Since I am new to the picture-book world, I wanted to learn from other writers. What inspired their stories? How did they go about crafting their first book? What did they do when they finally received that offer? These authors have been kind enough to share their experiences and tips in this Q&A.


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SOME STUFF THAT STUCK

April 24, 2017

Tags: #NESCBWI17

This past weekend, I attended my first NESCBWI conference. This is the kind of event that could easily overwhelm me—a sea of information, opinions, tips, and name tags. (And I was only there for the Saturday session!) Thankfully, it was a group of friendly people. And fortunately, I had a simple strategy: let all the presentations wash over me and see what lingered. There was a lot! But a few things—from technical to inspirational—are still on my mind today. You could call this little list tasty nuggets, pearls of wisdom, or ideas for the writer's toolkit. But I just call it Some Stuff that Stuck:

I'll Buy That! with Editor Julia Maguire: The Knopf editor discussed what it is that editors want to see in manuscripts. Be authentic and respect the readers were two big takeaways along with an interesting tip—try shuffling your manuscript pages for a random-page edit.

Fireside Chat with Melissa Sweet: There was no fireplace but it was cozy. The Caldecott Honor author/illustrator answered questions and shared stories about how she creates her books. I learned that Ms. Sweet LOVES the minutiae of bookmaking. Perhaps it is that love that fuels her success. She made me want to pay more attention to the smallest details . . . ones that could be overlooked but might make all the difference.

Lying About History with Jeannine Atkins, Burleigh Muten, Jane Yolen and Heidi Stemple: I wish this had been a dinner party with a big, round table and lots of time. These amazing writers shared some wonderful stories about their historical works and I wanted to hear more. (And Ms. Stemple was a hilarious host!) Jane Yolen's "Recycle your research" advice stayed with me. I wrote two nonfiction manuscripts that were ready for submission when I learned that more established writers got there first. Ugh. Now I'm rethinking those manuscripts and how they might be worked into a different genre or maybe a magazine article.

Seven Revision Tips to Take Your PB from WAAH to WOW! with Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen: All seven of these tips are interesting. (A scientist-turned-kidlit-writer, Ms. Bardhan-Quallen has a specific method wrapped in a fun presentation!) The one that I'm going to tackle first in my PB manuscripts—instead of using adverbs and adjectives, use stronger nouns and verbs. I think that might be a game changer.

Writing the Rainbow: Creating LGBTQ+ Characters and Stories: A powerful presentation by Lisa Bunker, Mary E. Cronin, Kevin L. Lewis, and agent Linda Camacho! I was particularly struck by Kevin L. Lewis when he spoke about children who are not connected to their community and made to feel like outsiders. In their isolation, they stand out as prey. This is why we need more books with characters who are LGBTQ+ kids—to bring them into the group and keep them safe.

If you would like to learn about SCBWI (Society of Children Book Writers and Illustrators) events near you, visit https://www.scbwi.org/annual-conferences/

BAD GUY and GARCIA & COLETTE GO EXPLORING

April 17, 2017

Tags: BAD GUY, Hannah Barnaby, Mike Yamada, Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, GARCIA & COLETTE GO EXPLORING, Hannah Barnaby, Andrew Joyner, G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers

Hannah Barnaby has worked as a children’s book editor, a bookseller, and a teacher of writing for children and young adults. Her first novel, WONDER SHOW, was a William C. Morris nominee. Today she is sharing the stories behind her first two picture books—BAD GUY (May 9, 2017) and GARCIA & COLETTE GO EXPLORING (June 20, 2017)!

Q. Was BAD GUY the first picture book manuscript you ever wrote? If not, what was the first picture book you wrote and what happened to it?
A. Not by a long shot! My first attempts at picture book writing date back to the early 2000s, when I was working as an editor at Houghton Mifflin and getting my MFA from Vermont College. I had edited several picture books by then and I was sure I could manage to write one that worked, but I couldn't quite crack the code. The first real attempt was a series of rhyming couplets about different kinds of homes -- and to prove that you should never throw anything away, I sent my agent a revised version of that manuscript a couple of weeks ago. Some stories just need a long incubation period!

Q. What inspired BAD GUY and GARCIA & COLETTE?
A. The two stories are very different, but they were both inspired by real-life encounters. BAD GUY came from a rule at my childrens' preschool ("There are no bad guys on our playground."), and GARCIA & COLETTE came from a dinner at the University of Virginia, where I was seated between an astronomer and a marine biologist. Both of them spoke about their fields of study in such similar terms that I started mentally comparing space and sea, and thinking about the parallels between them. By the time I got home that night, I had a pretty good idea about how to structure the manuscript.

Q. How did you pick the title for your books BAD GUY and GARCIA & COLETTE?
A. The title for BAD GUY never changed, although there was some debate about whether including the word "bad" in a picture book title was too risky. GARCIA & COLETTE was a bit more complicated -- my editor, Susan Kochan, and I went around and around with lists of subtitles, shortening and lengthening and changing, until we finally settled on GARCIA AND COLETTE GO EXPLORING. We wanted to get the word "exploring" in there because we knew it would convey a sense of adventure to young readers.

