What inspired their picture books? How did they pick the titles? What did they do when they received an offer on their #firstpicturebook? In this weekly Q&A, writers share their experiences and tips. This week's writer is SUSAN HOOD!


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THE TOOTH MOUSE

August 21, 2017

Tags: THE TOOTH MOUSE by Susan Hood and illustrated by Janice Nadeau (Kids Can Press, 2012)

To celebrate ‪#NationalToothFairyDay, I'm reposting Susan Hood's #firstpicturebook Q&A on THE TOOTH MOUSE—"a fresh, modern take on an itty-bitty heroine's achievement of her seemingly impossible goal" (Kirkus Reviews) with "such a unique ending that listeners and their parents will smile with the cleverness of it all" (Publishers Weekly, starred review). Click here to read full interview.

ZEBRA ON THE GO

August 14, 2017

Tags: ZEBRA ON THE GO, Jill Nogales, Lorraine Rocha, Peachtree Publishers, 2017

Magazine writer Jill Nogales always rode the carousel's zebra when she was a child. But it wasn’t until she read about a circus animal escape that her zebra took off! Today she shares the story of her #firstpicturebook ZEBRA ON THE GO —“a beautiful tapestry of art, humor, and friendship” (School Library Journal) and “a solid read-aloud that is equally entertaining for both adults and children” (Kirkus Reviews, starred review)

Q. Was ZEBRA ON THE GO the first picture book manuscript you ever wrote? If not, what was the first picture book you wrote and what happened to it?
A. I have been writing magazine stories, as well as educational and religious materials, for children for several years, but ZEBRA ON THE GO is my first serious attempt at writing a picture book.

Q. What inspired ZEBRA ON THE GO?
A. I read a brief article in the “Odds and Ends” section of the local newspaper about how a circus had come to town somewhere back east and one of the show animals had escaped during a performance causing a big ruckus in that town. That was it. No details. Which wasn’t at all fair because I wanted to know more! So I started imagining possible scenarios and that sparked the idea for ZEBRA ON THE GO.

Q. How did you pick the title of your book?
A. Honestly, I never gave the title much thought. It’s a phrase that is repeated throughout the story and it seemed like the right title from the very beginning.

Q. Do you write by hand or on the computer?
A. The computer is my preferred method of writing, but if I’m away from my desk and I get a really fabulous idea, I’ll write it by hand. Part of ZEBRA ON THE GO came to me in the middle of the night on a family camping trip. I didn’t want to wake up my kids, so I wrote it on a napkin with a crayon in the dark.

Q. What is your favorite part of the book? And was that part in the first draft? (Please send image of this page if you can.)
A. My favorite part of the book is where Zebra is hiding on the carousel pretending to be one of the horse figurines. It’s a fond childhood memory, I suppose. When I was young, my parents took me for rides on a carousel that had a zebra. My brother always chose one of the big fancy horses. But I rode on the zebra.

Q. Why did you decide to tell the story in third person? 
A. First person didn’t seem right for this story because Zebra and Lion are focused on the chase and pretty much unaware of the chaotic ruckus they are causing as the story progresses. I wanted a broader perspective on the story events and third person let me do that.

Q. Why did you decide to write the story in rhyme? Did you write a version in prose?
A. ZEBRA ON THE GO is an action story. I felt that rhyme would make the story snap and keep the flow of energy going.

Q. How much of the story did you know when you began writing ZEBRA ON THE GO ? 
A. When I began writing ZEBRA ON THE GO, I just had the first half in mind. Originally, the scene where Zebra is hiding on the carousel was the grand finale. But then a critique partner pointed out that Lion would not give up the chase so easily. Obviously, right? I kept writing and brought the story full-circle. 

Q. Did ZEBRA ON THE GO receive any rejection letters? If so, how many (ballpark)?
A. There’s never a shortage of rejection letters in my inbox, but ZEBRA ON THE GO actually received very few. I started out by submitting it to 3 or 4 agents and they were all interested but wanted to see 2 more manuscripts which I unfortunately didn’t have. So I submitted ZEBRA ON THE GO to a few publishing houses on my own and it was snatched up pretty quickly.

Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on ZEBRA ON THE GO.
A. Very excited! Dream come true!!

Q. What jumped out at you when you saw the first sketches and jacket cover?
A. When I first saw the sketches and jacket cover, I was amazed at how perfectly the illustrator, Lorraine Rocha, understood the big ruckus I had in mind when I wrote the text. She did an incredible job with ZEBRA ON THE GO. Her illustrations are so fun and delightfully detailed. 

Q. How long did ZEBRA ON THE GO take to be published—from the time you received an offer until it was printed?
A. Almost 5 years

Q. 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. Not one word was changed from the original manuscript -- for which I’m grateful because it could have messed up the rhyme and that would have been complicated to rewrite!

Q. What is your #1 tip to those who want to write picture books?
A. Embrace and enjoy the process. By “process,” I mean going to bookstores and libraries to analyze the newest picture books, joining a critique group and SCBWI, and of course actually writing. Luck sometimes plays a part, but writing a picture book is mostly a lot hard work. It’s tough to conjure one up overnight. It’s a process. So embrace and enjoy it!

Q. Do you have a favorite writing exercise or marketing tip that you can share?
A. Get to know the owners of nearby independent bookstores. These people know how to market books, they have connections, and most often they are happy to offer advice and guidance to debut authors.

Q. What are you working on now?
A. I’m still writing magazine stories as well as educational and religious materials. But I also have a few more picture book manuscripts in the works.

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

Thank you for this opportunity to share about my first picture book, Karlin, and best wishes to all of your readers!

Why did you decide to write your picture book in first or third person?

August 7, 2017

Tags: First-person, third-person, first picture book

"That's just the way the story came out" was the most popular answer to this question. But these writers had specific reasons for their point-of-view choices. Clink on the answer to read more from each author's #firstpicturebook Q&A:

Hannah Barnaby, author of BAD GUY and GARCIA & COLETTE: “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.”

