Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Post Mentorship Program Interview with Linda Hofke

By Patti Buff


The inaugural Europolitan Mentorship Program ended this spring and now it's time to check in with our three mentees, Tara O'Dowd, Linda Hofke, and Kerry Dwyer to see how they fared.

Our interview today is with Linda Hopke who was mentored by Jill Esbaum.

Your mentorship with Jill  is over. For 6 months the two of you worked on your projects. What stands out the most about this time?

It was a wonderful, stressful experience. Right before the mentorship started I experienced my first computer crash ever. I lost everything. Luckily, my critique group had some old drafts of mine. In the meantime, I had to use my daughter’s laptop which also crashed two months in. Then there was the Christmas holiday, a 4-month visit from my mother-in-law, the sudden death of a friend, and eight days lost to the flu. Life certainly wasn’t making things easy for me.


via GIPHY

But I had this mentorship and, no matter what, I had to keep writing. And I did.

What stands out most about this time that no matter what life threw my way, Jill cheered me on the whole time. This may sound like a silly thing to say since Jill was my mentor but…I couldn’t have done it without her. (Thanks, Jill, for being my cheerleader and never giving up on me.)


Wow, Linda. The fact that you had all these obstacles and yet still were able to focus on your mentorship is mindboggling! I feel like most of us would have run to the nearest corner. But then again, most of us never have the chance to work with an expert so closely. So, what was it like to work so intimately with a publishing professional on your picture books? Was it challenging to rework a piece and send it to the same person for even more feedback?

Reworking a piece is always challenging. I think what’s important is that you and the publishing professional are “on the same page”. That worked out well with Jill and me.

Also, I am not one that gets easily upset over feedback. I am very open to critiques and don’t take comments personally. Plus, I felt that Jill’s advice was spot on, and she explained everything clearly. That made the task of revision a bit easier.

Two things I think Jill excels at are characterization and adding heart to a story. She showed me a few ways to improve my stories in those areas, and that has made a big difference. Now I can use those elements and techniques often.


Can you tell us in details what you worked on with your mentor? How many picture books did the two of you work on?

We worked on four picture books. First, we worked on the story I submitted to the mentorship program. Jill offered suggestion as to how I could make the story better. One important aspect was that the stakes for my main character needed to be higher. That meant making a few plot changes. I revised and Jill gave more comments. Then we put it aside and looked at a second story. For this one, the plot points were already strong, but I needed to work on characterization and get the word count down. Jill gave me links to a few articles regarding writing in the close third person. I hate to admit this but I hadn’t heard of it before. I read up on it and wrote two or three more revisions. Wow! What a difference writing in close third made. Now the reader will know my character well and root for him as he goes about tackling his problem. AND I was able to cut almost 200 words in the process. That’s a lot for a picture book.

If you’re interested here is a link to one of those articles: http://writerunboxed.com/2017/11/17/too-close-third-person/

At this point in the mentorship, I’d learned lots of different techniques to improve my writing and make my stories more marketable. I got brave. Instead of sending Jill an old story, I decided to write one I’d been thinking about for a while. I took out the story notes I had scribbled in a notebook and turn them into a first draft. Then I went back over it, keeping in mind all Jill had taught me. I made a few changes and ran it past my critique group. After a few more adjustments, I sent it to Jill. BINGO! She loved it. In fact, she said it was my strongest story yet. She made a few suggestions and after just one revision, she said it was spot on and submission ready. I was shocked. And happy. But the cool thing is that Jill was also very excited. We were doing the happy-dance together.

Then, even though the end of the mentorships was rapidly approaching, Jill offered to take a look at one more story. She gave feedback to help me with my revisions. Then the mentorship program ended. How quickly time flies. The months working with Jill were incredible, and I am so glad I had this opportunity to learn from her.


That's amazing. And now after this experience, how ready do you feel to put yourself and your work out into the world? Do you feel this mentorship prepared you for working with an art director/editor at a publishing house? And what’s next for you, creatively? 

In answer to the first part…yes. I do feel more confident in my writing. I’ve recently sent out a few stories, articles, and poems to magazines. No responses yet. I hadn’t sent out my picture books until last week. Why the hesitation? My top dream agent moved to a new publishing house (thankfully, to one I like) and is temporarily closed to submissions. I wanted to submit to her first before sending my work elsewhere. Unfortunately, that agency is still closed to new subs. But as luck would have it, two other opportunities arose. Both of these agents were also on my “agent wishlist”. (Let me add that my list only has 9 agents on it. I spent weeks narrowing it down to those I felt would be the best fit for my work. And along comes these opportunities with two of them that are also closed to unsolicited submissions. What are the odds of that happening?) Of course, I couldn’t let those chances go by. So now my favorite little baby, uh, I mean story, is out in the hands of two publishing professionals who I admire and respect. It’s so exciting…and a bit nerve-wracking. We’ll just have to wait and see.

In answer to your second question: With the close contact, I guess a mentorship is very similar to working with an editor. One needs to be open to suggestions and be able to rework the story in a way that pleases both the publishing professional and yourself. Yes, I feel that working with Jill has helped prepare me for this.

What’s next for me creatively? Well, for the past two years—yes, TWO YEARS--there was a bigger project I’d been meaning to tackle but never had the time (or courage) to start. It’s a MG nonfiction book. It’s been research intensive but fun. I am now writing the book proposal and sample pages. I’ve checked around and haven’t seen a book like it, so that has driven me to get it done soon. I am really excited about this topic (and am probably driving my family crazy with all the cool facts I’ve learned.) As you can tell from this photo of some of my research material the book is science related.

I also have another idea for another nonfiction book. That one is more history related and research is going well. And there’s a new fiction story in the works. I tend to have about three projects in the works at one time, all at different stages. Polish one, do early drafts of another, start research or plotting for a third. Always something to keep me busy.

This all sounds so exciting! Best of luck on the querying and working on the new project. We'll all be cheering you on. And thank you for sharing your mentorship experience with us. It sounds like it was an extremely productive time.


Europolitan Mentorship Program:

The Europolitan Mentorship program pairs qualified, inspirational mentors with aspiring authors and illustrators, who write in English, to help bring them closer to publication, or to publication at a higher level. Each mentor will select one mentee from all applicants.

This six-month online one-on-one program provides mentees the opportunity to work personally with and learn from a successful professional with teaching experience and a proven track record in children’s literature. Look for the announcement for the 2019 Mentorship Program in Spring 2019!



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