Q. What is your favorite part of each book? And was that part in the first draft?
A. Well, I don't want to give too much away, but...so many of my favorite parts of BAD GUY are in the illustrations. There are all kind of hints in Mike Yamada's brilliant art that deepen the family's story and hint at a broader narrative. Some of those details were included in the manuscript as illustration notes, and others came directly from Mike himself. Similarly, in GARCIA & COLETTE, Andrew Joyner found ways to turn my very straightforward text into absolute magic. The contrast between Garcia's journey up and Colette's journey down is amazing, and there are all sorts of clever little details throughout the illustrations that make the book feel like a treasure hunt. Neither one of these stories changed very much at all through the drafts, but once the art came into existence, both books deepened immeasurably.

Q. How did you decide between telling the story in first or third person in BAD GUY and GARCIA & COLETTE?
A. For me, the point-of-view for any story comes organically from the mood and tone of the story itself. BAD GUY is a character piece with a surprise at the end, so first-person/present-tense supports that effect. GARCIA & COLETTE is a more traditional friendship story with a very clear structure, so third-person/past-tense felt just right for it.

Q. How much of the story did you know when you began writing BAD GUY and GARCIA & COLETTE?
A. It's so hard to remember! Because seeing the whole span of a picture book is simpler and more manageable than seeing an entire novel, and there are fewer twists and turns, I tend to have a strong sense of the beginnings and endings of my picture books before I draft them. Both BAD GUY and G&C have a bit of a twist at the end, and it took a few tries to get those right. In fact, the ending of G&C did change -- originally, they were still arguing on the final page and they hadn't achieved the compromise that they now manage to find at the end of the story.

Q. Did BAD GUY and GARCIA & COLETTE receive any rejection letters? If so, how many (ballpark)?
A. Oh, definitely. My agent, Linda Pratt, usually puts together a list of five or six editors to whom she'll send my picture book manuscripts and we often hear back pretty quickly from some of those editors, saying, "This just isn't for me." I know from my own days as an editor that connecting with a story is such an elusive and special thing -- if a manuscript doesn't grab you in some way, you just won't have the energy and passion to advocate for it all the way through acquisitions and publication. So I don't take rejections personally. BAD GUY and G&C were both turned down by three or four other publishers, but I believe so strongly that they connected with the right people. Working with Christian Trimmer on BAD GUY and Shauna Rossano and Susan Kochan on G&C was absolutely wonderful.

Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on BAD GUY and GARCIA & COLETTE.
A. I had worked on both manuscripts on the same writing retreat, and I sent them both to my agent while I was waiting at the airport for my flight home. My flight was delayed, so I wandered around for a while and got something to eat, and when I checked my email again about an hour later, there was a message from Linda saying, "These are both ready to go out on submission." In some ways, that moment was the really big thrill -- getting offers from editors was really exciting, obviously, but seeing that message from Linda and knowing that I'd finally cracked the picture book code was so amazing. I *may* have done a little airport dance. (And it hardly even bothered me that I got home HOURS later than expected.)

Q. What kind of input did you have in choosing an illustrator for each book?
A. The process for the two books was very different. For G&C, Shauna Rossano and I had an extensive conversation about the style of art we might want for the book, and then went in search of the right person. We both loved Andrew Joyner's work because it struck the right balance between sweet and funny, with great background details that would add to the story. With BAD GUY, it was Christian Trimmer who matched Mike Yamada with the manuscript right away, even before he had put the project through acquisitions. He had this very clear vision of what Mike could do with the story and now I can't imagine it having been illustrated by anyone else.

Q. What jumped out at you when you saw the first sketches and jacket cover for BAD GUY and GARCIA & COLETTE?
A. In both cases, I was blown away by how different the illustrators' ideas were than mine, but also so excited by what I saw. The sets of sketches were very different -- Mike has an animation background (he worked on HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON, KUNG FU PANDA 2, and BIG HERO 6) so his sketches looked a lot like storyboards, while Andrew's were much more detailed. Both illustrators already had such a strong sense of the characters, though, that I felt absolutely confident that I'd love the finished artwork. And I do!

Q. How long did BAD GUY and GARCIA & COLETTE take to be published—from the time you received an offer until it was printed?
A. BAD GUY went under contract in March 2015 and will pub in May 2017; G&C was acquired in December 2014 and will pub in June 2017. So about two and a half years in both cases.

Q. What is your #1 tip to those who want to write picture books?
A. Read, read, read. Go to a favorite indie bookstore with a great children's section, or the nearest public library, and spend a day reading as many picture books as you can. Take note of the differences and similarities between classic stories and newer ones, of structural patterns and character types, of endings and plot twists. If there are books that you feel an especially strong connection with, spend some time articulating what you like about them (and also what you don't like about others). Type out the text of picture books written by other people so you can study the stories without the illustrations. The more you immerse yourself in the genre, the better you'll understand it.

Q. Do you have a favorite writing exercise that you can share?
A. I'm not a frequent user of writing exercises, other than simple brainstorming and list-making when I trying to puzzle out a story's structure. But one exercise I have used many times with my students is The Backpack Exercise, which asks them to imagine their character arriving in a new place and identify what he or she is carrying. What kind of bag? What's inside it? Is your character in an airport, a bus station, etc? It's designed to help writers focus on the concrete objects that are important to a character and deepen that sense of individuality a good character must have.

Q. What are you working on now?
A. I'm working on a variety of picture books that are in various stages -- some drafts, some revisions. I'm also in the early stages of a new draft of a novel that has gone from being an edgy, backwoods YA to a semi-magical middle-grade. It's a story that clearly wants to be told but is playing hard to get.

