“I had many years of writing and writing and writing and not getting anywhere with publishers,” says Hannigan, who calls Hyde Park home. “There’s a lot of writers out there who just throw in the towel—and I don’t blame them.”
So well versed in rejection had Hannigan become over the years of trying to get her full-length work published that she started collecting her rejection letters. She taped them together end to end, had them laminated, and turned the collection into a 65-foot “Scroll of Doom,” a show-and-tell prop that she takes with her when speaking to children about writing, persistence, and tenacity.
Hannigan sure knows something about tenacity. Indeed, any number of published authors can tell you that getting there takes a lot of time and—yes—a lot of tenacity. “And a whole lot of luck,” Hannigan says. “You have to hit when an agent or an editor is open to it.”
Hannigan turned “agonizing” into “amazing” this past May with the publication of her first children’s book, Cupcake Cousins, one of a three-book series with Disney/Hyperion. Having started to write seriously in 2005, it took more than eight years of writing and submitting manuscripts and hoping to be published before she landed in the world of published authors.
Not that Hannigan was a stranger to writing and publishing. She had been doing some work-for-hire writing for local publisher Publications International, Ltd., and, years ago, she worked as a journalist with the San Francisco Chronicle and the Dallas Morning News. As it happens, one of her former newspaper coworkers is now her literary agent.
A little bit of luck, a little bit of good timing, and a darn good story idea pushed Hannigan into the world of published authors, a world she loves because she gets to write about what she loves.
“You have to follow your heart, because if you follow the trends, by the time you find an agent, that trend has passed,” Hannigan says. “You don’t want to be coming out with a book that nobody wants. You have to follow your heart but still understand that it’s an industry, and publishers need to sell books.”
Writing children’s stories comes naturally to this mother of three who claims to still be a kid at heart. “I think a lot of people wind up writing for children because they have children, and suddenly you’re immersed in this wonderful world of literature. We tap into stories that really mean something to us,” she says. “But then you start thinking about your own stories. I just wanted to be part of this wonderful world.”
And now she is part of this wonderful world. Children’s book publishing in the United States is roughly a $3.5 billion market, with picture books and young adult titles like the Hunger Games and Divergent series driving much of that market.
Hannigan’s Cupcake Cousins, an adventurous story about two cousins, their dog, and “a misbehaving blender,” is geared toward middle-grade readers. Far from the dystopian worlds found in so many popular YA titles, Cupcake Cousins aims for an accessible, age-appropriate level of suspense. Hannigan wanted to write something fun and exciting but without so much darkness and tension.
“There are some great stories where the stakes aren’t so high. That’s what I wanted to tap into,” she says. “Something where there could be fun and thrills, but didn’t have to take such an emotional toll. [Readers] just want some escapism. I knew I wanted to write something sweet.”
Complete with easy recipes for yummy cupcakes, two adorable cousins, and a charming dog, Cupcake Cousins promises to be sweet. And in that, too, Hannigan has entered another wonderful world. “It’s the kid-lit world,” she says. “What’s not to love?”
Hannigan is finding there is a lot to love about being a children’s author. One of those being that she finds herself in a world with a lot of other great children’s authors, many of whom live in the area.
“You can’t throw a stick without hitting an author in Hyde Park,” Hannigan says. “And so many people write for kids, whether it’s an econ professor or a stay-at-home mom.”
With that in mind, Hannigan has pulled together some of those authors to form the Hyde Park/South Side Chicago Network for the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, which brings programming to Chicago’s community of children’s authors and artists. She also was instrumental in pulling together “Middle-Grade in the Midwest,” a group of six Midwestern middle-grade authors who meet to talk about craft, creativity, and the writing life and who visit bookstores together to discuss their books with fans and readers.
From fellow children’s authors to supportive family members to an amazing team of agent, editor, illustrator, and publisher, Hannigan has, indeed, found that persistence and tenacity—not to mention luck and a good idea—have paid off. This post-published world is one that this Hyde Park author has come to love.
“It’s been such a fun experience,” Hannigan laughs. “‘Giddy’ is the word.”
Kate Hannigan is the author of Cupcake Cousins (Book 1: May 2014; Book 2: Spring 2015; Book 3: Fall 2016) and The Detective’s Assistant (April 2015). She will be reading from and signing copies of her book during “Middle-Grade Mania,” 6:30-8 p.m. Friday, September 26, at 57th Street Books, 1301 E 57th St, Chicago.