Teacher-Author Diana Lee Santamaria On Promoting Literacy & Self-Publishing

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By Diana Lee Santamaria

Hi, everyone! I am so honored to be a guest writer on Latin@s in Kid Lit. My name is Diana Lee Santamaria and I am a newly self-published children’s author of DLee’s World Books. DLee’s World is a series of learning books that I created for children ages three to five. Since I struggled with issues of illiteracy growing up, I designed my books with bright colors, playful rhyme schemes, and diverse characters to promote literacy, diversity, and most importantly, fun.

Literacy is extremely important to me considering that more and more children
seem to display a lack of interest in literacy education. As a result, according to the most recent statistics
on literacy provided by the National Center of Educational Statistics, about 50% of adults in the United States read at or below basic proficiency level. Therefore, issues of literacy are still a huge factor in our society today. Who knows where I would have been, had my father not taught me? If he never realized my problem and wasn’t so determined for me not to follow in his educational struggles, I may not have graduated from college, become a teacher, or even a children’s writer.  Therefore, I created my books with the intent to help increase children’s interest in literacy at an early age. Literacy is all around us, from reading a sign while driving to ordering take-out. We are constantly put in positions where we have to read and show that we comprehend what we read. It is vital, therefore, that we promote reading and learning in children while they are young to aid in chances of future success.

The first four DLee’s World books are entitled DLee’s Color Hunt, DLee’s Outdoor Countdown, DLee’s First Day of School, and DLee’s Nighttime Scare. These books touch upon learning objectives, such as primary and secondary colors, counting and numeral recognition, dealing with new experiences, and fears of the dark. As an educator for seven years with a Master’s Degree in Early Childhood Education, I used my professional experiences, educational background, along with my own childhood experiences to bring each and every story to life. Currently I have written eleven other DLee stories, which I will hopefully be publishing within the next few years. In my mind the story possibilities with DLee’s World are endless. Since I have taught preschool for many years now, I know first-hand what objectives and relevant topics are typical and important to learn for that age group. As a result, I have a journal dedicated to those ideas, which I am consistently referring back to.

I officially self-published and began marketing in August of 2014. I chose to self-publish after doing lots of research and speaking to fellow educators and professionals who had also published literary works of art. The articles that I was finding shared a lot of negative aspects on attempting to publish through a large publishing company. I kept reading about the difficulty in getting a company to publish children’s literature even if your book is worthwhile. But that was not the only downside. From what I read and found to be true through my own research, most publishing houses do not accept unsolicited manuscripts; therefore I would have had to find an agent. Now although I found a list of agents through the Society of Children’s Book Writers (SCWBI), which I became a member of, everything takes time and everything costs money. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to wait for a response considering that I may never get one or be waiting months on months. Additionally, I read about publishing through a larger company and the issue of not having full rights to your work. So I definitely considered the option of publishing the traditional route. But after all things considered, I decided to self-publish. My thoughts were that I would self-publish and market myself enough to build a following of parents and children that would eventually lead me to traditional publishing routes. My thinking was and still is that if I build enough of a fan base maybe a publishing company will come find me. Who knows how far fetched that is, but I figure I have nothing to lose. Hence, why I decided to give self-publishing a shot. Even still, I did send my work out to some publishing companies in hopes of a response. I have yet to receive one, but I remain positive!

latina, author, teacher, latina, authorIt’s ironic because if you would have asked me what I would be doing when I got out of college, I would have never imagined I would be a teacher, let alone a children’s writer. As an undergrad, I studied Speech Communications and always had a passion for all areas of the arts. I loved writing poetry, drawing, painting, singing, and acting. My dream, however, was to become a famous singer and later an actress! But I thought it would be more realistic to get a career in public relations relating to entertainment. Then, while I was doing an internship at a small entertainment company, I came across a woman who mentioned teaching and that idea sewed a seed that led me to pursue a pre-kindergarten to third grade teaching certification. From there, I began teaching and decided to earn a master’s degree in children's book series, latina, authorearly childhood education. While teaching, I was always reading to my students and at times was lacking the literary resources that not only hit the topic I wanted to teach but also relevancy to increase connection and overall understanding for my students. So one day, I decided to write a silly story about shapes. I wrote the story and then just left it there until one day, I read it to a friend. She really enjoyed the story and encouraged me to keep writing. I never really considered myself a writer, but that night I went home and the words began to pour out of me! I started analyzing the children in my classroom, the books they enjoyed along with the standards required for preschoolers to learn. And that is how DLee’s World came to be.

teacher, latina, author, From the use of my childhood nickname (given to me by my mother), to the use of my childhood image along with images of those who have impacted in my life, DLee’s World is very much a part of me. I have dedicated much time and effort to perfect DLee’s World books so that they are not only educational and fun for children but also useful for parents and educators. Subsequently, I have devised lesson plans that coincide with each learning book, available for free download on my website.

