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Writing is a solitary profession. Sitting on our bed, laptop balanced on a pillow, wearing mismatched jammies all day (well, that’s how I work, anyway), we don’t gab at an office water cooler or take swanky lunches with colleagues. We’re alone with our characters—who can drive us nuts! We’re alone with our ideas, our words, and a vat of java.

Most writers I know are hard on themselves. We are our worst critics. We can spend all day writing and feel as though we’ve accomplished nothing. It’s nice to hear someone say what we’ve written has potential, has vision, has made someone spit all over their keyboard in laughter (the highest compliment, I think).

So today I bring you the story of three kidlit friends who came together with one goal in mind—to take an author’s career to the next step. To provide an encouraging, supportive environment in which she can thrive. Folks, you gotta have friends. Luckily, the kidlit community includes some of the best people around.

Please welcome author Brenda Reeves Sturgis, consulting editor Emma Dryden, and agent Karen Grencik!

TL: Brenda, your debut picture book TEN TURKEYS IN THE ROAD was released by Marshall Cavendish last year and quickly earned both critical and commercial success. Most people think you publish one book and you’ve got it made. But you felt your career needed a boost. How did you come to this conclusion?

BRS: Thank you for this thoughtful blog post, and for interviewing the three of us.

I sold 10 TURKEYS IN THE ROAD in 2008 and at that time I was represented by another agent, but in 2010 we parted ways and I was left trying to navigate the children’s lit world, alone.

I queried for many months and got personal, kind rejections. After a long period of going it alone, I knew that I needed to find out what was holding me back from finding my perfect-for-me agent. I had heard of Emma Dryden for years, and had great respect for her. She was and is knowledgeable in all aspects of publishing. I was confident that by hiring Emma she would know what needed tweaking, and what I needed to do to progress in my quest. I contacted Emma and she agreed to consult, we set up a phone call, and I sent her my manuscripts.

TL: Emma, what was your reaction when you read Brenda’s work? What did you propose as the next step in her career?

ED: When Brenda first contacted me, she explained her situation—she was a new writer with one book under contract; she’d been with an agent and was currently seeking a new agent; she was “trying to do everything right,” but it didn’t seem to be paying off and she was starting to question how she could keep her dream of being a children’s book author alive. There’s nothing that concerns and upsets me more than to hear an author or artist is questioning their dream. Coming up with a strategy to find an agent would be the easy part; helping a distressed author regain their confidence and adjust their outlook was something completely different—and that’s what our consultation was really all about.

Brenda’s ideas and writing are strong and smart. Her nervousness about doing everything right was what was holding her back, blurring her vision. We focused not only on figuring out a calm, focused strategy to query agents with her strongest possible manuscript, but we also talked a lot about how best to conduct oneself in a fickle marketplace, the importance of flexibility, the benefits of patience, and the significance of not giving up.

After several hours of email correspondence and phone conversations, I felt confident in encouraging Brenda to query Karen Grencik, an agent whom for various reasons I felt would not only be delighted by Brenda’s work, but who would have a compatible sensibility and outlook to suit Brenda’s own.

TL: Karen, what made you fall in love with Brenda’s work and make an offer of representation? 

KG: First of all, a great big “thank you” to you for taking the time to tell our story. It is a bit unusual, the manner in which we all came together, and I hope your readers will find it to be inspiring!

It is an honor to receive a referral from Emma Dryden, as I know the thought she puts into everything she does. I talked with Emma right away and when she stated that she thought Brenda had an untapped talent similar to two of the best picture book rhymers in today’s children’s book world, I knew I had to look at Brenda’s manuscripts. Brenda and I set up a phone appointment to discuss expectations, as there is always some concern about this when a previously represented author is seeking a new agent. I was worried that I might not be able to meet Brenda’s needs and I knew Brenda was feeling a bit gun-shy to jump back into the fray, but right off the bat we developed a sense of comfort and comraderie that’s made working together quite easy.

Not only did Brenda take proactive steps to jump-start her career again, but she took seriously and applied each and every practice Emma discussed with her, putting aside her considerable worries about what had come before and focusing instead on what she needed to do to accomplish her goals as a picture book author. This laid excellent groundwork for her to secure new representation. Yes, Brenda did need an agent—a strategic partner who shares her goals—but what she needed more was validation and a positive, safe working environment, which I’ve been delighted to be able to help provide. Now it’s my turn to find good homes for her fabulous picture books!

