Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The Tenacity Interviews - Rachelle Burk

Rachelle Burk has a critique service for new children's writers. www.Rachelleburk.com. She loves it! She's even an official critiquer of teenage writers at an annual Teen Arts Festival in northern NJ. Rachelle loves teaching the art of writing! She has a pack of 25 poem and essay manuscripts in front of her right now and says, "Some of these 13 year olds really have talent!"
Her book, Tree House in a Storm will debut in April or May.

1) What do you write?

Mostly I do picture book or magazine stories, both fiction and nonfiction, for ages 5-10. I’ve also written a couple of chapter books for the early grades, and a bit of poetry. Currently I’m working on a picture book biography which I’m finding pretty challenging.

2) What were the top three obstacles you encountered on the road to being published?

One is external, the other internal. The children’s publishing market is very difficult to crack. Competition is huge, and fewer and fewer publishers accept unsolicited manuscripts. One way to get to the closed publishing houses has been to attend conferences. Editors who speak at these conferences will accept unsolicited manuscripts for awhile from conference attendees. Otherwise, there’s little we writers can do about this obstacle accept seek an agent, which is nearly as difficult as finding a publisher.

The other obstacle was my initial determination not to “settle” for anything less than a book contract. So, as I received rejection after rejection from book publishers, I had no credits to my name, and began to wonder if I had any talent. Eventually, I began submitting to magazines. I racked up some publishing credits and a great deal of confidence. In January, I had a story in Highlights and was named their “Author of the Month.” That was exciting, and I was at a place where I really needed the confidence boost.

3) How many rejections did you receive before the “yes” came? Do you still receive rejections sometimes?

I received dozens of rejections from book publishers before I sold my first stories to Highlights. I actually received two acceptances in two days from them. A few months later, they bought a third—this time it was my first nonfiction sale.

My picture book contract is another story. It received 23 rejections before it found the right home. I felt strongly that it would be accepted, so I never gave up. It is due out this spring, probably in May.

4) Tell us about your first sale.

I owe a lot to my talented critique groups. I also am very grateful to the two editors whose rejection letters provided me with specific feedback rather than the usual form letters. This is a very rare thing. I actually wrote one of them a note after I received my book contract. I wanted to thank her for having made the effort to provide feedback, without which I may not have landed the eventual sale.

I was alone at home when I got the call. Although I was composed on the phone,, as soon as I hung I ran screaming through the empty house. It’s a moment I’ll never forget.

5) What does your support system look like? Friends, family, pastor, etc.

I’m so lucky to have such supportive people in my life. Although I only work part time, my wonderful husband has come home many evenings to find I’ve spent the entire day on the computer and done nothing around the house. Yet he encourages my writing and believes in me. My 17 year old daughter, Alana, reviews my manuscripts even before I sub them to my crit group. From the age of 12, she has consistently provided astoundingly insightful feedback, and has pointed out problems that even my crit group members have missed (I don’t otherwise seek feedback from family or friends).

I can’t say enough about my critique groups. These talented writers have truly been my backbone. I’m certain that publication would not have been possible without them.

6) Where will your tenacity take you next?

Hopefully, it will help me get this damned PB biography finished. I used to call it “the biography. Now it’s the “damned biography.” It’s about a contemporary blind painter, and I’ve been working on it for a year and a half at least. I’m sure it would be WAY easier to write about a famous dead guy, than interview someone in another country who doesn’t speak English. But my subject is so fascinating I became obsessed and had to do it.

7) What advice do you have for a writer who is facing “no” right now?

I encourage any serious writer to be in a critique group. Subscribe to the various children’s writers groups so you can interact with other writers. (Check out my website for links to my favorite writers’ resources and groups.) Don’t disregard the magazine market. And target your manuscript appropriately by studying the publishers’ guidelines and recent catalog before you submit.

Also, write for the love of writing. Even if none of my other stories are ever published, I will have them to pass down to my children and grandchildren. They will be my legacy.
Write for the love of writing! I LOVE it!
I bid you good writing.

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