The Downside of Highpointing

Goals are fun to reach, but as they say, it’s the journey that makes them worthwhile. I was reminded of that fact last week when I met with a group of fellow hikers to sign the Colorado County Highpointers Ice Axe.

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Signing the Colorado County Highpoint Ice Axe [Photo] Stewart M. Green

Yes, there are people out there who try to get to the top of every county in Colorado. Actually, there are people who do this in every state. Hikers who reach the summits of all 64 Colorado counties are invited to sign a ceremonial ice axe. The tradition was started by Dave Covill and John Mitchler who aren’t just avid highpointers, they literally wrote the book on Colorado county highpoints, “Hiking Colorado’s Summits” (FalconGuides, 1999). The two men share a hobby of getting to the highest points of things: states, counties, countries, mountain ranges, national parks and monuments, major cities – and even, I learned last week – golf courses. Highpointing is a fun challenge that takes you to places you might typically never visit.

Hardcore mountaineers like to poke fun at highpointers because some of our achievements aren’t really all that impressive. For example, reaching the highpoints of certain Colorado counties on the eastern plains demands nothing more than a long drive on dirt roads followed by wandering around cow pastures with a hand level and a GPS – with the landowners’ permission, of course. The metro Denver county highpoints are roadside, and one is paved. But other highpoints are much more challenging. Weld County’s highpoint is located on a bison farm. It’s not a tough hike, but avoiding that large herd of 1,000-pound, curious bison was an experience I’ll never forget.

I started highpointing while I was working on another list, all the Colorado 14,000-foot peaks, or 14ers. There were times when the avalanche danger was too high to safely pursue the big peaks, and so having another list to fall back on gave me an opportunity to get out of the house, hike or climb something, and check off a peak on a list! I ticked off the eastern plains and metro Denver highpoints, which when added to the 14,000-foot highpoint peaks accounted for a majority of summits on the county highpoints list. My quest got a lot more interesting after that, taking me all over the state to places like Clark Peak in the Rawah Wilderness east of Walden, Mount Zirkel in the Mount Zirkel Wilderness near Steamboat Springs, Flat Top Mountain in the Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest, and Hagues Peak in the Mummy Range of Rocky Mountain National Park. To the south, Pueblo County’s Greenhorn Mountain and Las Animas County’s West Spanish Peak, both visible from I-25, gave me an excuse to visit the towns of Rye and La Veta, and the views – well, you’ll just have to go up there yourself. They are stunning.

I finished my county highpoint journey on Vermilion Peak in the San Juan Mountains above Ice Lake Basin near Silverton. It was one of the toughest peaks of the lot and I don’t know why I left it until last, but it was a joy to be up there enjoying the views, knowing I had finally completed a goal started years ago on El Paso County highpoint Pikes Peak. It was a sad experience, too, because it was the last peak on the list. I know that sounds silly, but I didn’t want it to be the last. I wanted more highpoints.

I was the 36th person to sign the axe last week, joined by #37 Doug Hatfield, #38 David Johnson, and #39 Mike Offerman. I’m sure many more people will pursue the Colorado County Highpoints list and finish it, too. If you’re one of those people, take a moment up there on those summits. Don’t be in a hurry to come back down. It’s nice up there, and sometimes you don’t realize just how nice until after you’ve done them all.

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Summit of Vermilion Peak, September 19, 2015. [Photo] Stewart M. Green

This column first appeared in the September 28, 2016 Woodmen Edition of the Gazette Community News.

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Spring Cleaning

 

“Mom, is that my Harry Potter Halloween costume? From 3rd grade?

My little boy, “G,” was home from school for a few days and storing his suitcase in the guest room closet. I didn’t answer, knowing what was coming.

“I’m teaching a college course next semester: Investments. Not vestmentsinvestments. There’s a dress code, Mom. No purple and silver robes – they’re pretty strict about that at UT,” he grinned.

