exciting to get that YES email from my agent, especially since it was at the very start of the pandemic in March 2020. I live in Italy and things were dire, so this good news was very welcome.
The manuscript had been on submission for two and a half years, and I admit I was feeling frustrated. Plus you begin to doubt if it’s even a good story, and I wondered if it needed revision. But in the end, my agent and I both thought it was already strong, so we left it as is. Overall, it received very nice rejections from nine editors and a symphony of crickets from another thirteen. But it only takes one!
SUSANNA: That is the truth! How long was it between getting your offer and getting your contract to sign?
Renée: This actually did take longer because the publishing industry was in turmoil during the pandemic when no one knew which way was up. But Cameron was always very communicative about their timeline and delays, which I so appreciated. We received the official offer letter in July 2020 and the final contract in October of that year.
SUSANNA: How did you celebrate signing your contract?
Renée: I didn’t wait for the contract—I celebrated when I got the YES email from my agent! And since we were in lockdown, my husband, the only one allowed out for grocery shopping, brought home profiteroles and Bailey’s. This is my standard celebration fare. 😊
SUSANNA: Was the contract what you expected in terms of advance, royalty percentage, publication timeline, author copies etc.?
Renée: Of course we always want bigger advances! And honestly, I didn’t really know what to expect from any of this—I was just glad to have sold the book! The advance was initially in the under 5K range, but during this time Cameron Kids was bought by Abrams, so my agent did negotiate for and receive a bit more moola for the advance. And I have to say for the millionth time that I am so relieved to have an agent.
The rest of the contract was very standard with 5% royalties on hardcover up to 15K copies sold and 6.25% thereafter, and a bit less on paperback. The contract includes 20 author copies.
SUSANNA: Can you tell us a little about the editorial process?
Renée: I was terrified at what changes the editor might request! Remember the year it took me to do that first revision for my agent? Again, it was the difficult rhyme scheme and all those French words that made me shake in my boots! Luckily, though, the edits were not scary at all. While no significant changes were made to the story, she did ask excellent questions and make suggestions for several lines and stanzas that I thought were spot on and that gave me the opportunity to strengthen the text—exactly what I would want in an editor! The process was very respectful, and since she’s not a rhymer, she completely trusted me to be the expert on that count and to take her suggestions and make them work within my meter and rhyme scheme.
Sometimes editors can make suggestions you don’t agree with, and that’s okay too. For example, my editor wondered if we needed the second stanza at all, or if it could be combined with the first somehow. I mulled that over for a bit and tried some alternatives, but in the end I felt that the stanza should stay, and it did. In these cases, I always like to state my case, respectfully, and explain my preferences.
One “battle” I did lose, though, was on the title. The original title was THE SEASIDE CRAB BALLET, and I was so used to it after all these years that I was taken aback when she said she wanted to change it to THE CRAB BALLET. Seems like a minor thing, but everything is huge when you’re in the middle of it! She was gently insistent that it was better, so I let it go. And you know what? She was totally right. I was still skeptical, but as soon as I saw the cover I knew it was the perfect choice.
SUSANNA: What was your experience of the illustration process like?
Renée: Cameron Kids was so wonderful about keeping me apprised of developments every step of the way. I feel like I landed in some sort of publishing fairy land. As had happened with other writers I know, they did not send me a list of potential illustrators to get my opinion as I think they already had Cécile on board. This might have concerned me if it hadn’t been Cameron, but I knew their list and loved their aesthetic, so I had complete trust that they’d make a beautiful book.
I had very few art notes in my manuscript since it was self-explanatory. Though I generally keep my art notes very short, the first one was longer simply to set the scene and make it clear what exactly was happening in this funny little world I’d created:
[Art note: Seaside show about to begin as the corps de ballet—anemones, squids, turtles, seahorses—warms up at the barre.]
I received the first black-and-white storyboards via email in December 2020 and was blown away not only by Cécile’s detail, but by the fact that she had written explanations on every spread about why she had made those specific choices. Amazing! It was a great peek inside an artist’s head.
At that point, I wasn’t really sure if I was supposed to comment on the sketches or not, but I did end up sending my editor a list of notes I had on the illustrations. Nothing terribly invasive, mind you, although if there had been something really “wrong” I definitely would have spoken up. Again, the key is always respect for the whole team.
Still, I was concerned about stepping on toes, but instead she told me she’d passed my notes to the art director and that they were probably going to accommodate almost all of them (they did!). Have I mentioned that this publisher is amazing?
From there I received the color galleys and was able to give my thoughts on those as well. All around an open, inclusive, and collaborative experience!
SUSANNA: Did you get to see advance reviews from Kirkus, SLJ, etc? What was that like?
Renée: Yesssss. Yet another terrifying passage we must all face. The only review I’ve received so far is from Kirkus and, boy, did I cringe as I clicked on that link. I really couldn’t imagine how this book was going to be received. I’d already seen a hilarious review on Goodreads that talked about how bizarre my concept was, and though that reviewer loved the book, I was nonetheless concerned, haha. Luckily, Kirkus loved it too! What a dang relief that was!
SUSANNA: How long did it take from offer to having the first copy in your hand?
