Success Story Spotlight Interview
with Lisa Katzenberger
So tell us about your exciting news?
I have signed with an agent! I am now repped by the amazing and energetic Natascha Morris at BookEnds Literary. I am so excited to work with her because she comes from an editing background at Simon & Schuster and brings a fresh energy and tons of drive as a new agent. Plus she is super funny.
How did the The Writing Barn aid you in achieving this goal?
I had The Writing Barn Picture Book Workshop on my radar for a while. Living in Chicago, it would be an investment to make the trip. I signed up for your newsletter and kept tabs on the programming. When the notice came out for the 2017 Picture Book Workshop, and I saw the amazing faculty, I knew I had to go.
I expected to learn a lot about writing during the weekend retreat. What I didn’t expect was to learn a lot about myself and have such an emotional journey. I was surrounded by other picture book writers at various stages of writing – published, agented, close-to-agented – but everyone took what they were doing very seriously. There was so much encouragement and positive energy all weekend. We worked hard and we laughed hard. We chatted around cups of coffee and glasses of wine. I began to believe that I was doing the right thing with my time and energy.
On Sunday, we had a “graduation” ceremony. We had each painted a rock the night before with one word that symbolized what our time there meant to us. My rock said “believe.” And I did.
Then it was time for our good-byes and trips to the airport. But that Sunday was the submission window for PBParty. They were accepting 250 entries of the first 50 words of your picture book, and the submission window fills up fast. The top 20-25 entries are posted online for agents to view and request to see full manuscripts.
I had participated last year, and didn’t make it to the final round. Lately I had been defeated about rejections rolling in and chugging along a train that seemed to be going nowhere. I didn’t think I would enter.
But, Sunday morning I woke up with so much encouragement running through my veins, that I wrote up my entry and saved it as a draft in my email. I thought maybe I just might do it. Then after saying goodbyes, walking along the trail to The BookHouse, noon struck. I opened my drafts folder on my phone and hit send. That one second of belief changed everything for me. I was chosen as a finalist and I had five agents request to see the full manuscript. Two of them made offers. I am certain I would not have had the guts to enter if I was sitting at home that day.
Have you made friendships/colleagues as well? How has that supported you?
Yes! Even though I’m back in Chicago, I have stayed in touch with participants from that weekend. We share our stories and provide really thoughtful critique feedback. I know that I could reach out to any one of them at any time and receive oodles of support.
Why do you think attending workshops/classes is important to writers at all stages of their career?
My mom was a music teacher, and I took piano lessons from her growing up. I did it for quite a few years, and I remember when I would graduate to a new lesson book I would get so scared of what was ahead. I didn’t know what the notes meant, or why suddenly there were so many of them! But I practiced every day, just for 30 minutes, and I improved.
I compare writing classes and workshops to piano practice. You need to keep working at it to get better. Even if it’s just 30 minutes a day. Graduate to the next lesson book, and book by book (bird by bird) you will get there.
Self-belief. I get filled with insecurity and self-doubt about my writing. Why am I doing this? Who in the world would read my stuff? Are my critique partners drained by having to read yet another revision of my crummy attempts at art?
But when you wash all that away, I am just someone trying to live out a dream. I would wish the best on anyone else in the world to make their dreams come true, so why don’t I deserve the same? Turns out I do. I can believe that now.
Any advice you have for writers/creatives having trouble staying the course in pursuing their goals?
I can say don’t give up a thousand times over and it doesn’t feel like that’s impactful enough. I have given up on writing more than once on my journey, and they were not pleasant times for me. Stay the course, and know that it’s an emotional rollercoaster full of highs and lows. But know that you are not alone, that there is a community of like-minded people who will be there to support you whenever you need it. Reach out to us, we are here.
Lisa Katzenberger is a picture book writer who lives in Chicago. She volunteers as Fiction Editor for Literary Mama and the Social Media Co-Coordinator for the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators Illinois Region. Connect with her online at www.lisakatzenberger.com or @FictionCity.