It’s time for the first Tuesday Debut for August!
I hope you’re all enjoying it from your shady hammocks with a glass of lemonade or iced tea! If you happen to be at the beach, keep your eyes peeled for sharkbots 😊 because today’s debut-ess is the one and only Jenna Waldman who has kindly come to tell us all about how her SHARKBOT SHALOM wound up at your local bookstore! 😊
Written by Jenna Waldman
Illustrated by Sharon Davey
Apples & Honey Press
August 1, 2021
Fiction, Ages 2-5.
Time is running out before Shabbat, and so is Sharkbot’s charge. He’s already at charge level TEN . . . NINE . . . EIGHT. . . . Count down with this cheerful shark robot as he sets the table, stirs the seaweed soup, and braids kelp into challah loaves. A Shabbat recharge is just what Sharkbot needs. But will he be ready in time?
SUSANNA: Hi, Jenna! So great to have you with us today!
JENNA: Hi, Susanna, It’s fantastic to be visiting with you!
SUSANNA: Let’s start at the beginning. Where did the idea for this book come from?
JENNA: The idea for Sharkbot Shalom came from my pun loving mind one morning while herding my two boys in the car for school. “Shabbat shalom” is the typical Shabbat greeting (it’s also a song), but my kids loved sharks and robots—so the title was born. And yes, I did sing it to them, much to their dismay… I torture them with a lot of silly songs, it helps me brainstorm ideas!
I recently looked back at the original brainstorm I had for the book. I had Sharkbot rushing back home for Shabbat from a space adventure before his charge ran out. But I prefered the idea of Sharkbot preparing the meal himself, and using other ocean imagery and characters—it felt more natural.
SUSANNA: How long did it take you to write this book?
JENNA: After coming up with the concept, it came together pretty quickly! I wrote a brief plot at the top of the document to keep me focused, and made a long list of ocean words for reference. I knew I had to move the countdown from 10-1, and conclude with the Shabbat meal. So, I wrote out the numbers (10-1) and paired them with potential rhymes. Then I filled in the couplets while making sure the story moved along. In the end, I didn’t want every couplet to end with the number, so I used the numbers to refer to things other than his charge: “The starfish waves five arms, “hello””, “Two candlesticks of coral pink”, etc. For this book, it really helped to create a “skeleton” and fill in the “meat”.
SUSANNA: Did you go through many revisions?
JENNA: Sharkbot Shalom was unusual in that it didn’t take many revisions. But! It’s also not a typical PB structure, the plot is simple, and it relies heavily on the counting hook. So, while there are many layers, it was fairly fully formed early on. Larry’s Latkes, on the other hand, took A LOT of revisions!
Speaking of revisions, I am forever grateful for my CP’s help—having your CP’s eyes on your work is invaluable. I’m also a member of Poet’s Garage, a group of incredibly talented poets. If you rhyme, working with people who do it better than you helps you to grow, and makes your work stronger.
SUSANNA: When did you know your manuscript was ready for submission?
JENNA: Remember those CP’s I mentioned? They will often let you know when your manuscript is ready! I also had a gut feeling, and felt like the hooks helped make it a solid, and marketable piece.
But sometimes, your CP’s and gut will tell you your manuscript is ready, and you still get rejections! It can take a lot of revisions and submissions until the right pair of eyes reads your work—keep chocolate handy (for the rejections…and maybe your gut is just telling you you’re hungry!)
SUSANNA: Really there is no moment when chocolate isn’t helpful for something 😊 When and how did you submit?
JENNA: I sent it to Apples & Honey Press, who had recently bought Larry’s Latkes. I sent them Sharkbot Shalom in January, and received the offer in February. This is an unusually fast turnaround! Originally, Larry’s Latkes was going to be my debut, but Sharkbot stole its spot. (I hope they’re still friends!) Larry’s Latkes had done a lot of the work for Sharkbot. I had the connection to editors at Apples & Honey Press already, and that’s why I decided to send it to them first—and you know the rest!
I didn’t have an agent when I sold Larry’s Latkes or Sharkbot Shalom. I was a very reluctant query-er! It felt overwhelming to make a spreadsheet (shudder) and I kept feeling like my best work was still yet to come, and I should wait. True story—when I finally put together a spreadsheet of agents/publishers, I was approached by my now agent (Joyce Sweeney) through my participation in the #PBChat Mentorship Showcase. So maybe, just maybe, tackling that spreadsheet let the universe know I was ready.
SUSANNA: Maybe so! It sounds very possible to me. When did you get “the call”? (Best moment ever! 😊)
JENNA: It went like this: manuscript sent, 1/12/20; received email with interest, 2/20/20; phone call with offer, 2/26/20; contract signed, 3/15/20. Again, it was super fast, and super unusual. Larry’s Latkes went through more of the typical publishing acrobatics, and then had its debut glory stolen!