Renée: I received an advance copy in January of this year, so it was 18 months from official offer to physical book. I saw on Edelweiss that the initial print run will be 20,000 copies. Sadly, I will never get to open a box of author copies. I have no use for them in Italy, so they will live with my sister in the U.S. Should I ever need an extra copy here, I will have to order it. Ah, well!
SUSANNA: What kind of marketing and promotion has your publisher done for this book?
Renée: They sent it to the major reviewers (Kirkus, SLJ, Horn Book, etc.) as well as some influencers on Instagram. They also provided me with a hi-res cover image and an eGalley (PDF) of the book that I can share with bloggers and reviewers. I don’t know what else they may be doing internally.
SUSANNA: Describe any marketing/promotion you did for this book.
Renée: I didn’t plan on doing much, but then I got caught up in the whirlwind—and it really is way too time consuming, so proceed with caution. Here’s a list of things I did:
- Cover reveal
- Pre-order campaign with giveaways (including critiques)
- Created activity pack for campaign and as a free download on my website. The illustrator was kind enough to provide coloring pages and images for this.
- Contacted larger podcasters, bloggers, and influencers on my own. Received ZERO response.
- Contacted smaller podcasts and blogs (like this one!) and set up several interviews (though not a blog tour, per se).
- Participated with other writers in in-kind review exchanges on Goodreads and B&N.
- Recorded a Sneak Peek & Book Giveaway video for my YouTube channel (not a book trailer) that also gives info on the pre-order campaign and giveaway.
- Sent a book news email to my mailing list that included links to the Sneak Peek video and the pre-order campaign.
- Social media: I do what interests me and what I have time for and try to support and share other people’s book news, and thank them for sharing mine.
- Still to do: Contact ARC-sharing groups on Twitter. These are groups of educators and librarians who share your book and talk it up on social media. You can learn about it here.
It’s important to understand that the goal of all these activities is not to drive sales, which I think we as writers have very little control over. Rather, I see the promo period as a way to create a presence for you as author and an awareness of your book, and in doing so to expand your community in an organic, authentic, and reciprocal way. Everything is about relationships!
Also, so much of what we do is preaching to the choir—in this case, other writers. What I really want to do is reach educators and librarians, the gatekeepers for our books (like with the ARC-sharing groups). Next time my efforts will be more focused on these groups.
SUSANNA: How long was it between the time you started writing seriously and the time you sold your first picture book?
Renée: I started toying with picture book writing in 2012, but I can’t say I did it seriously. And although I began having poems published in anthologies in 2013, it took me quite some time to remember that I’m a poet and not a plotter and should be focusing my efforts on that. Duh! So I’d say I got serious in 2015 when I began writing my first poetry collection under the tutelage of my wonderful mentor, the late Lee Bennett Hopkins. And that is the first manuscript I sold in 2017, though it has yet to come out (LIMELIGHT: Theater Poems to Perform / Charlesbridge). THE CRAB BALLET is my debut, but it’s the second book I sold.
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?)
Renée: Turn off the noise when you need to, to protect your mental health and creativity. The kidlit community is vast and generous, but also frenetic and cacophonous. There are deal announcements, writing challenges, pitch parties, contests, webinars, classes, cover reveals, release parties, signings, how-to advice galore, social media, more deals—all good things that, when taken in too-big doses, can easily overwhelm. You don’t need to do everything. Recognize where you are in your journey and focus on the things that help you right where you are. Take care of your quiet space. Write. We’ll be here when you get back.
SUSANNA: Excellent advice! Anything else you’d like to share about your book’s journey from inspiration to publication?
Renée: Yes—the fact that it takes a village to write a manuscript. Reading my book now is like looking at a photo album of all the people who helped it become what it is: the critique partners who suggested that phrase or that rhyme or that I write the book in the first place; the agent who saw its potential and pushed me further; the editor who helped me see the weaknesses so I could make them stronger; the family who supported me with time, ideas, and silence.
SUSANNA: Thank you so much for sharing your publication journey with us, Renée! We so appreciate it, and all the wonderful tips and advice! I’m sure I speak for everyone when I wish you the best with this and future titles!
Renée M. LaTulippe is the author of The Crab Ballet (Cameron Kids/Abrams, 2022) and Limelight: Theater Poems to Perform (Charlesbridge, TBA) and has poems published in many anthologies including Night Wishes, School People, National Geographic’s The Poetry of US and Book of Nature Poetry, One Minute Till Bedtime, and ThankU: Poems of Gratitude.
Renée developed The Lyrical Language Lab and provides free lessons and critiques for children’s writers on her YouTube channel. She has a BFA in acting/directing and an MA in English Education. She lives by the sea in Italy with her husband and three children.
She is represented by Elizabeth Harding at Curtis Brown.
Readers, if you have questions for Renée, please post them in the comments below and if she has time I’m sure she’ll respond!
You may purchase Renée’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)
Kate Allen Fox – Pando: A Living Wonder Of Trees (nonfiction)
Rebecca Mullin – One Tomato (board book)
Cynthia Argentine – Night Becomes Day: Changes In Nature (illustrated with photographs)
Anne Appert – Blob (author/illustrator)
Karen Condit – Turtle On The Track (hybrid publishing)