Q. Where can people find you? (Website, Twitter, Facebook, etc.)
A. http://www.hannahbarnaby.com
@hannahrbarnaby
https://www.facebook.com/hannahrodgersbarnaby/
www.hannahbarnaby.com
@hannahrbarnaby

DADDY DEPOT

April 3, 2017

Tags: DADDY DEPOT, Chana Stiefel, Andy Snair, Feiwel & Friends, May 16, 2017

Chana Stiefel is the author of more than 20 nonfiction books for kids (topics range from exploding volcanoes to stinky castles). But next month Feiwel & Friends will publish her #firstpicturebook DADDY DEPOT—a story she wrote eight years ago!

Q. Was DADDY DEPOT the first picture book manuscript you ever wrote? If not, what was the first picture book you wrote and what happened to it?
A. My first manuscript was called THE SNUGGLE FAMILY, a picture book about a family who never gets out of bed. Throughout the week, they have a Board meeting, play group, a tea party, a baseball game, and ultimately a wedding…in bed. I think I sent it to one publisher, got one rejection, and was completely discouraged. Once a year I go back to it to try to revise it. But I like the original, even though it’s far from perfect. It just makes me smile.

Q. What inspired DADDY DEPOT?
A. A bedtime story! My daughter was upset with my husband about something and I said, “Let’s return him to the Daddy store!” We made up a story about a girl who returns her father to the Daddy Depot. After bedtime, I ran downstairs and wrote my first draft. That was in 2009.

Q. How did you pick the title of your book?
In my mind, the Daddy store looked like Home Depot, with aisle after aisle of dads up for grabs. DADDY DEPOT seemed like a perfect fit. Also my favorite English teacher used to say, “A little alliteration let’s the lesson linger longer.”

Q. What is your favorite part of the book? And was that part in the first draft?
A. Ooh, that’s a tough one. One of my favorite scenes is when Lizzie, my MC, rolls her dad into her red wagon and drags him all the way to DADDY DEPOT. She’s tough, she’s strong, and she’s determined. It’s about empowerment—taking charge of your problem. This scene was definitely not in my first draft. In fact, her mom drove her to Daddy Depot! When I started writing, I didn’t have a clue about writing picture books. The first draft was 1,000 words and it rhymed…badly. It had too many characters, no conflict, and no climax. I had a lot to learn.

Q. Why did you decide to tell the story in third person? 
A. I guess that’s what came naturally.

Q. How much of the story did you know when you began writing DADDY DEPOT? 
A. I had the basic idea but I went through dozens of revisions. DADDY DEPOT was the manuscript that I shaped and re-shaped while learning the ropes of picture-book writing.

Q. Did DADDY DEPOT receive any rejection letters? If so, how many (ballpark)?
A. I had sent it out to a few editors (and got a bunch of rejections) before I met my agent, John Cusick. When he submitted DADDY DEPOT, it sold pretty quickly to Feiwel & Friends. I think we got about 10 rejections in all.

Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on DADDY DEPOT.
A. I remember getting a call from John when I was at the Recycling Center. I was screaming in my car. It was that moment of realization that my lifelong dream was coming true.

Q. What kind of input did you have in choosing an illustrator for the book? 
A. My editor was open to our suggestions, and I had a pretty long A-list. The publisher chose Andy Snair and I loved his work. I think the illustrations turned out great.

Q. What jumped out at you when you saw the first sketches and jacket cover?
A. My eyeballs jumped out of my head. My book was real! This was really happening. I will say that I had a strange sensation seeing Lizzie for the first time. When you create a character and live with her for a long time, you picture her in your head. Then an illustrator imagines her in an entirely different way. It’s a bit jarring…but then it’s wondrous. Now my Lizzie is Andy’s Lizzie (and everybody else’s too).

Q. How long did DADDY DEPOT take to be published—from the time you received an offer until it was printed?
A. I got the offer in November 2013 and the book debuts May 16, 2017. (Its original pub date was 2016. Apparently, this happens often.) All in all, eight years from first draft to bookstores.

Q. What is your #1 tip to those who want to write picture books?
A. Never, ever give up. If publishing a picture book is your dream, do everything you can to learn about the process, join a critique group, write & revise, explore the market, read 1,000 picture books, network with other authors, query, submit, and start again. Be positive, be persistent, be professional. And never, ever give up.

Q. Do you have a favorite writing exercise that you can share?
A. Actually exercise is my writing exercise. I come up with some of my best ideas—and solve lots of writing problems—while swimming laps. Sometimes you just have to get away from your computer and get your blood moving.

Q. What are you working on now?
A. I’m writing a non-fiction book for National Geographic Kids about creepy animals. I’m also revising my first picture book biography, which I’m really excited about.

Q. Where can people find you? (Website, Twitter, Facebook, etc.)
A. My web site: www.chanastiefel.com.
Twitter: @chanastiefel
My blog: kidlittakeaways.com
Facebook: Chana Stiefel
Thanks so much for having me! Keep in touch!

10 Tips on Writing Picture Books

March 27, 2017

Tags: Shana Keller, Ammi-Joan Paquette, Linda Vander Hayden, Lori Alexander, Jodi McKay, Lori Richmond, Annie Silvestro, Wendy BooydeGraaf, Cheryl Keely, Susan Farrington

Shana Keller: Find a topic you love or a person you love and go with it.

Ammi-Joan Paquette: Read as many picture books as you can, especially ones which are debuts and newly released. Familiarizing yourself with what’s out there and what’s selling now is a really valuable tool to crafting your own masterpieces!

