Donna O'Donnell Figurski's Blog

It's All About Me!

Anything Writing #2 So You Want to be a Writer

So You Want to be a Writer
(Reposted and revised from my website, February 2010)

Many hopeful children’s book writers believe that after they finish the text of their story, they need to find an illustrator. That is a myth and probably the biggest misconception of beginning writers.

Female student writing at deskBelow I offer insight that I found along the way. I hope that these suggestions will be helpful to new writers for children. And … yes, I was one of those beginner writers (many years ago) who thought I had to find an illustrator.

You do NOT need to find an illustrator.

Once you have completed the book in its most finished form, you may begin the search for a publisher or an agent. This is a daunting experience because publishers and agents receive hundreds, sometimes thousands of manuscripts daily, depending on the company and their size and popularity. Unfortunately they only publish a very few of those. The larger, more popular companies, may publish about thirty titles a year; while the smaller companies may publish between two and three titles. This is where your hardest work begins.

Here are several suggestions below:

You need to do your research to find out which company would be the best fit for your story. To do that, you should go to the library or bookstore to find other books that are similar to yours. Then target those companies. Since you can only send your manuscript to one company at a time, and they usually take between three to six months to respond, if they respond at all, be sure to make good choices.

Since the business of publishing a children’s book has so many facets, you really need to do your homework. One of the best resources is the Children’s Writer’s and Illustrator’s Market – the current version. Sometimes you can find this in the library, but I recommend purchasing your own copy so you can mark it up.

There are two comprehensive books on the market to help you find the perfect agent. Guide to Literary Agents  by Chuck Sambuchino and Jeff Herman’s Guide to Book Publishers, Editors and Literary Agents: Who They Are, What They Want, How to Win Them Over. Chuck also has a great blog online with the latest on agents’ wishes. Chuck Sambuchino’s Guide to Literary Agents Blog. Unfortunately, finding an agent can be just as daunting as finding a publisher, so you have to decide which route to take. An agent usually requires between 10% to 15% of your book earnings. A good agent is worth every penny.

This is probably the best suggestion of all. Go to writer’s conferences and join the Society of Children’s Writers and Illustrators. (SCBWI)  You can join for about $70.00 a year and they provide an immense amount of information. There are also local chapters. For example: scbwi – Arizona or New Jersey SCBWI, I think all of the states have a chapter. There are even international chapters in Australia East/New ZealandIndonesiaMongolia, and Japan to name a few.

Joining a local children’s book writer’s group can also be helpful to get feedback on your writing.

You can check out my website for a list of very helpful books about how to publish your children’s book. My Writing Life This is actually the page you are on. Just scroll down.

Probably the best advice I can give to you is – if you believe in your book and this a dream you really want to happen, then be PERSISTENT and be PATIENT. It is just about the hardest field to break into. It can be done. Many have done it.

I hope that this information will help you.

Wishing you the best of luck.


(Clip Art compliments of Bing.)


If you have some time, check out my Surviving Traumatic Brain Injury blog.

June 14, 2014 Posted by | Anything Writing | , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Musings by Donna #57 Love it – BUT …

Know the market, they say. Have patience. Be persistent. Never stop sending in your manuscripts. When your manuscript is rejected (the darn little homing pigeon) Flying Pigeon-delivering-a-message-hidon’t wait. Send it back out to the next agent or editor on your list – the list you so diligently compiled after searching books like the current edition of Children’s Writer’s and Illustrator’s Market (fondly called CWIM by children’s writers), or the Guide to Literary Agents, or the Writer’s Market. Be dedicated to your writing. Believe in it. Don’t let the bogged down system get you bogged down or overwhelmed. All good advice!

In the children’s market, there was a time when I could tell you which editor moved where and when and what they were looking for. That was the time when I was actively sending in my children’s picture book stories. In the early 1990s right through to about 2005, I’ve sent about twenty different children’s stories to thirty-one different editors or agents. That was also the time I regularly attended children’s writer’s conferences and workshops in New York, New Jersey, California, and Vermont. SCBWI (the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators), both national and regional conferences, and The Vermont Workshop, presented by my friend, Barbara Seuling, remain my favorites. At each of these conferences I met editors and agents and had manuscripts critiqued; and I received coveted invitations to send my work to them for further consideration.

