Chitchat with Author Christy Mihaly
Hello, ravishing readers!
Hooray, you found your way to the Oasis ― it's great to have you visit! This is the place to refresh your spirits, recharge your creativity, and get a literary mood boost!
Now, get those smiles ready and get comfy and cozy for a fantastic chitchat because today we have another spectacular creative on the KidLit Oasis series... Children's author Christy Mihaly is here to share some wisdom, insight, and inspiration with us!
Welcome, Christy! Thank you for joining us on the blog. Please briefly describe your journey to publication.
A: Thank you for inviting me, Rosie. I love your blog's name—I can just picture all these lovely kidlit people chatting around the watering hole—and I'm happy to share my path to publication. But I have to warn you, there's no blockbuster drama here, just many small steps.
Although I always loved to write, when I was in college I didn’t think of writing as a career. I went to law school. Then I got busy being a lawyer for a couple decades. After I had kids, I started dreaming of becoming a children's writer, but I didn't have time.
Fast forward to 2011. My husband, 12-year-old daughter, and I moved to Spain for a year (he had a teaching gig there). I decided to use that year to write. I'd taken a course with the Institute for Children's Literature, so I pulled out old stories I'd drafted for the course, revised them, and started sending them out to kids' magazines. Rejections rolled in. I kept subbing, and one day, I sold a story. For $5! I was SO EXCITED.
But wait. A month before my story was to be published, the magazine went out of business. I never got paid, and that story remains unpublished. And so it goes…
I made more submissions, received more rejections. Needing new material, I found story inspirations all around me—we were living in an unfamiliar country, after all! I wrote a story based on my daughter's experiences at school in Spain. I sent it out, and at last, someone accepted it. My story, "Hola, Amiga,"was published in a kids' online magazine.They didn't pay, but I had a writing credit. Woo!
What else could I write? I really like nonfiction, so I investigated the children's nonfiction magazines that announce themes for future issues. I began pitching ideas. Again, many were Spanish-themed. After some rejections, "AppleSeeds" liked one of my pitches and sent me my first assignment. I researched and wrote, and in 2012 the article was published. A few months later, I received an actual check. Yay!
Upping My Game
At the end of our year abroad, I was committed to writing. I wanted to be a working writer—making enough money that I could quit my day job. That meant I had to up my game. I signed up for SCBWI and other writing organizations, joined a critique group, attended workshops and conferences and took online courses, made kidlit friends,and read hundreds of kids' books and magazines. I drafted and polished manuscripts: picture books, middle grade, proposals for longer nonfiction. I helped start a group blog (GROG) to blog about kidlit.
Work for Hire
I also learned about work-for-hire writing. I sent out my resume and writing samples to educational publishers and book packagers, which hire people to write on assignment. That's how I wrote my first published book—under contract with a book packager in 2015. Though that book doesn't have my name on the cover, my name was on the checks!
I kept working to improve my writing, created more stories, and collected rejections—too many to count. I also kept doing work-for-hire. This gave me the opportunity to team up with great editors, learn best practices for research and nonfiction writing, and get books published.
I also continued attending conferences, bringing my manuscripts for editor critiques. I started submitting to agents. I teamed up with a critique partner, Sue Heavenrich, to write a nonfiction book proposal. Eventually, at conferences, I connected with two different editors. The first made me an offer for a picture book manuscript in 2015, which I accepted. In 2016, I signed with my agent, Erzsi Deak, and that same year signed a second book contract. In 2018, my first picture book,Hey, Hey, Hay! (A Tale of Bales and the Machines That Make Them) was published by Holiday House (illustrated by Joe Cepeda). Later that year, Lerner published the nonfiction YA that Sue and I co-wrote, Diet for a Changing Planet: Food for Thought.
My second illustrated picture book is coming soon, and I've got some manuscripts in the pipeline. Meanwhile, I still like work for hire. In fact, that's what has allowed me to quit my day job. I've written more than twenty books for the educational market. I'm particularly proud of the recent series "Shaping the Debate," which helps middle- and high-schoolers analyze the complexities of topics such as Human Rights, Climate Change, and Freedom of the Press.
So that's where I am on my kidlit journey—so far! I'd be happy to answer questions if you leave them in the comments. I know I wouldn't be here without a lot of support and help from other book creators, editors, and mentors all along the way.
Q: What do you find most challenging in this business, either on the creative or publishing side of things? What do you find most rewarding? What helps you stay motivated?
A: My big challenge: The Wait.The Wait comes in many versions… When I have submitted a manuscript: The Wait to hear back. If a picture book manuscript sells: The Wait for an illustrator. If good news arrives: The Wait for an announcement. Once a book is completed: The Wait for book reviews, The Wait for publication, The Wait for the sales numbers. Sigh. I am working on patience.
