Happy Wednesday and welcome to Picture Book Spotlight!
I'm really jazzed about this Spotlight Interview. Not only is it a legitimate two-for-one Spotlight, featuring both an author-illustrator and agent, but it's with two really amazing people.
First of all, you need to learn a new word. Agent sibling. I guess that's two words. An agent sibling is someone who is also a client of your agent. Just go with it. You both have this person in common in your life and so you can relate on a unique level with their author or illustrator journey. Much like a sibling. For all my agented kidlit friends, do you know who your agent siblings are? No? Find them. Yesterday. Follow them on social media and say hello. Or email them. Have digital or actual coffee with them! And while you're at it, tell them to quit leaving their laundry in the bathroom because it's getting really annoying and we don't live in a barn! Oh, sibling humor.
Long story short, I'm proud to call Amanda Davis an agent sibling and I think we have a super awesome mom--I mean agent. No, your agent is not your mother. Sorry, Melissa. Alright, let's move on.
This week Amanda has been doing a blog tour leading up to her cover reveal. Her debut picture book, 30,000 Stitches: The Inspiring Story of the National 9/11 Flag, comes out May 4th so mark your calendars! It's an easy day to remember if you like Star Wars..."May the 4th be with you!" Get it? If not, stop reading immediately and go watch Luke and his intergalactic compadres take out the death star. Spoiler Alert: Darth Vader is his dad...
Amanda's official cover reveal blog post is happening tomorrow at Good Reads with Ronna--be sure to stop by and check out the cover!
For today's Author Spotlight, I have questions for both Amanda and Melissa as well as individually. As a way to celebrate Amanda's upcoming release, Melissa agreed to do a unique giveaway for readers of this post. If you want an opportunity to "Rise Above the Slush" and get your work in front of Melissa Richeson of Storm Literary Agency...you'll need to read all the way to the end to find out how.
Here's Amanda Davis! Here's Melissa Richeson! Here's my agent and agent sibling!
First of all, welcome to Picture Book Spotlight! And congratulations to both of you on 30,000 Stitches: The Inspiring Story of the National 9/11 Flag. As the son of a US soldier (proud Army brat), with a unique perspective on the events of 911, I was intrigued to read about this story and I’m so pumped to see it out in the world! What does this book mean to each of you?
Hi Brian! First off, thank you so much for having me on the blog to celebrate my cover reveal with a Mini Blog Tour, and congrats to you on your own debut, THE BOOK OF RULES, which comes out later this year! Debut year buddies, yay! I’m honored to be here with Melissa and to chat about my own debut, 30,000 STITCHES.
Onto your first question, and what a big question to start us out with, ha! I’m not sure I can entirely sum up what this book means to me, but I’ll try my best. I’m going to date myself here but I was in high school during 9/11 and vividly remember being dismissed from school and going home to watch the events being replayed in the media. The word I often use to describe how I felt on that day is surreal. It felt as though I was watching a movie but to everyone’s horror, the tragic events were unfolding in real life, right before our eyes. It was an event that changed our country in so many ways. I later visited the National September 11 Memorial and Museum and was touched to my core by the hundreds of artifacts, in-depth narratives about the victim’s lives, and reading about the countless stories of selflessness, courage, and heroism from everyday people and citizens. I feel deeply tethered to these stories and have a desire to make sure they are never forgotten.
30,000 STITCHES is the inspiring story of a torn and tattered American flag that flew over Ground Zero days after 9/11 and later took a historic journey across fifty states to be fully restored. People from all walks of life and all different parts of the country came out and came together to help make the flag whole again. When I think about what the story of the flag truly means to me, this may sound cliché, but the first thing that comes to mind is human connection. We all know what it’s like to feel. To feel loss, to feel pain, to feel joy. Emotions are universal. They are raw. They are what make us human. On 9/11, people helped people, and for a long time after, we continued to help one another heal. We showed each other compassion and kindness. We took time to listen to one another; to understand. The story of the flag is a reminder of these things. Of our humanity, our resilience, and the power to heal and overcome dark times if we unite and come together as a community-as a people.