SUSANNA: How did you celebrate signing your contract?
JENNA: Well, we all remember what was happening in the beginning of 2020? Two days before I signed the contract for Sharkbot, my boys’ schools were shut down. To be honest, I don’t remember celebrating. We were too deep in survival mode. I looked back at the emails my editor and I exchanged at the time, and we were checking in with each other, and asking about family. There were a lot of mixed emotions, that’s for sure. But if you look back at all the chocolate and cookies I ate during 2020, maybe I was celebrating all year! (Oy vey…) I’ll be making up for the missed celebration on Sharkbot’s Book Birthday with a day at the beach, and a nice meal.
SUSANNA: Was the contract what you expected in terms of advance, royalty percentage, publication timeline, author copies etc.?
JENNA: The contract was the same terms as Larry’s Latkes, so it wasn’t much of a surprise. My editor also shared the terms when we had the phone call, so I knew what to expect. I had my husband, who is an attorney, review the contracts. He made some suggested changes, but luckily, they were minor.
Apples & Honey Press is a small publisher, so I wasn’t expecting a large advance, and they have the typical 5% royalties. The contract included 10 author copies, but I wish I had asked for more. I have a third book coming out in ‘23 and I asked for 20 author copies, which they approved. You can always ask!
The final “work” deadline was written in the contract as well, but my editor has always been flexible with deadlines on edits when it’s been necessary (ie I’m going out of town, or another conflict) although I usually end up finishing edits early. It’s a good idea to have open communication with your editor, and ask if you need something, they’re people too!
SUSANNA: Can you tell us a little about the editorial process?
JENNA: I adore my editor at Apples & Honey Press! It’s been a lot of fun to work with her on our (now three) books. There were several rounds of revisions for Sharkbot. The story stayed the same, but there wording was refined. For example—how did I not realize I said “ocean” in the first two stanzas?! Thank you, editor, for catching that!
The Shabbat meal included wine, and I was wondering if they would ask me to change it to, I dunno, underwater-grape juice? But thankfully we were in agreement that Sharkbot and his buddies were most definitely of legal drinking age.
SUSANNA: What was your experience of the illustration process like?
JENNA: I feel lucky that Apples & Honey shared illustrations with me at several different stages. They shared the illustrator’s name before signing her (although I’m unsure what would have happened if I had said “no”—luckily, I loved her work!). I was able to share any comments I had with my editor, but there weren’t many.
The vision I had of sharkbot was nothing like Sharon Davey’s interpretation. (Her’s is FAR better!) I had visualized him as an upright robot (for Dr Who fans, think “dalek”, but not a diabolical murdering machine). Sharon also made the most gorgeous home for her endearing sharkbot character and his friends. I love the color palette, and his eyebrows!
Sharon lives in the UK, and we did not communicate directly about our book. We worked with the editors as our go-between. But we’ve connected on social media, and she is lovely.
I really didn’t have any artnotes for this manuscript, other than that Sharkbot’s charge visibly decreases with each number (10-1). I was very curious about how Sharon was going to illustrate this, and she resolved it really well.
In my two other Apples & Honey books, I was actually asked for more art notes so they had a better sense of my vision. After everything I’ve heard, this really surprised me. I don’t know if the notes were shared with the illustrator, or if the editors merely passed my thoughts along verbally—or not at all.
Here’s a little secret fact in the Sharkbot illustration: Sharkbot lives at “55 Sandy Drive”. My childhood home was number 55. A little shout out to my youth!
SUSANNA: I love that little personal touch! So fun! Did you get to see advance reviews from Kirkus, SLJ, etc? What was that like?
JENNA: So far, I’ve only seen a review from Kirkus, and—I still don’t understand what they are saying. Not that I argue they made a misjudgment, I just didn’t understand: “A guidebook for those who believe “think like a Jewish robotic shark” is good advice.” But it probably makes as much sense as a robotic shark celebrating Shabbat with his ocean friends! I’ll just shrug and keep on writing.
SUSANNA: How long did it take from offer to having the first copy in your hand?
JENNA: Oh goodness! Well, 2/20/20 was the phone call offer, and on 4/8/21 I received an early copy my editor sent me. (See my stop motion video on Twitter showing the opening of the package). But I didn’t receive my author copies until this July.
I don’t know the print run from Apples & Honey, I should ask! But PJ Library will be sending out 30,400 copies of Sharkbot this Fall, I’m so excited!
