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12 X 12 November Featured Author Pat Zietlow Miller

12 x 12 November Featured Author Pat Zietlow Miller

12 X 12 Featured Author Pat Zietlow MillerThere could never be a BAD time to host the amazing author, Pat Zietlow Miller, on 12 x 12, but November seemed especially great. We own all of her books, and I am SO in love with SHARING THE BREAD. I was at the SCBWI-LA conference when Pat won the Golden Kite award for her debut picture book, SOPHIE’S SQUASH. Her speech made me laugh and cry, but most of all left me inspired to WRITE. In this month of November, I am grateful for her creative gifts AND her willingness to share them so generously with us. Please welcome Pat!

Starting at the beginning, what made you decide you wanted to write picture books as opposed to other types of children’s books?

I have loved picture books for as long as I can remember. In grade school, I remember reading picture books in the library when I should have been doing my homework. In high school and college, I read them at bookstores. And, when I knew my first daughter was arriving, I bought more books than baby supplies. I still read all levels of children’s literature with great enjoyment. But my heart will always belong to picture books. When they are done properly, they are perfection in 32 pages.

I’ve heard you received 126 rejections before your debut picture book, SOPHIE’S SQUASH, was picked up out of the slush pile. What kept you going?Sophie's Squash by Pat Zietlow Miller

Throughout the 126 rejections, I got enough glimmers of encouragement to keep me going. I got lots of form rejections and silence, for sure, but I also got handwritten notes saying things like, “Cute, but not right for us.” Or, “Please try us again.” Or, “We’d be happy to consider other things that you write.”  And I sold some stories to Highlights magazine. That made me feel like if I just hung in there, things would work out eventually. Also, when I really want something, I can be very persistent. I knew if I could just write something good enough, it would sell so I spent a lot of time focusing on improving my writing.

It can be tough to sell picture books on common themes, including holidays, yet you found a new angle with SHARING THE BREAD, by setting it in the 19th century. What inspired you to write that story? (P.S. I love how cozy it is! You can practically smell the food from the pages :-))Sharing_The_Bread

Thank you! That story was inspired by two rhyming lines that popped into my head while I was working at my day job. I had no idea what to do with them, so I emailed them to myself at home and then played around with them until I had a poem about a family making an everyday meal. Then, Emily Mitchell (who’s now an agent and who used to be an editor) said she thought the story would be stronger if the family made a holiday meal. She thought that would give the book more of a hook – a specific reason for people to pick it up at a bookstore. My agent agreed, as did Anne Schwartz, the editor who acquired the book, and I rewrote heavily around a Thanksgiving theme – only to find that very few words rhyme with “turkey.” My goal through the whole editorial process was for the book to have a warm, cozy, reassuring feeling.  I’m glad that came through for you.

You write in both prose and rhyme. Do you prefer one over the other? Did you take any classes focused on learning poetry and rhyme that you would recommend?

While I feel especially proud when I pull off a rhyming manuscript, I do prefer to write in prose. I’ve actually written myself notes that say “no rhyming” even though I’ve sold three rhyming books. I have not taken any rhyming or poetry classes. I am self-taught thanks to reading Dori Chaconas’ excellent rhyming website and obsessively studying master picture book rhymers like Jill Esbaum, Karma Wilson and Lisa Wheeler.

Like many 12 x 12 members, you have a family and a full-time job. How do you find time to write, especially now that you have to balance writing with promoting your published books?

It is hard. Lately, more of my time has been going into promotions. But I still need to write new stuff or I’ll have nothing to promote. And, I need to be focused on my full-time job so I have enough funds to do frivolous things like pay my mortgage and contribute to my daughter’s college tuition. So whatever fire is burning the brightest usually gets my attention in the evenings or on the weekends. If I find I’m focusing too much in one area, I will try to shift to keep things in balance. But I’m always in danger of dropping something.

You have FIVE picture books coming out in 2016 and 2017. Will you retire? 😉 wyg_cover

If only I could. But, alas, I am not J.K. Rowling. I am, however, very excited about each of my upcoming books. And I hope they will do well and earn royalties and contribute to my mortgage and my daughter’s college tuition.

Lots of folks always want to know of published authors: How many manuscripts do you write compared to the number that are published? 

I probably have six picture book manuscripts in progress now. Some I’ve been agonizing over for years. They might not sell, but I’m not ready to give up yet. I have given up on selling several others. At any point, there’s no way of telling how many of those six I’ll sell. All I can do is write the best stuff I can, revise until I think it’s ready and submit. Then, it’s out of my control. It would be great if I knew every sixth manuscript would sell, but I don’t. I could sell all six or none or anything in between.

