Wednesday, September 14, 2016

HOW TO FIND THE GOLDEN NUGGET BY VIVIAN KIRKFIELD


Please—will somebody pinch me? I can hardly believe I am here, guest posting on Rate Your Story. Ever since I started writing, I’ve relied on their feedback to help me improve my manuscripts. The book that is under contract was only one of many of my manuscripts that passed through the Rate Your Story portals. So when they asked if I would share some thoughts, I was thrilled.

Sweet Dreams, Sarah (Creston Books: Spring 2017), is about a young woman’s journey. Former slave, Sarah Goode, has a golden nugget of an idea and she follows through, becoming the first African-American woman to own a U.S. patent. Wait a minute...a golden nugget of an idea? That’s how my story about Sarah Goode started! Let me share how that golden nugget of an idea became a manuscript under contract. 

In June of 2014, I took Kristen Fulton’s Nonfiction Archaeology class. It was a life-changing experience. I discovered I LOVED writing nonfiction picture books. And I learned that the first thing I needed to do was to find that golden nugget, that moment that had been forgotten, that incident in history that I could help bring alive for young children.
  • Find the golden nugget
So I turned to the internet and googled lots of firsts...1st woman in various sports events, 1st woman in the political arena, 1st black woman patent holder. Here is the link that started me on my journey. https://webfiles.uci.edu/mcbrown/display/women_inventors.html Hmmm…the first name on the list was Sarah E. Goode who got a patent for a cabinet bed. That sounded interesting. We can write a story about anything we want. But to get editors to acquire it, you’ve got to have a story that children can relate to. And it also has to be a story that stands out for some reason. Every child has a bed or shares a bed. Being the first black woman to receive a U.S. patent certainly stands out. So I looked more closely at Sarah’s story.
  • Do the research
I discovered there was almost nothing about her in books or on the internet. That was good because you don’t want a topic that everyone has already written about. On the other hand, you don’t want something that no one is interested in…and if you can’t find any information, it is almost impossible to write a nonfiction story about it. So I dug deeper, connected with my local library, reached out to other sources that might be helpful. I even contacted the cemetery where Sarah is buried and received a list of all of the people who are buried in her family plot, as well as the age, cause of death, and last known address of each of them. Information can be found in many different places…never give up.
  • Write the story
After I had gotten as much information as I could, I thought about what direction my story needed to take. I wanted to convey how incredible Sarah was. A woman…and a black woman at that, living in an era when women did not have any rights. They couldn’t vote, couldn’t own property, couldn’t even keep any wages they might earn. Yet she owned a furniture store in Chicago, designed an innovative cabinet bed that would help her customers save space, and followed through with tenacity to apply for a patent. Sarah’s tenacity fueled my determination. I became invested in seeing Sarah honored with a book. I knew it was an important story for children to read. I wanted to help make that moment in history come alive for them. So I wrote the story…trying to give the reader a sense of Sarah’s background, tying to relay her dreams, and trying to show how she struggled to build the cabinet bed and get the patent for it.
  • Ask for feedback
One of the most important steps in my writing process is to give my manuscripts to critique partners. And I did. Over and over again. Fortunately, I have quite a few of them. I sent it out to one group and would revise based on their suggestions and then I sent it out to the next. Rate Your Story saw the manuscript twice. I wrote the story in July of 2014 and sent it to Rate Your Story in August. It got a rating of ‘8’. Back to the drawing board.
  • Embrace revision
So Sarah’s Disappearing Bed (that was the title at the time) needed a lot of work. I revised it again and again. I sent it to critique groups again and again. In October, I submitted it to Rate Your Story again. This time, it got a rating of ‘3’. YES! I was making progress. I continued to revise. I continued to give the story to my critique buddies. A word here, a phrase there…I was always open to trying a different approach with the story. 
  • Get your story out there
After I received the rating of ‘3’ and had revised it based on the additional feedback, I began to submit the manuscript. I was a 12x12 Gold member, so I submitted it in October of 2014. I didn’t hear back from that agent, but I continued to submit the story to others. In 2015, I entered it into the Rate Your Story contest…it won second place!!! A kid lit acquaintance had just signed with an agent. When I visited that agent’s website, I fell in love with her and sent her the story in March. She emailed me within the hour to tell me how much she loved it. In May, I got an email from the agent who had received the story more than seven months before. (NEVER GIVE UP HOPE) She loved it and wanted to see more of my work. Then I participated in the June 2015 #pitmad challenge and it received a ‘favorite’ so I sent it to the #pitmad agent. That agent loved it also. In August, I noticed on #MSWL that another agent was looking for a nonfiction picture book about a strong woman, so I sent the manuscript to her. And she responded immediately. I was thrilled to have so many quality professionals recognize the importance of this story…and I was overjoyed that they were interested in seeing more of my work.  In the end, I went with the agent who had been passionate about it from the moment she received it because I believe that an agent MUST be passionate about your work in order to represent you successfully.
  • After the contract
With the process of submitting to editors in the hands of my agent, Essie White, I sat back and continued writing new stories. Fortunately, unbelievably…I think I need another pinch…the manuscript was picked up almost immediately. When I heard I was to work with Creston editor Marissa Moss, I couldn’t have been happier. We signed the contract and Marissa sent me the manuscript with a few revision notes and requests. I revised and returned it to her. She sent it back with one additional revision request. I reached out again to my critique buddies who had been part of the process from the very beginning. With their feedback, I was able to construct the perfect ending and the editor was very pleased.

