By the time I was seven or eight, I understood my creativity as a lifeline. I knew it could keep me secure in rough waters or the face of danger, or straight-up save me. But whether I count that time of knowing or not, there’s no doubt that the first steps I took toward becoming a daily writer and artist came late. And the path to success—what I define as success—stretches off into the distance, winding around and through and beyond. Because I am a late bloomer, my journey won’t be or feel the same as it would if I was young. I know this. I also know what I want to accomplish and where I’d like to slow and bloom. Luckily, more and more, I’m finding wonderful, mature woman-maker role models to offer their take on and guidance into creative marketplaces. Still, these women have quote-unquote made it. What I’d like to see is the older, female Creative who is midstride, being pulled in many directions, juggling many responsibilities, and sometimes, carrying more than her share of the weight, and yet, she creates anyway. She is my peer and I’d like to see more stories about her.
“You can’t be what you can’t see.” Marian Wright Edelman
Lately, and often, we hear more about inclusion and diversity in all fields of art. I love this movement because including all kinds of people from all walks of life in conversations, art making, and art exhibits elevates humankind’s collective creativity. And it’s not difficult. By simply deciding to make room for everyone, there’s room, and things instantly become rich with perspective and inspiration. The reverse of this—making the creative life unavailable to anyone outside the mainstream, whether intentional or not—perpetuates creative deserts, where people don’t try to become or even dream about becoming Makers. We can’t be what we can’t see, which is why I’m doing my part, however small, to showcase Creatives who don't necessarily fit the mold because of lack of platform, status, or due to age. We don't often get to see these Creatives, but they're out there, doing it anyway.
“Women may be the one group that grows more radical with age.” Gloria Steinem
Welcome to the She Did It Anyway interview series, featuring women I know or meet who are my creative peers. These are women and woman-identifying artists who create and make and hone their craft in spite of busy, hectic lives, changing health, and aging. These Creatives have long passed hobby and seek personalized success. One that fits their lives, elevates their craft, and positively impacts their standard of living. Because we all cycle through this in-between, I hope you will support them. And I hope you enjoy this celebration of all that connects us as creative beings.
She Did It Anyway: Interview 2
Author, Blogger, Dog Mom
When it comes to manuscript submissions, Savannah is one of the most committed writers I know. She kept submitting while getting degrees in ECE and Criminology, while finishing her master’s degree in Criminal Justice, and even now, while managing the full schedule of a medical social worker, she gets her work out the door. Because she has this habit, she’s landed spots for articles and stories in over thirty magazines and anthologies. Her latest work, Day Job/ Night Writer, is featured in Backlog’s fourth issue. She’s also a member and volunteer of SCBWI, the proud author of the picture book Nonnie and I, and a devoted pet owner who shares funny, touching dog photos and stories in both her blog posts and social media accounts. When I met Savannah—years ago—I appreciated her sense of humor and her desire to be true to herself. Which also means being true to her writing. I hope you enjoy hearing this honest account of being out there, forging ahead, a writer today, and everyday, always looking for a good home for her words.
Rhonda: You’re a long-time and active writer and you’ve had many interesting submission and publication experiences. What parts of the writing life satisfy you? What parts let you down?
Savannah: Yes, I’ve been writing and submitting since 2004. Last year I made about 145 submissions from February to December. Not all the same manuscript, thankfully! The most satisfying parts of writing are when others read your work. Be it an agent, publisher, friend or family and they tell you how much they love it. I’ve had several agents tell me they love my story and to keep submitting it out, but that it’s not a good fit for them. I think that part is the biggest let down. When you put years of time and effort into writing a manuscript and have them love it, but not enough to take the story on (for whatever reason).
Rhonda: And we know that even with disappointments, we must continue. Still, you’ve always impressed me with your personal submission policy. Can you talk about what you do to get a submission ready, how often you submit, and what you do when a rejection comes in?
