Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Author Interview: Amy Dixon, Author of Marathon Mouse


Starting this month, I will be highlighting debut picture book authors in Q & A form.  This segment will get into the minds of the authors in hopes to unlock the secrets to their success.  There will be a lot of great tips and advice for aspiring picture book authors.  I'm sure you will be inspired.  So please check back!

This month’s author is Amy Dixon, author of MARATHON MOUSE, which will be released this fall.   This interview is packed with valuable tips you don’t want to miss!  There is a lot to cover so let’s get started:

When did you decide you wanted to write a picture book?
I really fell in love with picture books while at the library with my kids. They would have to drag me away from the stacks when it was time to go home. They would each choose one or two books to check out, and I would have a pile of twenty. It was really after I had my third child, Gracie, that I decided to try my hand at writing them. Being a stay at home mom of young children meant that I was pretty tied to the house, and most everything revolved around the kids. Writing was something that was MINE, something that I could do after the kids were in bed, something that gave me a connection to the outside world.

How long did you work on Marathon Mouse before you decided to submit it?
I had the idea for MARATHON MOUSE in November of 2010, the same week of the New York City Marathon.  I began working on it right away, and took it to my critique group in January of 2011. In March of that year, I went to a conference where I submitted it to an editor for critique. She told me it was a unique storyline, but the story itself was BORING. (Okay, she didn’t actually use the word BORING, but it was the essence of what she was saying.) I was pretty discouraged. I sensed that perhaps this was a story that only a runner, or someone who had experienced a marathon (even from the sidelines), could appreciate. I honestly didn’t know if that meant this story was dead. I just knew that if I could get the manuscript in the hands of someone who had experienced running race culture, it had a shot.

Tell us the path you took that led you to a contract.
In June of 2011, I read that Skyhorse Publishing was launching a kids’ imprint called Sky Pony Press.  I saw that Skyhorse published sports books and thought that maybe they would “get” a book about a marathon. Jean Reynolds, who is known and respected in the kidlit industry, was a consulting editor with Sky Pony at the time, and I submitted the manuscript to her. What I didn’t know then was that Jean Reynolds has three kids who RUN MARATHONS. Timing and luck were in my corner, and that manuscript found its way to the absolute perfect person!  I got an offer from Sky Pony just two months later. Jean was a huge advocate for the book, and while she ended up leaving Sky Pony just as we were beginning edits, I am forever indebted to her for really understanding  MARATHON MOUSE (and for not thinking it was boring!)

At the same time, I had queries out with a couple of agents for a different story, but hadn’t heard back yet. Once I got the offer from Jean, I asked her for a little bit of time to contact those agents and see if they might be interested in partnering with me. She graciously agreed. That day was a flurry of e-mails (putting OFFER RECEIVED in the subject line helped J) and phone calls, but by the next day I had signed with the fabulous Karen Grencik of Red Fox Literary.

What are the advantages of having an agent represent you?
The big reason I wanted an agent was access. As you know, there are a limited number of houses that will look at your manuscript when you are not represented.  I sold Marathon Mouse on my own.  But I knew I could use my sale to get the agents' attention and open up the possibilities for my other work, so I did.

Besides subbing for me, Karen Grencik helped me navigate the editorial process and has been my cheerleader behind the scenes. So I would definitely say I am glad to have her on board.

What did your agent expect from you?
Karen definitely wanted to know what other work I had. She read several manuscripts of mine before offering to represent me. She wanted to know that I was serious about writing and had other work that was ready to go. She is submitting another manuscript of mine right now and I have fingers and toes and everything else crossed that it will eventually result in a sale.

Do you have any advice for querying agents?
For picture book writers, I think it is important to develop a "portfolio" of stories before querying agents. You should probably have at least 3 manuscripts that you feel are strong enough to compete in the market. Every agented picture book writer I know queried with one manuscript, but was asked for at least 2 more before representation was offered. So if you go the agent route, make sure you have enough strong work to show them. Another thing to think about is, if you have already submitted to several houses with the same manuscript that an agent is interested in, they may consider the manuscript already "shopped." That would be one reason to hold back on subbing to houses if you feel you really want an agent. If your story has already been rejected in several places they may feel you have limited their options for a sale.

On the other side, I know a lot of writers who didn't get agent interest until they already had a sale under their belt. Picture books just aren't huge money-makers for agents, and it isn't in their best financial interest to carry a huge roster of picture book writers. It’s a catch-22!

Was there any one thing that stood out as the most important thing you did to get your book to where it is today?
I think the most important thing was recognizing the type of book this was and targeting my submission.  Though the feedback from the conference editor was discouraging, it also caused me to realize that this book had a specific audience. I didn’t do a mass submission to every open publishing house. I perfected my story, researched my brains out, and sent it to the right place at the right time. Granted, not all of this is within our control. Timing and luck will always be a part of it. But knowing what your story is, as well as what it isn’t, is a huge part of finding success.

