Friday, February 17, 2023

A New Year...An Upcoming Book - Anatomy of a Book's Journey

Moving Forward in the New Year!  

Here we go…2023 is here and I am on a speeding train toward the book launch of my first book that sold in July of 2018.  It’s been a long time coming and certainly not without its own story, replete with the twist and turn of not ending up being my debut book.  So where did it all begin?  Well, with my very own teaching author of course!  Here’s the anatomy of a picture book sale for an author who wondered if it really could be done. 

Chance meetings and serendipity have always been my friends. As a public school teacher in Los Angeles, Otis College of Art and Design allows teachers to take one free extension class a semester. In 2017, I attended an open house ready to sign up for a painting class.  It had been a long time since I had explored my ideas on canvas.  It was a life I had wandered away from once I had a child in 2001. I was ready to add a little pizzaz to my life, to reclaim that part of me that had slumbered through my child’s childhood. I meandered through the tables exhibiting the offerings, awake and alive to the endless possibilities of reentering a formal learning environment.  And then I happened upon Deborah Nourse Lattimore and my life took a new turn.  

I had been exploring writing for children and I had been putting the work in to learn the craft. It was work.  Enjoyable work…but work, nonetheless. I had no intention on that day to add to my workload. I was looking for delight. But, Deborah was pure delight and I found myself signing up for her class instead of the painting class I had intended.  I was about to find myself at a new level of a career that I had been dabbling with, wanting to be serious but unable to find the next level.

Deborah Nourse Lattimore is the author-illustrator of almost 40 children’s books and has taught writing for years. Her gift as a teacher is to recognize each students level and extend their reach in a non-judgmental, nurturing, and loving way.  Deborah creates the conditions for good writing to occur without the student knowing that it’s happening. The growth is organic and authentic and not performative, process over product. I thrived. 

After studying with her for months, I took a risk and randomly asked her if she ever recommended her students to an agent whom she was friends with. She said, “Sometimes.” I ventured further, “Would you consider recommending me?”  I braced for the very real possibility of a no.  But there it was.  My first yes.  

That December I travelled to Egypt to visit my father and extended family.  Egyptian Lullaby tumbled out of me as a full-blown manuscript. I could hardly keep up. It was my love letter to Cairo. 

Abigail Samoun of Red Fox Literary was still looking at some of my weaker manuscripts when Deborah encouraged me to send her Egyptian Lullaby. Abigail’s response was positive, and my timing was on point. Abi was traveling to New York that week to meet  with editors.  She asked if she could take my manuscript with her. It was a resounding yes from me which resulted in 5 interested editors from leading publishing houses. I naively expected an immediate sale.  


Some clean up and revisions were necessary.  Time passed…editors passed on it…and the manuscript stalled. Knowing that rejection is a part of an author’s lifestyle and accepting that every turn is an adventure kept me out of the trough of despair and imposter syndrome. But time kept passing and nothing was happening. Then we got a bite, but a full rewrite was required. I’m always up for the challenge and adventure so I jumped in and responded to the editor’s direction.  The manuscript was significantly different, but I liked the changes and was willing to let go of the original story. 

We were ready to cross the finish line when Emily Feinberg contacted us. Egyptian Lullaby seemed like it belonged at Roaring Brook Press. A different manuscript that I had in my collection of manuscripts seemed like it was better suited for the original editor whom I had worked with.  So, I ended up with two sales. 

As it turned out, my instincts were right.  The version of Egyptian Lullaby that ended up as a picture book was the original version, illustrated by the extremely talented Hatem Aly.  

Ironically, Hello, Little One: A Monarch Butterfly Story became my beautiful debut picture book
stunningly illustrated by Fiona Halliday. It unfortunately came out on May 12, 2020, just as the pandemic lockdown kicked into full swing, almost three years before Egyptian Lullaby which is due out on April 18th of this year. 

It is a delight to revisit the journey of my first book and honor the people responsible for it. 

This blog post is dedicated to Deborah Nourse Lattimore, my unrelenting mentor who makes me feel like I can write anything, Abigail Samoun, my amazing agent who believes in me, guides me, supports my decisions, gives me the belief that there are unlimited possibilities always possible and helps me bear all the rejections that go with this path, and Emily Feinberg, who took my original manuscript and made it into something I could never have imagined it would be.  

My love for the three of you is immeasurable and my respect is boundless. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

By Zeena M. Pliska


Carmela Martino said...

Thanks for sharing your book's story, Zeena. I look forward to reading it when it comes out!

Tina Cho said...

Loved hearing the back story, Zeena. Congrats!

April Halprin Wayland said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
April Halprin Wayland said...

Fabulous, and congratulations, dear Zeena! I love Deborah, she knows so much and shares generously, but I hadn't heard specifically how wonderful she is as a teacher. (I've always called her "Woman on 20 cups of coffee). Can't wait for your book signings

Abigail Samoun said...

It was wonderful revising the journey this book has taken--it's been so long I'd forgotten some of the twists and turns! (Like the fact that an editor had you revise the book so extensively before Emily swept in and made an off on the original version.) I'm so proud of these two books and of all the good work you've done since those first sales. We will have many more to celebrate.