Brenda appeared in my life at just the right time, as Red Fox Literary had recently opened its doors, and I had the kind of time available to service my clients in a way that most agents only dream about. Over the past year that we’ve been working together, Brenda has learned to trust that I will do everything I can as quickly as I can, and that has allowed her to relax during the times that I’m not immediately available. And I’ve learned to trust that Brenda is a very hard worker, a perfectionist about her writing, and will only send me her very best work. Trust is a significant element of the best author/agent relationships, as it is of the best author/editor relationships as well.

For authors out there who feel isolated and alone, we three want to remind you that the universe is preparing for your success. An editor and an agent might be just waiting for you to show up. Be sure to pay attention to the signs. We certainly do!

TL: Karen, thanks! Your story is indeed inspiring!

Now back to Brenda…what are your goals for your career?

BRS: My goal remains the same as it was 8 years ago, and that’s to write the best, most original children’s books that I can. It’s important to me to help and make a difference where doors are opened, I strive to inspire, educate, and work as hard as humanly possible. I feel innately blessed to work with Karen and with Emma, and look forward to all good things coming our way. Thank you for your time with this Tara, I am truly appreciative for this opportunity.

TL: Thank you for sharing your story! I know it will help many writers as they examine their career progress. We should all recognize when it’s time to make a change and be brave enough to take action.

Please visit Brenda Reeves Sturgis, Emma Dryden and Karen Grencik’s websites where you’re sure to receive even more inspiration!

by Brenda Reeves Sturgis

I’m in the throes of marketing madness. It’s a whirlwind. The view from the eye of the cyclone is breathtaking! Ideas are swirling all around. Each wind gust propels me forward. However, promoting 10 TURKEYS IN THE ROAD is not something I have done alone. I’m certainly glad that I started the process a year ago, because marketing takes on a life all its own, and it’s imperative to have innovative and trustworthy people in your corner.

What did I write? Who was I? What did I stand for? What did I have to offer? These questions were always in the forefront of my mind. I wanted people to know exactly what they’d be getting from my book, a critique, or an author visit from me.

Each step has been its own adventure. All writers must walk their own steps, sing their own song, and dance their own dance. What I’ve learned over the past several months, as I’ve prepared for the release of my book, is that you can NEVER start marketing early enough. EVERYTHING takes a tremendous amount of time, along with a conscious effort and many different resources. I’ve met and worked with some of the best people in this industry over the last year—top-notch, top-of-the-line creators!

After assessing my web presence, I realized that the first thing that needed a complete overhaul was my website. My website is my business card. I surmised that it is my introduction to the literary world. Through it, librarians, teachers, editors, and parents would catch a glimpse of my life and my writing style.

I held to the old adage, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression,” and I kept that close to my heart. I needed and wanted to put my best professional foot forward, and so for me, this meant a completely fresh design.

I wanted a site that was colorful and fun in the same taste as the art of 10 TURKEYS, illustrated by the talented David Slonim. I turned to Donna Farrell who executed exactly what I needed and wanted. She did a superb job. We had the same vision, and she didn’t  disappoint. She goes over and above for her clients, and each website she designs is unique in its own right.

Marketing takes money, and you’ll want to make sure that you plan accordingly. I was fortunate to find talented people along the way that added a sprinkle of magic to everything that was created for my site. My teachers’ guides were written by my daughter-in-law, Whitney Reeves, a stupendous and creative educator and inventor. Whitney is not only a fabulous writer but also co-creator and founder of Bitzy Baby, a revolutionary company that provides safe sleeping and innovative crib bumpers for infants.

My friend, critique partner, and the very talented author/illustrator Carrie Clickard (Victrica Malica, Flashlight Press, 2012), created my puzzles, puppets, book trailer, and also my sorting game, along with some snappy songs. Carrie has a plethora of advertising knowledge, and she helped me compose fun activities for children of all ages.

I hired Renee Gray-Wilburn of A Way With Words to proof and copy edit content. Renee questions every comma and picks up on every grammatical error!  I was determined to give 110% to my site, just as I do to my writing because it is all interconnected. If you want your site to be the best it can be, you must seek out those who can add their own brand of magic to your work.

