Friday, June 3, 2011

Firsts Fridays: Nancy Allen, Children's Author

If you haven't signed up for the Gearin' Up to Get an Agent Blogfest, now's your time!


I am particularly fond of this Firsts Fridays Spotlight because she's a good ole' country girl like me, living in me!

If children's books is the area you want to get into then this is the lady for you.  She has 20 picture books and 1 chapter book published as well as more picture books in various stages of publication.  Clearly she isn't having a first but she does remember what it was like.  Let's see how her knowledge can help us in our journey shall we...

Nancy is surrounded by children’s books, and that’s how she likes it. Her former profession as a primary school librarian together with her evening ritual of writing or ‘pondering’ her next children’s story has provided the perfect creative atmosphere. She fondly recalls childhood evening story times and credits her father’s never-ending supply of humorous stories for her love of reading and writing. She has a master’s degree in Elementary Education from Morehead State University and a master’s in Library and Information Science from the University of Kentucky. Nancy lives in Kentucky, in the very log cabin in which she grew up in Knott County. She shares this home with her husband Larry and two canine writer assistants, Jazi and Roxi.

DB: Since our ‘Firsts Fridays’ is all about spotlighting other’s firsts in an effort to help fellow writers, can you tell us a first that was particularly beneficial to you in your writing career?
NA: When I was mailing picture book manuscripts to publishers and trying to land my first contract, rejection letters practically beat me back home. If it hadn’t been for rejection letters, I would have had no contact with editors those first seven years. One day, my husband came in from mowing a field of hay. He walked upstairs to change clothes and reached into his pockets to remove the loose change. In an attempt to drop the change into a small jar, the coins missed the opening and clinged and clanged, tinged and pinged against the wood floor. As soon as I heard the clinging and tinging, I looked at my two canine babies and said, “Listen, girls, the money tree is ripe and dropping its fruit.” I don’t know where that idea came from but as soon as it poured out of my mouth, I knew I had the heart and soul of a book. I began working on the story that afternoon. A few weeks later, I gave the story to a friend of mine. She said it wasn’t ready because the farmer and the woman in the story should get married. I didn’t want to hear that because it meant I would have to make a major revision. I snatched the manuscript, worked and reworked the plot, and returned it to the same friend for another critique. This time, she loved it. I mailed the manuscript to the publisher and the contract soon followed. Two years later I held my first picture book, Once Upon a Dime, in my hands.

DB: Now that is a cool story...I suppose we all must start from humble beginnings)
You have already told us some of this , but how long did it take for you to get published and can you tell us a little more about that road?
NA: Nine long years after I began writing, I received my first book. Later, I discovered that seven years is the average time to get a contract.  There are several reasons my manuscripts were rejected. The primary reason was that I had not developed my writing skills to the level required to garner a contract. Each rejected manuscript led me down the path a little closer to my goal of publication. With each story, my writing improved so I don’t consider any of the rejected work a waste of time. Writing is a journey and rejection is simply a bump in the road. During this time, I worked as a school librarian and read books to kids every day. Not only did I become acquainted with the styles of lots of authors, learn the type of books in the marketplace, and gain exposure to good writing, but just as importantly, I observed the reaction of students to the various types of books. Working with books and kids provides a fertile training ground. The wider the variety of books I read, the more I experimented with my writing. Slowly but surely, the contracts came. I also learned to target the manuscript with the publisher and editor who were most likely to publish it.
DB: You always here the best practice for writers is to read read read, in your case it sounds like it was absolutely true!
Is it pretty easy to write a book and get it in stores because you already have a large number of books out, or is every time like the first time?

