Hi Math is Everywhere Readers,
I’m so stoked that it’s Kidlit Zombie Week and even more stoked to conclude this week with a chat with Jolene Gutiérrez – the one who inspired our critique group to start Kidlit Zombie Week and one of my wonderful clients and amazing friends. We’re going to sit down with our cups of tea (yum yum!) and share about our super exciting agent-client experience with a revision that led to our first auction on Team Sanchez! (To learn more about book auctions before we dive in, check out this great post: https://rachellegardner.com/how-does-a-publishing-auction-work/.)
Kaitlyn: Hi, Jolene, thanks so much for taking the time out of your incredibly busy schedule to chat with me about your beautiful book that went from sitting on the figurative shelf to becoming the first book we sold at auction.
Jolene: Thank you so much for having me! I’m so happy to be here and talk about this beautiful story.
Kaitlyn: Me, too! So, readers, just a bit of insight before we begin: this book is currently unannounced, which means we can’t get too into what the story is about, so that will stay shrouded in juicy mystery for now (but dear readers, follow Jolene and I on social media — Jolene’s Twitter; Kaitlyn’s Twitter — to find out when it’s announced because I think you’re going to really love this book!). But, we can tell you all the wonderful details about how this book came to be sold, so, Jolene, let’s dive straight to our Zombie Week focus and talk about when you first wrote this story and why it was shelved.
Jolene: This was one of those lightning-bolt, a-ha! moment kind of stories. I needed to write it, so in 2018 I wrote what was basically a skeleton of what the final story became and shelved it because there were other projects clawing at my brain for attention.
Kaitlyn: I love that you share that it wasn’t shelved because it wasn’t great or it wasn’t the right time in the market; it just wasn’t your focus at the time. Stories become zombies for many reasons. The wonderful thing about writers that are so prolific is that agents always have a way to shift to something else if needed or wanted. But we can only submit so much at one time, so it’s important to know what you’re passionate about and convey that to your agent (though of course, keep an open mind because part of an agent’s job is to know what the market is like, so they may have some insight that will help guide what will sell at the time). Jolene, can you remember why we brought this book back to the forefront? I remember there was a short opening to submit to a certain publishing house. Do you remember how we came about thinking of this story to submit?
Jolene: There was another manuscript of mine that’s still unpublished at this point, and I think we were both more focused on that manuscript with this submission round, but we decided to include the soon-to-be announced manuscript because we thought the editor might be interested.
Kaitlyn: Yes! Something about the wish list made us think about the manuscript, which goes to show, it’s so important to establish a great and open agent-client relationship so magic like this can happen. Can you share why/how we decided to bring your daughter on board for this beautiful book?
Jolene: I often read my projects to my family and receive great feedback from them. I had read this manuscript to my daughter Shaian, and she helped me polish the story. She also connected on a very personal level to this manuscript, and during the COVID lockdown in 2020, she decided to make an animated video of the story as a gift to me. Can you believe that?
Kaitlyn: Wow, that is just the sweetest thing ever! Is your daughter usually that amazing?
Jolene: She’s always doing things like that–she is an artist, and she notices things and creates beauty for those around her. Her care and vision toward this project along with the fact that she’s lived the experiences that we write about in the story meant she would be a great partner.
Kaitlyn: Yes! And we saw her beautiful lyrical voice, great rhythm, and impeccable ideas really added to this manuscript so much that it felt like this was meant to be and almost like she was always part of this story. If you can recall, what kind of edits did you do and why?
Jolene: Shaian and I added more layers to the story and literally changed the title from an “I” to a “We,” which was perfect because we were working together to build this story, just like we work together as a family and community during the celebration mentioned in the story. And we added some rhyme, which was tricky for me. I try not to write in rhyme, but sometimes the story or structure demands it, and this was one of those times. And if you’re writing in rhyme, you also need rhythm. Shaian is a brilliant musician, and her musical talent really helped with the rhythm of the story–I couldn’t have done this without her! We would sit together, reading the manuscript and finding “trouble” spots and then bouncing rhyming word pairs around (and sometimes laughing hysterically at the ridiculous things we came up with) until we got things right. Shaian also just graduated college, double-majoring in Art and Hispanic Studies. Her studies and travel to Mexico to learn more about her culture has definitely informed this manuscript, especially the rich back matter.
