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12 X 12 October 2018 Featured Author – Hannah Holt

12 x 12 October 2018 Featured Author – Hannah Holt

Hannah Holt is one of our 12 x 12 charter members. She’s been around since our auspicious start in 2012 and this month, her debut picture book, THE DIAMOND AND THE BOY, arrives. Hannah is proof that hard work and perseverance pay off. We could not be more thrilled for Hannah and we look forward to many more books! Congratulations, Hannah!

Write It Anyway!

Publishing books for children is a lot like running a distance race. I used to run competitively. That was before parenthood made my nights hard and my muscles soft.

However, last Saturday, I laced up my shoes for my first 5k in years. As I slid into my dinged minivan—complete with car seats and graham cracker crumbs—I glanced at the dashboard. Oh, no! My kitchen clock must have stopped. I was running late.

I sped to the event, but all the runners were gone. I had completely missed the start.

What could I do?

As a writer, I often feel like a late beginner. Ten years ago, I knew nothing about publishing. I had no writing contacts, no related degrees, and only one completed manuscript.

On a bleak night during those early years, I wrote in my journal, “I have this nagging fear that I’ll never be good enough.”

However, my desire to write was stronger than my doubts. Desire pushed me to the library where I checked out every book on children’s publishing I could find. It made me bold enough to attend a conference where I met Julie Hedlund and eventually joined her 12 x 12 challenge.

My odds of being published still weren’t good, but I took a lot of chances. Some of them paid off. I sold my first magazine article. Fellow writers became friends. I joined critique groups and received honorable mention in a picture book writing contest.

Then wonder of wonders, I signed with an agent: Danielle Smith! I felt sure a sweet publishing deal would be just around the corner! After all, she was making deals left and right for other clients. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out for me. After a year on submission together, I didn’t received so much as a rejection letter.

When we parted ways, I felt like I had missed the start of a race. Good friends were already crossing the finish line with book deals, while I remained stuck at the beginning. I faced a choice: I could quit or I could run my own race.

I decided to keeping going. I sent a handful of new queries. They were all rejected. I sent out another—two requests for more work. I sent out another and another round. After a year of querying I signed with a new agent—Laura Biagi. She sold my first book, The Diamond & the Boy. It’s out now!

 For reference, here’s the Twitter pitch about the same book that my first agent, Danielle Smith, requested.

Note the date: July 2013. Five years later, this book is finally out in the world!

I still have nagging fears and moments of doubt, but I quiet those insecurities by going to work. The real work of being a writer, like the real work of running, doesn’t happen in the public eye. It happens early in the morning in sweatpants and a T-shirt. It isn’t glamorous, but regular writing practice gives me the courage to try impossible things. I’ve learned it doesn’t matter when I fail. Failure is only final if it stops me.

On the morning of my bungled 5k race, disappointment froze time for a moment. Then I stepped forward, signed myself in, and headed down the empty street. In the distance, I saw runners rounding a corner. I chased after them.

I found my groove and picked up speed. I passed a few people. Then more and more, but I wasn’t running against them. I was running for me. My lungs burned and my legs complained, but I pushed harder.

As I crossed the finish line, I gasped for breath. It was a few minutes before I could stand upright again.

When I looked at the results sheet, I couldn’t believe it. I didn’t win, but I did place—second. I’ve never been more proud of taking second.

No one wins every race, but you never know what might happen until you try. You never know if a scene will work until you write it. You never know if a revision will take until you revise it. You never know if a manuscript will sell until you submit it.

Go for it. Write it anyway!


Hannah Holt is a children’s author with an engineering degree. Her books, THE DIAMOND AND THE BOY (2018, Balzer+Bray) and A FATHER’S LOVE (2019, Philomel) weave together her love of language and science. She lives in Oregon with her husband, four children, and a very patient cat named Zephyr. She enjoys reading, writing, running, and eating chocolate chip cookies.

This month’s check-in winner will receive a signed copy of THE DIAMOND AND THE BOY! Go forth and write!

This Post Has 174 Comments
  1. Hannah, your analogy was perfect and congratulations on taking second in a 5K! Not an easy feat by any measure, and an accomplishment to be uber proud of. And…congratulations on your first book finally finding a home!!! Excited to read it and I am positive kids everywhere will enjoy it. 🙂

    Thank you for the pep talk too, because we all need a boost at some point and yours comes at the perfect time for me.

