Welcome to another edition of Slush Pile Warrior. This feature strives to highlight the trials and tribulations of pursuing publication. This month, I am delighted to present Charlene Haukom.
Charlene, please tell us a little a little about yourself:
I was lucky enough to have a great teacher in high school that encouraged me to take an advanced writing course. I’ve been writing ever since. I had another great English teacher in college who told me she’d see my name in print some day – she was right. Soon after she made that comment, I was published in the school newspaper and then the literary magazine. Fueled by my early publishing success, I majored in Mass Communications with a Concentration in Journalism (not knowing of any other kind of “writing” degree), though I preferred writing literary fiction over news reports. Over time I was drawn more and more to children’s writing, and here I am 9 ½ years later still trying to break in!
How many submissions do you have out there now?
Hehehe. Believe it or not, I only have two picture book manuscripts out right now. After a recent round of rejection, rejection, rejection, I started putting everything back in the file cabinet rather than sending them out again. While I’ve definitely developed a thicker skin, it still hurts to get the famous “not right for us” letters. When I find myself hitting a wall over and over again, it’s time for a change of pace. Right now I’m sitting on my rejected picture book ms’ and focusing on a mid-grade novel. It’s baseball season, after all, and that’s when Jake (the MC) likes to come out to play.
How do you research where to send your manuscripts?
I like to target where I send my manuscripts (to cut down on those letters mentioned above). I start with the basics, CWIM, the online version of Writer’s Market, the book and magazine market books that ICL puts out, etc. When I find editors or agents that I think might be a good fit, I search the net for anything and everything I can find on those people and rule out those that I think aren’t the best matches. At this point, my head is usually spinning, so I stop searching and just monitor some of the major boards (blue, of course)/blogs/interviews and bide my time. Sooner or later, someone I’m interested in will show up at a conference nearby. Then I beg and plead my family to let me go, which of course they always do because they’re super-supportive and wonderful. Even so, conferences are expensive, so I don’t get to go all that often. If I’m lucky, more than one of the people I’m interested will be speaking at the conference I’ve chosen. If I’m luckier, one of them will spark enough interest to pursue. Once upon a time, I was great at rationalizing and twisting and doing whatever was necessary to convince myself that so and so was a great fit. Eventually I realized that all that did was waste their time, my time, and earn me one of those dreaded letters! Now I only send to people that I’m convinced are a good match, and I usually send it exclusively out of respect - is it any wonder I only have two subs out right now?
What was your biggest submission goof? What did you learn from it?
Hahaha! LOL. Oh, dare I say? My very first submission broke every rule in the book, I think. Let me just remind everyone that I’ve been doing this for nearly a decade, so it was a LONG time ago. This was before I joined SCBWI, and before I even joined a critique group. TWO VERY BIG NO-NO’s for any newbies out there that might be reading this. So let’s see, after doing my homework and researching (or so I thought), I sent off my delightfully long and charming cover letter with RHYMING picture book manuscript enclosed. The manuscript that I proudly co-wrote with my 2-year old daughter, and didn’t mind saying so (still don’t, by the way). The manuscript that contained…oh no, say it isn’t so!...a stick figure drawing in the corner because that stick figure is what made the book so darn funny! While it’s true the stick figure is quite funny, I must admit I’m not a trained illustrator. And I’m not a poet, either. And yes, I do know that this paragraph is riddled with sentence fragments.
So what did I learn from this shameful experience? I learned how to be very, VERY embarrassed. LOL. No, seriously, I learned a lot. While I waited for a response (yes, a “not right for us” letter), I kept reading and researching. I joined SCBWI and a critique group, and very quickly learned about the very big mistake I had just made. I quit sending out manuscripts and just focused on learning more about children’s writing and improving as much as I could. I also learned to be very sympathetic toward editors and agents. They get hundreds of submissions like my first one EVERY WEEK, and yet they’re still in the business!
Why do you want to be a writer?
LOL! This is fun. I sure have laughed a lot today. While many, many inappropriate and sarcastic thoughts come to mind, I can’t think of anything to say here. I don’t know. There’s something magical about books, and especially children’s books. When you walk into a bookstore, you feel it. You’re surrounded by magic and your nerve endings start to tingle as you decide where you’re going to look first. Do you let your fingers brush lightly across the beautiful, satiny images bursting out of picture books? Or do you go to mass-market paperbacks and read the tantalizing description on the back to see if it’s going to draw you in? Hmmm…I think I need to go shopping now! It’s been too long since I’ve been in a bookstore!
What is your favorite style of writing? Why?
Oh, I like everything. I don’t know that I can answer this question. OK, I got one. No two. These are things I DON’T like, since I really do like pretty much everything. I don’t like MG/YA that tries too hard to be current. Like when they use BFF every other sentence because that’s what people are saying now. Who knows what people will be saying in the future? I prefer things to be more timeless. I’m also not wild about present tense writing. It seems unnatural to me. Just a personal preference, folks; I know it’s very popular.
What is the most frustrating thing about being a writer?
“Though your project sounds interesting, I don’t feel it’s quite right for our list.”
What is the most rewarding thing about being a writer?
“By Charlene Haukom”
No, no, just kidding. The most rewarding thing so far is something my daughter did recently. She pulled out one of my picture book manuscripts (one of the ones parked in the file cabinet) and read through it. I didn’t know what she was doing until she went over to the table and asked me what “level” of book she just read. Then it occurred to me what she was doing – her reading homework! She’s supposed to read every day and fill out a log that includes title, reading level, and time spent reading. I was so honored that my daughter considers my manuscripts “real books”. Hopefully someday I’ll be able to convince someone else of that!
What is the most important thing you’ve learned about writing?
How to overcome obstacles one small step at a time.
Have you been published? If so where?
Yes, I was a content writer for http://www.preschoolrock.com/ where I published over 65 games, articles, and book reviews. I’m also a freelance writer for The Community Voice, a local newspaper.
How can people find out more about you? (website, etc.)
My website is currently under construction and will eventually be http://www.charlenehaukom.com/, but for now, the only place to learn about me is through these wonderful interviews and by reading the Internet articles I’ve written.
Is there anything else that you would like to share?
Thanks for this opportunity. I’ve had a lot of fun answering your questions. For any other slush pile warriors out there who haven’t joined SCBWI or a critique group, DO SO NOW!
Thanks for stopping by Charlene. That was a great interview.