Hello, and welcome back to the blog. It’s time for another Feature Interview. If this is your first time visiting, let me tell you a little about what makes these segments so invaluable.
What’s so Great About Feature Interviews?
Feature Interviews are an INVALUABLE resource for writers and illustrators at every stage of their publishing journey. Not only are they a great way to stay current on market trends and learn more about the industry’s ins and outs, but they also give readers an up close & personal look at the world of publication from the perspectives of a diverse collection of creators.
Every month, I sit down with members of the writing community, and we discuss everything publishing.
Here are some of the things we talk about:
- Writing workshops and resources
- Diversity in literature and WHY it matters
- Where to find support and community
- How to improve writing craft and set goals
- How to deal with setbacks/disappointments and waiting
- Helpful tips and suggestions for aspiring authors and illustrators
- Querying agents, contract negotiations, book deals, and time frames
- And, of course- NEW BOOKS!
So, now that you know what to expect… let’s get into our interview. This month, I’m talking to Children’s Book Author Songju Ma Daemicke.
SONGJU MA DAEMICKE Author Bio
SONGJU MA DAEMICKE, a former software engineer with Motorola, is an award-winning Chinese-American children’s book author. Her book, Tu Youyou’s Discovery – Finding a Cure for Malaria, is a finalist for the 2023 SB&F Prize for Excellence in Science Books; Cao Chong Weighs an Elephant was a Best STEM book, among many other honors. Her first board book, Our World: China, was released in Oct. 2023, receiving a starred review from the School Library Journal. When she is not writing, she loves attending to her garden, hiking, and shooting her next special photograph. She invites you to visit her at www.songjumadaemicke.com.
Why & How?
So, one of the first things I love asking my guests is the “why?” and “how?” Let’s take that question in two parts. I’ll start with the why. What made you want to become an author? I grew up in Jilin, China, a place with breathtaking rime on the trees alongside the Songhua River that flows through the city, a true winter wonderland. However, there was not a single public library in my beautiful hometown at that time. I would read every single book I could get my hands on: textbooks, Mao’s book ( as it was the Cultural Revolution time), and even instruction books. I was fascinated by the beauty and power of a good story and dreamed of being a writer when I grew up. I came to the United States in 1996 to attend graduate school. Even though I loved stories, I chose to major in Computer Science and then worked as a software engineer for Motorola. When my twin daughters were born, I became a stay-at-home mom and read to my daughters every day. Reading rekindled my love of literature. Noticing how few children's books about Chinese culture existed, and none of them being STEM-related, I decided to try writing one myself. Now for the “how.” How did you end up here in the lovely world of publishing? We’d love to hear about your journey! I’m especially curious to hear how you went from being a software engineer to writing for children. I started to attend a writer’s workshop at my local library in 2009, took reading and writing classes offered by my local community college in 2011, and joined a writing critique group in 2012, most of them writing for adults. My first book, A Case of Sense, was actually a result of one of my writing assignments from an English class offered by a Community college for foreign students. The positive response I received for it from my teacher and classmates encouraged me to write more and pursue my interest in creative writing.
