Saturday, August 26, 2023

So, What's Next?


Hello, dear readers! 

I feel like it's time to give an update about what I've been up to writing-wise . . . and to talk about why I don't currently have any new-release announcements.

First, my debut picture book biography, Cut!: How Lotte Reiniger and a Pair of Scissors Revolutionized Animation, illustrated by Matt Schu, has now been available from Greenwillow Books for over seven months! I'm currently booking school and library visits and have a fun presentation called "Lights! Camera! Scissors! Action!" You can find more info about all of my presentations at Lonni Lane Marketing

Unfortunately, aside from selling Cut! back in May 2020 (at the beginning of the pandemic and in the middle of my cancer treatments!), I have not had any luck in selling additional manuscripts to publishers over the past three years. 

In 2019 I wrote an adult novel set during the Dust Bowl. My agent, Barbara Poelle, suggested revisions, but by the time we had the book ready to submit to publishers, the pandemic hit. Barbara and I agreed it wasn't the right time to try selling a book about a woman trapped at home with her children in the middle of a traumatic and deadly moment in history. 

We waited several months, and then Barbara sent the manuscript to several editors. Everyone said the book was too bleak. Looking back, it was still too soon. Earlier this year, Barbara considered sending it out again, but first she obtained some in-house reads at the literary agency where she worked. Once more, the novel proved to be too dark for readers. Alas, we're putting the book on the back burner for now. I worked hard on the manuscript for well over a year, but it's certainly not the first completed novel I've ever had to set aside. I wrote seven other manuscripts before writing In the Shadow of Blackbirds, two of which made the rounds to publishers, without any success. I've been here before.

I also wrote three new picture books since the summer of 2020, but none of them have had any luck either. In one case, we got close to selling the book to a publisher, but the editor wanted multiple rounds of revisions before she could make an offer, and we ended up not seeing eye-to-eye about the book. 

I have another picture book bio in progress, but I'm working on obtaining funding for further research.

I feel that writing young-adult fiction is my greatest strength, but I suffered severe burnout after The Raven's Tale. Writing a novel about teenage Edgar Allan Poe was a full-time endeavor that felt like working on a master's thesis over the course of several years, and then sales proved to be disappointing. The book floundered, and my publisher decided not to release it in paperback format. 

I honestly have no idea how sales are going for my picture book.

I am by no means the only author who has been struggling to sell books over the past several years or who's been struggling with disappointing sales of published books. Publishing was already a challenging field in 2019 when The Raven's Tale debuted, but as with every other aspect of life, the pandemic hit the industry hard. Supply-chain issues impacted the printing of new books and caused delays in release dates. The lack of in-person events and school visits led to lost promotional opportunities. Publishers laid off vital staff members. The remaining staff has often been overworked and underpaid. Greenwillow Books, a division of HarperCollins, published Cut!, and Cut! released in the middle of the HarperCollins strike this past winter. 

The removal of books from schools and libraries during the current "Ed Scare" in the U.S. has also had an impact on book sales. Kidlit relies heavily on sales to schools and public libraries, and when states pass laws limiting which books can appear on shelves—and when school librarians receive harassment and death threats over the acquisition of books that discuss race, sexuality, and gender—authors feel the impact both personally and financially. I haven't seen my own titles appear on lists of books that have been challenged and/or removed, likely because my books tend to fly under the radar, but it kills me to see what a small but loud group of people are doing to authors, librarians, teachers, and most of all, to kids and their freedom to learn. In some regions of the U.S., such as Houston, Texas, districts are eliminating entire school libraries. All kidlit books are at risk of disappearing from the hands of readers who want and need them, and it's a subject on all authors' minds as we sit down and write our next books.

Nevertheless, despite my recent rejections, despite my YA burnout, despite the seemingly impossible state of publishing, despite the book bans, despite my need to work two side gigs to supplement my writing income, I am working on a new YA novel that's deeply influenced by our modern world. It's my way of coping with everything, especially the relentless anti-LGBTQIA+ movement in the U.S. and elsewhere that's deeply affected me, my family, my friends, and so many other people who are simply trying to live their own lives. A member of my own household is trans, so I'm particularly protective of the rights of trans people in this oppressive, dangerous era of transphobic legislation and fearmongering.

I'm not the fastest writer these days. My muse is tired and timid and often needs to be coaxed. I would love to eventually try to find a publisher for this new attempt at a novel, but for now I'm writing for myself and my family, and we'll see what happens. I often write my best work when I'm angry, and I have felt angry so often over the past three years. 

Living in this modern era is often unfathomably difficult. If you're struggling, too, whether it's creatively, personally, financially, or all of the above, please know you're not alone. Take good care of yourself. Find ways to pour your own frustrations, anger, and fear into art, or activism, or into something as simple as tending to a plant (gardening has become a new coping mechanism for me over the past three years). Seek mental health help if you have the means. I've been in therapy myself to receive treatment for an anxiety disorder. It's okay to reach out to others and say you're struggling.

Keep going. You're important, and I'm so glad you're here. I'm thankful you've taken the time to read this post.  

I'll close the post with one of my favorite passages from In the Shadow of Blackbirds.

I know the world seems terrifying right now and the future seems bleak. Just remember human beings have always managed to find the greatest strength within themselves during the darkest hours. When faced with the worst horrors the world has to offer, a person either cracks and succumbs to the ugliness, or they salvage the inner core of who they are and fight to right wrongs. 

Never let hatred, fear, and ignorance get the best of you. Keep bettering yourself so you can make the world around you better, for nothing can ever improve without the brightest, bravest, kindest, and most imaginative individuals rising above the chaos.

Oh, one more thing! I celebrated the ten-year anniversary of the release of In the Shadow of Blackbirds by getting a tattoo of the bird that designer Maria T. Middleton included throughout the book. My tattoo artist is Michael Facchini.


Warmest wishes,
Cat Winters 

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