Guest Blogger Joe McGee: 10 Things I Learned on the Journey to Publication OR Yodeled Snippets of Insight from a Metaphoric Beard

imgresConsider this a postcard from the cloud-covered peak of Dream Mountain.

Now, don’t be fooled – it’s the first summit in a whole range of goals, aspirations and career dreams. But here I am, playing my ukulele, watching the llamas frolic, eating berries that I picked on the trail and hid away in the kind of beard one grows on long, epic journeys fraught with trials and challenges, pitfalls and moments of derring-do.

It’s a metaphoric beard. An epic, metaphoric beard in which I have collected the experiences of my journey to date. 32 years ago, a 10-year-old boy promised himself that he was going to be a published author. He stood at the bottom of the mountain, in his feathered cap and leiderhosen, and said “One day…one day, I will get there.”

He did.

(And leiderhosen are out of style)

PBB Cover          PEANUT BUTTER & BRAINS (Abrams), my debut picture book, will be published Tuesday, August 11th. I am beyond excited. I am ecstatic. I am so excited that I want to yodel from the mountain some of the things I have learned in my journey to this point. Consider them the yodeled snippets of insight I have gleaned along the way:

  1. You must WANT to do this so badly that you will accept no other alternative. You must be determined, you must crave it. You must have an insatiable appetite to be published that rivals a zombie’s craving for brains.
  2. Forget the odds. You can read a thousand articles a day about how hard it is to break in or break through, but why? Odds are meant to be beaten. They may not be “ever in your favor,” but why let that stop you?
  3. Seize opportunity. Cat Stevens sang “life is like a maze of doors and they all open from the side you’re on.” You will constantly be presented with doors, but you must recognize the opportunities and then open them. Do not hesitate. Do not think they might come again. Do not fool yourself into thinking that someone will open them for you.
  4. Take risks. Don’t be afraid to write that thing that might make people whisper about you in the grocery store. Tell the story you want to tell. Don’t be afraid to query that agent, or submit that story. Don’t be afraid to write in a new style or genre. Don’t be afraid to fail.
  5. Work hard. There are SO MANY talented writers out there, but consider this a marathon: everyone can run, but how many people will train hard enough, put the work in, to actually make it to the finish line? Stephen King said “What separates the talented individual from the successful one is a lot of hard work.”
  6. Sacrifice. Learn how to say “no.” Guard your time. Stop watching TV. Get up earlier. No more video games. Give up your position as the treasurer for the community pudding club. Stop watching baby goat videos on YouTube (it’s difficult, I know) and stop playing around on Facebook.
  7. Be resilient. Rejection is a big part of this game. It hurts, yes. Every rejection is like a paper cut on our soul. Don’t keep poking your finger in the wound, slap a bandage on it and be tough. You have to be tough, or else you will eventually crumble.
  8. Keep moving forward. I have this quote tattooed on my arm and part of it reads: “Yesterday is history…tomorrow is a mystery…” Got rejected? Bad review? No answers to the first 92 queries you sent out? It’s easy to wallow in despair. Don’t. Be sad, or mad, or aggravated, but move forward, like a shark…always swimming forward.
  9. Believe. Believe in yourself. Believe in your dreams. You may be fortunate enough to have some people around you who truly believe in you too, but there will be many people who will see your dreams as just that…wishful hopes and dreams. Believe you can prove them wrong.
  10. Enjoy it. As grueling and exhausting and painstaking as the process is, it is also absolutely beautiful. Each stage has its own nuances to love, so many firsts. Enjoy every step of the journey, every climbing spike you hammer into the mountain, every single handhold from which you dangle, and have dangled, over the valley from which you began on your journey.

_Zombies_for_web These things I have yodeled are not new, they are not words of magic carrying promises or absolutes. They are merely words of encouragement, a bit of insight, a dash of experience, from someone who is, and has been, on the same journey as you, my fellow writers.

Sure, I’m enjoying the view from this peak, celebrating the release of my new book. But the journey has just begun. There are more stories to write and much more work to be done. Time to shoulder my pack, gather my strength and continue on towards the next mountain.

I’ll see you on the trail and listen for your yodel.


I’d like to give away a copy of PEANUT BUTTER & BRAINS to one lucky reader. Here’s what you need to do: Since PB&B is all about being true to yourself, tell me something in the comments below that makes you unique, something you are really proud of, something that defines you, or a moment when you followed your heart. I want to celebrate your individuality with you. I want to hear your stories. I’ll randomly draw a winner from all of the people who comment by Tuesday, August 11th at 9pm EST. 

Wow, so many awesome comments, stories, and identities! Thank you all for reading and sharing a piece of yourself with me & the interwebs. Choosing the winner was based on a complicated quantum algorithm applied to a midnight toad race. Once  the toads narrowed the field to three, I traveled to the dusty streets of the island of Zan-zarinia to consult with a snake charmer. I reached into the snake basket and drew forth a palm frond. It had the name of the winner written upon it. The winner is……Diana Lynn Gibson! Congratulations, Diana! (I’m emailing you for your mailing address.)