Miriam Glassman, author of HALLOWEENA: “Because it is based on a fairy tale, I felt it should have a fairy tale feel to it. So from the very first draft, it was in third person. Also, by not telling it all from Hepzibah’s point of view, it was much easier to show the mother-daughter struggle.”

Tara Lazar, author of THE MONSTORE: “Aha! I had originally written the story in first person, in Zack’s voice, but my editor asked me to change it. That was so we could get some fun repetition with Zack speaking, as in “Zack wanted a refund. ‘I want a refund!’”

Shennen Bersani, author of ACHOO!: WHY POLLEN COUNTS: “I felt the third person drives home the science facts and importance of the subject, while allowing children to put themselves in the story more easily.”

Hrefna Bragadottir, author of BAXTER’S BOOK: “I played around with telling it in third person, but it just didn’t feel as strong. I wanted Baxter to talk directly to the reader in the present moment to get a better sense of the journey he goes on. It keeps it short and sweet.”

Cheryl Lawton Malone, author of DARIO AND THE WHALE: “I use third person to tell the story from two points of view—Dario’s and the whale’s. First person might confuse readers because of the two points of view/perspective.”

Susan Farrington, author of WHAT I LOVE ABOUT YOU: “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.”

Gaia Cornwall, author of JABARI JUMPS: “I did versions of it in first person and in the end I liked the rhythm of how it sounded out loud in third person. But also it let the dad be a character in his own right as opposed to seeing him through Jabari's eyes-- as you would in first person. I think this way, adults will find him relatable, just like the kids will see themselves in Jabari.”

David Litchfield, author of THE BEAR AND THE PIANO: “I didn't really think about it at the time. But now that I am thinking, maybe it's because if I had written it from the Bear’s perspective and have the bear narrate it would have broken the Magic a bit. After all, if the bear can talk and tell us the story, it's not to far to stretch our belief that the bear can play the piano. So maybe, sub consciously, that's why I wrote it in the third person.”

Hazel Mitchell, author of TOBY: “Originally I wanted it to be almost wordless. But as I worked on the story with my editor and art director, we felt more words were needed. So it's mostly conversational in graphic panels, with some short lines in first person to lead the reader from one scene to another. It's good for the parent to have something to read aloud and not just to look at the pictures and also gives the child something to linger over.”

Robin Newman, author of HILDIE BITTERPICKLES NEEDS HER SLEEP: “I like that you can confide facts to the reader with a third person narrator.”

Brittany R. Jacobs, author of THE KRAKEN’S RULES FOR MAKING FRIENDS: “In the beginning I toyed around with telling the story from the Kraken's point of view, but I wanted to show why the fish don't like him. He's big and scary and has a terrible temper. Bringing the narration out to third person allowed for the reader to experience more of the characters.”

Jodi McKay, author of WHERE ARE THE WORDS?: “Well, for a couple of reasons. One, I figured that if I wrote it in first person, then these unconventional characters may feel more relatable and two, I wanted this to be a simple story with a twist. I imagined children reading it and discovering that the characters speak as their roles dictate. That, to me, would be an incredible learning opportunity.”

Curtis Manley, author of THE SUMMER NICK TAUGHT HIS CATS TO READ: “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.”

Jason Gallaher, author of WHOBERT WHOVER: OWL DETECTIVE: “I thought third person served Whobert's story better because a narrator sort of gives Whobert a little credibility in his detective work. Whobert is a dunce detective, but he doesn't know it, and he really does want to do good in his community. I thought by having an omniscient narrator detailing his exploits, it would give this sort of subconscious recognition that at least somebody thinks Whobert's life is noteworthy even if he's not fully aware of his surroundings.”

Megan Wagner Lloyd, author of FINDING WILD: “It’s actually in second person, which wasn't a conscious decision for me--once I got the voice of the piece rolling, I just went with it.”

CHICKEN WANTS A NAP

July 31, 2017

Tags: CHICKEN WANTS A NAP, Tracy Marchini, Monique Felix, Creative Editions, August 2017

Even though Tracy Marchini is a literary agent and YA and middle-grade author, she didn't play it cool when she got an offer on her debut picture book. Today she tells us how she created and celebrated her #firstpicturebook CHICKEN WANTS A NAP—coming August 15! (See Goodreads giveaway link below to win a copy!)

Q. Was CHICKEN WANTS A NAP the first picture book manuscript you ever wrote? If not, what was the first picture book you wrote and what happened to it?
A. CHICKEN WANTS A NAP wasn’t the first (or even the second, third, fourth…) picture book I wrote. The first picture book was about a collection of animals that find a hat and while I did send it out on submission, it’s found a home on my computer hard drive where it will probably stay indefinitely!

Q. What inspired CHICKEN WANTS A NAP?
A. At the time, I was a full time grad student who was working part time, and one of my assignments was to write about a character’s best or worst day. I was so exhausted and a nap sounded like the best thing in the world to me – so I wrote about a Chicken who also would love a nap, but was constantly interrupted.

Q. How did you pick the title of your book?
A. The title and the first line are the same, and they just kind of popped into my head as I was thinking about the assignment.

Q. Do you write by hand or on the computer?
A. I like to do both. If I’m stuck on something, I’ll write it out by hand. I always feel like I am a little more creative when I’m writing by hand first. There’s something about the feel of pen on paper, and it also gives me the opportunity to do a quick line edit as I enter it into the computer.

Q. What is your favorite part of the book? And was that part in the first draft?
A. My favorite part is the end (though I’m not going to spoil the ending for you!) and it was in the first draft.

Q. How did you select the names for your characters?
A. Chicken is a chicken, and there was something about the naturally sparse text that seemed to fit with the simple name.