I agree with Amanda; this story means “connection” to me as well. I was in Florence, Italy during the tragic events of 9/11, and I will never forget the overwhelming sense of shared emotion that I experienced there. Strangers embraced me in the streets, weeping for loss that wasn’t expressly theirs, wasn’t uniquely mine, but was intrinsically ours. Sorrow bred solidarity—a connection that crossed borders, that transcended language, that united individuals from different backgrounds.
This book is a beautifully told story that echoes that experience for me. The flag crossed borders and united people, reminding them that we all have more in common than we sometimes realize—our capacity to feel love, loss, and hope. It was an important message then, and it remains an important message now.
Amanda’s manuscript excited me because it told a little-known piece of a familiar story. We know about the major events of 9/11, but Amanda’s story showed a unique angle, one that went beyond the facts and pushed into the feeling. Also, Amanda did a great job presenting the hook of the 20th anniversary in her query, which gave her story a timely sense of relevance that I imagined would entice editors.
I’m super pumped for you and this book, agent sibling! Talk to us a little bit about your background as a kidlit creator. How would you describe your path to publication and how did you ultimately connect with Melissa to eventually sell 30,000 Stitches?
In 2012, I took a continuing education course at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston called, Illustrating Children’s Books, with illustrator, Ilse Plume. This course was eye-opening for me and kick-started my career in kidlit. I realized that children’s books combined all three of my passions: art, writing, and stories. After completing that course, I dove headfirst into the craft of writing and illustrating for children. I joined SCBWI, 12x12, and found a local and online critique group. I tried to soak in all the knowledge I could about the kidlit industry. I began to query literary agents and editors with a few of my stories. Looking back, I probably queried those stories too early, but hey, that’s part of the learning process.
Finally landing an agent and book deal for 30,000 STITCHES was filled with ups and downs. I had many passes along the way but most were positive and some had personalized feedback, so I knew I was on the right track. I even got a few requests to revise and resubmit. I submitted to WorthyKids by snail mail through the slush pile and after many months of not hearing back, I took that as a pass.
I continued to query the story and later, connected with Melissa, yay! At the time, I read on Melissa’s wish list that she was seeking heartfelt nonfiction picture books and that she was drawn to historical work. I thought she could be the perfect match for 30,000 STITCHES, so I crossed my fingers and sent it along. A couple of days later, I received a reply from Melissa saying she loved the concept of my story. She provided me with feedback and invited me to revise and resubmit. We went back and forth a couple of times with edits and later signed together for the project. Six months after signing with Melissa, an assistant editor from WorthyKids contacted me to ask if the story was still available. Of course I said a big, enthusiastic YES, connected her with Melissa, and the rest is history! I’m so grateful to have Melissa as a partner and champion for 30,000 STITCHES. Her editorial suggestions helped enhance my manuscript, her knowledge during contract negotiations eased my nerves and her overall calm, collective, and encouraging nature is something I am forever grateful for in this unpredictable industry. Thank you for taking a chance on 30,000 STITCHES and believing in my work, Melissa!
For those maybe unfamiliar with you as an agent, what are your priorities in building your picture book client list for 2021? Would you like to see more nonfiction projects like 30,000 Stitches in your inbox?
Yes! I’d definitely like to read more creative nonfiction picture books in my inbox. I’d love to see inspiring, lesser-known topics that focus more on an event than an individual person (like 30,000 STITCHES), though I’m open to interesting bios too. I’m especially drawn to lyrical, almost poetic language that conveys more emotion than facts in the main text (with plenty of supporting information in the back matter).
However, I realize that there are a million ways to tell a story, and my preference for sparse text may not align directly with all authors and all editors. That’s where I think a sense of open-mindedness comes into play. As Amanda mentioned, she and I worked on several rounds of edits which left us with a couple different viable versions of the same story. Together we decided on one that would be used for submissions, but during the sub process, some editors wanted to see the story told a different way. Because of Amanda’s willingness to be flexible on edits up front, those different versions were ready to be sent right away. In fact, the version that’s going to print with WorthyKids is not her original slush version and not our decided-upon submission version, but rather a version that was waiting in the wings…and then went through more edits with the publisher!