PJ Library sends children, ages 0-9, free age appropriate books that speak to Jewish values, and traditions. We’ve received PJ Library books since my youngest was in preschool, about 6 years. Apples & Honey Press submits all of their picture books for consideration to PJ Library. I am so honored that they decided to include both Sharkbot Shalom and Larry’s Latkes in their program. Both books will be sent to five year olds this fall. The acceptance to the program happened before the initial print run at Apples & Honey Press. I actually had sent Larry’s Latkes directly to PJ Library (they are open for unsolicited submissions) at the same time I had sent it to Apples & Honey. They initially rejected it, but A&H said that they will often change their minds once they see it come together with the art—I’m so happy they did!
SUSANNA: That is really fabulous! How wonderful that your books will go out to so many kids this fall! What kind of marketing and promotion has your publisher done for this book?
JENNA: Again, it’s a small publisher, and they don’t do a lot of marketing/publicity. But they submit books for reviews, and advertise via their own website and social media, and get the book situated on Amazon and in local indies. They offered to host a virtual event, but I don’t have anything planned with them as of yet. They also send bookmarks and bookplates.
SUSANNA: Describe any marketing/promotion you did for this book.
JENNA: I’m in a fantastic promo group called Picture Book Playground. It’s a group of 22 picture book creators, and their support has been invaluable! From helping to publicize our books on social media, to advice on a variety of topics, to emotional support for the ups and downs of publishing—I really appreciate them.
I have also created promotional stop motion videos for Sharkbot. You can find them on Twitter: @SarafinaDesign (my handle is a remnant of my old greeting card business). They were so much fun to make! I invited kids to draw what they imagined a “sharkbot” to look like, and it culminated in the cover reveal.
On August 1st with the PJ Library of Silicon Valley, we’ll be meeting at Natural Bridges Beach in Santa Cruz for songs, playing in the sun, learning about tidepools, and….the debut reading of Sharkbot Shalom! For the event I’ve made Sharkbot party hats, and little swag bags. Before I even signed my first book contract I was already looking up swag!
Along with more blog visits, I also have some bookstore visits in the future.
SUSANNA: How long was it between the time you started writing seriously and the time you sold your first picture book?
JENNA: When I was pregnant with my first son, I used to meet a friend in coffee shops and we’d work on our own projects. She’s an amazing fantasy writer, and I was working on my greeting cards. In 2016, I was no longer feeling invested in my greeting card business (by then I had a second kid and no time). I wanted to focus on writing, and I asked my friend for advice in finding a writer’s group. On her recommendation, I joined Inked Voices for a while, and that led to 12×12 in 2017. I signed Larry’s Latkes around Thanksgiving in 2019, so it took almost exactly 3 years.
But, one of my dreams is to write AND illustrate a book…we’ll see how many years that takes…
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?)
JENNA: Oh hey, remember those CP’s I mentioned back in question 3 and 4, get yourself some of those! I’ve met them through 12×12, Twitter, my promo group, my agency, and more. They are out there, find them.
I’ve also said this on other occasions: spend time with kids! They are not only idea factories, and unfiltered commentators, but they are your target market. Well, parents are doing the buying, but are parents as much fun as a room full of 5 year olds?!
SUSANNA: Anything else you’d like to share about your book’s journey from inspiration to publication?
JENNA: It is most certainly a collaboration! From the author, to illustrator, editors, copyeditors, book designers, there are so many moving parts that work in the book making machine. Since I had an art background, it was a practice in relinquishing control, and making room for the other parts to turn. This doesn’t mean that you can’t comment on something that doesn’t feel right to you! But, perhaps, by stepping back and making space—you will end up with something amazing you never would have created on your own. For example, my editor is the one who suggested a relaxation exercise for the end of Sharkbot. It hadn’t even crossed my mind—but I love how it complements the book.
Also, I was motivated to write Sharkbot after selling Larry’s Latkes, and having the attention of Apples & Honey Press. I wouldn’t have written Larry’s Latkes if it weren’t for Susunna Hill’s Holiday contest in 2018. Contests are a fantastic way to find prompts and motivation (gotta love deadlines!), connect with the community, and another way to…find those CP’s I keep talking about ; D
Jenna Waldman is the author of the forthcoming picture books, LARRY’S LATKES and SHARKBOT SHALOM. They will both be released in 2021 by Apples & Honey Press. Jenna is originally from Rhode Island, but now lives in the SF Bay Area. She shares her home with her husband, their two boys, and two felines. Jenna is represented by Joyce Sweeney of The Seymour Agency.
JENNA: Thank you SO much Susanna!!! I wouldn’t be here without you, literally!
SUSANNA: Aw, shucks, Jenna! You’re kind to say so, but I’m quite sure your talent and dedication would have won out with or without me! 😊 Thank you so much for taking the time to participate in this series and paying it forward to other writers! We so appreciate it, and wish you all the best of luck with this and future titles!
Readers, if you have questions for Jenna, please post them in the comments below and if she has time I’m sure she’ll respond!
You may purchase Jenna’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)