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Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Write to Have Something to Revise: Author Interview with Lisa Robinson.

What I despise about movies or TV shows that have main characters who are writers is how they make it look so easy. The character meets someone who works for one of the big publishing houses who automatically picks up their manuscript and the newbie writer gets a big fat advance or immediately becomes a best-selling author.

For those of us in the writing trenches, we know this isn’t true for 99% of the time. My interview today is with an author who personifies what being a writer is all about. So, read on for the true story of getting published.

I read your blog which noted you have had over 100 rejections on your submissions. What kept you going? Most writers would have thrown in the towel! Or decided to self-pub. 
So many things kept me going: my passion for writing and getting published; my critique group who encouraged me and told me to not to quit; watching other writers persevere and ultimately cross the publishing threshold; multiple near-misses made me aware that I was getting close; also, somewhere along the way I read that it takes about 100 rejections before one gets close to getting published.

I took that as a challenge: keep working on my craft and submitting and one of these days I'll get there. The closer I got to 100, the more I felt that I was close to getting published. (And it turned out to be true!) 

How did you finally get your agent?
After much research into agents who represented both novels and picture books, I approached my agent, Alyssa Eisner Henkin, through the usual online querying process; however, in addition to several submission-ready manuscripts, I also had an offer in hand from my Two Lions editor, Marilyn Brigham, for my picture book, Pippa's Night Parade. I made the connection with Marilyn that resulted in this offer through the RUCCL conference (Rutgers University Council on Children's Literature), which I highly recommend.

Alyssa read my YA novel manuscript as well as a picture book biography and offered to represent my work. Alyssa's been a wonderful agent and subsequently sold three additional manuscripts.

And what are those other books? 
I have another fiction picture book coming out with Two Lions this year: Pirates Don't Go To Kindergarten. And two nonfiction books are coming out with Schwartz and Wade/Random House in 2020: Madame Saqui, Revolutionary Rope Dancer and Were I Not a Girl, The Inspiring Story Of Dr. James Barry. 

Tell me about the process of having your manuscripts accepted and published.
In general, the submissions process seems to take 3-6 months and I understand that that's fairly standard. With regard to the publishing process, both of my editors have promptly sent me editorial suggestions and we've gone back and forth three to five times with edits that have been thorough and thoughtful but not overly extensive. My agent is also responsive and thoughtful in guiding me.

My publisher, Two Lions, involved me with the illustrator choice, asking me what kind of style I preferred, whereas Random House did not loop me into the process at all (and yet, in spite of those differences, I'm delighted with all the illustrator choices).

Do you or your publishers write the book blurb on the back cover?
Both publishers wrote the book blurb but ran it by me to make sure I was okay with it. My debut book, Pirates Don't Go To Kindergarten, is coming out this month so that's the only book for which I can comment on the marketing process; I've been very pleased so far -- it's part of the Amazon First Reads program and they've also organized a blog tour. 

Your blog also notes you’ve written dozens of fiction picture books and several nonfiction picture books. Are any of these under consideration with a publisher? 
I have a new YA novel we'll be sending out in the fall.  Two of my nonfiction picture book manuscripts are out on submission right now. 

What is the hardest part of writing for you? Starting?
Writing a first draft is the hardest part! What appears on the page is never as good as what's in my mind and that's dispiriting. What keeps me going is the reminder that it's all about revision, revision, revision. And you have to have something to revise! 

What’s the best encouragement you’ve had in your writing? 
It's so important to find a writing community that nurtures and sustains you. My writing community cheers me on when things are going well and encourages and consoles me during times of disappointment and difficulty; this is essential and I'm happy to do the same for my writing friends in return. 

We have all been frustrated by writing rejections. Yet you said one particularly devastating rejection turned out to be for the best. Could you give me the details? 
To preserve confidentiality, I'd prefer not to give specific details. However, I can say that the rejection cut me loose from a connection that wasn't the best for me, but I didn't realize that until much later. 

What has surprised you the most in writing/publishing?
What surprised me a lot (but shouldn't!) is the wild subjectivity of this industry. My agent can send out a manuscript and one editor will love it and praise it and another editor will clearly think it's boring or unmarketable.

What frustrated you the most? 
It’s the glacial pace of the process. I've learned that the best antidote to that frustration is to keep on working on new projects. 
What do you know now about writing you wished you had known sooner?
There's a lot of joy but a lot of disappointment, frustration, and self-doubt. 

What is the best writing advice you’ve received or could give? 
Bill Lychack, one of the faculty in my MFA program, told a group of students one day: "If you can stop writing, just do it. Really, stop it if you can."

I took that to mean he was recognizing that for many of us writing is a compulsion, something we have to do, that we need in order for us to live our lives fully. But it's also an arduous and frustrating and doubt-filled process that one should avoid if one doesn't have this compulsion. It may seem odd but I found this comforting since I'm one of those people who just has to keep writing, in spite of how hard it is at times.

What is the next book coming out? Can you give me a short synopsis? 
Pippa's Night Parade is about a creative little girl whose imagination gets a little out of control and results in her having trouble with monsters (coming out of her storybooks!) at bedtime. Luckily, she's able to use her wits and that same imagination to take charge of her fears and tame the monsters. 

That’s all for today’s interview. If you would like to learn more about Lisa and how and where to buy her books, you can go to her website: 

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