  2. Hannah, Congrats on your upcoming titles!!
    Your fierce determination is an inspiration.
    Love your last paragraph, ie, “You never know if……until……”
    This is so true. I plan to type that out and keep it where I can reread it on those (many!) days when my determination falters.
    Thanks for the uplifting message.
    All the best!

  3. Wonderful analogy, Hannah! Love this: “No one wins every race, but you never know what might happen until you try.” I’m so glad you didn’t let the experience with our first agent bog you down. Huge congrats, and best wishes always!!

  4. I love when you said, You never know if a manuscript will sell until you submit it. Thanks for your blog and congrats on your 2nd place finish. That’s impressive.

  5. Thank you for your honest, encouraging post, Hannah. I started writing later in life too and sometimes feel like I won’t ever be “good enough.” But I really do feel like I found my “tribe” in my journey and really do love what I’m doing, so I will keep writing!

  6. Congratulations, Hannah, on your wonderful debut. And your encouraging words have come at just the right time. Thank you so much!

  7. I am looking forward to reading this book and looking carefully at the structure. I’m intrigued.
    Congratulations on the book birthday and on the patience to wait it out.

  8. Congratulations, Hannah, on your debut picture book and the one coming out next year! Thank you for sharing your journey and inspiring us to continue–writing, running, and doing what needs to be done!

  9. Hannah, thanks for sharing your journey. You are so right that nothing can happen if you don’t take a chance. You have shown us that believing in yourself, amidst doubt, is an important ingredient for a writing. Great post. Best of luck with your new book!

  10. Hannah, I love the marathon analogy and the sentiment that you’ll never know – unless you try. I think you’ve encapuslated the emotional journey and doubt that many (if not all) writers/illustrators experience at lest once in their careers. Thank you a powerful post and guiding light to follow.

  11. Excellent analogy about writing, publishing and distance running — and the best point was that we’re “writing” (running) for ourselves. Thanks, Hannah, for the inspiration!

  12. Thank you for sharing your journey. It was an encouragement. Congrats on plugging away until you succeeded! I’m happy for you.

  13. Wow! Great story, Hannah! And such a fabulous metaphor! Congrats on your success, and cheers to many more!!

  14. Hannah, thank you for sharing your admirable running and writing stories. Your post is so honest, helpful, and uplifting, I just read it again. Congratulations on your debut picture book!

  15. I love your story… I’ve only just started my journey— I’ve been PB writing in earnest for just over 2 years. At times, it definitely feels like the mountain is just too steep. But I love the scenery so I keep going, one step at a time. One day, maybe I’ll get to the top, but In the meantime, as long as I’m moving upward every day, I know I’m headed in the right direction. Thank you for your encouragement and support!!

  16. It’s like Dory said: “Just keep swimming, just keep swimming!” I’m sorry you had to deal with Danielle Smith, but so glad you found a new agent. Nice work!

  17. Thank you for sharing your journey, Hannah. And, congratulations on your debut and your second picture book. Persistence and challenging yourself are definite messages in finding success in any field. Can’t wait to read The Diamond and The Boy!

  18. Hannah, your encouragements is contagious and inspiring. I need to read this often and get the desire to get up and try again. Thank you so much.

  19. Hannah,
    Excellent advice. I have always said the journey is worth all the ups and downs of any pursuit. Best of luck with your future ventures but also with THE DIAMOND AND THE BOY.

  20. What an inspiring story, Hannah, and congratulations on publishing your book. Your incredible journey succeeded because of your patience and persistence. I can’t wait to read to read this.

  21. Hannah, this so inspires me. “Run your own race” has become my mantra in this writing journey. I enjoy hearing the success stories of fellow writers but sometime in all that noise of their success I get discouraged. That’s when I repeat that mantra to myself. This is a wonderful post. I’m saving this to refer to in those bleak moments. Your perseverance is an inspiration to me. Whew!….it sure could have been discouraging or stopped you in your tracks with the “failed” attempts but good for you for forging ahead, both in your writing and your literal race!! Your hard work and patience paid off. Thank you for your encouraging words. I can’t wait to read Diamond Boy! Best wishes to you!

