The Icing on the Cake, or, the Conclusion to My Big Ol’ Revision Post

In two weeks, I’m heading out to do a school visit over my spring break (hi, Columbus, Wisconsin elementary and middle schools!). I’m really excited, in part because the two literacy coaches that invited me are doing such a good job planning for my visit. One asked if it was okay if she shared my post comparing writing a book to baking a cake with students to help them get ready for my arrival. I told her to go right ahead, but then I had to scramble over to see what I had actually written. That was kind of a while ago! And, reading it, I realized that it wasn’t quite finished. It ends with my agent Linda sending my cake (MALCOLM manuscript draft #8) out into the world and me hoping that someone would want a bite, and here I am now . . . about to have my “cake” served to readers this fall!

Well, there were a few more steps in there! More mixing. More revising.

And so, I thought I’d finish cleaning up my “kitchen” in this post.

Well…as you may have gleaned since then, someone did, indeed, want a bite of my chocolate bundt with cherries version of MALCOLM. Actually, TWO someones! In mid-September of 2010, my agent emailed with the exciting news that an editor was interested in MALCOLM.


I cannot believe I didn’t write about that event here, but if you’ve ever worked in a school, you might understand that September and May are purely Survival Months. My family is lucky if they have basic nutrition and clean clothes. Blogging? Not so much. To extend my baking metaphor, it’s kind of like getting the great news that people like your cake while finding out your kitchen is on fire.

Meanwhile, MALCOLM was also still out with another editor, so my agent checked in with her and suddenly, we were in the great position of two editors wanting to have a slice of my cake! I talked on the phone to both and listened to their visions for MALCOLM about how they saw it being served as a real book. While I would have been delighted to work with either one, one’s ideas–the sprinkles, if you will–of what MALCOLM could be like as a finished cake matched my chocolate bundt with cherries so closely. And so I signed a contract with Houghton Mifflin Books for Children.

Part of what drew me to Houghton Mifflin is that they already had an illustrator lined up: Brian Lies. Now, I already loved Brian Lies work–I do a bats activity with his books each spring with my first graders. So it felt so right.

In the spring of 2011, I got my marked-up manuscript back from my editor. I wrote about that here and here. I was a little surprised that there weren’t a whole lot of revisions to do, but it was probably because I had already made so many changes to my recipe in the first eight versions of the story. But there is a MALCOLM #9 on my hard drive. And after I finished it, I was even more sure that my editor was making my cake taste even better.

This past fall brought sneak peeks of illustrations–so delicious!–and copyedits (draft #10, if you’re still counting), which is kind of like making sure you have every last bit of batter scraped out of the bowl. There are a lot of questions and punctuation issues. And you get to write things like STET. This stage also brought lots of clarifying questions from Brian Lies. He had started work on the illustrations, and there’s nothing like having someone turn your words into pictures for finding out that your words are too vague or even contradictory. Lots of emails went back and forth about oscar fish, clock towers, and school floor plans.

Most recently, I’ve stirred through what’s called “first pages.”

This is the closest glimpse yet of what MALCOLM is going to look like. The illustrations are in place, the text is formatted like a book. VERY EXCITING. Also a little nervous-making because it’s my last time to make sure my frosting covers everything!

Next I’ll be getting ARCs, or advanced reader copies. These are a limited number of paperback versions of the book that go out to reviewers. Which means . . . MALCOLM’s going out into the world! And so I end this post a lot like the first one:

Will anyone else want to try a bite? I hope so.

But if not, I’m still hard at work on a new recipe in my kitchen . . .