Books sometimes have a winding path to publication, and I’m always inspired when I hear those journeys. For the author, it can be such a difficult roller coaster to go through, but it reminds us that when we work hard and persevere, our stories will find homes.
My most recent favorite story like this is from Nancy Tandon. Nancy and I met in 2017 when we were both anticipating our debut books to come out the following year. Mine, THE BOY, THE BOAT, AND THE BEAST, came out in June 2018, but Nancy’s, THE WAY I SAY IT, came out from Charlesbridge yesterday!
And the best part is, Nancy now has a double-debut year, since her second middle-grade book, THE GHOST OF SPRUCE POINT, is coming out from Aladdin on Aug. 2.
It’s a very inspiring and a perfect example of why “never give up” is always great advice for writers, so I’m thrilled to have Nancy on From the Mixed Up Files to talk about her journey.
Here’s what her two books are about:
THE WAY I SAY IT:
Rory still can’t say his r’s, but that’s just the beginning of his troubles. First Rory’s ex-best-friend Brent started hanging out with the mean lacrosse kids. But then, a terrible accident takes Brent out of school, and Rory struggles with how to feel.
Rory and his new speech teacher put their heads together on Rory’s r’s (not to mention a serious love of hard rock and boxing legend Muhammad Ali), but nobody seems to be able to solve the problem of Rory’s complicated feelings about Brent. Brent’s accident left him with brain-damage and he’s struggling. Should Rory stand up for his old friend at school–even after Brent failed to do the same for him?
THE GHOST OF SPRUCE POINT:
Twelve-year-old Parker has grown up in his family’s Home Away Inn, nestled on a wooded peninsula in Maine called Spruce Point. His best friend, Frankie, has been staying at the inn every summer for years with her family. Together, they’ve had epic adventures based out of a nearby old treehouse that serves as their official headquarters for Kids Confidential Meetings.
But lately, business at the inn hasn’t been great, and Parker is pretty sure he knows why. It’s long been rumored that Mrs. Gruvlig, one of the few year-rounders on Spruce Point, has unique abilities of the supernatural kind. And Frankie is absolutely sure she saw a ghost on Mrs. Gruvlig’s property! As more and more spooky happenings occur around the Point, Parker and Frankie are convinced Spruce Point has been officially cursed.
Samantha: Welcome to From the Mixed Up Files, Nancy. These books sound so great! Tell us about your inspirations for the two books you’ve got coming out this year.
Nancy: Thank you for having me here on the Mixed Up Files!
My former clinical work as a speech/language pathologist was the inspiration for THE WAY I SAY IT. In the outpatient setting, I worked with several kids with articulation disorders who specifically had trouble saying sounds in their first names. When I began to create my main character, I started with a question: What would middle school be like for a kid whose first name speech-sound difficulties persisted past early childhood?
My second novel, THE GHOST OF SPRUCE POINT, is my attempt to capture the magic and atmosphere of my children’s summer vacations on the coast of Maine. They were together with their cousins, and I watched in awe as the kids grew and changed each year as they explored the gorgeous natural playground of the peninsula where my parents retired. Another inspiration came from a news story I watched about kids with an uncommon allergy to the sun. The resilience of the kids in that interview stayed with me for years and kept coming back to my mind, almost insisting I do something with it! Finally, I did.
Samantha: We were originally in the same debut year, since your debut, THE WAY I SAY IT, was scheduled to come out in 2018 along with mine. What happened that pushed that book back?
Nancy: Ah yes, and I’ll never regret meeting you and the other wonderful 2018 debut authors!
But around that time, the small press that had bought my book was acquired as an imprint of a larger publisher. And the good news was, that new house was willing to take on my manuscript as part of the deal! I was relieved, happy, even excited about this chance to be published by a bigger house.
However, after a year of working to negotiate an addended contract, I still had not heard from my new editor. And the contract negotiations were spinning in circles. (At this point I was un-agented, and I had learned just enough from The Writer’s Legal Guide (a book I highly recommend) to know the offer on the table was not favorable to me). A while later, the second publisher decided not to move forward with my manuscript. My heart sank. I had told everyone I knew about this book deal. I had celebrated with champagne. And now, nothing.
Worse, I had to buy back the rights from the first publisher. (Which is completely on the up and up business-wise, by the way. And in truth, the editing done by that first house was worth the cost. But still, it was painful.) I was embarrassed, disheartened, and very close to giving up all together. I’d had a previous very enriching career as a speech/language pathologist. I began the process of reinstating my license.
Luckily, past me (the one who’d had a book contract and was all excited about kidlit) had signed up for two well-known New England spring conferences that year, NESCBWI and Whispering Pines. I forced myself to attend both.
After the New England conference, I earnestly studied the list of agents and editors who would be open to submissions from conference attendees and sent my work back out there. It felt like I was shouting into the wind, but at least I could still say I hadn’t given up. Not fully, not yet. Even though my heart did very much want me to.