Recently, I have been doing free readings at libraries, schools, and bookstores throughout the New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania areas. It’s been such a fun experience, and I’ve been receiving many positive reviews from both parents and kids! I absolutely love what I am doing and hope to continue to share my efforts with children, parents, and teachers worldwide. My books can be found on www.dleesworld.com and Amazon.

Guest Post: A Sock Thief in the Making

DON’T MISS THE BOOK GIVEAWAY! THE INFO IS AT THE BOTTOM OF THIS ARTICLE.

COVER

By Ana Crespo

Sometimes I wonder what the reaction of my younger self would be if I could tell her that, at almost 40, I am investing in a career as a children’s book writer… in English.

“Awesome!” my enthusiastic five-year-old self would probably scream. Pequena1

“But you don’t speak English,” the realistic 10-year-old me would point out.

“Ha! You don’t even like to read,” the sarcastic teenager would mention. (It’s true. I didn’t. Learn about how I became a reader here.)

“You’re studying to be a journalist. Your job is to expose the facts and allow your readers to form their own opinions, not to create stories,” the determined 20-year-old me would explain.

Certainly, I never thought I would one day publish any book, let alone a children’s book, in English. Yet THE SOCK THIEF has been in the making since I was that enthusiastic five-year old in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. It started when my father tucked me into bed each night and shared stories of his childhood.

PapaiAlthough my paternal grandmother came from a wealthy family, my grandfather didn’t, and their five kids lived a frugal life. This included not owning a soccer ball, a very expensive item in the 1960s, in Rio. My father and his older brother had to be creative. They would sneak into my grandmother’s bedroom, take a pair of women’s hose, stuff it with newspaper, and make a soccer ball.

Don’t ask me why, but that story stuck in the back of that enthusiastic five-year old’s mind and resurfaced in the wanna-be children’s writer I eventually became. I had wanted to write a story with a Brazilian character since I started writing for kids in 2012. During a local SCBWI conference, a speaker mentioned something that brought back the long-forgotten memory. It wasn’t a story yet, just a memory with potential.

Then, I remembered something else from long ago. One day, watching a famous Brazilian TV show called Fantástico, I learned about a kid who had to walk a huge number of miles to reach school every day. I was a middle-class kid, riding on a comfortable school bus over paved roads, completely sheltered. That different reality, unthinkable to me up until then, left a strong impression. Maybe it sat in the back of my mind, by my father’s childhood story. Together, they started to form a plot.

Although I felt there was still something missing in the plot, I wrote THE SOCK THIEF (or MONDAY IS SOCK DAY, its first title) and submitted it to two different agents. And received two rejections. It wasn’t until I found that missing something that the manuscript received some attention.

One of the things that surprised me when I first moved to the United States was the way animal sounds are represented in written English. While in English a dog says “woof, woof,” in Portuguese, it says “au, au, au.” I imagined the difference would be a surprise to others as well, and decided to add it to THE SOCK THIEF. In my opinion, it gave the story a unique flavor.

A year after the idea first sprouted, I met my future editor at the same local SCBWI conference. I had paid for a manuscript critique, which included a 10-minute, face-to-face, in-depth analysis of THE SOCK THIEF. My editor thought the story was interesting. However, it was only after she learned that making soccer balls out of socks was a real practice in Brazil that her interest really sparked.

After the conference came the cutting, and cutting, and cutting of words. In the original text, I carefully described the process of making a soccer ball out of newspaper-stuffed socks. It was a tedious and confusing text, better shown through illustrations. I fixed some weird sentences. I added an author’s note. And I submitted my revised manuscript.

I crossed my fingers, lit some candles, held on to my figa, and tied some Nosso Senhor do Bonfim bracelets around my wrists. Okay, maybe I’m exaggerating a little. The point is that, although I really wanted a positive response, I had received so many rejections in the past, for this and other manuscripts, that I wasn’t keeping my hopes up too much.

In fact, I had set up a mental deadline. If I didn’t receive a positive reaction to my work, I was going to give up. The submission process is very stressful and the fact that it usually comes with rejections doesn’t really help. I never expected that the positive reaction I was hoping for would come in the form of a publishing offer, but it did.

