Monday, July 7, 2014

A is For Awesome Author Erin Cabatingan

Our regional kid lit group hosted a workshop on writing with humor by Erin Cabatingan, author of A is for Musk Ox and Musk Ox Counts. If you've read her stories, you know she gets humor. If you haven’t read her stories, you are seriously missing out. (See the trailer above.)

I took copious notes from her excellent workshop, but I was also able to ask Erin questions about her personal writer's journey and that is what I will share with you today:

Q: What was the evolution of your journey to find an agent and when did your Musk Ox books come into that phase?

A: My publishing journey started in college when I took a class about writing for publication. That was when I first started to understand how to actually go about getting published. Starting then, I began writing and submitting my work, but I didn't do much else to improve my writing or increase my knowledge of how publishing worked. It was about six years before that I got really serious about trying to get published. I joined a critique group. I started reading tons of blogs about publishing. I worked a little with Rick Walton, who helped me understand what it took to get a manuscript submission ready. I went to my first conference and workshop. It was also then that I decided I definitely wanted an agent. My A is for Musk Ox book came into the whole process at about this point. I had my musk ox book, and another one about a toucan that I really liked, and I took turns submitting them to different agents. When an agent rejected one story, I would send them the other.

After receiving lots of rejections, life got in the way and I stopped submitting manuscripts to agents. At the time, I thought I had received rejections from all the agents I had submitted to, so months later, I was surprised to get a voice mail from Nancy Gallt telling me that she was interested in representing A is for Musk Ox

Q: Where did the idea for your Musk Ox character come from?

A: I needed an animal that began with “m," so I found a website that listed "m" animals. Musk Ox happened to be the first one that I liked. The personality of the musk ox came as I wrote the story.

Q: How did you pitch to your now agent? Did she contact you right away or ask for revisions first? What was the process?

A: I was one of those dredged from the slush pile. I wrote a query letter to Nancy Gallt, having no connection to her at all--I hadn't met her at a conference or anything like that--and she liked my manuscript enough to want to represent it. In fact, she already had an editor who was interested in it when she contacted me.

Q: What were some pivotal moments in your search for an agent that got you to the point you’re in right now?

A: Probably the most helpful thing was my "internship" with Rick Walton. He's the author of over 90 published books, many of which are picture books.  He had projects for me to work on and in return, he would help me with my manuscripts. The projects themselves helped me become a better writer. 

One thing he had me do was go over editors'/agents'/authors' blogs and find all the parts that talked about how to be a better writer. That really helped me understand the publishing world better. And then he worked with me on my writing. With his help, I drastically changed a manuscript I was working on and made it much better. I haven't yet published that manuscript, but I learned so much from working with him on it. And maybe one day it will get published. 

Q: Did you have a writing background? What did you study in college?

A: I didn't finish college--all I managed to do was get my general education requirements done. And the only writing background I have is what I did in high school and the two writing classes I took in college, one of which was writing for publication.

Q: Once you landed your agent, what has changed for you as a writer, mom, wife, person?

A: I’m not embarrassed to tell people that I'm a writer any more. I'm still shy about mentioning it, but not embarrassed. I also don't feel quite as guilty spending my time writing, since there's a little more hope that I might sell something else. Or at least I can tell myself that. Other than that, I can't really think of anything. Maybe more will change if/when I write a book that is much more popular, or if I sell more manuscripts.

Q: Any favorite moments/responses when talking to or hearing back from readers of your books?

A: I’ve had a few. There was one time when I went to the book fair at my kid's school. They had A is for Musk Ox there, and I overheard one lady gushing to the PTA president and cashier about how much she loved my book. That was really fun to hear. 

It's always fun when I meet someone who has read my book, likes it, and is excited to meet me. That's only happened once or twice, but it's pretty fun.  It's also fun to hear kids laugh when I read one of my books to them. That's maybe my favorite.

Q: When is the third book in the Musk Ox family coming out?

A: September 30!

Q: What are your favorite picture books?

A: Besides my three picture books? Hmmm. That's a hard one. I really like Where the Wild Things Are, probably in part because I remember reading it with my dad. I still remember rolling my terrible eyes and gnashing my terrible teeth with him. I like There's a Nightmare in My Closet, King Bidgood's in the Bathtub, Bedtime at the Swamp, Click, Clack, Moo: Cows that Type, and many others. 

Q: Name your favorite part in your books.

A: That’s another hard one. Probably the holes in their covers. I had mentioned having a hole in the manuscript for A is for Musk Ox, but I wasn't sure they would actually put one in because I knew it would cost more money. I was excited to see it there. I wasn't expecting a hole in Musk Ox Counts, so that was fun to see. And the third one has a hole as well! Holes are fun.

Q: What advice do you have for writer’s struggling to land the agent or publishing deal?

A: Keep going! If you love writing, and want to be published, don't ever stop trying. Keep improving your craft--search the internet for information about writing and publishing, go to conferences, have others look at your manuscripts, read books. Eventually you'll make it. Just don't give up. 

Erin is repped by Marietta Zacker at Nacy Gallt Literary Agency.


  1. Wow, great story. I loved hearing about Erin's journey.

  2. Thanks for sharing this; I hadn't heard of her books before, but I'll have to check them out!

  3. They're definitely worth checking out--they're keepers of us.

  4. Wonderful interview, Johnell and Erin! Your books sound terrific, Erin! = )