The second conference, Whispering Pines, included a one-on-one consultation with an agent. I reached out with a plea to switch my original submission (the second novel I had been working on) to pages from my first (what I thought of now as failed) novel. The timing was early enough that the agent agreed.
That agent was Rachel Orr from Prospect Agency, who represented (among other amazing authors) a writing friend I’d met through the 2018 debut group: the one and only Samantha M Clark (The Boy, the Boat, and the Beast; Arrow)! You alerted Rachel ahead of time that she’d be meeting me and gave her the head’s up about my manuscript’s twisty past. It was absolutely an essential connection I’ll always be grateful for!
That meeting did not result in an offer of representation from Rachel. (I know! I wanted the story to go that way, too!) But, even better, it resulted in Rachel passing my work to a new agent at Prospect who responded to my work with the enthusiasm needed to take on a new client. I was agented at last!!
Samantha: Yay! I was happy to make that connection, and so glad it led to you signing with your agent. How did THE WAY I SAY IT find its new home with Charlesbridge?
Nancy: Karen Boss, an editor from Charlesbridge, was one of the editors I had submitted to as an NESCBWI attendee. After she reviewed my query and first chapters, she requested the full manuscript. Over the next several weeks, we exchanged emails as she kept me informed of where they were in the process. There were other in-house readers, and a presentation at their acquisitions meeting. Then finally it came. An email that made me shriek and cause a scene in the coffee shop where I was writing with a friend. Re: Offer…
This time, I didn’t have to negotiate the contract on my own, or spend money on a lawyer. My agent at the time, Emma Sector, made sure my interests were represented while also easing the process of getting back my rights to the work.
Everything looked great. Publication was set for 2021. I joined a third debut group. This was happening! But then, due to circumstances at the publishing house, the date of publication got pushed back to 2022. And then of course 2020 and 2021 happened, which weren’t great years to debut anyway (when you can, please show love to writers who did debut in the past two years!!). During this time, I also navigated an in-agency switch as Emma left agenting for a new adventure, and I gratefully landed in Charlotte Wenger’s web. And now: I have held my first novel in my hands. It is winging out into the world to have an adventure all its own. I’m at the copyedit stage of my second novel and am in love with the amazing cover art.
That is my very long answer to your short question! And yes, I can finally say: it was all worth it.
Samantha: So wonderful! Unlike most debut authors, you’re now in the unique position of having two middle-grade novels coming out this year. Tell us how THE GHOST OF SPRUCE POINT found its way to Aladdin.
Nancy: In early 2019, I spent time revising GHOST with my then agent, Emma Sector, who is also a wonderful editor. She really helped me get the manuscript in top shape. She had a very targeted list of editors to submit to, and in fall 2019 THE GHOST OF SPRUCE POINT sold within a week of being on submission, confirming the old adage: publishing is weird!
Samantha: What were the biggest challenges for you over the last few years during this process?
Nancy: The number one biggest challenge for me in all of this was not giving up. I’m usually a “half-full” kind of a gal, but there were times when it just felt like it made no sense to keep going. And it was hard to explain to people outside of publishing what was going on, and at times I honestly felt embarrassed. Where was this book I’d been talking about for years?
But then I’d have a good writing morning. Or my critique group would give me another shot of encouragement. (Or just another shot, haha.) I was also watching the trajectories of my 2018 debut friends, and learning that publication isn’t “the end,” but just a stop on the journey.
Samantha: I love that. So true. Are there any things that have happened that, while difficult at the time, you feel happy about now?
Nancy: In hindsight, I am grateful for the entire string of events that THE WAY I SAY IT had to endure. The book is much stronger than it would have been – in part because I am a stronger and better writer than I was in 2016. And also because of all the talented people who had a hand in helping it and me along the way. I’m so grateful that I got to work with Karen Boss (editor at Charlesbridge) because she pushed me to elevate the work in ways I couldn’t have on my own.
Samantha: Do you have advice for other authors who are going through similar situations?
Nancy: Do. Not. Give. Up. And if you’ve read this far, you can always say to yourself, “well, what’s happening to me isn’t as bad as that one lady who was in four different debut groups. If she can keep going, so can I!”
But seriously, when you are feeling especially disheartened, dig down to the reasons you came to this endeavor in the first place. For me, it boils down to the joy of writing and the incredible people I have met. Once I placed those two things front and center, I knew I could go on forever, whether I was published or not.
Samantha: What are you doing to celebrate your double debut year?
Nancy: I am drinking all the champagne and saying YES to everything that comes my way! I’m also planning a special trip with my husband, who has been an incredible support through it all.
Samantha: Are you working on other future books that you can talk about yet?
Nancy: Nothing I can talk about yet, but I do have a manuscript for a third book that I’m revising. It’s another middle grade and I’m in love with the main character, a girl who is searching for home and finds it in an unexpected place. “Found family” is one of my favorite themes of all time!
Samantha: That sounds wonderful. And finding a home in an unexpected place is exactly what happened with your publishing career. Congratulations on your double-debut year.