Late Bloomer interview: Author Dionna Mann

Author Dionna Mann

***Late Bloomers are guest blog posts at A is for Aging—sharing thoughts and insights from individuals who have launched notable creative efforts in the arts in their Third Age.***

Today we have a delightful interview of late blooming children’s  author Dionna Mann with questions from fellow author Kellye Crocker. It includes helpful info on writing “work for hire” projects! Read on!

Hey, Dionna! We’re shaking things up today. I love reading your Blog Party interviews of your fellow authors! Now we want to hear from you!

That’s nice of you, Kellye! To be honest, I love interviewing, but hate being interviewed. HAHA! But here I am!

It is different to be on the other side, isn’t it? Ha! Before we get to the juicy author-y questions, please fill us in about the blog itself. You’ve been doing it since 2013, right?

When I started my website and blog (free through Weebly) I had no idea what to post. I absolutely did not want to fill it with my own musings about the kidlit industry or life or whatever. After months of staring at a blinking cursor, I decided to recycle some of my published articles about the craft.

by Dionna Mann

After a while I realized there are gobs of blogs in cyberspace devoted to the kidlit industry. Obviously, my little lily pad was not needed. But after falling in love with the marvelous picture book MARVELOUS CORNELIUS, I got a marvelous idea. Why not have a BLOG PARTY for this amazing work of art?!

by Phil Bildner & John Parra

The author, Phil Bildner, and the illustrator, John Parra, were keen on the idea. For seven days, I interviewed someone who had a share in creating MARVELOUS CORNELIUS (which went on to win all kinds of awards, mind you!) My Blog Party was a BIG hit! After that I knew I’d use my blog to celebrate children’s books that I love.

A week of interviewing people involved in the same wonderful project is such a great idea! So how did you find your way into becoming a kidlit author and why do you love it?

In high school I had a creative writing workshop with a published author, Mort Castle. I never had thought of myself as a writer, though I had fun writing for the school newspaper. But when the instructor read my scribblings, he made me believe I had voice, and that it was special. I never heard that before, but okay.

Yay for encouraging teachers and other adults who help young people see their talents! 

I agree! As that course was wrapping up, Mr. Castle showed us how to submit our work using WRITER’S MARKET. I remember showing him my rejection letter that encouraged me to submit something else. I was not impressed, but he was. He told me I should resubmit. But I was discouraged and threw it in the trash.

Dionna, 1988

I understand the discouragement. But, wow, a personalized encouraging rejection letter? That’s amazing, especially for your first time out, and as a teen at that! 

Looking back, it was cool! Fast forward to the late 90s, my husband purchased a family computer. I pulled out my high school manuscripts, and retyped them on this brand new, fancy contraption that came with a backspace that did not involve whiteout strips.

Then using another new contraption called dial-up Internet, I discovered Lee & Low Book’s (very first) New Voices Contest (opens May 1st). I wrote something new for the first time since high school, and sent it off. And guess what? I got a personal rejection letter encouraging me to submit something else.

This time I was impressed! It really was a wonderful rejection—with specific things the editors liked and advice on making the story suitable for kids. And here I am, still writing manuscripts with the goal of one day having Lee & Low say YES!

I can understand why you would be. What project of the heart are you working on?

To be honest, I’m a little sidetracked with work-for-hire projects right now. I’ve had TWELVE since the pandemic started, which has helped with being stuck at home, but not so much with getting projects of the heart written.

TWELVE!? Do you sleep!?

Sometimes I wish I didn’t have to!

by Dionna Mann

“WORK FOR HIRE” WRITING FOR CHILDREN’S BOOKS

Ha! Wouldn’t it be nice to have all that extra time? For those who don’t know, can you briefly explain what work-for-hire is?

Sure! Basically, work-for-hire is when a publisher pays you a set fee to write something specific for them. There are no royalties and the publisher owns the complete rights of the work. In my experience, most of the manuscripts are for books in a series designed for the educational market.

