Friday, January 15, 2016

ReviMo Day 7 with Pat Zietlow Miller

How I Revised My Manuscript Until It Became an Actual Book

by Pat Zietlow Miller

I think most people assume writers write their books in solitude, edit a bit and wait for a publishing offer to arrive. That’s usually not the case, although — because I may be the biggest introvert in the world — it sounds appealing.

My fourth picture book — The Quickest Kid in Clarksville — releases from Chronicle Books on Feb. 9th. Here’s how I got the idea and how a village helped me make the sale.

Step One
I wrote a first draft at my kitchen table after being inspired by Jacqui Robbins’ and Matt Phelan’s picture book The New Girl … And Me. I thought its depiction of a beginning friendship and the pitfalls that can occur was spot-on. I wanted to see if I could take that theme in a new direction. I’d also been hanging around my daughter’s school, and the voices of some of the kids had gotten stuck in my head and made their way into my manuscript. The first draft was titled The Fastest Feet on Fleet Street and had two girls competing to see who was the better runner, jumper and double-dutch rope-skipper. The girls started out disliking each other, but ended up as friends. But, I knew I wasn’t done, I needed …

Step Two
I sent the draft through two critique groups. They made comments, and I made adjustments. Then, I won a picture book critique from esteemed picture book writer Dori Chaconas. She had great things to say about the voice and suggested that I have one of the girls be new to the neighborhood so she’d be more of a threat to the other, who had been reigning queen of the block. I thought this was a great idea, rewrote accordingly and proceeded to …

Step Three
I took the manuscript to the Rutgers One-on-One Plus writing conference (which is a wonderful experience if you get the chance to go). This conference pairs you with an editor, agent or writer. You spend 45 minutes with them digging into your manuscript and absorbing their knowledge. I was paired with Chelsea Eberly, then an associate editor at Random House. Not only did Chelsea explain the concept of a story hook better than I’d ever heard, she also turned on a light bulb for me by suggesting I set the story in the past and look for a historical angle to give the story a stronger identity. Almost instantly, I thought of setting the story in 1960, the year American sprinter Wilma Rudolph won three gold medals at the Summer Olympics in Rome. I went home full of excitement and rewrote the story so both characters idolized Wilma and wanted to be just like her. That brought me to …

Step Four
I attended an Iowa SCBWI conference. I was paired with Brett Wright, then an assistant editor at Bloomsbury. He had lots of good things to say in his critique, but he also suggested amping up the tension between my two competing athletes so, as he put it, “They earn their happy ending.” This made sense to me, and was relatively easy to do, so I went at it and moved to …

Step Five
Now, the story seemed ready to submit. Ammi-Joan Paquette, my agent, agreed and sent it out. Some rejections arrived, which is inevitable, and then we received a nice note from Tamra Tuller at Chronicle Books. She liked the story, but said something didn’t seem quite right. Maybe there wasn’t enough Wilma Rudolph? She didn’t know how to fix things, but if I was willing to try, she’d be happy to look at it later. I was willing, so that led to …

Step Six
I was off work and alone in my house the week between Christmas and New Year’s, and I made revising the story my top priority. But I wasn’t exactly sure how to get started. So I sent the story to my critique group friends asking for ideas. They did not let me down. Norene Paulson sent a list of brainstormed thoughts about how to make Wilma more prominent. Lisa Morlock suggested using the story’s setting to add punch. And, Jill Esbaum offered character advice. So I pondered, and began …

Step Seven
I read Wilma’s autobiography and children’s books about her. And, I learned interesting things. Wilma grew up in Clarksville, Tenn. which was segregated in 1960. Blacks and whites went to separate schools, saw separate doctors and ate at separate restaurants. But after Wilma’s Olympic victories, Clarksville wanted to throw her a victory parade. Wilma agreed, but said the event had to be integrated. So that parade was the first integrated event in Clarksville history. Knowing that, I moved my story’s setting to Clarksville and had both girls planning to attend Wilma’s victory parade. I also removed the jumping and rope-skipping and had the girls’ competition focus on running events loosely patterned after Wilma’s three Olympic events. And the title changed to The Quickest Kid in Clarksville. I look a deep breath and advanced to …

Step Eight
I sent the story to Joan. She asked a few questions, I made a few alterations and Joan sent the story to Tamra, who took it to an editorial meeting and then to an acquisitions meeting and then, amazingly, bought it, resulting in …

Step Nine
Celebration! (And, awaiting Tamra’s editorial notes.)
So here’s my advice. Get your idea, and write your story. But once you’ve gotten your manuscript as far as you individually can, send it out into your village. Listen to what they have to say and use the ideas that make sense to you. It will help.
And, if you don’t have a village, find some like-minded people and create one. The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) is a good place to start.
You and your book will be better for it.

Thank you Pat!

Pat Zietlow Miller has three picture books in print and seven more on the way. Her debut, SOPHIE’ S SQUASH, won the Golden Kite Award for best picture book text, an Ezra Jack Keats New Writer Honor and a Charlotte Zolotow Honor. It also won the Midwest Region Crystal Kite Award and was a Cybils’ finalist. WHEREVER YOU GO briefly made Midwest Booksellers bestseller list, and SHARING THE BREAD was, at one point, the No. 1 release for new Thanksgiving books. Pat blogs about the craft of writing picture books at She lives in Madison, Wisconsin, with one wonderful husband, two delightful daughters and two particular cats. Find her on Twitter at @PatZMiller.

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