Week of June 12: A Week with Tammi Sauer
Monday, June 13—Advice for Writers
This is the first installment in a four-part interview with picture author and the pride of Oklahoma, Tammi Sauer.
Rob: How long were you working on your writing before your first published book?
Tammi: I had dabbled in writing for a few years (this means I would work on a story for three days, put it away for five months, work on it again for a week, then put it away for two months, etc.). I didn’t get serious about writing until spring
2003. A year later, I received my first offer.
(Rob’s thoughts: I had a similar experience. Once I got “serious,” I had a book deal within fifteen months. Getting serious means that you stop dabbling and your starting working.)
Rob: If memory serves me correctly, Cowboy Camp was your first published picture book. How did you get it published? Was it a slush pile submission? A contact through a conference? An agented-submission?
Tammi: Cowboy Camp was a slush submission. That manuscript had gone to acquisitions at three houses. Oh, the joy! But no takers. Oh, the agony! I first learned about Sterling Publishing through one of SCBWI’s publications, and I knew this house would be a good fit for Cowboy Camp. I sent off the manuscript and heard back from the editor in two weeks. Yeehaw!
(Rob’s thoughts: There are several lessons in this answer from Tammi. (1) Slush piles can work. (2) Getting to acquisitions is a BIG deal, but it doesn’t seal the deal. (3) Staying up-to-date on trends in the industry through publications, meetings, and conferences can make a difference. Now I’m wondering if any of those rejections Tammi got at acquisitions became contacts for future books.)
Rob: We’ve all heard that the best way for beginning authors to learn to write is to read, read, read. What is the second most helpful way you discovered to learn and grow as a writer?
Tammi: Getting feedback from other writers has really pushed me to make good things great. I have a critique partner and I belong to an online picture book critique group. I also do manuscript swaps with published picture book writers.
Rob: What’s the best writing advice you ever received?
Tammi: The best writing advice I ever received came from reading an online interview with Lynn E. Hazen. In my mind, she completely captured what every good picture book needs.
This is the quote:
“My main considerations for any picture books are humor, emotion, just the right details, read-aloud-ability, pacing, page turns, and, of course, plot. Something has to happen to your characters that young readers will care about and relate to. Oh, and you have to accomplish all that in as few words as possible, while creating plenty of illustration possibilities. No easy task.”
Rob: In hindsight, what’s the advice you needed as a beginning writer that you never received?
Tammi: I wish someone had told me to network with other writers. When I first started out, I didn’t know about conferences and critique groups. I had no idea that world even existed.
It’s Your Turn!
1. Visit your local library or bookstore and check out some of Tammi’s books. Read them. Study them. Devour them. I can guarantee you’ll laugh and you’ll learn!