April 16, 2009

Slush Pile Warrior - Susie Sawyer

Slush Pile Warriors is a new feature which showcases both unpublished writers, established authors, and everyone in between. It focuses on the struggles of pursuing publication, and the things that different writers have learned in trying to make their way out of the slush pile. I am happy to begin this feature by introducing a very talented writer and poet, Slush Pile Warrior, Susie Sawyer.

Please tell us a little a little about yourself.

I grew up in northern Wisconsin surrounded by a family that loved words and music. I have no doubt my desire to write was influenced by daily exposure to song and written word. I attended college in southwestern Wisconsin, where I met my husband, started a career as a legal secretary and started our family. In 2003, we moved back to northern Wisconsin and have since expanded our family to five.

That's when I decided to seriously pursue my interest in writing for children. I spent much of the first year or so learning the business and reading stacks of "how to" books. I found web sites like SCBWI (Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators), Write4Kids and JacketFlap extremely helpful. I also found a slew of information and support at the sites of Harold Underdown and Verla Kay. But it was my involvement in two amazing critique groups that benefited my writing the most: The Poets' Garage and The Prose Shop. Of course Kevin, you are well aware of these groups.  The in-depth critiques and advice I get from these groups continues to be an invaluable part of my writing process.

How many submissions do you have out there now?

According to my submission tracker, I have four manuscripts (a couple are submitted at more than one house), and at least six contest entries being considered.

How do you research where to send your manuscripts?

Every year I buy the CWIM (Children's Writer's & Illustrator's Market) and rely mostly on that to begin my research. Beyond that, I use JacketFlap, Harold Underdown's site, Write4Kids and SCBWI, not to mention the information shared with me by fellow writers. Of course, my final research takes place at the web site of the targeted publisher. With the industry changing so fast and frequently, you have to make the publisher's site your final stop before submitting.

What was your biggest submission goof? What did you learn from it?

As I look back at my early subs, I can see that my manuscripts were not nearly polished enough, or well targeted. I made the mistake of sending out my work too early, and to every possible publishing house. The onslaught of rejections was a clear indication that I was doing something wrong. Eventually I learned the art of carefully making a list of potential publishers and organizing it into those that were the best fit, the next-best fit, and the last resort.

Why do you want to be a writer?

What a great question. I really had to think about my answer. I guess I have always been the creative type, so it's certainly an outlet for me that way. But mostly, I think it's the thrill of having a chance to get inside the heads of all those wonderful, amazing kids out there - and being able to plant an idea that makes them smile or say "Wow!" … or just feel something they would not have otherwise. It's a huge responsibility, writing for children, and I don't take it lightly. I want children and the people who read to them to put down my book and feel that it was time well spent.

What is your favorite style of writing? Why?

Poetry, because of the "music" of it. I love the feel of it, the sound of it, the movement of it. When it's done well, it can be incredibly powerful and a great teaching tool. And if it's funny, even better!

I also love the freedom of writing fiction, especially for young children (0-12). I've never liked doing research so I indulge myself in fiction, where I can make anything happen.

What is the most frustrating thing about being a writer?

Striking a balance between what I want to write and what an editor wants to buy. If I write what I think will sell, it's often not what I love to write. But when I try to sell what I love to write, I sometimes struggle to find a home for it. I think we writers needs to be true to our hearts, and continue to write what we love to write. It will show in the quality of our work and eventually will be noticed.

What is the most rewarding thing about being a writer?

Sharing my work with children firsthand. Nothing brings me more joy than seeing a smile of the face of a kid who just read or heard something I wrote. School visits are the best!

What is the most important thing you’ve learned about writing?

Not to give up. Also, to make connections with other writers. I have the most wonderful people in this business. Many have become friends that I know I'll keep for the rest of my life. Nobody understands the struggles of being a writer better than another writer.

Have you been published? If so where?

Why yes, I have!!  My poem, The Mermaid was a winner in the Delaware Art Museum's "Art of Storytelling Contest." That same poem is being developed into a picture book, to be illustrated by the amazing artist, Angel Dominguez. My poem, Ask Yourself a Question, won the grand prize in the 13th edition of "Say Good Night to Illiteracy", published by Half Price Books in 2006. I've also been published in the SCBWI "Bulletin" with The Assignment, and online at Tippytales.com with two "Adventure Tales" (A Camping Trip to Remember and Just a Matter of Time). I've also had several poems published in "KidzWonder."

How can people find out more about you? (website, etc.)

Please visit my website: www.susiesawyer.com. You can find out more about me, the works mentioned above, and my other projects there. I LOVE hearing from visitors - please take a moment to sign my Guestbook!

Is there anything else that you would like to share?

Just that I strongly encourage anyone considering writing for children to pursue it. Follow the advice of seasoned writers, join the writing groups, read the "how to" books, go to the seminars and workshops if you can. But most importantly, read as many books as you can that are similar those you want to write, and write every day.

Thank you for stopping by Susie. It was a pleasure hosting you on my blog.

Thank you so much, Kevin, for giving me a chance to introduce myself. I've really enjoyed answering these questions. I feel like I've gotten back in touch with why I do this, and just how far I've come since I began writing for children.


max said...

Good interview.

I would add that it’s important to do everything you can in order to become known in the market. Publishers refer to it as your platform. Today it falls to authors, more than ever before, to do the heavy lifting to interest people in their work.

I had a few action-adventures and mysteries published early by a small publisher, and have completed many more manuscripts, but I came to a point where I realized I needed to add that extra element of a platform if I hoped to attract a larger publisher.

Today, my blog, Books for Boys, has reached the # 1 position on Google, when people are searching under that subject. http://booksandboys.blogspot.com So I encourage other writers to work even harder on platform than you do on your writing. It’s what comes after getting published that is truly the hard work of being an author.

Max Elliot Anderson

Charlene Haukom said...

Great interview, Kevin & Susie! I can't wait to see Mermaid as a finished project!

kai said...

Susie and Kevin, thanks for the interview. Susie, you are right, it is so important to stop and take stock-now & again-to remember WHY we do this.

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much, everyone, for your nice comments! Max, you make excellent points about platform. Congratulations on your success. I thoroughly enjoyed this experience and am very thankful to Kevin for the interview. You have a fantastic blog, Kevin. Keep up the great work!
Susie Sawyer