The Donkey’s Song Was Acquired by Random House Children’s Books Through #PBPitch – Tips for Pitching A Manuscript on Twitter

The next #PBPitch Event is February 17, 2022, and I thought that this would be a good time to remind picture book writers that Miracles DO happen via Twitter and #PBPitch.

On February 20, 2020, I pitched several manuscripts through a #PBpitch Twitter event, and although my overall success was minimal that day, I am thrilled to announce that through that event, I landed a once-in-a-lifetime contract offer from Frances Gilbert, VP, and Editor in Chief at Doubleday for Young Readers, which is a division of Random House Children’s Books at Penguin Random House. 

Almost exactly two years later, that book, The Donkey’s Song, is ready to pre-order from Random House Children’s Books. Here’s the Link. [Click on the word “Link”]

I am thrilled to say that because of Frances Gilbert and her expert handling of my contract and the process thereafter, my book has almost reached the point of publication and that it has done so without a hitch. In my opinion, several miracles came together to bring about my debut picture book, and in this post, I want to share some of those miracles and a few tips to help others navigate the Twitter Pitch Event process.

Miracle Number 1 – Frances Gilbert Purchased the Manuscript for The Donkey’s Song via #PBPitch on Twitter, and I Almost Didn’t Pitch That Book At All

I knew that my story for The Donkey’s Song was written well [trust me, I don’t always think that my manuscripts are written well], but I had other reservations about this particular manuscript:

  1. It is a Seasonal Book
  2. It has Religious Overtones
  3. I am an Unagented Author [But I’m about to launch a campaign to correct that  issue]
  4. I was an Unpublished Author

But if I learned anything at all from having participated in the Twitter event #PBPitch in February of 2020, it is that no one should ever pre-determine what will and will not be acquired during a Twitter Pitch Event.

Tip Number 1 – Don’t Sabotage Your Potential by Failing to Pitch ALL of Your Good Writing During A Twitter Event

In other words, don’t pitch only the manuscripts that you think might have a chance to be selected.  As writers, we have no idea what editors and/or agents are seeking during a Twitter event.

Miracle Number 2 – I Had Never Heard of a Twitter Pitch Event Before I Landed a Deal in One.

Before that event in February of 2020, I had never heard of #PBpitch or of any of the other Twitter pitch events. Truthfully, I was not active on Twitter before then, but because of another miracle, I bumped into an announcement that in February of 2020, there would be an opportunity for picture book authors to pitch their writing to agents and to editors who might be scrolling through the mounds of potential tweets that were marked by the hashtag #PBPitch. Although I had been writing for years at that time, I had only recently begun seeking publication,  I reasoned with myself: “Why not try #PBpitch? After all, it is free, and it might actually work.” And as wishes do sometimes come true, Frances Gilbert “liked” one of my tweets in spite of the fact that the manuscript that I was pitching was a seasonal book, and again: I almost didn’t pitch that book at all.

Miracle Number 3 – In searching through the #PBPitch Tweets that day in 2020, Frances Gilbert was looking for a book about a donkey. By sheer coincidence, I just happened to have written a book about a donkey.

  1. I don’t believe that Frances was looking for a nativity story, but she later told me that she had recently adopted a donkey and that she simply  had a hankering that day to acquire a donkey book. The title of my debut picture book is The Donkey’s Song, and as soon as I pitched that title and a few other words about the story, Frances “liked” the pitch. [That’s how authors and editors and/or agents connect via Twitter pitch events.]
  2. Again, this was the first time that I had ever participated in a Twitter pitch event. When I saw Frances’s “like,” I thought that she had made a mistake.  I’m not exactly sure how it all went down from there, but I believe that I timidly messaged Frances and sheepishly asked, “Did you like my pitch about The Donkey’s Song?” She responded with a “Yes,” and she further asked me to send her the complete manuscript. That’s the #PBPitch dance.
  3. I did immediately send Frances my complete manuscript, and within a day or two, she responded, saying that she loved the story. She further indicated that she was interested in acquiring it for publication.
  4. The rest of that business deal followed through seamlessly, and on December 22, 2020, Frances announced in Publishers Weekly that my debut book The Donkey’s Song would be released in 2022. At that time in 2020, it seemed as though 2022 was centuries away, but. Now, I fully understand the saying: “Slow and steady wins the race.”

Miracle Number 4 – Fairy Tales Do Come True, It Can Happen to You

It is an understatement to say that I am ecstatic that my first picture book is ready for pre-ordering, but before this all becomes a matter of history, I want to say a little bit more about some of the miracles that came together to make my first book deal happen.

  1. As I said before, I almost didn’t pitch The Donkey’s Song at all on February 20, 2020. I had decided that my Christmas Nativity story wouldn’t have a chance to be noticed on Twitter, but I was wrong,
  2. Although I am a painter and although I pitched all of my other manuscript ideas that day with one of my own illustrations, I did not do that for The Donkey’s Song. I knew that my painting style was not right for that sweet, gentle book.

Tip Number 2 – You Don’t Need an Illustration to Pitch in a Twitter Event.

The truth is that my art is bold and that most of my illustrations are wild and silly.

