Thursday, September 22, 2011

My Publishing Contract: A Love Story

Glorious Contract. Note halo around it.
by Susan Berger

I have just signed a contract with Beach Lane Books!

“Hooray!” you say. “How did this happen?”

I’m so glad you asked. 

Last year, after doing a number of posts on first line/paragraphs, I decided to bring an archived picture book out of my file cabinet. The manuscript, The Undertoads, had the benefit of too much wonderful advice. I’d rewritten it so many times that I’d lost my impetus. After I read The Quiet Book by Deborah Underwood and All the World by Liz Garton Scanlon, I thought perhaps there might be room for The Undertoads as a mood piece.

I showed it to Pen and Ink. They gave me more excellent advice. Armed with three wonderful critique partners, I polished The Undertoads’ rhyme and rewrote it both as a story and as a mood piece. I wanted to submit it to Allyn Johnston at Beach Lane Books. I composed my query letter and the Pen and Inkers polished it. Hilde Garcia was the final polisher on all things query. 

Beach Lane Books rejected it.

Rejection Letter
After the usual internal dialog Of course, it’s not any good. Why do I think anyone would want to read what I write? I perked up and concentrated on the fact that it was a beautiful rejection letter. It was hand written AND the letter had stickers on it. 

I decided I wanted togive Allyn a gift for sending me such a nice letter. I decided to send her Log

Log is the only picture book I ever wrote and illustrated. I didn’t think anyone would understand it without illustrations, so I drew one log, one hog, one frog, one bog and one dog. I scanned the images and printed several copies of each and then moved the illustrations around on the dummy pages. I scanned the final result into a PB manuscript. 

Here’s the letter I wrote Allyn:

November 24, 2010 
Dear Allyn, 
In honor of the Holidays, I am submitting to you my version of the Great American Novel. 
Log has everything: The Circle of Life, The American Dream, The eternal struggle of Sentient Beings vs Nature. 
AND it can be read in ninety seconds. (I mean who has time to read these days.) 
With Joy 
Susan J Berger 

I sent Log off without a SASE because it was a gift. I never expected to hear back. I wanted to make Allyn laugh. 

Six days later I got a phone call. “This is Allyn Johnston. You didn’t send a SASE.”

I didn’t answer right away because I was pretty sure I was hallucinating. Then I said something lame, like, “You have to give me a minute to get my heart back to normal.” 

Allyn said I’d made her day. She said she had been sitting on the floor of her living room, opening mail and feeling crappy. “I opened your envelope and saw the query and grumbled ‘I don’t want to read anyone’s “Great American Novel”.’” Then she said she started reading and laughing. She read it to her son and he thought Log was hysterical.

Allyn didn’t like my illustrations and I couldn’t say, “I’m fine with that” fast enough.

Then Allyn said the magic words:

"I think we can do business together.”

As soon as she hung up, I keyed her name to the phone number. I couldn’t wait to get to the meeting at Kris’ and show the group my phone. The amount of joy in that room could have lit Los Angeles. I know we are all going to get published. It’s just a matter of when. 

I emailed Allyn as she requested. And then… 


December…January….In February… I mailed her a revised ending for Log. I thought she might have changed her mind about publishing the manuscript, so this time I sent a SASE.


On St Patrick’s Day, I got an email from Allyn: 

Hello there, O Patient Susan! 
Many apologies for the delay in making things official with you for your very promising and funny picture-book text. We would indeed like to buy it. 

What followed was the deal memo which amazed me in its completeness. (Theme Park rights were covered.) 

Of course I said “Yes!” and added a request to come to La Jolla to sign it. I offered to bring Hilde’s amazing chocolate chip cookies. 

And then….May…June…July…

August 4th. The 2011 SCBWI conference started on the 5th. I decided to email Allyn before she left for the conference. 

Dear Allyn, 
I'm looking forward to seeing you at the conference and hoping Andrea is coming too. I'll be the one with the Log on my shoulder at the Saturday night party. Pen and Ink decided to come up with a T-shirt for the pajama party. I think you'll like it.
I guess I'm not supposed to pitch you again till after I sign the contract for Log, which is too bad cause I want to query you with War and Peace For Challenged Readers (alternate title: Cat and Rat) and The War of the Noses, (alternate title: Monks and Skunk) 

Allyn replied! 

And I have the contract for you--haha! Will be e-mailing it for you to print, review, sign, and then return for your advance due on signing! 

