All throughout 2020, I’m celebrating brand new authors and their debut titles. Today, the spotlight is on Karla Valenti. Her first book, Marie Cure and the Power of Persistance, part of the series My Super Science Heroes, debuts from Sourcebooks Explore…TODAY!
Welcome, Karla! And a very Happy Book Birthday to You!
As of today, your very first book is out in the world. How did Marie Cure and the Power of Persistance come to be?
This book came about in a very untraditional way. I was living in Europe at the time and was informed of an RFP for a children’s book launched by the Marie Curie Alumni Association (MCAA) – a global network of over 4,000 scientists. MCAA was hoping to partner with an author and illustrator to create children’s books as a potential stream of funds for the science association.
At first, I was hesitant to submit anything since I had never written a non-fiction manuscript. However, it was an opportunity to work with a wonderful group of people and to continue developing my writing experience. So, I came up with a proposal that combined my interest in writing fiction with the mandate of writing an informative but engaging piece about Marie Curie. The proposal was to write a series of books featuring scientists, but rather than focusing on what the scientists accomplished, we would focus on how they achieved what they did.
We realized that many children enjoy science and relate easily to STEM topics. However, many children are intimidated or feel that STEM is out of their league. With this series, we wanted to make science more accessible to those children, showing them that being a scientist isn’t just about making amazing discoveries (there are plenty of books that cover this already). Rather, being a scientist is also about exercising key traits that allow you to pursue your interests in the world around you.
Marie Curie, for example, encountered many challenges throughout her life- both personally and professionally. At every step of the way, she met with opposition and, had she given in to it, she would never have achieved what she accomplished. But Marie Curie was persistent and she never gave up. It was this persistence what allowed her to learn science and develop the skills necessary to discovery radium and polonium. In an important way, her persistence was a super power. And if she had a super power, then that surely made her a super hero ! A super hero must have an antagonist, and Marie Curie’s was the aptly named Mr. Opposition (one of the many minions working with Super Evil Nemesis).
I was delighted to have my proposal selected and began working with the MCAA folks and a very talented illustrator (Annalisa Beghelli) to launch an Indiegogo fundraising campaign. To our great surprise, by the end of the month, not only had we exceeded our goal by 20%, but Sourcebooks had approached us with an interest in acquiring the series.
This book’s journey was completely unexpected, and I couldn’t be prouder of the collaborative efforts that led to its publication. The moral of the story : you never know where your next big break will come from, so don’t turn your back on any opportunity !
You are obviously no stranger to persistence yourself, Karla! From what age did you consider yourself a writer? And what spurred you to pursue this path professionally?
I have always thought of myself as a writer, but I didn’t have the chance to fully work on this as a career until we moved to Europe in 2012. After my third child was born, we decided to go on an adventure. My husband and I looked for opportunities around the world and he found a job in Germany. We didn’t speak the language, nor had we ever been there. Nevertheless, we were eager for the experience. And so, we rented our house, packed up our three kids (ages 8, 5, and 1), and boarded a plane with 16 suitcases that contained everything we were bringing to start our new life.
During the six years we ended up living in Germany, the terms of my visa restricted me from working in Europe. And so, I took advantage of the opportunity to launch my career as a writer. I am so grateful for that time that enabled me to learn what I needed to learn, and to do a great deal of writing !
Now that we’re back in the U.S., I have returned to my work as an attorney. Fortunately, I had written a great deal in the six years abroad (which is work my agent is now able to submit). Miranda Paul once gave this very helpful advice (which I am paraphrasing): it’s important to be a prolific writer and not just work on one manuscript at a time. Always be working on new work (and revising your old work) because it allows you to always have new manuscripts in the pipeline. I am so grateful that I heeded her advice !
You mentioned writing non-fiction as being a little outside your comfort zone at first. What do you prefer to write about, in general? What are your favorite genres and target audiences?
I love to play in the magical realism space, and am especially fond of exploring deep philosophical questions in pint-size packages (PBs and MG novels).
Can you describe a pivotal moment in your career?
I will never forget the day we spoke with Kelly Barrales-Saylor at Sourcebooks and she made an offer for MARIE CURE AND THE POWER OF PERSISTENCE. I distinctly remember how everything slowed down and I thought, “this is it, this is the moment I’ve been waiting for.” My husband walked in right then and I turned to him, gave him a huge grin, muted my phone and said, “I’m going to be a published author!” It truly felt like I was standing at the peak of a mountain watching the sun rise.
What tips would you give other creatives on the journey toward publication?
One the most challenging things I’ve struggled with in developing my career as a writer is the crushing heart-break of rejection. We spend so much time working towards our goal, writing, revising, learning, connecting. We put our hearts on the line every time we send out our work. And to be rejected, time and again, is devastating. I think it’s important to talk about the fact that rejection is part of the process. Everyone gets rejected, and often. It’s misleading when we hear about people only getting a handful of rejections (or none at all). Those cases happen, but they are the outliers. Most of us suffer through dozens, if not hundreds of rejections. I stopped counting after 500 rejections.
It’s easy at some point to think that we’re just not cut out for this work, or that our work is just not good enough. The two things that have helped me the most in this pit of despair are :
(1) A phenomenal critique group that has not only bolstered me through the heart-breaking bits, but have pushed me to continue working on my stories, providing solid and critical feedback. They have educated me and inspired me and helped me become a better writer. I cannot understate the value of a good critique group.
(2) Remembering that this is an incredibly subjective industry. An agent or an editor may absolutely love your work and still not be able to acquire it. There’s so much that goes in to the decision to publish a story. Of course, part of it is whether the story is written well (which is why it is very important to learn the craft of writing and either take courses or get professional critiques to help you hone those skills). However, a big part of it is what the agent / editor currently have on their list, their target demographic, the current market or appetite for certain themes, the timeliness of your story, etc. Which is to say, being rejected is not always about your work (and it’s never going to be about you). It’s important to keep that front and center, so we don’t get buried by our dismay.
Great advice. And now, your dream of publishing your very first book has come true! What’s next? What do you still hope to accomplish in the future?
I still can’t believe this has happened ! We spend so much time working towards this dream, never knowing if it will come true… and when it does, it inevitably takes us by surprise. At the moment, I have five books coming out in the next couple of years : two PB books with Sourcebooks, part of the My Super Science Heroes series (2020, 2021), a PB book with Chronicle (2022), and two MG novels with Knopf/Penguin (2021, 2022). I also have a few additional manuscripts soon going out on submission, so I am hopeful they will lead to new opportunities.
Anything else we should know about you, Karla?
I love writing, but I also love critiquing (this is my legal side putting on its writing hat). As a result, I offer professional critiques. I also created a Course on Picture Book Writing and Revising which draws from a great many tips and writing techniques I’ve acquired over years.
Wonderful. Where can we go to find out more about your books and resources?
Thanks for chatting with me today, Karla. Here’s wishing you all the success!
Preorders are vital to a debut author’s career! To support Karla Valenti and her new release, preorder Marie Curie and The Power of Persistance through any of the following retailers.*
*A portion of your purchase goes to support the work being done by the Marie Curie Alumni Association, a non- profit global association of researchers dedicated to the promotion of research and curiosity, and to enhancing professional scientific collaboration.