I LOVE WELCOMING SPECIAL AUTHOR GUESTS TO MY BLOG!
It's true. And even more so when I've known the author for a while. I first read some of today's special guest's work a couple of years ago and can still remember clearly the smooth tones of her gorgeous voice.
So, please welcome author Sarah Floyd, whose debut MG BUTTERFLY GIRL is out on March 26, with some wise words for new authors and a little insight into her journey to publication.
Tell us when you decided to take your writing more seriously and pursue publication. Was there a day or a moment when you felt ready to follow the dream?
My dream of writing children’s books started in childhood. If you had asked eight-year-old me what I wanted to be when I grew up, my response would have been “a children’s book author!” But, an adult I trusted convinced me that an English degree was impractical, so I landed in Communication Studies instead, and took a job in professional sales after graduating from college. My dream of becoming an author moved into the background.
Fast forward to married life: For the first ten years of our marriage, I worked as a corporate relocation specialist for a large real estate company, but after our son was born, my love for children's books rekindled. Days spent sharing wonderful picture books with him, volunteering at his preschool, and even helping my husband in his home office (which I still do) brought me deep satisfaction. But with our son moving up to kindergarten, the time for me to return to my former career was approaching, and even though it was an enjoyable occupation when I did it, something in me had shifted—I wanted to do something else with my life, I just couldn’t figure out what “something else” was!
I began thinking deeply about life purpose, legacy, and work that would bring me joy, which led me back to the idea of becoming a writer—but I had no idea how to get started. The only writers I had read about were either bestselling, breakout talents who had catapulted overnight to fame and fortune, or they had spent many years in graduate school to earn degrees that proved their qualifications. Then, one day while walking home after tutoring a group of struggling readers in my son’s kindergarten class, I prayed for guidance on what to do with the rest of my life. I loved being a volunteer reading coach at my son’s school, so maybe I should go back to my corporate job and continue tutoring on the side? Or I could go to grad school and become a Reading Specialist? Or maybe get my MFA and become a professional writer? In that quiet moment of soul searching, a line for a picture book sprang to mind. Within a few minutes the entire plot revealed itself, and I literally ran home to write it. That was my moment of “awakening.” After that I was hooked on writing children’s books and never questioned if I was on the right path. I’m grateful that my husband’s job puts food on the table and keeps a roof over our heads—writing hasn’t replaced my former income, but it brings me the joy I was missing, and I have no regrets.
How long was your querying experience before you landed your agent? Can you tell us a little about the journey from sending out your first query to receiving the first offer?
I started writing in 2008, but didn’t begin querying in earnest until 2011. I was enthusiastic, but my queries back then were pretty terrible. Query “rules” seemed too limiting—I thought it would be best to stand out from the crowd by changing things up to include philosophical thoughts about why the submitted work was important, what writing meant to me, etc., etc. My queries tended to run rather long . . . (it’s hard not to cringe just thinking about it!)
In 2011 I joined the SCBWI Blueboard and started posting my work for critique. That’s when I got some much needed tough-love on how to write a query letter! I also began swapping manuscripts with other writers there, and over time some of those writers became my friends and ongoing critique partners—we grew together as we shared information and critiqued each other’s work.
After a few years of writing and querying picture books, form rejections began turning into an occasional personal response. One of them was from an agent who suggested I might have an interesting voice for MG . . . but I was committed to the picture books I had written and didn’t want to hear that! Writing a novel seemed completely out of reach, but I couldn’t quite dismiss the thought either—and on a whim I picked up a few books at the library about novel structure and craft. A few months later, the first draft of Butterfly Girl was born.
My confidence grew, and I began entering online contests, where I occasionally won a critique from an agent or a published author. I also signed up for WriteOnCon—that’s where I met my first agent, Danielle Smith, in 2014. I was elated when Danielle requested the full manuscript, along with three of my picture books . . . and a few weeks later she requested “a chat.” Finally, an agent wanted to discuss representation! The call went well, I signed with her—hooray! A book deal was right around the corner, or so I thought . . .
