Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Dance Me a Dance...Please

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So, you wish to read on in the children's book saga, do you? Here's my "story":

Back in June 2001, en route home from work, while driving, (just clarifying so you won't think I was on public transit) I was singing "Matchmaker, Matchmaker," the all-time classic from Fiddler on the Roof. I was singing some of the original lyrics and then making up others, ie. "find me a find, make a make, bake me a cake, DANCE ME A DANCE..." That last bit stuck in my head, and I recalled when I was young and going to a couple of weddings or bar mitzvahs with my family, where the dancing was mixed and acceptable by us (we were Conservadox). I loved watching my parents dance together and then joining in between them to make the waltz a threesome. So that image, together with "DANCE ME A DANCE" stuck in my brain, and swirled around relentlessly. I quickly pulled out paper and pen, and at the red lights, wrote down some thoughts, and within twenty minutes, I had written the basic manuscript for a children's picture book. Of course, I went home and immediately polished the writing, smoothing out any rough edges. But basically, here I had a short manuscript, written in twenty minutes.

I decided to forward it with a cover letter to Canadian children's book publisher #1. Several weeks later I received the rejection form letter. On to Canadian publisher #2; again a rejection form letter. And then I showed it to someone at work, who'd interned at a Montreal-based publisher, and she suggested I send it there...and gave me a name of an editor.

After checking out the publisher's Web site (Lobster Press, a nice name for a Kashrut-observing person to send her manuscript to!), I forwarded a very nice letter to that particular editor and asked if I could forward the manuscript, which I'd described to her. I got a green light, and said manuscript was out of my hands.

This was at the start of September 2001, and she gave me such complimentary feedback about her first impressions of the manuscript:

Hello Pearl

Yes, I received your file and read it. Quickly, my first impression was that Dance Me a Dance Please is quite artful, capturing many of the elements that are necessary for a good children's story. The tone is also very good.

There are some problems on a minor level, easily changed during the editing process if this story were to be published, for example, one of the transition points contains an inconsistency, where the child feels like moving, but then her mother moves instead. Also, I don't think it's necessary, neither instructive nor poetic, to include the place in each beginning line (the living room, the garden), as the place will be evident in the illustration.

As for illustrations, this story lends itself beautifully to them.

So I'll see if we have a place for it. The chance is a slim one for a few reasons: until the Canadian publishing industry pulls out of the current crisis, we can only publish a few picture books per year; other editors may have other mss. they feel are excellent and want to fight for; our marketing people may not think the age you're targeting is a good one at the moment; and possible other reasons I can't think of at the moment.

But I'll let you know. Please give me some time, like several weeks.

And then October 16 came, along with this message:

Hi Pearl

Has more than several weeks passed? I've lost track of time.

The good news is that AF, Lobster's publisher, wants to publish your story, Dance Me a Dance, Please. But she's not sure for when exactly, either Spring 2003 or Fall 2003. I'm hoping the lineups will be nailed down by the New Year, which will set everyone's mind at ease. Then contracts go out and away we go.

I would be the lucky editor to work with you (I like the story very much).

I was elated! Only had to send my book to three publishers and it was already accepted for publication, with a release date. I was in my 40th year and I felt I'd accomplished something BIG, something personal, with this milestone birthday. (husband, children, house, degree, family and friends aside)

And so the waiting game began... I work in publishing and understand many aspects of the industry but nothing of contracts, as I don't work in that area. So I contacted the publisher about seven weeks later when I hadn't heard back, after I'd sent on my contact information as requested. Here is part of the letter I received back from a manuscript coordinator:

It is certainly understandable that you would like to have an update on the status of your manuscript and obtain a definite confirmation as to our scheduling decision. Please be assured that we did not forget about you! What I can say for now, as J has mentioned as well, is that your manuscript has been placed on our Fall 2003 lineup. I would like to add, however, that we are obliged to wait before we contact the authors and illustrators because lineups often change for numerous reasons thus affecting contract and productions details too.

