Hi Math is Everywhere readers,
Today I’m extra excited because I get to do a champion and author spotlight with Brian Gehrlein! Brian has been working tirelessly to give opportunities to picture book writers with his Picture Book Spotlight and PB Critique Fest all while writing his own wonderful books one of which has officially been sold!
Kaitlyn: Congrats on your debut picture book sale (you must be happy dancing over the moon) and thanks so much for joining us today on the Math Is Everywhere Blog to help celebrate!
Brian: Thank you for having me to celebrate, Kaitlyn! It’s strange being on THIS side of the interview since I’m usually the one asking the questions. Indeed there has been some galactic happy dancing. Based on this morning’s coordinates, I’m somewhere within the vicinity of Jupiter’s moon, Europa. Running out of food and oxygen…should probably turn back soon. In all seriousness, I think I am still in disbelief it’s all really happening…
Kaitlyn: Haha, always so funny. Head back toward earth and answer some questions for us. First off, you HAVE to tell us about your debut book, give us all the details, when, why, how, where???
I am beyond excited to share this story with everyone. It is the poster-child for never giving up on a manuscript, never throwing an idea away completely. Prior to signing with Melissa Richeson, this book (originally drafted in 2017) was put in a folder marked “no longer pursuing.” I thought it was dead. Even after I began working with Melissa, this manuscript wasn’t anywhere near my radar.
In the spring of 2019 I pitched a list of manuscript ideas to Melissa to see which she was most interested in pursuing for possible future submissions. I included THE BOOK OF RULES and got a positive response. So I shared it with my critique group in May of 2019. They gave me some great feedback and got me excited about it again. Then I took it through another round of critiques at the Critique Across KS/MO SCBWI event in June. That same month…Melissa had it on submission! What a whirlwind.
Fast forward to October…we had a bite! Melissa Warten (FSG, Macmillan) showed interest but wanted me to send her a revised draft after considering her notes. We shared the updated draft and while we were waiting, another major house mentioned interest. Two “big five” houses seriously considering a story that a few months prior was NOTHING!? It was unreal. By mid-November we had two offers on the table…and I got to have my pick. There are no words to describe what that was like. Never in a MILLION years could I have predicted my debut happening like that. So here we are. Here you are. What are those “no longer pursuing” ideas that you have in YOUR folders? Dust them off…because you never know what might happen next…
THE BOOK OF RULES comes out fall 2021 and is currently being brought to life by illustrator, Tom Knight! What’s it about you ask? Well…it’s the book of rules. You must follow the rules…or be eaten! That’s all I’ll say for now.
Kaitlyn: I can definitely see why FSG went to battle for this amazing-sounding book! How did you get into writing children’s books?
Brian: I started writing picture books casually in 2012 when I was a special education paraprofessional–being fully immersed with both elementary-aged kids and tons of picture books was a crucial catalyst. After this position, I worked as a high school theatre teacher where writing shifted mostly to short stories and plays (and the occasional parody picture book). However, after four years of teaching theatre, my curiosity shifted back to picture books (real ones) and I developed more stories. In the fall of 2016, I joined SCBWI and grabbed a copy of Children’s Writers and Illustrators Market–probably these two things shifted my thinking more than anything else. It wasn’t just a fun, aimless hobby anymore–it was who I wanted to be and something I was aiming at. I took the plunge and sent my very first query in January 2017 (Elena Giovinazzo of Pippin Properties) and spent the next roller coaster two years seeking representation. I say roller coaster because a lot of life happened. Here are the bullet points (buckle up). I left education “for good” only to land at the elementary school I first worked at, sold a house/moved into an apartment, became a librarian, wrote a lot, moved out of apartment/bought a house, had a son, was rejected 600 times, found an agent, left the library, returned to education (this time as an English teacher), and eventually sold a book at the end of 2019 before my son turned one. Crazy town. I don’t think my story with writing would have happened without our significant life changes. Out of the chaos of finding my place, I carved out something new I hadn’t anticipated. Looking back on it all now, I can totally see the connection between feeling unsettled and the mad dash to get my work out there. What else can drive someone to sustain 600 rejections but a profound need for meaning? A need to belong. A need to be heard. I wasn’t going to take no for an answer. And I didn’t. For more of an in-depth look at my perspective in the midst of this madness, check out my interview with Daniella Levy.
Kaitlyn: This is such an awesome journey and going to inspire so many to keep going. Another way you help writers is with PB Critique Fest, where did the idea for #PBCritiqueFest come from?
