By Susan Lendroth
In 2010, I submitted the picture book Not So Loud, Natsumi! to the Sue Alexander Grant contest sponsored by SCBWI-LA. Little did I realize the winding road my story and I would take over the next eight years from contest entry to manuscript submission to eventual publication.
I had been writing for nearly 10 years when I wrote Not So Loud, Natsumi! about a little girl in Japan who liked to do everything in a big way. I already had a handful of published books, but publishing guidelines seemed to change from one year to the next. I struggled to master the shorter word counts now expected. Learning to write under 1,000 words had been a challenge; how could I flesh out a story arc with even less?
The contest limit of 600 words was the perfect incentive. Not only would Natsumi have to run through her pages in record time, but I could seriously use the immersive experience of the writing retreat that was the prize for the winning entry.
The inspiration for my character was two-fold. My own daughter had sprung through her childhood with irrepressible energy, forgetting the rules of quiet imposed in so many places. Well, to be honest, just forgetting the rules in general. Although my daughter was in high school by the time I wrote the manuscript, Natsumi channeled her spirit. I also had visited Japan several times and wanted to introduce children to that nation’s cultural arts, but through a modern child.
593 words later, I submitted her story to the contest. And I won! I was on my way to the Working Writers Retreat.
The following year, Tricycle Press, the publisher that had released three of my books, was dissolved. The imprint and its parent company, Tenspeed Press, had been bought by Random House, who wanted the adult books of Tenspeed, not another children’s imprint. Where would I sell my books now?
I was out of a publisher, but my editor was out of a job. She decided to become a literary agent and signed me as one of her clients. Maybe there was a chance for Natsumi to find a home after all. And she did — sold to G.P. Putnam’s Sons (coincidentally, part of the now even bigger publishing house, Penguin Random House) in 2013.
Fast forward — or SLOW forward, as it has often felt — five years after that sale, eight years after the contest, the retitled Natsumi! was released on March 13, 2018.
Winning the Sue Alexander Grant may not have secured my book’s publication, but it encouraged me and gave me the deeper sense of community I needed to keep writing in a difficult business.
The Sue Alexander Grant is accepting submissions through 5/11/18 and will be awarded on 7/11/18.
Check here for more info on the Working Writers Retreat.
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Susan Lendroth likes to write about…nearly everything. Her books touch on history, exploration, folk tales, science, life in other countries and more. Her most recent picture books are Natsumi! and Hey Ho, to Mars We’ll Go, a singing trip to the Red Planet that explains the science behind the journey. Susan lives with her daughter and an orange cat called Kitten.
Images provided by Susan Lendroth.