Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Milestone 002 -- Do All Rejections Shake the Earth?

Hello, my Faithful Following Few! Today, the Washington Metropolitan region experienced its biggest earthquake ever AND I received my first manuscript rejection. Symbolic and overly dramatic--yes! And much like the earthquake, my first rejection was big, it registered high, and I survived it. Now it's time to assess the damage and where necessary, rebuild.

On the bright side of this weirdly eerie day is the fact that I just added another anecdotal morsel to the story of "how I first got published."  Won't I have great fun regaling audiences of children and their families about how the earth shook when Beach Lane Books, a Simon & Schuster imprint, graciously declined my cute little story of an adorable little black girl on the first day of school with outrageously uncooperative hair and unattractive shoes. I see that day as clearly as I felt the earth shift beneath my feet today, so I know it's possible.

But until that glorious day comes to pass,  I am just like the structural engineers who are no doubt assessing buildings all along the East Coast: assessing my manuscript, my query, and my choice of publishers. Where I need changes, they'll be made. Where I need advice, I will seek it. And where there was a "no," I will continue to seek out the "yes." Sure, my plans for forward movement look good on paper. But I know the proof is in the execution.

Lucky for me, Beach Lane Books was merciful with my virginal submission and said no quickly, giving me a chance to shop my manuscript in greener publishing pastures. They could have taken weeks and kept me dangling in the wind. They didn't, and I'm grateful. So tonight, I am scouring my Children's Writer's and Illustrator's Market bible for my next earthquaking response.

So, what of the rejection correspondence you wonder? For now I am printing and framing my adorable little rejection email as a reminder of my courage to believe I have something to say that children want to hear. And I am clinging to the page I snatched from my President's book that gave me the audacity to capture and live my dream.  

If you're curious about my query and their response, check it out below. And I hope you'll join me in celebrating the fact that an editor at a highly regarded publishing house read my manuscript! I couldn't be more proud...well, maybe a little more ;-).



Greetings Ms. XXXXXXXX:

I am pleased to submit PIGTAIL BLUES AND UGLY SHOES, a 405-word picture book geared for children ages 4 to 8, for your consideration.

I had the pleasure of meeting you at the SCBWI 40th Annual Conference in Los Angeles, CA this month and was impressed with your enthusiasm for picture books and personal commitment to your authors. That, coupled with my desire to deliver great stories for kids featuring multicultural images and themes, led to my decision to submit.

This poetically humorous story opens with Lulu, a 7-year-old African-American girl waking up on the first day of school to hair disaster. Like most young girls, her hair is an important part of her grooming ritual. Through vibrant images girls of all nationalities will appreciate Lulu’s struggle to be a big girl by tackling her unruly hair, and the morning tango between moms and daughters on wardrobe—especially shoes.

Lulu’s story is timely, simplistically revealing, and marketable. Picture the imagery of GOOD NIGHT, WORLD coupled with Lulu's character joining the ranks of Sophie Peterman, Tallulah, Fancy Nancy, and The Ladybug Girl in the picture book market for child champions.

I am a member of SCBWI and have several picture book projects underway in addition to PIGTAIL BLUES AND UGLY SHOES. I would be happy to share those with you at your request.

Thank you for your time and consideration. I look forward to hearing from you soon.

Best Regards,

Athena W. Hernandez


Dear Athena,

I’m afraid we don’t see a spot for your story here at Beach Lane, but thanks very much for sharing it with us—and for your kind words about the conference.

With all best to you in your career,


Monday, August 15, 2011

Milestone 001

I'll keep this short and sweet. Today, I hit the send button on my first picture book submission, PIG TAIL BLUES AND UGLY SHOES. It's the poetically humorous story of a 7-year-old African-American girl, Lulu, who wakes up on the first day of second grade to a hair disaster and the ugliest shoes she's ever seen. Can she live up to the "big girl" hype and get her hair done before her mother threatens to take over? Will she really have to wear those ugly shoes? Did her bed really swallow her barrettes? And will she make it to school on time?