Linda Vander Hayden: I try to use active verbs and make sure I’m showing (not telling) how my characters are feeling. I’ve also learned to remember to leave room for an illustrator to work his or her magic.

Lori Alexander: Try alternating the POV of your work-in-progress. You may like what the change does for your story.

Jodi McKay: I am a big advocate for a good story arc and I try to make sure that I hit all of the elements of the arc by asking myself this: Who, Wants, But, So, Then, Sign off.

Lori Richmond: Ask yourself why you like certain books. Analyze how the book is paced. How is the conflict introduced? How is it resolved?

Annie Silvestro: My favorite and most necessary exercise is reading a story out loud so I can really hear the areas that are working and the ones that are not.

Wendy BooydeGraaff: Sit on a bench somewhere and watch the people who pass. Ask questions about them. Where are they going? What job do they do? Once you see someone that sparks your imagination, gather in as many details as possible about that person and then write.

Cheryl Keely: I set a timer (usually 15 minutes) and write whatever comes out in that time.

Susan Farrington: Start with a rough outline of your story, lay it out as it would read over 32 pages. Play with the rhythm until the flow feels right.

LONG MAY SHE WAVE

March 20, 2017

Tags: Long May She Wave: The True Story of Caroline Pickersgill and Her Star-Spangled Creation, Kristen Fulton, Holly Berry, Margaret K. McElderry Books, May 2, 2017

Kristen Fulton began writing children's books in 2013 and a year later she had sold three manuscripts! Today she shares the story behind her #firstpicturebook LONG MAY SHE WAVE—“A strong look at women who up took up needle and thread to inspire a town, a man, and ultimately a nation” (Booklist).

Q. Was LONG MAY SHE WAVE the first picture-book manuscript you ever wrote? If not, what was the first picture book you wrote and what happened to it?
A. No, actually is was the third that I sold. Of course I had written a few that didn’t sell. My two that sold before Long May She Wave were with Chronicle and Simon and Schuster. Chronicle had a vision and kept me a close part of the publishing process. The “ideal” illustrator was booked out so we decided to wait for him. It was worth it in the end. The other story with Simon and Schuster (same as Long May She Wave) was moved to 2018 instead as it needed a little more fine editing work.

Q. What inspired LONG MAY SHE WAVE?
A. My husband and I travel about six months a year in our RV, aka Chalet Fulton. On one of our many travels we stopped in Washington DC and saw the Star Spangled Banner. We decided to head over to Baltimore and tour the Flag House (where the flag was made). Piece by piece the story was revealed and I knew that I wanted to sew this one together. So, we set up camp for two weeks and I went into serious research mode.

Q. How did you pick the title of your book?
A. This was an easy one since it is based on the Flag.

Q. What is your favorite part of the book? And was that part in the first draft?
A. My favorite part is in the final and has been there since draft one. It is where I took words from the "Star Spangled Banner" and wove it into the story so readers could see them used in context.

Q. What kind of resources did you use in your research for LONG MAY SHE WAVE?
A. I visited the home. Pulled property records and censuses. I visited the Smithsonian. Spoke to several historians. I visited Ft. McHenry. Got primary resources from daily papers about the British marching to Washington and then on to Boston. I also got a letter from Caroline Pickergil’s daughter.

Q. How did you decide on where to start and end this nonfiction story?
A. I knew that this was going to be about one small part of history, not a biography, but about an event. So it was easy. I decided to start it and end it with the event.

Q. Did LONG MAY SHE WAVE receive any rejection letters? If so, how many (ballpark)?
A. No, except from my agent :-) She wasn’t crazy about it but Justin Chanda from Simon and Schuster had just contacted her to see all of my work so she included it and voila!

Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on LONG MAY SHE WAVE.
A. Vindicated? I have heard over and over that I haven’t paid my dues. I am still fairly new to writing. I began my writing career in January 2013. Even the head of my regional SCBWI felt that people would not give me credit as a writer since I haven’t “paid my dues.” Selling a third story on my one-year anniversary validated this career choice for me. I work at least 40 hours a week writing, attend two to four conferences and retreats, and participate in about two classes per year.

Q. What kind of input did you have in choosing an illustrator for the book?
A. I had none on this book. Although once the illustrations were done, they did listen to my opinion about historically inaccurate items.

Q. What jumped out at you when you saw the first sketches and jacket cover?
A. OMG—That is my book!!! I think the best moment was being told it was available for preorder on Amazon. I was surrounded by friends and they got to tell me. I was happy, cried, and an emotional wreck all at once.

Q. How long did LONG MAY SHE WAVE take to be published—from the time you received an offer until it was printed?
A. I sold the book in January 2014. 3 years and 4 months.

Q. What is your #1 tip to those who want to write picture books?
A. Think like a kid. Ask yourself, “What will a kid find interesting?” NOT, WHAT DO YOU THINK THEY WILL FIND INTERESTING.

Q. Do you have a favorite writing exercise that you can share?
A. I created a compass that I fill out. It is available for download on my website at http://www.kristenfulton.org/uploads/1/8/4/4/18447485/website_compass.pdf.

Q. What are you working on now?
A. I am working on a few I CAN READ series books for Harper, a series for Charlesbridge, and an adult novel.

