Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Fred Koehler

Week of July 15, 2012: How I Got My First Picture Book Deal
Tuesday, July 17: Fred Koehler—Perseverance and a Postcard

Fred Koehler
Dad’s Bad Day—Spring 2014
Dial Books

It’s a pretty incredible feeling to get that phone call telling you there’s an offer on the table for your book. It validates all the hard work and dedication that you’ve invested in your craft. Here’s how I got my phone call:

The first book I wrote took eight or nine years to complete. It was pretty awful. But I took it to New York to the Algonkian Writer's Conference and pitched it anyways (because I really didn’t know what else to do). Lo and behold, I got my butt kicked by editors, agents, and facilitators and came back to Florida with my tail between my legs.

But I made friends. And I learned from it. And I sulked. As a form of therapy, I started drawing again—which I hadn’t really done in years. I finished a drawing, and since I liked it, I wrote a story to go with it. I liked the story, so I illustrated the whole thing over the course of a year. I took my finished picture book to an SCBWI conference to pitch it. Lo and behold I got my butt kicked by editors, agents, and facilitators and had a much shorter drive home with my tail between my legs.

But I made friends. And I learned from it. And I sulked. I shelved ten years’ worth of work and started over from scratch. I repeated this pattern again and again at different conferences in different cities until the feedback started getting better and better and I felt like I was getting “close.”

Simon & Schuster Art Director Lucy Ruth Cummins helped change the course of my career. In a paid critique, she pretty much laid down the law of what she saw as my strengths and where I had the most opportunity. She did not offer me a deal or a foot in the door. Just a nod in the right direction.

I took her advice, sent out some postcards with her suggested image on them, and heard back from four different publishers interested in my characters. The story I had developed to go with it was a great fit for Dial Books, and I got the call on Christmas Eve. Success!!!

The gist of my journey is pretty simple and it’s a pattern any brave soul can follow. Do your best work. Ask your SCBWI critiquer to be brutally honest. Sulk (but not for too long). Follow your critiquer’s advice. Then repeat. Your time will come and we’ll be celebrating your phone call soon enough.


Susan said...

Great post, Fred. Thanks for sharing your story. I can't wait to read your book!

Tammi sauer said...

I am crazy about those elephants. Bravo!

Tina Cho said...

Congrats, Fred! Thanks for sharing your story behind the story. BTW, did you have your ms written in full when the editor from Dial accepted it, or did you write the rest of it after she accepted the idea?

Fred K. said...

Hi Tina! My manuscript was all of 56 words when I submitted it. It's a couple of hundred words now. They didn't make the offer until we had gone through a couple of rounds of manuscript revision. Its at least a million times better thanks to Kate Harrison's editorial savvy.


Dana Carey said...

Wow! Good for you for hanging in there and improving your work. Inspiring attitude. Congrats on the book!

Anonymous said...

Your art is the cutest!!! Congrats on your deal. Your advice is great, and your story is inspiring.

Wild About Words said...

Yay, Fred!

Glad to be a small part of your journey.

You, my friend, have much success ahead.


Rob Sanders said...

Fred, thanks again for sharing your story! So glad we can critique together each month!