  22. Love this post Hannah! Great encouragement for all of us who are still running … Especially like “Failure is only final if it stops me.” – after one particularly swift rejection (less than 24 hours after submission) I almost stopped writing, but for some reason, I feel I’ve got stories to tell – and they want to be told! So I am definitely in the “Go for it. Write it anyway!” camp. Hope your book goes down an absolute storm!

  23. Thank you so much for sharing your fears, perseverance, and thought process! It helps this scary process feel…normal. 😉

  24. Hannah!! I am so proud of you. Thank you for sharing your inspiring story. I needed it today. I feel so behind the pack – and it’s been that way for years. But I will write today in honor of you and your success. Congratulations!!!

  25. Thanks, Hannah. Just the encouragement I’m in need of right now. Congratulations on your debut. Can’t wait to read it.

  26. Congratulations Hannah! I couldn’t be happier for you. Thank you for this encouraging post. I feel like I am a little late to the race too but your words are a reminder to keep at it. And thank you for your ongoing transparency of your experience. This helps the rest of us more than you may know.

  27. Yes! I love your story of perseverance and growth. Everyone’s journey to publication is different but for many it takes years of writing, submitting and repeating this process. Congratulations on your book!

  28. Thank you for your inspiring post, Hannah! This was just what I needed to read today. And congratulations on your debut! I’m excited to read it.

  29. This post is inspiring for me on two levels — first, because I’m running a race in just over a week, so the analogy fits in my brain right now to a T! Second, because I often feel like I’m not trying hard enough. I’m not reading enough about the industry, not reading enough published children’s books, not learning enough, not writing enough, not drawing enough, not posting enough… so is it finally time that *my* enough … IS enough? When I stop comparing my efforts to every resource that’s available (there are SO MANY)? When I appreciate other’s art, whether sweet or edgy, but take comfort in the way God enable ME to draw? I have some more thinking to do on this. Congrats on your publication!

  30. Thank you, Hannah, for your stories, both written and lived! Thanks also for reminding us that as long as we don’t give up, we haven’t truly failed. The obstacles along the way are just bumps in the road to success.

  31. I enjoyed reading about your writing journey. Thanks so much for sharing! Congratulations on holding your PB baby!

  32. Oh my, Hannah, this was so inspiring! Thank you for sharing your hard-won wisdom. And CONGRATULATIONS! May diamonds shine around you for as long as diamonds last.

  33. What a neat and “inspired” story. How lovely of you to memorialize your grandfather. And then just today at the PB Summit, we got to see the query letter you wrote that snagged you an agent, which was also inspiring and cleverly written. I loved all of your geologically-referenced words. Congratulations on your beautiful new book.

  34. Hannah – I loved your race metaphor! Thank you for this wonderfully written, highly relatable journey of your shared fears, hopes and dreams! Your perseverance is inspiring – congratulations on your new book!

  35. Congratulations on this book about diamonds and your grandfather. What an awesome accomplishment. I can’t wait to read it. And thanks for your inspirational post. We all need a lift from time to time.

  36. Your posts are so inspiring Hannah! And I love the running analogy. It *almost* makes me want to go for a jog, and I plan to keep writing and pushing myself despite all those writerly feelings edging their way in.

  37. Fantastic post, Hannah! These feelings are universal- doubt, pressure, desire to succeed. I compare my writing journey very often to marathon running. It’s so encouraging to see you sharing these thoughts with us here!

  38. Wow! Thank you for sharing your publication story. It’s a good reminder of the need for perseverance. And congratulations on your book coming out!

  39. Beautiful inspiring post. I loved the marathon analogy. I have often felt I have missed the start line and wonder if I will ever catch up. But it is a journey that I am so thrilled to be on with you Hannah. Seeing your lovely book arrive in my home proved it is possible. Thank you for being such a dear friend and critique buddy.

  40. I can hardly not think of this writing journey when I see a running race. Running is big time in our family and the metaphor is so powerful when wanting to finish well, give it all we got, and not give up. Thanks for being another voice of reason and encouragement for me. Congrats on the book…I’ll be looking for it!

  41. Your book sounds so interesting and I”ve heard it mentioned several times already. Way to go! Thanks for the inspiring post.