Q. Where can people find you? (Website, Twitter, Facebook, etc.)
Twitter: @KristenFulton
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/kristenfulton.net/?fref=ts
www.kristenfulton.com

THE SUMMER NICK TAUGHT HIS CATS TO READ

March 13, 2017

Tags: THE SUMMER NICK TAUGHT HIS CATS TO READ, Curtis Manley, Kate Berube, Paula Wiseman Books, 2016

"Many of my manuscripts have received several rejections. Several have received many rejections." But finally, one of Curtis Manley's manuscripts became his #firstpicturebook. THE SUMMER NICK TAUGHT HIS CATS TO READ is "a marvelous debut”(Publishers Weekly starred review) that "makes a fun read-aloud, especially for cat lovers, literacy lovers, or anyone looking for a great story” (School Library Journal starred review).

Q. Was THE SUMMER NICK TAUGHT HIS CATS TO READ the first picture book manuscript you ever wrote? If not, what was the first picture book you wrote and what happened to it?
A. Not the first picture book I wrote—I wrote the first one in 2000 (I still really like it and need to figure out how to revise it to make it work). Not even the first picture book I sold—that one won’t come out until April 2017 (because sometimes there are big bumps in the road!).

Q. What inspired THE SUMMER NICK TAUGHT HIS CATS TO READ?
A. When I started working on the story in early 2009, I was remembering when my daughter began reading middle-grade novels. She sank so deep into those books that she was in another world—and it was not the world in which her mother and I were asking her to get ready for dinner! So that’s what the first version of the story was about—a boy whose best friend (his cat) gets lost in books. Gradually the story changed so that the boy teaches the cat to read. And then two cats were being taught, but reading didn’t come equally easily to both...

Q. How did you pick the title of your book?
A. The earliest versions of the title were always similar to the final title. It seemed a good idea to use the title to make it clear what the book was about (at least on one level). It also seemed like a title that would make people think “What? Can cats really be taught to read?” Of course, some people might worry, wondering if their cats have been reading all along, unbeknownst to them…

Q. What is your favorite part of the book? And was that part in the first draft?
A. I really like many different parts of the book, but the spread with all the drawings is one favorite. Was that in the first draft? Nope! It first appeared in the draft that got the offer—but in fact previous drafts had hinted at something under the bed (but even I—the author—had missed those hints).

Q. How did you select the names for your characters?
A. I chose “Nick” because I thought that name would work well for any boy the illustrator might draw. For the cats, I didn’t want “cute” names; I wanted distinctive names that adults would recognize from some of the classic books referenced in the story. “Verne” seemed fitting, and “Stevenson” was actually a perfect match for a cat who’s a reluctant reader…

Q. Why did you decide to tell the story in third person?
A. The first four years of my working on it, the story was in first person. I felt that made it more immediate. But first person isn’t always the best choice for a read-aloud. My editor asked me to try it in third person; that allowed the humor to come out more, so we kept it that way.

Q. How much of the story did you know when you began writing THE SUMMER NICK TAUGHT HIS CATS TO READ?
A. I think I had a good idea of the whole story—but, as I mentioned above, the story changed so that isn’t the one you’ll read in the published book.

Q. Did THE SUMMER NICK TAUGHT HIS CATS TO READ receive any rejection letters? If so, how many (ballpark)?
A. Many of my manuscripts have received several rejections. Several have received many rejections. But for this book, my agent’s choice of the first editor to send it to was perfect: that editor liked it right away. Not that the editor immediately yelled, “Sold!”—there were extensive revisions before that happened.

Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on THE SUMMER NICK TAUGHT HIS CATS TO READ.
A. Relief! After three rounds of revisions, one right after another, I was just glad the story had sold so that we could be finished with all those rewrites. Famous last words! Immediately after the offer there were two more rounds of revisions—and two additional rounds several months later! It was some of the hardest writing I’ve ever had to do.

Q. What kind of input did you have in choosing an illustrator for the book?
A. It’s unusual for the writer to have much say in the matter. But I’m grateful I was shown the samples and sketches as the work progressed.

Q. What jumped out at you when you saw the first sketches and jacket cover?
A. My editor needed to be sure that any illustrator chosen had good cat-drawing abilities, so she asked the illustrator she had in mind—Kate Berube—for some samples. Kate’s sample cats had just the right dynamic and charm for the story—and behaved like the cats we ourselves have had over the years.

Q. How long did THE SUMMER NICK TAUGHT HIS CATS TO READ take to be published—from the time you received an offer until it was printed?
A. It took just a bit more than two years. That’s pretty common with picture books for which the author is not creating the illustrations.

Q. When you do readings of THE SUMMER NICK TAUGHT HIS CATS TO READ, which part of the book gets the best reaction?
A. Kids like to recite the words that are spelled out on the flash cards that Nick uses. They also love to meow and hiss along with the cats!

Q. What is your #1 tip to those who want to write picture books?
A. If you’re serious about writing for children, join SCBWI. But even more important than that is to find a critique group of like-minded children’s writers (which SCBWI can certainly help with) who can give you a wide range of feedback on your manuscripts and story ideas. A good writing group can help its members bootstrap themselves from being writers to being published authors. It’s happened for many of the folks in my group.

Q. Do you have a favorite writing exercise that you can share?
A. I’m not sure I’d call it an exercise, but (no matter where I might be) I try to always write down any story idea I have—because if I don’t, I’ll likely forget it. If I forget it, I can never work on it and turn it into something—and there’s no guarantee I’ll ever recall it again. On my computer I keep a file with all my ideas, and I look them over every so often. I never know when I’ll think of the perfect detail or situation to turn a specific idea into the core of a future book.