Querying & Rejections
We LOVE hearing success stories and cheering on all the happy wins! But sometimes, when you’re in the depths of query trenches, it can be disheartening, and knowing that you aren’t the only one who’s been here can be a comfort. So, I want to talk a little bit about querying and rejections. Can you share a little bit about your personal experience with both of these? I started my first query at the end of 2012 after attending a SCBWI, Illinois conference. I submitted the story Cao Chong Weights an Elephant as I thought the elephant might be a good luck animal. However, the end result was that I got a single polite rejection letter from an agent and nothing from publishers. I found that finding an agent is harder than finding a publisher. I then focused more on publishers. I sold my first two books, A Case of Sense and Cao Chong Weighs an Elephant, in 2014 and 2015 to Arbordale Publisher without an agent. Each book is a great challenge. Even with multiple awards for Cao Chong Weighs an Elephant, I had trouble landing another contract for my next few manuscripts. My third book, Tu Youyou’s Discovery, was rejected by agents and publishers at least 30 times before finding a home. About how long did it take you to find your agent match, and what was that experience like? (Who/what agency did you end up signing with?) In 2019, I submitted my Tu Youyou’s manuscript to many agents and publishers. Janine Le was one of the agents I queried. She wrote back and asked for more of my work. After reviewing, Janine again wrote back to me. She didn’t offer me representation but pointed out a few issues that could be addressed. At the end of 2019, an editor with Albert Whitman Publishing showed an interest in the MS and worked with me on revisions. I submitted two revised MSs again back to Janine in Feb. 2020. In March 2020, I signed up with her. Janine Le of Janine Le Literary Agency remains my agent. "Each book is a great challenge." I think this is so important for authors at all stages to remember. This is great information, Songju. Thank you for sharing.
Challenges, Roadblocks & Inspiration
The road to publishing is long filled with unexpected potholes, roadblocks, and twists and turns. What were some challenges you faced, and what helped you to keep going? Writing in a language that is not my mother tongue remains challenging to me. There are no “articles ( the, an, a )” used in the Chinese language, so I always forgot articles. I had to do a few drafts just to focus on the articles. Chinese verbs remain in the same form for every tense. So, I needed to concentrate on the verb tenses. I then worked on plots, word choices, and other aspects. My husband and my three daughters were my cheerleaders, my first readers, and my editors. What kept me going was my love for the stories. I wanted my daughters to be able to read and enjoy these stories. I really love that you chose to share this personal experience about the language barrier with us today. You would never know from having a conversation with you that you had any difficulty with English not being your native language. You write it so well! But it's such an inspiration to hear about the hard work and determination that you continuously put into trying again and again until you got it just right- and how beautiful that your family was there to support your writing. As I'm sure we can all agree, staying inspired is an important part of continuing any journey. If you lose your spark of joy, the journey gets harder. So, what are some things that kept/keep you inspired, personally? I enjoy photography. I love doing research for hours on technique, like the best way to shoot a glowing tent under a starry sky or how to capture a campfire at night…. I love to immerse myself in shooting and editing my photos. The experience is fun rewarding, and gives me more ideas along the way. I can definitely relate to this- I also love photography!
publishing Secrets & Resources
Is there anything you’ve learned that you wish you had known sooner? Share your secret! Educate yourself and know the industry. When I started to submit, my first manuscript was 1500 words long. I didn’t know better. A paid critique from a published writer pointed this out and showed me how to simplify it. I revised it down to 800 words and then was able to sell it. A good length for a picture book manuscript word count now is about 500. Keep that in mind. If you could share three resources that you wish you had known about earlier on as a writer, what would they be? SCBWI, Kidlit411, 12X12 for picture books. There are many helpful resources about the publishing industry and the craft of writing on their websites. Reading them all will give you a great jump start.
The Journey After Representation: Book Deals, Publishing Houses, and Waiting
Okay, so you’ve landed your agent. Let’s talk about the “after.” What were the next steps in publishing like for you? Can you give us an idea of what going out on submission is like? After many rounds of critiques and revisions, I sent my manuscript to my agent for review and then revised more. My agent suggested a list of editors. Afterwards, my agent would send the polished manuscript off to first round of editors. If there were no takers, we would revise some more as needed and submit to a 2nd round of editors. How long did it take you to land your first book deal? We started to submit the Grace Lee Boggs manuscript in October 2021 and received an offer in March 2023, a year and a half later. What was the timeframe on publication date from the time your first book deal was made? My first book took two years to be released to the world from the time I signed the contract.