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I didn’t even look at him. I knew exactly what was hanging in that closet. Vampire capes and Spiderman pajamas…pirate swords and magic wands. Please, please, don’t open that box…

“Cool, I forgot about my Harry Potter chess set, action figures – and all those puzzles. Why are you hanging onto this stuff?”

It was a fair question. Why do I hang onto all that stuff?

I’m not a hoarder, just an “empty nester,” one of those people whose lives revolved around kids for 25 years and then suddenly I woke up one day and the bathroom was clean – still clean, after a whole week. My boys had grown up, moved out and moved on in their lives, but apparently I had not. Their books, toys, and games are stashed away in every closet, cupboard and corner of the house, connections to sweet memories of those magical times when they were little and nothing mattered to me but making them smile.

“Yes, memories,” said G, “not portkeys. They won’t bring us back.” Maybe that’s what I didn’t want to think about, that they were never coming back. Of course my boys would come back, my big boys who had somehow grown taller than me and were driving cars, buying furniture, and saving for retirement. Those boys showed up from time to time, but the little guys, the ones I took trick-or-treating in purple robes, and stood in line with at the theater every time a new Harry Potter movie came out, they were never coming back.

“You still have all the books, too,” said G, pulling a copy of The Sorcerer’s Stone from the bookshelf. I had read him a chapter every night, and by The Chamber of Secrets he was reading them to me. We read the final novels on our own, speculated about how Rowling was going to tie up all the loose ends after The Half-Blood Prince, and probably spent an hour on the phone discussing the revelations uncovered in The Deathly Hallows. “I always liked Snape,” I had said, “He was always my favorite.”

I’m boxing everything up this week. There’s a place down the street with kids who would love this stuff – Zach’s Place, it’s called. It used to be La Petite Academy and I used to drop G off there every morning on my way to work. At the bottom of the hill is another place called Goodwill and they have a drive-through. I’m going to find new homes for all this stuff, because it’s too precious to keep to myself anymore. Maybe someday a mom can sit on the floor and do these puzzles with her little guy, or a kid can dress up in purple robes and be a wizard for a while.

I’m keeping the books. They’re not portkeys, and holding onto them won’t transport me to another place or time. But sometimes when I lie in bed at night with a cup of tea and read a chapter to myself, and remember those little boys’ voices in my ear and the wonder in their eyes…sometimes, it’s magic.

This column first appeared in the April 27, 2016 Woodmen Edition of the Gazette Community News.

The Highest Compliment

I like to know why people do things, so when I spoke to several volunteers last week as part of some stories I was working on, I asked each one of them, “Why do you do it?”

They gave me a lot of great answers. There are exceptional people in this town who dedicate their lives to local organizations like the American Red Cross, Humane Society of the Pikes Peak Region, Mt. Carmel Center of Excellence, and the Rocky Mountain Field Institute. It was a very humbling week for me.

That got me thinking about my own experiences with volunteering over the years. Why did I do it? There had to be a reason. Like Cori Tanner, a volunteer for the Red Cross, told me, “None of us is Mother Teresa. We have to get something out of this.” Was she right? Why did I volunteer and what did I get out of it?

I thought about my own Red Cross volunteer experiences. Years ago, living in California’s Mojave Desert, I wanted to be a paramedic. I found out that I should be an EMT, an emergency medical technician, first, and then decide if training to become a paramedic made sense for me. I went back to school and got my EMT certification and then I tried to get a job. I quickly found that EMTs don’t make much money, and the starting salary was a small fraction of what I was making as a bartender on Edwards Air Force Base. What to do?