Q. Why did you decide to tell the story in first/third person?
A. Because the story deals with naps, it always felt natural in third. I think first person would have been too close, and would have changed the tone considerably.

Q. How much of the story did you know when you began writing CHICKEN WANTS A NAP?
A. I knew that I was tired, but the rest came to me as a wrote! I did know that I loved the structure of Remy Charlip’s Fortunately, so that was definitely something I was going for. Something about the original assignment (best or worst day) must have sparked that memory – and I think a lot of the humor comes from the back and forth of being successful… until the reader turns the page and Chicken is once more thwarted.

Q. Did CHICKEN WANTS A NAP receive any rejection letters? If so, how many (ballpark)?
A. So, this is completely unusual, but I only sent CHICKEN to one publisher that I had worked with in the past and knew would be a good fit. But most authors aren’t going to sell a book without at least one rejection for that manuscript, and I certainly have rejections from previous picture books.

Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on CHICKEN WANTS A NAP.
A. There was a lot of dancing, some annoying singing (“I sold a boooooook!”) and I think even a little bit of the running man. I was not chill about it – at all!

Q. What kind of input did you have in choosing an illustrator for the book?
A. No input, which is common. Luckily, I love Monique’s art in general and also what she did with CHICKEN WANTS A NAP in particular!

Q. What jumped out at you when you saw the first sketches and jacket cover?
A. “That’s one good lookin’ Chicken!”

Q. How long did CHICKEN WANTS A NAP take to be published—from the time you received an offer until it was printed?
A. About three months shy of two years from offer to publication.

Q. 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. The text is only about 165 words, but my editor and I went back and forth on just the right wording for quite a bit. It wasn’t so much editing out something that I loved, but figuring out how to tighten the text so that it was even better!

Q. What is your #1 tip to those who want to write picture books?
A. Write and read as many of them as you can until picture book structure becomes an innate part of your craft. (Tip #2 would be to jot down a couple of picture ideas and then ask yourself with each idea, “How can I take this idea and flip it into something new/clever/funny/etc.?”)

Q. Do you have a favorite writing exercise or marketing tip that you can share?
A. If you’re stuck, change your scenery. Take a walk, go to your library, or make something with your hands (knit, sew, color – something!) Let your subconscious do some work on the problem and come back to the manuscript fresh.

Q. What are you working on now?
A. Right now I have a couple of picture book ideas that I’m revising and one that I’m drafting. There aren’t any chickens in these manuscripts… yet. (There is a duck though!)

Q. Where can people find you? (Website, Twitter, Facebook, etc.)
A. Website: www.tracymarchini.com
Twitter: www.twitter.com/tracymarchini
Facebook: www.facebook.com/tracymarchinibooks
Enter to win CHICKEN WANTS A NAP at www.goodreads.com/giveaway/show/241397?utm_medium=api&utm_source=giveaway_widget

SMALL

July 24, 2017

Tags: SMALL, Gina Perry, Little Bee Books August 1, 2017

Illustrator Gina Perry grew up being the smallest in her class and in her family. But on August 1, something big is happening—her author/illustrator debut! Today Gina shares the story about creating #firstpicturebook SMALL.

Q. You worked as an illustrator before SMALL. How did you make the transition to writer/illustrator and how does it compare with being an illustrator of someone else's work?
A. I tinkered with story ideas for many years, but made writing a priority when I had my children. I knew juggling hectic illustration deadlines and babies was not in the cards for me, so I became my own client. I paid myself nothing, but demanded that I write as much as possible and never quit on my ideas. The “kidlit” community is full of amazing resources once you open that door.

Illustrating my own books is amazingly different. I am still adjusting to the idea that I am in control of all the little details that were previously dictated to me by an art director. I have really enjoyed working with an editor to keep pushing my work to be it’s best. It feels far more like a partnership than any of my previous illustration assignments. Although, to be honest, I have been extremely fortunate in having nothing but great experiences with my illustration clients.

Q. Was SMALL 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 manuscript I wrote was called TOO MUCH! NOT ENOUGH! It will be published Summer 2018 by Tundra. I first had the idea, starting with that refrain of the title, ten years ago. Did I mention that I never quit on my ideas?

Q. What inspired SMALL?
A. I was the smallest child in my grade until high school and also the smallest kid in the family. I was quite shy, even until my thirties. I wrote SMALL as a poem in a small sketchbook (but of course!) in a waiting room. The first draft was personal but I felt like I had something special right away.

Q. How did you pick the title of your book?
A. I might ramble on in real life and interviews, but I generally like to pare down my writing to the barest structure of words possible. I had a few longer variations, but it eventually seemed that SMALL was just the right fit.

Q. Do you write by hand or on the computer?
A. I wrote several versions of SMALL by hand. I will often jot down titles or rough ideas in sketchbooks or even in my phone’s note app. Once I am ready to really flesh a story out, I will write and revise on the computer.

Q. What is your favorite part of the book? And was that part in the first draft?
A. I think my favorite part of the story is when she sings big. I love all her big moments, but that one hits me hardest. I love music and singing, but would never have been so brave to sing alone in front of a crowd at that age.

Q. Why did you decide to tell the story in first person?
A. It flowed out of me in first person, so I never imagined it any other way. I also hoped that it would allow children to place themselves in her shoes and feel big along her journey.

Q. How much of the story did you know when you began writing SMALL?
A. I knew it would be about a small girl but was completely blank on the plot for at least a year.

Q. Did you write the story first, then illustrate it? Or did the images appear before the words?
A. I sketched out several different concepts for the story, and there were some wonderful images that were lost to revisions, but each draft helped me understand the character better.

Q. Did SMALL receive any rejection letters? If so, how many (ballpark)?
A. My agent smartly knew that SMALL needed a revision but I felt so confident in that version that she sent it out. I think I needed the kind, encouraging rejections to assure me that I did need to revise. I took some time to revise and resubmit, but it was 1000% worth the wait and work when it found a fast home with little bee books. I did have to revise the text before I received an offer, but it was a really positive process.

Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on SMALL.
A. I was in a parking lot and had my daughter in the car with me. It felt perfect that it was just the two of us (plus my amazing agent, Teresa Kietlinski, on the phone!). I am TERRIBLE at reacting big to good news! I think it took a long time to absorb the awesomeness of that moment. I have definitely teared up about a million times between then and now. Never before had I worked so hard and long on a goal in life, knowing there was no guarantee that I would reach it.

Q. How long did SMALL take to be published—from the time you received an offer until it
was printed?

A. It was two years from accepting the offer until publication. As luck would have it, I had just accepted another book job as an illustrator and I couldn’t make the original deadline for Fall of 2016. SMALL had to wait another year, but I was glad to not feel rushed for my author/illustrator debut.

Q. 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. Actually, the revisions I made with Jenna were to add more text and another spread. In a very old version I showed the main character brushing her teeth where we just see the top of her head and eyes in the mirror. I really loved that moment, but it actually shows up in a similar way in my next book. I love being an illustrator and using discarded ideas in new ways.

Q. What is your #1 tip to those who want to write picture books?
A. Read as many picture books as you can haul from the library as often as you can. And read them aloud, preferably to an audience. I always knew I loved the images and the stories, but until I was reading to my own children I didn’t realize how much I loved the performance of reading picture books. It might seem like obvious advice, but I think it’s an easily overlooked part of the process.

Q. Do you have a favorite writing exercise or marketing tip that you can share?
A. If at all possible, find a debut author/illustrator group for your first book. I am incredibly grateful for the support from Picture The Books 2017. This is an amazing, but quirky and frustrating field, and you’ll need all the support you can get. I found mine by being active on social media and answering a call for new picture book authors and illustrators. We work SO hard to get published, and then get tossed into entirely uncharted waters to market our books. Friends in the same boat will be your informational and emotional lifeline.

Q. What are you working on now?
A. I recently finished final art on TOO MUCH! NOT ENOUGH!, out Summer 2018, and will be starting another picture book with Tundra this fall.

Q. Where can people find you? (Website, Twitter, Facebook, etc.)
A. http://www.ginaperry.com/
https://twitter.com/ginamarieperry
https://www.facebook.com/ginaperryart/
https://www.instagram.com/ginapineapple/

GREEN GREEN: A COMMUNITY GARDENING STORY

July 17, 2017

Tags: GREEN GREEN: A COMMUNITY GARDENING STORY, Marie Lamba and Baldev Lamba, Sonia Sanchez, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2017

YA author and literary agent Marie Lamba wrote her first picture-book manuscript 30 years ago but it wasn't until this past May that a different manuscript became her #firstpicturebook. Today she tells us all about GREEN GREEN: A COMMUNITY GARDENING STORY—“an attractive read-aloud for beginning lessons on gardening” (School Library Journal) that she co-wrote with her husband, landscape architect Baldev Lamba.

Q. Was GREEN GREEN 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 very first picture book manuscript I wrote was a monstrosity call MONKEY FEET AND PEANUT BUTTER SANDWICHES. That was about 30 years ago. Actually it wasn't horrible, but it wasn't a picture book either. More of a schtick -- you know, a quirky idea that didn't really go anywhere.  I subbed it around and was rejected widely.

Q. What inspired GREEN GREEN?
A. My husband and co-author Baldev Lamba is a landscape architect.  Years ago, we were walking in a harsh urban area, and he pointed to some weeds and wild flowers springing up through cracks in the cement. And he said something along the lines of, "See that? Nature is always there just waiting to come back." That stuck with me for a long time, and became the inspiration for our book.
 
Q. How did you pick the title of your book?
A. GREEN GREEN is a phrase used throughout the story. The subtitle: A COMMUNITY GARDENING STORY was added by the people at Macmillan to give it a solid hook for book buyers interested in this type of gardening.
 
Q. Do you write by hand or on the computer?
A. For this book, I wrote long-hand in a notebook that I always keep on my bedside. It may or may not have been written around 4 a.m. or so!

Q. What is your favorite part of the book? And was that part in the first draft?
A. I love the way the land changes throughout the story, becoming a character in a way. And that was always there in the book.

Q. Why did you decide to write the story in rhyme? Did you write a version in prose?
A. Actually the book is part rhyme and part prose, and the hope was that this made it a read that would flow and feel lyrical without feeling forced. Repetition plays its part in the story because I really wanted to show how in every stage, the land was changed in a similar way.  Digging made a small garden grow. Digging (with machinery) made a large city grow. And digging with the help of the community, brought a green space back to the city.  

Q. How much of the story did you know when you began writing GREEN GREEN? 
A. I have to admit, I just started writing, and the story grew and grew!

Q. Did GREEN GREEN receive any rejection letters? If so, how many (ballpark)?
A. While my first book (the MONKEY FEET one) garnered quite a huge slew of rejections, GREEN GREEN was picked up right away by an editor who happened to love community gardening.

Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on GREEN GREEN.
A. It was a serious thrill!  And, while I have published several YA novels, this is my first picture book -- which makes it very special. And it is the first book my husband has ever had published -- so he was very kid in the candy store.

Q. What was it like working with your husband who is your co-author?
A. Over the years, Baldev and I have co-authored a number of garden-related articles for magazines including Garden Design, Your Home and Gardens & Landscapes. But this was an entirely different realm for us as a team. He trusted my ear when it came to the language throughout the book. I trusted his experience when it came to pulling together the back matter, which points to ways kids can be GREEN GREEN and can help threatened Monarch butterflies and honeybees.  Baldev was especially helpful in pointing out things that could be in the abandoned urban lot, or that needed to be present in the garden. He's actually worked with a number of community groups in Philadelphia to create community gardens, so he really knows his stuff.

