It all happened quite suddenly, though I’d been researching the story of the SS Eastland for years. During my first semester at Hamline under Claire Rudolf Murphy’s wing, I began my education into the world of writing nonfiction for kids. Along with learning the craft, which included teaching this novice the difference between writing scene and summary—it was mostly summary—Claire guided me through the process of writing a proposal. She did such a fantastic job that by the final packet, my proposal was headed to an editorial meeting and I landed the book deal in June. I was stunned.

At first I didn’t quite know how to handle it. I told family and close friends, and of course Claire knew and she spread the word to some of the faculty members at Hamline. But I always kept in mind how fortunate I was and tried to keep it quiet and in perspective.

Things can look much different on the nonfiction side of writing and submissions. In fact you don’t even have to have the entire manuscript polished and “sparkling,” as Claire would say.

But you need a focused query and proposal that includes:

  • Synopsis and a concise summary of each chapter
  • Marketability of your book
  • Sales venues that would sell your book
  • Curriculum connections (school/library market)
  • Image budget, if you are using photographs
  • A presence on social media (does 82 followers on Twitter count?)

Without an agent I had to navigate the world of contracts, a title change, a delay in receiving edits, and several emotional breakdowns over the cover art. The cover art drama alone nearly did me in.

When working with a small to mid-sized independent publisher, much of the work of promoting your book falls to the author. I managed to book a month’s worth of visits and have also learned how to use Canva and to create visuals to publicize my work. I can tweet, Instagram, and create Facebook events, though I’m not as efficient with my time as I’d like to be. But, this “old dog learned some new tricks.”

In the end, I’m glad I went solo on this journey from manuscript to publishing. I didn’t know what I didn’t know and there was a lot to know, you know? I’m not sure how successful Capsized! will be, but I’m proud of my writing and my effort to get this book into the hands of young readers. I turn 65 in a few months. I have an MFA, a published book, and I earned a Kirkus Star. Not bad at all.

I’m hoping that one of those dozen agents I’ve queried will scoop me up, because it’d be nice to have some help dealing with the tough parts the next time around. But if no one answers, I guess I’ll do it again. I’ve learned some things. Besides, I’ve already got those 82 Twitter followers as my base!

Patti Sutton graduated in January, 2018 and her debut book Capsized!: The Forgotten Story of the SS Eastland Disaster comes out July 1, 2018. She wrote it during her first and second semesters at Hamline. You can learn more at or follow her on Twitter @PatriciaKSutton.