Thursday, April 26, 2012

Banana Peelin' with Jill Esbaum perfect this post is for today, this beautiful Thursday that follows so many SCBWI conferences.

 I have still not completely recovered from my amazing Spring Spirit Conference. My head is spinning with all of the the golden nuggets of information I ingested while sitting in workshops on voice, synopses, first pages critiques (eeek!), not to mention some incredibly humorous tips on writing from the SCBWI goddess herself, Lin Oliver

My people, all I know is I love this journey. This is where I want to be.  Even if it means publicly slipping on millions of banana peels along the way. 

One indisputable fact is that if you have to slip up every once in a while, you want to be surrounded by children's authors. It's true! They are such a wonderfully supportive community. So humble. So generous. So patient! Eh hem. With that said, thanks for waiting.

 Jill Esbaum, this week's banana peel author generously shares not only a couple of her banana peel moments, but a hilarious (and eerily familiar) poem she wrote about how to impress an editor, entitled... "How to Impress an Editor".  =)

Please welcome, Jill Esbaum!


Unfortunately, I’ve had plenty of banana peel moments in my writing journey. The most embarrassing was before I’d sold any books.

In 2000, I was beyond excited about attending my first SCBWI retreat – SO excited that I didn’t sleep at all the night before the trip. The 3-hour drive to the retreat was a 4-hour, white-knuckled nightmare, thanks to a late-spring snowstorm. I soaked up the Friday afternoon talks and enjoyed schmoozing at the evening festivities, but ... no sleep that night either. Saturday morning, I listened to the speakers in a fog, wishing I were a coffee drinker. I would’ve traded a toe for a Pepsi, but I hadn't been able to find one anywhere in the facility.

I'd been lucky enough to score a one-on-one critique with a dream editor (a guy), which was scheduled at 4:15 on Saturday afternoon. By then, I was barely functional. Fifteen minutes before my crit time, I went to wait in the hall and discovered a Coke machine in a niche I hadn't seen before. Yay! I chugged a can of Coke in an effort to wake up. Boy, did I. By the time I walked into the cozy little crit room, I was as wired as Woody Woodpecker. First I fell sideways into an overstuffed chair and chirped, "Let's take a nap and just PRETEND we had a critique, heh-heh." Dream editor, bless his heart, valiantly tried to cover his initial reaction (fear!). He chuckled softly (while easing away), then attempted to tell me what he liked about my submission. I knew I should listen respectfully. Instead, I interrupted him constantly – yap, yap, yap – through the entire crit. I was horrified, yet unable to shut it off. At one point, I slapped a hand over my own mouth. Somebody had to. 

Miraculously, he ended up buying my first picture book – Stink Soup – eight months later. Guess he thought it was safe to work with me, as I lived 1,054 miles from New York City.

Years later, my SCBWI Regional Adviser asked me to write a poem to open one of our conferences – a tongue-in-cheek list of blunders attendees should avoid. By that time I’d been to enough conferences to have seen plenty of other people spook editors, too. And live to tell about it.

How to Impress an Editor by Jill Esbaum

It’s my first time at a conference.
This? My brand new picture book.
Let me hold your glass of wine so you can
take a better look.
See? It’s bound and fully laminated. Here’s the copyright.
Just look at how the silver glitter
sparkles in the light!
My nephew did the illustrations for me.
Aren’t they great?
I’m developing a series. This is number one.
Of eight.
Yes, you are a little peaked.
Let’s go over there and sit.
What? You have to do the schmoozy thing
and “work the room” a bit?
I’ll come with – and show you photos
of Chief Kitchy-coo, my dog. He’s the hero of my story
(written all in dialogue). See, he flies around Chicago
with his mother, solving crimes. It’s a shoe-in for that Printz Award. And check this out ... it rhymes. There’s a song at the beginning. There’s a moral at the end,
and a note reminding children that
the story’s just pretend.
I’ve already got endorsements from the
and I’ve sent one to the Oprah Show.
I wonder ... do they pay?
Oh, you have to hit the ladies’ room? No problem. I’ll come, too.
While you’re taking care of business,
I can read aloud to you.
...Hon, is everything okay in there?
You need a helping hand?
What? You have a splitting headache? Sure, of course I understand.
You can take my little story to your room
and read it there.
No, it’s quite all right. Yes, I insist.
I want you to, I swear.
Let me walk you to your suite.
Oh, it’s no trouble, none at all.
Well, for goodness sake, we lucked out.
My room’s just down the hall!
Here’s an Advil for that headache. Here’s my card. Know what? Take two. Now, remind me of your name, hon,
and ... you edit books for who? Take a hot bath.
Take it easy.
Don’t you let the bedbugs bite. Ow, ow, ow! My foot was in there. We’ll talk soon, then. Nighty-night!

*First published in The Writer, April 2008

Jill Esbaum is the author of eleven picture books with major publishers, including the award-winning Ste-e-e-e-amboat A-Comin'!, Estelle Takes a Bath, Stanza, and her latest, Tom's Tweet (illus. by Dan Santat). She is a former instructor for the Institute of Children’s Literature, and, in addition to critiquing picture book manuscripts privately, she is a longtime workshop facilitator at the University of Iowa Summer Writing Festival and co-hosts the annual Whispering Woods Picture Book Writing Workshop. Jill and her husband live on a family farm in eastern Iowa.*

*(Disclaimer: Jill's biography is borrowed from Rate Your Story, where Jill volunteers her skills as a published author to rate manuscripts FOR FREE!


Now if you are like me, after you contain yourself, you will print this out and let this serve as a reminder to control your crazies at the next conference. It worked for me this last time, well, except when I touched Bitsy Kemper's hair (it was pink and spunky!) or when I screamed at some unsuspecting authors deep in quiet conversation, asking if they were looking  to be in a critique group (for scavenger hunt purposes, hence the screaming...).


  1. I am so going to print of this poem and read it aloud to myself before every conference I attend. It's priceless! I love how a slip can lead to a sale :)

  2. Oh, the poem says it all. Hilarious!

  3. What a great poem! Thanks for sharing, Jill and Elizabeth! Jill, it's great to learn of a writer in Iowa, where I grew up!

  4. Jill, Thanks for sharing your banana peel story and your poem!

  5. Oh what a great post! I LOVE that poem! :) Thanks for sharing, Elizabeth and Jill!

  6. Well, now, that's just a little piece of brilliant with a subtle shade of Dorothy Parker - love that poem!!

    I'm glad to know that the editor had a sense of humor (and maybe some pepper spray?), and the insight to look past the crazies and see the talent. Fun story, Jill!

  7. Thanks for sharing your moments, Jill!

  8. Great post. Love the poem. Thanks for the laugh!

  9. Oh, Jill Esbaum, that poem is a scream! What a great post for National Poetry Month.

  10. that was so great! we should have that read at every scbwi conference as a reminder how (not) to treat our speakers.

  11. That poem is a hoot!!!! the part about going with her to the bathroom....Oh my! So hilarious!
    Your whole story is a comedy act in itself!
    Congratulations on all of your books and thanks so much for sharing and adding laughs to my day!!

  12. Thanks, peeps! If you're a conferenceaholic like me, you've probably witnessed half the things in that poem. Or, like, you know, done them.

  13. ROFLOL! Hilarious poem, Jill!!!