This is an ever-changing business, as I am sure you will agree. We are constantly trying to work out the best lineup so that we can align it with the best marketing strategies possible. From prior experience, we believe that the most efficient way to proceed would be to contact you immediately after a definite final decision has been made by our Publisher. I can then send you your contracts, give you additional details as to deadlines, and offer my help in any way possible.

We really do look forward to working with you, and sincerely regret this delay. I will contact you right after a final decision has been made, most likely in a few weeks.

Nothing more until late February 2002, when I was asked to resend an e-file of my picture book manuscript. In the meantime, people were asking me about my contract (I was asking MYSELF about a contract), when the book would be released, who my editor would be...and I truly had no answers. Impatience and frustration were eating away at me.

And then, in July 2002, I received this message:

Hello Pearl,

Our Publisher has asked me to contact you with regards to your manuscript, Dance me a dance. We must unfortunately advise you that we have had to cancel the production of this book due to a decision that was recently made to reduce the number of picture books. The reason being, is because they are so expensive to produce and they are very difficult to sell. We are focusing now on novels, chapters books, and non-fiction.

We understand how disappointing this must be for a writer, but hope you understand our position. This is not a reflection on your story, but a question of finance. Should you have any materials in the above categories, we would be happy to review them.

We wish you all the best of success in your future endeavors and wish to thank you for allowing us to review your work.

Can you imagine how I felt?! I could only liken it to a girl being so excited to be asked by a boy to the prom and then some time before the prom, the boy comes back and says, "I can't take you to the prom, after's not you, it's me...."

Accepted. Rejected. Dejected. Those three words well describe how deflated I felt. But when I wrote a final note to the editor (the rejection came from the company's manuscript coordinator), she had this to say:

First I've heard of this, and I'm very sorry. In my mind's eye I can see your book as clear as day (the illustrations, the flow) and it's a delight. I must write to G to find out what the reasons are. Sounds like Lobster isn't going to do picture books anymore. Wish they'd told me!

Good luck in the future. Keep submitting, again and again and again. And then some more. It's the only way.

It actually turned out that Lobster Press had run into some major (read: BANKRUPTCY) financial woes and came back with a restructure plan...which didn't include my book.

Yes, over the past couple years, I have sent it elsewhere in Canada and the U.S. for publishers to consider. Although many times I get very positive feedback, with a personal note saying that it's not what they're looking for, I also get more form rejection letters.

Writing is usually time-consuming. (even if it only took twenty minutes to write this particular book)Preparing the manuscript to "shop around" to publishers is most time-consuming, too. Waiting for positive or negative responses is VERY TIME-CONSUMING. I can wait five months to get a "No thank you" from a publisher, and at the same time, publishers don't appreciate simultaneous submissions, so honest little me sends the manuscript to one publisher at a time and waits to hear back before I send if off elsewhere.

I've taken a lengthy hiatus from sending out that manuscript, and other picture book manuscripts I've written. Yes, I've learned to live with the rejection, but it's just that nobody seems to want to "DANCE ME A DANCE...PLEASE."

Hey, Madonna/Esther, maybe you're reading Pearlies of Wisdom... Wanna help me out!? My manuscript could now stand to have a big-name celebrity behind it to push it to publishers. Sorry, no real Kabbalah references in my story, but it is lyrical and there is a symmetry to it, dealing with days of the week, thus a cycle in itself. How about it, Madonna?

Hey, Jerry Seinfeld -- are you out there? Jamie Lee Curtis...? Katie Couric...?


Chaim said...

I felt your pain in every word there. I used to have a very strong passion for writing and had lots of idea's but my creative juices took me someplace else. Today I'd never have the time to stop what I do and write my stories. Have you thought about adapting the story to fit some basic Jewish themes and then shopping it to all the Jewish Publishers? They seem to always be printing new stories.

My wife is actually also working on a Children's book but she doesn’t want it to have a Jewish theme. Wants it to be for everyone.

For now my writing passion is satisfied through my blog. Maybe as time goes on I'll start writing short stories or series on another blog and link it. Who knows?

M said...

Oy, what a saga. Sometimes I think it's a miracle anything get's published at all... and often I wonder how half of what's out there in print managed to get there when so many other wonderful endevors remain untouched on publisher's desks.