It only took an idea for a character and some light pestering from Abby Cooper’s students in Chicago to bring her novel to life. The Plymouth-native is back in St. Paul with a newly published middle-grade novel, Sticks & Stones, and a second one planned for next summer. Find out how the 27-year-old former school librarian took off on this career path in this weeks Who The Folk?!
Where did the idea come from to write this book?
I’ve always wanted to be a writer. Ever since I was little I liked writing stories and I wanted to be an author. It was more of a hobby growing up and never thought I would get published because that seemed so far-fetched. It was something I did for fun. I had an awesome job as a school librarian in Chicago (at Anshe Emet Day School), which combined interests of working with kids and books. I was there the year “Wonder” came out which is a popular middle-grade book. I couldn’t keep it on the shelf and they constantly coming in saying “I need more books like this.” I had a story brewing in my head for a while. The kids said “I need more books like ‘Wonder,'” and I said “I’m going to try and write you one.” Kids are the best motivation. They came in day after day asking how it was going. It kept me on my toes. I’ve been telling kids in my presentations that if there’s a book that’s not out there that you want to be out there you can either write it yourself or bug your teachers. I wanted to tell a story of someone feeling different because at that age, a lot of kids can relate to that. I wanted to give them another character who was very different and made the most of it, and came out on top.
What is it about that age that is such a challenge from what you’ve seen?
There’s a lot going on for kids that age. They are trying to figure out where they fit in, in terms of school and friends and interests and hobbies. There’s so many options that it seems overwhelming at times. Navigating different friends and friend groups, the dynamics change. One other thing I noticed was how kids were treating themselves at that age. There was a girl at the school I worked at who was eying a book in the library and I asked her if she was going to check it out. She said “No, I’m too dumb to read that.” That made me sad. I wanted to write a book where they are encouraged to be kind to each other, but also themselves. Kids are thinking about themselves and their place and where they fit in. If it’s not going like it should, they internalize and self-esteem can suffer. I wanted to write a book that addressed that.
Is this the first book in a series?
This was just a one-time book. My book deal is for two books, so I have a second one coming out next summer (July 18, 2017). It’s called “Bubbles.” I was looking for something to appeal to a different audience. It’s a contemporary story that takes place in the real world. I’m hoping that if people like (“Sticks and Stones”) they’ll like (“Bubbles”).
What’s the process to get a book deal?
I had no idea what I was doing. I wrote it, and sent it to a couple friends. I was able to find people online; There’s something called National Novel-Writing Month in November, which is how I was able to buckle down. It’s a huge thing across the world where everyone tries to write a 50,000-word novel in a month. There are competitions to see who can write the most. You don’t win anything but I was inspired. I found some people on message boards to read it and someone had great suggestions. I got into Twitter as a tool to build a community amongst librarians. I found a contest there where you submit a manuscript and if you won, you got mentored by a published author for a month. I kind of applied and was chosen. She taught me how to revise, how to write a query letter to introduce yourself to agents, how to write a pitch. The fun thing is the contest is going on now and I’m a mentor.
All the entries were posted on a blog and agents can go through and comment if they wanted to see more. I got zero. It’s about finding the exact, right fit. I started querying, which is the traditional method to find an agent. I got 69 rejections. I decided I was going to send out 70 before decided to write something else. No. 70 responded immediately. I talked to her on the phone, she loved it and wanted to work with me. All you need is one response. I revised it for another 3-4 months before sending it out to publishers, and there were more rejections. It just takes one yes sometimes. An editor at McMillan signed on and they saw potential because they offered a two-book deal. It’s a fascinating process.
Once you get a book deal, it’s about a year-and-a-half before it comes out. There’s all these little steps along the way.
Given the timeline, is the next book written?
I just turned in my copy edits, so it’s on the way.
How do you process that one book just came out and the next is on the way?
I don’t know. I’m figuring it out. I still haven’t processed that this is a published book that I wrote! Every time I got to Barnes & Noble, I stand there and stare at it. It doesn’t seem real.
Do you want to say to random people ‘That’s me, I wrote that’?
My parents do that. I let them handle it. They are my unofficial publicists. They’ve sold so many books.
What’s successful for an author?
It varies for genre to genre and book to book. It depends on how big the advance was and how big the run was. I haven’t really asked for numbers because I don’t want to know. I figure if I’m doing really well or not well someone will let me know. On a personal level, success is hearing people talk about on social media or the internet. It’s gotten great reviews. It was written up on the Barnes and Noble kids blog. I get emails from kids saying they enjoyed it. For me, that’s success.
Favorite Jewish holiday?
Rosh Hashanah, because of my mom’s brisket.
Favorite Jewish food?
The brisket. It’s really good brisket. Now that I’m in Minnesota I can take the leftovers home.Click here to nominate your favorite TC Jew to be featured on our weekly Who the Folk?! series!