#FirstPictureBook

THE DIAMOND AND THE BOY

October 1, 2018

Tags: THE DIAMOND AND THE BOY, #firstpicturebook, Hannah Holt, Jay Fleck, HarperCollins, 2018

Hannah Holt is an engineer and the granddaughter of H. Tracy Hall, the inventor of a revolutionary diamond-making machine. Using her grandfather’s personal writings and journals along with interviews of family members, Hannah created her #firstpicturebook. THE DIAMOND AND THE BOY is “a gem of a biography” and a “clever dual narrative [that] conveys both how diamonds form naturally underground and how inventor H.Tracy Hall discovered a way to make diamonds in a lab” (Booklist, starred review).

Q. Was THE DIAMOND AND THE BOY 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, THE DIAMOND AND THE BOY wasn't in the first dozen or so stories I wrote. I have an "Old and Dead" folder on my computer where most of these stories live. Usually their biggest offense was being boring and unoriginal. I can rewrite terrible prose. I can't rewrite a mediocre premise.

Q. What inspired THE DIAMOND AND THE BOY?
A. My grandfather is "the boy" in this story. I grew up hearing stories about him as a child in my mother's arms.

Q. How did you pick the title of your book?
A. Ha! I didn't. The marketing department did. I like the title, and I was consulted on the change. However, I didn't "pick it."

Q. Do you write by hand or on the computer?
Computer.

Q. What is your favorite part of the book? And was that part in the first draft?
A. My favorite part of the book is Jay Fleck's illustrations, so no, those weren't in the first draft.  I'm thrilled with all they add to the book.

Q. What kind of resources did you use in your research for this nonfiction story?
A. I tried to use as many primary sources as possible, like Tracy's personal writings and journals. I also interviewed family members and consulted non-fiction books about Tracy and diamonds.

Q. How did you decide on the timeframe of this nonfiction story?
A. Tracy had a very humble beginning to his life. I wanted to start in a place that showed that most acutely; hence, starting with him as a toddler living in a tent. On the diamond side, I started before graphite began to change. The stories follow parallel tracks but end at the same place.

Q. What information do you include in the back matter?
A. I included a brief history of diamonds and their role in both science and geo-political conflicts. I also included a few more details about Tracy's life, two pictures of him, and a selected bibliography. With all this information, my end note ended up being longer than the text of the story.

Q. Did THE DIAMOND AND THE BOY receive any rejection letters? If so, how many (ballpark)?
A. THE DIAMOND AND THE BOY was rejected nine times. It had two offers and one interested editor who wasn't able to respond within the time-frame called for making a decision. However, I had submitted many stories over the years and accrued more than 100 rejections before I received my first book contract.

Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on THE DIAMOND AND THE BOY.
A. I was stunned. I had become so good at rejection that I almost didn't know what to do with success. That day, I mostly felt numb. However, the next day the tears of joy finally came.

Q. What kind of input did you have in choosing an illustrator for the book?
A. The editor sent me four illustrators for consideration. Jay Fleck was by far my favorite and fortunately, he accepted the project. Hurrah!

Q. What jumped out at you when you saw the first sketches and jacket cover?
A. When I first saw the cover, my heart just sang. The bold lines, the way the colors popped—I loved everything about it.

Q. How long did THE DIAMOND AND THE BOY take to be published—from the time you received an offer until it was printed?
A. 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. Not really.

Q. When you read THE DIAMOND AND THE BOY to kids, which part of the book gets the best reaction?
A. The "ERUPTION" page is fun. It's full of vibrant colors. It's  a full spread and readers turn the book sideways for the full effect.

Q. Did you create any book swag for THE DIAMOND AND THE BOY? If so, what kind?
A. I ordered diamond temporary tattoos and postcards. I'm also working on a teachers guide that I hope is finished and on my website before this post goes live. :)

Q. What is your #1 tip for picture-book writers?
A. Study a little. Read a lot. Write the most. I guess that's technically three tips, but here's a fourth tip: break the rules!

Q. Do you have a favorite writing exercise or marketing tip that you can share?
A. Be generous! Make friends with other writers, and try to give more than you receive.

Q. What are you working on now?
A. I have a new non-fiction story in the works, but I can't talk about it yet.

Q. Is there a public launch for the book (reading/part at bookstore, library, etc.)?
A. My launch party is Tuesday October 02, 2018 at 3:00 PM:
Barnes & Noble Tanasbourne
18300 NW Evergreen Pkwy
Beaverton, OR 97006
503-645-3046

I'm also doing a story time October 25th at 3:30 at Green Bean Books in Portland and a story time at Powell's in the Spring. I'll post details about that on Twitter as it gets closer.

Q. Where can people find you? (Website, Twitter, Instagram, etc.)
A.
Website: https://hannahholt.com/
Facebook:https://www.facebook.com/hannah.w.holt?ref=br_rs
Twitter: @HannahWHolt

If you have read THE DIAMOND AND THE BOY, please consider writing a review:
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Lovely Beasts: The Surprising Truth

September 10, 2018

Tags: Lovely Beasts: The Surprising Truth, Kate Gardner, Heidi Smith, HarperCollins, September 18, 2018, #firstpicturebook

Lovely Beasts: The Surprising Truth by Kate Gardner and illustrated by Heidi Smith (HarperCollins, September 18, 2018)
This week’s Q&A is a very special interview because it is with Kate Gardner—the editor of my #firstpicturebook. I’m so happy that after years of guiding other writers on their publishing journeys, she has now set off on her own. Published on September 18, LOVELY BEASTS “presents an interesting and focused subject in an exemplary manner” (Kirkus Reviews, starred review) and “will do much for the reputations of some of our more maligned animals” (Booklist).

