2016
Nov 17

The Village Behind My Book Deal

by Hannah Holt »

21 comments


Balzer+Bray has acquired my debut picture book Diamond|Man! Hooray! I’m so thrilled it’s hard to know where to begin talking about it.

This project is my heart in 700 words. It compares the life of my grandfather, H. Tracy Hall, to the natural process of changing graphite into diamond. It’s two stories with one beautiful ending.

My grandfather’s life was like a diamond furnace—born into poverty, bullied by peers, working at an early age; however, he took his unique skills and became one of the brightest inventors of the 20th century, eventually building a machine that made diamonds.

arthur ashe

I’ve been working on this project for many years. It’s been a long journey, and I haven’t done it alone. Here’s a brief {reverse} person-by-person path leading to my book deal:

  • Kristin Daly Rens at Balzer+Bray extended an offer for my grandfather’s biography, Diamond|Man, in 2016.
  • Kristin extended an offer because Laura Biagi (my agent) sent her my manuscript.
  • I met Laura through Michelle Hauck‘s online Picture Book Party contest.
  • I found Michelle’s contest through Julie Hedlund‘s 12×12 Writers’ Facebook Group.
  • I met Julie Hedlund at an SCBWI conference when I lived in Colorado.
  • I joined SCBWI because Elizabeth Glann encouraged me to.
  • I met Elizabeth Glann (my very first critique partner) by sending her a message on JacketFlap.com.
  • I was on JacketFlap because I was trying to find other writers in my area.
  • I was trying to find other writers because I read in The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Publishing Children’s Books that critique partners are helpful. (Note: I knew no other writers at this point.)
  • I read The Complete Idiots Guide to Publishing Children’s Books because it was one of the resources listed on Harold Underdown‘s website.
  • I found Harold Underdown’s website because I googled the phrase “How do you publish a picture book?”
  • I googled the phrase “How do you publish a picture book?” because I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. (2008)

This is just one branch on my publishing journey–a limb on the tree of my writing experience. I couldn’t possibly name all the people I’ve met along the way, but here are few other key experiences for perspective:

  • My cousin Erin Bylund encouraged me to write the earliest drafts and inspired me to keep going.
  • Many critique partners offered feedback on the more than eighty drafts I wrote of this story. You are my heroes!
  • I know I already mentioned my agent, Laura, above but she deserves double mentioning. She worked on a revision with me for three months before we went on submission. I’m pretty sure she’s thought about every word in this story (as has my editor-extraordinaire, Kristin).
  • The Rutgers Council on Children’s Literature provided a generous scholarship that allowed me to attend their One-on-one Plus Conference.
  • Kate Jacobs, my mentor at the One-on-one Plus Conference, gave me excellent career advice that jump started my queries for agents.
  • My many writing friends who have given me advice and inspiration along the way.
  • My kids for their endless faith and energy.
  • Finally, my husband Josh has always being my biggest cheerleader.

When I signed the deal, I took a moment to reflect on all the people who helped me get here. A HUGE thank you to everyone whose been with me on this long but wonderful journey. It was worth the wait!


2016
Feb 22

The Basic Five: Five Things Every Writer Should Do Before Querying A Publisher

by Hannah Holt »

5 comments


IMG_3877

1. Read at least five recently published books by that publisher and at least fifty books in the genre (recent means—in the last five years).

Stephen King says, “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have time to write.” Reading gives you a sense of the market. Is your book a good fit for the publisher’s list? Is it too similar to something they’ve already published? While you should never write to the market, you should have a basic idea of where you book fits in the market. It’s okay to write something out-of-the-box, but be self-aware about it. At the end of the day, all books need to fit into some type of box…preferably one that can be mailed to customers, libraries, and retailers.

2. Read at least five books on the craft of writing or take five classes.

However you learn best (auditory, visual, kinetic?), invest in some of that for your craft. Get to know your genre from an academic standing. Examine word count, pacing, character arc, and plotting. Know when and when not to break the rules. For example, a story 7,000 words long will not sell as a picture book. I don’t care how brilliant it is. It’s no longer a picture book at this length. Now, a picture book 1,000 words long might sell, but it will probably be difficult. How do I know this? Experience. Take advantage of someone’s hard-earned experience the easy way—through a book or class.

3. Have at least five writing peers (aka: not family members) read your story and give you objective feedback.

Does your mom love your story? Great. Now get someone else to read it. Critique groups are a great way to get free feedback on your stories. You may or may not agree with their advice but at least hear your partners out. Fresh eyes catch things that might surprise you. Did you changed your main character’s name in every chapter but Chapter 3? Did you switch your verb tense halfway through Chapter 6? Did you use the word “pretty” fifteen times on the first page. Does your side character feel like a one-dimensional stereotype? These are just some of the things an objective reader can help identify.

4. Write at least five drafts of your story.

No one writes his or her best draft the first time through. No one. Dig deeper. Think beyond your first thoughts. Rephrase. Refresh. Re-see. That’s what revision means: re-vision. Even if you end up liking an earlier draft better (and I recommend saving each draft as a separate version for this reason), you’ll have confidence knowing you have explored every option. Revise. A lot.

5. Let you story rest in the drawer for at least five weeks before submitting it.

Hooray! It’s finished! Now put it away.

Let the enthusiasm cool. Let the revision epiphany stand the test of time. Here’s how my revision roller coaster usually goes:

Week 1: This is brilliant! Ha! I’m so clever.

Week 2: Oh no! It’s terrible—the worst thing I’ve ever written.

Week 3: Hmm. It’s not as bad as I thought.

Week 4: If I did X, Y, and Z, it might be salvageable.

