Friday, January 21, 2011


My son Scott recently told me that when he was a little boy he thought the house we lived in was haunted.

I said, "My word, why?"

His answer was that he would wake up at night when the house was all dark and hear a patter, patter sound going on and on. I laughed because as he knows now what he heard was me. Those were the days of manual typewriters and I was still teaching full time and working on getting published by writing whenever I could squeeze in a minute. With two young children, that was usually either late at night or very early in the morning when the house was deliciously quiet.

For all of you who've asked the secret to getting published. My answer is two words--Intelligent Persistence, meaning stick with it but be smart about what you're doing.

It didn't happen overnight for me. I WANTED to be published. I invented slogans to motivate myself, like "This is the year I get in print." However, after two years of creating books and writing articles and stories, and sending them out to potential agents and editors,I was still unpublished. And I was frankly losing hope. I didn't stop writing, but I stopped sending anything out. My work became like my children. I loved them and I didn't want to hear anyone say anything bad about them.

Then two things happened. A dear friend who knew I'd been sending my work to different publishers asked where it was now. I replied, "In the drawer."

My friend said, "Not likely to get published there, is it?"

The other thing that happened was I realized I wasn't just writing because I loved writing--which I do. I was also writing because there were ideas and stories and really interesting information I wanted to share with readers. So, if that was going to happen, I decided I'd better figure out what people wanted to read.

At that point, I marched off to the local library and collected boxes containing the last three years worth of Highlights For Children magazine. I chose a magazine because I figured magazines needed to publish more articles every year than book publishers produced books. I selected Highlights because I'd like that magazine since I was a child, and I liked sharing it with my own children. I was especially interested in science and nature so I focused on Highlights magazine's science features. I made a list of every topic they'd published in those three years. Little did I know at that moment that magazines usually don't repeat a topic within a three year cycle. I also counted the number of words in each science feature and paid close attention to the tone and writing style.

Then it was back to the drawing board. I picked a topic--orb weaver spiders--because I find them fascinating. And I wrote an article just for Highlights, Artists In Silk. With my heart pounding, I typed it up and mailed it in.

Somebody ring the bells!!

Highlights For Children was the very first place I was ever published. How wonderful that years later, in 2005, I published SPIDERS: BIGGEST! LITTLEST! with Boyds Mills Press which is the book publishing arm of the company that still publishes Highlights For Children. That book was honored as the winner of the Texas Mockingbird award.

After branching out to publish in other magazines, I also produced a number of workbooks, like PRIMARY SCIENCE SAMPLER.

Next, I tackled the challenge of getting a book published. First, I visited libraries and bookstores, searching for books that weren't there, meaning ones that had not yet been written. I settled on the idea of sharing lots of interesting facts about winter and activities to do outside and indoors during that season. I wrote the book, laid it out in pages, and carefully illustrated each with pen and ink drawings, like this sample.

Then, once again with my heart pounding, I sent my baby out into the world.

Marcia Marshall at Atheneum saw promise in my idea. She sent my manuscript back with notes telling me which parts she liked. It was up to me to make the rest of it as good. With a lot of hard work, EXPLORING WINTER bebecame my very first book sale.

I remember the joyous day I put a giant three word message on our garage door so my family and neighborhood friends would know, I DID IT!

I've now had over two hundred books published and happily won many awards. My book, A MOTHER'S JOURNEY is my biggest award-winner. It's been honored with eight awards and is available in several different languages.

I still get rejections and still have to keep working with INTELLIGENT PERSISTENCE. And every new book I sell is a thrill because it's another chance to share my ideas, my thoughts, and all the interesting things that excite me.

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