When I first began writing these stories, my vision was for a book similar to Chris Van Allsburg's The Mysteries of Harris Burdick. (Wonderful book! Buy it or check it out of the library if you're not familiar with it.) The story would be on one page, with the illustration on the facing page. I wanted adults and children to read the stories together and have fun brainstorming what would happen next when they came to "And then..." at the end. I wrote twelve stories and submitted them to several publishers. No takers. I then planned to write more stories and tried pitching it as a collection, the way some publishers put out a spooky story collection, or fairy tale collection. No takers.
Then I went to a SCBWI picnic. This is a professional organization I belong to - the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators. Linda Zuckerman, a retired children's book editor, was the speaker, and I managed to corner her and ask her what she thought of my idea. Bless her, she was very honest and said that it belonged with an educational publisher because a child picking this book up off the shelf wouldn't know what to do with it. I realized how right she was.
I decided to figure out how to make this book into something to be used by teachers in the classroom. I called up teacher friends I knew and asked if I could come to their classrooms and do some creative writing activities with them. After over two dozen classrooms, I had perfected a presentation with upper elementary students.
I went back to the manuscript and wrote a chapter on how to use it in the classroom and tweaked my pitch in the cover letter. On the Scholastic website I found three different addresses for submitting, so I sent it off to all three - probably a big no-no, but I figured a different intern was sifting through three different slush piles, and I was probably increasing my chances of getting a serious consideration that way. I mailed the envelopes in the beginning of January, 2010 and sat back and waited.
I came home to an email and a message on my answering machine in the middle of May from a Scholastic editor wanting to talk to me. I screamed to loudly I scared my daughter to death! It was past closing time in New York, so I couldn't respond, but we went out to dinner to celebrate anyway. The next day I got ahold of Mela, the editor, and she explained her thoughts on what the book should look like. At first she wanted to cut my stories down to 75-100 words, less than the length of this paragraph. I really didn't like that idea. How could they even be real stories at that length? We finally agreed that they would be no more than 250 words, with 10 of them up to 400 words. I signed on the dotted line and started editing.
Cutting the stories down (many were 350-450 words) was an interesting exercise. I learned a lot about unnecessary words and making the stories action driven. Scholastic also wanted my introductory chapter to be more positive. I had to get rid of negative sentences and change wording like "Don't do this," into "Be sure you do this." In the stories, I had to take out references to Kleenex and make them tissues. I had to change the adjective "dead" to "stale." The stories had to be squeaky clean and unobjectionable, which is perfectly understandable. Mela asked me to find some multi-ethnic names for characters and put them in diverse family situations, all things that hadn't occurred to me, but made sense once it was proposed.
An illustrator was hired, and it was fun to see the pen and ink drawings for each story, and the full-color cover. There were a couple of mistakes that had to be corrected. One illustration sent the story in a particular direction and had to be redrawn. In another, the story referred to a "handsome golden retriever," and the picture was of a spotted short-haired dog. So I changed the wording and the poor thing became a "big mutt."
The book went off to the printer in the spring of 2011. It went up for pre-order on various websites in May. Seeing that online was such a big thrill. I got a box of books on my doorstep in June. The family danced with me!
I've proposed a book of story endings for older grades. I think it would be a lot of fun, and I'm playing the waiting game again. I just hope it's not quite as long a wait as the first time.