Q. What kind of input did you have in choosing an illustrator for the book?
A. Sonia Sanchez is SUCH A TALENT!  Our original editor, Susan Dobinick, had her in mind, and once we saw her portfolio, we just knew this was the perfect illustrator for this project. Susan did let us weigh in on if we felt Sonia was a good fit -- but I believe that writers don't always have this opportunity.  After Susan went to work elsewhere, editor Grace Kendall took the helm, and we worked closely with Grace when we saw the first pass of illustrations from Sonia, to make sure that needed factual details were in place. But all other details were up to Sonia to interpret. 

Q. What jumped out at you when you saw the first sketches and jacket cover?
A. The diversity of the children in every page. As parents of biracial children ourselves, we couldn't be more thrilled about this!

Q. How long did GREEN GREEN take to be published—from the time you received an offer until it was printed?
A. The offer came in June 2014, and the book came out May 2017.  Yup, three years.

Q. 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. GREEN GREEN was an unusual manuscript for me. It just flowed.  The editor asked us to add a bit more to the city building and the community garden building scenes, so a few more stanzas were written for that, but essentially it's not very different from its first draft.

Q. What is your #1 tip to those who want to write picture books?
A. Keep a notebook on hand at all times!  You never know when those essential truths will flow out. For me, my biggest ideas manifest themselves in the early morning, or on long walks.  If I don't catch them on paper, they sometimes fade like a wisp of smoke.

Q. Do you have a favorite writing exercise or marketing tip that you can share?
A. Support all of your local bookstores. Buy books there. Ask for advice about reads. Steer others to these stores. Buy books there as gifts, or purchase gift certificates. And support your library. Someday they will support you by stocking your books and hosting your events. More importantly, though, a vibrant network of bookstores and libraries means a sure way to grow readers. It's all about being a part of that community and making sure that community thrives.

Q. What are you working on now?
A. I just finished a magazine article for Writer's Digest, co-authored with my daughter, Cari Lamba, who is the newest agent at The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency (where I am an agent). Also, my next picture book, working title A DAY SO GRAY, has been picked up by Clarion, and I'm excited to see what illustrator is selected for that one. Other than that, I have a number of picture book ideas and a middle grade stewing away. I'm hoping to find some time to work on these over the summer.

Q. Where can people find you? (Website, Twitter, Facebook, etc.)
A:
Website: marielamba.com
Twitter: @marielamba
Facebook: Marie Lamba, Author
Agent at Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency: jdlit.com
Goodreads author page, too

Thanks so much for having me here, Karlin!

WHOBERT WHOVER, OWL DETECTIVE

July 10, 2017

Tags: WHOBERT WHOVER, OWL DETECTIVE, Jason Gallaher, Jess Pauwels, Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2017

Merman-turned-picture-book-writer Jason Gallaher will make a splash on July 18 with WHOBERT WHOVER, OWL DETECTIVE—"A cracking whooooo-dunit" (Kirkus Reviews) and "a satisfying and rousingly silly read-aloud" (Publisher's Weekly). Inspired by titles that pop into his head, Jason shares the story behind his #firstpicturebook:

Q. Was WHOBERT WHOVER, OWL DETECTIVE the first picture book manuscript you ever wrote? If not, what was the first picture book you wrote and what happened to it?
A. WHOBERT actually was the very first manuscript I ever wrote. However, I just recently found a first draft, and how WHOBERT looks today is not even close to how the manuscript originally looked (and I will never ever ever ever EVER let anyone look at that first draft. Lord and Taylor, was it a doozy). I was so intimidated by picture books at the time, but I really wanted to try my hand at them because they can be so move-you-to-tears beautiful or laugh-til-your-ribs-hurt funny.

Q. What inspired WHOBERT WHOVER, OWL DETECTIVE ?
A. I typically write by titles, and one day while trying to get through a grad school paper on Shakespeare, the name just came to me. So I immediately put that paper aside and started thinking about who, who this owl detective was.

Q. How did you pick the title of your book?
A. I really don't know how any of the titles come into my head. Titles are always the seed for a story idea for me. When a title pops into the jumbled mess of unicorns and merpeople and Anjelica Huston movies that typically inhabit my gray matter, I don't know what the story is that accompanies that title. It usually has to simmer a bit before the story follows.

Q. What is your favorite part of the book? And was that part in the first draft?
A. My absolute favorite spread is when Whobert first discovers Perry the Possum lying awfully still, and pokes and pushes and pulls Perry to see if he's okay. That was in there from the beginning, but Jess Pauwels's illustrations are hysterical and really brought the moment to life! The first time I saw that spread I could not stop laughing!

Q. How did you select the names for your characters?
A. In WHOBERT, I knew right away that I wanted to play off of the alliterative name scheme that picture book writers are often told not to do because it has been done so much, and it tends to lend itself to a kind of innocence that some consider hokey. That's exactly the type of hokeyness that I wanted because this is a *fake* murder mystery, and I thought names like Freddie the Frog give a sense of playfulness to the plot as Whobert accuses more and more of his neighbors of dastardly deeds.

Q. How did you decide to tell the story in first or third person?
A. I thought third person served Whobert's story better because a narrator sort of gives Whobert a little credibility in his detective work. Whobert is a dunce detective, but he doesn't know it, and he really does want to do good in his community. I thought by having an omniscient narrator detailing his exploits, it would give this sort of subconscious recognition that at least somebody thinks Whobert's life is noteworthy even if he's not fully aware of his surroundings.

Q. How much of the story did you know when you began writing WHOBERT WHOVER, OWL DETECTIVE?
A. I knew that Whobert misinterpreted events by thinking normal animal behavior was a crime, and I knew how that would be revealed at the end. But when I sat down to write the story, I didn't originally know the characters Whobert would accuse of committing crimes in the forest. It was really fun to discover those characters and how they respond to Whobert's claims.