  42. Great post, Hannah! Thank you for sharing your writing journey with us. I especially loved when you said, “No one wins every race, but you never know what might happen until you try.” And your, “Failure is only final if it stops me,” reminds me of my writing motto, which comes from Norman Vaughan, the chief dog handler on the Admiral Byrd Expedition to Antarctica in 1928-1930. Vaughn’s motto in life was, “Dream Big and Dare to Fail”

  43. I can’t believe I am just getting to this, a day after I read and commented or reviewed The Diamond and the Boy. The book was very informative and interesting and I didn’t know this man lived in my state and worked on this invention. Unfortunately, he didn’t find diamonds in this area but he did invent a useful drilling bit that is used all over the world. Thank you for sharing this story.

  44. Clearly we need to just keep trying!!! Even when it feels somewhat hopeless! Thanks for sharing your inspiring story!!

  45. Hannah – It is such a comfort to know you also were getting lots of rejections…this will inspire me to keep trying. Thank you!

  46. Hannah, Congratulations on your book! It is so exciting and I appreciate and admire you for sharing all the struggles as well as the successes of the kidlit path. You are an inspiration to keep going and let our passion for writing guide us through difficult times. Thank you!

  47. Love your can-do spirit, Hannah! It’s very inspiring. Thanks for sharing your journey with all the ups and downs. Congrats on your first book!

  48. So excited I was able to finally read this book. I like how the pictures work together with the text. Congratulations on your debut book Hanna!

  49. Hannah…I am always impressed with your dedication and willingess to revise/change/polish your manuscripts. And this book is the embodiment of that work ethic…plus your amazing writing gift! Thank you for sharing your process and your mind set of perseverance.

  50. Hannah, thank you for your reminder to stay in the race. Sometimes it’s hard to believe in myself, but I figure if I keep on runnin’, one day I’ll win that race. Thanks for sharing your journey. You’ve inspired me.

  51. Hannah, you are the little ant who moved the rubber tree plant!! Perseverance! Way to go! Can’t wait to read your debut!
    Keep spreading your magic,

  52. Congratulations on your book! Sorry to hear about the problems with your first agent. It’s good to hear your about your success after all of that, and it comes from your perseverance. Thank you for showing us what it takes!

  53. Thank you for an encouraging post! This is my favorite part: “No one wins every race, but you never know what might happen until you try. You never know if a scene will work until you write it. You never know if a revision will take until you revise it. You never know if a manuscript will sell until you submit it.”

    Thank you for cheering us all on, and we’ll be cheering you on as well while we all stick to it!

  54. Hi Hannah, thanks for sharing your journey. I loved your analogy to a marathon. I can relate. I sometimes feel tired on this journey to publication. I’m so glad your book has come into the world. I hope to read it one day. I’m sure it’s truly amazing.

  55. Hannah – I’m nearing the end of my third year participating in 12×12. I don’t know you, but I feel like I do. Thank you for being a more-active-than-usual member. You’re one of a handful of 12x12ers who I feel like are just built into what this group is, and why I’ll continue to be part of it for as long as I can. I know for a fact that I’m not the only one who feels this way, and I’m psyched for you that you have one book out (that I just ordered) and another on the way.

    And finishing second when you started your 5K late? Remind me to never race you.

  56. The fear of failure has been nipping at my heels this week. Thanks for sharing your story. It helped! Here’s to failing, and try, try, trying again.

  57. I ran one marathon and came in next to last, but I finished. The comparison of writing and publishing is a great one. I’ll remember it when I start getting discouraged. Congratulations on both the second place which was great considering you started late. Congratulations on your book too.

  58. Hannah, what a great story of perseverance and resilience. You deserve this success and I look forward to reading “Diamond Boy.”
    Thank you for sharing your story. Yoyr story inspires to keep going forward. 😊Pauline

  59. Hannah, what a great story of perseverance and resilience. You deserve this success and I look forward to reading “Diamond Boy.”
    Thank you for sharing your story. Yoyr story inspires to keep going forward. 😊Pauline

  60. I love it, and I especially love seeing the original pitch! So awesome that a twitter contest worked for you. Thanks for sharing!

  61. I love it, and I especially love seeing the original pitch! So awesome that a twitter contest worked for you. I am inspired. Thanks for sharing!

  62. Hannah, congratulations on achieving the finish line / starting line for Diamond, and the perseverance and patience that brought you there. Thanks for the reminder that publishing realities may be beyond our control, but how we respond to them is not!

  63. Congratulations on your success Hannah! Thank you for sharing your writing and running journey. Inspiring. And “Failure is only final if it stops me” is now my new mantra.