I took a volunteer position working on the base as an EMT for the American Red Cross. That way, I kept my bartender pay and still got to work as an EMT several times a week, on my schedule. I wasn’t on call and I didn’t do any overnight shifts, which would have impacted my job, but I got to discover what it was like to work alongside medical staff at the base hospital. I started out in the pediatric clinic, then moved to the emergency room. It was exciting – an amazing experience, really. Back then, Red Cross volunteers on military bases could do a lot. I weighed and measured the babies that came into the clinic, and took their temperatures. After a while I was giving shots. In the ER, I helped with all kinds of things: bandaging, casting, stitching, and anything else I felt confident enough to do and the doctors and other EMTs trusted me to do. My most memorable patient was a guy who had been in a motorcycle accident. I had to scrub all the pavement out of his skin with what looked like a Brillo pad – and with no anesthetic. I felt awful doing it. Surely it must have been incredibly painful for him! He could sense how I felt and actually talked me through it, reassuring me that it would be okay and we could get through the experience together. After all, he reminded me, nothing I could do to him was going to be any worse than what his commanding officer was going to do to him for “damaging government property,” he joked.

I learned an important lesson as an EMT: I could never be a paramedic. Working with the adults was just fine, but whenever they brought in an injured kid I would literally get sick to my stomach. I’d feel faint and have to sit down. I can’t handle seeing hurt kids, I discovered, and when you’re a paid EMT or paramedic you don’t get to choose your patients. I gave up on my paramedic dream, but the American Red Cross had allowed me to try on a medical career long enough to figure out that it wasn’t a good fit for me.

Years later I became a CASA volunteer here in Colorado Springs. They have a wonderful training program and ongoing support for their volunteers. As a court-appointed special advocate for neglected and abused children in the Pikes Peak area, I got to help out kids, which I loved, but again, after a while it got to me, seeing kids who had been physically injured or who just were not being properly cared for by their parents and other caregivers. It was too much for me to handle, and after a few years I had to stop doing it.

I had more volunteer experiences over the years, and each time I came away with more knowledge about the world and the people in it. Sometimes what I discovered made me more compassionate, and sometimes it made me very angry. I also learned about myself – what I truly cared about, what I loved doing with my time and my life, and what I could never do – no matter how much I cared. We can’t all be paramedics.

One thing stuck: sponsorships. I’ve sponsored children with monthly donations for many years, which has allowed me to help kids without passing out or having nightmares about it. My longest sponsorship was for a little girl named Mercy who lived in a village in Kenya. Mercy was just six years old in 2001, when we met through photos and letters. She would draw pictures for me and Christian Children’s Fund (now Child Fund) would send them to me, along with her letters and photographs of Mercy with her family. In addition to the small monthly sponsorship that helped pay for her food, clothing, and medical care, I would send her extra money for special occasions, like her birthday, or Christmas. The family never kept this money to themselves. They shared it with the whole village. Fifty bucks would pay for a whole holiday meal for everyone, and they would still have enough left over to buy Mercy a new dress, and buy some staples to put away when food was low. I learned a lot in my communications with Mercy and her family. When I lamented to her about the drought here in Colorado, she responded, “We are suffering a drought as well and there is not enough food. How is the drought affecting you and your family?” I didn’t tell her about my brown lawn.

I corresponded with Mercy for thirteen years. A couple of years ago I got a letter from Christian Children’s Fund. They wanted to speak with me on the phone. I had never spoken to anyone there on the phone. What was going on?

It was the worst possible news. Mercy had pneumonia and passed away suddenly. How does a 19-year-old child die from pneumonia? They don’t have the medical resources, they told me. I won’t pretend to know what a parent who has lost a child of their own goes through, but I felt pain, and sadness, and tremendous guilt. My stupid brown lawn and whatever else I was dealing with…and this little girl couldn’t get basic medical help. The lady at Christian Children’s Fund expressed her sympathy and told me, “Susan, there was nothing you could do. Please know that you did make Mercy’s life better.”

I’m sponsoring two little girls now, a cousin of Mercy’s in that same Kenyan village, and another little girl in Vietnam. I send them letters and postcards and I never tell them about my trivial problems here in Colorado Springs.

Cori Tanner was right: None of us is Mother Teresa. What I gained from working as an EMT, and for CASA, and through helping out Mercy — and now Martha and Diu — is infinitely more valuable than the time and money I gave up to get it. And those words of the lady who called to give me the bad news about Mercy ring in my head. “You made her life better.” I can’t imagine a higher compliment.