Q. Did WHOBERT WHOVER, OWL DETECTIVE receive any rejection letters? If so, how many (ballpark)?
A. WHOBERT did receive a few rejections, but I was really, really, really lucky in that I only went on one round of submissions. My awesome agent (Tricia Lawrence of Erin Murphy Literary Agency) subbed to five editors. One of those was Annie Nybo, who actually saw WHOBERT and critiqued it at an SCBWI conference. She gave me some fantastic notes, and told me that if I decided to revise the manuscript I should feel free to submit the manuscript to her. I revised per her suggestions, and here we are now!

Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on WHOBERT WHOVER, OWL DETECTIVE.
A. I. Could. Not. Stop. Dancing. Literally. I was in my bathrobe having just gotten out of the shower when Trish called to tell me the good news. I danced around my house in that robe for what felt like hours. I called my partner, I called my parents, I called my brother, I sent out vibes to Oprah in hopes that she'd pick up on them and name WHOBERT as an official book club selection, and the whole time I was dancing.

Q. What kind of input did you have in choosing an illustrator for the book?
A. I didn't have any input in selecting the illustrator for WHOBERT, and I'm so glad I didn't. Annie did such an amazing job of finding Jess Pauwels, and I could not be happier with the way our book looks. I was out at lunch with one of my closest friends (Bayne Gibby, who is also an author) when I got an email from Annie introducing me to Whobert, and I could not contain my excitement. While I was losing my head with joy, Bayne was present enough to snag a picture of the moment. I could not have a bigger smile. When I'm feeling the downs of the writer journey, I look at that picture to remind myself of how much fun writing for kids is, and that while there can be times that are frustrating, the good MAJORLY outweighs the bad.

Q. What jumped out at you when you saw the first sketches and jacket cover?
A. This is initially what went through my mind: "OH MY @%%#@ HE IS PERFECT LOOK AT WHOBERT CAN YOU BELIEVE THIS HOLY MOSES LORD AND TAYLOR AHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!"

After that, I could not stop looking at all the facial expressions Jess created. She does such an amazing job at conveying Whobert's concern, his suspicion directed at all of his neighbors, and all of said neighbors' annoyance at being confronted by this very pushy owl. The raised eyebrows, the squinted eyelids, the wide-eyed surprise are all so outrageous in the best way!

Q. How long did WHOBERT WHOVER, OWL DETECTIVE take to be published—from the time you received an offer until it was printed?
A. From offer to publication will be two years and four months. I think he was so worth the wait!

Q. What is your #1 tip to those who want to write picture books?
A. Get your work critiqued! All the time! I know it's scary to have others look at your work, but those suggestions you receive will make your work sing!

Q. Do you have a favorite writing exercise that you can share?
A. When you have a character in mind, find a list of questions typically asked in a job interview, and have that character answer them. You learn so much about your characters! A lot of what you write down won't make it into a manuscript, but you'll find little gems that are priceless and really help you get to the heart of your character's personality.

Q. What are you working on now?
I have a few picture book manuscripts on submission right now, as well as a middle grade fantasy-adventure that I really hope gets picked up because it's a world that I love! My current WIP is an #ownvoices YA manuscript about two gay teens getting to explore their relationship for the first time. It's been such an emotional process writing it, especially since my picture book writing tends to be humorous. Or at least I hope people find my PBs funny!

Q. Where can people find you? (Twitter, Facebook, website, etc.):
A. www.jasongallaher.com
www.youtube.com/c/JasonGallaher
@DraftingJason

MONSTER TRUCKS

June 12, 2017

Tags: MONSTER TRUCKS, Joy Keller, Miss Saburi, Henry Holt, August 2017

On Joy Keller's website, she writes that her weirdest experience was "getting chased down the street by an angry pig." Sounds like a great picture book! Until that happens, read the story behind her #firstpicturebook MONSTER TRUCKS (available August 29!):

Q. Was MONSTER TRUCKS the first picture book manuscript you ever wrote? If not, what was the first picture book you wrote and what happened to it?
A. I’ve written lots of picture books over the years, and MONSTER TRUCKS wasn’t my first. My very first was about a cooking dragon. It stunk, and my critique group wasn’t afraid to let me know (in much gentler terms, of course). It was the first of many learning opportunities on my writing journey! I think I still have the original manuscript hand-written in a notebook.

Q. What inspired MONSTER TRUCKS?
A. When my kids were little, they had very specific taste in books. My daughter only wanted to read Halloween books, and my son only wanted to read truck books. I thought to myself, “Why hasn’t someone written a book about monsters and trucks? It could be called MONSTER TRUCKS.” Bingo! There was my idea.

Q. How did you pick the title of your book?
A. In this case, the title came first. It was the easiest part.

Q. What is your favorite part of the book? And was that part in the first draft?
A. I don’t know if I can pick a favorite. It was too much fun writing about each monster! And all the monsters in the book were in the first outline I wrote except for the mummies. They came later because, as my agent at the time said, the story just needed some mummies.

Q. How did you decide between telling the story in first or third person? 
A. The whole book is basically a list poem, so this wasn’t an issue for me to even consider.

Q. How much of the story did you know when you began writing MONSTER TRUCKS? 
A. All of it! I had the idea, but the big challenge was making that idea into a fun, playful rhyme. There were nights where my brain wouldn’t shut off as I lay in bed wondering, “What rhymes with debris?” or “Why couldn’t Minotaur have one more syllable?”

Q. Did MONSTER TRUCKS receive any rejection letters? If so, how many (ballpark)?
A. Of course! I would say at least twenty, maybe more.

Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on MONSTER TRUCKS.
A. I won’t lie. There was a lot of jumping up and down and cheering.

Q. What kind of input did you have in choosing an illustrator for the book? 
A. None at all, which is why I was absolutely thrilled when I saw Misa Saburi’s adorable illustrations. She can make anything (even monsters!) look cute.