Okay, you have your FIRST-ever book. NOW what? I saw on your website that you’ve done some different events. You’ve been a guest speaker and done author talks. And it looks like you’ve done quite a few school visits. Can you tell us more about how you were able to do both of these things? What was the process like? Did you arrange these visits, or did your agent/publishing house, OR were they requests made by schools? Guest speakers are often chosen by the host of a conference featuring award-winning author speakers. I received notifications from my publishers. For school visits, I mostly pitch myself to schools through emails. A few of them find me through newspapers or social media. Do you get paid for your visits, or are they voluntary? I volunteered for the first year. I started to charge a modest fee starting in the second year. I continue to volunteer for the World Read Aloud Day every year. Have you ever done any library visits? Yes. I just did one yesterday. I read my new board book, Our World: China and Cao Chong Weighs an Elephant. We made Chinese lanterns together afterward. Children are so creative. They decorated their lanterns in ways I had never thought of. It was so much fun. Thank you so much for sharing all of this wonderful information with us, Songju. And now it’s time for my FAVORITE part of the interview.
LET’S TALK BOOKS!
Tell us about your books! The floor is yours. We’d love to hear about each one (whichever you’d like to share- it can be more than one) – what they’re about, and what the inspiration behind them was. I’d also love to hear about your experience working with each illustrator and which illustration/spread from each book is your favorite and why. A Case of Sense is about a greedy man who tries to make his neighbors pay for the delicious aromas that come from his yard. A clever judge uses his wise and convincing logic to close the case with another sense. It is a part of the Creative Mind Series of Arbordale Publishing. This book was triggered by the sign “Free Smells” I saw on the window of a restaurant. Cao Chong Weighs an Elephant, I tell the tale of seven-year-old Cao Chong, a famous Chinese child prodigy who lived around 2,000 years ago. He used creative thinking and a science principle (buoyancy) to determine the weight of an elephant. It was one of Best STEM book of NASA in 2018. It was inspired from one of my daughters’ violin concerts, a famously clever composition by Mozart, a child musical genius. This inspired me to tell the story of our most famous Chinese child prodigy, Cao Chong. Tu Youyou’s Discovery: Finding a cure for Malaria is a biography of the first Chinese woman Nobel laureate. Tu Youyou used her background in traditional Chinese medicine to develop a new medicine, saving millions of lives. My inspiration was from a TV show. In beginning of 2019, I watched a BBC program called Icons: The Greatest Person of the 20th Century. Tu Youyou, a Nobel Prize winning woman scientist, was one of four candidates in the science category. As a Chinese American, I had to share her remarkable journey. Our World: China Hello, Nǐ hǎo! Let’s spend a day in China! Fly kites in the square, buy sweet lychee at the market, and go paddle boating at the lake. I drew on my personal experiences growing up in China to create this fun board book. My newest book, Grace Lee Boggs’s Gardens of Hope, will come out in the fall of 2024 from Albert Whitman. It is about an inspiring Chinese-American activist. This one is in the illustration process right now. Everything goes through the editor. The illustrator sends the sketches to our editor, who passes them on to me. I give my comments and ask any questions, as needed, and send back to the editor. She then passes all comments on to the illustrator. Then we do another round. I thoroughly enjoyed working with all the illustrators of my books. They did amazing jobs. This is fantastic. I love hearing the "behind the scenes." Okay. That brings us to our very last order of business. And it’s an exciting one. Drum roll, please……..
This month, Songju Ma Daemicke will be offering a giveaway of her most recent book, Our World: China. as a prize. NOTE: US ADDRESS ONLY.
FAQ: How do I enter for the Prize Giveaway?
During the month of November 2023:
- Subscribe to the blog
- Like this blog post
- Leave a comment below letting me know you’ve done both- and what prize you’d like!
Please note in order to qualify, you must follow 1-3 during the month of November 2023. Window: November 1st-30th. Deadline: November 30th. That means you have to get those subscriptions, likes, and comments in BEFORE December 1st in order to qualify for the November 2023 Giveaway Prize.
What if I was already subscribed to the blog? Does that mean I won’t qualify for the Prize Giveaway?
Not at all! If you subscribed PRIOR to this month, all you’ll need to do is LIKE this Feature Interview and leave your comment below this post.