Q. What are you working on now?
A. I just sold my first nonfiction picture book manuscript, but I’ll likely be working closely with the editor for several months to get the text “just right”. And I try to have four or five new manuscripts that I’m working on—or at least thinking about—at any given time.

Q. Where can people find you? (Website, Twitter, Facebook, etc.)
A. www.curtismanley.com

Thanks so much, Karlin, for inviting me to appear on your blog!

CHARLOTTE THE SCIENTIST IS SQUISHED

March 6, 2017

Tags: CHARLOTTE THE SCIENTIST IS SQUISHED, Camille Andros, Brianne Farley, Clarion Books, March 14, 2017

E.M.T. Camille Andros is the oldest of seven kids, has six children of her own, and loves science. So it makes perfect sense that her #firstpicturebook would be CHARLOTTE THE SCIENTIST IS SQUISHED. But exactly how did she craft a book with "loads of charm methodically delivered" (Kirkus Reviews)? Read on to find out . . .

Q. Was CHARLOTTE THE SCIENTIST IS SQUISHED the first picture book manuscript you ever wrote? If not, what was the first picture book you wrote and what happened to it?
A. No, Charlotte wasn't the first book I wrote. The first serious try at a PB manuscript is a book called THE DRESS AND THE GIRL that sold to ABRAMS about six months after Charlotte sold. It will be out in the Fall of 2018.

Q. What inspired CHARLOTTE THE SCIENTIST IS SQUISHED?
A. There were several inspirations for Charlotte. My husband comes from a very large family of ten children. All of those ten now have children of their own totaling over 65 grandkids. I am the oldest of seven kids and I have six children of my own, so there is always lots going on and sometimes we all feel the need to have our own space.

I also love science and want kids, especially girls, to know that science is awesome and it's ok to love it too.

Q. How did you pick the title of your book?
A. It came to me while I was in the shower--like all good ideas I have;)

Q. What is your favorite part of the book? And was that part in the first draft?
A. My favorite spread doesn't even have any words-it's the spread where Charlotte lands in outer space and is so thrilled to finally have her very own space. Having Charlotte go to space was always in the manuscript, but she wasn't Charlotte in the first draft. She was Seymour.

Q. How did you decide between telling the story in first or third person?
A. I wrote the book like I was telling the story to my own kids. First person wouldn't have made sense doing that.

Q. How much of the story did you know when you began writing CHARLOTTE THE SCIENTIST IS SQUISHED?
A. I wrote the first draft in one sitting and it was only 76 words. It evolved quite a bit from that first draft and, after a great SCBWI critique at a conference, the rest of Charlotte came to me pretty quickly. There were still lots of drafts ahead but it was mostly cleaning up the manuscript and making the story more focused.

Q. Did CHARLOTTE THE SCIENTIST IS SQUISHED receive any rejection letters? If so, how many (ballpark)?
A. Yes! Of course! Probably around two dozen or so from agents and then editors. But I wasn't really shopping Charlotte around as much as I was THE DRESS AND THE GIRL which was the first book I wrote and was more focused on initially.
That book got lots and lots of rejections, but each personalized rejection (they weren't all like that of course) and the feedback that came with it was so helpful in improving each manuscript.

Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on CHARLOTTE THE SCIENTIST IS SQUISHED.
A. I had just left the dentist when my agent called to tell me we had an offer on Charlotte--it was super exciting and I couldn't believe it was happening. Then I was even more surprised when we received three more offers on top of that first one. It sounds so cliche to say I was beyond thrilled to get that kind of response for my first book. The day my agent called with all of the final offers and asked if I was "sitting down" was kind of an out-of-body experience. I loved reading the stories of authors getting their first book deals or signing with an agent and now it was happening to me. It was very surreal.

Q. What kind of input did you have in choosing an illustrator for the book?
A. In an unusual turn of events my agent and I discussed pairing my manuscript with one of the RLM (Rodeen Literary Management-the agency that represents me) illustrators since I was new. Brianne Farley's style was perfect for Charlotte and I absolutely love what she has done to bring her to life. So lucky for me I kind of got to choose which doesn't happen very often:)

Q. What jumped out at you when you saw the first sketches and jacket cover?
A. That favorite spread I mentioned above really jumped out at me. I love the look of pure joy on Charlotte's face.

I didn't get to see the jacket cover until much later and it went through many different versions so I saw some a few before the final cover selected and loved them all. It's just so much fun to see a character that lives in your head come to life on the page.

Q. How long did CHARLOTTE THE SCIENTIST IS SQUISHED take to be published—from the time you received an offer until it was printed?
A. The offer for Charlotte was finalized in June of 2015. Charlotte will be out in the world on March 14, 2017, so just a couple months shy of two years.

Q. What is your #1 tip to those who want to write picture books?
A. Don't give up. The authors who are published are the ones who didn't give up.

Q. Do you have a favorite writing exercise that you can share?
A. Endings are hard for me. One thing I like to do to help is imagine what I want the reader to feel at the end of the book and then start writing different endings that would give that feeling.

Q. What are you working on now?
A. I am working on edits for the second Charlotte book, and the book I mentioned above, THE DRESS AND THE GIRL, to be illustrated by Julie Morstad that will be out Fall 2018. I'm also working a middle grade and a YA novel and I also have a few other projects in the works that I have my fingers crossed for.

