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#FirstPictureBook

THIS BOOK IS SPINELESS

Lindsay Leslie adores mechanical pencils, thinking up book titles, and breaking through the fourth wall. Today she talks with us about how these loves, along with a smushed book cover, contributed to the creation of her #firstpicturebook. “A winning story about handling the unknown and asking for help” (Publisher’s Weekly), THIS BOOK IS SPINELESS “will urge readers to be brave and turn the page” (Kirkus Reviews).

Q. Was THIS BOOK IS SPINELESS 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, it wasn’t. In fact, I started my writing adventure with a chapter book series. I have three of those books finished and they are collecting dust in my computer somewhere. My first picture book I wrote is keeping my chapter book series company. Some day I might break them out, but for now I thank them for what they were … stepping stones to get me where I am today.

Q. What inspired THIS BOOK IS SPINELESS?
A. My love of breaking the fourth wall and my own personal battles with anxiety. Plus, stepping on one of my son’s picture books and feeling its spine give.

Q. How did you pick the title of your book?
A. The title picked me. One day, I walked into my youngest son’s room, and it was as if the idea pole-vaulted from the floor and into my ear. I had accidentally stepped on one of my son’s picture books, and thought, I just broke its spine. Then my mind zigged and zagged from this book has a spine to what if it were spineless to this book is spineless. I looked at my son and shouted, “This Book Is Spineless!” I couldn’t let the idea go. It kept begging me to write it. With the majority of my books, I need to have the title first before I can begin writing. It’s like knowing the name of a person. It leads me to where I need to go.

Q. Do you write by hand or on the computer?
A. A mixture of both. I knock out my first draft on the computer and I edit on paper. I need to print it out and rip it up with my trusty mechanical pencil. I LOVE mechanical pencils.

Q. What is your favorite part of the book? And was that part in the first draft?
A. The beginning. There is a page turn in this book that I adore, and I think it will grab the reader’s attention. And, no, it wasn’t in the first draft. The first draft of this book was a bonafide messy mess. In fact, someday I would love to share my first draft and show folks where a book can go with revision, the help of critique partners, and the golden touch of a fantastic editor!

Q. What made you decide to tell the story in first person?
A. I told this story in first person, because I wanted the physical book, the book the reader is holding, to be the main character.

Q. How much of the story did you know when you began writing THIS BOOK IS SPINELESS?
A. None of it. And, again, my first draft was hideous. I didn’t know quite what I wanted to do with it, but because I am a pantser (meaning, I don’t outline) I had to see where my mind would go with it. There were elements of the first draft I kept, but the manuscript changed a bunch. (Thank goodness.)

Q. Did THIS BOOK IS SPINELESS receive any rejection letters? If so, how many (ballpark)?
A. For some reason, I did not traditionally query this manuscript very much. I did participate in a lot of hashtag events on Twitter, like #pitmad and #pbpitch, and did not get any favorites. I’d say I received 10 rejections on this piece. Overall, I’ve received about 35 rejections from agents on my work before I found representation.

Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on THIS BOOK IS SPINELESS.
A. Oh, I loved this moment. I was at the cleaners picking up the dry cleaning. My older son, who was nine at the time, was at my side. My phone pinged, so I looked to see who sent me an email. All I had to read was the subject of the email. It read: THIS BOOK IS SPINELESS Offer. I couldn’t speak. I just began to jump … and jump and jump and jump. Up and down. And then I started to point at my son and then I pointed at the lady behind the counter. All I could say was “YES! YES! YES!” My son began to jump with me and he said, “Mom, why are we jumping?” That was the most adorable thing. And then the tears started to roll. I will never forget that Jack Brown Cleaners, the look on the lady’s face behind the counter, which was somewhat of a bemused look, and the fact that my son will jump up and down with me before knowing why.

Q. What kind of input did you have in choosing an illustrator for the book?
A. Page Street Kids is my publisher and I try to find all the words to express how wonderful and collaborative they are. I was provided with three illustrators to choose from, which worked great for me, as I was feeling more than overwhelmed. At this point, I was so focused on climbing the hill toward a book deal, my mind hadn’t worked through the scenarios of what happens once the book deal is signed. I received all the assurance from Kristen Nobles and Charlotte Wenger at Page Street Kids that there was no wrong choice. So, I went with the aesthetic I was drawn to most, and that was Alice Brereton’s dramatic, geometric, quirky, and colorful illustrations.

Q. What jumped out at you when you saw the first sketches and jacket cover?
A. What jumped out to me was the connection between Alice and me through my words and through her illustrations. It’s like we got each other and we had yet to meet. We were having a discussion through our preferred way to communicate. Me with words. Her with art. I trusted her implicitly and was blown away by her unique approach to the concept.