Kaitlyn: It sounds like co-writing is a blast, especially if you get to laugh hysterically together. My favorite thing about this experience was when you sent me edits, I immediately realized you and Shaian had taken a beautiful story and made it so much more beautiful (or beautifuller as Anna from Frozen would say) that my agent brain immediately started buzzing, sizzling, just–fireworks, and I knew we couldn’t just send to one publisher–so many editors would love this book and had to see it! The list just kept growing and growing. How did it make you feel to see that list once you and your daughter’s edits were all done?
Jolene: Aw, I love beautifuller! When I saw the list of editors you intended to submit to, it was one of those out-of-body moments--one of those times when your breath catches and you realize that this dream has a possibility of coming true!
Kaitlyn: Yes! Such a magical moment that I’m so glad you got to have. Thank you for sharing! Now, I already shared what my favorite part about this experience was, but, like any great story, I have many many favorite parts, and we’re coming up to my favorite favorite part. Jolene, I’d love for you to do the honors. Please share what happened after we sent it out on submission.
Jolene: Well. . .about 2 weeks after you sent our story out to editors, we received an email from an editor who’d already shared the manuscript with the entire Children’s division at her publishing house, and she said everyone loved it as much as she did, so she was writing to make an offer!!
Kaitlyn: An offer!! Readers, take that in for a second. Two weeks. Shared with her WHOLE group, and EVERYONE already loved it so much that she made an OFFER! AN OFFER!
Jolene: It was so fast! In publishing terms anyway, two weeks is very fast, and this editor was so in love with our work. We’d been working on this manuscript together and we were in love with it, but was that just because the story was a very special one and dear to our heart? But no, according to this amazing editor’s beautiful words, her publishing house ALL loved it, all connected with it. Shaian and I couldn’t believe our good fortune! We had a little party at home and did a video call with our family to celebrate that Friday night!
Kaitlyn: Omg I LOVE that you had a family party that night, and ahh! One of the best moments ever! So much ahhhh! I still think about that night every so often and just smile at how wonderful the experience was and what a perfect editor and publisher this story landed with.
Jolene: Absolutely, and same! I still have to pinch myself sometimes because this really is a dream come true. This came at a time when our world was uncertain. There were hard things happening: we were in the midst of a pandemic, we had some family tragedies, Shaian had spent a large chunk of her college career learning virtually from home. But we also created something beautiful during that time, and I’m so honored that Shaian and I have this book as a product of those tough times. And I’m SO happy our manuscript ended up in this editor’s inbox, because working with her was such a gift! Can you share why you chose this specific editor to submit to?
Kaitlyn: What an absolutely beautiful way to honor such tough times. As for the editor, I decided to submit to this editor because not too long before creating this submission list, the editor had loved another manuscript I sent her (the author even did a revise and resubmit with her), but in the end, that story wasn’t the perfect fit for her list (but don’t worry, readers, we sold it to another editor who was perfect for the story!). Based on that experience, I had a feeling that she would love this story, and I’m beyond ecstatic that she did! BUT, there’s more! Yes, MORE! This editor wasn’t the only one who wanted this story. After that amazing Friday, I immediately let the other editors know that we had received a surprise offer. (Often editors will let us know that they’re taking a story to acquisitions, and we inform the other editors at that time so they won’t be surprised when we get the offer. But every now and then, they’re so excited, they just send an offer.) Not long after, we had three publishers interested in bringing this story onto their list! Jolene, how did it feel to know that not just one, not just two, but three publishers wanted this story that you and your daughter created?
Jolene: I know I keep talking about this in terms of a dream, but that’s really what it felt like. Shaian and I couldn’t believe that so many people were interested in our story. I mean, our story mattered to us, and it mattered to you, but it was incredible to hear that others were connecting with our story. It was unbelievable. We were like, “Is this real life?”
Kaitlyn: It’s totally real life, and I’m so so happy that you got to hear that this book is important to so many people already–incredible. Now, one other thing I’d like to talk about here, because I think it’s so important for people to know about this subjective aspect of this business, is that when we let the other editors that we submitted to know that we received an offer, many passed on the opportunity to bring it onto their list. Some loved it but wanted edits first so couldn’t offer at the time, and others, it just wasn’t a fit for. Jolene, can you share, as an author, how it felt to get those passes while we were working on your auction?