What is the most important advice you can give writers that will lead them to the road to publication?
Be free to fail. Open yourself up to critique, to rejection. Don’t be ruled by fear.  Most of us get it wrong a whole bunch before we get it right, and there is much to be learned in that process.

Thank you, Amy, for taking the time to explain your process and offer us thoughtful and honest advice.  Now for some light-hearted, fun questions I call QUICK PICK:
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PEN or PENCIL?  Pen with a fine point, please.

APPLE or PC?  PC

NOTEBOOK or COMPUTER?  Both

COFFEE or TEA?  Coffee, coffee, and more coffee!

CAT or DOG?  Neither…personally, I’m partial to mice.

LIBRARY or BOOKSTORE?  Oooh, too hard of a choice! I want to say bookstore, but with 4 kids and a limited budget, it’s more often library.

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Hope you gained a lot from Amy Dixon as much as I have.  Be sure to check out her picture book, MARATHON MOUSE, coming this fall!

66 comments:

  1. Thank you Romelle and Amy. Excellent interview!

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  2. Thank you for the introduction to Amy Dixon & "Marathon Mouse." I find it helpful to hear how authors move from the manuscript stage to finding an agent (if they want) to publishing their book. There seem to be so many routes that it's not as straightforward as other professions to go from one stage to the next.

    I was surprised that picture books didn't have more status in the market. I would think that w/parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts, older cousins, birthday presents, etc. there would be a decent market for picture books. Like you, Amy, I love looking at these bks, especially when I worked in a bookstore. So many of the stories were wonderfully heart-warming, fun, & touching. They make for wonderful toys to keep & pass down.

    Thank you both so much!
    Monique

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    1. I just love finding kindred picture book spirits! If only everyone loved them as much as us :-)

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  3. Love this post! So nice to hear other writers' stories.

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    1. Thanks, Carter! And I'm quite sure we'll be hearing your success story in no time!

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  4. Wonderful and very helpful interview ladies. I found the question on querying agents to be very useful to me. I wasn't sure on whether to submit to agents or houses first so I'm glad I read this.
    Congrats on Marathon Mouse! Also, congrats on landing Karen Grencik as your agent - so jealous. :)

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    1. Karen really is awesome, I am one very lucky writer! Thanks for stopping by, Jennifer!

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  5. Lots of good information here. Especially targeting the right publishing house at the right time. Gotta do your research! Congrats Amy. And thanks to you both for the wonderful interview:)

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    1. I am so glad it was helpful, Gwen. Don't we all wish that timing and luck were something we could come up with ourselves! But at least we can target :-)

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  6. Great interview! I can't wait to read Marathon Mouse!

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    1. Heather, thanks so much for your enthusiasm and for spreading the word! You are the best!

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  7. What an excellent interview! Congratulations Amy. Can't wait for Marathon Mouse to come out! :-)

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    1. Awww, thanks Julie! I'm so grateful for the whole 12x12 community!

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    2. I second that, Amy. 12x12 community is great!

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  8. Congratulations, Amy. It looks like a really fun book. Great interview too!

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    1. Thanks for stopping by and reading, Natasha!

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  9. Huge congratulations to Amy! Such a great interview...packed with great advice. Thank you :)

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    1. I am blessed with such a supportive writing community! Thank you, Julie!

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  10. Wonderful interview, Amy & Romelle! Great tips. A targeted submission is everything!

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    1. Thanks, Tina! I definitely don't claim to be an expert in this publishing world, but I do hope that my story can help others along the path. And I am grateful to Romelle for taking the time to interview me!

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  11. Can't wait to read Marathon Mouse and thank you for sharing the journey so far, Amy. Research and targeting does seem so key! You have a great agent in Karen Grencik!

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    1. Yes, indeed, I do! Thanks Joanna!

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  12. Amy,

    I enjoyed hearing about your journey to publication. Inspiring!

    Did you do much revision on Marathon Mouse after the conference editor yawned?

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    1. Hi LJ! Yes, I did a bit of revision, but ultimately, I think the issue was that she didn't find marathons interesting. Imagine that! :-) I am married to a marathoner and am a runner myself, so I find it all fascinating. It really is a matter of taste and finding the right editor and agent for your work!

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  13. Amy D.! Great interview. I love hearing how authors get their agents. Soooo happy that hard work and star alignment landed you with the perfect publishing partner and agent! Can't wait to read this book! I've been known to run half marathons..... or two. And they were really flat courses. And I couldn't walk the day after. Ouch. But there is nothing like running a race. :)

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    1. I didn't know you were a runner! Just another reason to love you :-) I am actually running my first half marathon this October. It's the City to the Sea race, goes from San Luis Obispo to Pismo. It is rumored to be quite hilly so I'm sure I'll be suffering. Come run it with me! We'll get Bethany and Dorina, too...ooooh, I'm feeling a writing/running weekend on the coast!

