What are your New Year’s book geek goals?

I’ve always been a book geek.

When I was young, that involved walking to the bookmobile and trying to convince the librarian to let me check out more books than the rules allowed.

It also involved visiting the public library whenever my parents could take me. That’s where they got me an adult card rather than a child’s so I could take as many books as I could carry home with me.

But, I didn’t just read those books.

I read everything I could. Magazines, newspapers, brochures, cereal boxes, junk mail. In fact, the first time I had to do a demonstration speech on a hobby, I loaded my backpack with all these items and shared my passion for the written word.

Maybe that’s why I wasn’t invited to more parties.

But, I honestly didn’t care. Who needed parties when there were words? I remember having to put books down and stop reading because I was so in awe of how the writer had turned a phrase or constructed a sentence.

And, sometimes, I’d laugh out loud. Not because the sentence was funny, but because I especially liked a particular combination of words on the page.

Eventually, I started writing myself.

In fourth grade, I wrote awkward stories about a cat named “Salt” and a dog named “Pepper.” (Guess what colors they were?) Around that same time, I wrote terrible songs with my sister about sisters named Madeline and Adeline. I read “If Life Is a Bowl of Cherries, What am I Doing in the Pits?” and then tried to write essays that sounded like Erma Bombeck. All I remember is that one of them made my mother mad.

But, in fifth grade, I wrote a poem about a yellow duck on the run from the law that made my teacher laugh so hard he cried. And in sixth grade, I wrote a paper about my grandmother’s swishy, swirly, square-dancing skirts that another teacher said gave her chills.

When she asked me how long it took me to write it, I answered honestly — about a half hour. Everyone in my class gasped. That was the first time I realized that writing wasn’t easy or fun for everyone.

Then one day, I was flipping through the school library’s card catalog — yes, I’m old enough to have used those — when I realized something. Every book in there was written by somebody. A real person. And maybe someday, I could write a book too.

I flipped to the Zs to see where my name would fall.

Well, my name has probably never been in a card catalog. I’m not sure any still exist. But, now that I’ve had books published, it has been on bookshop.org and barnesandnoble.com and amazon.com and goodreads.com and in the Library of Congress.

And I find that too cool for words.

Here’s how it happened:

  1. Sixteen years ago — after writing newspaper articles and a wide variety of technical memos in my corporate job to pay the bills — I decided I wanted to write books for children. No, I did not quit my day job until I had eight books in print and one had made the New York Times bestseller list. Writing for kids is very satisfying, but it is not a guaranteed money-maker.
  2. Instead, I started spending three hours each night after my kids were in bed writing manuscripts. They were better than my childhood stories, but they were far from lovely. Miss Clavel of MADELINE book fame might have said, “Something is not right.”
  3. So, I brought piles of picture books home from my new public library and read them. I read everything Kevin Henkes had ever had published. Everything by Mem Fox. Everything by Judith Viorst. Everything by Kari Best and Jill Esbaum and Dori Chaconas and Mo Willems. Plus, a ton of stuff by authors whose names I don’t recall. (As I learned more about children’s lit, the array of authors I read — and currently read — got broader and more diverse, but this is where I started.)
  4. I went to my my first SCBWI conference and hid in the back row hoping no one would realize I didn’t belong and ask me to leave. That didn’t happen, and I was so glad I decided to attend.
  5. I joined two critique groups and got feedback on my stories.
  6. I kept reading. I kept writing. I kept revising.

This sign summed up my approach:

Then, I cautiously began sending out submissions.

I got lots of form rejections. Lots of silence. Then, one day, a little blue card arrived in the mail with a handwritten note that said: “Cute, but not quite right for us.” I almost had it framed. A real, live editor thought my story was cute.

As I kept writing, I got enough tiny bits of encouragement in between the rejections to keep me from giving up. More personalized rejections. A story that sold to Highlights magazine. An honorable mention in a writing contest. A few requests to revise and resubmit.

But always, ultimately, a rejection — 126 in total.

Until my phone rang four years after I started attempting to write for kids. The area code said “212,” and the caller ID said “Random House.” And the voice on the other end said, “Hi! This is Anne Schwartz. You probably don’t remember sending us SOPHIE’S SQUASH, but …”

That was the fateful moment that kicked off this book geek’s kidlit writing career. As you might expect, I geeked out.