Savannah: Gosh, there are many steps. First, I’m constantly looking for agents and publishers that have put a call out or have a MSWL update. I probably spend about five hours a week on locating where to submit pieces. I submit whenever I see an agent or publisher that looks like a good fit. Some days I’ll do five submissions back to back. Other times I’ll go weeks without submitting anything. There are also times when I submit two a day for a week because I’m stumbling upon great places to submit. I try to personalize a query whenever possible—because they’ll represent authors/books I love, but their guidelines, interviews, and what they want is limited. Yet, the query letters that I consider more “form” letters tend to get a more personalized reply rejection. I have no idea why.
Rhonda: Can you explain the acronym MSWL and how #MSWL works?
Savannah: MSWL means manuscript wish list. It’s used via a hashtag (or officially an octothorp) on social media (mostly Twitter). Agents, publishers and editors will post what they are looking for in submissions (action, mermaids, dancing) and use the #MSWL tag so you can specifically search for these tweets.
Rhonda: Octothorp—I love it. And #MSWL is quite a thing. But in these social media pitch contests and calls for submissions, a no-reply basically equals the rejection letter. Does that feel better or worse than the tradition rejection letter or email?
Savannah: Interesting you say that because in a few pitch contests I’ve received personal feedback on my rejections. I think any type of rejection received is welcomed over a no response. Usually if I don’t hear back I assume the submission was lost, and it leaves that lingering wonder. I had three agents from one agency “like” my Twitter pitch. I submitted it and now a year later, I still have not heard back. I think pitch contests and open calls are not any different than regular submissions/rejections because you still need to submit your work and query accordingly. Sometimes the query opening is easier from an open call or pitch contest because you can open with that information.
For me rejections seem to come in clumps. I think all the agents and publishers get together and time it out (haha). I handle rejections differently depending on the submission. If I’ve connected via social media or put a great deal of time into a personalized submission I take it rather poorly when a rejection comes back. The agents and publishers I want to work most with, sting the most. While the agents and publishers that I feel would be a good fit, but I don’t know enough about are just another drop in the bucket of sadness. I’ve had a full requested and a revise-and-resubmit and those were the worse rejections, obviously. Most times when I get a rejection, I prepare two more submissions and send them out. Kind of as two positives for one negative.
Rhonda: Your discipline and routine really are impressive. Especially for an active writer with many interests and a demanding career as a medical social worker. If you don’t mind, I’d like to zoom in on your middle grade manuscripts. What draws you to writing for and about this age group? Do you view the middle grade market harder or easier to break into versus other genres (board books, picture books, early readers, chapter books, middle grade novels, young adult and new adult)?
Savannah: First, I love reading MG, probably more so than adult fiction. There is something about MG books and how they don’t reach too far into the crazy world we live in as adults and teens. They deal with tough issues, but on a level that I enjoy. I think the reason I relate and love to write MG is because my years as a middle grader were horrid. Yet, it was also a time when I can look back and remember what my life was like, so I connect to that time period a lot. Plus, I feel that MG books are the most edited books, so they are written beautifully.
I think that picture books are the hardest to sell, and young adult probably the easiest of the group. MG I would say is really hit and miss with breaking into the published world. My PB (Nonnie and I)
took 58 rejections to see a sale, where as my first ever MG received a lot of maybes and was even 5th out of 1,000 for a submission call (but never received a contract). My second MG (the one out currently on submission) has had similar ups and downs. I think in general the children’s market is hardest to break into simply because of the level of sensitivity, knowledge, and word-smithing that needs to happen. For example, pick up a children’s book and count the word “was” then pick up an adult book and look for “was”. Huge difference in the standards.
Rhonda: So, do you have a go-to publication or website you use for information on the marketplace? Do you find it distracting to pay attention to the business of publication versus the business of writing?
Savannah: I love the MSWL website and Twitter has grown on me as a great place to find agents and publishers that might be a good fit. I also check out QueryTracker from time to time. I would not say I find the business side of publication distracting, I find it immensely time consuming. I can spend one to two hours researching an agent or publisher to send one submission to. That’s why I feel agents are amazing because you can regain a large chunk of time back to your manuscript. I have spent entire Saturdays researching to submit a few pieces. This doesn’t allow me time to write, and thus I have nothing to submit.