What's most rewarding: School visits. This surprised me, because I used to believe nothing could be better than research and writing. But I've learned that visiting schools and talking to kids about books makes this book creation work we do even more meaningful. And I love seeing kids read (or listen to) my books.
What helps me stay motivated? Deadlines! I may be weird here, but I love due dates. I'm at my most productive when juggling multiple deadlines on different projects: I might be working to complete a magazine assignment, a pitch, a school presentation, revisions requested by an editor, and an outline for a new book. Honestly, without deadlines, I get anxious. In fact, if I am not facing an editorial deadline, I'll set one for myself: Send book proposal to Erzsi by next Friday—or else! There's nothing like a good deadline to produce a surge of writerly adrenaline.
Q: Could you share any craft tools or techniques that you find most helpful to you when working on a project? What does your revision process look like?
A: You've probably heard that revision is the heart of writing. It's true! Your first draft gets words onto paper, but it will need work, usually a great deal of work. My advice: Have fun with revising. Let your self play. Experiment! (Also—ahem—save all your drafts and revisions. You never know which version you'll want to return to.)
When revising, it's important to re-think big issues, so you're not simply polishing the language. One trick I use to bring a new vision to revision is to rewrite from a new point of view. Perhaps change your POV character, or shift from third person to first person. You may not keep these alterations. But when you rewrite from a different point of view, you'll see new aspects of your piece that may help you improve it.
Q: What's coming up for you next? Please tell us about any new releases, exciting news, upcoming events or anything else you'd like to share with our readers?
A: March will be a big month! March 1 is the release date for my picture book, Free for You and Me: What Our First Amendment Means. This book introduces young readers to the five freedoms protected by the First Amendment (freedom of speech, religion, and the press, the right to peaceful assembly and the right to petition the government), using poetry, historical vignettes and a contemporary story. It is illustrated by Manu Montoya and published by Albert Whitman. I'm looking forward to seeing FREE out in the world and sharing it with kids around the country during this election year.
I'm also helping organize amid-March bookstore event, Celebrating New Nonfiction Kids' Books, with my local indie bookseller Bear Pond Books. We'll share some exciting new and forthcoming NF books. At the end of the month, I'll be heading to KidLitCon 2020 in Michigan. I'm on a panel with author Keila Dawson and poet Shawntai Brown of the Detroit organization Inside Out Literary Arts. We plan to share techniques for bringing poetry and picture books into classrooms.
What else? I'm open to ideas, inspirations, and assignments. And if you're still reading this, thank you—may you find success on your own journey.
Thank you, Christy, it was great chatting with you!
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Connect with Christy Mihaly
Christy Mihaly writes for young readers because she believes that our best hope for the future is raising kids who love to learn. Her 2020 picture book, Free for You and Me: What our First Amendment Means, illustrated by Manu Montoya, celebrates the First Amendment with poems and stories. Christy co-authored the YA nonfiction Diet for a Changing Climate: Food for Thought, with Sue Heavenrich. Her picture book Hey, Hey, Hay! (A Tale of Bales and the Machines That Make Them) tells the story of how hay is made. Christy has published more than 20 nonfiction books on topics from free speech to food to fashion, as well as articles, stories, and poems. She lives in Vermont, where she loves walking her dog in the woods and playing the cello (though not simultaneously).
If you'd like to support my work, please order one of my books and/or invite me to your elementary school for an author visit.
Kaitlyn Sanchez is the winner of Vivian's PB critique and Shari Sawyers is the winner of a copy of Making Their Voices Heard.
Congratulations to the winners!
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About Rosie J. Pova
Rosie J. Pova is a multi-published, award-winning children's author and kid lit Writing Coach. She's the creator of Picture Book Mastery System™ that is proven to help emerging children's writers advance their career and get closer to their publishing goals.
Rosie's latest picture book, Sunday Rain, was featured in The New York Times and recommended by Parents magazine. Her upcoming picture book, The School of Failure: A Story About Success will be released in the spring of 2022 in both China and the USA.
Rosie also loves to visit schools and her interactive workshops empower students to unleash their creativity and grow in confidence through reading, writing, and creating. Teachers and librarians love Rosie for her bubbly, upbeat personality which captures students' attention, encourages them to think creatively, and motivates them to pursue big dreams.
She has been featured on TV, radio, podcasts, and print media, and also speaks on women's and moms’ topics, sharing her journey from a Bulgarian immigrant to a published author.
Find out more about Rosie's online courses, mentorships, and her work by visiting her website: RosieJPova.com
Check out her Critique Services here, her Workshops here, and her school visits page here.
Rosie is represented by Jennifer Herrington of Harvey Klinger Literary.