So what do YOU want to achieve?

Because it’s the New Year and the time many folks resolve to try new things or recommit to previous goals, I wanted to offer encouragement to everyone researching, reading, writing, revising, submitting or … just dreaming. Dig in. Give yourself time to work. Don’t expect perfection right away!

And, if you want an auditory pep talk, here’s a speech I gave after my first book won the Golden Kite Award that describes my journey to publication.

And, down the road, when your book exists, I’ll look forward to seeing it in the library and all the other places books exist.

As a book geek, I’m always looking for more books!


  1. Debra Kempf Shumaker

    What a lovely, truthful, inspiring post. I could relate with every single word. I had 146 rejections before I got that first “Yes” and that was from an agent. It took another year and a half, and dozens of more rejections, before I got that first book contract. But every story I wrote that didn’t get a “Yes”, and every rejection I got, got me closer to that YES. And Sophie’s Squash is one of my favorite picture books of all time. 🙂

  2. Pat, I love hearing your voice on the page and from the podium. Your journey is one of tenacity and excellence. Thank you for your never ending support in the kidlit community.

  3. Thanks for sharing your story. I had 39 years and hundreds of rejections before my first YES. I write novels, not picture books, but the struggle is the same. My critique groups were a big part of why I didn’t quit submitting. My joy in the process kept me writing.

  4. Oh my gosh, I just loved reading this! Thank you so much for sharing your words.

  5. Thank you for sharing your story, Pat. It’s inspiring and wonderful!

  6. Thank you, Pat. You are an inspiration!

  7. Michael Henriksen

    What a great story of positive perspective, productivity, & perseverance, Pat! 🤗
    Thanks for sharing your engaging and inspiring personal experiences!📚💛

  8. This post and speech had me both laughing and crying! I started 20 years later too, after a master’s degree and career in an unrelated field. I just signed with my first agent (after many no’s) and got my first R&R (which ended up as a ‘no’). I’m working hard on those late nights after my ‘real’ job is over and my boys are asleep so that one day I’ll get that big ‘yes’. Thanks for the extra inspiration today!

  9. Good job. Fun and encouraging post to read. I appreciate your time.

  10. Salt and Pepper?? Love that, for a number of reasons. How terrific that creative writing was part of your curriculum and cheered on by others. When I think back, we did a lot of writing, but nearly all were essays. So important to hold up the arts, hold up the audacity of imagination and exploring oneself, to young people. Thanks for the stories!!

  11. You are a JOY! Thank you for this New Year’s boost!

  12. Pat you really are an inspiration and always so willing to share with the rest of us.

  13. Thanks, Pat, for the inspiring post. Like you, I took tons of books out of the library as a kid. I remember having to pick my own books, and turning my nose up at the books the librarian would suggest. I know better now!

  14. Thank you for sharing. I feel inspired.

  15. Pat, thank you for your encouraging post. I was so happy to see it. It’s truly a remarkable reminder to keep at it. Dreams do come true with hard work, and perseverance. You are always amazing🥰

  16. Pat,
    I enjoyed reading about your writing and publishing journey! Your story inspires me, encourages me, and keeps me motivated to keep moving forward with my own writing pursuits.
    Thank you!

  17. Thanks, Pat, for sharing your story. And thanks to others who posted their’s as well. I, too, keep going because of my critique groups and the occasional positive feedback of an agent or editor. Onward!

  18. Great story, Pat. Thanks for sharing.

  19. Thank you, Pat! So fun and inspiring to read this. I want to know about the yellow duck 🙂 I love that we get to have this writing life. Deo gratias!

  20. Love this so much. Thanks for the encouragement and sharing your real journey with us. It’s not easy but oh so worth it, right?!

  21. Oh, Pat, I got teary reading this! Thanks so much for this post, inspiration, and encouragement. I currently need an enormous kick to keep going! Thanks for sharing. 😊

  22. LOVE the writing journey story! I might have been as book-intense as you at the same age. I even went as far as volunteering in the school library during recess so I could look at the available books. Thanks for sharing and encouraging.

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