Now the manuscript is in the hands of the illustrator and I can’t wait to see how the book turns out. It’s been an amazing adventure and, at times, a wild ride. But I am ready, willing, and able to grab a seat on that roller coaster again with another manuscript. We do have another story in acquisitions (but that is no guarantee of a contract) and two other manuscripts out on submission. Plus, I’ve got a folder filled with manuscripts in various stages of readiness and a head full of stories waiting to be written. And what do I do for relaxation, you might ask? I read manuscripts from my many critique buddies and try to give them feedback that will strengthen their stories. After all, turn-around is fair play and for me, there is no greater joy than helping another writer.

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Vivian Kirkfield
Although Vivian Kirkfield is not a fan of heights, she is constantly taking leaps of faith. In 2010, she self-published an award-winning parent-teacher resource book, Show Me How! Build Your Child’s Self-Esteem Through Reading, Crafting and Cooking. On her 65th birthday, she went skydiving with her son, jumping out of a perfectly good plane, which caused her husband to question her sanity. And when a fellow author and blogging buddy invited her to fly half-way around the globe to speak at the 2013 AFCC/SCBWI conference in Singapore, she couldn’t say yes fast enough. 
Vivian is a proud member of the Society of Children Book Writers and Illustrators, an active participant in an insane number of critique groups, is up for just about every picture book writing challenge, and considers playing an epic game of Monopoly with her seven-year old grandson to be one of the best ways to spend the day. She currently lives in the idyllic New England village of Amherst, New Hampshire with her husband. Vivian is passionate about helping kids become lovers of books and reading and hopes that the stories she writes will have kids asking their parents, “Read this one again, please!”. You can find her on Twitter: @viviankirkfield and Facebook: www.facebook.com/viviankirkfield, or visit her blog at Picture Books Help Kids Soar: www.viviankirkfield.com






30 comments:

  1. Fabulous post! I am lucky to have been one of those who got to read early drafts of this story. It has been so much fun to watch this book come to fruition. I love that Sarah's story is being told, and I love even more that Vivian is the one telling it.

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    1. What would I have done without my Goodnight Moons and all my other critique groups, Ellen? Having your feedback has been instrumental in shaping my manuscripts and polishing my stories...thank you so so so much!!!

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  2. So happy for you, Vivian :) Thank you for sharing your journey from start to publication! You are an inspiration to all of us. I can't wait to read your book!

