After a little hiatus in which we didn’t have any Tuesday Debut-ers, we’re back today with a beautiful, inspiring book by the lovely and talented Ann Magee! Her book actually comes out next week, so you’re getting a sneak preview and you can pre-order your copy from one of the links below 😊
BRANCHES OF HOPE: THE 9/11 SURVIVOR TREE
by Ann Magee
illustrated by Nicole Wong
May 18, 2021
Text is nonfiction, illustrations are of fictional family, ages 4-8.
Intertwined stories—one in words and one in pictures—show how the Survivor Tree’s strength echoed the hope of a nation after harrowing events in New York City in 2001.
SUSANNA: Welcome, Ann! We are so thrilled to have you here with us today to tell us about your journey to publication with this very special book! Where did the idea for this book come from?
ANN: My children and I visited the 9/11 Memorial Museum in 2016 where I read a booklet about the story of the Survivor Tree in the gift shop. I immediately thought it would make a lovely picture book—a hopeful story born from a tragic event in history. It’s a story I wish I had known when my children were young and learning about the events of 9/11.
SUSANNA: How long did it take you to write this book?
ANN: It took about six months to write the book after several months of research. (I was working part-time then). A lot of my “writing” happens in my head first. I’m very visual, which is definitely helpful in writing picture books.
SUSANNA: Did you go through many revisions?
ANN: When I draft a picture book manuscript, I write the beginning and the end first, like bookends, so I know the shape of the story. I outlined the story and wrote about 15 drafts. I was writing the true story of the tree’s journey, and in my mind, I visualized the story of a little girl growing up alongside the tree’s recovery, much like my own little girl was doing at the time.
SUSANNA: When did you know your manuscript was ready for submission?
ANN: I shared this manuscript with several critique partners along the way as well as getting a paid critique from an editor at a SCBWI event. I was confident in my vision for this story, so I took the advice that matched that vision and discarded others’ (like the editor who advised I should add a fictional character to the text).
SUSANNA: When and how did you submit?
ANN: I am unagented. I submitted this manuscript to Yolanda Scott at Charlesbridge on the last possible day for submissions (end of December 2017) after an online-type of conference over the summer 2017.
SUSANNA: When did you get “the call”? (Best moment ever! 😊)
ANN: In June 2018, I got an email from Karen Boss at Charlesbridge asking if the manuscript was still available. I screamed, then responded, “Yes, yes it is.” She offered for it in July. At this time, Carole Boston Weatherford was exploring a role as literary agent and had offered to represent another of my manuscripts earlier that year. I asked if she would represent this one for me as well as I had no experience negotiating contracts, etc. and she said she would.
SUSANNA: How did you celebrate signing your contract?
ANN: My husband and I went out to a nice dinner to celebrate my signing my first book contract!
SUSANNA: Was the contract what you expected in terms of advance, royalty percentage, publication timeline, author copies etc.?
ANN: This is my first book deal and Charlesbridge is a smaller house, so I expected the advance would be on the lower end of 2K-3K. Royalty—5% on hardcover, 3% on paperback, 20 author copies, and Newbery/Caldecott stipulations were also included in the contract.
SUSANNA: Can you tell us a little about the editorial process?
ANN: I felt very comfortable from the beginning of our book-making journey that this important story was in caring, loving hands at Charlesbridge.
We went through three rounds of revisions with a specific focus each time. The first round focused on ‘big picture’ ideas—clarifying the text storyline and the wordless storyline (in the illustrations), looking at the pagination or pacing of the story, and creating a strong ending that tied with the 20th anniversary.
The second round of revisions included more work on the ending and changing the title since another book had just been announced with the title Survivor Tree, which had been my title, too. (I was a bit upset about this at first, but I’m glad now because the new title Branches of Hope encompasses the book’s message so much better.)
There were a few minor tweaks for the last round. We also discussed choices for illustrators and what style goes with our vision for the ‘feel’ of the story.
SUSANNA: What was your experience of the illustration process like?
ANN: The illustration process went very smoothly. Luckily, the team at Charlesbridge, the illustrator Nicole Wong, and I had similar visions for this project. I was informed at each step along the way—I saw the sketches, received digital files throughout the process. When I had questions or concerns about the art, they were valued and discussed. I received color proof pages in the mail for me to check for errors before it went to print.
In terms of art notes, I included just a few with my manuscript upon submission to inform the illustrator of a specific setting for some scenes since the story is a true story. For example, at the end Tears rained down, down, down, the Illos. Note reads: reflection pools.
text copyright Ann Magee 2021, illustration copyright Nicole Wong 2021, Charlesbridge
(this one is Ann’s favorite – isn’t it wonderful?!)
As we developed the wordless parallel story for the illustrations, more Illustration notes were needed so Nicole could know what the storyline was, but she had the space to make each scene her own. For example, Nicole knew that the family should be shown having a picnic near the Twin Towers in the front pages of the book before the story begins but illustrating the pears on the picnic blanket was all her—and I love it!
SUSANNA: Did you get to see advance reviews from Kirkus, SLJ, etc? What was that like?
ANN: I did not see the advance review from PW, but my editor and marketing director did give me the good news of our Kirkus Star a week or two before it went public. I was able to read the review when they emailed me the good news. Karen emailed me the SJL review at the end of April. We are very happy with the book’s reviews so far!
SUSANNA: How long did it take from offer to having the first copy in your hand?
ANN: It took 2 ½ years to finally hold the first copy in my hands, but not much was done for the first year as Charlesbridge wasn’t ready to work on the project yet. The initial print run is 6,000 copies.
SUSANNA: What kind of marketing and promotion has your publisher done for this book?
ANN: At my request, my two-person marketing team at Charlesbridge (and the design department) created a postcard and bookmark for me to print. They have also arranged several bookstore readings and other possible events that will take place nearer to September. They plan to include the book in Charlesbridge’s virtual exhibits, book buzzes and chats. They will reach out to newspapers who are bound to do stories nearer to the anniversary date.
SUSANNA: Describe any marketing/promotion you did for this book.
ANN: I’ve reached out to several local bookstores and will be doing a book launch at Words Matter Bookstore in Pitman NJ on the weekend after my release date. I’ll do a reading and a craft related to the book.
Also, Tamara Girardi has included BRANCHES OF HOPE in her 12 Months of Books Challenge.
In the upcoming months, I’ll be featured on Kathy Teaman’s blog and Kidlit 411’s blog.
SUSANNA: How long was it between the time you started writing seriously and the time you sold your first picture book?
ANN: I started writing seriously in January 2013 when I joined Julie Hedlund’s 12 x 12 Writing Challenge. I spent that first year just immersing myself in learning, taking classes, going to conferences, etc. I sold my first book 5 ½ years later.
SUSANNA: I remember having you in my class in early 2014 😊 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?)
ANN: I can’t stress enough how important it is to surround yourself with likeminded people, people who are also traveling the same path. Sharing advice or traversing bumps in the road together is so important in an endeavor that feels very solitary most of the time. I’m so grateful for my critique partners!
Also, I think as a writer, you need to care about the story you’re telling—it has to REALLY matter to you in order for that passion to shine through in the manuscript.
SUSANNA: Thank you so much, Ann, for taking the time to participate in this series and paying it forward to other writers! We all so appreciate you sharing your experience and wish you the best of luck with this and future titles!
ANN: Thank you so much, Susanna, for having me on your blog and for sharing my journey with my debut book. It means so much!
Readers, if you have questions for Ann, please post them in the comments below and if she has time I’m sure she’ll respond!
You may purchase Ann’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)