Interview with Jan Peck on Writing!

 

Author of The Giant Carrot and Way Down Deep in the Deep Blue Sea
Conducted by Richelle Putnam

Gotta Write Network is pleased to introduce Jan Peck, author of The Giant Carrot, published by Dial Books for Young Readers, Penguin. In addition to this delightful book, Jan has The Ballerina Princess, The First Christmas, and The Time Travelers, all three published by About You! Books. Jan has also had stories published in Highlights for Children, Boy’s Life, Humpty Dumpty, and Turtle magazines. She is an anthologist with Distant Lights and The Neighborhood Nine both published by Boyd Mills Press. Her story, "The Perfect Dog", is included in the best-selling Chicken Soup for the Kid’s Soul (1998).

Jan, you have accomplished so much as a writer. Can you give us some idea as to the time frame involved from your first submission to your first acceptance and what the submission and acceptance was?

When I first began writing, I thought I'd written a picture book that would be instantaneously published and win great awards.  Boy, was I wrong!  I found out I didn't even have a plot!

It was about three years before I sold a magazine article to Highlights for Children and later another of my short stories was published by Turtle Magazine.  I was a science major and didn't understand the basics of a good story.  Everyone has their fate. Some of my friends such as David Davis have sold their first book out.  Me? I had some learning to do!

 Before we talk about your book, The Giant Carrot, please share your experiences with children’s magazines and the story that gave you your first magazine credit.

For me, magazine writing was a great place to learn.  Magazines need much more material than the book publishers, and it puts you in a different category when you have writing credits.  The credits I got from magazines opened doors to book publishing with small book publishers, and then those credits opened doors to the larger publishers. I never turned down a writing credit. That philosophy served me well.

 Do you still find time to write for the magazine market?

I am not writing for the magazine market now.  If you are quick and prolific, writing for magazines is a great thing to keep you going before you sell your books and in between selling books.  I tend to work on one project for a long period of time: sometimes from 3 months to a year. I couldn't make it with the magazine market.

 Is there a particular market you lean towards?

I love the picture book market.

 How do you feel about selling “All Rights” to a story?

Be careful! A magazine that buys all rights offered to buy THE GIANT CARROT before it was published as a book.   If you are a fast writer with tons of ideas, then go for it.  Otherwise, remember your story might make a great picture book worth a $3,000 advance plus royalties, instead of selling for a $300 flat fee.  And the magazine doesn't have to pay you another dime for anthologies or Web publication.

  Please share your experience with anthologies and offer some advice to our readers about submitting to anthologies.

I love being in Chicken Soup for the Kid's Soul.  It's half written by kids, and you can't be in better company than that.  Each anthology is different and their payment and rights are different.  Chicken Soup does NOT buy all rights, so you will get a chance to resell that story again and again.  Fun!

  How long did it take for Chicken Soup to contact you about their acceptance of "The Perfect Dog"?

It was about a year before I got a note saying I'd made the first 200 story cut.  Then in another 6 months, I got a contract declaring that I was in the 101 stories chosen.  I've heard of authors that were given the contract and then cut after that.  So never believe you've made the full sale until you see the story in print and cashed the check!

  Do you have any advice to offer readers regarding submissions to Chicken Soup Books?

Send stories with realistic feelings and a message for your readers. What did you learn from your experiences?  Is it something that others can use?  Send the story but then forget it.  It would be fine to send your manuscript elsewhere in the meantime.  Here's a link to their web site:

http://www.chickensoup.com/.

  The Giant Carrot has earned quite a reputation. How did the idea pop up?

I was listening to a storytelling tape of the old Russian folktale of The Big Turnip.  I thought it would be fun to make the vegetable a carrot with a cast of Southern characters and setting.

  What age group is The Giant Carrot geared to? 

Ages 3-9.

 Congratulations on The Giant Carrot being on the Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Arkansas State Mast Award Reading Lists, and a Best Book for Kids from Bankstreet College.The Giant Carrot also received a School Library Journal starred review and is in the third printing.What characteristics of this book might you contribute these awards and success to?

I included a foreword, telling the evolution of the story from traveling minstrels in Russian in the 1200's to the stories written and told today.  The fact it has several levels enriched the story. There's the fun story level,  the theme of working together to make extraordinary things happen, and the importance of the smallest person--the final link that brings ultimate success.  Also, there was lots of slapstick humor and a wonderful, wonderful, wonderful artist, Barry Root!

 As a published author, you do many presentations, including school visits, television, book festivals, and many more. Share with us some of these events, how they have helped to promote your book, and what they have done for you as an author.

