Student Success Stories: Todd Sturgell
Todd Sturgell was one of the first friends I made at Storyteller Academy. He and I took Arree's first class together back in January of 2017, so I'm delighted to introduce him as today's success story and give away a copy of the picture book he worked so hard on in our class.
I'm also grateful that he was willing to record a video explaining how he used QueryTracker to organize his (very successful) agent search and querying process. I'll include that video in this interview, so let's get started.
Myrna: What is your profession?
Todd: I call myself an author/illustrator as I feel that’s the most important thing I do now, and it’s the job I love the most. But I’m also a freelance advertising art director and copywriter.
Myrna: What made you want to start writing children’s books?
Todd: I’ve always loved picture books and have been drawing since I was five. As I child I felt that I’d either be a paleontologist or an artist. It just took a while to get serious about publishing. I started reading to my kids when they were just days old and that continued on one level or another until they were well into their teen years. When they were young, I’d make up stories and they remember those old stories better than I do!
Myrna: Thank you for making the following QueryTracker video for us! Would you be willing to expand on how you ended up with your agent? Do you have any advice to share?
Todd: Be patient but be consistent. Make a plan and stick to it. I used QueryTracker to make a master list of all the agents I was interested in. Then I prioritized them into groups of five. I didn’t query any agents who wanted exclusivity (who’s got time for that?), and I made sure they were looking for author/illustrators. Then I sent out five queries every two weeks. If I received a rejection, I would immediately send out the next query on the list.
This may seem counterintuitive, but my first two queries were not for my top two agents. I used my first two on agents that I had categorized as #9 and #10 on my wish list in case I made any mistakes while learning the process (I did).
For picture book queries, I’d say be brief and try to match the tone of your query to your story. If you’re book’s funny, be funny, etc. My agent said she reads the PB queries quickly since the manuscripts should be short and/or the dummies should be easy to read through.
If you believe in your story don’t give up. I almost did! My critique group (the amazing Picture Bookies) was so supportive and encouraging when I felt like throwing in the towel. Not long after that, my now agent reached out to me.
Myrna: Fantastic advice! Sourcebooks is publishing your debut picture book, Except Antarctica, in just a couple of weeks. What can you tell us about your book?
Todd: Anyone who’s ever gone a bit too far to prove a point will sympathize with my MC. When the narrator explains that turtles are found on every continent except Antarctica, this particular turtle takes it as a challenge and sets off on an adventure. It was inspired by hearing and seeing the phrase “except Antarctica” over and over when my kids read non-fiction books and watched nature documentaries. There are so many kinds of animals found on every continent—except Antarctica!
One of my favorite compliments for the book’s concept came from author Annette Whipple, who tweeted, “I'm jealous that you found a way to write a book focusing on those two words so many of us have written in our informational books and articles. :)”
Myrna: Sourcebooks has a reputation for marketing their books well. Can you share their marketing strategy for your book?
Todd: I couldn’t be happier with my publisher’s marketing push. They’ve worked really hard to get the word out to tastemakers, influencers and reviewers, specifically those that gravitate to humor and/or educational fiction. They’re also putting together a really fun trailer!
Myrna: That's great! What are your plans to promote your book? I know you did this fun video with Book Talk recently.
Todd: I think the hardest thing to do is weighing the benefits vs. time investment for each promotional opportunity. I’ve passed on a few things that I felt wouldn’t reach actual book buyers. And for other items, like the Book Talk video or my ARC unboxing, I tried to come up with ways to help them stand out. If you’re going to take the time to do an unboxing video, why do the same thing everyone else does?
Myrna: Good point! Has Storyteller Academy helped you at all? If so, how?
Todd: I would not be a published author without Storyteller Academy. I like to say that before SA, I didn’t know how much I didn’t know. Arree’s Making Picture Books class set me on the path that has led to my book launch in just a few weeks!
Myrna: Could you tell us a bit about your critique group?
Todd: The Picture Bookies were established through Storyteller Academy in 2017. We’ve been meeting ever since. They really are a special group of writers, and I owe an unpayable debt of gratitude to each of them. Leah Schanke, Deborah Bernick, and Joan Raymond are not just talented writers, they are also talented editors and reviewers— much better than I am! If you can find a group of smart writers that have a passion for the craft and for lifting each other up, you should consider yourself lucky! I do.
Myrna: Do you have any advice for our readers?
Todd: Always let critique and criticism simmer before responding—your first instinct might be defensive, but the advice could be right if you give yourself time to think about it.
Myrna: That's great advice, Todd. Thank you! What’s next for you?
Todd: The next book will be published by Sourcebooks as well, and the buzz for Except Antarctica has been strong enough that they’d love to see some elements from this book in the next one.
Myrna: I think that's exciting. Where can we find you on the Internet?
Todd: My perpetually-in-need-of-an-update website is http://www.toddsturgell.com
Myrna: Where can we buy your book?
Todd: If you’d like a signed copy of Except Antarctica, you can pre-order it from City Lights Books in Sylva, North Carolina!
You can also pre-order from your favorite local Indie bookstore, Barnes & Noble, or Amazon.
If you aren’t lucky enough to win a copy from Storyteller Academy, you can also participate in my GoodReads giveaway which kicks off on June 21!
Of course, the book debuts on July 6th and should be available in-stock or for order wherever you buy books.
Myrna: Thanks so much for sharing your experience, Todd!
Share something you’ve learned from Todd in a comment, and I’ll enter you to win a copy of Todd’s picture book, Except Antartica. This giveaway will close on June 30 at midnight, PDT. You can share this post on social media for extra entries. Just post a link (or let me know) in a comment below.
If you’d like to read more querying advice from our students with agents (including Todd), check out this blog post.
Thanks for reading!