Cover Reveal: Carmen Oliver on Turning Editor Critiques into Published Books

By Carmen Oliver

Editor critiques are invaluable in many ways. They offer insights and takeaways that if we’re open to receiving them, they can improve our stories and lead to publishing contracts in unexpected ways. Some of the best ways to meet editors who are actively looking to acquire new manuscripts are face-to-face or virtually at the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrator (SCBWI) conferences, and/or writing retreats or workshops. I’ve been blessed to publish two books because editors’ generously invested in my work during a critique and I’m happy to share with you one of those success stories.

In 2017, I attended a writing workshop at The Writing Barn in Austin, Texas. I had a sit-down critique with editor Sylvie Frank then with Paula Wiseman Books. Sylvie had a lot of positive things to say about my work-in-progress and constructive feedback but the project was not right for her. No magical “Yes.” No request for an R&R (revise and resubmit). But we still had several minutes left and Sylvie asked me what other projects I was working on. I pitched her a librarian story I tentatively titled LiBEARian. She mentioned she knew about another story that was publishing soon and it had an eerily similar title: The New LiBEARian by Alison Donald, illustrated by Alex Willmore (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2018). Dang. I was a bit defeated but appreciative that she told me about it.

Then, she asked if I’d thought about writing about a night librarian. Where do the night critters go to check out books?

And just like that, she planted a story seed.

After the meeting was over, I darted back to my room and wrote out a really rough draft. As National Book Award Finalist and Newbery Honor author Kathi Appelt advises, “write like your fingers are on fire.”

Here are my takeaways from Sylvie’s critique:

  • Be ready to discuss other works-in-project with an editor
  • Be open to re-envisioning works-in-progress
  • Be a good listener and take notes
  • Don’t be defensive if your vision is not their vision
  • Do ask if they are interested in seeing future works from you

My agent Erzsi Deak at Hen & Ink Literary submitted The Twilight Library to Sylvie a year later. And we did have a chance for an R&R but ultimately she passed with a lovely note. She thought my revision read beautifully and I’d added the additional tension she was looking for but ultimately the editorial and marketing team didn’t share Sylvie’s passion for the project.

Not everyone in publishing is going to share your enthusiasm for a project. But that doesn’t mean you give up.

Believe in yourself.
Believe in your work.
Believe every good story will find a home.

In the fall of 2018, my agent called to say that we had two publishers that were interested in publishing The Twilight Library.

That was a very good day!

After speaking with both editors, I felt a deeper connection with one editor. Because editor Beth Terrill and I both shared the same revision direction for it. Therefore I accepted the offer from NorthSouth Books.

Editor Sylvie Frank didn’t need to open her story idea bank to me that day back in 2017 with generosity and kindness. But I will always be grateful that she did. I hope you enjoy the exquisitely designed cover of The Twilight Library by illustrator Miren Asiain Lora.

The Twilight Library by Carmen Oliver, illustrated by Miren Asiain Lora (North-South Books, Sept. 6, 2022)

From the jacket copy:

Snuggle up for a story that’s sure to captivate your senses!

There’s a special place deep in the heart of the wilderness where the creatures of the night gather—where everyone wants to go—where the Night Librarian spins a tale of mystery.

Fireflies, nighthawks, bats, mice, and brightly colored beetles make themselves comfortable on the forest floor as the Night Librarian transports them into the land of imagination with her silver silken stories. From feasts of tangy berries and salty seeds, to cozy honey comb hives and whisker kisses, to the scent of evergreens, crashing waves of blue oceans, and echoing canyons, Carmen Oliver’s lyrical text and Miren Asiain Lora’s ethereal art is sure to evoke your senses and send you into dreamland to spin stories of your own.

Interior spread from The Night Library, illustrated by Miren Asiain Lora, used with permission.

Cynsational Notes

Carmen Oliver is the author of picture books A Voice for the Spirit Bears: How One Boy Inspired Millions to Save a Rare Animal, illustrated by Katy Dockrill (Kids Can Press, 2019), a Junior Library Guild Selection, and Bears Make the Best Buddies series (Reading, Writing, Math, Science), illustrated by Jean Claude (Capstone Young Readers, 2016 – 2020). She’s also the author of the forthcoming picture books The Twilight Library and Building an Orchestra of Hope: How Favio Chavez Taught the Children How to Make Music from Trash, illustrated by Luisa Uribe (Eerdmans Books for Young Readers, Oct. 25, 2022).

Carmen’s work has been shortlisted for the Rainforest of Reading Award, The Writers’ League of Texas Awards and the CLEL Bell Picture Book Awards for Early Literacy. In 2014, she founded the Booking Biz, a boutique style agency that brings award-winning children’s authors and illustrators to schools, libraries, and special events. She lives with her family outside Austin, Texas.