A sale, a story and some books

So, I recently sold a book. Which is always exciting.

But, this book sale was especially exciting because it was my 22nd sale.

Twenty-two books might seem like an odd milestone to celebrate. Why not 20 or 25? But, I have a reason.

When I went to my first-ever conference of the Wisconsin chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) I was terrified.

I didn’t know much of anything about the group or its members, but I knew I desperately wanted to write books for children. And, I was full of worries:

What if I didn’t fit in?

What if I was too new and the other people were super experienced and literary, and I was obviously out of place?

And — oh my goodness — I wouldn’t know anyone.

So I checked in and — I’m not even kidding — slunk into a back-row seat and stayed there for the vast majority of the conference. I learned things and met some friendly people, but I spent much of my time feeling slightly sick to my stomach.

Dori Chaconas

At one point, there was time for SCBWI members to stand up and share good news. A woman, who I had just learned was noted picture book author Dori Chaconas, stood up and shared that she’d just sold her 22nd book.

Everyone clapped, and I said to the person sitting next to me: “I want to BE Dori Chaconas.” The person responded: “EVERYONE here wants to be Dori Chaconas.”

Even, as a newbie, I figured that was true. So, I set that as a personal goal. Not to actually be Dori, of course, but to sell 22 of my own books.

Could I, a nobody who hadn’t sold anything at all, sell 22 books? I figured I could at least try.

For a long time, that seemed like an impossible goal. I spent the next four years reading and writing and researching and submitting and getting rejection after rejection after rejection. Some rejections were more encouraging than others, but they all ultimately said, “No.”

I earned 126 rejections during those four years before getting my first yes. And now, about 14 years after that first SCBWI meeting, I’ve sold my 22nd book. We’re in the middle of a pandemic, so I can’t announce it at a conference where people can clap, but posting it here is exciting.

Let’s be clear. I’m not Dori Chaconas. She’s her own, wonderful, inimitable self. And, I think she’s sold nearly 50 books by now. But, I met that seemingly unachievable goal. And, I’ve set new ones to take its place.

To celebrate, here are some of my favorite books by Dori. I read them when I was starting out, and I still read them today.

Christmas Mouseling — This is a delightful holiday story about a mama and baby mouse who lose their nest, but find a warm cozy spot to rest in the corner of a very special manger.

The story rhymes, and it has the sweetest refrain ever. I re-read this every Christmas season.

On a Wintry Morning — Dori is a master rhymer, and this book tells the story of a dad and his baby daughter having the best winter morning ever. Dori wrote it after watching her husband and their four daughters.

The rhyme scheme in this book directly inspired my book SHARING THE BREAD.

(Side note: I learned to rhyme by reading tons of rhyming books and poring over Dori’s rhyming instructions on her website. They are well worth checking out if you like to rhyme.)

Looking for Easter — This is a book about Easter that doesn’t mention the Easter Bunny or Easter eggs or chocolate candy or any of the religious aspects of the holiday.

You may think that’s impossible, but it’s not. This is one of the most precise and perfectly done picture books I’ve read.

All the Cork and Fuzz titles — Dori has an 11-book series of easy reader texts featuring Cork, a muskrat, and Fuzz, a possum, who are unlikely best friends and have all sorts of adventures. See the whole list here.

I hope you’ll join me in reading these and other books by Dori. And, I hope you’ll set a few writing goals for yourself this year if you’re a writer. Or a few reading goals if you’re a reader.

Want to make a public commitment? Share your goal in the comments section!

70 Comments:

  1. Congratulations, Pat! Thanks for sharing the sweet story if your first conference.

  2. I loved this post, Pat. I have the biggest smile and if you could hear me, I’d clap and whistle. Congratulations on your 22nd book sale. I want to be Dori too 🙂 My favorite book of hers is One Wintry Morning–the little girl looks a lot like my little girl and she was convinced this was *her* book.

    My goal this year is to encourage every person I meet, continue writing shorts, and spit-shine my historical so that it can go out on submission.

  3. Avatar
    Debra Kempf Shumaker

    Oh my gosh, I love this post, Pat!

    My goal, which I’ve never stated aloud, has a similar background as yours—my first conference. I felt so out of place, so “new” and in awe of anyone who was on a panel, like that would be totally out of reach. I mean, they were good enough to be faculty at a conference! So that has always been a dream of mine, to someday be “good” enough to be faculty at an SCBWI conference. (And the ultimate, unreachable goal – to be asked to be a key note speaker. I’ve written that speech for years now in the shower, LOL.)

