Interview with Jan Peck on Writing!
Author of The Giant Carrot
and Way Down Deep in the Deep Blue
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
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:
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?
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
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,
What advice can you offer the frustrated,
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
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
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?
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
These were great questions, Richelle! I enjoyed answering
Best wishes to you all in your many, continuing writing successes!
Richelle Putnam, www.authorsden.com/richellemputnam
Children’s and Young-Adult Editor
If you have comments or suggestions, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
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