All that to say, my priorities as I’m building my picture book list really center around both the story and the author. I look for a unique concept and an adaptable, hard-working author. Amanda and her story have proven to be both! :)
I wrote the story for children because it’s so powerful and can serve as an entry point for many important discussions. With that said, although 30,000 STITCHES was written for children, it’s a story for ALL people; people of all ages, in all parts of the country, and all over the world. Because at its core, the story is about humanity and shared experiences.
It’s no secret that 2020 and now the start of 2021 have been fraught with challenges. There is a great deal of tension amongst the American people, and this fills me with a slew of emotions. Above all, I feel sadness and at points, even a sense of hopelessness. Despite this, I truly believe that there is still much more good in this world than bad. There are still people helping people. People loving people. And people striving for change. 30,000 STITCHES reminds us of the good of humanity. People came together to make the flag whole again and to help one another heal. Along the way, they shared their stories of pain, sorrow, suffering, and sacrifice. With each stitch, they helped heal the flag, while also helping heal each other’s hearts. Right now, I think everyone’s hearts could use some healing, and I hope that 30,000 STITCHES reminds people that there is power in our shared stories, there is power in unity and that if we reach out our hands, we can help heal our hearts.
The artwork for 30,000 Stitches looks phenomenal, incredibly vivid, and adds a unique emotional layer to the story. What has it been like to see this book transition from words on a page to what it is today?
Thanks for those words about the art, Brian. I completely agree. Sally’s mixed-media style perfectly mimics the torn and tattered nature of the flag. Her illustrations bring life and emotion to the text; expanding on the story in a way that words alone can’t do. Through her visuals, we can see the many hands and hearts the flag touched. Her illustrations also convey a beautiful and symbolic parallel between the healing of both the people and the flag. As the flag heals, the people do, too. I’ve been a fan of Sally’s work for a long time so I was psyched when she was chosen as the illustrator. She had the hard job of taking a tough topic in our history and making it accessible to children through the images and I believe she did just that. Additionally, a concern for me with any illustrator was making sure they got the details of the story accurate since this is a nonfiction book. It was comforting to know that Sally had experience illustrating other nonfiction topics in history and could use this knowledge and expertise in her process of illustrating 30,000 STITCHES.
Ahhh! The art is so perfect! I think one of my favorite parts in this whole journey has been seeing Amanda’s words and Sally’s images come together. Somewhere along the line, Amanda and I were in talks with a different publisher for 30,000 STITCHES, and we were brainstorming illustrators. At the time, Amanda mentioned that Sally Wern Comport was one of her top choices. Later, when WorthyKids said they were reaching out to Sally, it felt like such an amazing, full-circle kind of fulfillment—like it was “meant to be”.
I first learned about the story back in 2011 when I facilitated an art lesson around the story of the flag with my art students for the tenth remembrance of 9/11 While browsing through some magazines, I came across a blurb about a torn and tattered American flag that flew over Ground Zero in the days after 9/11 and later traveled across all fifty states to be fully restored touching many hearts and many hands along the way. Later, it returned to New York on the tenth anniversary of 9/11 as a symbol of hope and unity. I knew I found my lesson. That year, students learned about the flag, and we created our own patchwork flag in remembrance. Several years later, the story of the flag still lingered in my head, and I knew I needed to share it with more people. So, in 2018, I decided to try my hand at crafting a manuscript for it. I have a background in journalism, so it was a delight getting to research and interview primary sources for the story. From the Ground Zero Superintendent to Flag Tour Staff, the people who I spoke to about the flag were incredible. I am honored to have spoken with such selfless, kind, and generous people whose dedication to helping America heal after 9/11 was inspiring. To this day, they continue to give back and be of service to others, which is truly exceptional. I feel so honored and humbled that I’m able to tell the story of the flag and make it accessible to children so they can be inspired by the themes of strength, unity, hope, and healing, that are woven throughout the story.
What are some of the things you have been doing to prepare for your debut? Also, when you think about your book out in the real world, what are you most looking forward to?
Great question! This is an area I’m constantly learning about. Marketing and promotion is hard and there are so many things I want to do and people that I want to connect with. My biggest challenge is prioritizing and narrowing down what I need and want to do.