IMG_5757Joe McGee is the author of PEANUT BUTTER & BRAINS (Abrams, 2015). He is a graduate of the Rowan University Master of Arts in Writing program, where he received the Medallion Award Scholarship for excellence as the outstanding graduate writer, and the Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults program, with an additional VCF certification in picture book writing. Joe is a former airborne Army platoon leader, the father of three boys, and a writing professor at Rowan University. He writes picture books and middle grade novels. You can find him online at and @mcgeejp



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Why I Will Offer You Representation


When you send me an extraordinary picture book, middle grade or young adult manuscript, I’ll be glad to offer you representation. Your manuscript can’t just be fair to middling though. Your story needs to be original, unique, distinctive. Your writing needs to work. All the way work. It has to be the kind of thing where I stay up all night because I want to finish reading, have to finish reading! I have to find out what happens next. Right from the beginning, I need to be hooked. All the way hooked. I should be so immersed in your manuscript that I forget I’m reading a manuscript. I forget that it’s not already out in the world as a book. It should already be that good. When I take a break and come up for air, I’ll be thinking of editors who I’d like to send your manuscript to. I’ll know that so-and-so will love it because __<fill in>_____. And it needs to be a good match. Your manuscript should be something I want to read. I should be naturally drawn to it, or even drawn to it kicking and screaming. But ultimately it needs to be somehow my kind of story. And, I need to love your manuscript so much that I want the whole world to read it, my husband and kids, my best friend, book groups and my other clients and everyone. When I love your manuscript that much? I’ll offer you representation.

I represent the fine people who have been giving me a blogging break by guest posting here on The Blabbermouth Blog this summer. These are some of my clients and I love that I’ve fallen hard for their work. Their writing has acutely touched me in some way, whether it’s deep in my heart of hearts, or by tickling my funny bone, or by crawling into my brain, or by fanning the flames of my convictions. I think my clients are some of the funniest people I know (even the ones who don’t necessarily “write funny”). One might further call them clever, insightful, sharp, hard working, poetic, audacious, beautiful, and generous. I’m extraordinarily lucky to represent them and their writing.

I hope the rest of your summer is lovely and you get lots of writing done. Enjoy the rest of this summer’s posts from my clients. I’ll be back blogging after Labor Day.

Version 3Peace out.


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Guest blogger J.M. Cooper: A Badge For Writing

Girl Scouts badgesMy grandfather is a retired Episcopalian minister. He used to talk about The Calling as some kind of mysterious, undeniable force that brought him to the church, a voice that couldn’t be argued with, the most knowable thought one could know, an irrefutable decision. I wanted that assurance—when I was a kid and well into my young adult years. I wanted to know what I was.

One day my daughter and I were looking at my old Girl Scout sash, peppered with patches I’d earned when I was her age. Tracing the colorful badges, she said, “Mommy, you are good at a lot of things.” Initially, it shocked me that my little girl was the first person to say something I hadn’t heard out of anyone’s mouth. But then I had the realization that although I was no longer earning badges, I still hopped from hobby to job to hobby, when what I really wanted was to have that one thing. I wanted to excel at a single thing. I didn’t want to be a collector of patches.

If someone asked me “what I did,” I always said I was a mom. Somewhere along the line, probably around the same time my daughter pointed out my various unrelated skills, I knew I couldn’t go on the rest of my life answering that question the same way. What would happen when I was sixty? Would I then just change the answer to grandmother? The thought haunted me. Yes, I was a mother and someday I’d be a grandmother, but that did not define me or even come close to completing me, nor is it necessarily supposed to, even though that is what common culture often has us believe. It took me a very long time to understand this, but once I did I was able to hear my own calling.

Really, it had been there all along.

I began writing around age ten; journals, stories, poems, observations. I only paused for a few years when my first two kids were babies, because who the hell has time for anything when there are two babies in diapers?! By the time my third child was born, I’d learned a better balance and I labored through writing my first novel. And then, inevitably, somewhere around when I was thirty-five, I began admitting to people that I was serious about writing. When I earned my MFA I could no longer hide behind “Mom.” I was called to write. The voice was loud and in my ear most of my life. The difficult part was that it required me to change my life drastically. I had known that for a very long time and ignored it. Callings are not usually easy.

My calling is not as simple as a single vocation, or title, but more a chosen way of life, a life where I choose to put my energy and passion into what truly fulfills me, no matter how broke I am, or where I live, or who I love. My calling pulls me out of bed before the sun is up, forces me to read the words I’ve written, and then add more. When I can’t do this on a daily basis, I begin to go a little crazy. Nothing in my life has equaled this sustained attraction. And now when I look into my future I’m confident that my answer will never change when someone asks me what I do. I know who I am. I’m a writer. I wonder what the Girl Scouts badge for reaching your vocational nirvana would look like?

Jessica head shotJessica Cooper is a freelance writer and editor with an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from the Vermont College of Fine Arts. She writes middle grade and young adult novels and has been published in Ars Poetica and Curious Parents Magazine. Jessica earned second place for Amazon’s Breakthrough Novel Award and was recognized as one of Warren County New Jersey’s “Writers on the Rise.” Find her online at and @jm_cooper_


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