My Path to Publication~by Emma Bland Smith
The idea for my first picture book, set to appear in fall 2016, came about in a very different way from most of my other manuscripts. Whereas most of the time, my ideas are intensely personal, inspired by my children, a conversation, an event in my life, this origin story is quite a bit more practical and thought-out. I never guessed I would write a book about wolves and conservation, but I am incredibly proud of Journey: The Most Famous Wolf in the West (Sasquatch Books) and can’t wait for the world to meet it.
It came at a time when I was plumb tired of rejection. I already had a number of picture book manuscripts and had been submitting on my own to agents and editors for years. I had received several Good Rejections, the ones where the editor says something to the effect of, “This manuscript didn’t work for me, but I enjoy your writing and would like to see more from you.” Those kept me from giving up. But I couldn’t help feeling that in publishing, there’s no silver medal or second place. An editor either accepts your manuscript or they don’t, and I was starting to lose hope.
Then two members of my critique group wrote books that made me think about new sources for inspiration. One member’s book, Little Gray’s Great Migration, about a baby gray whale migrating up the Pacific Coast, was accepted by a respected niche publisher, Arbordale. Another member wrote an adorable story about the real-life river otter who had recently taken up residence in San Francisco’s Sutro Baths, The Legend of Sutro Sam. She had the book illustrated by a friend and self-published it on iTunes. I started thinking.
I remembered when Humphrey the humpback whale swam up the Sacramento River in 1985. Several picture books about that event remain in print and popular to this day. What if I found a different current event involving an animal, wrote a compelling picture book about it, and pitched it to one of the many excellent niche publishers? Could this be my way to break into the market?
It was around then that I started reading about the wolf that was making headlines with its trek through Oregon and California, and, well, you can guess the rest. Although I had not set out, six years ago, to become a nature writer, the story of this wolf spoke to me and it was not hard to write about it from the heart, to craft a manuscript that was honest and educational but also very much my own. The story will not be classified as nonfiction; it has fictional elements. Telling a true story but being able to exercise some poetic license turned out to be a rich and satisfying writing experience.
So far I had talent (or so I hoped), persistence, and calculation. All I needed now was some luck—that frustratingly elusive ingredient in the road to getting published. After I happened to read about Storm Literary Agency on a Twitter feed, I sent my work, and ended up signing with them. My agent lost no time in submitting my work, and within weeks had found a home for Journey, with a great publisher and talented editor. I feel childishly excited, working on revisions and seeing my manuscript evolve into a book.
I am hopeful that more of my manuscripts will find homes in the coming months and years. I’m an optimist. I have to be, in this business. The joy of putting words on paper, and the dream of seeing them come to life in a book, one day, with a little luck, continue to drive me forward.