From that point on, everything was new and exciting–the illustrator choice (Nana Gonzalez’s grandpa used to make soccer balls out of socks in Argentina!), the first drafts, the adjustments to the text, the illustrations in color, the adjustments to the text, the front cover reveal, the adjustments to the text, the first book review (a bit nerve-wrecking!), the scheduling of school visits, the book promotion… And, during it all, I sold four more books to Albert Whitman & Company–even more excitement.

While this journey would be exhilarating no matter what, to me it’s particularly rewarding because writing in English doesn’t come easily. No matter how long I’ve lived in the US, or how many college degrees I hold, or how much work experience I have, sometimes, I still sound foreign. I’m not talking (or writing, I should say) about my accent. It’s the word choices, the sentence structure, the weird use of prepositions. I’ve been through many funny and embarrassing moments thanks to the complexity of the English language…but that’s a whole different story.

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A BOOK GIVEAWAY!

To celebrate the upcoming release of THE SOCK THIEF, we’re launching an amazing giveaway.  Sign up for a chance to win a copy of the book, plus a total of six copies to be donated to two elementary schools of your choice (three copies to each school). This giveaway was made possible thanks to a donation from Albert Whitman & Company.  To sign up for a chance to win and to check out the terms and conditions of the giveaway, visit the giveaway page on Ana Crespo’s website.

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AnaCrespo_PURPLEAna Crespo is the author of THE SOCK THIEF (Albert Whitmam & Company, March 2015), JP AND THE GIANT OCTOPUS and JP AND THE POLKA-DOTTED ALIENS (Albert Whitman and Company, September 2015). Before investing in a career as a writer, Ana worked as an academic advisor and a translator. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Journalism and a Master of Education in Career and Technology Education. To find out more about Ana, visit her website. You may also find her tweeting away at Twitter , or sharing news on Facebook.

 

 

 

 

Writing Tips and Diversity Points at the SCBWI Winter Conference

By Cindy L. Rodriguez

The Winter Conference of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators in New York is kind of like a massive family reunion, with all 1,000+ people having a love of children’s literature in their blood. It’s very cool for me to break away from my full-time day job as a middle school teacher and attend this annual gathering of creative people who all want to be published or work in some capacity with kid lit. While this love of children’s literature is the common denominator at the conference, the attendants are diverse people with myriad interests. Because of this, my ears naturally perk up when speakers address diversity in publishing.

The SCBWI did not have a specific panel or break-out session dedicated to diversity in children’s publishing, but speakers included Raul Colón, Shadra Strickland, Jack Gantos, and Nikki Grimes. Also, the topic of diversity popped up throughout the conference as writers, illustrators, and editors offered great advice about craft.

During her Saturday session, Anica Rissi, an executive editor at Katherine Tegen Books, outlined seven essential things to remember about writing contemporary fiction.

  1. Just do it: write regularly. Make time for this in your life. Be fierce in protecting your writing time.
  2. Give the reader something to wonder about.
  3. Start with the story, not the back story. Throw us into the action.
  4. You need both external and internal tensions, a plot arc and an emotional arc. You need that emotional growth.
  5. Details should matter. Ask what is this book really about? Is every scene a part of that? When in doubt, take it out.
  6. You need to bring out relatable truths through your characters. Create timeless and timely essential relationships and show how the relationships change the character. During this part of her talk, she said, “Please don’t just write about white people and please don’t just write about straight people.” She added that diverse characters should not always be the “token best friend.” A writer should make every person in the novel “a real person,” she said.
  7. World building exists in contemporary fiction, too. Setting needs to be a character.

Later, Nancy Siscoe, a senior executive editor with Knopf Books for Young Readers, discussed seven essential things about writing the classic middle grade novel. They are:

  1. Audience: middle grade fiction is for readers 8-12 years old. It’s an age of independence, of becoming a person separate from your family. It’s an age of enthusiasm, optimism, and openness.
  2. Plot: Put your kid character in charge. Let them solve their own problems, keep them moving, keep the stakes high.
  3. Hope: You don’t need a happy ending, but you do have to have hope.
  4. Likeable characters: You want a main character your readers would want to be friends with, someone they will care about.
  5. Voice: Make it distinctive. It’s the quality that sets the tone and sets your book apart from others.
  6. Read it aloud: The writing should be smooth, clean, and clear. Middle grade books are often read aloud, so try it while writing.
  7. Heart: The quality that makes your own heart feel bigger and wiser and stronger for having taken the journey.
Some of the Latin@ titles at the book sale

Some of the Latin@ titles at the book sale

During her talk, Siscoe was asked about diversity. She responded by saying she is always on the lookout for diverse main characters. In fact, she said a “selling point” for the novel Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer, a middle grade debut by Kelly Jones set to release in 2015, was its Latina protagonist.

