Way back in 1999 I wrote a picture book manuscript that I really liked. It was a silly, rhyming (Yes, I know, rhyming picture books are perennially out of favor, but mostly because there’s so much bad rhyme out there, and my rhyming is pretty good, if I do say so myself. But I digress.), 313 word picture book called Up Ned’s Nose. Yep, it was about a kid named Ned with an alarming number of things stuffed up his nose, and his older brother’s attempts to extract said things. The book had no moral, no lessons too impart. It was goofy and funny, and like I said, I really liked it. As an illustrator, I knew it would be stupid fun to illustrate.
Earlier that year I had entered a story in the Writer’s Digest annual writing competition, and placed in the top 10, which was pretty cool. So, not really expecting much, I entered Up Ned’s Nose in the 2000 Writer’s Digest competition.
I won the grand prize!
Crazy. Not sure what you get now for winning now, but back then the prizes were pretty spectacular. I got a nice check, which was great, but the rest of the prize was, well, life changing. Writer’s Digest sent my wife and I to New York City all expenses paid, accompanied by one of their editors, who was altogether delightful. That’s still not the best part. Included in the trip was the chance to meet with three editors of my choice, in their big, fancy NYC publishing house offices. All three were welcoming, supportive of my work, inspiring, and full of helpful tips. On days when I’m down on myself and thinking of hanging up my keyboard, I still think back to that trip.
Did any of them make an offer on Up Ned’s Nose? Nope. But that was okay. In the several months between winning the prize and taking the trip, I decided to try subbing Ned. And the first publisher I sent it too, the very first, liked it and offered a contract. The publisher was Smallfellow Press, the kids division of Tallfellow Press, founded by Larry Sloan and Leonard Stern, of Price Stern Sloan fame (Sloan and Stern have sadly both passed away since then.). They paid me the first third of the agreed upon advance, as stated in the contract.
So did the book get published? Nope. A funny thing happened. One of the partners at Smallfellow became worried that a little kid would be unduly influenced by my silly story and stuff a toy truck up their nose, and they would be held liable. They went back and forth. Eventually my manuscript was sent to Alan Isaacson, the lawyer played by Ed Norton in The People vs. Larry Flynt, to get his opinion on the matter. At least my story was meeting famous people.
A couple of years passed. I never did hear what Mr. Isaacson thought about the issue, but Smallfellow eventually let the contract lapse.
In the intervening years I’ve submitted Ned a couple of times, and had some interest, but nothing has come through. Truthfully, after everything that’s happened, my heart hasn’t really been in it. This past summer a writing conference came to Cleveland, my home town, and I pitched Ned to an agent. She asked me to send her the manuscript. I haven’t heard back yet, but I’m going to give it a bit longer.
After all, what’s a few more months.