I made contacts with The National Circus Federation and The National Wild Turkey Federation, and I contacted reviewers. I also hired master marketer Kirsten Cappy of Curious City to help implement a strategy.

When I was not writing, I was planning and researching where I could market next, and every day I stepped on new stones. I kept climbing and continued plodding along the windy path.

My business cards were ordered through Vista Print with the cover of my book on the front of the card, along with a QR code, which links directly to my site. On each puzzle and activity page, not only was my QR code for Amazon added, but also my QR code for my website. When children bring home activity pages, I wanted their parents to have a way to wave their smart phone and order TURKEYS if they were so inclined.

In marketing, people want to purchase something WHEN they want it.  It is my job to make it easy for them to say “YES” without facing lots of unneeded clicks and unnecessary steps.

We’re all busy, and there are numerous wonderful books out there from which to choose. As a professional writer, I want to satisfy my audience, and so I think about ways to make EVERYTHING easiest for them.

Every day is a day for marketing madness. I’ve had fun, learned a lot, met great people, and have loved every second of bringing 10 TURKEYS IN THE ROAD to you! I appreciate all of you who have helped me in this endeavor. Just as it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a village to raise a reader. I am sincerely and eternally grateful to each one of you that I now call friend!

Brenda is giving away a signed copy of 10 TURKEYS IN THE ROAD! Leave a comment to enter and a winner will be selected in one week!

As a child, Brenda Reeves Sturgis fell asleep with picture books in her hands and a thumb in her mouth. Now she’s a picture book author who recently won a Mom’s Choice Award. She lives on a lake in Maine with her husband Gary. When Brenda’s not busy enjoying life, she’s researching and writing, writing and reading, and she’s very busy grandparenting. Learn more about her books, school visits and critique services at http://www.brendareevessturgis.com.

Get Out and Live, Your Stories are Depending on You

by Brenda Reeves Sturgis

Ideas are endless, and everywhere! You can find ideas on a backyard walk, or at a trek to the zoo. You can find them in the news, or in the newspaper. Keep your eyes open and really look around. Listen to the chatter of little children, look at the bark of trees. Discover life around you through the eyes of a child.

Trees have faces if you look closely enough. Clouds can create castles. And in the humdrum of everyday activities, you can find a story just waiting to be told. While on my way to take my daughter to school, I was delayed by turkeys in the road. Instead of allowing a panic mode to overtake me (because we were going to be late), I simply enjoyed that moment.

And my debut picture book, 10 Turkeys in the Road, Marshall Cavendish, 2011, was born. I stopped to smell the roses, or better yet, to watch the turkeys. Soon after, I was awakened with the story of the turkeys in my head.

And after 3 major revisions and a year later, editor Margery Cuyler discovered 10 Turkeys at the RUCCL conference.

A trip to the zoo resulted in my story waiting to be sold, My Gorilla Brother, and an afternoon outing to watch my nephew play football, resulted in my story Touchdown! which won first place in the 2007 Smart Writers Contest judged by Verla Kay.

You can find ideas everywhere! A sight, or a smell, or a sound triggers them, but you must to get “out,” and experience life to find them.

One place that most initial ideas will not be found is in front of a blank computer screen. Ideas must first take root in your soul, and then once they are rooted, they are ready for watering, shaping, and pruning.

Yes ideas are endless, and they are anywhere and everywhere you can possibly imagine. Your stories are waiting for you, so get busy and get outside. Live and enjoy your life so you can first imagine, and then write your stories, as only you can.

Brenda Reeves Sturgis began her writing career four years ago, after meeting Lynn Plourde at a school visit. She bought every one of Lynn’s books and asked the question that would change her life, “How do I become a writer?”

Lynn directed Brenda to the CWIM (Children’s Writer’s Illustrator’s and Market Guide book, by Alice Pope), and also to SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writer’s and Illustrator’s). One of Brenda’s favorite sayings is, “When the student is ready– the teacher will appear!”

Brenda is generously offering a picture book critique as one of the PiBoIdMo prizes. Finish 30 ideas in 30 days to become eligible to win!

As a children's book author and mother of two, I'm pushing a stroller along the path to publication. I collect shiny doodads on the journey and share them here. You've found a kidlit treasure box.

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