Hilde and I planned to ambush Allyn with Hilde’s cookies before Allyn’s first conference breakout session.

The ambush was successful, if you discount Allyn’s shock at being approached by two strangers with cookies. When we saw her after her Sunday session, “What the heck is a Picture Book?” Allyn said that Marla Frazee tasted the cookies and said, “Where did you get these? They’re divine.” Hilde promised to give Marla the recipe. 

The contract arrived by email on August 19th. I printed out three copies and returned them by snail mail. I signed the I-9 form and faxed it back to Simon and Schuster. On September 4th I got my copy of the signed contract. On September 9th, I received a check for the first part of the advance. 

I’m waiting for the editorial letter or an email from Allyn so I can make the changes she requests. After that I will be eligible for the second part of the advance. 

The Check
It’s hard to wait. I want everything to happen now. I want to know who the illustrator will be. I want to see the finished book.

I also know that Allyn is the conductor of this symphony called Log on Log and I’ve become a member of the orchestra. And, Ms. Johnston, I’m very happy to be under your baton.


  1. Susan, This is fantastic! Can't tell you how happy I am for you. Thrilled, actually.

    It's great to read such a success story--and I look forward to more!

  2. Our Mexican-In-Residence says, "I'm appropriately envious." The poor boy. He comes from a broken home and doesn't get out much.
    The Management

  3. Congratulations, Susan! Thanks for sharing such wonderful news - and a bit about your journey! Can't wait to see the book in print!
    Sue Welfringer

  4. Great news, Sue. Congratulations on such a grand outcome---all the hard work and persistence has borne the very best of fruit. And thanks for sharing the details of the story behind the story in the "Log" blog....

  5. What a great story to tell. Thanks for sharing it with us and enjoy the rest of this journey. I saw Allyn at a conference somewhere at sometime and really liked her immediately. I'm sure she's great to work with.

  6. OH what a wonderful story!!!!!!

  7. Yea! Great news! Great post! And great book to look forward to! Hurray!

  8. What a fun (and encouraging) story. Congratulations!

  9. Susan, it all happened so quickly!


  10. Absolutely wonderful. This reinforces the notion that those who "give" also will receive.

    Hearty congratulations, mate. Well done!!

    Margot’s Magic Carpet
    11x Books With a WOW Factor

  11. Congrats Susan! What fantastic news. So happy for you.

  12. TIMBER! I'm delighted for you and Log. Congrats!

  13. Congratulations! I'm so happy for you and can't wait to hear more of your journey with the wonderful publisher.

  14. I wanted to jump up and down with joy as I read about your journey, but I had to sit still to read every word. How fun!!! And I'm absolutely thrilled for you. - Donna

  15. Karol Ruth SilversteinSeptember 22, 2011 at 7:30 PM

    SO awesome, Sue!! Congrats!!!

  16. Congrats sue
    That was amazing to read! Some great adventures still huh? Just love it!

  17. That's such a wonderful post - congratulations on selling your story! An inspiring tale for all writers.

  18. Thrilled for you, Susan! And thanks for sharing your journey. Loved it!
    Hugs and see you at the next event---

  19. What a great suspenseful story about selling your story. Congratulations, Susan! Wonderful news!

  20. What a wonderful story and very funny telling! It is a great lesson in patience for all of us, and a huge inspiration to keep going. Thank you and big congrats!!!

  21. Wow, such terrific news! Congratulations, Susan!

  22. Susan I'm soooo thrilled for you! You deserve it!!!

  23. Congratulations Susan! Your success story is itself a great read.

  24. Thanks to all of you. I as looking forward to whatever comes next.

  25. Yay! Great story. Can't wait to see the book.

  26. That is so wonderful! Congratulations, Susan!

    Thanks for the play-by-play. It is indeed true that good things come to those who wait. ;) You have proved your patience!


  27. Congratulations!! What a great story about a great story! ;)

  28. This is such a wonderful story! Congratulations! Persistence pays off!

  29. That is so exciting! Congratulations! Can't wait to read the finished product!

  30. What a great read! No one spins a tale the way you do, Sue, seriously! This is reality at it's best! Congratulations, dear friend! You deserve all the good coming your way - and then some! Thanks for sharing in such a fun manner. Peace, blessings, love and hugs!

  31. Way to go, Sue! Thanks for sharing that encouraging story.

  32. Since BeachLane Books does not accept unsolicited stories, how did you "send" your query?

  33. Since BeachLane Books does not accept unsolicited stories, how did you "send" your query?


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