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Breaking All the Rules

Breaking All the Rules

I wrote a book. It's called THE BOOK OF RULES. It's about following the rules.
If you don' will be eaten.
This book is the poster-child for never giving up on a manuscript, never throwing an idea away completely. I wrote the first draft of this book sometime in the fall of 2017 but never got it ready enough to share or query. By the time I signed with Melissa Richeson in February 2019, the book was collecting dust in a folder marked "no longer pursuing."
I thought it was dead.
Even after I began working with Melissa, this manuscript wasn't anywhere near my radar of books I was hoping we might submit. Not only was it not the book she signed me for...she didn't even know it existed!
Because it was dead.
In the spring of 2019, I pitched a list of story ideas to Melissa to see which projects she was most interested in as potential submissions. Some were polished drafts. Some were incomplete. And some were just story seeds. I also shared stories that were dead. Cause, ya know...why not?
Did I mention this story was dead? Well, it was.
So I went into the vault. The story sepulchre. The folder marked "no longer pursuing." I stumbled upon the lifeless corpse of THE BOOK OF RULES and included it in my list of ideas. To my surprise, she marked it as one of her favorites!
And was longer.
So after that reanimating breath of life from Melissa, I dusted it off to share with my critique group in May 2019. They gave me some great feedback throughout several rounds of critique and got me excited about it again. Perhaps there was something there. Wanting it to be the very best version before sharing it with Melissa, I took it through another round of critiques at the Critique Across KS/MO SCBWI event in June.
That same month...Melissa had it on submission! What a whirlwind.
Fast forward to October...we had a bite! Melissa Warten (FSG, Macmillan) showed interest but wanted a revised draft after giving some notes. We shared the updated draft and while we were waiting to hear back, another major house took a bite. Two "big five" houses seriously considering a story that a few months prior was dead?! It was unreal.
By mid-November we had two offers on the table...and I got to have my pick.
There are no words to describe what that was like. None. Never in a MILLION years could I have predicted my debut happening like that.
And now I wait (picture books take a long time to bake). Can't wait to see what illustrator, Tom Knight cooks up!
What are those "no longer pursuing" ideas that you have in YOUR folders?
Why not dust them off and breathe a little life into them?
You never know what might happen next...
Do not break the rules. To get published, you must follow the rules. The writing rules:
Rule number one: if you get rejected 600 times before finding an probably suck (so maybe find a new dream)
Rule number two: don't sign with a newer agent since it's more of a risk (always play it safe)
Rule number three: don't resurrect stories that are dead and nobody knows about. Stick to the good ones...the ones your agent actually signed you for.
Rule number four: give up the notion that big five bidding wars happen for unknown authors (that's just crazy talk, buddy)
Rule number five: definitely don't write a book about children being eaten by a monster if they don't follow the rules (that would never sell)
Rule number six: take yourself really seriously and act super authory in your blog posts (never act silly. ART IS NOT SILLY)
Rule number seven:
Rule number eight: don't ask about rule seven (WE DON'T TALK ABOUT RULE NUMBER SEVEN)
Rule number nine: don't annoy your readers with an obnoxious list of pretend rules
Rule number ten: break rules one through nine...and publish your debut book

And now for some shout outs!

Plain and simple, this book would not have happened without a lot of people.
To my Twitter-based critique group: You all helped me see potential in something I thought was dead...this literally wouldn't have happened without you! THANK YOU TO THE MOON AND BACK! Ashley Congdon, Keilei Pew, Lizzy Rizzi, Kate Piliero, and Janey Merry.
To my summer 2019 in-person critique group: Your enthusiasm for this book gave me the confidence I needed to share it with Melissa. THANK YOU, YOU ROCK! Sandy McGraw, Heather Bell, Holly Oden, Leah Lambart, and Sarah Guthrie.
To my agent, Melissa Richeson: Thank you for taking a chance on me. Your countless hours of work on my behalf are something I can NEVER repay. YOU made this happen!
To my editor, Melissa Warten: I am full of gratitude for this opportunity and cannot wait to continue the journey. To many more books!
To my wife, Katherine Anne: You hear the stories no one else does. And tell me when they're garbage...keep doing that. Also I love you. Peter and I are the luckiest.

To my parents, friends, and family: Thank you all for putting up with me, cheering me on, and always encouraging me! Look, Mom! I wrote a book! : )


And now for a very special giveaway...

To help celebrate this momentous occasion, Brian's agent, Melissa Richeson, has graciously offered to do a picture book manuscript 10 minute phone critique!
See details below on how to enter the giveaway!

Picture Book Manuscript

10 minute phone critique

with Melissa Richeson!


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The deadline for this contest is Thursday, February 27th at 9AM CST

The winner will be contacted on Thursday, February 27th and announced on Twitter and Facebook

About Melissa Richeson

In the spring of 2018, Melissa joined ALA as an intern and a year later she moved into an Associate Agent role and began developing her own client list.

She holds a degree in Marketing, as well as a background in elementary literature education–both assets that will benefit our clients, old and new.

Melissa has been working as a writer for years, with publishing credits in The Washington Post, Focus on the Family, Florida Today, Space Coast Parent, Chicken Soup for the Soul, and many more. She had a children’s fiction serial run in an online magazine for over a year, is a current staff columnist, and coaches writers on a part-time basis.

To build her client list, Melissa is focusing on children’s book authors—picture books through young adult. She’s drawn to witty wording and whimsical design for picture books, humor and quick pacing for chapter books, charming mysteries or magic in middle grade, and fresh, character-driven stories in young adult. She’s not the best fit for horror, high fantasy, or graphic violence of any kind.

To query Melissa, email Paste the first ten pages after the query letter and include the synopsis and full manuscript as attachments.


Brian Gehrlein is the creator of Picture Book Spotlight, a member of SCBWI, and is represented by Melissa Richeson of Apokedak Literary Agency. Brian teaches high school English and lives in Liberty, Missouri with his wife, Katherine, his son, Peter, and two corgis, Toby & Harry. In a former life, Brian was a wooden puppet. However, through sheer fate and the benevolent magic of a blue fairy, Brian was brought into consciousness. Life as a sentient puppet was not good enough for Brian. Some stuff happened with his nose (and a whale and his father) but eventually, he was transformed into a real human boy. He is now a real human man hoping to pass the same kindness (and magic) to other wooden and non-wooden children wherever he goes.

October 19, 2021 (34)_edited.jpg
October 19, 2021 (34)_edited.jpg
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