Welcome to Tuesday Debut, Everyone!
Today I am thrilled to introduce debut author Moni Ritchie Hadley and show off her gorgeous book about the Japanese Star Festival which releases Thursday (April 1st) (no fooling 😊). Just look at that cover!
Title, THE STAR FESTIVAL
Author Moni Ritchie Hadley
Illustrator Mizuho Fujisawa
Publishing House – Albert Whitman & Co.
Date of Publication 4-1-21
Fiction, age range 4-7
When Keiko, Mama, and Oba attend the Japanese Festival of Tanabata Matsuri, Keiko saves the day by reliving the events of the folktale it celebrates.
SUSANNA: Welcome, Moni! Thank you so much for joining us today. We are looking forward to hearing all about how The Star Festival was born. Where did the idea for this book come from?
MONI: THE STAR FESTIVAL began as a multigenerational concept book about the similarities between caring for toddlers and caring for my mom. It remained in that state for a few months. Letting go of that first idea took some time. Eventually, I changed the perspective and the setting to the Japanese Tanabata Festival (The Star Festival). I celebrated many festivals in Japan as a child, but it wasn’t until I wrote this story that I discovered the origins and distinctions between each celebration. The research opened up a whole new world of ideas, and that is when the story blossomed.
SUSANNA: How long did it take you to write this book?
MONI: The initial draft to submission took about five months, but I continued to revise until the signing of the contract, which put it at nine months. I edited for another month after the signing.
SUSANNA: Did you go through many revisions?
MONI: Yes! It amazes me that other writers can count them. I’m continually fiddling and reworking manuscripts, and I forget to create new documents. So, I’ll give a ballpark figure, 20-30, including rewrites with the editor.
For a long while, I couldn’t let go of what I wanted the story to be. When I allowed it the freedom to go where it needed to go, the story turned a corner. The bond between the main character and her grandmother, remained, but the details changed completely.
One technique that I used was to put the story on a plot hill diagram on my wall. I assigned three stickies to each scene, one color for the setting, another color for the plot, and another for the emotion. I then went through and asked myself questions about the stakes and reactions of my character. This visual strategy was very effective. Sometimes when I’m stuck in the mucky middle, I cut apart my story and tape it sideways to my wall, and like magic, I see the areas that aren’t working. Changing the perspective and moving the pieces around helped me see the story’s flow more clearly. I’ve recently started to create dummies for some of my stories. Putting my ideas into a visual format, no matter how rough the drawings are, helps me address issues. Another strategy that works for me is to deformat the text. I find that I play more with structure when I do this. I hesitate to change blocks of text if I leave it in its original structure.
Moni’s writing buddies: Dogs in order – Patti, Rusy, Smiley; Cat – Numnums
SUSANNA: When did you know your manuscript was ready for submission?
MONI: There was an energy I felt when I finally grasped the story, I was meant to tell. I banged it out in the last couple of weeks of the class I was taking. The deadline really motivated me to get it submission-ready. And all my critique partners rallied and helped me get it into shape.
SUSANNA: When and how did you submit?
MONI: In the fall of 2019, I took an online class with Mira Reisberg at the Children’s Book Academy, The Craft and Business of Writing Picture Books. In the end, I was able to submit a pitch for the participating editors and agents. Editor, Christina Pulles, liked my pitch and invited me to submit the manuscript.
SUSANNA: When did you get “the call”? (Best moment ever! ☺)
MONI: I didn’t get a call!😆 My email submission was answered with a request for changes, which I agreed to. The editor liked the changes, and it quickly escalated from there, all through email! It was a month from the time I submitted to the time I heard back from the editor, late November to late December, around the holidays. We passed the manuscript back and forth for about another month. From there, I continued to make changes with the editor. It was intense, but it was a pleasure working with Christina. She had a gentle communication style and always considered my opinion and what was best for the book.
SUSANNA: Can you tell us about your experience of the illustration process?
MONI: I had read that authors rarely get to see the sketches in progress. So it came as a surprise that Christina involved me at every major step. She sent me initial sketches and near-finished art for review. Since she asked, I gave honest opinions.
She considered everything I said and then let me know which changes she agreed with and which she didn’t. It was nice to know that she valued my opinion. And if she felt strongly about something, I trusted her.
I was fortunate to be paired with illustrator Mizuho Fujisawa. She is Japanese as well and gave such nuanced details to every spread. I was blown away when I saw the cover for the first time. The colors on the cover were bold and vibrant. She brought the setting and character to life. Mizuho exceeded my expectations, and the illustration process proceeded very quickly.
Up until writing this story, I rarely used art notes. Some editors do not like them. But for this manuscript, I decided to include them. Japanese words and customs needed notes, and I wanted my story to be understood in the way that I intended. Here some examples of notes that I thought were necessary and would make the reading clearer.
Keiko slips on her summer kimono. [incorrectly] [image below]
The skies explode. [fireworks] [image below]
“And look who helped me, the Emperor of the Heavens.” [security guard] [no image supplied]
SUSANNA: Did you get to see advance reviews from Kirkus, SLJ, etc? What was that like?
MONI: Christina shared a positive review from Kirkus privately about a week before it was available online. I was thrilled. I floated through that day! And the very next day, she shared a starred review from the School Library Journal! In all the time that lead up to that moment, I hadn’t thought about professional reviews, so it was a pleasant surprise to get those!
SUSANNA: Congratulations! How wonderful to get such great reviews! How long did it take from offer to having the first copy in your hand?
MONI: 14 months.
SUSANNA: Describe any marketing/promotion you did for this book.
MONI: I sent letters to schools, held giveaways, and made stickers and bookmarks. I have done many blog interviews and activities for the story. I also made a short gif and had a book trailer made for the book.
SUSANNA: How long was it between the time you started writing seriously and the time you sold your first picture book?
MONI: That’s a difficult question to answer. Define seriously? I feel like every story, revision, critique, submission is an effort to be a serious writer.
When I was working full time, I struggled to balance writing with work and my home life. I think that the time I spent working on stories, critiquing, and learning in those thirteen years attributed to getting published.
When I retired from teaching, it took me less than a year to get a contract. I feel strongly that it would not have been offered if I waited to start writing when I “had the time.”
All the minutes here-and-there add up. All the failures, stories that went nowhere, and writing practice add up. It gets you ready for the right moment. It prepares you to get “lucky.”
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?)
MONI: Don’t get stuck on your early manuscripts. They will always hold a special place in your writer’s heart, but continue to evolve, discover other stories, and challenge yourself.
SUSANNA: Anything else you’d like to share about your book’s journey from inspiration to publication?
MONI: I tried not to make getting published my everyday goal. I changed my mindset and was grateful to be writing every day. Whether I was published or not, I figured I’d be doing the same thing anyway, working on my craft.
Twitter & Instagram: @bookthreader
Illustrator Instagram: @mizuhofujisawa
SUSANNA: So much wonderful advice, and so much helpful information! Thank you so much for taking the time to participate in this series and paying it forward to other writers, Moni! We all really appreciate it. And I know I speak for everyone when I wish you the very best with this and future titles!
Readers, if you have questions for Moni, please post them in the comments below and if she has time I’m sure she’ll respond!
You may purchase Moni’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! (There are nearly 70, so lots to learn from !)
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)