The final panel on Saturday was about book banning rather than craft. Susanna Reich, chair of the Children’s and Young Adult Book Committee for PEN American Center, floored me during this session. She said children’s and young adult books make up the vast majority of books on the ALA’s list of banned and challenged books. While I knew children’s books were often challenged, I didn’t realize that on the most recent list of the “Top 100 Banned/Challenged Books” from 2000-2009,” 72 of the top 100 are children’s and young adult books, with Harry Potter at the top of the list.

Reich also made the point that censorship isn’t only about removing books from shelves. Censorship also occurs when so few diverse titles make it onto the shelves. “It’s a form of censorship when the amount of multicultural kid lit published hasn’t increased in twenty years,” she said.

But what about those books that do make it onto the shelves? Well, it’s up to us to buy them. Reich quoted poet Alexis DeVeaux, who said, “Buying a book is a political act.” Reich challenged each of us to think about the books we choose to buy and read. Do we censor our book buying in any way? Do we make a conscious effort to read beyond our comfort zones? Do parents and teachers select books for their children and students that include diverse characters?

Multicultural books can speak to all kids, not only kids of color,” said Reich.

Hear, hear! More details from Reich’s talk can be found here on the SCBWI site.

At the end of an SCBWI conference, I am always exhausted in a good way, with a thousand things to consider as a reader, writer, parent, and teacher. This year, the speakers in the sessions I attended reinforced the idea that I can help to promote diversity in children’s literature in each of these roles. Not only can I broaden my own reading interests, but I can expand reading choices for my daughter and my students. By doing this, I will support diversity in kid lit and the members of my SCBWI familia who write, illustrate, edit, and publish books with diverse characters.

The Road to Publishing: Juana Martinez-Neal on Landing an Agent

By Lila Q. Weaver

Since Juana Martinez-Neal is an illustrator, writers might be tempted to skip her how-I-landed-an-agent story. Don’t! Anyone seeking professional success will find value here. In the following interview, she shares her journey to the 2012 Showcase Portfolio Grand Prize at the SCBWI Los Angeles conference, a coup that led to agent representation and many great opportunities. No matter your craft, Juana’s approach serves as a model of careful study and preparation, which on top of her brilliant art skills, gave her the winning edge. In today’s competitive world of publishing, that’s a lesson we can all put to good use.

Latin@s in Kid Lit: Were you a published illustrator before winning the portfolio award at the SCBWI conference? If so, how did you get jobs?

Juana: Before the Portfolio Grand Prize, I was published by smaller publishers, the educational market, and advertising companies. My jobs would come from paid, online portfolios, such as childrensillustrators.com. I would also email samples to art directors that accepted email submissions. I never got around to sending postcards to a mailing list. That was a mistake! I would also attend SCBWI regional and national conferences. Whenever these conferences offered portfolio shows, I entered mine and paid for critiques. Critiques are a great way to put your work in front of editors and art directors.

Latin@s in Kid LitHow did you prepare for the SCBWI portfolio show? The competition must have been fierce!

Juana: Illustration, much like writing and every other profession, requires everyday practice. If you rush to get twelve new pieces ready a month or two before a portfolio show, chances are, your pieces will be decent. But decent doesn’t win a show. You must work everyday, year round.

The selection process is simple and repeats every year that I attend the SCBWI LA Conference. A month-and-a-half beforehand, I select fifteen to eighteen favorite pieces from everything I’ve done within the last twelve months. After printing them at 8.5” x 11”, I meet with my illustrator friends, who help me choose eight to twelve of the strongest ones. On my blog, I have a series of posts about portfolios, including how to put together a children’s illustrator portfolio, a comparison of my 2011 and 2012 portfolios, and a how-to on mounting artwork

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Most of the time, we recognize outstanding work before we produce outstanding work. Ira Glass said it beautifully here:

“What nobody tells people who are beginners — and I really wish someone had told this to me . . . is that all of us who do creative work, we get into itbecause we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, and it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase. They quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know it’s normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.” –  Ira Glass on Storytelling: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BI23U7U2aUY

When we put this into practice, there comes a time when our work starts matching our expectations. Our hand starts painting what our brain has envisioned. At that point, we may be ready. I didn’t know I was ready to win when I did. I knew my portfolio was decent, and I knew that eventually I would win—but not that year. I thought: I will win in 2014. I gave myself two more years.