Q. Where can people find you? (Website, Twitter, Facebook, etc.)
www.CamilleAndros.com
Twitter: @Camdros
Facebook: Camille Andros
Instagram: @camilleandros

THE NIAN MONSTER

February 27, 2017

Tags: THE NIAN MONSTER, Andrea Wang, Alina Chau, Albert Whitman, 2016

A former environmental consultant, Andrea Wang has written several nonfiction books but when she came across an old folktale, the idea for her #firstpicturebook was born. Today she shares the story behind THE NIAN MONSTER—a "fun-filled holiday adventure" (Foreword Reviews) that "thrills but doesn’t threaten" (Publishers Weekly, starred review).

Q. Was THE NIAN MONSTER the first picture book manuscript you ever wrote? If not, what was the first picture book you wrote and what happened to it?
A. THE NIAN MONSTER was probably the fifth or sixth picture book manuscript I’ve written. The first picture book was a story about a young boy who is a spy for a secret environmental agency. It was too big a plot for a picture book and has since been transformed into a middle grade novel.

Q. What inspired THE NIAN MONSTER?
A. I came across the old folktale about the Nian monster and was intrigued because I’d never heard it when I was a child. I like stories about monsters and I especially like trickster tales, so I thought I’d try to write a retelling in a contemporary setting.

Q. How did you pick the title of your book?
A. I’d initially titled it The Return of the Nian Monster, but since very few people were familiar with the original folktale, it didn’t feel quite right. Shortening it to just The Nian Monster seemed like a good way to introduce readers to him.

Q. What is your favorite part of the book? And was that part in the first draft?
A. [Spoiler Alert!] My favorite part is when the Nian monster’s jaws get stuck together with sticky rice cake. It wasn’t in the first draft or the second, but when I finally hit upon using traditional Chinese New Year foods to defeat Nian, that scene appeared right away.

Q. How did you select the names for your characters? 
A. The Nian monster was already named, so that was a given. I chose Xingling’s name based on what it means – “born with a clever nature.”

Q. Why did you decide to tell the story in third person? 
A. I think using third person retained the sort of timeless, folktale quality of the story.

Q. How much of the story did you know when you began writing THE NIAN MONSTER? 
A. I stayed close to the structure of the original folktale, where the monster is defeated by a person who figures out his three weaknesses. I knew I wanted the protagonist to be a smart and brave girl, and that the tricks used on Nian in the folktale wouldn’t work on him anymore. Everything else I figured out through many revisions.

Q. Did THE NIAN MONSTER receive any rejection letters? If so, how many (ballpark)?
A. THE NIAN MONSTER received about 8 rejections from editors, which really wasn’t bad. Two of those rejections were after the manuscript had been taken to acquisitions, though, which was hard.

Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on THE NIAN MONSTER.
A. I couldn’t quite believe what was happening. To be honest, I had forgotten that I had submitted the manuscript to Albert Whitman because it had been so long (nearly 18 months). And to suddenly be plucked out of the slush pile felt unreal.

Q. What kind of input did you have in choosing an illustrator for the book? 
A. My editor, Kristin Zelazko, was very kind about receiving my suggestions for illustrators and passing them along to the art director. They didn’t end up choosing anyone I had suggested, but I really could not be happier that they selected Alina Chau. I didn’t think that as a debut author I would be so lucky as to have someone of her caliber illustrate my book.

Q. What jumped out at you when you saw the first sketches and jacket cover?
A. I was blown away by the colors and the culturally-accurate details. Alina made the story come alive!

Q. How long did THE NIAN MONSTER take to be published—from the time you received an offer until it was printed?
A. I received the offer in February 2015 and the book was released on December 1, 2016, so it was just a couple months shy of two years from start to finish. It sounds like a long time, but the months just flew by!

Q. Is there anything you would change in the book today if you could reprint it? (Was there a part that you really loved but had to edit out? Or did you think of something later that you wanted to add?)
A. I didn’t have to edit much of the original manuscript that I submitted, which was great. All my “darlings” stayed in the story. There’s one line, though, that I think I’d change now that I’ve read it out loud so many times: “Nian’s wide, wicked jaws were stuck fast.” I keep stumbling over the “stuck fast” part. I think I’d either leave out the word “fast” or replace it with “together.”

Q. Can you share any funny or memorable parts of letters from kids about THE NIAN MONSTER?
A. I haven’t received any letters from kids yet, but at one storytime event, a girl said she thought Nian was cute and cuddly. But after I read the part about Nian eating entire villages, she announced that he was mean and she didn’t like him anymore! (I wouldn’t like having a monster threaten to eat me, either.) Another child told me that she would defeat the monster with chocolate cake, which sounds like a great idea to me. Especially if it’s a flourless chocolate cake – those things are deadly! :)

Q. When you do readings of THE NIAN MONSTER, which part of the book gets the best reaction?
A. I do an interactive storytime which was created by Kirsten Cappy of Curious City DPW (www.curiouscitydpw.com). I have a giant Nian monster mask and the kids can come up and “feed” him the food items mentioned in the book. There are fireworks at the end of the story and each child gets a paper bag to fill with air and pop. They all love making noise and helping me send away the Nian monster!

Q. What is your #1 tip to those who want to write picture books?
A. Persist! Keep reading, studying, writing, revising, and submitting.