What do you think are the biggest challenges of writing and publishing picture books? What are the biggest rewards?

The biggest challenges are getting an original, marketable idea and writing it in a compelling way. Both those things are hard. So many ideas are overdone or not creative enough. And getting your writing to a memorable level takes work and revision and focus. Fortunately, I like writing and I like revising. They’re a great way to spend time. The biggest reward is when you get it right. Sometimes, when you do, you just KNOW.

What’s your number one piece of advice to your fellow picture book authors?

Work harder than you think to have to. Achieving top-quality, professional results only happens when you really focus on mastering your craft and realize there is always more to learn.

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 Amazon.com release for new Thanksgiving books. Pat blogs about the craft of writing picture books at www.picturebookbuilders.com. She lives in Madison, Wisconsin, with one wonderful husband, two delightful daughters and two particular cats.

This Post Has 106 Comments
  1. I think Sophie’s Squash is perfection in 32 pages! Hard to believe it had 126 rejections. I’m looking forward to the steady supply of your books in the coming years. 🙂

  2. Pat, so hard to believe that your debut garnered 126 rejections and then went on to be such an award winner. Thank you for persevering & for sharing your story with us.

  3. At a recent conference, the editor of WHEREVER YOU GO gave a wonderful behind the scenes look at the development of that project. It was fascinating as was the above interview. It is evident that Pat is a talented and deserving writer.

  4. Thank you, Pat, for sharing your journey in writing. I love your books and have them on my shelf. When I feel low, I’ll think of those 126 rejections.

  5. It’s hard to believe that Sophie’s Squash received 126 rejections and then went on to become such an award winner. Thank you for sharing your story with us.

  6. 126? 126! Are there even 126 submission opportunities out there for PBs? Pat, I admire you so much more now that I know how determined you are — on top of your talent. Thanks for sharing here.

  7. Pat, I love Sophie’s Squash and bought Wherever You Go for my daughter’s college graduation this coming Spring. I agree with Carol, and all the others, how can you have gotten 126 rejections? Thank you for a wonderful and encouraging interview.

  8. Hi everyone! Thank you for reading and commenting. I want to clarify one thing that I probably wasn’t as clear on as I could have been. Yes, I did get 126 rejections before selling SOPHIE’S SQUASH, but not all of the rejections were for SOPHIE. It was 126 rejections for a variety of picture book manuscripts — some truly awful and others not so much. SOPHIE herself got about 15 to 20 rejections.

  9. Thanks, Pat, for sharing your story with us. I will keep your example of persistence in mind, and also your insight about getting one’s work to a “memorable” level. That’s something to strive for.

  10. Thanks for your encouragement after 126 rejections. Did you want to just give up at any time? And did you
    send these ms in and get rejected with or without an agent? I think trying to get representation is just as hard as appealing to an editor.

    1. Hi Shari:

      There were times I thought that I might not get published, but I never thought about stopping writing. I liked it too much. The 126 rejections were without an agent — through the slush pile. After I sold SOPHIE, I did get an agent, and she has been a huge asset selling my next nine books. And I agree with you, getting an agent is as hard as getting published.

  11. Thank you so much for this heartfelt, honest, and encouraging post. Congratulations on all of your books (published, upcoming, and still in progress). I look forward to reading all of them!

  12. I am a huge fan! I loved every word and illustration in Sophie’s Squash and had to own a copy immediately after my first read! I also recently checked out Wherever You Go and Sharing the Bread from my local library and think they are just lovely. Your journey to publication story is truly inspiring. Congratulations on your successes.

  13. Thanks, Pat, for sharing your story. I feel encouraged to continue by reading your persistence through those rejections (sprinkled with small successes), time challenges, and learning the rhyme game without any courses. I am eager to take a look at your books!

  14. Thank you, Pat, for the inspiration. I heard
    you speak at the 57th St. Book Shop a few Saturday’s ago. I appreciated hearing your story. You give prepublished CB authors hope. I also love your work.

  15. Thanks for this! It’s so much harder for me to get a rhyming picture book right than a poem But I’m hoping that, if I keep working at it, I’ll eventually find perfection.

  16. You are Super Woman, Pat! It’s amazing how much you achieve and still work full time. Do you sleep? I really look up to you! Thanks for putting great books out there and for setting an awesome role model for all of us to follow.

  17. Ha! The idea of a “no rhyming” note to self took me back to the great exchange in The Princess Bride: “No more rhymes now, I mean it!” “Anybody want a peanut?” 😉

    More seriously, I am a huge fan of Sophie’s Squash, and I look forward to reading the rest of your stories, Pat! And I always appreciate an inside glimpse at writers succeeding while working regular full-time careers. Very inspiring.