In 2012, I was pregnant and putting my portfolio out because the following year I would have a baby to take care of and would have to miss the conference. There is an action of letting go that generates energy. That energy makes things happen and surprises us in the most wonderful ways.

Latin@s in Kid LitAfter you won the portfolio award, did agents approach you at the conference or through e-mails and phone calls? Tell us a little bit about that.Image 3

Juana: Agents can approach you all different ways if they are interested. In my case, I met Stefanie Von Borstel, of Full Circle Literary, at the Portfolio Showcase. She had been one of the judges and enjoyed looking at my work. We talked during the conference a few times and stayed in touch. Three months later, we signed a contract.

I think it’s important to meet the agents you are interested in. Listen to yourself during that first call or meeting. You need to feel comfortable and communicate easily with her/him. You will be working with that person for what you hope is the rest of your career. We are all so eager to get representation that sometimes we may let warning signs slide. Please don’t. Listen to them. You don’t want to waste time.

Latin@s in Kid LitYour experience shows how helpful conference attendance can be for connecting with agents.

Juana: If there are agents presenting at breakout sessions, go listen to them. You’ll get a great sense of who they are and how they work. You will be able to tell if you could work together. Personality counts. I’ve seen some rather quiet, introverted friends with agents that are their complete opposites. Their relationships work wonderfully. They complement each other.

Latin@s in Kid LitWhat difference has it made to your work to have an agent representing you?

Juana: Having Stefanie as my agent has improved my work. Her comments come from someone who knows this industry so well. She helps me find direction when I’m feeling a bit confused. An agent will help you polish your manuscripts and dummies and get them ready for editors and art directors. I also love the fact that they will take care of the contracts. There is so much I am not aware of when it comes to legal matters.

Latin@s in Kid Lit: What are some other tips for illustrators on getting the attention of art directors and agents?

  • Create work consistently, continuously.
  • Stay busy. If you have no paid projects, give yourself assignments regularly. Set some deadlines for yourself.
  • Keep your portfolio updated. Post new work regularly, but post only your BEST work.
  • Mail postcards consistently, every three to four months. Be critical when selecting names. A mailing list of 80 can be very effective. Send postcards to anyone you would love to work with.
  • Look into agents’ clients and books. Follow them on Twitter. See if your work is a good match. Keep in mind that if they have someone with a style too similar to yours, chances are, you won’t be picked. Why have two artists that do almost the same work?

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Image 2Juana Martinez-Neal was born in Lima, Peru, to an artistic family. At 16, she was already laying the groundwork for a career in children’s illustration. She now lives in the United States. Her work has been featured in Babybug, Ladybug and Iguana magazines, and recently made the cover of the SCBWI Bulletin. See more of Juana’s glorious gallery at her website, where you can also take advantage of detailed tutorials on portfolio selection and assembly and read fascinating illustrator interviews.

The Road to Publishing

 

Where do you find yourself along the road to publishing?

Check all that apply:

__Shopping for a vehicle

__Mapping a route

__Calling for roadside service

road signs

Image from Creative Commons

__Arriving at your destination

Let’s say this is your first publishing quest. How nice if you could enjoy the ride and worry less about breakdowns and wrong turns. We know how you feel. Over the coming weeks, our posts will provide tips for the rewarding, but arduous journey toward seeing your book in print.

To get things rolling, please enjoy a few insights from our experiences:

What made you realize THIS was the book you wanted to share with the world?

Zoraida: I had been working on some contemporary stories about a young Ecuadorian girl (we were very similar), but it just wasn’t going anywhere. Then one day after wanting to read a mermaid fantasy with action and cute boys, I decided to start writing the story myself. It is true what “they” say: you have to write the story you want to read.

Stephanie: I’ll apply this question to my upcoming series, Betting Blind and its sequel, Out of Aces, which will be pubbing in 2015. Both books were inspired by my youth in Las Vegas. I lived on my own at sixteen in a colorful, funny, sleazy, interesting city. It gave me a lot to write about.

