Success Story Spotlight Interview
with Colleen Paeff
The Austin Literary Community is a tight knit group of talented writers, illustrators, publishers, and industry gurus, alike. When one person is successful it isn’t difficult to celebrate that success as if it were our own. Many times, we here at The Writing Barn aren’t just friends with the writers we meet and teach, but fans of them as well. That’s why we’ve created this new blog series entitled ”Success Story Spotlight,” to showcase the achievements of authors who, having studied at The Writing Barn, were able to make their dreams into a reality.
So tell us about your exciting news?
I signed with an agent! Clelia Gore of Martin Literary Management represents me now and my first agented manuscript (the same one I brought to The Writing Barn’s Picture Book Intensive last November) is out on submission!
How did the The Writing Barn aid you in achieving this goal?
The Writing Barn gave me the opportunity to have a face-to-face critique of my manuscript with an agent I had long admired. That, on its own, was terrific. But the icing on the cake was that it also allowed me to meet an editor who, earlier in the year, had critiqued a previous draft of the same story and asked to see the revision on submission (which is where the manuscript is now!). At the critique meeting I was able to show the agent the notes I’d received from the editor and she gave me additional feedback based on those notes. And then, as if that wasn’t enough, the weekend also gave me the opportunity to build a closer friendship with a terrifically talented, published author I had meet earlier in the year and ever since then she has been one of my biggest cheerleaders. So, really, it was a win-win-win weekend for me.
Have you made friendships/colleagues as well? How has that supported you?
I really enjoyed the companionship I felt with the other writers at The Writing Barn. One of the cool things about it was that there were people at every stage of their careers. So, there were people I could look to for help or advice, but there were also people to whom I could offer help or advice. That was really nice. I’ve kept in touch with a number of my Writing Barn friends via Facebook and I hope to see them all in person again at some point.
Why do you think attending workshops/classes is important to writers at all stages of their career?
It’s important to continue to work on your craft, no matter where you are in your career, because there will always be room grow or try new things. One of the great advantages, though, of a small, weekend class where the students and faculty stay together on site is the opportunity to build relationships, not just with other writers, but with agents and editors. In a business as collaborative as this one, building relationships is important whether you’re just starting out or you’re a multi-published author.
What is a takeaway you will carry with you far beyond this good news as you continue to build an develop your career?
There was a moment on my last night at The Writing Barn when the agent who had critiqued my story was talking to a friend of mine. At that point, she was at the very top of my “dream agent” list. I remember thinking that once the weekend was over, our next communication would probably be via cover or query letter – and there’s only so much you can squeeze into one of those things. So, I went against my natural inclination as a sane, reserved person and I walked up to her and said, “I want to tell you why you should represent me.” This was crazy out of character for me (and also something that everyone says you should NEVER do). But, the wonderful woman did not run screaming from the room, she simply said, “Go for it.” And so, I told her. She is not the agent who represents me now, by the way. I fell in love with another agent before I ever submitted to her. But I will probably hold onto that moment for the rest of my life because it was the first time I knew that I believed in myself enough that other people might believe in me, too.
Any advice you have for writers/creatives having trouble staying the course in pursuing their goals?
Start a book club! One of the best things I did, pretty early on, was to start a book club with other picture book authors. Every month I get 25 or 30 picture books from the library (all from the same publisher) and we get together and read aloud as many of them as we can in two hours. Some wonderful friendships have come out of this group, but I also learn a ton. It’s given me a pretty clear idea of the differences between the various publishers we’ve covered. And even during times when I’m not writing as much as I’d like, there is still a part of me that’s very focused on the picture book publishing industry because people are relying on me to prepare for the book club. I keep track of what we read each month on a blog – it’s a handy resource. You can check it out here: https://pbpublishers101.
Colleen Paeff lives in Los Angeles, California, where she writes picture book manuscripts, both fiction and nonfiction. She hosts a monthly Picture Book Publisher Book Club and its companion blog, Picture Book Publishers 101. In addition to writing, she has been a bellydancer, preschool teacher, bookseller, tour guide, nanny, janitor, and several furry Disney characters.
She loves to travel almost as much as she loves writing picture books and if you ask her to dance, she will always say yes (because she also loves to dance).
Learn more at www.colleenpaeff.com.