Rhonda: Keeping active with both writing projects and submissions takes resilience and fortitude. How do you fill the creative tank? When, if ever, do you hit pause and disconnect from your writing life? Can you talk about how you recover from low points?
Savannah: Oddly enough, when I started submitting the writing world of rejections was much nicer, so to speak. Rarely were form letters sent and I received many acceptances when I started out (magazine). I rarely hit pause from the writing life because you really cannot. You miss a submission call or don’t write the story fast enough it seems that you miss out, because the house or agency either closes to submissions or someone has a similar idea that sells and your manuscript is now worthless. I refill my tank on occasion by watching a movie or reading a book. Working full-time and writing, doesn’t allow me a lot of those opportunities though.
Rhonda: Are there any rejections you haven’t completely bounced back from?
Savannah: I don’t remember everyone who has rejected me, but I remember and hold-onto the few submissions where I went back and forth with an agent or publisher. Those are still lingering in the what-if box of my mind. The publishing world is unforgiving and you only get one shot, if you get a shot at all. And, two of my rejections I still hang onto were over my MG manuscript.
Rhonda: Does that make you look at that manuscript differently? Are you always considering the advice or critique from those rejection letters?
Savannah: Yes! I’m never offended by critiques or advice. It’s more a frustration, so for my MG, one agent said the character sounded too old. I switched it up. The next agent said it sounded two young. So…you have to learn how to work from critiques and advice for what you think is best. One agent gave me some amazing feedback and I took it and went, “Yes she is correct.” I fixed the noted issues. Sadly, most often, you can’t resend revised manuscripts back, unless it was a R&R. If you cannot handle advice or critiques you cannot improve your work. Great writers take advice and that’s how they become great writers.
Rhonda: I also love critique and feedback. It makes me find the right combinations of words or defend what I’m trying to say. With that said, let’s talk about writing communities. We’ve both participated in in-person writing activities, conferences, and workshops. What do you like about these events? How could these events be better?
Savannah: I enjoy connecting with others at events, heck, it’s how you and I met and how I’ve met so many others, including the late Wendy Watson (she once made me brownies and iced tea). The writing community is friendly and inviting. I think the downfall to a lot of these events is bulking all writers together. There are three skill levels and when bulked together we don’t gain as much insight. There are the beginning writers, middle and seasoned (does not matter if they have sold a book or not). If you are a seasoned writer, a beginning writer may not be the best match because of their skill set. They might still be learning the ins and outs of submission or working on learning their craft. If I’m going to a writer’s workshop or critique group I’m there to learn something new and to obtain advice. I don’t need to learn how to submit or how to format a manuscript.
Rhonda: First, a wish of restful peace to Wendy Watson. Second, there’s proof, right there, that meeting others is an important part of these events. Sharing ups and downs and getting the chance to connect with a variety of artists, it all changes us, helps us grow. But yes, I agree that the topics and content could be personalized. Question: What have you learned about the middle grade market from these events?
Savannah: Can I be honest and say I have not really brought back a great deal of knowledge regarding middle grade from these events?
Rhonda: Yes, be honest.
Savannah: There was one event, and only one I can say was the most helpful and amazing and every other positive word out there.
Rhonda: Tell us more.
Savannah: I attended a Nuts and Bolts workshop through the SCBWI and it was amazing! It was geared towards more experienced authors to help hone their craft. There were beginning writers there, who gained just as much information as I did. Yet the way the course was done, your level did not matter. Now if they paired us off to critique work that would not have been beneficial for me. I’m not trying to sound full of myself, but there were a lot of beginner questions at my table about what an agent was and what they did.
Rhonda: I appreciate you sharing your feelings and hope it helps anyone reading this who’s preparing for an event, either as the event coordinator or participant. And it makes me wonder… When it comes to writing and publishing, do you prefer private online writing communities or social media? And when it comes to your writing, how do you use or not use social media?