I’ve been patient. Look at the span of years in the paragraph above. That’s a true sign of patience and persistence, and dedication too. I admit – I had help staying focused. thTiny “carrots,” just out of reach, were offered by editors and agents alike. Their words encouraged me to continue to affix stamps on the envelopes and send my work into the world – with hope. Their complimentary comments convinced me that my writing was good and that it had merit, and so I trudged on always believing that the manuscript that I had just dropped into the mailbox would be the one that would not return. But, as each rejection, positive as it may be, arrived in my mailbox, it whittled away my confidence. I began to doubt myself … and my writing too.

Many writers jest about how they could wallpaper their bathroom with their rejections. I believe I’ve surpassed their possibilities. I’m certain I Rejection Lettercould wallpaper my entire office. Pathetic! But, did you know that Dr. Seuss received 27 rejections for his first book, And To Think That I Saw It On Mulberry Street. Ellen Jackson, author of Cinder Edna, received more than 40 letters of rejection for her book, which went on to sell more than 150,000 copies. I’m so glad they didn’t give up. I suppose I am in good company.

I’ve received my share of “Dear Author/Sincerely, The Editor” letters – the ones that say nothing – the ones where you know that probably no one read your manuscript. Here’s a scenario that rolls through my mind. Editor sitting at desk. Inbox with stack of unopened manuscript envelopes. Coffee steaming on right side of desk. (Left if the editor is left-handed.) Editor sighs as he or she stares at the impossibly large pile. Editor pulls envelope from pile and slits open envelope. Glances at first page. Then absentmindedly places a Dear Author/Sincerely form letter on top of manuscript and stuffs both into the SASE (self addressed stamped envelope) that the author provided. Tosses the envelope into the outbox. Sighs with relief – the pile has one less manuscript. Can’t really blame them. Their work is endless and only satisfying when they find the golden nugget.

It’s the many personal rejections that kept me going and I’ve received tons of them. That sounds worse, but it’s not. Those are the carrot letters. (The ones I mentioned above.) Those are the letters that make you print out a new manuscript and immediately pop it back into the mail to a new editor or agent with renewed hope. They are what I call the “Proverbial BUT” letters. They are the letters in which the editor or agent says he or she likes your work, BUT can’t buy it for any number of reasons. I’m posting many of my BUTs below. For the sake of privacy, I didn’t include the name of the editor or agent to the actual quote, nor did I include any other identifying element. I did, however, include a list of the publishing companies at the end of this post. They are not in order. These rejections were for about seven different children’s picture book manuscripts. My combined rejections number near a hundred.

1.    “I like your use of rhyme, repetition, and predictability, but …

2.    Your writing is excellent, but …

3.    Teddy in the Backpack is a very sweet story and I think that Zoe is a great character, but …

4.    I really like the concept of this story, but …

5.    I thought it to be well-written, but …

6.    You write well, no question there, but …

7.    I think you have a nice sense of humor, but …

8.    It is clear you can write, but …

9.    It is well written, but …

10.   This is certainly a fresh story, but …

11.   I think this is the strongest piece you have sent me – it’s funny and charming, and a story young children will relate to well, but …

12.   Molly and Oliver are endearing characters and you have a nice sense of their age group, but …

13.   It’s a funny, charming story, but …

14.   Your writing is “on the cusp,” but …

15.   This is one of the best LAST lines I’ve ever read.  It was great joke, but …

16.   It’s a good story with realistic characters and dialogue, but …

17.   There are many fun elements here and I enjoyed this story’s humor, but …

18.   Your characters are realistic and sympathetically drawn, but …

19.   I enjoyed the rhythm of your writing, as well as the amusing images evoked, but …

20.   I like the gentle sense of humor and think children will enjoy the verbal and visual jokes, but …

21.   The story has nice humor and rhythm to it, but …

22.   I do like the idea quite a bit, but …

23.   Your sense of humor shines through in this piece, and you have a wonderful sense of rhythm, but …

24.   The best aspect of the story is its humor. That means it’s got lots of kid appeal. It’s got rhythm and meter and a fine use of language. You know kids, but …

