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by Dawn Babb Prochovnic

When my high-school-aged son was a toddler, I recall a day when he was in a particularly silly mood, running through the house with a diaper on his bottom, a bandana on his head, and a pirate’s patch over one eye. He looked at me with an ornery twinkle in his uncovered eye, and asked, in his best, pirate-y gruff toddler voice, “Where Does a Pirate Go Potty?” I knew immediately this was the title for a book, and I started drafting a manuscript soon after.

Over the next couple of years, the manuscript went through many critiques and many revisions, but the core story about the universal childhood experience of, “I gotta go. Now!” told from the perspective of a pirate on a quest to find just the right spot to leave his…uh, treasure…remained consistent throughout.

In 2006/2007 I submitted the story for professional critiques and participated in opportunities to read the story aloud at various SCBWI events. The story was a crowd-pleaser, and several editors expressed interest and invited me to follow up with a submission. In 2007, one of those editors took the manuscript to her editorial meeting, and then to acquisitions. She was extremely enthusiastic about the story, and I felt confident a contract offer was on the horizon. But that was not to be.

coaster

I was thrown by the emotional roller coaster of being so close to making my first sale, then having it fall apart, but I refused to give up on the story. I continued submitting it and bringing it to conferences for awhile, but eventually my focus shifted to new stories and new submissions. After signing contracts for my STORY TIME WITH SIGNS AND RHYMES series, my attention shifted to editing and launching those books. Even so, every now and then, I’d re-read my Pirate Potty manuscript, and tinker around with it some. I never stopped loving it.

Fast forward to 2015. I was invited to write a story for Oregon Reads Aloud, a keepsake collection of read-aloud stories for children, published in celebration of SMART’s (Start Making a Reader Today) 25th anniversary (Graphic Arts Books, 2016). I was grateful for the opportunity. I gladly contributed a story for the project and actively participated in the promotional events for the book.

In October of 2016, I drove 3 ½ hours from Portland to Seattle to spend a couple of hours signing copies of Oregon Reads Aloud in the Graphic Arts Books booth during the Pacific NW Book Association conference. During my time in the booth, I got to know some of the folks at Graphic Arts and familiarized myself with their regionally-focused list. I remember thinking, “These are such nice people. I’d love to work with them on other books. I wish I had a manuscript with a regional theme that I could submit to them.”

Over the course of the next year, I continued wishing that I had a book that was a good fit for Graphic Arts. Not surprisingly, wishing did not make it so. One day, as I re-read and reflected on my beloved Pirate Potty story, I thought to myself, “Wouldn’t it be great if I could westernize this story?” That moment was a turning point.

I got all of the “feels” that you get when you have a good idea, and I started making notes. I challenged myself to replace the pirate character with a different character, and the idea of a cowboy soon came to mind. I tried plugging “Cowboy” elements into the story in place of “Pirate” elements, but I was not keen on the changes that came out of that exercise. I think there were a few different reasons the cowboy changes weren’t working, but the biggest issue was that during this phase of re-vision, I was essentially trying to insert a cowboy into the pirate’s story. The roots of my story were based on that memorable moment when my son posed the silly question, “Where Does a Pirate Go Potty?,” and I “saw” a very specific Pirate character in my mind every time I sat with the story. I couldn’t simply replace that character with a cowboy.

At one point, I pulled out my old files from back when the Pirate Potty story “almost sold,” and I re-read what the editor wrote to me. She had said, “…Everyone in our group just loved it and thought it’d be a slam dunk, but Sales thought that a pirate potty book would only appeal to boys, thus cutting our readership in half. I totally disagree with them…but without their support, we just can’t move forward…”

I, too, disagreed with the assessment that only boys would be interested in a Pirate Potty book, but this time as I re-read those words, a new question emerged: What about a cowgirl? I found myself immediately transported to a time when my college-aged daughter was in grade school, and her wardrobe included a bright pink pair of cowgirl boots. I paged through old photos and found the one I was looking for: A photo of my daughter dressed-up for her western-themed grade school carnival. I finally had the kernel of a new character in my mind’s eye. This character was unique and separate from the Pirate character that I couldn’t let go of, and she had her own story to tell.

WHERE DOES A COWGIRL GO POTTY? spilled onto the page with urgency.

And all of a sudden (and about a dozen years later) I had two potty stories I loved, one with a decidedly western theme. I identified several publishers that might be a good fit for Cowgirl, and I developed a submission plan. Graphic Arts Books was at the top of the list.

I submitted WHERE DOES A COWGIRL GO POTTY? to Graphic Arts Books in 2017, and I’m happy to share that it’s scheduled to hit bookshelves in the fall of 2019…along with WHERE DOES A PIRATE GO POTTY? Yarrr! They loved that story, too.

One key revision, and two new books. Yee-Ha!


Dawn Babb Prochovnic is the author of multiple picture books including Where Does a Cowgirl Go Potty? and Where Does a Pirate Go Potty? (forthcoming, 2019) and a frequent presenter at schools, libraries, and educational conferences. Dawn loves to travel and has visited thousands of potties across the Pacific Northwest and around the world. She is the founder of SmallTalk Learning based in Portland, Oregon. Learn more at dawnprochovnic.com.

