Susan Chodakiewitz is a writer, composer and producer. She is the founder of Booksicals Children’s Books- Encouraging the love of reading through the arts. Through her company Booksicals she has created the Booksicals on Stage literacy program which is currently presenting musical performances of the picture book Too Many Visitors for One Little House at schools, libraries, and special events.
Susan lives in Los Angeles in a lively household filled with music, three sons, a husband, a Dalmatian and lots of visitors. Susan loves picture books and when she wrote a musical based on one of her favorites, she realized it was time to start writing her own picture books. Too Many Visitors for One Little House is Susan’s debut book. You can visit her website at www.booksicals.com.
Too Many Visitors for One Little House is my debut children’s book.
What was the name of your very first book regardless of whether it was published or not and, if not published, why?
I wrote my first picture book together with my niece Lauren Grabois, a writer and elementary school teacher. Lauren and I both had quirky Beta fish. My fish—Jaws — was anorexic and would spit up its food. Lauren’s fish– Mr. Blueberry– was paranoid and would hide under his rock and not come out for days. This became the basis for our first picture book: Mr. Blueberry and the Fish From Down the Street. We pitched Mr. Blueberry to several publishers but only got rejections. Feeling discouraged I decided to embark on a new project.
For your first published book, how many rejections did you go through before you either found a mainstream publisher, self-published it, or paid a vanity press to publish it?
I got around 12 rejection letters. I revised the book after each one. The rejection letters actually helped me to fine tune the book and get it into the best shape possible.
How did the rejections make you feel and what did you do to overcome the blows?
I can’t say I did not feel a sweep of disappointment and frustration with every rejection. Of course I felt discouraged but only momentarily. I believed in this story. I felt strongly that eventually this story would see the light of day, one way or another.
When your first book was published, who published it and why did you choose them?
When I got the inspiration to write Too Many Visitors for One Little House I blurted it out in one sitting. Then I spent one year re-writing and revising. I started sending out the book to editors. I got several passes on the book from various publishers.
Then at an SCBWI conference in Los Angeles, I got encouraging feedback from Editor Allyn Johnston who was at Harcourt at the time. She pinpointed exactly how I could improve the story and helped me to clarify the point of view. After I made revisions Harcourt ended up passing on the story. I was very disappointed but my resolve strengthened. I believed that the story had heart.
I sent out the story to a few more publishing companies but in the back of my mind I was already formulating the idea for starting my company Booksicals. When I did not get any acceptance letters I turned for advice to a former NY editor who now has a free-lance company called Picture Book People. I asked her advice: If I were to self publish which story had real potential.
She read the stories and replied that in her opinion Too Many Visitors for One Little House was a strong story with potential for success.
How did it make you feel to become published for the first time and how did you celebrate?
I was so excited to finally be able to say—my book has been released!
I booked a flight to Arizona a few days later to visit my sister and parents and hand deliver them a book! While I was there I did several author readings and was absolutely thrilled to share the book with the kids at school. I was quite nervous that the kids not react favorably, or be bored. But I was thrilled to get such a positive reaction. The kids showered me with love and admiration and were just so excited about the book, the characters and the dog in the story.
In fact it was the kids themselves that helped me decide to write a sequel to Too Many Visitors and feature the dog as the main character. It took me by surprise when they kids asked me if I would write another book about the family. I asked them to tell me which character they would want me to write the next book about. Unanimously they all shouted – the dog! That’s how the Dog Naming Contest was born and how I decided to write the sequel.
What was the first thing you did as far as promotion when you were published for the first time?
I am very fortunate to have the very talented and smart Phyllis Zimbler Miller from Miller Mosaic, as my marketing director. Phyllis totally prepared me for the release of this book.
First and foremost – while the book was in the publishing process she helped me to build a WORD PRESS website with total content management.
Her step by step approach to internet marketing made it seem less overwhelming. She guieded me to create a Face book account, then a Linkedin.
After constant prodding from her to start a TWITTER account I did, though it was completely GREEK to me. But she persisted in prodding me and coached me in the secret powers of Twitter. Today I can say that I actually have begun to ENJOY internet marketing and social media. Who would have believed it.
It was Miller Mosaic that encouraged me to do a Virtual book tour with Dorothy Thompson Virtual Book tour at Pump up your Book promotion.
If you had to do it over again, would you have chosen another route to be published?
I am so happy with the path I am in. I totally enjoyed the publishing process I went through with Too Many Visitors and especially enjoyed working with illustrator Veronica Walsh. However the process requires a lot of self-discipline and attention to detail.
To have your own publishing company one has to be ready to take artistic control, market, promote and do everything it takes to be successful.
With my background in theater and producing I felt I was ready to take the plunge. Having your creative destiny in your own hands is very exhilarating and I’m thrilled to have decided to forge ahead with Booksicals.
Have you been published since then and how have you grown as an author?
I worked very closely with illustrator Veronica Walsh to develop the characters sketches. We had long conversations about the back story of each character, their personality quirks dressing style, pet peeves, flaws and weaknesses. Veronica sent me multiple character drafts.
Wearing both the hat of author and publisher, I had input in every aspect of the book from cover and illustrations to book design, including which font to use. Working closely with the illustrator taught me so much about the writing process and I’m sure will help me in the future with character development.
Looking back since the early days when you were trying to get published, what do you think you could have done differently to speed things up? What kind of mistakes could you have avoided?
Every part of the process is for growth. Every book is different, each path for each book is different and you learn different things. I can’t say there would be any mistakes to avoid, only things to learn.
What has been the biggest accomplishment you have achieved since becoming published?
Creating the musical to the book Too Many Visitors for One Little House set me on a very exciting trajectory. The whole idea of introducing reading and encouraging reading through the arts is totally exciting. I think the greatest accomplishment is feedback I’ve been getting from parents telling me that after reading the book and hearing or seeing the musical their kids want to read the book over and over! That is a great accomplishment in my opinion.
If you could have chosen another profession, what would that profession be?
Writing children’s books and producing theater.
Would you give up being an author for that profession or have you combined the best of both worlds?
I’ve feel I’ve found the path to combine both my passions. And of course I love working with kids. They bring out the creativity in me.
How do you see yourself in ten years?
Writing books, publishing, running workshops for kids, teachers, theaters.
Any final words for writers who dream of being published one day?
Never give up and don’t take no for an answer.