Some of us dream about writing award winning books that are acknowledged by other literary professionals. Can having an award-winning book open more doors for us authors? I'm picking the brain of award winning children's book author Nancy Churnin to talk about how her awards propelled her literary career forward!
At the end, I'm sharing a resource of national children's book awards that could help your career too.
A. Cole: Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions about your journey as a children’s book writer. Your books are lovely! How did you discover your love of writing literature?
Nancy Churnin: I have loved going to the library for as long as I can remember and I grew up in a house with books in every room, with one room – my favorite- that had books from floor to ceiling. Reading is like listening and writing is like talking – both are part of the larger literary dialogue. I always had a little notebook where I was writing poems, stories and ideas as a way of keeping up my part of the conversation.
A. Cole: I find a lot of authors try to rush the process of creating a well thought out story. How long does it typically take you to finish each of your books from the beginning of drafting ideas to receiving sample copies?
Nancy Churnin: The writing process varies greatly depending on how ambitious or complicated the idea. The shortest writing time has been months and the longest has been years and it always involves lots of revision. Then, on top of the writing time, you have to add on the year or years it takes for the editing and illustrations on the way to publication. With Manjhi, it took many months of writing, and then months of revising with my editor and publisher Marissa Moss.
A. Cole: My least favorite part of writing is editing. How many people do you let edit and critique your manuscripts?
Nancy Churnin: The editing is key for me. Sometimes I can have a wonderful idea and see the book so clearly in my head, I don’t realize that it isn’t coming across the way I think it does. I am very grateful to my critique groups for being honest with me about what works and what doesn’t. I have multiple critique groups. I enjoy using Rate Your Story as a way of assessing my work. I also occasionally pay for a critique from editors. You don't have to agree with every critique or adopt every suggestion. But the critiques get you thinking what is and isn’t working for the reader and sometimes they can push you to a better place as you discover a solution to a problem you didn’t know you had. It’s also a good warmup for the revisions you will need to make with the editor who acquires your work.
A. Cole: They say the work begins when you publish your book. What is your biggest challenge in marketing your books?
Nancy Churnin: I may be a bit of an anomaly in that I enjoy marketing my books. I write picture book biographies and I consider myself an advocate for my heroes and heroines. I come up with a plan based on reaching out to my support groups and support groups for my subjects that are based on our hometowns, educational backgrounds and groups to which my subjects and I belong. The biggest challenge is coming up with the money and time to travel to all the places I want to go. I have to be creative in finding ways to connect with faraway groups. Once I sent an audio Q and A to a class in Singapore! I am so appreciative of your help in helping me get out the word about Manjhi to everyone who cares about diverse books.
A. Cole: We’re in 2017, yet we’re still talking about how we need diverse books for kids. How old were you when you started seeing diverse children’s books?
Nancy Churnin: I don’t remember too many diverse children’s books growing up, which is really sad because diverse stories enlarge your world and your heart. John Steptoe’s books, particularly Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters, was a beautiful revelation when it came out and is still a favorite. I love Pat Mora’s Tomas and the Library Lady. We have so many more wonderful diverse books for this generation and I hope to do my part to provide more.
A. Cole: We are both passionate about promoting diversity in our books. What made you take interest in diversifying children’s books?
Nancy Churnin: I wrote my first book, The William Hoy Story, How a Deaf Baseball Player Changed the Game, because a deaf man, Steve Sandy, who is a friend and spokesman for the Hoy family, told me how sad he was that deaf and hearing children didn’t know the story of this great deaf hero. When I took on the mission of writing this book with Steve’s help, he didn’t just tell me about Hoy, he educated me about the prejudice deaf people faced and continue to face. Writing William Hoy was a life-changing experience. It left me wondering about the many other untold stories about diverse groups. There are so many! I began to search actively for stories that inspire me and I hope will inspire kids about people they don’t yet know, but will benefit from knowing because these people persisted and prevailed in making a positive difference in the world. I feel like a better person for knowing about Manjhi and I hope kids will feel that way, too.
A. Cole: Coming up with creative stories and characters can sometimes be challenging. Where do you draw your inspiration from?
Nancy Churnin: Inspiration comes from so many places. Sometimes someone will bring me a story, as Steve Sandy did with William Hoy. I found Manjhi searching for heroes from India. I discovered Charlie Sifford when I wondered who was the first African American player in the PGA. The key for me always is that I have to fall in love with the subject. If I love the person I’m writing about, as I did with Manjhi, I know I can help the kids fall in love with the person, too.
A. Cole: You’ve achieved some notable awards as an author. How many medals have you won for your books? What is your most memorable accolade?
Nancy Churnin: I was thrilled to have Manjhi selected for the 2017 Junior Library Guild list. With William Hoy, librarians have made all the difference by putting the book on the 2016 New York Public Library Best Book for Kids List, the 2017 Texas Library Association’s 2017 2X2 and Topaz lists and the 2018 Illinois School Library Media Awards Monarch Awards Master List. I’m also happy to share William Hoy is also a 2017 Storytelling World Resource Award Honor Book and a finalist in the 2017 North Texas Book Festival Best Children’s Book.
A. Cole: Not everyone appreciates diversity and ethnic characters in the literary world. Where do you look for opportunities to submit your books for awards?
Nancy Churnin: I leave that up to my publisher and to the kindness of librarians. For many awards, particularly for the state librarian associations, the librarians make the nominations. I enjoy meeting as many librarians I can at the American Library Association and Texas Library Association conventions.
A. Cole: Does having book awards open more doors for you or help increase your sales? Where are your books available for sale?
Nancy Churnin: I am grateful for each and every recognition because each one has helped me get my books in the hands of more kids!
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