By Sandra Sutter
It was the Fall of 2016. I was a children’s book writer who had been misplaced in the legal profession for almost a decade. A few lousy manuscripts sat in a drawer and I knew I wanted to do something more.
Using my trusty research skills, I stumbled across registration for the 2017 SCBWI Winter Conference. After some encouragement from a super supportive spouse, I signed up and headed for NYC. What was the worst that could happen? I decide not to write anymore and go back home?
No. The worst that could happen was I would fall in love with it and want to quit my job. Two weeks later, I was turning in my keys and working from a new office with a much shorter commute and extremely casual dress code.
I discovered rather quickly I had NO idea what I was doing. All I had were ideas and the desire to write. Oh, and those research skills too. Which landed me in an on-line course on writing picture books at the Children’s Book Academy. It looked legit: comprehensive, great track record, and an enthusiastic instructor with years of experience in the business.
Was it all that I dreamed of? Yes! Did I meet others in the Kidlit community who were kind, helpful, giving, and welcoming? Yes! Did I get a picture book contract with that amazing story I worked on in class? No … but I was one step closer.
During that first course, I found out about a similar one for illustrators (which I am not, but I signed up anyway). I thought maybe, just maybe, I could learn to think like an illustrator and get better at “showing” rather than “telling” in my own manuscripts.
Was it all that I dreamed of? Yes! Did I meet others in the Kidlit community who were kind, helpful, giving, and, welcoming? Yes! Did I get a picture book contract with the amazing story I worked on in class? Yes! Yes, I did!
Say what? A book contract from an illustration course? That is exactly what happened to me. When the editor critiquing my thumbnail sketches saw my story, she was hooked. She asked to show the manuscript to her publisher. And several days before Christmas 2017, I got the call that changed everything.
Of course, I did not end up illustrating my book (no surprise there). But I get to work with an amazing publishing team, and a close-knit group of talented authors and illustrators that support one another on this journey. It seems that it happened so fast, and in some ways it did. But there is still more to do! I feel compelled to work harder and stretch myself more than ever.
One thing I know is if I can do it, so can you. Be persistent and give it all you’ve got. Stay open-minded and learn from everyone you can. Give back, and be patient. That next opportunity might just be “the one” for you.
Sandra Sutter lives among the beautiful Kentucky horse farms with her husband and two young children. Having grown up in Colorado, she left a piece of her heart in the Rocky Mountains and often daydreams of permanently returning one day. Her upcoming debut picture book, The REAL Farmer in the Dell, was in part inspired by a love for the West. A former attorney and therapist turned children’s book author, Sandra is grateful to be on this amazing journey. When not writing or researching a new project, Sandra is likely planning fun adventures with her family. It almost always involves mountain biking, skiing, hiking, or water. Although a trip to the big city is often in order! She is fueled by coffee and enjoys really good chocolate chip cookies. Find out more about Sandra at www.sdsutter.com or follow her on Twitter @sandradsutter.