Brian: I’m not exactly sure but I was interested in having something unique to PB Spotlight that was an annual thing that was…bigger. I was noticing a lot of larger contests/opportunities, which had a component of critique to them, were mentorships. So I wanted to offer something, but I didn’t want to strap anyone down for a long-term commitment. Looking back on how many agents, authors, and illustrators were happy to offer critiques as giveaways for interviews, I thought maybe people might get on board for a one-time critique event. Anyone can win. One big raffle. One big festival of critique giveaways. Think Oprah (“YOU get a critique! And YOU get a critique!”) And so I sent out some feelers. Tammi Sauer was my first…she agreed! Before I knew it, I had over 30 committed to the event. Excited to see where it goes this year–should be even bigger! Want more info on how it works? Check out the #PBCritiqueFest page on PB Spotlight.
Kaitlyn: Isn’t is amazing how generous everyone in the kidlit community it? Can you give us some insight on working with an agent?
Brian: First off, Melissa Richeson is a saint. Straight up. It’s funny, my sister’s name is Melissa, my agent’s name is Melissa, and now my editor’s name is Melissa. The Melissas in my life are very important. Back to Melissa Richeson. When you sign with an agent, you’re taking a risk. They’re taking a risk. A mutual risk. But for Melissa and I, it was a unique risk–I was her very first client…and now her very first sale. Originally when I was querying her agency (Apokedak Literary Agency), Melissa was Sally Apokedak’s assistant–not quite yet building her list. After my third attempt to submit to them, Melissa’s interest had piqued–you can read HER side of the story here. When she offered, I wasn’t sure what to do right away. But I remember her answer to the most important question I asked on the phone: “why me?” Please, please, PLEASE make sure to ask this question when you’re on “the call”–if they can’t tell you “why you,” run away very fast. Her answer that day has remained my favorite thing about working with her. It was simply this. She believes in me. All the agenty stuff she does (negotiating and explaining contracts, submitting stories, critiquing my work, and the million other things I never get to see) it comes down to this for me. She believes in me. Knowing that someone believes in me and is cheering me on as I do my thing is so life-giving. We all know how lonely and emotionally challenging this art can be–you have to have those people in your life that just believe in you and your voice–run to those people and walk with them! I’ve talked a lot about how the writing game has changed since signing with her, and I would love to point you to a blog post all about that–The Myth of the Other Side.
Kaitlyn: YES! Always go with someone who believes in your and your work. Can you share some advice with authors about the road to publication?
Brian: Figure out what makes your fire burn and pour on the fuel. Turn up the heat! Burn as bright as you can. Burn white-hot until it’s impossible to ignore you any longer. Fire not your metaphor? Let’s do doors. You want that door to open? Knock. Knock again. Knock louder! Keep knocking. No door ever opened without knocking. The only two possible outcomes are you stopping the knocking…or them opening the door…so what’s it gonna be?
Also don’t take yourself or your work too seriously–you have to be able to both laugh at yourself and distance yourself from your work. If you don’t, then WHEN rejection comes, it will have more power over you than it should.
Kaitlyn: YES! Wonderful advice. Finally, if you could spend the day with your favorite author, would you rather go outside and fly a kite or sit by a fire with tea?
Brian: Hardest question ever, Kaitlyn. Fire and kites are two of life’s great joys. Tough call for real. However, I’m going to go with a mountainous lodge with a roaring fire, drinking pint after pint of something delicious and bubbly…a touch stronger than tea ; )
Kaitlyn: Count me in, Brian! Thanks so much for joining us today, and for being such a generous and helpful part of our writing community.
Brian: Well thank you for having me and for being part of my story, Kaitlyn! My favorite thing about being in this industry is how supportive everyone is–we’re all on this journey together and seeking ways to lift each other up. Happy to be a small part of that beautiful process and to encourage others to do the same.
Find Brian on the web:
Website: Picture Book Spotlight
Facebook: PB Spotlight on Facebook
Do you want a picture book manuscript AND query critique from the wonderful Brian Gehrlein? Brian and I have been CPs for a while, so I can tell you, he’s got fantastic insight on how picture books work and is also super encouraging!
You have two ways to enter:
- Comment on this post
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I hope you are inspired by this Author and Champion Spotlight on Brian Gehrlein who is a champion for authors and an author himself.
Kaitlyn Leann Sanchez
PS. If you haven’t heard, we have our second annual Spring Fling Kidlit Contest coming this April! Find an awesome GIF, start writing those spring-inspired stories, and SHARE the info with your friends and on social media. Need some motivation to get writing? Check out the prizes!