NA: Competition is fierce so every manuscript has to offer something that resonates with the editor and team that make the decision to publish a book. Writing is never easy for me. I play with each word, each phrase, trying to squeeze the music out of the words and the rhythm out of the phrases so they play on the ear with a ping and a ting or a swoosh and swish. I use metaphors, alliteration, similes, and other devices to add that extra element to capture and hold the attention of the audience. I want each piece I write to hold up to multiple readings. When parents tell me that their child wants to hear my book read every night, I simply tingle inside. That’s music to my ears. When I first began this wonderful adventure, my goal was simple: I wanted to write a story that would be published. I wanted a book. Today, my goal is to write a story that will hold up over time. By writing the best story I can create, the chances of a contract increase.
DB: Do you have any exciting future projects you’d like to share?
NA: I have a new book, Big C and Little Ox, coming out sometime this summer. Big C is a Cape buffalo and Little Ox is an ox bird. Big C needs Little Ox to nibble the fleas off his back. Little Ox needs the food. The buffalo is a loner, grouchy, and has little to say.  The ox bird is the opposite: jabbers, happy mood, and enjoys the company of the Cape buffalo. The two personalities collide but the characters learn that although they are different, they can still be friends.

DB: That sounds adorable!  I'll bet my son would love that book:) 

What is the best advice you’ve learned in the biz that you just have to share with us?
NA: The top ten ways to become a writer are write, write, write, write, write, write, write, write, write, and you guessed it, write. The next best way to learn good writing skills is to read, especially books in the genre in which you want to write. If you love writing westerns, read lots and lots of westerns. The same is true for children’s books, romance novels, mysteries, or any other writing.
Accept the fact that you will receive rejection. That’s just part of the process of improving your writing skills. Writers who land coveted contracts are those who persevere, who don’t give up.

DB: Wonderful advice Nancy!  Thanks so much for coming on and sharing your words of wisdom:) 


Anita Grace Howard said...

Great interview Deana, and thanks for the wonderful advice, Nancy! Also, a book about a buffalo and his symbiotic companion? What a FABULOUS idea! I love that! :) My newphew would like that story. I'll be watching for it.

Deana said...

Thanks Anita! And I agree with you, great advice Nancy:)

J. said...

yay what a great post and what wonderful/honest advice :) children's books are my favorites :)

parenting ad absurdum said...

I love this article - very motivating!! Thank you!!

Anonymous said...

Great interview Deanna, reading and writing are the things we like doing the best, so all's good.

Julia Phillips Smith said...

If it hadn’t been for rejection letters, I would have had no contact with editors those first seven years.


Leslie S. Rose said...

What an inspiring story of perseverance. Thank you for sharing, Nancy.

Hey Deana, I didn't know y'all was a Kentucky girl. All my mother's kin are from Louisville. We're probably related.

Anonymous said...

Nice interview, Deana! Good advice...So, I really dig this blog thing, but, I don't necessarily understand what it is. Like, how do people find out about your blog? Where do you go to get started? I'm just so confused and behind the times, but, I love that you've gotten so passionate about it. Maybe you're not supposed to leave a lengthy comment like this on your blog. Aaah I just don't know.

bethyw0513 said...

Oh, by the way, that was from me! haha

Deana said...

Thanks everyone for all your kind comments, I know Nancy appreciates them as well!

Julia, that quote cracked me up too! At least there was contact right:)

Leslie, I sure am, born in Richmond, KY, traveled the Easter US until I was in highschool and then settled in Lexington, Ky until my twenties. Moved again and wouldn't you know I have found myself back here years later. I love the bluegrass! Louisville is know we may just be long lost cousins:)

Deana said...

Beefers is that you? I can't tell for sure cause I don't see a pic but if it is hey girly!

As far as blogs go Beth, I started my from blogger, but you can get one from wordpress or maybe other places. It is free, you decorate it with a template and get to blogging about what you love. You find blogs that you are interested in and visit them, they visit you and you make connections that way. I am all about writing so I find my buddies through writing means and on Twitter. It is a blast but it isn't for everyone:)

Alleged Author said...

What a wonderful interview! SO happy for Nancy. :) Always love hearing about an author's road to publication.

Theresa Milstein said...

Deana, thanks for the interview. Nancy, thanks for inspiring. In April, I reached my five year anniversary of trying to be published. With each manuscript I write, I'm that much better. Everything began falling in place last year after I'd done the real work to understand how to write better.

Good luck with your books!

Deana said...

Congrats on the 5 year mark Theresa! Where would we be without the inspirational stories of those who have gone before us:)