To share the story of my publishing journey, I want to describe for you the events of the morning of July 21, 2011 – and to do this, I need to begin by taking you back to 1986, back to when I was in grade 7 and when I first started submitting my work for publication.
I was lucky enough to have workshopped a middle-grade adventure novel that I’d written with the highly-acclaimed Canadian author Janet Lunn who had visited the students of Whitby Senior Public School to run a workshop for aspiring writers. At about the same time, my friends and I were heavily into the hysterically funny books of Gordon Korman. When I learned that Gordon’s first big publishing break had been with Scholastic when he was 13 years old, that was just the push I needed to set me off down my own road.
I begged my poor mum to type out my entire novel – which I was excited to then call a “manuscript” – and to photocopy it for me 3 times. (I may have been an optimistic 12-year-old but even then, I was going to do whatever it took to increase the odds in my favour.) I submitted a copy each to Scholastic Canada, Kids Can Press and Grolier (the only other publishing company I could think of.) None of them wanted to publish it – although they all sent very nice and encouraging rejection letters (which brought me a somewhat odd excitement, knowing they might be – and actually were – the first of hundreds of rejections I would accumulate over my career. It was a significant step for me to get those first few out of the way.)
Over 20 years later – also 2 degrees in English Literature/Creative Writing and 3 kids later – I found myself writing children’s picture books and beginning to tentatively submit again. At this point, I also sent some of my stories to writing competitions, hoping that if my work received recognition, that might help me when approaching a publisher. In April 2009, I sent 3 stories to the children’s writing competition of The Writers’ Union of Canada (TWUC) – a large national competition in which the winners received a nice cash prize and their stories were submitted to 3 publishers. I didn’t win.
But in 2010, I received news that my story “Skink on the Brink” had placed second in the children’s writing category of the Writers’ Federation of New Brunswick’s competition. This was my first real big break – not Gordon Korman with Scholastic big, but big enough for me to get on a plane and fly out to Fredericton for the awards. Feeling that I had now finally written something publishable, in April 2010, I submitted “Skink on the Brink” to the TWUC competition. Again, I didn’t win.
At the same time, I was getting my work out elsewhere. Using the feedback I received from several contest judges, I had revised my rhyming story about a little girl who asks for a polar bear for Christmas and it had caught the attention of Donna Francis at Tuckamore Books in Newfoundland. And I met Christie Harkin, editor at Fitzhenry and Whiteside at Word on the Street in Toronto. I asked Christie about the kinds of stories she was looking for and we agreed that “Skink on the Brink” might be a good fit. She invited me to submit it to her personally. I rushed home and spent a couple of weeks revising “Skink” before sending it to her. In April 2011, I decided it might be worth submitting the new revision to the TWUC competition yet again.
Which brings me to the morning of July 21, 2011. I was packing for an anniversary trip that Marc and I were taking to Peru when I received an email from Donna Francis saying that she really loved the revisions I had made to the polar bear story and – as I can quote directly because, of course, the email is still saved to my laptop – “I’m ready to send you a contract for review.”
I picked up the phone and called Marc at work and, not long after he managed to make sense of the dolphin noises I was making through the phone, my call waiting indicator beeped. I glanced at the caller ID and saw that it was the Writers’ Union calling. Why would the Writers’ Union be calling? Do they call every author who has just been offered a contract? How do they know? I left Marc while I took the call, the call in which Nancy McLeod informed me that “Skink on the Brink” had won first place in TWUC’s Writing for Children competition. However, I was not to tell anyone until the official press release on July 26.
As you might expect, Marc received a second call from his dolphin-sounding-wife and promised that we would go out to celebrate that evening. In the meantime, I tried to continue packing, avoided friends and neighbours (as I’m not very good at keeping secrets) and posted a cryptic message on Facebook about this being the fifth best day of my life. (You will remember I have 3 children and, of course, the fabulous dolphin-decoder man that I married.)
We went out for dinner and a drink (or three) and returned home that evening with me feeling absolutely euphoric. However, the day was not yet over and, when I checked my email, there was a message from Christie Harkin who had obviously seen my Facebook post. Her subject line was simply, “So you’re having a good day, huh?” Attached to the email was a contract for Skink on the Brink, the picture book.
Now 7 years and 10 published books later, my next book will be published by Scholastic Canada (just like Gordon Korman… well almost.) Fierce: Women who Shaped Canada will be available in January 2019 and will include wonderful art by Willow Dawson. (And I’m starting to wonder if I should be polishing off and revising something that I could maybe submit to Grolier.)
Lisa Dalrymple is a wandering, wondering, dabbling, babbling, addle-brained author and mind-muddled mum. Often her travels lead to new adventures she can share with young readers. She has written over 10 works of fiction and non-fiction for children including Jungle Jitters, Be the Change in the World and Skink on the Brink, which won the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators’ 2014 Crystal Kite Award for Canada. Her upcoming book Fierce: Women who Shaped Canada will be published by Scholastic Canada in 2019.