Here is a list of some of the things I’ve done so far:
1. Join a debut group: One of the first things I did was ask to join, 21 For the Books debut picture book group. I highly recommend joining a debut group or if there are none available, start your own! Being in a group with other debut authors, we’re all figuring it out together. It’s an amazing community to be a part of, and it excites me to know that we’re going to be there to support and boost one another throughout this crazy debut year. I’ve already learned so much from the other members of the group, and we have many fun things in store to celebrate our releases. Follow us on Instagram and Twitter @21fortheBooks!
2. Outreach: I’ve started planning some events with local bookstores and reaching out to schools and libraries for potential visits. I’ve also connected with other authors and bloggers, like you, Brian, to set-up virtual blog tours and book reviews.
3. Create a timeline: I’m fortunate to have an awesome marketing team at WorthyKids who’ve helped me draw up a timeline for specific marketing tasks and have been there to answer questions and collaborate.
4. Research: I’ve been doing A LOT of research to figure out who I should reach out to, what markets I should be targeting and some detective work to find contacts. It can be awkward cold-calling or cold-emailing (ha!) but it’s part of the process. Because of the nonfiction nature of the story and the many real people who were involved in bringing the flag back to life, I hope to track down some of the people who stitched the flag and connect with them to do something special to honor their stories in conjunction with the 20thremembrance of 9/11 this year. I actually love reaching out and connecting with others so this has been both a challenging and gratifying part of the process.
5. Activity and Teacher Guides: I’ve been busy creating activity guides and fun swag for readers and educators. The teacher in me loves this part J
I’m most looking forward to visiting schools and libraries where I can have conversations with children and adults about the story. I’m excited for the idea that somewhere out there, a child will have the book in their hands-physically turning its pages and sitting in thought with the words and images. I hope that 30,000 STITCHES can be an entry point for children and adults to engage in difficult discussions, whether at home or in school, about hard topics in both our history and current day, while simultaneously inspiring hope and strength in readers. I also can’t wait to read my book aloud and see real time reactions from children as they listen to the words and view Sally’s beautifully layered illustrations. As you can see, I’m excited for so many things, ha! It’s hard to choose!
After taking this kidlit journey, and thinking about some of your experiences and lessons learned, what advice do you have for authors and illustrators seeking traditional publication in picture books?
There is no right or wrong way to get published. Each person’s story is different. Sometimes it’s a short, smooth journey and sometimes it’s long and bumpy. Try not to compare. Instead, keep going. With every pass (which has been many), I send another query out. This industry has taught me not to take anything personally. I want to work with an editor or an agent who is going to love my work wholeheartedly. The truth is, not everyone is going to. And that’s okay. Art is subjective. With that in mind, there is strength in solidarity. This can be a very isolating business if we let it, so remember to reach out for help and to connect. The children’s book industry is one of the most welcoming communities I’ve been a part of. There is so much talent and wisdom. Connect with people. Ask questions. Never stop learning from one another. We are all on this creative journey together.
picture books empower us to learn more about ourselves, others, and the world around us.
they inspire us to connect with others in a unique way.
Thank you so much for chatting with us Brian! I hope your readers will join me tomorrow for my last stop on the Mini Blog Tour. You’ll find me over at the Good Reads with Ronna blog for my BIG cover reveal and a conversation with my editor, Peggy Schaefer at WorthyKids. Another fun giveaway is in store, too!
Thank you both so much for sharing about your journey together with 30,000 stitches! And Thank YOU for reading, kidlit fam. Let’s not forget about today’s generous "Above the Slush" submission giveaway from Melissa Richeson. Check it out!
"Above the Slush" Submission Opportunity
with Melissa Richeson of Storm Literary Agency
(offer good until March)
TO ENTER THE GIVEAWAY:
✅ Follow Amanda on Twitter
✅ Retweet this post on Twitter
✅ Tag 5 friends in Retweet
✅ Subscribe to Picture Book Spotlight
A random winner will be selected to receive an exclusive submission link to query Melissa Richeson and "rise above the slush" for her more immediate consideration!
