Our chat with Sheila...
I wrote my first manuscript in 2002 at the age of 32 but had been desperate to write for children for as long as I can remember ... at least since I was 10 years old in 1980. I’d worked as a journalist for a long time so seeing my name in print wasn’t the dream; writing a novel that would keep a kid stuck to the chair and turning the pages was my goal. I didn't know I'd go through 6 manuscripts and over 100 rejections before getting that phone call from my agent in May 2019 that an editor at Scholastic Press in New York had fallen in love with FRIEND ME and wanted to publish it.
Jennifer Laughran is with the oldest children’s agency in the US, Andrea Brown Literary. Jenn had given me some positive feedback on a sample I submitted when I took one of her Writer’s Digest webinars about writing for children. I knew I wanted to query Jenn because my research at publishersmarketplace.com showed she was one of the most successful children’s agents in the industry. I queried her in December 2015 and we met that same month at Big Sur Children’s Writers Workshop in California, where she offered representation.
Jennifer and I both loved the manuscripts of mine that we went on submission with, but neither found a publisher. I tried to keep writing but was really downhearted after that and had some other personal challenges going on; I gave up writing for about 6 months in 2018 but started playing around with a new manuscript when I was on an airplane to visit my family in the US. I realised an hour had gone by that was the happiest I'd spent in months; it finally felt good to write again and I haven't stopped since. Almost exactly one year later, we had the offer from Scholastic on that same manuscript that I had started at 30000 feet.
“I was screaming as I read, saying, ‘This can’t be happening!’”
Take every opportunity for feedback on your work from an agent or editor. It is goldust and will help you know what you’re doing well and what needs work. Read widely and request books from your library if you can’t afford to buy them.