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Q&A Blog


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, and you can find me on Twitter @jrkeller80.
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10 Post-Publication Tips for Debut Picture Book Writers

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:

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:

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!!
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