I am so pleased to introduce you to Holly Niner. She and I met eons ago at a book festival in Kentucky. We hit it right off and, in fact, had so much fun together, I conned her into staying over an additional night so we could keep hanging out!
Holly’s got a new book coming out, Jackson’s Noisy Nighttime Guests, (no pub date yet) which is fabulous news. I wanted you to meet Holly because her story is the story of so many of us, trying to carve out a career in writing books for children and young adults.
What launched you as a writer?
I think my writing started with reading. I’ve always been a reader from the flashlight in bed as a child to sneaking a few pages in the bathroom when my kids were small. When you fall in love with stories I think you wish you could write one someone else would fall in love with. When my children came along reading to them was huge (good behavior earned extra books read at bed), but I didn’t make up stories to tell them; actually my husband did.
So what moved you from passionate reader to writer?
I can’t remember why, although maybe because I had dabbled in poetry, my mom sent me info about the Institute of Children’s Literature (ICL) class. I did the class (graduated 1992) when my kids were preschool age and found I did enjoy writing and I did have stories come to mind. What I didn’t have was a good grasp of the business of writing or a thick skin. When rejections piled up and some major life changes happened I stopped.
This is a story I’ve heard before. It is discouraging at times. What got you going again?
When we moved to Fort Wayne, our children were in first and second grade and I went back to work PRN, which is as needed, as a speech therapist in long term care. So I was able to work only while they were in school and not work vacations, holidays etc. I generally worked 6 hrs/3 days a week. Life was busy with work, school volunteering etc so I didn’t think much about writing. Then Medicare changed how it was paying for services in long term care, and my work dried up.
Since we did not want me to work a full time or even part time job because it is not flexible and being there for the kids was important, I suddenly had a lot of time on my hands. I started thinking about writing again, but decided this time I would learn more about the business side. When I began writing I had toddlers and so was only writing in the wee hours. Now that they were older, I had days while they were at school to devote to it. I also credit Alphasmart. Have you ever seen one? Just a tiny light word processor that ran on AA batteries. With it I could write while waiting at piano lessons etc. I’m not as good at using my time now, as I was then!
What changed when you started up again?
As I mentioned, I had taken time to educate myself about the business of writing, which included targeting my submissions more carefully, among other things. I began to get the encouraging rejections from magazine submissions, then some magazine acceptances and then my first book offer in 2003, from Albert Whitman. The next offer, also from Whitman, followed quickly. So I thought I had opened the door, only to find I didn’t even have my foot in it. My next book offer did not come until 2012! And that offer was for a manuscript I sent in 2009; that Shari and I worked on in 2009. But it was 2012 before her small press was able to make an offer.
Wow! Talk about persistence. Tell us about that time.
During the years between 2003 and 2012, I had an agent and lost an agent, added to my growing pile of well over 200 rejections (book and magazine), and accumulated a stack of picture book manuscripts – some I still love, some I don’t! Sometimes when I have time for writing I’m frozen: should I write, learn more about writing, research markets, re-submit manuscripts?
Any words of encouragement/insight?
Writing is often discouraging and having special writing friends has helped me persevere when I was ready to quit. Such friends are always there to listen, encourage and suggest ways I might move forward.
And you never know where you might meet them — sometimes, even in the restaurant of a Holiday Inn in Bowling Green, Kentucky!
Thanks for sharing your story of determination, Holly. And we can’t wait to celebrate that new book with you!
What a story of persistence! Thank you, ladies, for sharing.
Persistence with a capital P. Essential trait in this businsess! Thank you, Holly, for sharing your story – and thank you, Kirby, for sharing Holly!
So glad to hear that persistence Pays OFF!! GOing to forward this to my writers group. Many of us need to hear your story. Thanks, HOlly & Kirby!