Carol Coven Grannick is one of the members of our Sub It Club submission support group who has years of experience writing and submitting work. Carol has sold pieces to magazines, signed with an agent, and is celebrating her debut novel! But, of course, there is much more to it than that. Carol is here to share her journey with us:
In the over twenty years that I’ve been writing for children, my experience of submitting work has evolved in form, purpose, and meaning. The ability to adjust and adapt to the changes with flexibility has been crucial to the emotional resilience foundational to a persistent and productive writing life. As I celebrate the debut of my middle grade novel in verse, REENI’S TURN, the #weightinclusive story of a tween who struggles with self-doubt, anxiety, and body-acceptance, I also thought about the years of submissions of a wide variety of work, and how the business and my submissions have changed.
Phase 1: Early Years
When I began in 1999, I snail-mailed my stories and picture books, and my critique partner and I waited eagerly for mail delivery. Many publishers were still open to unagented submissions, and we’d heard that unknown writers had a 1% chance of getting attention, submitting generated hope.
In fact, my very first submission, “The Inside Ballerina” was quickly accepted by Cricket magazine, and appeared in 2001. Naïve and uninformed about the industry, I thought, Wow. This was easier than I thought!
Not so, of course. I quickly learned the journey would be filled with challenges, disappointments, close calls, and an occasional acceptance. Thank goodness, it was also filled with like-minded children’s writers and illustrators who walked their own paths, but in community.
In my first decade of writing for children, the purpose of submitting was to be published. Sounds obvious, right? I had a hard time leaving that longing out of my writing process. I increasingly found it impossible to take the advice to “keep your head down and focus on your work”.
I knew I should put my work away, but it was almost impossible. Although I’d been writing poetry, essays, scholarly papers as a clinical social worker, and creative nonfiction all my life, I was learning about children’s writing from the ground up, and was eager to continue working on pieces in progress. If I could have a do-over, which I don’t give much thought, I’d find a way to enforce the putting-away of works in progress. In the early years, I didn’t believe I knew enough to choose which critique was significant, and which I could let go. Still, for some reason, I had enough positive responses and requests for revisions to keep me going. I had a first novel, an agent, numerous picture books, and plenty of emotional resilience.
Phase 2: Crash and—Adjust
In 2008 the economy crashed and the publishing industry began to evolve. Many experienced editors were laid off. Email submissions began. Dozens of publishers’ doors closed to unsolicited, unagented submissions. Options and opportunities for submitting decreased.
The most difficult part for me was the new absence of responses to submissions and the worrisome phrase appeared in submission guidelines: “if you don’t hear from us, assume we’re not interested”.
At some point in 2011 I decided to assess reality. It was quite possible I would never get a book contract. Where would that leave me? My answer was that it left me being a writer who would keep writing.
I didn’t know where this path would leave me, but I did know it was a path in a place I wanted to be, as rocky and wild as it sometimes felt.
So I took submitting off the table, set it on a faraway shelf, and focused completely on my writing.
The relief, joy, and productivity of my journey returned immediately. I wrote anything and everything I wanted to write, and filed away REENI’S TURN. I stopped going to in-person conferences, workshops, and meetings where inevitably, conversations turned to how to get noticed and published. I wanted to avoid the issue entirely. My writing and I flourished.
This second phase of my submitting life embodied this meaning: Take the time to focus on your writing. Experience the joys and the challenges and let that be enough for now. Be open to surprise and discovery about you and your writing.
Phase 3: Re-Entry, Re-Focus, Re-Balance
In 2013, I noticed that Katherine Applegate was judging the Katherine Paterson Award at Hunger Mountain. I loved her novels in verse and lyrical prose I loved, and I wondered if I was ready to return to the “real” world of writing and submitting. I pulled REENI’S TURN out of a drawer. I reviewed and revised the then-skeletal novel in verse of 90 pages and sent it in to the contest.
I had entered the third framework of “submitting”. Keep it on the back burner and out of mind while you write. Then submit, submit, submit!