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    2. And Romelle! You can come run, too! This is sounding better every second...

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    3. I love the idea! Gwen Gardner is a runner too (she commented above). We should have a runner's/writer's retreat.

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  14. Great job, friend! What a fabulous interview! Every time I hear this story, I find myself grinning from ear to ear. I'm so proud of all that you have accomplished, and I cannot wait to REALLY celebrate with you in November!!

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    1. Thanks so much, Bethany! I really am so blessed with the best writing community and I love you all to pieces! And look at my comment above to Elizabeth to see my writing/running weekend plan that is now in development. October. The coast. Let's do it!

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  15. Well, lookie here. An interview with one of my favorite authors! I enjoyed reading about your road to publication as well as the advice you dispensed!

    Thanks to both of you for the interview.

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    1. Hi Elliah! Just love seeing you around these parts :-) Thanks so much for all the support!

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  16. Thanks, ladies, for this great interview. It's always neat to hear how a story goes from spark to draft to revision to acceptance and publication! Can't wait to read MARATHON MOUSE. I'm also looking forward to reading more of your interviews, Bethany. What a great idea for a series.

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    1. Oops, I meant, thanks Romelle.

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    2. Thanks Laura! I agree, this is a great idea for a blog series, and I am looking forward to reading more of Romelle's interviews!

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    3. Thanks ladies. Am I am looking forward to the interviews too. I get a lot out of it as much as you do. Thanks, Amy, for being so open with us. You're the best!

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  17. Great interview and an inspirational story! I can't wait to read MARATHON MOUSE in the fall. Congratulations!

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    1. Thanks so much, Cathy! I love reading other people's stories too, so it makes me happy to know that mine inspired you. Now get out there and write! :-)

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  18. What a wonderful story. How were you able to prove to the agent that you are serious about writing? By showing her you have more than one manuscript ready?

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    1. Yes, Rena. That and we just talked about my involvement in the writing community, conferences I had attended, how long I had been writing...that sort of thing.

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  19. Wonderful interview, very interesting and informative. Congrats on Marathon Mouse, Amy.

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  20. Thanks so much for a fabulous interview, Romelle and Amy! What a great story about your road to publication - so glad your ms crossed the right desk at the right time :) Best of luck with Marathon Mouse - I can't wait to read it! :)

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    1. Thanks for reading, Susanna! It is amazing how much timing and luck have to do with it. I can only hope that it comes my way again sometime soon!

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  21. That last QUICK PICK question IS hard! I would say library since we just moved and our town does not have a bookstore. BUT I still support my now-not-so-local bookstore! I would read your book! I WILL read your book (when it comes out!

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    1. Thanks for coming by and reading, Erik! If only you lived in California, I am quite sure that you and my 10-year-old son would be great friends. You both love to read!

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  22. A great interview, and incredibly insightful! Great to hear more of your journey, Amy, and have more of a context behind the story of Marathon Mouse. I can't wait to read it to the housemates later this year!

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    1. Thanks so much for coming by and commenting, Sol! I think a reading at your house would be a lively one, can't wait to hear about it! :-)

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  23. Great interview, Amy! I'm glad you didn't give up when you were told your story was boring.

    I want a copy of your book! I have almost 100 mouse books in my collection. I also write mouse stories. I'm looking for someone to help me get them published.

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    1. Mouse stories are fun! Good luck with yours, Fern!

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  24. That's what I love about your story, Amy. You didn't let the negative feedback discourage you from pursuing your dream.

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    1. Thanks, Romelle! Being here on your blog has been awesome!

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  25. Excellent interview and pointers, Amy. Thanks for the insights and inspiration!

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  26. Great inter iew! Love hearing about how other authors founf their way to success and love the questions at the end. I'm now following this blog.

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    1. Hi Alison, glad you enjoyed the interview as much as I did. I have another very interesting debut author interview coming up...I am excited to share that one too. I learn a lot from these interviews, as I am like all of you...wanting to learn.

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    2. Thanks for coming by and reading, Alison!

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  27. Ooooh, TWO of my favorite writer peeps in one place! Thanks to you both for the great interview!

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  28. Awww...shucks. (me kicking dirt with my sneakers, hands behind my back, head tilted) thanks, Leslie. Right back at ya'!

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  29. I loved reading this interview. Even though I'm very aware of Amy's process it was fun to read the whole timeline. She offers wonderful advice on the agent proces as well. Thanks for encouraging picture book writers like me, Amy. You are a gem. I'll be running to my bookstore to snatch up Marathon Mouse when it's released!

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    1. I'll race you to the bookstore!

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    2. Thanks so much, Dorina. You read the very first draft of Marathon Mouse and were such an encouragement to me along the way!

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  30. What a great interview! Lots of good information and insight there. Knowing your audience and knowing the type of book you've written are important pieces of advice. Right place at the right time - is always my goal. Thanks, Amy.

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