25.   I would be happy to consider anything else you may write for a young audience.

(I sent many additional stories to editor 25, BUT, alas, they turned out to be more buts …)

The next two rejections are almost in their entirety to show more details of what an editor considers and what our manuscripts are up against. When we send our babies out into the world, we are asking a LOT from them.


Dear Donna,

Thank you for your submission. We enjoyed your story; however, we decided it wasn’t the best fit for our limited list. Please do not be discouraged. We receive approximately two thousand submissions, but we only publish a handful of books per year. Decisions were difficult, and we’ve had to let a lot of good stories go. What doesn’t fit for us may be the perfect match for another publisher.

We really, really liked this story. There are at least two others with very similar plots.

Again, please understand this was a very difficult decision as we take so few picture books. We wish you the best in your writing endeavors.

Please note that this letter is in consideration of this work alone. If you have submitted other work and have not yet received word on it, it is still under consideration.

27.  This was very, very tough, and I rooted for your story to the end. We had two others in the final 25 with very similar plot … a character in school who didn’t belong. And we had a few others with that plot that didn’t make it to the top 50.

I think it’s a great story, and I hope you can place it elsewhere. It was really, really hard to let this one go.

28.   Donna:

You have a strong voice and a terrific sense of kids’ emotions. Your dialogue shows that you know how dialogue works in a story and that you know how kids communicate sometimes by saying what they mean and sometimes by being unable to say what they mean. You could develop the humor in these stories more. You introduce humor, but you need to coax it along. Very young kids respond to slapstick humor, and you are a little reluctant to brig that into your stories. Also, you could work on intensifying the climactic moments of these stories, Sometimes the ideas in the stories are more sophisticated than is usually in picture books. I can see your voice coming forward; you’ve worked hard on that. You are on the brink of having several salable manuscripts.


29.   This letter was from an editor who my agent submitted my manuscript to.)

Thank you for your patience while I have been considering Donna O’Donnell Figurski’s Teacher’s Pet. I apologize for the delay in responding to you.

I feel Ms. Figurski has developed a humorous voice that flows and reads smoothly. She has a knack for lacing quirky details throughout her prose—many of which would make for adorable illustrations. I also enjoyed the fact that Mrs. Grickle’s students are “in-the-know”, while she is oblivious to the fact that her new star student is a frog–very funny!

BUT …I’m sorry to say, however, that I don’t’ feel this piece would make a strong addition to the generic company …

I’m really sorry to have this disappointing news for you but thank you for thinking of me for this and wish you the best of luck in finding the right publisher for this project. I do enjoy Ms. Figurski’s easy storytelling voice, and would like to invite you to submit any other manuscripts she may have in the pipeline.

All best wishes for a safe and happy holiday!


HarperCollins, Pippin Press, Golden Books, Boyds Mills Press, Henry Holt and Company, Inc., Orchard Books, Simon & Schuster, Holiday House, Harcourt Brace, Charlesbridge, Silver Whistle Books, Winslow Press, Scholastic Press, The Wright Group, Alfred A. Knopf, and Crown Books for Young Readers

keyboard th

So you see, it is the carrots both big and small that keep us writers trailing ink across blank, white pages or keeps our fingertips dancing across the keyboard, searching for that miracle story that an editor or agent will love. J. K. Rowling did it. She didn’t give up on Harry Potter. harry+potter+booksTwelve rejections did not thwart her belief that she had a great story – seven volumes of magical storytelling. Other great rejections include William Golding’s Lord of the Flies, Watership Down by Richard Adams, (a favorite of mine) and J. D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye. Even Stephen King’s book, Carrie, was rejected.

