This week we have the sensational Samantha R. Vamos. Samantha grew up on the East coast where she attended law school and practiced law. She spent her 30’s in the Midwest, managing to keep warm in the Windy City. Now she and her family reside in the Pacific Northwest where she writes as much as she can and heads outside whenever the sun shines.
(Snoop says, hmm, sunshine? Maybe I should move.)
Samantha, tell us a little bit about your first book, BEFORE YOU WERE HERE, MI AMOR (Viking 03/19/09).
“Before You Were Here, Mi Amor” is a bilingual children’s picture book concerning all the things that one family does to welcome a new child into the world. The story evokes the warmth and community of family life through the acts of each member of la familia – mother, father, sister, brother, aunt, uncle, grandmother, and grandfather, as well as the family puppy. Spanish words are woven throughout the English text and there is a colorful glossary at the book’s end. The illustrator, Santiago Cohen, enhanced the story with beautifully vibrant and colorful illustrations.
Now let’s start the interview. When you received your offer, what happened?
I was checking e-mail with my then-two year old squirming on my lap. My son struggled to press the keyboard as I read e-mail from my agent, which began, “It’s official!” I was unbelievably thrilled. Then, a little over one month later, my agent indicated that a second sale might occur. About three months later, I learned that Charlesbridge was acquiring “The Cazuela That the Farm Maiden Stirred.” I was truly stunned.
(Snoop says, two books in three months! Ay Caramba!)
So now that you have a contract, what’s it like to be on the other side-on the verge of publication? What does it feel like to be official?
At times, surreal, yet always wonderful. Being published has been a dream for so many years. In great part, it’s a relief. I thought of being published almost each and every day for years. I feel incredibly grateful. One of the most amazing aspects of being “official” was being able to share that news with my family and close friends, all of whom have been so supportive and encouraging for so many years.
Tell us a little bit about your path to publication.
I had published a few freelance articles beginning with one in “The Washington Post” during my last year of high school. That article hooked me on writing. During and after law school, I wrote stories at nights and on weekends. I received a lot of rejections, but also a few personal replies from editors. In 1998, I wrote a manuscript that I sold the following year. So, that path was short, but reaching publication was far longer. The house that purchased my manuscript was acquired. My book made it to the acquiring house, but there was no plan for publication. Eventually, I received a release. Over five years later, I began working with an agent and I significantly changed the manuscript. Three years after that, my agent sold the manuscript in a very different form.
And here’s our favorite question. How many rejections did you receive IN GENERAL (not just for this book) before you landed your first major publishing contract?
Tell us about one of your most heart-breaking rejections and about one of your best.
After an editor indicated that a contract would be forthcoming, the publisher declined. An illustrator whom the publisher valued had illustrated a book for another publishing house, and the publisher felt that that book had two similarities to my manuscript. The publisher did not want to upset the illustrator. The similarities concerned portions of the title and format style; otherwise the books were dissimilar. My agent supported my offer to write a letter, distinguishing the two books. I wrote the letter, but it didn’t save the contract.
My best rejection was when the editor of a house wrote me a personal letter, rejecting my manuscript, but encouraging me to revise it. I eventually sold to her.
How long did it take to sell your books, from putting the first words on the page to receiving an offer?
* 0-3 months
* 3-6 months
* 6 months to 1 year
* 1 year – 2 years
* 2 years – 3 years
* 3 years+
* The manuscript has been around longer than I have.
Prior to selling your books, you were …
Working a full-time job unrelated to writing.
I was working for a law firm in Chicago although by that time, I was no longer litigating. I left my job after having a child. Ultimately, I did not return because I wanted to be with my son. Later, my writing sold.
Now that you’ve sold some books, you plan to …
Not change a thing.
I have a number of manuscripts that I love and need to adjust. It’s often good for me to be busy with other projects so I’m forced to set aside a manuscript for a while. Later, I’m sometimes able to think about a certain manuscript differently. Of course, just because my perspective may have changed doesn’t mean I can always execute! I am also editing a novel I’ve been writing on and off for the last five or six years.
What are some of the new things you worry about now that you have a contract?
I think about how important it is to sell enough books to make my publishers happy. I always think about how important it is to produce manuscripts that please my agents. Then, I worry that I’ll only sell two books and not a third. I feel like my manuscripts are other children I have created. I want them to blossom and grow (i.e., become published).
If you’ve already begun or have finished the editorial process with your publisher, let you us know what that’s been like.
The editorial process with both Viking and Charlesbridge was wonderful. There were very few edits (but, of course, both manuscripts are picture books and not novels so length was in my favor; I had worked a lot on each manuscript before submission, and my agent is pretty specific with respect to constructive criticism) and the editors at each house were really kind about their delivery. Both editors were also very receptive to discussion about edits, which I really appreciated.
Describe a typical day in your writing life.
My schedule varies depending on my son’s activities. When he’s in school, for example, I typically work at a library near his school. Other days, I work from home. I truly don’t have a typical day (although that should be a goal!). I used to write at night and during weekends. Now, thanks to the kind support of my husband, I have far greater flexibility to write, which is wonderful. What I anticipated for “my writing life” has also changed dramatically now that I have two books about to be published – I devote time each week to marketing.
Describe an Ah-ha moment you might have had that influenced your writing in a positive way.
When I finally realized what it meant to show instead of tell when writing. That was an “ah-ha moment” that helped improve my writing. I still struggle with that difference at times.
Any advice for aspiring authors?
Of course! I’ll condense my advice to six points and admit that I haven’t always taken my own advice, but after many years of trying to get published, I know that following this advice is best (for me, at least). First, write regularly. Second, research. That is, read as much literature as possible within the genre in which you hope to publish. Know your specific market well. Third, be willing to revise – over and over. Fourth, take the advice my sage mother gave me years ago: attend a writer’s conference. Fifth, be persistent, and think creatively about how to be persistent. Sixth, and this point is really a personal choice/strategy, but I like to keep a lot of balls in the air. That way, if one ball comes tumbling down, I usually can look forward to seeing what arc the next ball may take.
Aside from WRITING FOR CHILDREN AND TEENS:<—shameless plug, are there any other books on craft you recommend?
Well, I like your shameless plug so I’ll note your book as well as another book by Alice Pope. While I don’t know if her book strictly fits your definition, it’s what I used to guide my submissions (before I was agented) and I found the information very helpful: “Children’s Writer’s and Illustrator’s Market.”
Finally, Snoop wants to know: are all your books bilingual?
No, actually, most of my stories are not bilingual, but my first two manuscripts to sell are. My son and I regularly speak what I’ll call “Spanglish” so it’s especially exciting for me that these manuscripts sold.
This concludes our interview with our latest author, Samantha R. Vamos. We wish her much success with her debut children’s picture book “Before You Were Here, Mi Amor.”
To see what Samantha R. Vamos is up to these days, visit her website at www.samanthavamos.com.