Q. What jumped out at you when you saw the first sketches and jacket cover?
A. Everything—I love Misa’s style. Let’s just say that the picture of the witch driving the street sweeper made me the happiest author in the world!

Q. How long did MONSTER TRUCKS take to be published—from the time you received an offer until it was printed?
A. It took almost three years. Publishing is a slow process, but the end result is totally worth it.

Q. What is your #1 tip to those who want to write picture books?
A. Write. A LOT. I think of my picture book manuscripts as baby sea turtles. They aren’t all going to make it—that’s the sad reality of the business—but I can always have more manuscripts that might work the next time around. So stay busy!

Now I know I’m breaking the rules here, but I’d say my #1 ½ tip is to join a critique group. You need writing friends to help solve those pesky manuscript problems that you just can’t solve yourself. (Then you’ll also have a group to help you celebrate when your book gets published!)

Q. What are you working on now?
A. I tend to work on multiple things at one time. I have a nearly wordless book for which I’m creating a dummy, a comic-book style science book, and another fun rhyming story.
Q. Where can people find you? (Website, Twitter, Facebook, etc.)
A. My website is joykellerauthor.com, and you can find me on Twitter @jrkeller80.

10 Post-Publication Tips for Debut Picture Book Writers

June 5, 2017

I have learned so much from the authors who have participated in these Q&As. I truly appreciate all their wonderful advice and tips on this blog. Now that it has been one year since my debut publication, I too have some post-publication tips for new picture book authors:

Giveaways: My favorite giveaways to do were in my own community. If it was kid-related, in a 30-mile radius, and for a good cause, NADIA was in. Go on to your local Facebook pages and seek out fundraisers where your book might make a good door prize or raffle item and offer a signed copy of your book with some swag. I also did Goodreads giveaways during November (National Picture Book month and Nadia Comaneci's birthday month) and February (International #BookGiving Day and Valentine's Day). I just did an Amazon giveaway—you will have to pay the book's retail price but there are entry requirements like having to follow you on Twitter. Finally—Little Free Libraries. I'm obsessed with these. When I travel, I look up a LFL on their map and sneak a NADIA into it. It makes me feel like a book ninja!

Swag: I had a few notebooks printed up with the NADIA cover and a NADIA water bottle. These are pricey items so I just did a few for a raffle at my book launch and to send to key people—my editor, my mom, etc. You know, anyone who wants to brag on your behalf. Later on, instead of printing up bookmarks, I created NADIA door hangers. I use them as giveaways, mailers or promotional pieces. And bonus: they can also be used as bookmarks!

Pinterest: I love Pinterest. But not because I'm that crafty mom who's looking for creative bake-sale ideas. (Although I do LOVE a good bake-sale brownie!) I use Pinterest boards to organize my research for each manuscript. This cuts down on some clutter on my desk. Once your book is published, you can create a public board for your readers, giving them some extras. For example, my Pinterest board for NADIA has some of my sources, photos that inspired some of the illustrations, interviews with Ms. Comaneci, and even my messy first page draft.

Blog: If you decide to create a blog, make it about something you love so it doesn't end up being one more chore. I am endlessly fascinated by how someone goes from a moment of inspiration to a finished piece of work—whether it is a song, poem, script, or book. Because I write picture books, that's my focus. I found these interviews entertaining and educational ( hopefully others did too!) and they gave debut authors another buzz item for their promotion.

Twitter: Twitter can be so noisy. I just use it to follow #kidlit news—from teachers, librarians, editors, reviewers, bloggers, booksellers, and authors. Here are some of my favorites:
@pbooksblogger
@_AllTheWonders
@KIDLIT411
@PictureTheBooks
@MrSchuReads
@KateMessner
@carlemuseum
@pbookmarkers
@taralazar
#ManuscriptWList

Book launch: Unfortunately, I don't have an independent bookstore in my town but I do have a Barnes & Noble. When I had my book launch at the store, it coincided with my town's library fundraiser. So the fundraiser brought more people into the store (which added to my crowd) and a percentage of sales on all books, mine included, benefited the library. Win-win. If you are planning a reading at B&N, ask the coordinator if there are any fundraising events—library, elementary school, Girl or Boy Scouts, etc.—during your book launch time and see if you can partner with them.

Guest blogging: This is a great opportunity and I wish I had done more of it. It's fun to pop in to another author's world and speak to their readers. But have a clear topic, not just a promotional piece. Here are two guest blogs:
https://frogonablog.net/2016/07/27/a-picture-perfect-baby-shower-idea-by-karlin-gray/
https://taralazar.com/2016/08/08/non-fiction-of-olympic-proportions/

Birthday books: If you have friends with picture-book age kids, ask them to read your book in their child's class. A friend of mine told me she was going to read NADIA to her son's class for his birthday. I was so thrilled that I gave her my leftover book launch swag to hand out. It was a big hit . . . with the kids and the teacher!

SCBWI Conferences: I waited too long to do this. It was always around someone's birthday, a kid event, yatta-yatta. I went to my first one this year and it was so worth it. You can read more about my thoughts on that here:

Shine a Light: Promoting your own book can start to feel icky. Yes, you put your heart, soul, and tons of time into it. You should be proud of your book and your publisher expects you to promote it. But still, sometimes—yuck. You know what doesn't feel gross? Shining a light on someone else's work. So when you need to take a break from marketing your own book, turn your attention to another debut author. If you see their book displayed in a store, take a picture and send it to them. If they post a book event and you know someone in that town, forward it to your friend. And, of course, if you enjoyed a book, write a review on GoodReads or Amazon. On that note, I'll end this post with a link to a few of my favorite nonfiction picture books.

Thanks so much for reading!!