This column first appeared in an edited version in the September 14, 2016 Woodmen Edition of the Gazette Community News.

Life’s a Bike!

I’m not an athletic person. People who read my guidebooks on outdoor recreation and follow my progress on peak-bagging sites are usually surprised to hear that, but it’s true.

I’m not athletic, but I am adventurous, so when I got asked to do a 17-mile bike ride for a story I said “Sure, why not?” I hadn’t been on a bike in more than 40 years, but I remembered that old saying, “It’s just like riding a bike,” and figured I’d be fine.

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[Photo]By Dave Haygarth (Lily’s Islabike Beinn 24) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Saturday morning, driving out to meet the guide from Pikes Peak Bike Tours at Cheyenne Mountain Resort (the resort is offering a fall foliage bike tour package through the bicycle outfitter) I had a thought: “What if ‘it’s just like riding a bike’ is just a saying and it’s not really true? What if riding a bike isn’t ‘just like riding a bike’ at all?”

I pulled over and Googled it on my phone. Opinions on the matter were mixed. My muscle memory should kick in and keep me upright…but maybe not. I thought about my situation and the best and worst case scenarios. Best case was I would be able to maintain my balance, keep the bike up without humiliating myself too much, and complete the ride. Worst case was I would be walking my bike for 17 miles, from the Saint Peters Dome Overlook at 9,000 feet down to Old Colorado City, 3,000 feet below…past other bikers, hikers, dogs, strollers…toddlers on tricycles. I had a big pair of sunglasses and a ball cap to hide under, and a backpack with 3 liters of water – I could survive that. Okay, I’m going to do this.

Scott at the bike place gave me a tall, skinny-looking bike to ride. “Too high,” I said. “It’s the right size for your height,” he told me. “I don’t care,” I said. It was the right size for my height, but it had nothing in common with my stumpy legs and oversized derriere. He went back into the shop and came out with a burly blue thing, short and fat-tired – like me. I walked the bike off the pavement to a gravel lot, figuring that when I hit the dirt, the rocks would cushion the blow.

I hopped on, put a foot on one of the pedals, and pushed off. And did not tip over. It was amazing! The bike stayed up, I stayed up, and kept going! After circling the parking lot a few times, I backpedaled to slow down but there was no resistance. Then I remembered that bikes were different now and brakes were on the handlebars. I pushed some buttons, pulled some levers, and finally came to a stop.

Before “the big ride,” Scott explained the gears and brakes to me, and even followed alongside me for the first mile to make sure I could shift gears, slow down and stop.

The ride was a blast. I did not fall off a cliff, hit a tree, or run over any dogs or children on the trail. I managed to get my sunglasses off before plunging into the dark tunnels along the route and get them back on again as I emerged into the sunshine on the other side (yes, you heard that right – I rode that bike with one hand!). I navigated the bike lane on 26th Street and crossed Highway 24 without incident.

“Big deal,” you’re probably thinking, “she rode a bike.” Well, to me, it actually was a big deal. I’m not athletic – or young. I hadn’t been on a bike since I was 14 years old, and it was borrowed. I had my own bike when I was about 7, a rusty old thing my dad had picked up at a yard sale. We moved the next year and the bike didn’t fit in the car, so it was left behind.

I guess that always stuck in my mind: Bikes were a luxury. They were for rich, athletic people – people who stayed put and didn’t move every couple of years. Bikes were for people who had nice things, not people like me. It was good to get on that bike and not fall down.

Life’s a bike. And bikes, I learned, are for everybody.

This column first appeared in the August 31, 2016 Woodmen Edition of the Gazette Community News.

Ignorance is Mine

“You know about coke ovens, right?” he asked.

Of course I did. I had lived here for decades, studied Colorado history and geology, and had even hiked around the “Coke Ovens” — big beehive-shaped rock formations — at Colorado National Monument. I drank Coke many years ago, and there was an oven in my kitchen. I knew all about … I knew nothing about coke ovens.