    • Debra & Pat. I loved this story. Thanks for sharing. I will keep going, and keep submitting where appropriate, and keep this story in mind. As far as feeling like a fish out of water, and wondering if people will like you, I GET it! Try being a children’s songwriter that shows up hundreds of miles from home, at her first SCBWI Conference WITH puppets and fairy lights, as well as an astronaut jumpsuit to celebrate. Apollo 13 anniv.🤣I guess Kindie songwriters (kids & indie = kindie….NOT my choice of word) are a little more wild than many writers and illustrators. It worked out great & it’s where I first met in person, Jorge and Megan Lacera, who introduced me to attendees, and I realized that the SCBWI people have just as huge hearts as Kindies do. We both are trying to save the world and make it a better place. We compliment each other. We’re just weirder and like puppets and costumes at gatherings. Pat, I have learned so much from you these past 3 yrs, in webinars & blog posts…. as you can see, I failed your “cutting the fluff” class, but I did learn what makes a character tug on someone’s memories and heart. Congratulations on book 22! Smiling big time for you. Stay well all.🌎✌🏼🎶🎨📚

    • I bet you can reach those goals!

  4. Congrats, Pat! I remember how uncomfortable I was at my first conference. My “Dori Chaconas” at that conference was Karen Cushman, who began writing relatively late in life. She was so inspiring, I wanted to go up and hug her after her speech (of course I didn’t because I was too intimidated). And I agree about Dori’s masterful rhyming. I have a snippet from DON’T SLAM THAT DOOR in the Nuts & Bolts Guide — it’s so clever and fun to read aloud!

  5. Congratulations, Pat, on reaching your goal! Reading through the comments, it’s funny how so many of us experienced the same “beginning”…going to our first SCBWI conference, feeling out of place, questioning our “right” to be there. My Dori was Becky Janni who had just sold her first book. She was much younger than me, but during a First Page session when her editor, who was there with her, said my First Page wasn’t THAT bad, I thought MAYBE I wasn’t TOO old. LOL!! Now we’re in a critique group together.

  6. Congratulations on #22!

    You should pitch Lin Oliver for a regular contributor column with “What I Remember from my First SCBWI Conference” as the theme!

  7. I love this post so very much! Thank you for sharing! And congratulations…it makes my heart leap for joy when I hear that another PZM book is heading out into the world! You are a gift, my friend!

  8. I can so relate! Thanks for being so real -and congrats!!

  9. Pat–So very inspiring, in so many ways . . .thanks for the memories . . .

  10. I love Dori! And you’re right: her advice about rhyming is so helpful. Congratulations on #22, Pat!

  11. Woohoo!! You are such an inspiration, Pat! I just shared this post with one of my critique groups and they agree (and love your books as well). Here’s to 22×22 more!

  12. Congratulations, Pat! I look forward to hearing the details of this sale! And it’s great to always have a mentor.

  13. I love that you set a goal and reached it–and are celebrating your goal’s inspiration here! Going to check out more Dori Chaconas books–thanks for putting them on my radar.

  14. Congratulations Pat!!! You can’t hear it but I’m clapping for you!!

  15. Avatar
    Kathleen Mazurowski

    What a wonderful accomplishment (and post!). I was not familiar with Dori Chaconas, but now added to my library list. Congratulations!

  16. Congratulations, Pat! That is an amazing accomplishment. Thanks for being an inspiration.

  17. My first SCBWI conference more than 11 years ago I was critiqued by Dori. I had a lot to learn about writing picture books and she got me on the right path.
    I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again my friend. I want to be Pat Zietlow Miller when I grow up. Congrats and I so look forward to seeing you in-person soon.

  18. Clapping!! Congrats on #22, Pat–I’m sure there will be many more!

  19. This is so great to read and congrats on book #22!

  20. Congratulations Pat, on 22!! I love the story behind the number.

  21. Pat, this is so lovely. Thanks for sharing and congratulations on meeting that milestone! I still am so grateful for your friendship at my first LA-SCBWI conference. It meant the world!

    • Jackee — I remember saying to Erin that one of my highlights of that conference was meeting YOU. I’m a huge introvert, although I can fake extroversion for a while, and I was so glad to have you to sit by and talk to.