Q. Do you have a favorite writing exercise that you can share?
A. One of my new favorite exercises is by Jean Reidy, a friend and agency-mate. She has “10 Power Premise Questions” on her blog here (http://jeanreidy.com/2013/09/does-your-picture-book-premise-have-power/) that help you figure out if your picture book idea has what it takes to sell. I find it to be a handy, quick, but not necessarily painless way to sort through my ideas and decide which one to work on next. It’s especially helpful if you participate in Storystorm (formerly known as Picture Book Idea Month) and don’t know which idea to work on first!

Q. What are you working on now?
A. I’m working on a middle grade coming-of-age novel about a young Chinese girl who moves from Boston’s Chinatown to rural Ohio. I tend to keep my WIPs close to my chest, so that’s all I’m ready to say about it now.

Q. Where can people find you? (Website, Twitter, Facebook, etc.)
A. My website is www.andreaywang.com
Twitter: @AndreaYWang, although I’m still learning the ropes with Twitter.
Facebook: andrea.c.wang
Instagram: @andreawhywang.

Thanks so much for interviewing me and I hope to see you and your readers around online!

WHAT I LOVE ABOUT YOU

February 12, 2017

Tags: WHAT I LOVE ABOUT YOU, Susan Farrington, HarperCollins, 2016

After mixed-media artist Susan Farrington created a MTA poster that was displayed in hundreds of NYC trains, publishers asked her if she had any ideas for a children's books. Susan answered with her debut author/illustrator picture book WHAT I LOVE ABOUT YOU—"a bright and appealing lap-sit choice (School Library Journal) that "speak[s] joyfully to the happy chaos of family life” (Publishers Weekly).

Q. Was WHAT I LOVE ABOUT YOU the first picture book manuscript you ever wrote? If not, what was the first picture book you wrote and what happened to it?
A. The first picture book I wrote was called 'These Are A Few Of The Scariest Things'.
The text and cadence was based on the song 'My favorite things', so right there I had a problem with copyright. I still love the book and the idea of using a safe space (a child sitting on the lap of a loved one) to help kids talk about and overcome fears.
I did have an agent and publisher who were interested but we could not get the OK from the copyright division of Rodgers and Hammerstein.

Q. What inspired WHAT I LOVE ABOUT YOU?
A. I have two daughters, They are now 17 and 20. There were so many times when they were growing up when I thought, 'gosh, I love that'... many of those observations made their way into 'What I Love About You!'

Q. How did you pick the title of your book?
A. Originally it was going to be "Do You Know What I Love?', but changing it to 'What I Love About You!' seemed a stronger choice.

Q. What is your favorite part of the book? And was that part in the first draft?
A. The page where the parent and child are holding hands... 'Do you know what I love? I love when you hold my hand.'
Then on the next page it says... 'And when you let go to make new friends', that's my favorite.

Q. How did you decide to tell the story in first or third person?
A. It seemed natural to tell the story in the first person. I wanted the child to feel the parent/caregiver was speaking directly to them.

Q. How much of the story did you know when you began writing WHAT I LOVE ABOUT YOU?
A. The concept started as a list and then evolved to include both the things we love about our children as well as acknowledgements that not everything is always perfect.

Q. Did you write the story first, then illustrate it? Or did the images appear before the words?
A. I had the outline of the story done and then worked on some of the illustrations.
The dummy of the book contained 4 finished illustrations as well as rough sketches of the remaining pages.

Q. Did WHAT I LOVE ABOUT YOU receive any rejection letters? If so, how many (ballpark)?
A. I was lucky in that I was asked if I 'had any children's books in me' from two publishers after they saw my poster on the NY subway.The poster was in hundreds of trains in NYC for the year 2014, you can see it here http://www.susanfarrington.com/mta-ny-poster.html.

Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on WHAT I LOVE ABOUT YOU.
A. Over the moon happy! I had always dreamed of doing a children's book, so it was literally a dream come true!

Q. How long did WHAT I LOVE ABOUT YOU take to be published—from the time you received an offer until it was printed?
A. About two years. I was told up front that there was a long lead time and that proved to be true. I was given about a year to complete the art; the following year was printing/color corrections and other tweaking.

Q. Is there anything you would change in the book today if you could reprint it? (Was there a part that you really loved but had to edit out? Or did you think of something later that you wanted to add?)
A. There were two things that I wanted which were ruled out in the beginning of the process—handmade type that was multicolored, and a mirrored surface at the end. The editor and art director explained why these things needed to be changed and I deferred to their expertise.

Q. When you do readings of WHAT I LOVE ABOUT YOU, which part of the book gets the best reaction?
A. The children like the page where the creature sings very loud... it gets a lot of laughs.
The parents respond to my favorite pages: 'I love when you hold my hand...and when you let go to make new friends.'

Q. What is your #1 tip to those who want to write picture books?
A. Write something that you would want to read over and over again.

Q. Do you have a favorite writing exercise that you can share?
A. Start with a rough outline of your story, lay it out as it would read over 32 pages. Play with the rhythm until the flow feels right. Don't be afraid to start over. Have fun.

Q. What are you working on now?
A. I have a follow up book tentatively called "How to be a friend'. I'll keep you posted on it's progress!

Q. Where can people find you? (Website, Twitter, Facebook, etc.)
A.:
susanfarrington.com
https://www.etsy.com/shop/susanfarrington
https://www.facebook.com/susan-farrington-482547581810699/
https://twitter.com/sus_farrington
https://www.pinterest.com/susanfarrington/