A Leap of Faith:
How jumping from a plane jump-started my writing career
As a teenager, I was a huge Beatles fan. One of my favorite songs was When I’m 64. And for me, when I was 64, the course of my life changed.
I’d always been timid about meeting new people, going to new places, and doing new things. But with our children married and my retirement approaching, my husband encouraged me to write a book—a book filled with picture book recommendations, craft projects, and cooking activities to help parents reconnect with their kids.
The process of writing Show Me How! Build Your Child’s Self-Esteem Through Reading, Crafting and Cooking was fun. But the process of self-publishing was not so easy. I had to figure out how to get the book out into the world. Being timid, it was hard for me to walk into local bookstores and libraries to see if they would carry it.
A few months after the book was published, I went to Chicago to visit my son. “Guess what we’re doing tomorrow?” he said. “SKYDIVING!” And although I am not a fan of heights, I somehow went along with it. And I’m so glad I did. Because that leap of faith gave my self-confidence a huge boost. If I could jump out of a plane, I probably could do just about anything!
Returning home, I continued to search for ways to promote my book. I began blogging about picture books. I discovered that Susanna Leonard Hill reviewed picture books every Friday. Linking up with Perfect Picture Book Friday opened the door to the kidlit community—many of them were pursuing the dream of becoming published picture book authors. And I soon realized that was my dream as well.
Jumping in with both feet and my whole heart, I participated in every writing challenge that came along over the next few years: PiBoIdMo, 12×12, RhyPiBoMo. I joined critique groups. I took several online picture book writing classes. And I wrote and revised and wrote and revised.
By 2015, I was getting positive feedback from agents who had received my manuscripts. Where did I find those agents? As a Gold member of 12×12, I had been submitting on a monthly basis. I also perused the #MSWL (Manuscript Wish List on Twitter) where agents and editors tweet about what they are looking for. In addition, I participated in #Pitmad, one of the many Twitter pitch challenges where editors and agents lurk about, reading pitches and favoriting the ones they would like to see.
And lastly, I sent a random submission to an agent who had just signed an acquaintance of mine because I fell in love with the about page of her agency website. By the fall of 2015, the year I turned 68, I signed with Essie White from Storm Literary Agency. And within a few months, I had a book deal for SWEET DREAMS, SARAH.
The next year was a quiet one with editors passing on all of my manuscripts. I began to doubt myself. I reached out to a critique buddy who was already published. She assured me that this often happens. She’d gotten her first book deal and a year went by with nothing new. And then…boom…boom…boom. So, I kept on writing and revising and my agent kept on submitting and at the end of 2017…boom…boom…boom. I sold three more books. And another in 2018.
And as the calendar page flips to 2019, my writing journey will be taking me around the world. In February, I’ll be flying to Sydney to speak at the Australia SCBWI conference, to Auckland to visit with a dear critique buddy and share my thoughts with SCBWI members there, to Switzerland to spend time with another kidlit friend, and then to the Bologna Book Fair.
I am jumping in again with both feet and my whole heart—but NOT jumping out of the plane, I hope!
My last thoughts to all of you are that perhaps there is a reason why the word ‘picture book’ starts with the letter P. For me, there are several key factors that contribute to turning your dream of becoming a published picture book author into a reality.
- Be PASSIONATE about what you are writing.
- Be PRODUCTIVE. Research one manuscript. Write another. Revise a third.
- Be PATIENT. This is a process that takes time. I wrote FOUR OTTERS TOBOGGAN: AN ANIMAL COUNTING BOOK in 2013—it launches on March 15, 2019. I penned PIPPA’S PASSOVER PLATE in 2014—its pub date is February 5, 2019. And my first book deal was signed in 2015, but SWEET DREAMS, SARAH won’t hit bookstore shelves until May 1, 2019.
- Be PERSISTENT. You will encounter lots of rejection. Embrace feedback. Be willing to revise, but stand firm on retaining your vision for the story. And never ever give up.
Vivian Kirkfield’s career path is paved with picture books. She shelved them at the library during her college years. She read them to her students when she taught kindergarten. And she writes them. She is the author of Pippa’s Passover Plate (Holiday House, February 2019); Four Otters Toboggan: An Animal Counting Book (PomegranateKids, March 2019); Sweet Dreams, Sarah (Creston Books, May 2019); Making Their Voices Heard: The Inspiring Friendship of Ella Fitzgerald and Marilyn Monroe (Little Bee Books, Spring 2020); and From Here to There: Inventions That Changed the Way the World Moves (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Fall 2020).
Vivian lives in the quaint New England village of Amherst, New Hampshire where the old stone library is her favorite hangout and her young grandson is her favorite Monopoly partner. You can visit her website at Picture Books Help Kids Soar where she hosts the #50PreciousWords Writing Challenge or connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, and Linkedin.
Late Bloomers are guest blog posts sharing thoughts and insights from individuals who have launched notable creative efforts in the arts in their Third Age. Late Bloomers defy age stereotypes and help show us the way to tap into our creativity using life experience, energy and positive attitudes. Thank you Vivian!