Well I have something exciting for you today (at least, it’s hugely exciting for me and I hope it will be for you too!): For the very first time in almost 4 years of blogging, I have the pleasure of welcoming a guest blogger (why did I never do this before?!)!
Rochelle Melander is the author of Mightier Than the Sword: Rebels, Reformers, and Revolutionaries Who Changed the World through Writing – an inspirational compilation of stories about fascinating figures who transformed history. Mightier Than the Sword (illustrated by Melina Ontiveros) was released in July of this year, and Rochelle is here today to tell us how important persistence was in the writing and publication process.
Before I hand over to Rochelle, just a quick note: If you’re interested in writing a post for my blog, I’d love to hear from you! Just send me a message via the contact form or by email and we’ll discuss the details.
And now, without further ado, let’s hear from Rochelle!
The Power of Persistence. How It Helped Me Pitch, Write and Sell My Book
by Rochelle Melander
In 2006, I started a writing group for young people in Milwaukee. We used speeches, songs, and poems about changing the world as our mentor texts. I brought in books, sharing the work of writers like Audre Lorde, Langston Hughes and Richard Wright. I dreamed of collecting the stories of these writers into a book.
I didn’t realize how much time, energy, and pure grit it would take to get my dream project published and into the hands of young writers. But the persistence paid off. In July, Mightier Than the Sword: Rebels, Reformers, and Revolutionaries Who Changed the World through Writing was published by Beaming Books.
I persisted with this project because I had a strong sense of mission. I wanted to help young people tell their stories. Whenever I hit a roadblock—and I hit many—I reminded myself that this book mattered. I wanted to help young people claim their power and change their communities. Holding onto that dream helped me persist.
Here’s how persistence helped me write, sell, and promote the book.
Pitching Persistence. In January 2018, I took a Middle Grade Mastery with the Children’s Book Academy. Participants could pitch one story for a select group of agents and editors. I pitched Mightier Than the Sword. An agent liked it—and I had a couple of months to write the proposal. Yikes!
The agent passed on the project. I took her comments and revised the proposal. And pitched again. The rejections rolled in. I revised more. I had help from my husband, author Harold Eppley and my friend, author Jane Kelley. And then in the fall of 2018, an agent requested a Revise and Resubmit. Woot! She offered suggestions about who to feature in the book, how to tell the stories, and how to organize the book. Her suggestions helped make the book better—and I revised the proposal again and submitted it to her.
And I waited. Months passed without a word. The agent didn’t have an exclusive, but I was hesitant to pitch widely when they were looking at it. Reader, here’s where I wish I had done things differently: I wish I would have sent the proposal to a dozen more agents. I didn’t.
By September of 2019, I’d almost given up on the book. I tried #PitMad. My critique group helped me sharpen my pitch. And it worked! Four editors liked the pitch. An editor at Beaming Books offered me a contract.
Pro Tip: When you feel like giving up, enlist help. Get a critique partner, hire an editor, or find an accountability partner. Having Harold, Jane, and my critique group in my corner, reading and offering feedback, helped immensely. Their encouragement supported me in persisting.
Writing Persistence. I wrote the book in six months during a global pandemic. Every chapter was an enormous challenge: research the life of a writer, find the heart of their story, tell it in 600 words, and add sidebars and exercises that would engage readers.
I learned that the science fiction writer Octavia Butler said, “Habit is persistence in practice.” Before she sold a book, Butler would get up at 2 or 3 every morning to write. Then she’d go to one of her jobs, which included working at a potato chip factory. Long after she sold her books, won awards, and no longer needed to work a full-time job, Butler kept this habit of getting up early to write.
I’ve been writing books fast my whole professional life. And for years, I’ve had the habit of writing every morning before I open email or check social media. To complete this book on time, I amped up my habits. I wrote every morning, six days a week. When I could, I added research time in the afternoons. Sticking to these habits helped me to persist and finish the book on time.
Pro Tip: Think about how you can use your habits to help you persist. Many coaches talk about the power of habit stacking—pairing new habits with established ones. What existing habits could you use to write more?
Promoting Persistence. Our work doesn’t end when we turn in the manuscript. We need to pitch our book again—to bloggers, podcasters, and readers. I thought I was used to rejection from pitching to agents—but pitching to bloggers also required stamina and fortitude.
I researched blogs that featured kid’s books and created a spreadsheet. Then I pitched. There were missteps. People thought my book was self-published. (It isn’t.) They didn’t cover fiction. (My book’s nonfiction.) They only wanted debut books. (Mightier is my debut children’s book.) I adapted my pitch letter to better fit my audience. And people responded.
I got help. I’d been seeking out a debut group for months. I’d posted in 12×12 and on the SCBWI boards. Then I saw a post on the 12×12 Facebook page from Adria Karlsson, seeking a group. Within a week we were on Zoom making plans. Stephanie Wildman had written to me a few months earlier—she had seen my post on SCBWI. I invited her to join the group. New Books for Kids (https://www.newbooksforkids.com/ ) was born—and working with a team has made promoting my book so much easier. (You can read more about our journey here: https://writenowcoach.com/writerswork-how-to-find-and-form-a-debut-group/)
I’m currently on my second blog tour to support the launch of Mightier. I’m hoping to do more school visits—and interact with young readers. I imagine this next step will require me to keep persisting. I know I can do it because I’m holding onto my vision: helping young people change the world. As Audre Lorde said, “When I dare to be powerful, to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid.”
You can persist, too. I know you can. Because you matter. And your writing matters. Your words have the power to change you. They can also change the world. But only if you write them down and share them.
About the book. Mightier Than the Sword: Rebels, Reformers, and Revolutionaries Who Changed the World through Writing is a middle grade social justice book pairing life changing writing exercises with the stories of a diverse group of people who changed lives and communities throughout history. The book features people from a variety of disciplines who used their words to educate people about the stars, advocate for women’s rights, end slavery, save the environment, protest injustice, and more. Sidebars explore types of writing, fun facts, and further resources.
Rochelle Melander wrote her first book at seven and has published 11 books for adults, including Write-A-Thon: Write Your Book in 26 Days (and Live to Tell About It) and Level Up: Quests to Master Mindset, Overcome Procrastination and Increase Productivity. She’s a professional certified coach, an artist educator and the founder of Dream Keepers, a writing workshop for young people. Mightier Than the Sword: Rebels, Reformers, and Revolutionaries Who Changed the World through Writing is her debut book for children. She lives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin with her husband, children, and two dogs. Visit her online at writenowcoach.com or rochellemelander.com