Cindy: I am a visual person, so I “saw” the opening scene in my head long before I knew how the entire story would unfold. I was in the middle of a master’s program and had no real plans to be a novelist although writing a book was always in the back of my mind. I tried mentally to set aside this “daydream,” but it wouldn’t leave me alone. One night, although dead tired, I was compelled to write out the scene. After that, I had to keep going. The basics of the story–teens, teaching, depression, Emily Dickinson–are all familiar to me.

What’s on your recommended-reading list for all things publishing?

Ashley: Many things helped me on the journey to professionalization, but none was more crucial than agent and editor Noah Lukeman’s excellent little e-book, How to Write a Great Query Letter. Lukeman’s advice cuts straight to the heart, and once I revised my query letter (about 7 times!) according to his advice, I started getting requests for partial and complete manuscripts.

Zoraida: When I was in high school, Bird by Bird, by Anne Lamott was my writing bible. I haven’t read it in years, but I always think about it when I’m working on a novel. I recommend it to anyone who asks.

Stephanie: For more soul-feeding, encouraging material, especially for those who also teach writing, I recommend Wallace Stegner’s On Teaching and Writing Fiction. He writes with candor and clarity about the rejections, the wait time, and all the other thorns in the path to publication, but ultimately his message is really encouraging.

Lila: Mary Kole’s Writing Irresistible KidLit is a solid resource. The bulk is about craft, but you’ll also find advice on querying and approaching agents. I also tune into reliable blogs and newsletters. You can’t go wrong with the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.  

Cindy: I searched online for most of my information. The places I found most helpful were: SCBWI, YALitChat, YA Highway, and Query Tracker. SCBWI and YALitChat introduced me to critique groups, regional and national conferences, and other people like me chasing the dream. YA Highway is a popular site with loads of information about the process provided by writers. Query Tracker is a free–FREE!–online database of agents and editors. This is what I used to find agents to query and to keep track of my process– when a query was sent, what was the response, etc. It was a great resource and led me to my wonderful agent, Laura Langlie.

On our Facebook page, Samantha Villarreal asked: “Is it best to have an agent? Are the major publishing companies actively searching for Latino children’s lit or is it better to try smaller companies that focus on Latino lit?”

Ashley: I would say yes to the agent question. Whether you aspire to ultimately publish with a larger publisher or with a smaller press like Cinco Puntos or Arte Público, an agent can help you manage the decision-making and handle the business side of things. Later, we’ll be sharing more on how we connected with our agents and publishers.

Lila: I can vouch for the fact that it’s possible to break in without an agent.  My book was published through an academic press. Within six months of its release, the exposure that the book brought me led to contact with an agent.

Cindy: To seek an agent or not, to aim for big or small publishers, or to self-publish are all personal decisions based on your strengths and needs. From the start, I knew I wanted an agent and would pursue traditional publishing. I had no experience or connections in the publishing world, and I had little confidence in my abilities to produce and promote my own novel as a self-publisher. For these reasons, I decided I would do the writing and rely on an experienced agent and editor to guide me through the rest of the process.

Have agents and editors preserved your artistic vision?

Zoraida: My agent, Adrienne Rosado, is very encouraging. Even though I’m sure she gets an ulcer every time I say, “I have an idea…” My editor at Sourcebooks Fire, Aubrey Poole, is great at looking at my fantasy world and asking the questions I don’t ask. And she pushes my hero in the right direction. We’re working on the last book in the trilogy and I’m excited for the final product.

Stephanie: My editor has been completely supportive of my artistic vision. She’s never asked me to make changes I disagreed with, and she has always left the final decision in my court. We’ve worked on three books–soon to be four–together, and I love the smooth partnership we’ve developed.

Cindy: As a first time writer, I can say the search for an agent and editor is like literary e-harmony. You put yourself out there and wait until you find the perfect match for you and your project. Both my agent and editor loved my story, which is why they both said, “yes.” That’s what you want and need–an agent and editor who fully support your choice of subject matter and your writing style. They need to love it because they will be wedded to it–and you–for a long time during the publishing process.

Suppose your efforts to capture an agent’s interest haven’t gone anywhere: what then?

Cindy: Analyze what may not be “right.” Is the writing as good as it can be? Is the query the best you could do? Are you aware of what the agents and editors are looking for when you are querying? Then I would say go to a conference, have a one-on-one, join a critique group…do something you’re not already doing.

Image from Creative Commons

Image from Creative Commons

So now we’re off on a roll. Join us in the coming weeks as we bring you more advice from agents, editors, and other authors traveling the road to publishing. AND, we would love to hear from you! What has your journey taught you?