  64. Congratulations on your book- it looks awesome. Your post is inspirational. It is exactly what I need. The words in your journal run through my mind all the time.

  65. Hannah, thank you for your insight and openness! I think the race metaphor is perfect, especially because endurance seems like it is a key factor to striving for success in this experience. I can’t wait to read your book and am really touched by your choice to write about your grandfather. Wishing you and all 12×12’ers continued success!

  66. Thank you so much for sharing your journey with us, Hannah! I can totally relate to not feeling good enough. I’m so glad that you were able to overcome your fear! I can’t wait to read your new book.

  67. So inspiring. Way to hang in there! Does anyone ever have it really easy right out of the gate? I doubt it. The struggle is what makes the (eventual) victory that much sweeter. It’s just a question of who will win: you or rejection.

  68. I’m a runner too. I so appreciate your encouragement. This is a tough business and you need the persevering mindset of a runner. Running also helps balance the long hours in the chair. Best of luck with your book!

  69. I love your inspiring story and send congratulations your way! I like your statement here: “The real work of running, doesn’t happen in the public eye. It happens early in the morning in sweatpants and a T-shirt. It isn’t glamorous, but regular writing practice gives me the courage to try impossible things. I’ve learned it doesn’t matter when I fail.” I think that is what I like about writing. It IS up to me. It does happen in my imagination and only when I sit and make it happen. Thank you.

  70. I find satisfaction in the writing journey. I learned a lot when I worked with an editor one-on-one. But to win it you have to stay in it!

  71. Hannah, I used to be a runner, and it seemed like there was at least one hurdle, with each event. I once ran a half-marathon, and tied for last place. It was still success, and invigorating.
    Great analogy to writing.
    I am now a walker, and even so, the hurdles of procrastination, motivation, and bad weather, make it difficult.
    I am an old newbie at writing.
    Doubt is my greatest hurdle to getting ‘er done in the writing world.
    Thank you for the positive vibes.
    One step at a time.

  72. Thanks for sharing your story, Hannah. We all have to start somewhere, and we all feel behind sometimes, but as you said, you can’t be successful if you never start. And your book looks wonderful — congrats!

  73. Congratulations on your book!! I’ve been writing forever, but I feel like 2018 has been my true professional start. I’ve been hovering behind the starting line, scaring myself off with comparisons to others or just letting other things in life take my time. I’m so thrilled that I finally started the race this year with 12 x 12, and I appreciate hearing your story about how it can be a sprint or a long slow distance, and you just have to stick with it.

  74. Thank you Hannah! Sorry to hear about your agent experience but so happy you have found someone else. I can’t wait to read your upcoming books!! Thank you for painting a realistic picture of the writing process – your journey is inspiring! Congratulations on the books and the race! 🙂

  75. great point! it’s so hard to keep doing all these submissions and rejections alone. but if you know you are putting the work in and doing the things to improve you have to keep going!!!!

  76. Ok. I’ve been hemming and hawing about going for my swim. I am going. Thank you for the push to keep going in my writing, art, and exercise.

  77. Writing is real work with a wonderful goal of sharing it with others. Having a community to walk the path is priceless. Thank you.

  78. Awesome post! Thank you for sharing your story (both the writing journey and the 5k…holy smokes!). Congratulations on your debut!!

  79. Thank you for sharing! Congratulations on your book. It is beautifully written and illustrated. I turned all the copies face out at my B&N, Shhh!

  80. Hi Hannah! Congratulations, and many thanks for your transparent description of writing. It takes grit and perseverance and tenacity, and you captured that so well. What an encouraging and enjoyable read!

  81. I received a critique from Hannah last year in the full manuscript. It was well thought out and has helped me revise that manuscript-I’m still working on it but I was glad she brought up some obvious points-and gaps- in my story. Can’t wait to see your book!

  82. Loved the racing analogy, Hannah. A good reminder that to be happy, we should always be running the “race” for ourselves, and not measuring ourselves against anyone else’s successes or timelines. We’ll all get to the finish line eventually! Congrats.

  83. I thought I read this post, but in culling through my ever-expanding inbox, I realized I hadn’t. What an inspiring post! Your 5K story will stay in my mind and in my heart for a long time, I’m sure. I can’t wait to read your debut! Yes! “Go for it! Write it anyway.”

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