BAXTER'S BOOK

May 22, 2017

Tags: BAXTER'S BOOK, Hrefna Bragadottir, Nosy Crow, 2016

Originally from Iceland, Hrefna Bragadottir has lived in the UK for the past 14 years and earned an M.A. in Children’s Book Illustration at Cambridge School of Arts. During her final year at Cambridge, she created a project that would turn into her #firstpicturebook, BAXTER'S BOOK—"the story of a peculiar blue birdlike creature who auditions to be in a book, but doesn’t conform to expectations. Simple words and comic pictures let us know that even the odd deserve attention" (The Sunday Times).

Q. Was BAXTER'S BOOK the first picture book manuscript you ever wrote? If not, what was the first picture book you wrote and what happened to it?
A. Yes, it was my first picture book. I did an MA in Children's Book Illustration at Cambridge School of Art, and it was part of my final year masters project. I'd had lots of concept ideas during my time on the course, but BAXTER'S BOOK was the first one I wrote from start to finish.

Q. What inspired BAXTER'S BOOK?
A. That's a very good question. I guess BAXTER'S BOOK was born out of my own insecurities as an aspiring writer/ illustrator. I was nearing the end of my masters degree and I still had no idea what to write about or what my 'voice' as an illustrator should be, yet alone how to get anything published! I remember a few of my tutors saying how important it is to write from the heart but I didn't really know what my heart had to say. I had been to a lecture about popular animals featured in picture books and I remember thinking 'What about the less conventional animals? Surely they deserve some attention, too! A few days later I did a doodle in my sketchbook of two unusual looking creatures having a conversation about how they would never make it into a book. And that's when the idea for BAXTER'S BOOK was born.

Q. How did you pick the title of your book?
A. When I first drew the character I decided to call him Nelson. I'm not sure why I picked that name, it just seemed to fit very nicely. The only problem with it was that the title didn't tell the reader what the book was about, and the publisher felt we needed to include the word 'book' in there. Nelson's Book didn’t sound quite right so I searched for lots of names beginning with B, and found Baxter!

Q. Do you write by hand or on the computer?
A. It's usually a bit of both. I start with a concept and make little doodles and notes on random pieces of paper. I tend to work much better on cheap paper that I can throw away as I find sketchbooks a bit intimidating, especially brand new ones! There's something about a pristine sketchbook that stops my creativity from flowing freely - I somehow become too concerned with getting it right first time. Once I've gathered lots of sketches and notes together, I then type anything about the character that comes to mind, and try not to worry too much about the content during the early stages of an idea.

Q. What is your favorite part of the book? And was that part in the first draft?
A. My favorite part of BAXTER'S BOOK is when he disappears behind the stage curtains and thinks to himself 'What if I'm not good enough to be in a book?' It pretty much sums up how I felt about embarking upon a new career at the time, but it's also something that children can relate to as they go through the process of discovering who they are. I guess that's what my tutors meant when they told me to write from the heart. It was always in the first draft but my editor very cleverly made it a double page spread to give that moment a bit more drama.

Q. How did you select the names for your characters?
A. I decided to name the other characters by their animal names Wolf, Lion, Bear and Rabbit, to keep them as generic popular picture book animals with lots of 'book acting' experience.

Q. Why did you decide to tell the story in first person?
A. I played around with telling it in third person, but it just didn’t feel as strong. I wanted Baxter to talk directly to the reader in the present moment to get a better sense of the journey he goes on. It keeps it short and sweet.

Q. How much of the story did you know when you began writing BAXTER'S BOOK?
A. That's an interesting question. I guess the idea was floating around in my head for a while and I had to brainstorm different scenarios before the ending got resolved. My housemate once told me it's so important to let ideas grow by nurturing them. She used to refer to it as putting them in a 'greenhouse' until they're strong enough to grow outside by themselves. I think so many great ideas get dismissed too early and it's such a shame. They need time and patience to flourish.

Q. Did you write the story first, then illustrate it? Or did the images appear before the words?
A. It was a mix of both. I drew Baxter once I had the concept idea for the book, but then the images evolved with the words, and vice versa.

Q. Did BAXTER'S BOOK receive any rejection letters? If so, how many (ballpark)?
A. Baxter's Book got picked up at our London graduation show, so I was fortunate enough to not have to go through that process.

Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on BAXTER'S BOOK.
A. I was absolutely over the moon, but also a bit overwhelmed as everything happened so quickly. I had several publishers interested in the book as a result of the show and an agent who wanted to represent me. It was very surreal to go from quite a lot of self doubt to suddenly having so much interest in my work.

Q. How long did BAXTER'S BOOK take to be published—from the time you received an offer until it was printed?
A. I received the offer in February 2014 and it got published in February 2016, so two years.

Q. 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. Yes, I really loved the name Nelson, so it took a while to adjust to Baxter. But it's funny because I don’t even think about it now!

Q. What is your #1 tip to those who want to write picture books?
A. Patience and lots of perseverance. It's a very slow moving industry so if you get a book deal, don’t give up your day job until you have a few more projects on the go.

Q. Do you have a favorite writing exercise or marketing tip that you can share?
A. As I'm brainstorming story plots, I find it very helpful to consider how the characters are feeling, what they like or dislike and why? A lot of it will be unusable waffle, but it frees me up and stops me getting a writers block before the idea has had space to grow.

Q. What are you working on now?
A. I'm currently illustrating a text by another author, but I'm not sure how much I can say about it at this stage. It's being published next year…. I've also got an idea for another picture book, but it's still growing in the 'greenhouse' so isn't quite ready to face the world yet.

Q. Where can people find you? (Website, Twitter, Facebook, etc.)
Website: www.hrefnabragadottir.com
http://belllomaxmoreton.co.uk/portfolio/hrefna-bragadottir/
Twitter: www.twitter.com/Hrefna_Braga
Instagram: www.instagram.com/hrefnabraga/
Facebook page: Hrefna Bragadottir Illustration