So what good advice can I offer you? Write! Send out your work! And, keep on writing! I will!

Please leave a Comment by simply clicking the blue words “Leave a Comment” below this post.

Feel free to Like my post.

You can also Vote for my post by clicking on a star.

If you enjoy my blog, please pass it on to all your friends and they to theirs.

If you hate my blog, go ahead and send it to your enemies. I won’t mind.

(Clip Art compliments of Bing.)

April 26, 2013 Posted by | Musings by Donna | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Musings by Donna #55 Tribute to Paula Danziger

Paula Danziger
Paula Danziger – SCBWI NYC 2004



Paula Danziger

Paula and I first met in a restroom at the Century Plaza in Los Angeles at an SCBWI National Conference. She laughed when I told her I had typed most th-4of an AMBER BROWN book into my computer to study her form and pacing. But that silly, little, accidental, encounter began a beautiful friendship. Later that week Paula gave me my very first SnackWell cookie. Okay, it was also my last, but I can never pass a SnackWell display without thinking of her. (May SnackWells live forever!)

Paula laughed when she called me and got my new answer machine message, “I’m sorry, but we do not answer our phone.” She laughed all through her message, too. “You HAVE GOT to USE that!” she said. “If you don’t, I will.” I saved that message for a very long time. And, when I do USE it, I will remember Paula and her joyous laughter.

We spent a great week together at Manhattanville College a few summers ago. After class was the best — sitting in the library until closing — playing th-3computer card games and trying, with no success, to access a writers’ chat room. Then sushi in the City, pink earmuffs, poring over Barfburger Baby, I Was Here First galleys, late night computer chats, and phone calls, and oh th-1don’t forget the little glow in the dark earrings she gave me – purple – her favorite color – mine, too. (Well, at least for that day.) We had matching earrings. I always called her “Glitzy Girl!” Her earrings, rings, and necklaces; her scarves and boas, and beaded purses draped and hung all over her bedroom. These and her laughter and love all made up the Paula I knew, and are just some of the many “Paula” memories that I will cherish for always.

And so, saying good-bye to a friend is never easy. When it’s forever, it’s all so difficult. So I won’t say good-bye, Paula dear. Your fun-loving memory will be with me always. Our friendship wasn’t life-time, nor was it decades, (well almost) but the years that we called each other “friend” were very special, and to me those memories will always remain in my heart.

I’ll tell you again,th-5 “I love you, Sweetie.”

With love, your friend,

Donna O’Donnell Figurski

Please leave a Comment by simply clicking the blue words “Leave a Comment” below this post.

Feel free to Like my post.

You can also Vote for my post by clicking on a star.

If you enjoy my blog, please pass it on to all your friends and they to theirs.

If you hate my blog, go ahead and send it to your enemies. I won’t mind.

(Clip Art compliments of Bing.)

April 3, 2013 Posted by | Musings by Donna | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

TidBits About Donna #42 Wee Bit More About Me

DONNA O’DONNELL FIGURSKI, among many other things, is a children’s book writer.

I discovered writing for children during a writer’s course at Teacher’s College of Columbia University in New York City, where my instructors strongly encouraged me to develop my writing skills. Ever since, I have been writing in one form or another.

Since 2002 I have worked as a children’s book reviewer. My reviews can be viewed in my column called TEACHER’S PETS at These reviews take an interesting twist. I not only review the book, but a team of children ages six-years-old to twelve-years-old review them with me. I also write two lesson plans that teachers may use with the featured book, as well as provide suggestions for additional books and websites to complement the book.

As a member of SCBWI, the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, the Host for the Children’s Writers Workshop at the Careers and Workplace on America Online, and the registrar for KINDLING WORDS: the RETREAT, I have met many wonderfully supportive and helpful writer friends.

A warm and funny friend, Paula Danziger, (now deceased and very missed) was the author of more than thirty books for children. The Cat Ate My Gymsuit, published in 1974 was her debut book. Her Amber Brown books were probably her most favorite and loved books by children all over the world. Paula was kind enough to critique my picture book manuscript, A School is NO Place for a Frog, over much laughter and sushi one afternoon in New York City.

