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It’s almost been 100 years since we passed the 19th amendment, which gave women the right to vote. Debut picture book author, Elisa Boxer, focuses on a lesser-known story about the voice that won the vote.
Read more about this interesting new, non-fiction picture book in this interview with Elisa Boxer. Great for anyone interested in writing their own non-fiction picture book!
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Full Interview with Debut Picture Book Author Elisa Boxer:
1. Congratulations on your debut picture book, The Voice that Won the Vote! Tell us a little bit about the book?
Thank you so much, Brooke. And congrats to you, too, on your forthcoming book! The Voice that Won the Vote is illustrated by Vivien Mildenberger and published by Sleeping Bear Press. It’s the little-known story of a mother from Tennessee, whose last-minute letter to her son helped give all women the right to vote. My hope is that this book inspires children to realize just how much their voices matter.
2. Where did your inspiration come from for this book?
Although I have always been passionate about women’s rights and stories of unsung heroes, I have to give my agent, Steven Chudney, credit here! He sent me an email last year, letting me know that 2020 would be the centennial celebration of the passage of the 19th Amendment — which granted women the right to vote — and asked if I’d want to write a suffrage-related picture book.
So I ran with that and, through a lot of internet research, dug up this story of Febb Burn and her son Harry, two unsung heroes in the women’s suffrage movement. I tend to be drawn to the lesser-known heroes in history. ☺️
3. Since this is a non-fiction picture book, what kind of research was involved before you could start writing?
Lots of it! After some initial internet research to find a topic that resonated enough to become a book, I finally felt that inner “Yes!” when I stumbled across the story of Febb Burn, the mother who saved suffrage.
From there, I read several books on the women’s suffrage movement — for background, and also to find out more about that eleventh-hour legislative session in Tennessee that led to Harry Burn tipping the scales and giving women the right to vote.
I also enlisted the help of the Special Collections department at the University of Tennessee libraries. They were very patient as I kept requesting more and more documents from the 1920s. They also shared with me a scanned version of Harry Burn’s personal scrapbook, containing newspaper clippings from his historic vote. I geeked out over that so much that I immediately emailed my editor, Sarah Rockett, who was equally excited!
4. Walk us through the process you went through from idea to publication:
I’ll answer this beginning in 2017, which was the year before I came up with the idea for The Voice That Won the Vote. That’s because I actually signed with my agent for a different manuscript about another little-known hero, which hasn’t sold yet. While that one was out on submission, I got the email from Steven, alerting me to the upcoming 19th Amendment anniversary.
After I dug up the idea for The Voice That Won the Vote (the original title was A Vote is a Voice, which is the first line of the book), the actual writing went pretty quickly. I was so excited about the topic, I had the first draft within a week.
My critique partner for that manuscript was my 16-year-old son! I spent another week doing revisions until I felt it was ready to send off to my agent. He really liked it, suggested a few more tweaks, and then we sent it out on submission.
I got several rejections, and within a couple of months, three editors expressed interest and I had a signed contract with Sarah Rockett at Sleeping Bear Press! From our first phone call, it was clear that she shared my vision for the book and was just as enthusiastic about it as I was. A month later we started edits, and they signed illustrator Vivien Mildenberger. Her art has the perfect historic, old-world feel, and she just happens to live in Tennessee, where the book takes place!
Over the past year, I’ve been putting together my marketing plan, writing four other books, and teaming up with my Soaring ’20s debut group. I’ve gotten to see the preliminary sketches evolve to the final art and layout, and last month the cover was finalized. Now I’m launching my pre-order campaign, awaiting the galleys, and SO looking forward to publication day, which is March 15!
5. I see you have also been a journalist. How do you think that helped you write this book?
I definitely think my journalism background helped with knowing how to research a complex topic and distill it down to a manageable helping. My specialty is long-form journalism, so that involves doing a lot of in-depth research, and then using that research to tell a compelling story.
As a journalist, I’m trained to hunt down primary sources, which is a helpful skill to have in this internet age, where there can be so much inaccurate information.
6. Is writing a book for kids a lot different than writing for adults and the news?
You know, at first I was going to answer “yes” to this, but the more I think about it, the two forms of writing have more similarities than differences. As a journalist, my goal is to craft well-researched stories with emotional resonances that readers can relate to and draw inspiration from. I really have the same goal when I write for kids!
7. What’s been the most challenging part of publishing so far?
I think the most challenging part has, in some ways, been one of the most the most rewarding parts: The waiting!
In the initial stages of publication, you wait for the offer from the right agent and then from the right editor (and rack up rejections in the meantime). Then you wait for the contract. Then you wait for the publisher to sign an illustrator. Then you wait for edits. Then you wait to see sketches. Then you wait to see the final art. Then the cover. And then the book is still many months away from publication!
But honestly, the flip side is that each of these stages is an opportunity to savor the many sweet steps along the path to publication. The waiting can be framed as the time leading up to when you get a contract, the first time you hear your editor’s voice on the other end of the line, the first time you get to see the artwork, etc. And I never take for granted how fortunate I am to be able to wait for all of these things because I remember what it was like when my first manuscript didn’t yet have a home.
8. What has been your favorite part of the process?
I could answer this all day long! But I’ll pick one thing. A huge highlight has been the camaraderie I’ve found in the children’s literature community. I’ve made incredible friends (I count you among them! 😍) through social media and various writing collectives like my picture book debut group, the Soaring ’20s.
I really feel like we’re a team. It’s amazing to have the support of such like-minded creators amid what is so often a solitary profession.
9. What is one thing you’ve learned?
One thing I’ve learned is the importance of remembering your “why.” Why did you write this book? Why is it important to you? What message do you want to convey?
I think one of the keys to answering those questions is to ask yourself what types of books you wish you’d had as a child, and what messages you wish you’d received. For me, I grew up pretty quiet and shy and not really feeling comfortable giving voice to my truth. I want this book to inspire children to give voice to what matters to them. My dedication and author’s note in the book speak to this message.
10. What is your best advice for someone hoping to get their book published?
I’d say first figure out what lights you up. What’s an issue or topic that you find yourself drawn to? Which causes do you believe in with all your heart? From there, figure out how you can use that to tell a story.
For example, if you’re passionate about the environment, do some internet research to find an environmental hero and write a picture book biography about them. Or incorporate environmental activism into a work of fiction. Getting in touch with what matters to you helps you tell a story with heart, and that, in my opinion, gives you the best chance of getting your book out into the world.
Thank you so much to Elisa Boxer for sharing her publishing journey with us! To pre-order your own copy of The Voice that Won the Vote or learn more about Elisa, visit her website here. As a bonus to anyone who pre-orders her book, she’s mailing a yellow rose pin, just like the story. Be sure to email your pre-order receipt to firstname.lastname@example.org.
And for more interviews with experts like Elisa Boxer, read these other articles:
- Author of over 31 Fiction and Non-fiction Picture Books Jill Esbaum
- Self-Published, Non-Fiction Author Darcy Pattison
- Author of I Campaigned for Ice Cream Suzanne Lipshaw
- Hugs for New Picture Book Author Amy Nielander