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by Sarah Gottlieb

About this time last year, I was drowning in “champagne rejections.” I had a wonderful but complicated idea and had spent a lot of time working on a manuscript and query letter. What was causing agents to write complimentary emails but not take the plunge? Or worse, to say, “Call me if someone makes you an offer!” I knew I had a great idea—the agents said as much—but I didn’t know why they wouldn’t bite. 

I thought of all of the writers I’d met and wondered if a mentor could help. I checked SCBWI-L.A. to see if they had any information on mentorships and, to my delight, this very mentorship contest was open for submission. AND the mentor was Joseph Taylor, the editor of MUSE, the children’s science magazine. I couldn’t believe my luck. 

As I hit send on my contest entry I thought, “Okay, universe, now it’s up to you. If this idea isn’t good enough for a contest, then it will never make it past the hurdles of publishing.” Much to my surprise, my manuscript was chosen, and I got the chance to meet Joe over Zoom. Now I owed it to the universe, Joe, and SCBWI-L.A. to make the most of this mentorship.

One of the questions the contest asked early on was if I was flexible. I was surprised by the question, because here I was asking for a mentor, how could I be inflexible? Yes, I would welcome any and all suggestions that would help me see what I couldn’t on my own. And in my mind, all of my sections and chapters were necessary. But Joe suggested that I look at the scope of my manuscript again and think about restructuring it. 

They say to “kill your darlings,” so in the first week I lopped off two-thirds of my manuscript to focus on the first third. The weight of the project dropped away, and I felt like I’d gone from piloting a cargo ship to racing in the America’s Cup. 

With wind in my sails, the fine-tuning began. Joe asked me to outline what I hoped to accomplish over the mentorship and I used it to benchmark my progress as we went along. Over the next six months, Joe would help me with revisions, recommend writing resources, science writing resources, mentor texts, sources for the topics that I was writing about, and much more. Meeting regularly was a helpful tool to keep me on task as well. 

Joe was game to hear a lot of science talk… “Joe, I was reading about cyanide playing an important role in the development of life on earth. Isn’t that interesting? And only today I was gardening and got curious about loquat trees and learned that the seeds have a small amount of cyanide inside.” Just a day filled with learning about cyanide! And yes, Joe was interested, too! Thank you, Joe! Then, Joe helped me with the steps of fitting this research, which flowed and flowed in branches and then tributaries, sometimes far from the original point… back into a logical format we like to call a book. 

I am extremely grateful to SCBWI-L.A., Brenda Scott Royce, and Joseph Taylor for their time, energy, and support. I hope one day to have enough knowledge to pay it forward by being a mentor as well. If you’re flexible and looking for help shepherding your big idea onto the pages of a book but can’t quite figure it out, I highly recommend seeking out a mentor. 

The SCBWI-L.A. 2023 Mentorship Contest will be accepting entries from January 4 through February 18, 2023. This year’s mentor is Cara J. Stevens. For more information about the mentorship and instructions on how to apply, check out the SCBWI-L.A. Mentor Contest webpage.

Best of luck to all who apply!

For more fantastic content, community, events, and other professional development opportunities, become a member today! Not sure if there is a chapter in your area? Check here.

Sarah Gottlieb grew up on the coast of Maine. After graduating from the University of Pennsylvania she pursued a career in digital content marketing, writing about everything under the sun. Bitten by the travel bug, she set off for a year backpacking around the globe, blogging as she went. The urge to share with children a sense of wonder at the many mysteries that still remain unknown led to writing What We Don’t Know… Yet. She currently resides in Los Angeles and has been a member of SCBWI-L.A. since 2017.

Author photo provided by author; article image by Suzy Hazelwood on Pexels.com.