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[Photo] By Jesse Varner from Boulder, Colorado, USA. Cropped and color-corrected prior to upload by Daniel Case (Coke ovens being restored at Redstone) / Wikimedia Commons

“And there’s the coke oven,” said Eric, “I wonder what will happen to it now that the property’s been sold.”

“Mmm hmm …,” I responded, checking my email, Twitter feed and Facebook page and not hearing anything, really. He was driving west on Garden of the Gods Road and I was not paying attention.

“Wait, what? Coke oven?” I looked up from my phone and caught a quick glimpse of a beehive-shaped structure.

“You know about coke ovens, right?” he asked. Of course I did. I had lived here for decades, studied Colorado history and geology, and had even hiked around the “Coke Ovens” — big beehive-shaped rock formations — at Colorado National Monument. I drank Coke many years ago, and there was an oven in my kitchen. I knew all about … I knew nothing about coke ovens.

My friend turned the corner onto Rusina Road. “There’s the coal seam,” he said, “you can see the layer of sediment up there in the cliff.” A black line ran the length of the cliff face on the side of the road, as if someone had taken a chunk of coal and painted it there. OK, I knew about coal seams. When I visited South Canyon Hot Springs I learned about the underground coal fire that had been smoldering since 1910 and ignited the Coal Seam Fire of 2002 that burned thousands of acres in Glenwood Springs.

Eric turned onto South Rockrimmon Boulevard and went up Vindicator Drive. We were getting close to my house. He pointed at a development on the other side of a block wall.

“That’s where the coal pit was,” he said. What coal pit? That’s my grocery store. “This is where they got all the coal to power the gold mining down in Bear Creek, you know, the Gold Hill Mesa area,” he said. Sure, I knew. I’ve lived here for years. This is my neighborhood. Of course I knew all about the coke oven, the coal seam, and coal pits. The gold mining. What the heck was he talking about?

Eric dropped me off at my house. I was confused. How had I lived on Colorado Springs’ northwest side all these years, driven these roads thousands of times and never noticed any of the things he had just pointed out? I did what any educated, scientific, research-driven individual would do: I Googled. Here’s what I found out: Coke ovens were used during the coal mining days to burn all the impurities out of coal until it was pure carbon, called “coke.” That coke oven on the side of Garden of the Gods Road was part of the Pikeview Mine, which was dug in the late 1800s. Coal from the mine fueled the Gold Cycle Mill, at the current location of Gold Hill Mesa. Pikeview Mine closed on July 1, 1957.

According to an article that appeared in The Gazette around that time: “As much of the equipment as possible will be salvaged and sent to the Cripple Creek District for mining of gold.” How did I not know that? I had heard rumblings of this story over the years but it never seemed to be important to me, so I never paid attention. Most likely whenever the topic came up I was checking my email or my Twitter feed. Suddenly, I was interested. It’s amazing how much more interesting things are when they’re going on in your neighborhood!

The Pikeview Mine, as it turned out, stretched from the bottom of what is now Vindicator Drive east across I-25. There were other mines here, too: Columbine Mine, Corley Mine, Knights of Industry Mine and Klondike Mine. A maze of abandoned tunnels lies beneath the ground here, occasionally prone to a bit of settling and sink holes. As late as 2008, some coal dust from the Pikeview Mine spontaneously combusted, heating the ground above, in a park, to 800 degrees. The heat melted the shoes of a young boy playing in the area. How did I miss that? There are maps on the Colorado Geological Survey site that show where the mines were.

I would like to see the CGS mine map overlaid on the FEMA flood map overlaid on the OEM landslide map. I’m trying to do it myself and it’s like a Venn diagram. There’s my house in the middle — the Woodmen area’s own Bermuda Triangle! I’d like to go back to Twitter now.

This column first appeared in the July 27, 2016 Woodmen Edition of the Gazette Community News.

Pack a Little Kindness for the Classroom

“Heading back to school after summer break is a lot of fun for most kids because they get to reconnect with friends. That’s not the case for kids going to a new school for the first time…I looked different. My clothes weren’t like theirs, and I talked different…I was strange to them, but they were all strange to me, too.”

