Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Guest Post: Brenda Reeves Sturgis on Keeping the Faith

By Brenda Reeves Sturgis

Faith is believing in something that you can’t see, can’t hear, but can feel deep in your heart!

Pursuing your dream of becoming a published author is no easy task. It’s not for people who refuse to push through adversity.

Becoming a writer begins first and foremost in your mind. When times get tough and you want to quit, it is this vision that will help carry you through to victory.

I spent my teenage years holed up in my room, filling books with handwritten poetry in verse. However, I never thought about becoming a published writer until I attended an author visit at my daughter’s school in 2004. It was there, in that little school in rural Maine, that I learned about the Society of Children’s Book Writer’s and Illustrators.

I took a leap of faith and joined SCBWI.

Traveling to New York was a big deal to a small-town girl. While attending my first SCBWI conference, it took every ounce of strength I could muster not to turn and dash out the door. Instead, I kept moving forward with faith in my dream.

Doubt crawled in, “Who was I to think I could ever step in this arena? What did I have to offer the publishing world?” There were over 1000 people at the SCBWI event--authors, illustrators, agents, and editors. It was intimidating. I sat in the back, near the door (for a quick escape), listening, learning and longing to become a published author.

Afterwards, I joined my first critique group. It was in this group that I penned 10 Turkeys in the Road (Marshall Cavendish, 2011), and this was another step forward.

When the rejection letters came, I tossed them in the trash. When you decide to become a writer you will face rejection, revision, and rewrites! You must seek and hold onto your vision.

Maybe that vision for you is a completed manuscript. Maybe it’s the acceptance of representation from an agent. It might even be thoughts of becoming a New York Times best-selling author.

Whatever your dream, you can achieve it. But not without faith—faith in yourself and faith in your talent. I reasoned with myself: if I quit, I would never know success.

When I signed with my first agent, I was euphoric, but after two and a half years, we parted ways amicably. After six months of querying, I signed with my second agent, but our communication styles didn’t mesh.

The vision of my career as a children’s author (and all that came with that) was foremost in my mind. I couldn’t quit. Visiting schools, attending signings, reading at children’s hospitals, and all that it would entail...that was my goal. I had to do whatever it took.

Eight more months of querying agents, researching boutique and large agencies, new and seasoned agents...and I received great feedback, a few close encounters, but not the perfect-fit-for-me agent.

I was at a crossroads. At one point I unplugged my computer, gave away two-thirds of my books to the local library, and quit. That lasted three days. Then I said, “If it’s going to be, it’s up to me!”

I follow editors and agents on facebook and am active on social media. I had heard of Emma Dryden of Drydenbks through mutual colleagues.

Emma knows this business, inside and out. She’s highly respected and vastly admired by industry professionals. I surmised that Emma was my last hope to help me figure out a strategy. I had a long chat with my husband and told him, “I have to hire her. She’s my last chance to get anywhere in this business! She’ll know what I should do!” I had faith that Emma was my answer.

I hired Emma for three hours as a consultant to tell me what I was doing wrong. Was it my writing? Was it my approach? Was it my expectations?

This ended up being the best move I ever could have made. Emma and I had a phone conversation. She looked over my work, and after our consultation, we had a great game plan.

My work was not in question. It was my query letter that needed tweaking.

Emma assured me that my expectations for what I wanted and needed in an agent were attainable. She loved my writing and compared my work to two of the best rhymers in this business--a huge compliment that propelled me forward. We tightened my query letter.

Emma was happy to allow me to use her name in my query e-mails, and her name alone opened many doors for me. Every agent responded promptly and favorably within days.

Within three days after our consultation, I did indeed find the perfect agent for me, Karen Grencik of Red Fox Literary.

After reading my query letter, Karen was eager to speak with me. She had contacted Emma about me to find out more.

Karen said that, because Emma had praised my work, she was confident that my manuscripts would be great. So she asked to see my entire body of work. I gladly sent her all of my polished picture book projects.

Having Emma in my corner made all the difference for me. The difference between getting nowhere and going everywhere!

Karen Grencik and I have the same goals, the same communication styles, the same vision. My work is being submitted and read. We’re moving forward. Karen is confident she can sell my manuscripts, even in this down market.

My relationship with Karen is easy, based on mutual respect. She totally gets me and my idiosyncrasies, and she calms my fears.

Karen has a good attitude about rejections. We’re in it for the long haul!

Moishe's Miracle, illustrated by David.
My first book, 10 Turkeys in the Road, illustrated by David Slonim, has been published by Marshall Cavendish. Scholastic has picked it up for the book clubs and book fairs. I’m on my way!

Looking back over my seven-year journey, I’ve grown. I’ve learned. I’ve dug deep and carried on. Was it easy? No, not one bit! Was it worth it? Yes, absolutely! I’ve reached the summit, it’s breathtaking! Come up here and see for yourself.

Keep writing. Keep believing. Keep turning over your own stones.

Reach, stretch, breathe!

You’ll be so glad that you made the climb!

13 comments:

Jennifer said...

The biggest congratulations to you, Brenda! I too am on an incredible journey, as most authors are. Your post was inspirational, and definitely something writers should read every so often so they don't lose focus, or sight of their dreams!

I've had the pleasure of having my YA considered by Karen Grencik, and although she didn't offer representation, she was indeed one of the loveliest people I've had the pleasure of speaking with:) - But rejections happen, and doors open when you least expect them, and her "no" turned into a "yes" from another agent.

Thanks so much for sharing your experience with the world!

~ Jennifer Murgia
YA author of Angel Star & Lemniscate

Elizabeth O. Dulemba said...

I am so, so very happy for you Brenda!!! :) e

Hazel Mitchell said...

Awesome post Brenda :-)

Joanna said...

Loved this post, Brenda and kudos to you for hanging in there and making great choices and investments when it really mattered. So glad that Karen and you are on the same page - great team!

Gregory K. said...

Congrats, Brenda! It's exciting to have seen you not only keep the faith but also keep working so hard. (By the way... it's a pretty good year for that critique group, isn't it? :-))

covetcat said...

Thanks for sharing the details of your journey with such honesty and directness! I found your words extremely encouraging and helpful!

Julie Hedlund said...

What an amazing story! Thank you for having courage and sharing that with us. :-)

mona said...

Great post Brenda.
You keep telling me over and over to keep going-and never to give up. I appreciate your encouragement and friendship and guidance. Everyone should be so fortunate!
Thank you

tricia said...

Yours is the story everyone wants to hear (and make theirs!) Thanks for being so generous and honest.

Opera said...

im interested in moishe's miracle,what kind of book is that?

Cynthia Leitich Smith said...

Jennifer, congratulations on landing your agent and best wishes on your continued journey.

Elizabeth, Hazel, Joanna, Greg, Julie, Mona, Tricia & Covetcat, I'm so glad you enjoyed the post! Thanks for chiming in!

Opera, Moishe's Miracle is a Hanukkah picture book!

Jennifer Jensen said...

I love your story, especially about finding the right agent for you. I'm in the hunt now, and will keep this to re-read.

Cynthia Leitich Smith said...

Jennifer, good luck with your agent search!

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