REENI’S TURN was named a Finalist in the 2014 contest, and I was asked to do multiple revisions for an agent with whom I was not totally comfortable. Her belief in the book and her well-known middle grade authors kept me going. But I was never truly happy with my emotionally intense, but shorter, simpler story as a 300-page book.
Just before the agent and I ultimately parted ways, REENI’S TURN received an Honorable Mention in the 2018 Sydney Taylor Manuscript Competition. I did multiple revisions that included feedback from the STMC committee and a potential agent that finally returned the book to the simpler form I wanted.
In June 2018 I had the opportunity to begin to write full-time. I’d retired from my private practice and taken a full-time job at an extraordinary early childhood center for seven years, but it was time to leave. My writing flourished again. I tweaked, revised, and submitted picture books, dozens of new poems for very young children, and poetry for adults. From many dozens of submissions in that first year, I had 8 acceptances, and was experiencing a new and wonderful exhilaration every time I pressed “send”. The more I submitted, the less attention I paid to the rejections.
Submittable became my best friend.
I did the same with REENI’S TURN, submitting carefully to half a dozen agents who seemed like potential matches. But I also decided that after a decade of work and submissions of various drafts, I researched and compiled a list of small, traditional publishers I thought might have an interest in middle grade, contemporary novels in verse. By December of 2018, I had three or so requests for the full manuscript from well-known agents who sold to bigger imprints, and an offer from small, traditional Regal House Publishing’s middle grade imprint, Fitzroy Books (an SCBWI PAL publisher). I did some research on the company, had a conversation with the publisher, and accepted the offer.
I’m excited to celebrate REENI’S TURN, the story of a young eleven year-old dancer who struggles with lifelong shyness, fears, and her newly-developing body as she searches for courage, body-acceptance, and voice. The story unfolds in the context of the underrepresented epidemic of dieting in younger populations and the diet culture’s impact on physical, emotional, and intellectual well-being. My dream for REENI’S TURN book is to be able to positively impact young lives through meaningful conversations about the story and the writing journey.
The story would not exist now if searching for good-match submission opportunities was not part of my writing life. There’s no question about the time it takes, whether searching for agent or editor, and cutting corners is a waste of the sender and receiver’s time. For me, at some point, I decided to take things more into my own hands to find a good publishing match for my book.
Phase 4: With a
Little Lot of Help From My Friends
I’m in a fourth phase of submitting now. In late Spring, I signed with an agent whose wish list matched my work more perfectly than ever in my twenty years of writing for children. My picture books are in her hands, and I’m working on an early childhood poetry collection and two adult poetry projects. I enjoy the freedom from the research time for submissions, but retain the exhilaration, excitement, and hope from submitting my adult poetry and creative nonfiction.
The advice we get—and give to others—is so important. If you are new to the journey, my advice about submitting would probably be what you’ve heard from others: Take your time. Get substantial critique. Put away your work. Revise it as necessary. Put it away again. When you take it out and know it’s absolutely the best it can be, write an engaging and authentic-voice query, and submit it to someone who wants what you have written.
Submit with the joy that you have accomplished something wonderful.
Submit work you are proud of, work that creates hope and possibilities.
Submit to create positive feelings you can hold on to while you endure the waiting!
Then do it again.
Carol Coven Grannick’s debut novel in verse, REENI’S TURN, is available through Indiebound and multiple links at her website: https://carolcovengrannick.com. Carol’s short fiction and poetry appears and is forthcoming in Cricket, Ladybug, Babybug, Highlights, and Hello. She is a regular columnist for the SCBWI-IL Prairie Wind, a reporter for Cynthia Leitich Smith’s award-winning Cynsations, and a member of the GROG Blog, as well as a frequent guest blogger. She writes about the creative inner journey with a focus on emotional resilience. Carol has received a Ragdale Foundation Writer’s Residency and an Illinois Arts Council Grant for past work on REENI’S TURN. Her poetry for adults appears in numerous online and print journals.