Mrs Cow at the Beach – A Jacki Kellum Illustration

My illustrations are not at all reverent, and The Donkey’s Song needed some reverence.

Although I can paint, I had no idea how to illustrate my very soft story about the donkey who carried the expectant Mary to Bethlehem, and although I almost NEVER tweet without an image, I did tweet that 1 manuscript pitch in 2020 with no image at all.

This is important: Many authors believe that they must have an illustrator before they submit their manuscripts, but when submitting to an established editor, that is not at all the case. Had I pitched my debut book in 2020 with an illustration, I might have prevented Frances from visualizing the book in the way that she needed to see it. Ultimately, Frances selected the established illustrator Sydney Hanson to illustrate my first book, and I could not be happier about that decision. 

Miracle Number 5 – Frances Gilbert and Her Team Selected Not Only A Good Illustrator to Illustrate My Book, but They Also Selected the Perfect Illustrator for that Book – Sydney Hanson.

This miraculous success story continued. The fabulously sweet illustrator Sydney Hanson was asked to illustrate The Donkey’s Song, and I cannot say how very ideal her illustrations are for that book. Several years ago, I received a scholarship to attend a workshop at the Highlights for Children property at Boyds Mills. One of the other people there at that time shared her horror story that a publisher had matched her with a completely inadequate illustrator. That story nearly scarred me for life. I am a bit of a control freak anyway, and it was with fear and trepidation that I agreed to allow someone else to illustrate my book. At that time, I had no idea who would do that work, but miracle upon miracle, Sydney Hanson agreed to be the illustrator, and I am confident that there could be no better person for that job.

Tip Number 4: Allow Yourself to Let Go of Some of Your Control Issues & Have More Faith.

Today, I read what Random House Children’s Books said on their website about The Donkey’s Song:

“This luminous, soothing song of hope, friendship, conviction, and faith is one that families will return to each Christmas for years to come.” Random House Children’s Books

With that note, I am also reminding myself that sometimes we must simply allow ourselves to have faith and to hope. Sometimes, we just need to let go.

Tip Number 5: You CAN sell your Picture Book without An Agent

But It Is Almost Impossible to Get A Debut Book Deal with a Big 5 Publisher without an Agent. #PBPitch Is the ONLY Reason That I Slipped Past That Rule

I didn’t realize it at the time, but now I know that it is almost impossible for an unknown writer to get his/her work in the hands of one of the Big 5 Publishers.  And without an agent, those possibilities are next to nil.

It is ONLY because of PB Pitch that Frances Gilbert saw my manuscript. For authors without agents, a Twitter event may be the ONLY chance to be seen by an established editor.

Tip Number 6: A Twitter Presence Is Necessary for Authors

2020 -2022 have been learning years for me. Although my Twitter profile says that I have been on Twitter for years and although it says that I have tweeted thousands of times, I actually had not used Twitter much before February of 2020. Although I had launched my Twitter account years before when I was studying information technology in graduate school at Rutgers, and although I had tweeted thousands of times as part of one assignment or another at Rutgers, I had rarely used Twitter for my own personal use before Frances’s acquisition of The Donkey’s Song via #PBPitch. I am working to change that behavior.  At the time of the PB Pitch party in 2020, I had about 30 Twitter followers, and those were probably leftovers from graduate school. When Frances acquired my manuscript in 2020, she did so in one breath, and in the next breath, she kindly prodded me:  “You really need to do something about your Twitter presence.” You can bet that I am taking her advice.

Tip Number 7: Don’t Wait Until Your Writing Is Perfect to Begin Pitching Your Manuscripts

NOW HEAR THIS: I was 69-years-old when my debut picture book was acquired for publication. When my debut picture book will actually be published, I will be 72. For many practical purposes, 72 is too old to begin any career. One of the greatest mistakes of my entire life is that although I have been writing for children for at least 35 years, I didn’t start seeking publication until I was 68. I can offer several valid excuses for that delay, but the main reason was that I didn’t think that I was good enough to submit my work. I wanted to be perfect. That kind of waiting is a huge error. Although by a chain of miracles, one of my picture books has been acquired for publication, and although you can pre-order it today, I don’t feel any different about myself now than I did 35 years ago. I still don’t think that I’m good enough. I certainly know that I’m not perfect. Getting better at writing and illustrating is a never-ending process. All of my manuscripts, until they are published, are works in progress, but that is no excuse to keep my efforts hidden in some closet. It is also no excuse for you.

Tip Number 8: Try Not to React Personally to Whether Your Pitch on a Twitter Party is Liked or Not Liked

I have no idea how many picture books are pitched on Twitter parties, and I also have no idea how many agents and editors are watching the pitches on those events, but anyway that you slice it, luck is still a major player in what does and does not happen via any Twitter event. The editor who selected my debut book in 2020 came to PBpitch that day specifically looking for a book about a donkey, and I just happened to be pitching what she came to the event hoping to acquire. And that is that! Again: That is a miracle.

Twitter is like a black hole, and the odds of your teensy tweet’s being picked out of that unfathomable bucket are very poor. But your odds are NOT impossible. The only time that your odds of being selected are impossible is when you fail to submit what you have written. That is a sure way to fail. Just Do It. Submit.