  22. Clapping loudly for you and hoping to be like you one day with 22 of my own :). xx

  23. Congratulations on your achievement Pat! I think so many of us can relate to those “first” conference feelings! I’m hoping for 22 one day, too!

  24. 22 books! Congratulations, Pat and I love your story about your first conference and inspiration behind this post.

  25. Clapping, clapping! Hooray! Big congratulations on this beautiful achievement!

  26. Congratulations Pat on #22!! Thank you for sharing your story. Pat, you are my inspiration! Here’s to reaching 22 someday. I’m on the slow road. 😉

  27. Congratulations, Pat! A hard-earned win is the best kind!

  28. Congratulations, Pat! A great many people (including me) have a goal to write as well as you. Thank you for your fabulous books.

  29. Congratulations on book #22, Pat! And thank you for an inspiring post. My library holds list just got longer!

  30. Congratulations Pat! Clapping & clapping…

  31. Congratulations! And thank you for sharing your story in this uplifting post (with book recommendations, no less!).

  32. Congrats on #22! Enjoy your success. You’ve earned it.

  33. What a wonderful backstory! Congratulations on #22, and here’s to many more!

  34. Avatar
    Karen Henry Clark

    Clapping. 22 times.

  35. Congratulations Pat! What an inspiring story!

  36. What a great way to set an unexpected goal. I think things like that can be easier to set eyes on and reach for, because then it’s unique to you. It’s like having an extra celebration when your birthday’s a non-milestone age.

  37. That’s so exciting, Pat, especially because YOU’RE my Dori Chaconas! I think “Wherever You Go” is one of the most perfect books I’ve ever read.

  38. Congrats on achieving your goal!! Cheers to your next 22!

  39. Avatar
    PATRICIA OPPENHEIM

    Congrats! Do you mind if I use you as my mentor and wish for 22 books for myself?

  40. Avatar
    Elizabeth Volkmann

    Congratulations, Pat! What a wonderful story of inspiration for those of us with stars in our eyes but a contract not yet on our desk! 🙂

  41. Oh, how I love this, Pat! CONGRATULATIONS!!!

  42. Hip, hip, hooray for the 22nd book!

  43. Congratulations, Pat! What a wonderful achievement by a wonderful person and author.

    My first conference was SCBWI Wisconsin. I felt much like you did. And when I attended 4 years ago, you were a presenter. I learned so much from you. I also had the privilege to sit with you on a boat in the darkness of the Wisconsin Dells as your Silver Kite Award was announced.

    I continue to look up to you and your work.

  44. Incredible! I would SO have been sitting on the back row worried, just like you were. Virtually standing to clap for you. I want to BE Pat Zietlow Miller! #22

  45. Clapping!

    Just requested some of her books and yours from the library…. 🙂 interested to learn more aboit rhyme! I love stories “in rhythm and rhyme”!

  46. What an inspiring post, Pat. It’s hard to believe you were ever in rejection rut. Thanks for your wonderful books and sharing memorable insights.

  47. Avatar
    MaryLee Flannigan

    Congratulations Pat ! Your story is similar to my first time at our WI SCBWI Conference- except- I wanted to be like Pat Zietlow Miller.

    Still working on that goal 🙂

  48. Great post! How nice that such a nice person inspired such a nice person!
    And both happen to be such wonderful picture book authors!

  49. I love your goal and I’m very happy for you. Selling 22 books sounds marvelous!

  50. Congratulations, Pat! What a wonderful and personally meaningful milestone.

  51. Congratulations, Pat! So impressive and so inspiring! You continue to teach and inspire me! Thank you!

  52. Great story. Thanks for sharing.

  53. I love everything about this, Pat. Congratulations!!!

  54. Congratulations, Pat!! I loved hearing why 22 is a milestone for you. It’s a great story and super inspiring.

  55. Congratulations, Pat! What a sweet victory. 🙂

  56. Congratulations, Pat! What an achievement!!!!

  57. Congratulations on your 22, Pat! Looking forward to reading the next 22.

  58. Congratulations Pat. You already know what an inspiration you have been to me. I’m on book #2, only 20 more to catch up to you. But seriously thanks for helping me along this journey.

  59. Congrats, Pat! You are an inspiration, as is Dori! 🙂

  60. Avatar
    Janet Frenck Sheets

    Your essays and Facebook posts are always so encouraging. I sometimes remind myself that you applied to at least three mentorships without being chosen — and now you’re publishing book #22! Thank you for showing us that disappointments and fears are not the same as failures.

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