The deadline for this contest is Wednesday, February 3rd at 9AM CST
The winner will be contacted on Wednesday, February 3rd and announced on Twitter and Facebook
About Amanda Davis
Amanda Davis is a teacher, artist, writer, and innovator who uses her words and pictures to light up the world with kindness. After losing her father at the age of twelve, Amanda turned to art and writing as an outlet. It became her voice. A way to cope. A way to escape. And a way to tell her story. She was thus inspired to teach art and pursue her passion for writing and illustrating children's books. Through her work, Amanda empowers younger generations to tell their own stories and offers children and adults an entryway into a world of discovery. A world that can help them make sense of themselves, others, and the community around them. A world where they can navigate, imagine, and feel inspired—over and over again. Amanda is the recipient of the 2020 Ann Whitford Paul—Writer’s Digest Most Promising Picture Book Manuscript Grant and teaches art at a public high school in Massachusetts where she was selected as 2020 Secondary Art Educator of the Year. Amanda is the author of 30,000 STITCHES: THE INSPIRING STORY OF THE NATIONAL 9/11 FLAG and has poetry and illustrations featured in The Writers’ Loft Anthology, FRIENDS AND ANEMONES: OCEAN POEMS FOR CHILDREN. When she’s not busy creating, you can find her sipping tea, petting dogs, and exploring the natural wonders of The Bay State with her partner and rescue pup, Cora. You can learn more about Amanda at www.amandadavisart.com and on Twitter @amandadavisart and Instagram @amandadavis_art.
About Melissa Richeson
Like most people in publishing, Melissa grew up surrounded by stacks of library books and buried in notebooks full of stories and doodles. Taking a cue from Peter Pan, she’s never outgrown her love for children’s stories—and she never will!
Melissa has been working as a writer for years, with publishing credits in The Washington Post, Florida Today, Space Coast Parent, Chicken Soup for the Soul, and many more. She had a children’s fiction serial run in WDW Magazine for over a year, and she is a current features writer at the same publication. In addition, previous backgrounds in both marketing and teaching give her a unique edge as an agent.
When not reading or working, Melissa can be found swimming, paddle boarding, jogging, or biking. Her two favorite spots on earth are her own backyard, where dolphins and manatees come to play, and Walt Disney World, where magic never gets old. She lives in Florida with her husband and four school-aged sons (who are also growing up surrounded by stacks of library books and notebooks).
Melissa comes to Storm with prior experience as an associate literary agent and a growing list of clients. To build her client list, Melissa is 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, paranormal, or graphic violence of any kind.
Some of Melissa's perennial favorites include: A Series of Unfortunate Events (Snicket), Junie B. Jones (Park), The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle (Avi), The Messenger (Lowry), and A Tale of Two Cities (Dickens).
More recent titles that she’s loved include: Lovely War (Berry), Stay Sweet (Vivian), The Unexpected Everything (Matson), Salt to the Sea (Sepetys), An Ember in the Ashes (Tahir), and What to Say Next (Buxbaum).
Please follow Melissa’s submission guidelines.
Brian Gehrlein is sometimes a purple monster named Dennis. Just sometimes. Other times he teaches high school English, has a human family and runs this here blog. Brian likes writing about himself in the third person, especially if it's a snarky, absurd fabrication that defies all rational thought. Brian is either completely uninteresting to warrant writing a real bio or he is so interesting that his real bio would melt your face if you read it. He does not want your face to melt. Hence the silly biography at the end of every blog post. You're welcome. This has gone on far too long. Are you still reading this? What about this? And this? Wow. You must be bored. Bored or well educated. Well educated in the field of hidden emoji codes. Yes, you read that right. You were looking for it all this time weren't you? Because you know. You know that Brian is the only person in kidlit who is silly enough to hide a code at the bottom of an already longish blog post just to give you a higher chance of winning the giveaway. You must really want to rise above the slush. Well then. Good job, you. The emoji code is an American flag. Makes sense, right? It should...if you read this blog. If it doesn't make sense you should try reading the blog first instead of scrolling to this entertaining gem of a paragraph. Who does that? What are you some kind of selfish wolf? Uncivilized. Work on that. Do better. Alright, nobody is reading at this point because the code was shared. This is just a superfluous final sentence that should have been cut.