Week 5: I’m ready to rewrite with a fresh perspective.

If after five weeks you look back on your story and still love it—congratulations! You are ready to go on submission.


2013
Sep 11

Dry-erase Chore Chart

by Hannah Holt »

5 comments


As you might have noticed, I’m on a dry-erase kick. But this is my easiest dry-erase project yet.

Did you know packaging tape works as a dry-erase surface? I didn’t until I tried it out the other day.

I simply printed out a chore chart for my kids and placed a piece of packaging tape over the areas they needed to check off:

chore chart

I made one for each of my boys. If they get all their chores checked off for the week, we have a special treat on Monday night.

We’ve been doing this for three weeks, and they are now in the “chore routine.” During the first couple of weeks, they forgot a chore once or twice. I let them do double chores the next day to make up for it. Hey, they wanted the treat and I want chores done. Win-win. So far this is working for us.

How do chores work at your house?


2013
Mar 15

Spring and Southwest Style Stuffed Peppers

by Hannah Holt »

25 comments


Next Wednesday may be the first day of spring, but I can already feel the turn of the season in the air. The trees on our street are budding. It had me in the mood to write something springy.

NATURE’S ALARM

When prayers of birds sound in the air,
and crocuses play double-dare —
a splash of purple through the ice —
the loosened stream says, “Ah, that’s nice.”
When bees and beetles start to sing,
wake up, Bear! It’s time for spring.

 crocuses in ice

Speaking of alarms, I was trying to figure out what to make for dinner the other night when a bell went off in my head. At the time I was staring at four red bell peppers, trying to figure out how to conjure them into dinner. Stuffed peppers seemed like the obvious choice, but I’ve never been a fan of meat and rice slathered in pasta sauce. Then I thought, why not substitute the meat for beans and corn and change the pasta sauce into taco seasoning. Suddenly stuffed peppers sounded delicious.

They were good. And besides the yum factor, I also liked it because the kids could easily help with the preparation.

Vegetarian Southwest Style Stuffed Peppers

southwest stuffed peppers

Ingredients:

  • four large red bell peppers
  • 2 cups cooked rice
  • 1 15oz can black beans (rinsed and drained)
  • 1 cup salsa (you choose your spice level)
  • 2 cups shredded cheese
  • 1 cup frozen corn
  • 1 Tbl lime juice
  • 1 Tbl chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1 tsp cumin

1. Preheat the oven to 375º F.

2. Remove the stems and membranes from the peppers and cut them in half lengthwise. Place them face size up in an ungreased 9×13 inch glass dish or casserole pan, like so…

IMG_7507

3. Set one cup of cheese off to the side. Mix the remaining ingredients together in a big bowl. (Go ahead and let the kids just dump them all in and stir!)

IMG_7506

Note: I didn’t think the mix needed any salt or pepper, but now would be a good time to check that this is seasoned to taste.

4. Fill the peppers with the stuffing and top with the remaining cheese.

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5. Cover the peppers tightly with foil (or the casserole dish lid) and bake in the preheated oven for 45 minutes.

6. Once the peppers are tender, uncover the peppers and bake for an additional 10 minutes until the cheese on top is nice and bubbly.

southwest stuffed peppers1

Bell peppers really make for an excellent taco. Yum!

 


2012
Dec 12

Parties, Persimmons, and Ginger Squares

by Hannah Holt »

38 comments


Today is one of those fun dates: 12/12/12. It’s even more special for me because I recently turned a score and a dozen years old.

I love birthdays. Well, mostly I love cake. This week I ate plenty of cake, and now I’m in a plenty good mood. Here are some of the highlights from my week:

  • I finished Julie Hedlunds 12×12 challenge.
  • Just over a week ago, I finished Tara Lazar’s PiBoIdMo challenge.
  • The persimmon tree in my backyard is starting to come into season.
  • Six happy little persimmons were turned into this recipe for cake by Emiko Davies.
  • My cute husband also turned another year older, and later this week we will celebrate our nine year anniversary.
  • My oldest turned seven. I have a seven-year-old!
  • I found my first grey hair, but let’s call it silver.

December is in full swing and that means it’s time to make one of my favorite snacks of the year– ginger squares. It’s basically a recipe for gingerbread people but cut it into squares (and I use whole-wheat flour to feel less guilty about eating them by the fistful).

Ginger Squares

  • ¾ cup packed brown sugar
  • ½ cup butter, softened
  • 2 large eggs
  • ¼ cup molasses
  • 2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • ½ tsp cinnamon
  • ½ tsp nutmeg
  • ½ tsp cloves (optional)
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 1 ½ tsp baking soda
  • 3 cups wheat flour, plus more for dusting work surface
  1. Preheat oven to 375° F.

  2. Beat butter and sugar together for two minutes

  3. Add the molasses and eggs, and beat until well combined (it will look a little grainy; that’s okay).

  4. Add the spices to the wet mixture, then the baking soda, and finally the flour. You don’t need to combine the dry ingredients together first. Just add them one at a time to the wet mixture. (I almost never use two bowls when making cookies.)

  5. Mix until combined, and then wrap the dough in plastic wrap and set in the fridge for one hour. The dough will be too sticky to handle if you don’t chill it first.

  6. Roll the dough out on a cutting board until it’s about the thickness of two nickles.

  7. Slice the dough into one-inch squares using a pizza cutter (or sharp knife).

  8. Place the squares at least ¼ inch apart on a greased cookie sheet and bake in the oven for 6-9 minutes. Six minutes will yield a very soft square, while 9 minutes will result in a crunchier cookie. Actual oven temperatures vary. Adjust the time as needed for desired texture.