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    1. It is the support and encouragement and love I receive from all of you, Charlotte, that inspires me!!! Thank you for being one of my most loyal cheerleaders. )

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  3. Wonderful post, Vivian! I am also honored to have been behind the scenes of this amazing story. Your eloquence and sensitivity created a beautiful tribute to Sarah Goode. Thanks so much for sharing how it came to be. It means alot to those "in the trenches." Can't wait to see it in print. :-)

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    1. Thanks so much, Maria! Yes, behind the scenes lurk a cadre of incredible critique buddies like you. :) And don't forget that I'm still in the trenches right alongside you...which reminds me...the summer has slipped by and it's time to get critiquing again. ;)

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  4. Ellen has taken the words out of my mouth. I too have been lucky enough to see this story come about. Vivian is a valued member of our critique group. She is as enthusiastic about our stories as she is about her own. Vivian has done a superb job with telling Sarah's story and I can't wait to hold it in my hand. This is a beautiful post of a beautiful lady.

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    1. And you are a beautiful friend, dear Diane! Thank you for the kind words...I don't know what I would do without our pbwriters and all of my other amazing critique partners. And yes...I love reading and giving feedback on everyone's stories...it seems to be easier to see where changes need to be made on other people's work. ;) ;)

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  5. Great story, great nugget, great author!!! Thanks, Vivian for this post. I'm glad that you emphasized how important critiques are. I think we all feel that our stories have merit when we put them out there. Then we get the critiques. Our stories are still good, but critiquers somehow can show us how to make them better and then, best. There are many golden nuggets out there that provide words of wealth to enhance our own writing. Thank you Vivian, and thank you RYS for being a big nugget in this picture.

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    1. Yes, you are right, Mona...just because we get feedback that suggests changes, doesn't mean it isn't a wonderful story. The suggestions may make it better and stronger...or not...we need to be open to trying different openings, endings, and everything in between...while staying true to our vision for the story. ;)

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  6. Thank you for sharing your wonderful ride to success, Vivian! All your ups and downs do make for a fascinating roller coaster journey. Your generosity
    and desire to help other writers is so much appreciated.

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    1. Hey, Anne...on this roller coaster ride, it's always important to have good friends to hold on to...thank you so much for being one of those. ;) ;) Your input on my stories has been wonderful. ;)

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  7. Awesome post, Vivian! So excited for you! And the theme running in your bio was fun, too!

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    1. Good to know that poeple read the bio also, Tina! Yes, you have been with me since the beginning of SARAH...and have seen it in dozens of iterations. I'm blessed to have you in my life. ;)

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  8. Awesome, Vivian. What a great journey. And well deserved!

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    1. It is a great journey, Johnell...made more enjoyable because of all of my traveling companions...I think I remember you giving me some pitch help with one of my stories...without this incredible kid lit community, SARAH wouldn't be where she is today. ;)

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  9. Congratulations, Vivian! Thank you for your generosity and sharing your journey!

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    1. Thank you, Tracey...it's been so much fun...and the best part is reaching out and connecting. :)

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  10. Love the details of this story and love Vivian Kirkfield's warmth!

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    1. Your kind words are stoking the fire, Sherry...thank you so much for your continued support and encouragement...it makes me want to work even harder. ;)

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  11. Wonderful article Vivian! Very informative.

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    1. Glad you enjoued it, Bev...I hope it was helpful. ;)

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  12. Loved reading about your journey, Vivian! You are an inspiration. Thank you for encouraging us to never give up hope.

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    1. Yes...that is the key, Becky. Every rejection, every revision, is one step closer to success! So happy to be traveling this path with all of you. ;)

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  13. What a great story plus a great story about that story! Thanks for sharing, Vivian! Good luck with all your stories.

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    1. Well, Dana, you do get to see them all...and have had a hand in molding SARAH, as well as all of the others. And I thank you so much for that. ;)

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  14. Thanks, Vivian! I love the idea of the golden nugget. My PB bio got a 7 from RYS, with the advice to make it shorter and give it a focus. I've done that, focusing on her beading, and it made it so much better. I agree--RYS is so helpful!

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    1. Ooooh...fingers crossed for what sounds like an intriguing story, Deborah! Yes, RYS rocks!

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  15. Congratulations on a wonderful journey. Thank you for your continued generosity in the Kidlit field!

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  16. This is a lovely story and so inspirational. Thanks for sharing, Vivian!

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