Thursday, September 3, 2009

Children's Author Thursday

Well here it is September already and as I promised you last week we have an interview with Kevin McNamee, the winner of the "Fractured Fairy Tale" Rhyme Contest."

We can all learn from his experiences.

1. What got you started in writing for children?

My wife is a reading teacher and frequently brought home books she was using for her lessons. I started reading these books and thought that I should start writing them myself. One day, I was watching my nieces fight and it gave me an idea for a sibling rivalry story. That idea is currently under contract and is titled, The Sister Exchange.

2. How long have you been writing for children?

I’ve been writing since I’ve learned the alphabet but I think that I started writing for children in earnest around 2002. It was a long learning curve. I originally thought that I was a pretty good writer. But as I gained knowledge and experience, I found out that I had a long way to go. Some of my earlier work I’ve since realized is completely unfixable. I’ve come a long way since then.

3. It’s wonderful you have so many picture books coming out. When you first received your offer, what happened?

I was elated. It was finally validation that I didn’t stink and that I wasn’t wasting my time. So much of writing is spent working in a vacuum and usually the only feedback you receive is negative. So when somebody hands you a contract and says that they want to publish your book, it makes the struggle worthwhile.

4. So now that you have a contract, what’s it like to be on the other side of publication?

After I received my first contract, I started learning about the business side of writing, and about the amount of work that I still had ahead of me. Now I had to start thinking about things like websites, blogs, book signings, school visits, business cards, bookmarks, press releases, and all the other little miscellaneous stuff you need to do to inform people about your book, and to make them interested in it. To me, it was a little like climbing a mountain only to discover that you have an entire mountain range ahead of you. But after I stopped hyperventilating and uncurled from the fetal position, I was able to look at things a little more objectively. It’s like any other undertaking. It may appear daunting at first, but it’s manageable once you break it down into smaller pieces. It needs to be done though. I’ve worked too hard to watch my books go nowhere. So I plan to do my best to prevent that.

5. Tell us a little bit about your path to publication.

See other sections.

6. Tell us about one of your most heart-breaking rejections and about one of your best.

I met an editor from a major publishing house at one of the SCBWI critique sessions during an annual conference. He gave me his email address and told me to send him my story. After a couple of months, I followed up and although he couldn’t publish the story, he said some very complimentary things about my work. He also gave me his phone number and told me to call him to discuss ideas. We talked about what he was looking for and he even gave me the titles of books that he liked as a reference. He also agreed to take a look at another story I had ready. I proceeded to write a new story based on his suggestions and it was one of the toughest things I have ever written. I must have twenty pages of written notes for a six hundred word picture book. I changed direction two or three times, revised plot, edited characters, and polished the rhyme till it shone. Then, I found out he left the publishing house he was at. He was still involved in publishing and I managed to track him down at his new job. I told him that the story we spoke of was complete and even pitched some other work I had available. Without even asking to see it, he told me that it didn’t sound right for him and he wished me well. I was scratching my head here trying to figure out what was going on. I felt like this guy was grooming me as his next great discovery, and then I was unceremoniously dumped. I was disgusted and I felt like a jerk for all the time I spent on that manuscript. If I didn’t already have books under contract, I might have quit writing altogether. Although a writer friend of mine vowed to come up to NY and kick my butt if I did. I got over it though, but I did learn a sobering lesson. This is a business and what matters most is the contract. Everything else is just talk.

Ironically, the rejection of the first manuscript this editor looked at was also the best one. He had nothing but praise for my writing ability and told me if we could find an appropriate project, he would publish it. It doesn’t get much better than that.

Also ironically, that first manuscript that he rejected is also the first of my books to be released. It’s titled, If I Could Be Anything, and will be coming out this fall.

And that story that I wrote for him is really, really good.

7. How did you find your editor/publisher?

I’m a firm believer in conferences. I attend SCBWI and other conferences whenever I am able. I decided to attend an online conference called the Muse Online Conference. There were many workshops geared to children’s writers and I picked up quite a bit of information there. One of the sessions I attended was with Lynda S. Burch, of Guardian Angel Publishing. She invited conference attendees to submit to her. I sent her a rhyming picture book manuscript that I had been working on. I had researched the markets for this story and I wasn’t quite sure where it would be a good fit. About a week before Christmas, I get an email from her, along with my first contract. I have to say that it was one of the best Christmas presents ever.

8. What are some of the new things you worry about now that you have a contract?

After the contract, the main question seems to be: “What can I do to make people want to read my books?”

9. What was the editorial process with your publisher like? How many revisions did you have to write?

I’ll save this question for another time.

10. Describe a typical day in your writing life. Are you a morning writer? An afternoon writer? A late night writer?

There’s no such thing as a typical day for me. I’m a “whenever” writer, because I write whenever I have the chance. Right now I’ve been focusing on the promotional aspects ahead of my books’ release and have been trying to put together a new website. That poem I wrote for the contest was the first new thing I’ve written in weeks I have a full time day job and a family. So I try to use any free time wisely. I don’t know how many times I’ve worked out some plot problem on the train ride home from work.

11. Any advice for aspiring authors?

Take the time to learn the craft and to sharpen your skills. Join a good critique group. Go to conferences to gain knowledge and contacts. Be objective about your work and refuse to accept anything less than the best from yourself when it comes to your writing. Others will notice. The best thing that I ever heard an editor say is “talent always finds a home.” I believe it does.

12. Are there any writing books you recommend? Workshops? Conferences?

If you are just starting out, I recommend, Harold Underdown’s Complete Idiots Guide to Writing Children’s Books and Writing Children’s Books for Dummies. Regardless of their titles, they hold a wealth of information. I also recommend buying the Children’s Writer’s and Illustrator’s Market every year to help target submissions.

13. Do you have or are you seeking an agent?

I’ll save this question for another time.

14. Finally, where do you get your ideas?

Someone recently asked me that question and after I gave her the answer, I realized how lame it sounded. I told her, “From everywhere.” It does sound lame but it also happens to be the truth. I’ve gotten ideas while walking through a parking lot, while watching a TV commercial, and from overhearing someone else’s conversation. It’s just these seemingly random things that I observe. Then I think to myself, that would make a good story. Sometimes I’m right and sometimes I’m not, but I always carry a little notebook with me to jot down the idea while it’s still fresh.

To see what Kevin is up to these days, visit his website at

and his blog at

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