I got two rejection letters this week. First, Chronicle Books rejected my nonfiction book on world records. That was disappointing. When I saw their book, The Kid Who Named Pluto, I was convinced they were the perfect publisher for this project. Evidently, they disagreed. In fact, they sent me a FORM rejection.
The other rejection was for a proposal for a break-out session at the SCBWI National Conference. And at least with this one, I share the misery with my good friend, Darcy. Darcy was the one who gave me the idea to take my work-in-progress into the classroom in the first place. She did that last fall, and she kept a journal of her experience. I was so fascinated by what she shared with me each week that I decided to try it myself. And like Darcy, I’ve been keeping a journal, too.
This has been such an interesting experiment! It isn’t anything I’d ever tell an editor I did…especially when the class I’ve been reading to is my own child’s class. That would be like saying, “I read this manuscript to my grandchildren and THEY loved it!” Except it’s NOT like that…
I’m getting so much more out of this than I ever expected to. At first I wasn’t planning on going in to ANDY’s class. I was going to go to one of the other elementary schools in town where no one knows me. But when I told my family I was thinking about doing this, Andy got upset that I wanted to share my work with another class. He thought I should come to HIS class. I know it won’t be long before he won’t want me coming in to his classroom anymore, so I decided I better take advantage of that opportunity while I still can.
I’ve known a lot of these kids since they were first graders. I’ve been an active classroom volunteer…usually as a writing helper. So I figured these kids knew me so well that reading to them would be kind of like the well-meaning unpublished author who reads to his/her grandchildren. They’d just tell me my story is wonderful because they like me. But I decided to do it anyway because at least I could be sure I would complete a whole new draft of a book. That was the biggest benefit I saw to doing this. Having this commitment to go read new chapters to a class every week would keep me moving forward on a new project.
Well, guess what? As an added bonus, I’ve discovered that these kids ARE good critiquers! Maybe it’s because they DO know me so well? Or maybe it’s because they’re used to me telling them what I think about their writing that they don’t have any qualms telling me what they really think about mine? Turnabout is fair play, right? I don’t know what it is…but this reading-in-the-classroom thing is working for me on several levels!
I start the hour by having Andy’s teacher read my two new chapters (that way I can hear them…AND I can watch the kids’ faces for a reaction). Then I pass out a new questionnaire for the kids to fill out on what they just heard (I vary the questions each week…different kids respond to different kinds of questions). I tell them not to put their names on their papers. Then, after they turn their papers in, we discuss the chapters. I think it’s important to do both written questions and discussion because you’ll hear different things. There are kids who will write things on paper that they won’t say to your face. Plus during a discussion, the kids influcence each other.
Every week, I compile their answers to my questionnaire and I write up the whole experience in journal form. It’s really helping me to take a look at this project as a whole and think about where I’m going with my revision. It’s also forcing me to take a look at my own writing process in ways I never have before.
But anyway…Darcy and I have had very different experiences…and we decided it would be fun to do break-out session on our experiences at the SCBWI National Conference. Donna Jo Napoli does this with EVERY book she publishes! (Darcy and I chatted with her about her experiences a few months ago, too.) This is probably something a lot of writers haven’t thought about trying…it’s a different way of connecting with our readers…and I think our experience proves that yes, you CAN teach sixth graders to be good critiquers! So we wanted to talk about the hows and whys of doing this…but alas, our proposal was turned down. (sniff, sniff)
Ah well…on a positive note, my summer is SO full that we were having a hard time figuring out when to squeeze that Alaskan cruise in. Since I’m not going to the SCBWI National conference, that opens up another possibility for when we can go…
And while I received two rejection letters this week, I also received two fan letters (one from a reading club in Florida that wrote to tell me they’re all voting for Trading Places with Tank Talbott when they vote for the Sunshine award winner next week — very nice…but I’m just happy to have a book on the list!) and one enthusiastic e-mail from my Albert Whitman editor telling me I’m headed in the right direction on a new project.
Fortunately the life of a children’s book author is never all negative…OR all positive…