Posted by Kate Dopirak, Guest Blogger
When I took my five-year-old to fly kites, his experience reminded me of events leading up to my first book deal. Joey thought he had everything he needed to enjoy a fun day – a pirate dog kite, a gusty wind and an open field. He couldn’t wait.
But when Joey finally got in the grass, he discovered it was actually quite swampy. His new shoes got covered with mud quickly. He slipped. Having enough traction to run proved tricky. And the wind was, well, windy. Strong, actually. The kite flipped and smacked into his face. “Dumb kite!” he yelled, trying to battle the wind as he untangled the string that wrapped around his leg. He fell. Now his favorite pants – the ones with a muscle dog – were muddy, too.
This certainly wasn’t the way kite flying had played out in Joey’s imagination. Surely he thought there was nothing to it. Easy-peasy. One. Two. Three. But, no. It was harder than he’d expected. I think that challenge, along with the fact that his three-year-old brother’s kite was practically in the clouds, made him try harder.
Joey wasn’t about to give up. Again and again, he battled the wind and the mud and that unruly pirate dog. He yelled. He stomped. He wailed, “Please!” He ran that field until he panted like a track and field star.
Then it happened. All at once the wind hit the kite just so and it went up, up, up. Joey smiled then laughed then cheered. “I did it!” Suddenly the mud hardly mattered. The kite was no longer dumb. Hey – this was fun. Really fun. He got more into it – “Watch me!”
I took pictures and yelled encouragement – “Great job! I knew you could do it!” And that’s when it hit me that his kite-flying struggle was pretty darn similar to my getting-published struggle.
I joined the SCBWI and the fabulous Sally Alexander’s writing group in 2002. One-hundred-and-forty-four rejections later, I sold my first piece of writing, a poem to Highlights High Five, in 2008. Six years?! Jeez – no kidding about being hard to get some traction.
Luckily, Sally encouraged me to write personal essays. Once I started publishing those in newspapers and magazines, my confidence got a big, fat blast of wind. I sold more pieces to Highlights. And in the meantime, I attended as many SCBWI conferences as possible. I took notes like a nut and introduced myself to anyone and everyone. The amazing Kitty Griffin encouraged me to apply for the One-on-One Conference at Rutgers. And I read. I read magazines and board books and picture books and chapter books and middle-grades and YA (Okay, fine. So I read a little Chelsea Handler, too. Kill me.)
So when it happened that I was matched with my dream agent for a manuscript critique at the WPA SCBWI Conference, I was ready. I had that same ‘all-at-once-the-wind-hit’ moment Joey experienced with his kite. But that’s not the end.
On that kite-flying day, I cheered for Joey to let his pirate dog go higher.
“Let the string out!”
He panicked. “No! I don’t want to lose it.”
That’s exactly how I felt when that same agent I was dying to sign with challenged me to let go:
“Your chapter book can be a middle-grade. Dig deeper. This character deserves more.”
Joey finally let his string unwind so his pirate dog could soar – really soar. He was blown away. I trusted the agent, especially because I felt like she ‘got’ my work and me, enough to let my writing unwind, too. I was blown away as I revised my chapter book according to her suggestions. I resubmitted it as a middle-grade.
She offered me representation (insert champagne popping here) and five days later sold one of my picture book manuscripts. Talk about being totally blown away! How fun to take that energy back to my works-in-progress. Now I know that just like with kite flying, the reading and the writing and ultimately, the publishing is really all about being blown away.
Kate Dopirak is a reader, writer, and now - oh my! - an author too! Learn more about her at her website here.