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Tuesday, October 25, 2016

The Patience of Writing: Author Interview with Diana Murray

What made you decide to write for children? 
When my first daughter was born, we started reading tons of picture books together. I fell in love with them and the whole experience of reading together with a child. I wasn’t sure how the whole publication process worked, but I knew I wanted to give writing a try.

Tell me about the process of getting your book, Grimelda, the Very Messy Witch, published. 
It took about 7 years from the first draft to publication. It was a loooooong wait. And yes, I did get discouraged sometimes. Especially when it went to an editorial meeting and I got a revision request from an enthusiastic editor (who heard the first page read at a conference). I revised it and sent it back in, but it ended up getting rejected. That was around 2010, which was right after I got the SCBWI Barbara Karlin Grant. So the grant was very encouraging, but the subsequent rejection was a letdown. In hindsight, however, I know my revision skills simply weren’t strong enough at that time.

In 2012 I queried an agent with the manuscript and ended up getting an offer. After I signed with her, I sold Grimelda the Very Messy Witch and Ned the Knitting Pirate pretty simultaneously to different publishers. I did major revisions before getting the offers. It was daunting, but fun! And I’m pleased with how the revisions turned out. Unfortunately, there were some delays and the books took 4 years to be released.

Was it easier to write your next book? Did publishing doors open more easily once you had one book to show in print?
Perhaps it did get a bit easier to write because I got so used to picture book pacing and writing in meter. But I wouldn’t say that sales were easier. In any case, the next book I sold, City Shapes, was something I had written years earlier, but had never submitted. Funny enough, it came out first, even though it was the third book I sold.

Tell me about the process of getting an agent?
Getting my agent made a big difference in my career. I researched agents online by reading interviews, checking Queryshark, and checking on the SCBWI discussion boards (called The Blueboards at the time). I also met agents in person at conferences. When I read my agent’s bio, I thought she sounded like a perfect match for me. We seemed to like many of the same things. She was a junior agent at the time and actively looking for new clients. It was part luck and part determination. I don’t remember how many other agents I queried. Probably about 15 at the most, because not too many agents take queries from picture book authors who aren’t also illustrators or novelists.

What’s the best encouragement you’ve had in your writing?
Getting the 2010 SCBWI Barbara Karlin Grant. That was so exciting for me. Also, going to first page sessions and critiques at SCBWI conferences was often encouraging.

We have all experienced rejection. Give me an example of one you’ve had, and how you learned to write past it.
The worst rejections are form rejections. They’re so discouraging. I sub through an agent now, but I used to sub to the infamous “slush pile”. Form rejections made me feel unworthy--almost like I didn’t exist. It was especially harsh to have to wait an entire year only to get a generic form! But I get it. I know publishers just get so many submissions in the slush pile that it’s impossible to answer everyone personally. I sure did appreciate the times when I received a personal rejection! Even when it included some criticism.

When I did get so discouraged that I wanted to stop writing, the feeling was always short lived. I was drawn to writing, and it was impossible to stop.

What’s the hardest part about writing for you? What is the hardest part of writing for you? Starting? Creating a scene? Dialog? Tension, etc?
When I write in prose (not something I do often), the writing sometimes feels too distant. Like I’m writing “about” something, instead of being there, in the moment. When I write in rhyme, the hardest part is probably making everything sound natural and not letting the story meander to accommodate the meter. I adore writing in metrical verse. It’s like assembling a word puzzle.

What type of publicity does your publisher expect you to do in promoting your book?Mostly bookstore events. I also went to a spring preview event at Little, Brown once. I do book festivals and school events but I schedule those on my own.

What did you learn in publishing your first book that helped you in your writing?
I learned to take a more aggressive approach when revising.

What has surprised you the most in writing/publishing?
The CONSTANT waiting, waiting, waiting, and the anxiety that comes with that. I’m also surprised by how much I worry about reviews and sales.

What frustrated you the most?

What do you know now about writing that you wished you had known sooner?
Fresh eyes make a huge difference. If you set something aside for a year or more, you can often fix all the problems in a manuscript. Especially if you’ve been good about practicing your critiquing skills by exchanging with other writers.

What is the best book you've ever read about the craft of writing?
I think it’s between Writing Picture Books by Ann Whitford Paul and All the Fun’s In How You Say a Thing by Timothy Steele.

Is there a genre you wish you could write in, but never will? Which one?
YES! I wish I could write YA novels.

What is the best advice you’ve been given about writing or that you’ve learned that you would like to pass along?
Join a critique group.

Do you have any other works in the process?
Yes! I have a few other picture books and an early reader forthcoming, as well as many poems. You can check out my website for more info:

Thanks for taking the time for this interview. Hope you'll check out Diana's books. I agree with you about being involved with critique groups and having fresh eyes on a book. Good tips as well for the craft books. 


  1. Great interview ladies! It's funny, Dianna, I write YA novels and wish I could write picture books.

    1. How funny, Kai! They really are such different things. Thanks for stopping by!

  2. As writers, we all have another genre we read and wish we could write in. For me, I love reading espionage and suspense books but haven't a clue how to even begin writing one of those stories.