  18. Thank you for sharing, Pat…I’ve wondered if I was a fool to have kept querying when I neared 100 rejections on my MG that will be pubbed this year, but that’s when the doors opened. I quereied 101 times. I’m glad I’m not the only one. Your story gives me hope for my picture books. Perseverance pays off. You’re an inspration!!!

  19. Thank you, Pat, for sharing your inspiring post. Your encouragement renews my perseverance. I know I can. I know I can. (I look forward to reading your pb’s.) Thanks!

  20. Pat, what a wonderful, uplifting post! Thank you! Loved your comment, “Work harder than you think you have to.” So true.

  21. Thank you for this great interview! I live your work. My daughter had an eggplant lovey, and was enthralled with Sophies Squash. Thank you!

  22. What a wonderful inspiring post. I can’t believe I missed this earlier in the month. I love SOPHIE’S SQUASH. Can’t wait to read your other books. What a couple of years you’re going to have.

  23. Your story of 126 rejections leading to publication gives us all hope. Your hard work and determination seem to be getting great results. Congratulations!

  24. Love you story about Sophie and Bernice, especially since it breaks one of the “Rules” by featuring an inanimate (and loveable) object!

  25. Thank you for sharing your story Pat! I enjoyed hearing you speak at SCBWI too, and I love Sophie’s Squash. I am looking forward to reading Sharing The Bread now. 🙂

  26. I love Sophie’s Squash and can’t wait to read Sharing the Bread! Thank you, Pat, for sharing your experiences, which inspires me to be persistent. I also appreciate your call to work harder and to focus on the craft.

  27. Wow. Great post and so interesting hearing about Sophie’s Squash. I love that book. It’s hard to imagine anyone rejecting it. It does give one hope. Thank you.

  28. I can’t believe Sophie’s Squash was ever rejected! It has joined the ranks of one of my all-time favorite picture books!! I absolutely adore Sophie. Thanks for the inspirational post.

  29. What a great interview, Pat! Your story is definitely encouraging for those of us still pre-published to persevere, and I love your stance on always being able to learn something new in your writing. It’s a great way to live life in general, isn’t it?

  30. What a wonderful post. I’m so glad you stuck to it even after more than a hundred rejections. Sophie’s Squash is one of my favorites!

  31. Thank you so much for an inspiring post, Pat! Sophie’s Squash is one of my favorites…and I love hearing about a writer’s journey. Persistence…tenacity…never giving up…those are my watchwords also. 🙂

  32. These end of the month, or in this case extended end of the month, reminders to go back and do what I’d gotten sidetracked from are SOOOOO appreciated. This interview with Pat will keep me going for a while. THANK YOU for both your fine craftsmanship, Pat, and your encouragement to keep working (hard!).

  33. Thanks for the realistic look inside the world of a PB writer. I can especially appreciate the part about needing to provide for your daughter’s college tuition . . . that’s the world I’m entering in 2016. Congrats on your success!

  34. Thanks for the inspiration! Love what you said, ” All I can do is write the best stuff I can, revise until I think it’s ready and submit.” Very true! We should all remember that.

  35. Thank you for the inspiring words! “Work harder than you think you have to” is a motto that I will use for many thing in my life. (Plus, I scribbled it down and it’s on my desk next to my favorite pen.)
    Thank you for sharing with us.
    Susan Schade

  36. Thanks for a great post Pat. I love Sophie’s Squash and look forward to reading ALL your books coming out in the next few years.

  37. Love your work ethic, Pat! You’re my kind of author. No wonder your books are so great. Thank you!

  38. Thank you Pat! This post seems so down to earth and I like the emphasis on working harder than you would ever think you need to in order to master the craft and create a publish worthy manuscript. It is just amazing what perseverance this all takes, but it was comforting to hear from you, a person that I view as so talented and successful. And it helps to hear the journey that a story goes through from inception to the final revision that tells a story in a unique way. Best to you!

  39. I’ve said it before – you truly are an inspiration, Pat!! Your writing is superb, and your insight to writing for kids is top notch. Thank you for sharing. I look forward to MANY more extraordinary books from you! 🙂

  40. I love Sophie’s Squash. Hard to believe it got so many rejections. It really puts the publishing industry in perspective – no illusions.

  41. I appreciated Pat’s real ‘down home’ attitude and example of simply hanging in there–with the truest goal in her heart, to add a classic to that world of books that means so much to so many of us in our formative years.
    Probably should edit that lengthy sentence!

  42. I loved hearing more about you Pat. I love your books, I have two of them. I can’t wait to read your new books.

  43. Thanks for sharing your story, inspiring to those of us working on our craft and hoping to publish. Congratulations and best wishes for continued success.

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