 

What happens after a manuscript is bought by a publisher? Well, you pop a cork of bubbly and break the glass shade on your kitchen chandelier. But don’t worry, your advance will cover the repair. (That’s what I told my husband.)

I received an offer for my first picture book, THE MONSTORE, from Aladdin/Simon & Schuster in early May and accepted, after brief negotiations, shortly thereafter. By the end of June, my editor sent me the first round of edits, with the first revision due August 1st.

I opened the Word document and couldn’t believe all the RED.

Stuff was slashed. Crimson comment boxes asked me to change words…and entire passages. And most baffling of all, I thought my editor didn’t like my ending. I felt overwhelmed.

That’s when a good agent swoops in and saves you from having a toddler-like meltdown. A conference call was what I needed to understand the reasoning behind the red. The following week, my editor, editorial assistant and agent called and we ran through every detail. And, guess what? I didn’t feel so overwhelmed anymore. That’s what. (Sorry, there’s a little Junie B. Jones creeping in.) My editor had a great vision, and I agreed with every change she suggested. Big sigh of relief.

Then I had a month to make the changes.

I tried procrastinating. I played a lot of online Boggle. (My high score is 174.)

Honestly, I didn’t know how to tackle the revision—how I would solve the little problems that, at the time, seemed HUGE.

Then I remembered Anne LaMott’s BIRD BY BIRD. So that’s what I did. I took it bird by bird.

The first day I changed the manuscript from 1st person to 3rd. Send over the red button from Staples because that was easy.

The next day, I thought visually. My editor said some of the objects and actions in the manuscript, like a bag of moldy bread, and a monster slithering, wouldn’t come across well in illustrations. She asked me to think of details that were more visually interesting—things that would be humorous to draw, but also fun to read aloud. And, one of those things had to tie into the denouement.

My editor had paginated the manuscript, and she asked me to think of each page turn as a mini-cliffhanger. She did such a bang-up job on the pages, I didn’t need to do much there.

Then came the ending. Remember how I thought my editor didn’t like it? Well, she loved it. She just wanted me to stretch out the denouement. But how? I spent days staring at the screen. I’d come up with an idea, then erase it. And another. Delete. Then save. Then trash. This went on for a fortnight, until, by George, I think she’s got it! (I’ve always wanted to feel like Audrey Hepburn. That was my moment.)

I finished the first revision on June 27th, with enough time to email it to my agent for review before sending it to my editor just under the August 1st buzzer. My agent was thrilled, I was thrilled that my agent was thrilled, and let’s just say the word THRILLED ping-ponged between us that week.

My manuscript had gone from 522 words up to 730 to fit in the changes, but I thought that would be OK.

I was wrong.

The second round of edits arrived in early September. MORE RED. Cut, cut, cut! My editor liked the new denouement, but it was too wordy, bogging down the pace of the story. “This can be shown in illustration,” she said several times. I agreed. (And added those devilish art notes.)  I slashed and burned, taking the manuscript down to 589 words.

So now it’s ready to ship out once again, way ahead of my November 1st deadline for the final manuscript.

But guess what? I think there will a lot more changes from now until then, but they’ll make the story even better.  That’s what.

purpleIs there such a thing as too many critiques?

A writing friend and I debated this issue earlier this week. She told me that if one critique partner doesn’t like something, she changes it, even if no one else agrees. Her opinion is that a critique group represents a microcosm of editors. She knows she can’t please everyone, but she tries to incorporate everyone’s suggestions.

My reaction was: yikes! With the wide range of opinions I sometimes receive, it would be impossible to address every critcism. I might wind up with a muddled mess of a manuscript.

My story cannot be all things to all people. We all have our own tastes, which dictates the books we choose to read, the titles we recommend to friends, and the stories we stop reading after Chapter I. If not all people agree on published books, you don’t have to wait for a concensus vote on a manuscript before considering it finished.

I only revise based on solo suggestions if the comment resonates with me. If someone points out something I was already doubting, then that’s the confirmation I need to fix it. A writing peer can highlight something I never thought of, but I immediately see the validity of their argument and make the change.

If a comment doesn’t make sense to me, I ask questions. I have to understand the reasons behind the criticism. And if it still doesn’t feel right, I leave it behind. If six people love something and only one hates it, I’m not going to strive to please that person, especially if I just don’t agree. Ultimately, I’m the author.

Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate all peer opinions and I do my best to incorporate suggestions that I think will work, especially when at least three people wave a caution flag. But just one person? I don’t feel bad about leaving it.
So how do you feel about this issue? Do you try to address every criticism in a revision? And at what point do critiques become counter-productive? How long do you go on seeking opinions, changing and revising? I want your feedback about feedback!

7ate9
Winner of the 2018 Irma S. Black Award and the SCBWI Crystal Kite!
black kite

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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My Picture Books

COMING SOON:


illus by Melissa Crowton
Tundra/PRH Canada
June 4, 2019

THE UPPER CASE:
TROUBLE IN CAPITAL CITY
illus by Ross MacDonald
Disney*Hyperion
Fall 2019

FOUR WAYS TO TRAP A LEPRECHAUN
illus by Vivienne To
HarperCollins
Spring 2020

THE WHIZBANG WORDBOOK
illustrator TBA
Sourcebooks Jabberwocky
Spring 2020

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