Q. Was LOVELY BEASTS 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 actually wrote a very simple concept book called SNOW FALLS before LOVELY BEASTS. Tundra Books will be publishing it, but it's been delayed re: finding the right illustrator.
 
Q. What inspired LOVELY BEASTS?
A. Agent extraordinaire, Kirsten Hall, sent me a piece of Heidi's Smith art and asked if I had any book ideas for it. I was thrilled, flattered, and jumped at the chance. I thought that a nonfiction approach with a twist would engage readers and help shatter stereotypes at the same time—for it’s impossible not to worry about the danger of misperceptions, now more than ever. And many of these misconceptions have led to the near-extinction of some of these beautiful animals.
 
Q. How did you pick the title of your book?
A. The project was originally called GENTLE BEASTS. But as my editor Alessandra Balzer pointed out, not all of the featured beasts could accurately be described as "gentle" . . . So we went for something a bit more subjective.
  
Q. What kind of resources did you use in your research for this nonfiction book?
A. For my day job, I'm a children's book editor, and I've been lucky to work with many amazing writers on many fantastic books. For almost 15 years, I've worked with Sy Montgomery on her nonfiction projects and much of what I've learned from her, I've incorporated into LOVELY BEASTS.
 
Q. What is your favorite part of the book? And was that part in the first draft?
A. Heidi’s amazing art, of course! But I also love the simplicity of the book—all that negative space, large type, and pages turns. The page turns were something I felt strongly about and was happy when Alessandra and Heidi agreed that they helped create some tension and structure. And as an editor, while I never look for overt messages in books, I do hope that the idea of getting to know a person/place/thing before making a judgement call about it will be something that rises up naturally from LOVELY BEASTS and starts some conversations between readers.

Q. What information do you include in the back matter?
A. We had only one page to spare for back matter and we decided to include suggestions for further reading for both young and older readers.
 
Q. Did LOVELY BEASTS receive any rejection letters? If so, how many (ballpark)?
A. Amazingly, we received a preempt from Alessandra Balzer at Balzer + Bray (now I'm spoiled, even though I know that preempts are the exception to the rule!).
 
Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on LOVELY BEASTS.
A. My heart beat fast - very fast! I wasn't expecting things to move so quickly and while I'm familiar with the submission process from the editorial perspective, it was different to be on the other side of the desk. All I remember was that it was at night, I was sitting in the car in the driveway, and it was very cold—but Kirsten's call warmed me up quick.
  
Q. What jumped out at you when you saw the first sketches and jacket cover?
A. LOVELY BEASTS is also Heidi Smith's debut and I think she's definitely an illustrator to watch. She is so incredibly talented and her art hasn't stopped giving me goosebumps since the first time I saw it.
 
Q. How long did LOVELY BEASTS take to be published—from the time you received an offer until it was printed?
A. I received the offer in January 2017 and the book is pubbing this month, so a little over 1.5 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. I originally had more beasts and had to cut a few to make the pagination work. One animal I was sad to omit from the original manuscript was pigs - because I do think that if you ask someone to describe pigs in 2 or 3 words, they're bound to say something like "filthy" or "disgusting." Which isn't actually true. Pigs are incredibly smart and bathe in mud as a way to keep cool (it also works as sunscreen). And much like cats, pigs keep their toilet area far away from their living and eating areas. There is even a population of pigs who live on Exuma Island in the Bahamas who are known for regularly swimming in the pristine waters there.
 
Q. Have you read LOVELY BEASTS to any kids? If so, which part of the book gets the best reaction?
A. Not yet! LOVELY BEASTS will be published on 9/18 and I'll have my first bookstore event on the 22nd (biting finger nails in anticipation).
 
Q. Did you create any book swag for LOVELY BEASTS? If so, what kind?
A. I have always loved making necklaces and I made a beast themed one for a giveaway/raffle, which is currently running on Instagram through Sept 17th.
 
Q. What is your #1 tip for picture-book writers?
A. I think the next best practice for writing after writing itself, is reading. Reading and studying other picture books helps you figure out what you think works, what you think doesn't, and how that will inform your own approach. And if you're not also an illustrator, I think it's important to leave plenty of room for the art to meet the text and do its own storytelling.
 
Q. Do you have a favorite writing exercise or marketing tip that you can share?
A. For me, the thing that helps me generate new ideas is actually walking. So I walk most of my commute, which gives me time to mull ideas and approaches over — my brain just seems to work differently when I'm walking vs. sitting at a desk!
 
Q. Is there a public launch for the book (reading/part at bookstore, library, etc.)? If so, please provide details:
A. Porter Square Books in Cambridge, Massachusetts on September 22nd at 3 pm.

Q. What are you working on now?
A. I have another picture book coming out with B + B, IF YOU LIVE HERE, but we're still searching for an illustrator, so no pub date yet. And with the hot weather, I haven’t been walking on my commute as much – I need to hit the streets and start thinking about new ideas!
 
Q. Where can people find you? (Website, Twitter, Instagram, etc.)
A. I'm on Instagram @keaosullivan
 

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/