I so appreciate that complete strangers will allow me to count them as friends! Often, I see a mention of a new book and I boldly contact the author, asking if he/she/they would be willing to be my Friend Friday guest. That’s what happened with Patricia Hruby Powell and her newest picture book biography, Lift as You Climb: The Story of Ella Baker, illustrated by R. Gregory Christie (McElderry/Simon and Schuster). And like nearly every other book creator I approach, Patricia promptly agreed! Not only that, she answers once and for all that question every book creator gets ask: how long does it take? Read on, friends!
Adventures of a Manuscript with Timeline
How long does it take to write a book?
I have on my computer ten numbered drafts of my picture book biography, Lift As You Climb: The Story of Ella Baker (McElderry/Simon & Schuster, June 2020) illustrated by the sublime R. Gregory Christie.
July 2013 My friend Shelley told me about Ella Baker. I fell in love with this civil rights activist, contemporary of Dr. Martin Luther King, but 29 years older. Not only did Baker work for the black vote, she struggled to work with strong men who weren’t accustomed to working alongside women. Ella believed in working with the “common” people—maids and clerks and laborers—and guided them to become leaders. Grassroots!
February 2014 – Draft #1, I wrote as a picture book.
July 2014 – Draft #3 was the first to get a title: ELLA BAKER AND HER STRONG CLEAR VOICE.
April 2015 – Draft #4. I revised the title: ELLA BAKER: LIFTING AS WE CLIMB and doubled the number of words to 2500, feeling it would work better as a book for older readers.
June 2015 – Draft #6 was critiqued by my group. I made revisions. (I was also writing and revising other works along the way).
August 2015 – Draft #7, I sent to my agent, Anna, who wisely asked for some revisions before sending it out to my nearest and dearest editor, Melissa at Chronicle, who raised questions which, if answered would send the story in quite a different direction. And, did I mention? She rejected it.
December 2015 – Draft #8. I sort of addressed Melissa’s questions, but I don’t think I fully understood the direction she wanted. I revised and returned it to Anna who asked more questions which I attempted to address.
January 2016 – Draft #9 was rejected by seven editors, (including Melissa). All editors were encouraging and said they would “like to publish something” of mine (which is flattering and hopeful, but I was concerned with this manuscript). Then Katherine from Roaring Brook asked if I’d be willing to work with her edits. Yes, I was! We worked well together. Our ideas aligned. Without a contract, we passed the manuscript back and forth until we were both delighted with it. Katherine wanted this to be accepted without question.
July 2016 – Draft #10, our beautiful manuscript was rejected. (Gnashing of teeth, drinking of cocktails). In the meantime, six more editors rejected Draft #9, but Anna and I loved Draft #10, so she continued to send it out. We received a few more rejections, and then in
September 2016 Karen from McElderry/Simon&Schuster offered a contract. She felt it needed very little editing because it was in such good shape. It now came out at 1350 words.
This is all to say, Don’t give up. Even when that fine fish drops off the hook, you know how to do this. Keep writing (and/or illustrating) and you will land a fine fish. Or contract. Or book.
So, how long did it take to write and have a book in hand?
June 2020 – Seven years for this one.
Patricia Hruby Powell was formerly a dancer, storyteller, and librarian. Her four latest books are Junior Library Guild Selections and have all won numerous awards. Forthcoming are Cave of the Heart: The Story of Martha Graham (Chronicle Books 2023) and a Women’s Suffrage project (Chronicle 202x). She has been a mentor for WNDB and SCBWI-MI. She is married to Morgan Powell, composer and jazz trombonist. Together, they live with their Tree Walking Hound, Lil, in Champaign, Illinois. You can learn more about Patricia by visiting her at Twitter or her website.