Read more: New year can mean new places, faces in classroom

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[Photo] Trocaire from Ireland / Wikimedia Commons

The Sweetest Tweet

“Evening exhales through the rooms, driving out the heat. Outside my windows the purple lilac and Japanese snowball bush sigh in the dark, releasing the day’s last scented breath…The real magic starts at dawn. Everything is rested. A thin light slips into the house and with it the morning’s reverie.”

Read more: Music in the morning

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[Photo] Tawsif Salam / Wikimedia Commons

Gifts to Ease the Pain

“Some days stick with you. When your kids are born and you see their tiny faces and hear their first cries, your heart fills up with so much joy that you burst into tears and the moment is forever imprinted in your memory. There are other days when there is no joy…Those days stick, too. Your heart is so heavy it hurts your chest, and you never forget what that feels like.”

Read more: Gifts to ease the pain

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Twin fawns born June 12, 2016. [Photo] Susan Joy Paul

My Waterfall Addiction

June snowmelt marks the start of waterfall hiking season in Colorado. Here are a few to get you started – pick up my book Hiking Waterfalls in Colorado to find many more!

My waterfall addiction

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Big Dominguez Creek drops abruptly over south-facing slabs in a fantastical horsetail spray at Big Dominguez Falls near Grand Junction, Colorado. Photo by Stewart M. Green.

I Want to Write a Children’s Book

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The children’s book market is as crowded as a library shelf. [Photo] ProjectManhattan/Wikimedia Commons

I’ve never had a children’s book published, or even written one. That doesn’t stop writers who are looking for advice on getting their children’s books published from contacting me.

What I know about getting a children’s book published is that it’s not much different than getting any other book published, with one caveat: It’s a lot harder.

The reason it’s a lot harder is that people think it’s easy to write one. There are a couple hundred words in a children’s book, versus tens of thousands of words in an adult novel or work of nonfiction. Books written for adults require a lot of research, too.

Since people think children’s books are easy to write, a lot of people write them. This means that children’s book publishers are overwhelmed with submissions – letters of inquiry, book proposals, and manuscripts – and most of them are not good. It also means there are a lot of good ones, too, so there is a lot of competition.

Children’s books are hard to write because every single word counts.

That’s true for any book, but because there are so few words in a children’s book, it’s even more true. If one of my books has 85,000 words and 8,000 sentences, I can bury a few bad sentences here and there, and most people won’t notice. In a children’s book, if you have even one bad sentence, people will notice. If there are only ten sentences in the whole book and one of them is bad, then 10% of your book is bad.

If you see a children’s book written by someone who is not a writer, say, a famous actor or singer, do not assume the person – in addition to their celebrity – is a talented writer. People with that kind of money hire other people to help them write books, and get them published. They may have the original idea, and it may be a wonderful idea, but writing is harder than you think, and often times the easier a book is to read, the harder it was to write. Good writers know how to make writing that’s easy to read, and celebrities can afford to hire the best writers to help them write their books. 

Publishers like to publish books “written” by famous people, because (a) the celebrity worked with a really good writer, and probably an illustrator, too, to get the words and illustrations just right, and (b) they don’t have to worry so much about marketing the book, because the celebrity will do it for them. I applaud anyone who writes a book, no matter how they got it done, but I think this practice gives the general public the impression that anyone can write a children’s book, when that is just not true. Sometimes it takes hours to write one sentence. This has nothing to do with “writer’s block,” which is a whole different thing. It just takes that long, sometimes, to get a sentence exactly right.

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When anyone asks me for advice, I am happy to provide it. I may not be an expert and I let them know that, but I am happy to provide them with the information I do have. So when I get an email or a letter from someone who wants advice about writing or getting published, I always reply.

It takes a while to write a letter, so from now on I’m going to post them here on my blog. That way, the next time someone asks me for advice on how to get their children’s book published, I can point them here. This will save me a lot of time, so I can get some writing done.

