There are a lot of milestones you might dream about in life — getting your first job, getting engaged, having a child, etc. For a writer, one of the biggest milestones of all is getting your first book contract.
After submitting manuscripts to agents and editors for over ten years (part-time…I do have a full time day job as a teacher and a parent to two kids after all!), I’m thrilled to announce that my debut picture book, THE GREAT HOLIDAY COOKIE FIGHT, will be published by Pelican Publishing Company. I don’t have a release date yet, but since it’s a book for the winter, a friend recently asked if it would be out in time for her Christmas shopping this year! If you know anything about the publishing industry, you’ll join me in a big laugh about THAT one! Long story short…I’ll let you know!
What’s the book about? I’m glad you asked. Our story begins at an annual holiday cookie swap as each of the cookies stands up to brag about which cookie is the best. Will the wise Indian shortbread Nan Khatai manage to restore peace to the cookie tins in the end? You’ll have to buy the book, right?
So how did this happen? The simplest answer is: a lot of hard work and a little luck. Over a year ago, on July 12, 2017, I participated in the Twitter pitch party #Pit2Pub, during which authors pitch their works to editors of small and medium sized presses. Here is the tweet which got me a “like” from Pelican:
I tweeted pitches for five manuscripts that day, but “The Great Holiday Cookie Fight,” was the only one to receive a like. (Pro tip: Twitter pitch parties are wonderful, but the feed can go by so fast you should never feel badly if you don’t get noticed…at least that’s what I’m telling the other manuscripts I pitched that day!) So, off I went to research Pelican Publishing company — a mid-sized publisher out of Gretna, Louisiana (just outside New Orleans). I loved that so much of their list had southern/Cajun flair (E.g. “The Cajun Night before Christmas” and “New Orleans Slow Cooker Recipes”). That’s not at all my heritage as someone born and raised in New England, but there’s a deeply rooted pride and sense of place inherent to both regions — not to mention that my book also has recipes and New Orleans cuisine is world famous!
Be that as it may, getting a “like” in a Twitter party is far from a guarantee of publication– I’ve sent off many other manuscripts after getting my hopes up. So, I sent the cover letter and manuscript and prepared to wait. I was shocked when only two days later I got a response from an editor– she loved it! She was particularly happy that the book showcased a diverse cast of characters since Pelican Publishing loves diverse books. Furthermore, Pelican has strong lists both in picture books and in cookbooks– and this one fits both genres so she felt it would be a good fit. I was thrilled! She wanted me to write back with more information about where I envisioned page breaks and to submit a complete manuscript (including back-matter, recipes, etc.) Attached was a document of “fine print” about the publisher’s policies regarding copyright, royalties, etc. It suddenly seemed more real– and yet it wasn’t a contract, so I was feeling very nervous. I wanted to get this right!
I spent the next month recipe testing– I had the ideas for all the recipes when I wrote the original story, but I needed to make sure they all worked and were “mine,” not imitations. I baked in the heat of summer (yes, Maine does have hot summers!) took photos and made spreadsheets of my attempts. Transforming certain cookies into gluten-free or vegan versions, or taking out refined sugar was not easy, but in the end, I have 8 cookie recipes which are as diverse as the holidays they represent. Off went the manuscript packet. Then I waited. A couple months later, I got a letter in the mail. The publishers were still interested, but they weren’t familiar with some of the cookies. Did I have photos? Could I mail them? Of course. I’m on social media and I love to bake.
But here’s where my anxiety got the better of me. I had photos. I had access to a printer. I should have been able to send them off within a week. But I didn’t. Yes, “Fear of success” is a thing. I’m sure that having a full time job and two kids didn’t help matters, but the truth is, I knew that once I got those off, I would get a final answer about my fate. Fortunately I got over my trepidation and eventually sent the photos.
Then, on August 7th of this year, I got the magical email: “Thank you for sending the reference photos. We are interested in publishing the book.” (They even asked me if I had any recommendations about the illustrator which almost never happens in publishing). As it turned out, they’ve found an amazing illustrator (whose name I can’t tell you yet), and now that I’ve signed the contract, I’m ready for the next step on this ride…
I hope you’ll keep reading this blog to continue on the journey with me. (And don’t worry, I’m still going to keep up with picture book reviews).