By Bea Birdsong
I love stories about the different paths authors take to publication. The variety is encouraging. Each story is unique, which means there is no one way to sign with an agent or sign your first book deal.
In February of 2017, I had been working as a freelance writer and editor for the education market for about seven years. This job taught me how to revise based on feedback, how to edit others’ work without stripping it of their voice, how to meet extremely short deadlines, and how to fit the maximum content into a minimum of space. For many projects, I am allotted a certain CWS count. This stands for Characters with Spaces, meaning each letter, punctuation mark, and space is counted. After a few of those projects, the idea of being able to use up to 500 words to tell a story seemed like an abundance of riches.
Getting back to February of 2017, I was also working on a middle-grade novel, and I was a member of an in-person critique group. For the past year or so before that, picture books had been popping into my head and sometimes I’d send one in for critique instead of a chapter in my middle-grade book. One week I sent in the manuscript for what would become my first book, I Will Be Fierce. Two of my critique partners contacted me early in the week to say, “I can’t even wait until we meet to say that you have to send this book out to agents.” One of them threatened to come to my house with an electrified cattle prod if I didn’t send it out. We are a hardcore group.
So, I went on Twitter, because that is what all productive writers do with their time, and I looked up the hashtag MSWL, which stands for Manuscript Wish List. Agents and editors use this hashtag to tweet what they are looking for in their submissions. That particular week, it seemed like every other agent tweeted that they wanted something fitting the description, “Nevertheless, she persisted.” So, I sent a query letter to four of them, including the one I ended up signing with, Melissa Edwards of Stonesong Literary Agency. This was her tweet:
She also posted this:
Put together, those tweets describe I Will Be Fierce. The “Don’t care what form it takes” part was key to me choosing to query Melissa because I was her first picture-book client. I took a chance querying her and she took a chance signing me, but it paid off. Melissa was the perfect advocate for my book. We ended up having interest from multiple editors.
Melissa set a date for an auction, but before we got there we accepted a preempt deal with Connie Hsu at Roaring Brook Press (Macmillan). Connie, like Melissa, was passionate about my story. She had a vision for it that included asking Nidhi Chanani, creator of the graphic novel Pashmina, to illustrate it. Nidhi was the perfect choice. Our book will be in the hands of readers on April 23, 2019.
I could not have written a better story for my path to publication. Thanks for reading about it. I hope to read about your path to publication soon!
Bea Birdsong is a former teacher whose time in the classroom left a lasting impression of the awesome power of books to educate, entertain, and empower. She is a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and Sisters in Crime. Bea lives in North Carolina with her husband, son, and spoiled rescue dog. She spends her free time reading, traveling, and searching for hidden doors to other worlds.
Bea is the author of I Will Be Fierce! (Roaring Brook Press) and the upcoming Sam’s First Word (Little, Brown Young Readers). Visit Bea at www.beabirdsong.com and @BeaBirdsong on Twitter.