Friday, April 24, 2020

You can go home again

Thirty-nine years ago, I couldn't wait to leave my hometown.

I wasn't the only one. In the early 80's, Beaver Dam, Wisconsin (population 14,000) seemed like a dead end to me and a lot of my classmates who were heading off to college. We wanted to move to the city, make our fortunes, live the big life.

I was reminded of this yesterday when an old friend posted the above video on Facebook. It's an episode of Around the Corner, a Milwaukee-based PBS show that profiles the many proud towns and villages of the Badger state.

Last week it was Beaver Dam's turn, and as I watched it, I was happy to see that the community theater--the place where I first fell in love with theater--is thriving.

Back in my day, they used to perform their shows in the town's only movie theater (a single screener, of course), and they made room for the stage by pulling out the first few rows of seats. Well, as the video shows, that same group has just moved into a large, dedicated venue equipped with the latest sound and lighting equipment.

But the video reminded me of all the other things Beaver Dam has going for it--then and now. The county fairgrounds (at one time, the Dodge County was the largest county fair in the county). The beautiful old library (now a museum). A wonderful park system. And, of course, Beaver Dam Lake. It was too shallow and muddy to swim in, but I have many fond memories of fishing and ice skating on it.

Yep, Beaver Dam was a pretty terrific place to grow up. And it only took me thirty-some years to figure that out.

Thursday, April 9, 2020

I get an agent

Followers of this blog know that since my Hollywood manager dumped me in November, I've been looking for a literary agent. I even made it one of my New Year's goals, vowing to submit my chapter book adaptation of The Enchanted Bookshop to 100 literary agents.

Well, it didn't take that many. After querying 37 agents, and getting only one read request, I received an offer for representation from Stephen Fraser of the Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency.

I couldn't be happier. Steve is one of the most experienced and respected agents in the biz, and he has big plans for The Enchanted Bookshop (more on that in a future post). And unlike my previous agreement with Gravity Squared Entertainment, this one has no expiration date. Steve is in it for the long haul.

I also like that the agency has an office in Los Angeles. Turns out they do a fair amount of business selling the TV and film rights for their literary properties. So in a roundabout way, I may get my stuff out to Hollywood after all.

But first we've got sell the book.

Will the COVID-19 crisis make it tougher? Maybe. But people have to read something while they're shut in, and although individual bookstores are suffering, online book sales are going strong. And publishers are still buying.

Some of you may be wondering how I managed to get Steve's attention. It was, after all, a completely cold submission. Stephen didn't know me from... Douglas Adams. Well, here's the query letter I used:
I've written a 9000-word manuscript for the first in a series of chapter books titled The Enchanted Bookshop.
Synopsis: After magically coming to life, Dorothy Gale, Tom Sawyer, and Pollyanna "splorge" into other classic novels in order to help a struggling bookshop owner, but in doing so they accidentally alter the very stories they enter, forcing them to make things right before they return. 
I'm an award-winning children's playwright with 16 published plays and over 1600 productions in 17 countries. The Enchanted Bookshop is based on my play of the same name. Teachers love the play because it celebrates the joy of reading in a fun, fresh way.  They love it so much, in fact, they've made it one of the best-selling plays in the country, booking over 400 productions in its first three years. A musical adaptation was released last year and it looks like that's going to be a big hit too.
The first 20 pages of the manuscript are pasted below. Thank you very much. 
Best regards,  
Todd Wallinger
That's about twice as long as it needs to be. And that's because most agents don't give a flying fig about your publishing history. But I thought it was important to show that The Enchanted Bookshop is already a proven concept, especially since the premise of a bookshop where the book characters come to life isn't exactly original.

Did it help? I don't know. But I like to think it didn't hurt.

What was more important was the logline. I must have spent two full days crafting that one sentence. But I think it paid off. The logline sets up an expectation in your reader, and a good one not only defines the main conflict in your story, but does so in a way that helps the reader imagine where the story might lead.

Of course, the best query letter in the world won't snag you an agent if the story itself isn't good. That's why I worked for months to make sure the manuscript was as polished (and typo free!) as it could be.

As it turned out, the follow-up to my query was as important as the original submission. After Steve read the manuscript, he asked if I had ideas for the next book or two in the series. Fortunately, I was able to send him seven, and that's because I'd already put together a pitch bible for my studio submissions.

Now, this isn't as important with middle-grade or YA novels, as those tend to be stand-alone. But chapter books are usually sold as a series, and if you want to pitch one, make sure you have at least a logline for the next couple entries.

Steve has already submitted the manuscript to several big publishers so all I can do now is wait. I'm knee-deep into my next project, so I've got plenty to keep me busy.

But am I on pins and needles, hoping to hear something soon from one of the publishers?

You'd better believe it.