Q. How long did THIS BOOK IS SPINELESS take to be published—from the time you received an offer until it was printed?
A. I received the offer on June 27, 2017, and the book hits the shelves on Feb. 19, 2019. So, less than two years. It’s been a buckle-your-seatbelt-and-hold-on kind of ride.

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 almost had to change the title, but my editor and I worked on a compromise, so the title could remain. The title led me to the story, and I felt the title made the story and makes the book stand out. In terms of adding to the story, yes! My editor really pushed me to dig in with the voice of the character, as well as look deeper into my word choices and the impact on the overall story. A great editor, like Charlotte Wenger, will see how to make your story shine even brighter!

Q. When you read THIS BOOK IS SPINELESS to kids, which part of the book gets the best reaction?
A. Definitely the page turn at the beginning of the book.

Q. Did you create any book swag for THIS BOOK IS SPINELESS? If so, what kind?
A. I did. I have some temporary tattoos, because I think all kids should be wearing Alice Brereton’s art! I also have bookmarks and postcards, which will pull double-duty. Not only am I promoting THIS BOOK IS SPINELESS, but also NOVA THE STAR EATER (Page Street Kids). NOVA is my second picture book, illustrated by John Taesoo Kim, and will hit the shelves on May 21, 2019.

Q. What is your #1 tip for picture-book writers?
A. Only you can write you, so tune out the noise, focus on your craft, and enjoy the process.

Q. Do you have a favorite writing exercise or marketing tip that you can share?
A. My favorite marketing tip is to participate and say yes. Be part of the writing community. Show up. When you show up, it shows you care and then opportunities begin to present themselves.

Q. What are you working on now?
A. I am diving back into a middle grade novel that I finished a draft of a year ago. It’s been speaking to me, and I’m also writing many new picture books. I can’t have just one project.

Q. Is there a public launch for the book (reading/part at bookstore, library, etc.)? If so, provide details:
A. Yes! I’m launching my book at my local indie bookstore, BookPeople. It’s on Feb. 23 from 2-3 p.m. for all you folks in Austin, Texas (https://www.bookpeople.com/event/lindsay-leslie-book-spineless). I’ll also be at TLA this year and part of the What’s New With Texas Picture Book Authors and Illustrators roundtable on April 15 from 1:30-2:30 p.m.

Q. Where can people find you? (Website, Twitter, Instagram, etc.)
A. Find me, connect with me! I’m active on Twitter at @LLeslie, and I love to pay it forward by offering free picture book manuscript critiques there. I’m also on Facebook at @AuthorLindsayLeslie and kind of active on Instagram at LindsayLeslieWrites. And, please visit my website at lindsayleslie.com.

Thanks for having me, Karlin, and congratulations on SERENA: THE LITTLEST SISTER! I look forward to seeing it on the shelves in May!

If you have read THIS BOOK IS SPINELESS, please consider writing a review:
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KHALIDA AND THE MOST BEAUTIFUL SONG

Artist Amanda Moeckel believes in the power of dreams and daydreaming. Her #firstpicturebook appeared to her in her sleep. Now KHALIDA AND THE MOST BEAUTIFUL SONG is available in bookstores and listed on @MatthewWinner’s September 2018 list of “seriously outstanding books.” Read Amanda’s Q&A to learn how she turned her dream into her debut.

Q. Was KHALIDA AND THE MOST BEAUTIFUL SONG the first picture book manuscript you ever wrote? If not, what was the first picture book you wrote and what happened to it?
A. It’s not. I had written a handful before this one. The first one was called Little Heart, and it’s about a girl who finds a series of posthumous signs that her grandmother is still with her. That’s still sitting on my shelf, fully illustrated, but I have been told by various people in publishing that I should wait until my third or fourth book to tackle death.

Q. What inspired KHALIDA AND THE MOST BEAUTIFUL SONG?
A. The idea for this story came to me in the same way the song comes to Khalida. I was half-asleep, and the story downloaded into my head, almost fully formed. I had gone to bed with a prayer every night for about three weeks, that a story would come to me in my dreams— one that was for only me to tell. I saw a few of the major scenes and the full plot, although the character was a boy.

Q. How did you pick the title of your book?
A. The marketing team at Page Street Kids decided to include Khalida’s name, but it was originally called The Most Beautiful Song. Actually, the first draft was called Magnum Opus, and I really liked that, but the first draft also included Khalida touring with her beautiful song and building a career on it. Thank goodness for professional editing.