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Hi Andrew,

I read your letter of inquiry and book manuscripts. I really liked the books. The stories are fun and I can see how a kid would enjoy reading them. I also liked the fact that you included some information about yourself in the letter. Rather than edit them, I’m going to give you some advice. The reason I don’t want to edit them is because there is not enough to edit. A publisher is going to want a lot more information.

First, here are some things you should know about the publishing industry. 

  • The publishing industry, and especially the sector for publishing children’s books, is extremely competitive. This means you have to do everything right, or you will not get a contract.
  • The letter of inquiry is good, but generic. Every publisher will want specific information in your letter of inquiry. Likewise, every publisher wants to see specific information in a book proposal. The information they want to see varies from one publisher to the next.
  • Depending on the publisher you reach out to, they may want to see (a) a letter of inquiry, (b) a book proposal, or (c) your actual manuscript. Some companies don’t want to see a manuscript at all until they’ve read the letter of inquiry or book proposal, and then they will let you know if they’re interested in seeing your manuscript.
  • This may sound like they’re being “picky,” but publishers get thousands of letters and proposals, so they don’t even read most of them, and if you send them something they don’t want or didn’t ask for, they won’t read it. They’ll just send you a form letter or email rejection.

 

Here is my advice. 

  • Go to a bookstore and check out the children’s book section. Find books that are similar to yours – not ones that necessarily  “look” like yours or have a similar story line, but books that are about the same word count, and written for the same children’s  age range as your books.
  • The publishers of those books are the publishers that you want to be targeting. Every publishing company is interested in specific types of books, so if your book isn’t their specific “type,” they will not be interested.
  • Get a copy of Children’s Writer’s and Illustrator’s Market 2016. “Writer’s Market” books are a listing of publishers. Look up the publishers you are targeting. When you find one, it will show you exactly what they want to see from you. Like I said, some publishers want a letter of inquiry, some want a book proposal, and some will look at a manuscript. Some do not accept work from new authors at all, and some of them will only accept work from an agent. Knowing this upfront will keep you from wasting your time contacting the wrong publisher with the wrong information.
  • The listings will also give you pertinent information like the name of the person at the publisher to contact, usually an acquisitions editor. This is extremely important, because if you send your stuff to the wrong person it will just get thrown away. People at publishing companies are inundated with inquiries, so they don’t go out of their way to read everything.
  • The listing will also tell you how to contact them. Some of them will accept email, and some will want hard copies.
  • The listing will also tell you the format to use for your work. Again, publishers are very picky. They may want everything in Times New Roman, 12 point font, double-spaced, and if you don’t send it that way they will not read it. I’m not kidding.
  • Once you’ve found a publisher that is interested in the type of books you write, and that is accepting work from new authors, follow the instructions on who to contact at the company and how to contact them.

My first book proposal was 13 pages long and included a lot of information, because that’s what the publisher wanted to see before they would even look at a manuscript. I’m telling you all this because I know how hard it is to get a book contract. It took me a long time. I will tell you that if you send a generic letter of inquiry without “doing your homework” about the specific publisher you are targeting, your work will not get read. If you send them a bulleted list of the manuscript, they will not read it. That’s just how it is.

Start with the letter and manuscripts you have prepared, but then follow my directions. You can buy a Children’s Writer’s and Illustrator’s Market on Amazon for about $20. I have several of them (they have different versions) and they are invaluable! In addition to the listings, they include a lot of great information about the market, getting an agent, and getting published.

Also, think about joining the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. They have local chapters, and there’s one in your area.

I have a sister who has been trying to get a children’s book published for a couple of years, and she said the information she received from her local chapter has been very helpful. I don’t trust advertising for groups like this, but I trust my sister, and if she says it’s worthwhile I believe her.

After you do all of the above, and you have the right information for a specific publisher, written up in the proper format, and you would like me to look at it, feel free to send it on. I love to see new authors get published, but I also know how difficult it is. You have to do every single thing the publisher’s way, or your manuscript will not be read, no matter how good it is.

Good luck.