Want to read more? Then start praying for the publishing gods to show mercy on an aspiring author, or Lulu might not see the light of day!


Sunday, August 14, 2011

She's Back!

So, it's been nine long months since my last post. I did complete NaNoWriMo, but who knew that was the easy part (yes, I'm still revising!). I've learned a lot of hard lessons in my time away from my blog, I've faced some difficult personal challenges, but I've remained committed to my writing. Here are the nine things I've learned in 9 months...

I've just returned from the SCBWI annual conference in Los Angeles, CA. I've said this before and I'll say it again--I've found my tribe. I met the delightfully witty and charming Judy Blume. I spoke to editors and agents about my writing prospects. I pitched a book. I shared meals with other aspiring authors. I travelled across the country and met two African-American YA aspiring authors, also from Virginia. I partied in my pajamas--don't ask, just imagine! And I spoke to the author of "The Phantom Toll Booth." I was awe-struck, inspired, fearless, and overwhelmed. But what I wasn't was out of place. I found solstice with kindred spirits, other souls who also majored in English and wondered what the heck the degree would bring forth. This is my tribe, these are my people, and this is my dream.

And I am perfectly content admitting that I'm not perfect. The best that I can do is to commit myself to my craft. That means writing or revising daily. Taking at least one hour of the day (more when I can) for my writing, and forgiving myself when it doesn't happen.

There are so many avenues to getting published. Creating a digitally connected platform is a step, but not the answer. There are no blueprints, answers, or maps. There is just creativity, diligence, and timing -- and not always in that order. I started this blog to capture my journey towards being published. The idea that I needed to write in this blog three times a week only brought unnecessary pressure and took me away from my craft of WRITING children's stories. This blog is an important tool, along with my website, twitter account, Facebook, and LinkedIn connections. I will nurture them all appropriately because they are stepping stones towards my dream. They keep me connected, informed, and honest.

So, I will write in this blog when there is something worthy to write about. And when I do, my adoring 15 followers will know ;-)...

I will keep this short and sweet. In the nine months that I've been away, one of my younger sisters died from multiple strokes. The strokes went undetected because she also suffered her entire life from epilepsy. To the untrained eye, she was just having seizures. By the time doctors determined she had suffered from multiple strokes, it was too late. She would have been 30 this November. My heart is still broken, but my spirit rejoices in knowing that she is released from her suffering. Also, my husband's grandfather became terminally ill and took his place in heaven. And one of my other sisters gave birth to a beautiful baby boy, at long last making me an aunt. It's during times like these that I am either scarily creative, detached, or tending to family. In this season, I tended to family and my creativity took a back seat. Such is life...it happens...we cope...we live to tell another story.

I have a very demanding job as a PR professional for the District of Columbia Lottery. Sometimes I work long hours and come home to my small family drained and nearing insanity. That's when my husband steps in and carries the weight. But he can't work for me and he can't write for me--and unfortunately, sometimes I must choose. I will continue to fight for balance, but I know that I have limitations. I respect them and I move on.

I have not let anyone read my stories, with the exception of my editor. It's time for me to take the next step and face my tribe. Within the next month, I will find or create a critique group. A little constructive criticism is just what the doctor ordered to cure my fear of publishing rejection.

I met a handful of aspiring authors at SCBWI. We talked about our work, but also how to balance our lives. They understood. My friends don't always understand. My family doesn't always understand. But other aspiring and published authors, they understand. I need their support, and it will serve my spirit well to give them mine.

So, I've been writing my stories based on instinct and instruction from how-to books (some very well written books, I might add). But, it's cowardly and foolish to believe that that's all I need. I have found a few online courses that I am considering, and I have applied for a Master's program at Lesley University. This is progress, and another step towards my goal of becoming a published children's book author.

And, I know the difference! I have three complete picture book manuscripts, a middle grade/YA novel that I'm revising, an outline for a chapter book, and several ideas for more stories. I am not limited in my format, and have proven that I can cross genres. Yay for me!

So, that's it in a nutshell. Thanks for sticking around. It's been a wild ride, but I'm in it for the long haul. I hope you'll stay for the ride.