Jolene: I’ve felt this way a few times–also with my recently-announced book TOO MUCH! There’s excitement around the manuscript and then people start dropping out, and you have this feeling of, “Well, are we going to lose all interest at this point?” I’m aware of some of the ways things can change in the publishing world and try to always be cautiously optimistic even if I have a contract, but I also really believe in fate and destiny in the publishing world and trust that when the time is right, my projects will land in the hands of the right people who will champion them and nurture them. So when I’m feeling worried, I try to remind myself to trust the process and let my story land where it should.
Kaitlyn: Yes, Jolene, that is brilliant advice. Readers, there will always be editors (or agents) that have to pass on your story, but that doesn’t mean it’s not beautiful and needed; it just means you’ll find the right place for it elsewhere. Speaking of timing, it will be so amazing once it’s time to announce this book; we can’t wait!
Jolene: Aaaaaaahh, YES! I absolutely can’t wait to celebrate this book and everyone involved! Any day, any day….(pacing back and forth). Kaitlyn, can you tell us why sometimes it can take a while to announce books?
Kaitlyn: Haha, oh the waiting! And that’s a great question, Jolene! There are lots of possible reasons that announcements take a while. For all books, it often takes time to negotiate the deal terms. The editor sends over the offer and the agent responds with the things they’d like for their author and on average (for me anyway) there’s about 3 back-and-forths before an agreement is reached. Once a deal is made, a contract is created and sent (they can be anywhere from a few pages to over 30 pages) and a similar back-and-forth commences to fine tune the contract so all parties are satisfied with the agreement before signing. Then, with picture books, there’s sometimes the added component of needing to find the illustrator, and to find the perfect artist for the project, often takes… you guessed it: time. And, of course, once the illustrator is found, the illustrator’s agent also goes through the same process of negotiations and contracts before we get to announce. It can seem like a long time to wait, but once you experience it once or twice, you hopefully get used to the rhythm, focus on edits and/or your next book, and then when it’s time to announce, it feels like forever, and no time at all, have passed. Speaking of announcements, we got to announce Jolene’s incredible picture book TOO MUCH! written by Jolene Gutiérrez, illustrated by Angel Chang, and acquired by the incomparable Meredith Mundy at Abrams Appleseed. Jolene, can you share a bit about how it felt to see that announcement and what responses you received?
Jolene: I mean, how many times can I say how amazing these milestones feel? This was another first for me because even though I’ve published a few books in the past, I’ve never had one officially announced. It was such a beautiful way to celebrate this lovely book of my heart! TOO MUCH! is about my own kids’ sensory sensitivities, especially my oldest, Shaian. Even though I also am sensorily sensitive, I didn’t recognize some of the things that triggered Shaian. So this story is written to help kids feel seen and to help caregivers recognize when children are overwhelmed. Since the announcement, response has been amazing! So many people have reached out to share their own experiences, to say how excited they are to share this story with their own children, and to tell me how needed this book is. I mean, this is why I write stories, and it brings tears to my eyes to think about how this book might impact others.
Kaitlyn: Just amazing! It’s just the best to hear how needed your work is. I can’t wait to share the announcement for this beautiful book as well and see the wonderful reactions people have.
Jolene: Me, too! I’m so excited for the world to know about this beautiful book and to be able to celebrate it with you, Shaian, the amazing illustrator, our editors, and everyone at our wonderful publisher!
Kaitlyn: Yes! Can’t wait!
Well, readers and Kidlit Zombie Week friends, our tea is all gone, and our revision story is all told, so I guess it’s time to say goodbye. I hope this gave you some insight into the publishing process and inspired you to go take the Kidlit Zombie Week Pledge and enter a Zombie Pitch as well!
Thank you for reading, please subscribe to my blog if you haven’t already for more publishing world insights, and please follow my authors and social media and order/preorder their books!
Now, go get revising and don’t forget to join in the pitch and pledge contests by going to the Forms Page of our Kidlit Zombie Week website.
Kaitlyn Leann Sanchez
PS. If you missed yesterday’s blog post interview and book GIVEAWAY, check it out here!