Whats Your Story? Jean Daigenau
All stories have a beginning, a middle and an end. But within a story there can be many chapters, sections, volumes, prologues and epilogues. The best stories are filled with passion, perseverance and surprise twists and turns. Jean Daigenau's story has all of them!
I’ve had a passion for writing since I was a kid. Back then, pen pals were a big thing, and I had several, but also stayed in touch with an aunt and a cousin by snail mail. I always wrote long, chatty letters and even liked doing reports for school. But I never considered being a writer, let alone a children’s author.
When my first grandson Ty was born, I had volunteered in the library at the school my kids attended. They graduated and I never left. A parent volunteer gave me the idea to buy books with my grandson’s name in them for holidays, but there weren’t any—he’s Ty, not Tyler. So, I decided to write one, which my son (not an artist) illustrated.
A good friend thought I should look into getting it published, which I knew nothing about. So, I joined the SCBWI in Northern Ohio and started learning.
I did everything wrong, from sending out submissions without a self-addressed stamped envelope to comparing myself to Dr. Seuss. Yikes!
I sold the book within 5 weeks of sending out. I remember so clearly the call from the editor of a small start-up publisher in California. We talked, and she asked who Ben was and kindly broke the news that they didn’t want his illustrations, but said I’d be getting a contract. I got off the phone and screamed. Then I cried for Ben, who assured me he really wanted to be a rock star. A few weeks after that I sold them a second picture book.
Fast forward about 7 or 8 months and 9-11 hit. Everything went nuts, even children’s publishing. I heard very little from the editor and she started not returning my phone calls or answering my letters. I couldn't have cared less about the advances I never got, but just wanted to be sure we were on track for publication. Eventually, a very well published author I met and talked to suggested I pull the books, since I was in a different state and business and bankruptcy laws differ. (There’s a bit more to the story of things I was hearing about them at the time.)
To say that I was devastated would be an understatement.
I’m a silver lining kind of person, and my takeaway was that perhaps I really could do this. So, I started doing things right and began getting great rejection letters, as my husband learned to call them, and offers to submit other work. But no contracts.
In the meantime, I sold educational testing material, greeting card text, poetry, crafts, and non-fiction material. Of course, as MY luck would have it, in the first magazine piece I had published for kids, my last name was misspelled.
Almost everything I’ve accomplished has happened because of connections I’ve made with the SCBWI. I heard about an opportunity to pitch crafts for a kindergarten idea book and sold two. I heard about a greeting card text program with American Greetings and sold several to them and a couple to Andrews McMeel. I’ve been published in My Friend, Fun for Kidz, and Highlights magazines and have sold additional (unpublished) pieces to Highlights. And I’ve done freelance writing that has been in The Guide to Literary Agents and Children’s Writers’ and Illustrators’ Market.
A woman who served on the Northern Ohio SCBWI board and later followed a career into a literary agency, Vicki Selvaggio, became my agent in 2015. I’ve had a book go to acquisitions, but no sales.
A friend I met through the organization suggested I look into non-fiction publishing and mentioned Chicago Review Press (CRP). Besides being a math geek, I’m a puzzle and jigsaw puzzle fanatic. So, my agent pitched a book on cryptology at the end of 2017 and in February 2018, after following their guidelines to pull together what became a 58-page proposal, CRP put me under contract.
My book, Code Cracking for Kids, Secret Communications throughout History with 21 Codes and Ciphers, will officially be launched on October 1st.
It’s been a whirlwind ride, since I had never written non-fiction and knew nothing about getting photos, and permissions, and dpi, and photo resolution, even though I was responsible for all of that. So, I put on my big girl pants and dug in.
The bittersweet part of the journey is that my husband and I were involved in a fatal car accident in April 2019 and he passed away. With 31 broken bones, I spent 2 weeks in a trauma hospital out of state and 10 weeks in a local rehab facility. Vicki came to the facility with a hard copy of my book and sat bedside as we worked through final edits. It was not easy.
The thrill of seeing this book in print and working on marketing and book signings and all of the things that go with launching a book have been part of what have gotten me through a challenging experience. I know my husband is cheering me on.
The End, (which is always actually a new beginning!)
I’m just in the midst of everything that goes with announcing my book, planning marketing strategies, and arranging book signings and school and library visits. My editor has invited Vicki and me to pitch some other ideas. He graciously told me I’m in their “Authors We Love Club.”
I’ve been blessed to meet and become friends with some wonderful people in the writing community. A few of them are in critique groups with me, and I would not have accomplished anything without them. Go, Jambies, Jemelies, and Crooked River Writers!
I’ve also started a critique business with Gloria G. Adams called Two-4-One Kid Critiques (we do two critiques for the price of one), and we are starting to look at one-day programs or other options to expand our business.
Wow. Thanks so much for sharing, Jean. You're a real inspiration!
I'm so pleased we could start this series off with such a truly fascinating and positive story.
I'll have another one for you all in the not too distant future!
Talk to you soon,