What inspired you to write October Mourning?
In October 1998, Matthew Shepard, a gay student at the University of Wyoming, was kidnapped, robbed, beaten, tied to a fence, and left to die. Eighteen hours passed before he was discovered and taken to a hospital. He died five days later with his family at his side. It was the beginning of Gay Awareness Week at the University of Wyoming, and I was the keynote speaker. I arrived to find a devastated campus and community. The brutality of Matt’s death shook the world. October Mourning is my personal response to this hate crime. The book is a cycle of 68 poems told in fictitious monologues from various points of view including the truck Matt was kidnapped in, the fence he was tied to, the stars that watched over him, and a deer that kept him company all through the night.
How/why did you choose the publisher of October Mourning?
Candlewick is a fantastic independently-owned publisher of books for children and young adults. I have wanted to work with them for some time and I was very pleased and honored to have my work accepted for publication by them. They were the first children’s book publisher I approached.
Please share the details of your publication process.
After the book was accepted, I kept waiting and waiting for my editor to send me notes, and finally she sent me an email telling me that she had no notes; the poems were perfect just as they were. This had never happened to me before. However, there is a long section of “Notes” at the back of the book, which gives factual information about Matthew Shepard’s murder. The copyeditor did a very thorough job with the notes, checking my research, quotes, facts, etc. I am forever grateful for her meticulous attention to detail. It was a long, arduous process, and I learned a great deal. As for the cover, I always knew that the fence, which has become such an iconic symbol, would appear on the cover, and the artist did a fantastic job. The book was accepted for publication in December 2010 and I held a copy in my hand in September 2012.
How did your publisher support you once the book was finished?
My publisher sent me to the National Council of Teachers of English conference, set up school visits, sent out many advanced reading copies, nominated my book for awards, and did everything I ever could have asked for and more.
Would you recommend other writers seek publication with Candlewick?
Candlewick is an awesome press and I would absolutely recommend them with no hesitation whatsoever. They respect their writers and support them completely.
What’s the biggest revelation you’ve had about the publishing business in your experience getting published?
I have been publishing books for a long time (since 1980!) so I’m not sure that I had any big revelation when this particular book was published. I will say that this is the first time I focused so heavily on marketing via the internet. I learned how important it is to have a web presence. In addition to posting on Facebook and tweeting, I wrote many guest blog posts and I realized that I enjoyed doing so.
What advice do you have for authors currently shopping their manuscripts for publication?
First of all, make sure your book is absolutely the best it can possibly be. Write, rewrite, get feedback on it, rewrite again. What you want to present is a book that an agent or editor cannot not accept. It has to be so good that it will keep an editor or agent reading long past his or her bedtime. Once you have your book in the best shape it can be in, do your homework. Choose an editor or agent to approach for a specific reason (don’t just randomly pick someone). Always be professional in your dealings with people. Remember, agents and editors acquire writers, not manuscripts. In other words, be someone that an agent wants to develop a relationship with over a long period of time. And most important of all, believe in yourself, have patience, and while you are shopping your book around, start your next project.