Danielle seemed capable and kind, but we couldn’t seem to get things going—no submission list, no revision notes, nothing. This was a few years before she abruptly closed her agency, so no one was talking openly about the problems there, but the uncertainty and disjointed communication kept me on edge and unable to relax enough to be creative, and after six months I knew it was best to part ways. Thankfully, in late 2015 I signed with Essie White of Storm Literary—my experience with her has been nothing but positive. She is a phenomenal agent!
Did you ask and receive any help to polish your manuscript/s before querying? If so, who from and how much?
I received feedback from my CPs, especially on the first three chapters, and occasionally reached out to freelance editors for guidance too. And while between agents, I hired freelance editor Mary Kole, a former agent, for a phone brainstorming session to talk through the plot of my newest novel. Her advice and encouragement allowed me to move forward quickly, and with confidence. More recently, Kate Foster beta-read that same novel, which will be going on submission soon. (Thank you, Kate! Your feedback was SO helpful!)
Giving feedback to other writers has also helped me tremendously—it has taught me to spot flaws in my own writing technique. I have never read my own or anyone else’s self-edited draft and said, “Ta-Da! Done! Ready to submit!” Anyone who believes that is very likely setting themselves up for disappointment. It really does take a village!
How long did it take before an editor fell in love and offered you a publishing contract? How was the experience?
Essie submitted Butterfly Girl to Callie Metler-Smith of Clear Fork Publishing in 2016, with a plan to publish it the following year. Working with Callie and her team has been a wonderful experience! After writing a second stand-alone novel (the one that is going on submission soon), I asked Callie if I could re-read Butterfly Girl before publication to see if anything I had learned might apply. Re-reading ended with me sending her some “Before and After” excerpts to show how I would like to revise various scenes to elevate the writing while keeping the content intact. She agreed with my plan, and we pushed back the release date to give me the time I needed. I’m grateful to have landed with such a collaborative and supportive publisher!
What advice would you give new and upcoming writers, those in the querying and submission trenches?
Read widely in your genre, study craft books, and join a writing community like SCBWI where you can receive support and information, as well as connect with other writers. Also, if you love your book’s concept but it’s not clicking with agents, it might be the writing itself, not the concept—I notice that when rejections roll in, many writers abandon worthwhile (but not quite ready) projects to start something new, instead of digging deeper to fix whatever isn’t working. Butterfly Girl took many years to develop to a publishable level. That timeline has been much shorter for my soon-to-be-submitted second novel, but first I needed to learn how to write for publication, which is a layer upon layer process of drafting, revising, swapping critiques, studying, querying, rinse and repeat—which grows both the work and the writer in the process. Of course we need to be willing to move on if the concept is flat, but if not, keep going! I’m convinced by my own experience that perseverance is the secret ingredient that turns writers into authors.
About the book:
In the summer before seventh grade, Meghan McCoy-Lee discovers there’s magic in the sap of her family tree. She follows instructions in her great-grandmother’s journal . . . and grows leathery wings! Meghan’s story goes viral and her mother, who abandoned Meghan at Grandpa’s Oregon farm six years earlier, swoops back into town with superstar plans for her Winged Wonder Girl. Grandpa says stay on the farm and ignore the paparazzi, but her charismatic mom wants her to leave for Hollywood and start a new life together. The popular girls at school want Meghan gone, like yesterday—she’s getting way more attention than they are.
One thing is certain: Meghan’s going to make up her own mind, and the designer divas aren’t part of the equation. With the help of her brainy best friends, there may be a way to make the queen of the mean girls stumble and fall off her throne. Now Meghan must decide if a glamorous life with the mother she dreamed of is worth moving away from the friends who stood by her—and from Grandpa, who loved her before the whole world knew her name.
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Sarah Floyd was born in Carmel Highlands, California, where she and her friends explored, built forts, and acted out magical adventure stories in the woods that surrounded their homes. When she was in first grade her family moved to San Francisco, and then to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. She always brought her favorite books, wherever she moved, and she always found new friends who loved to read. Now she writes books for children and teens—for her, it’s the best job in the world.
Sarah is an active member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and lives in Florida with her husband and teenage son. To learn more, please visit sarahfloydbooks.com and follow her on Twitter @kidlitSarah.
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