School visits are the premium of presentations. I am able to handle rather large audiences and love the kids.  You cannot compare the few book sells in the book store with the vast amount of sells in the schools.  It keeps your book in print.  Any presentation can lead to more programs.  I try to be ready to meet librarians, teachers, and parents wherever I go.  After being on local cable TV, I was chased by a neighbor on my daily walk who wanted to find out how to write his own stories for publication.

 You also do presentations with an author Gotta Write Network recently interviewed, David Davis. Can you tell us about these presentations and your experience in working with another published author?

We have just started working together on presentations. David is an exceptional storyteller and artist. He's very good with the students.  We thought teaming together would help us to reach more kids.  I especially think it is good for elementary students to see both men and women who love to write and read.  Also, it takes off much of the stress of entertaining an auditorium of wild and wooly kids and adults all by yourself.

Another congratulations is due you on your recent sale to Simon and Schuster. Tell us a bit about this book, Way Down Deep:  In the Deep Blue Sea.

I'm very excited about this book and working with Simon & Schuster.  Way Down Deep: In the Deep Blue Sea is only 200 words, and I rewrote it for two years before my editor took it.  I felt a lot better when I read Donald Hall had rewritten a poem over 500 times.  That's what it takes sometimes to get the words right.

  Jan, what advice can you offer novice writers attempting their very first submission?

Write the best manuscript you can, rewrite with help from critique or writing partners, study the markets for ones who can use your work, and send it in and get started on your next manuscript.

They say to make it--you need persistence, patience, and postage.

I have found my critique group a special value in my career.  All you need is at least two dedicated people.  My special group started about 15 years ago with a great author, B. J. Stone and myself, meeting at her house.  We stuck with it, and now we have 14 people in our group and everyone is published!  Several have won big awards for their writing!  We have become like a fantastic, creative family.

  What advice can you offer the frustrated, ready-to-give-up-and-walk-away author?

The good news is that writing is not easy and only a few writers will put in the effort to make it. The bad news is that writing is not easy and only a few people will put in the effort to make it.  Are you one of those few?  Or one of the many?

Benjamin Bloom, a noted educational researcher, studied about how children become masters in various fields.  They started out by falling in love with what they were doing.  The second phase was practicing.  This is the arduous, frustrating stage.  The last phase is mastery!  If you keep trying you will make it.  That's what I know.  You may be almost on the verge of a breakthough. 

 Jumping now into another of your roles, please share your experiences as an editor for Boy’s Life magazine and what editors look for in stories and articles.

I did regular features at Boys' Life magazine. I wrote cartoons for Tracy Twins, Pee Wee Harris, Space Adventures and Under Sea Adventures.  My main selling point--I write short! I saw stories come in that would never fit the magazines needs.  Study a year's worth of the magazine, count the number of words, study the type of stories bought, then write it and don't say in your cover letter I've been published in Small-Town-Bo-Funk News.  Tell them why you are qualified to write that article.  Also, if it's a short story, get lucky!  It's a long shot for Boys’ Life, since they usually buy from well-known authors, such as Gary Paulsen.

 What particulars drew you to stories and what sent them to slush piles? Poor plotting and unbelievable characters are the two main problems.  Start with a hook, something that will put a question in the reader’s mind.

  Is being a member of SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) important to writers and why?

Joining SCBWI can save you from making basic mistakes, such as thinking you need to find an illustrator before you send in a picture book manuscript.  This is one of the most common mistakes.  If you are serious, it only makes sense to join other professionals in the guild.  Editors will take you more seriously. Other writers will take you more seriously. You also will take your career seriously. This is not for someone who is looking for an easy hobby.

You served as past Regional Advisor and President for the North Central/Northeast Texas Chapter of SCBWI. What urged you to step into these roles?

 I wanted to give back some of what other authors in the group had given to me.  Also, I've met many top editors, writers, artists, art directors, agents, and wonderful beginners in the group. I've coordinated conferences, where I got to call editors and agents to invite them to our conferences. We are a dedicated group always willing to teach and learn together.

    I know our readers would like to know how to contact you for possible presentations in their area. Is there an email address where you can be reached to answer questions?

Please e-mail me at janpeck@mindspring.com.

 Jan, please take this time to offer any closing comments to our readers and share your website information.

Please check out my web site at http://www.janpeck.com/.  Be sure to look at the “Resources for Writers and Illustrators.”  I have some fantastic links that I've found valuable.

I collect stories about rejections and have a sheet of famous rejections that I hand out at presentations.  Most people get rejected and keep moving onward.  But I'll tell you one more thing that I've noticed:  You have to be able to write something a publisher can use and send it in. That's the key.

Thank you so much for joining us and we wish you all the success in the world.

These were great questions, Richelle!  I enjoyed answering them.

Best wishes to you all in your many, continuing writing successes!

Jan Peck

Richelle Putnam, www.authorsden.com/richellemputnam

Children’s and Young-Adult Editor

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