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On June 7th, 2018, I received the email that every aspiring author longs to receive:
Thank you for sending us 'THE GUTTER'. We love it and would like to acquire it for publication in a future season. Attached is the official offer letter with more details.
There was a lot of screaming, jumping up and down, and grabbing of family members and kissing them. Which wasn’t as welcome as you might think. I live in a house full of boys who don’t always appreciate their mother’s spontaneous affection. However, in this instance they allowed it.
So of course. That was it. I’d arrived. My goal had been met, success was imminent. Right? That’s what we all think before we get a book contract. “If I could just get a book deal…an agent…a freaking response!”
Yes. I was thrilled. And I allowed myself to be thrilled for a few hours. But the honest truth was there was still a lot left to do. I didn’t have an agent. I didn’t even have any nibbles from agents. I immediately followed the sound advice of writing friends and colleagues and sent out notices to the agents I was on submission to, letting them know that I had received an offer. Six agents. One response. That one response turned into a rejection within a few days.
So I’m on my own. After doing a little research,I joined the Author’s Guild so that I could take advantage of their legal help in negotiating my own contract. They were quick. I sent them my contract, and within two days it was returned. Marked up and noted. I worked my way through the suggestions. Selected what I thought I understood and could do, and sent an email with my requests and changes. A little back and forth ensued, but within a few weeks I signed on the line. Done. Finally. I can celebrate!
Wait. Will there be edits? Luckily, not really. We changed the title from THE GUTTER to AFTER THE RAIN. Which, let’s be honest, makes perfect sense. What was I thinking, titling a children’s book THE GUTTER? I mean, think of the imagery. I also changed the first few lines. That was it. Easy-peasy. It took a few days. Awesome. Done. Finally. I can celebrate!
Wait. I have to join a debut group. That will help sell my book and I need to sell my book! I mean, I want publishers to buy more of my writing, so I need my book to sell. But I don’t know how to sell my book. All my friends and colleagues suggest joining a debut group. So, after doing a bit of reaching out and research, I try to join a debut group. But they require proof that I will be published, so my book needs to be announced in Publisher’s Weekly, or something. My book wasn’t announced in Publisher’s Weekly.
How do I get that done? Well, my publisher did send in our announcement, but not everything gets selected to show up in the CHILDREN’S BOOKSHELF newsletter, apparently. So I email my editor and tell her my dilemma. They get to work on things, trying to find some place where it can be publicly announced. They got the book deal announced in Publisher’s Marketplace. That will work. I can’t join the debut group I originally wanted, because they are now full. But there is a new one. So in the fall of 2019 I join the 2020 Debut Crew. Awesome! Done! Finally! I can celebrate!
Wait. My debut group is having a marketing meeting. I jump in those first few months in the fall of 2019 with both feet. My group is awesome. And all the information and RESOURCES! Wow! I need a website and a newsletter, and an active Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, Linked-in…
Nope. Not going to happen. I can’t do all of this. I’d like to. I’d like to WANT to. But I have a job, two young children, a household, and I’d like to write more. And also read more. So I slow down. One thing at a time. I do a little bit of work with my debut group. I try to boost Twitter posts, do reviews, share Facebook links, etc. But I just can’t keep up with everything. Done. Finally. Just celebrate.
Wait. My book is due to release on March 3rd 2020. Should I have a launch party to celebrate? What about a book signing? I live three hours from the nearest independent bookstore or even chain bookstore. I’m friends with the librarian in my small town and she works with me to plan a special story hour and books signing in mid-March, during our spring break. I steal my nerves and send a polite inquiry to the Children’s Event Coordinator at the closest indi-bookstore, WATERMARK BOOKS AND CAFÉ, in Wichita Kansas. She was lovely and set up a special story hour for March 7. I’d read my book, she’d have an activity, and I would do some signing. Perfect. Done. Finally. I can celebrate!
Wait. I’m a teacher. I know I need props. I need to look the part as I read my book. I do some online shopping and get myself a cute yellow rain hat and some fun rain boots. Perfect. Done. Finally. CELEBRATING!
I show up on the 7th with my family in Wichita, Kansas. While we have the reading and the signing, and I have a lovely little group to read to, no one shakes hands or touches. We aren’t social distancing yet, but it’s in the air.
By the following weekend the special story hour in my home town has been canceled. Along with school. Well, school isn’t really canceled. As a teacher, I work the next few weeks on moving my curriculum online and reaching out to students. I work as a mother, teaching my kids at home and contacting their teachers so we can keep up. I work as the wife of a pharmacist, who still has to work every day in one of the busiest stores in the community, Walmart, to keep his spirits up and keep the house disinfected. I don’t work as an author or writer. I can’t keep up with it. I can’t celebrate. I’m not done. There is no finally.
But wait! The kid-lit community is wonderful, supportive, and giving. While I have not been able to do much within it during this time, it has been a boon and encouragement to see all the authors sharing resources, story times, and free webinars. As Heather Macht wrote in the previous blog post here, there is a lot of kindness and hope being spread. If you haven’t read her examples, please go check them out.
As for me and my debut? Well, I’m excited about it. And I really wish I knew more about what to do to sell and share it. I do worry about how it will sell and what kind of record it will set for me as author. However, I have no control over what is going on in the world. I can only control my response to it. Right now, I continue as I was. Boosting my fellow debuts and established authors on social media when I can. Taking care of my boys. And I’ll keep writing.
Hopefully soon, we can stop worrying about social distancing and plan for the summer and upcoming school year. When that happens I will try to find some more ways to share my book in person with my community, and online with my virtual community. My hope for those of you who are still aspiring published authors is that your debut year will be full of the stress of marketing your book and scheduling signings and author visits. May you be able to hug your readers and shake hands with their gatekeepers. I have faith that you will. Celebrate. This too shall pass. There will eventually be a finally.
About the author:
Throughout her childhood, Rebecca Koehn would hide books in the bathroom towels when her parents grounded her from reading. Don’t judge them for this. Rebecca read A LOT. This habit kept her from doing many things she should do, like chores and obeying her parents’ instructions. Now Rebecca is a teacher and a writer, living on the windy Kansas prairie. She enjoys splashing in the gutter after a rain, walking her Husky Hazel, and playing board games with her husband and sons. She no longer hides books in the bathroom towels, but still skips her chores to read. She is the author of AFTER THE RAIN (Beaming Books, 2020) and BEHIND THE SCENES WITH PRO FOOTBALL (CAPSTONE, 2019).