The contract tells you beforehand exactly what the topic will be, the scope of the work, and/or the theme the work will need to include. There is always a strict word count, sometimes right down to how many words per spread. And there is almost always a certain reading level you must obtain

Usually there’s a super-tight, non-flexible deadline to be met—first for turning in the outline, then for the draft, and then for the revision. You work very closely with your editor on these titles. The editor ensures your outline and text fits the mold of the series.

We’d love to know a bit about your specific work-for-hire projects. Are they aimed at kids? Do you get an author credit? What topics are you tackling?

For the children’s book market, I am just getting started. My first book, ORCAS, came out by Scholastic Press in 2019. To date, I’ve written for Scholastic, Lerner, Capstone, Little, Brown, Curriculum Associates, WETA, and Core Knowledge. Projects have included fiction and nonfiction books for kindergarten through fifth grade, with word counts from 350 to 10,000 words.

by Dionna Mann

I have covered all kinds of topics! Rhythmic gymnastics, conserving water, space explorers, electric cars, wheelchair basketball, tumbleweeds, potty training, and more! And yes, I have gotten author credit, though I know that with some books your name is not on the cover.

When and how did you get started in the work-for-hire arena? Do editors come to you with assignments or do you pitch ideas? What are the deadlines like?

Previously, I had sent samples “blind” to educational publishers, and had received some nice feedback, but it wasn’t until an SCBWI friend of the pen referred me to Stephanie Fitzgerald of Spooky Cheetah Press that my work-for-hire journey began.

(Recently, I had a nice surprise. An acquiring editor at Curriculum Associates reached out to me after she had read my article about drones collecting whale snot in Spider! It’s not always about who you know! HAHA!)

Regarding deadlines—some of them are quite brutal, honestly. But the more I do these projects, the more I’m learning how to streamline the research, striving to stay clear of those endless research rabbit holes. Working on one project at a time helps me, and not taking on projects with back-to-back deadlines.

So far, all ideas have originated with the editor. Never in a million years would I have attempted to write about how electric cars work, otherwise! That may change in the future. One editor recently invited me to tell her if I have any ideas for a future series. (Now, if only I can think of something!)

Besides meeting deadlines, what qualities do you think are essential for being a successful work-for-hire author?

Be ready to kill your darlings, because changes to what you’ve written will come. (AKA: Don’t be an author diva! Be ready with kindness. After all, we do hope editors will want to work with us again, right?)

by Dionna Mann

PICTURE BOOK WRITING

Thank you for the sneak peek into the work-for-hire world! Now tell us about the project of the heart you’re working on.

I have two projects of the heart brewing in the wee brain. One will be a middle-grade based on my childhood—missteps while trying to fit in with the popular girls. It will have the theme that one good friend is worth more than a ton of phony ones. It will be historical fiction, but I hope the theme will be relevant in our age of social media.

Those themes of fitting in will always resonate, I think. I certainly relate! 

I also have a picture book I just finished about an Antebellum community of free persons of color that thrived near the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. It will be full of light and love and respect for the laborer and will have the theme of the land welcoming all kinds of people in.

Just reading your description makes me happy! I hope you’re able to find time for both of these wonderful projects, Dionna!

Me too!

RAVEN QUILL LITERARY AGENCY

What do you love about working with Kelly Dyksterhouse and Jacqui Lipton of Raven Quill Literary?

Lit Agent Jacqui Lipton

I need two agents, apparently! I’m privileged to be represented by both of them. Kelly and Jacqui respect each other’s opinions and both are on the lookout for where to submit my work. How cool is that?

I’m so glad Kelly and Jacqui have helped you trust your writing and your voice. Thank you so much Dionna, for sharing a bit of your journey as a late blooming kidlit author!

It was my pleasure!

–Read Dionna’s fun “BLOG PARTY” interviews of her fellow authors represented by agent Kelly Dyksterhouse on her blog. (This includes lucky me and Kellye.)

Lit Agent Kelly Dyksterhouse

–Interested in writing Work for Hire? Here’s a great blog post from Lerner Books.

Resources for late blooming writers

***Late Bloomers defy age stereotypes and help show us the way to tap into our creativity using life experience, energy and positive attitudes.

“Creativity keeps us fresh, keeps us alive, keeps us moving forward.”

(Rollo May, psychotherapist and author of Courage to Create.)

 

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