Savannah: Here is the deal, I hate and love social media. I’ve made amazing friends on Twitter in the writing community (shout out to Starla). I have not found success in private online writing communities. I used to loath getting onto Twitter, but now that I have learned the ins and outs I love it. I’m able to connect with a ton of people in the publishing industry. I’ve also found authors that I no longer support because of their social media behavior (just plain rude towards others). I would say the #MSWL movement is my favorite. Twitter has a ton of helpful tweets from agents and publishers to help improve your manuscripts.
However, social media can have a huge negative impact on your motivation and self-writing-esteem. Stories of overnight success or even “I wrote a manuscript and landed an agent in a year.” It can make you question why you continue to struggle with this profession. Twitter amplifies book deals and agent signings and that sucks, because you feel like it will never happen to you, just to everyone else around you.
Rhonda: Social media is a mixed bag. We must realize that behind every tweet or post a real person and probably complex backstory exists. And yes, we must be mindful of how it affects and/or defines us. Speaking of that, what one thing do you want people to know about your middle grade novels? Your other work?
Savannah: My stories are great. I should not have to say that, or I should not want to self promote, but they are touching and well written. Even if no one is buying them (haha), yet. My overall theme in books is classic, much like Where The Heart Is by Billie Letts. I love books of the 1990/2000’s. I think the best writing came from that period. I enjoy writing a story that has a positive vibe and happiness to it without being too unbelievable. I like to describe my books as barefoot-at-the-end-of-spring feeling (even if there is snow in the story).
Rhonda: Very funny, Savannah. And yes, the unique emotional aspects to your writing make your stories both truthful and welcoming. So, I just read your latest blog post—The Crap I Get—I’m curious, does it relate to you as a writer?
Savannah: The Crap I Get does relate to my writing. I do not follow trends, ever. This goes for my writing. Sure, I might write about popular things or enjoy a trend, but it does not mean I follow it. This affects my writing in a negative way. The reason being, my work is what I call unpopular in a book market trying to always be trending. You won’t find a 50 Shades of Gray in my Word docs or bookshelves.
Rhonda: You’re touching on an interesting phenomena in publishing. At every conference or workshop, and in most conversations, publishing professionals advise against following trends. However, trends exist. And mainly because a publishing house is a business that needs to make money and trends sell. I think all agents, editors, and published authors and illustrators would love to hear that their book is “trending”. But it does create a pretty wide gap between what pub pros ask for—fresh concepts with a unique voice—and what sits on the bookstore shelves—titles that tend to fit into popular categories. It sounds like you’re comfortable with your position, but how does this affect your presentation of your work in query letters or #MSWL pitch programs?
Savannah: If something I have written about is popular or trending I will tweak the cover letter/query to highlight. I will not write a story around it or change parts of my story to match the trend. I represent my story as what it is in every query letter, if they like it, then great, if it’s not trendy enough, then it’s not.
Rhonda: Got it. And again, I appreciate your honesty. Now, the big questions… What’s your dream writing life scenario?
Savannah: A place away from it all. In the country or on a beach. Really doesn’t matter. But, peace and away from the world that it is today. A spot for an old soul and not having to compete with a 9-5 job.
Rhonda: And what’s ahead for you as we approach the second half of 2018?
Savannah: To keep plugging along. This business is not easy and you cannot give up. Although I have wanted to many times. I would love to say I’ll have an agent or/and I’ll land a book contract(s), but I know that if that doesn’t happen I will only feel like a failure.
Rhonda: I don’t think you’re the only one who is careful about setting expectations or goals. Still, your dedication to the submission process has helped you progress, build a platform, and gain ground on publication. In fact, as a wrap up, will you provide readers with links to your blog, books for sale, articles to read, and social media contacts?
Amazon Author Page: amazon.com/author/savannahhendricks
Short Kids Stories: http://www.shortkidstories.com/authors/savannah-hendricks/
Personal Essay: https://ladybluebottle.com/moments-with-the-elderly/