Q. Do you write by hand or on the computer?
A. Both. I usually start by hand in a sketchbook with a series of words and rough sketches, then I write a draft on the computer. Sometimes I’ll start with notes on my phone if I’m out and about when an idea comes.

Q. What is your favorite part of the book? And was that part in the first draft?
A. My favorite spread is when Khalida plays in front of a crowd. I also like when she sneaks to the piano at night. Both were in the first vision I had of the story.

Q. How did you select the names for your characters?
A. In that first vision I received of the story, I heard the name of the character, which sounded like “Kel-” something. When I found the name “Khalida” which is an Arabic name meaning “immortal,” it was perfect. A good song lives forever.

Q. What made you decide to tell the story in first, second, or third person?
A. Third person felt most natural. I’ve also heard in writing classes that it’s the easiest to get published.

Q. How much of the story did you know when you began writing KHALIDA AND THE MOST BEAUTIFUL SONG?
A. I knew it all, but also knew a lot of extraneous information. So instead of trying to figure out where the story was going to go, it was more of an editing process.

Q. Did you write the story first, then illustrate it? Or did the images appear before the words?
A. The images came first. They usually do for me.

Q. Did KHALIDA AND THE MOST BEAUTIFUL SONG receive any rejection letters? If so, how many (ballpark)?
A. Yes, one. I am unagented, so when it was time to show this story to publishers, I had to find the opportunities myself to get it in front of them. I did this solely through SCBWI. I had an opportunity to submit to Elizabeth Bicknell at Candlewick after a conference, and she graciously rejected it with helpful feedback. The funny thing is, Kristen Nobles who eventually loved it, worked alongside Elizabeth as Art Director at Candlewick for many years, even during the time in which I submitted. It just goes to show you that two people at the same house can feel vastly different about a story. I met Kristen the following year at SCBWI, and gave her my postcard. She looked at my website, asked if I had stories to go along with some images, and the rest is history.

Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on KHALIDA AND THE MOST BEAUTIFUL SONG.
A. Utter joy! Then stage fright. Then calm relief that I’d be finally making a published book.

Q. How long did KHALIDA AND THE MOST BEAUTIFUL SONG take to be published—from the time you received an offer until it was printed?
A. My timeline was six months.

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. There was a spread in the end where the song was coming from all the homes in the town. It looked similar to the first spread, but instead of the ghostly song swirling toward one window, it was colorful, coming out of many windows. We moved it to the endpapers, then cut it out altogether. I was okay with editing it out, even though I loved the visual. I think the book is stronger with the current ending.

Q. Have you read KHALIDA AND THE MOST BEAUTIFUL SONG to kids? If so, which part of the book gets the best reaction?
A. Yes! Good question. There seems to be an air of satisfaction in the room at the ending. Almost a sigh. It’s a quiet book, so there isn’t a lot of laughing. I am inspired to bring more humor into my next book. Not because I’m unhappy with this one, but because now I have a son and making him laugh is my new addiction. I totally get now why parents want funny books for their kids.

Q. Did you create any book swag for KHALIDA AND THE MOST BEAUTIFUL SONG? If so, what kind?
A. I made a coloring sheet!

Q. What is your #1 tip for picture-book writers?
A. Read and read and read and read. Then read some more. Picture books, that is. Go to the library and take home a stack of books over and over again. My library has a request shelf, as I’m sure most do… so I research online, request the books I want to read, then go pick them up. It takes no time at all, and I LOVE coming home with a new stack of books every week.

Q. Do you have a favorite writing exercise or marketing tip that you can share?
A. I like to transcribe other published picture books. Writing the manuscript first is important. For those of us who are author-illustrators, this might not seem intuitive. It’s really hard to envision the story on one page, if you’re used to creating page turns. But publishers want manuscripts. So I go to the library, take home a stack of books, and whichever ones feel similar to my story— whether in tone, pacing, subject matter, whatever— I transcribe them. I have a folder on my laptop of transcriptions of other peoples’s stories. When I’m sitting down to write, I might read through a few of them before I begin, so I can get into the rhythm of writing a picture book on one blank page, single-spaced. That has really changed how I write.

Q. What are you working on now?
A. My next submission!

Q. Where can people find you? (Website, Twitter, Instagram, etc.)
A.
http://amandamoeckel.com
http://twitter.com/amandamoeckel
https://www.facebook.com/amandamoeckelillustration
https://www.instagram.com/amandamoeckel/

If you have read KHALIDA AND THE MOST BEAUTIFUL SONG, please consider writing a review:
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