The first time Paula called my house she received the following voicemail message. “I’m sorry, we don’t answer our phone, please leave a message and we’ll call you back.” She left the following message amid hysterical laughter. “Donna, if you don’t use that in a book, I will.” I wish she had lived long enough to use it.

Another long-time friend, Marilyn Singer, author of Tallulah’s Tutu and Mirror Mirror, and more than ninety other titles spread over the genres of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry added her expertise to some of my stories, too.

I am always grateful to another dear friend, Barbara Seuling, whose qualifications are many. Barbara wears the hats of editor, picture book and middle-grade novel writer, and she sits on the SCBWI advisory board. Barbara has written more than fifty books for young children, including Oh No, Its Robert, as well as a reference book for children’s writers titled, How to Write a Children’s Book and Get It Published. Barbara has had direct input on several of my picture book manuscripts through her many online courses, which I have taken with her; and through her Vermont Writing workshop, which she offers in both New York City and Vermont. I took it in Vermont – a most beautiful, quiet, and quaint countryside. Barbara has been an invaluable influence on my writing.

I have published four stories in the Scholastic Press Literacy Place 2000 anthology. These books are found in classrooms all over the United States as supplementary materials which compliment the reading programs. The third grade titles are A Star Wish, and Miss Emma Gets Her Way. The story in the fourth grade book is called The Legend of the Silver Birch, and Never Going to Grow Up can be read in the book for fifth graders. I have also published an activity called Snowflake Snippets in MAILBOX magazine, which focuses on teacher classroom interests. As a 1st and 3rd grade teacher for nearly thirty years, I have had an enthusiastic audience for my stories, and I draw many story ideas from my students. My passion for writing parallels my enthusiasm for teaching and I feel very fortunate that each complements the other.

I am very proud to note that I was nominated for and included in the 2000 edition of Who’s Who Among America’s Teachers. This was a great honor since the nomination was from a former 1st grade student of mine who was a high school senior at the time of the nomination. Since this first honor, I have also been nominated and included in both the 2004 and the 2006 editions of Who’s Who Among America’s Teachers.

Currently, I am under contract with Salina Bookshelf INC Multicultural Publishing for two chapters, which will be included in two books about Native Americans. One chapter is the biography of Buffy Sainte-Marie, singer, songwriter, and political activist. The other chapter is about poet and professor, Luci Tapahonso. Writing Buffy’s biography was enlightening and such fun. A thirty minute phone interview with her from her home in Hawaii proved what a warm, caring, and totally dedicated person she is. Countless emails flew between our computers as I gathered information for the chapter. When I finally met Buffy for a few moments after her concert in Santa Fe some years ago, I was convinced she is a very special woman. I am proud to have been selected to write her biography.

I am currently looking for publishing homes for a number of my picture book manuscripts including, A School is NO Place for a Frog, Kanona Prattsby, and “Tie Your Shoes, Miss Tress.” I have also finished the second draft of a memoir about my husband, David, who suffered a traumatic brain injury in 2005. I hope to shop around that amazing survival story soon.

I happily live with my husband and best friend, David. We have two children, Kiersten and Jared, one son-in-law, Falko, and two grandchildren, Treska and Kaya.

(Clip Art compliments of

Paula Danziger

Barbara Seuling

Marilyn Singer

Buffy Sainte-Marie

Columbia University Teachers College

October 14, 2011 Posted by | TidBits About Donna | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment


FindingStrengthToStandAgain's Blog

Overcoming obstacles with Optimism

Life after Traumatic Brain Injury

101 Books

Reading my way through Time Magazine's 100 Greatest Novels since 1923 (plus Ulysses)

Miss Clara's Corner

Be the change you wish to see in the world -Gandhi

Views from a Window Seat

Jeannine Atkins on Writing and Stuff

making our way

Making our way in the mountains

In An Instant Your Life Can Change Forever

Brain Injury Association of Massachusetts Blog