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Q&A Blog

5 Favorites from . . . Jarrett Lerner

Jarrett Lerner is the author of EngiNerds and its sequel, Revenge of the EngiNerds, as well as the forthcoming Geeger the Robot series (all published by Simon & Schuster/Aladdin). He cofounded and helps run the MG Book Village, an online hub for all things Middle Grade, and is the co-organizer of the #KidsNeedBooks and #KidsNeedMentors programs. Jarrett lives in Medford, Massachusetts, with his wife, his daughter, and a cat. But today he’s popping in here to tell us about his 5 Favorites:

 

My favorite place to write:

I try not to get too precious about my routine (see my writing tip below!), and typically, I don't have the luxury of doing so. I've got a toddler running around (and also often demanding my presence at spontaneous dance parties!) and I also do quite a bit of traveling. If I can't be as productive in a hotel room or on a plane as I can be in my studio, I'm in trouble. So even if I do have a favorite spot to work, I try not to let myself think of it like that.

 

My favorite mentor text:

Arnold Lobel's Frog and Toad books, especially Frog and Toad Are Friends. The stories and illustrations are so distilled, so close to perfect -- there's not a word or line out of place. They inspire me to create and, maybe even more, to be ruthless during revision.

 

My favorite writing tip:

Regularly shake up your routine. Change mediums. Change tools. Change spaces. Like it quiet while you work? Try playing music. Try working in a crowded place. Prefer the morning? Spend a few minutes playing around with your WIP late at night. Incorporate change in various ways into your process. It'll inject some extra life into your work and keep your imagination on its toes.

 

My favorite marketing tip:

Engage. Put in the time and effort to learn about the incredible members of this amazing kid lit community. (If you care about those people and the work they're doing, it'll be time well spent and won't be an effort!) Talk with people. Not at them -- but with them. That is, make sure you do plenty of listening. You are always representing yourself and your work, whether you are announcing (and re-announcing, and re-re-announcing...) a preorder campaign or chatting with a teacher about their students. Being authentic and kind and compassionate is an end in itself, of course -- but if you want to look at it from a marketing perspective, I'd say it's a far more effective technique than paying for a sponsored ad or scheduling a hundred tweets.

 

My favorite book event of the year:

nErDcamp, without a doubt. My first was a few years ago on Long Island, and after that one, I started going to every single one I could -- New Jersey, Kansas, Michigan, Vermont, Northern New England... There is nothing like the energy and spirit of nErDcamp. The events celebrate and put into highly productive practice the belief that kids' educators and kids' book creators are colleagues, that our missions are, at the end of the day, the same -- to improve and enrich the lives of kids through reading and books. The more we work together, the better work we can all do.


To learn more about Jarrett’s work, visit him at his website, on Twitter at @Jarrett_Lerner, or on Instragram at @jarrettlerner.  

 

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5 Favorites from . . . Susan Hood!

Susan Hood is the award-winning author of many books for children, including Titan and the Wild Boars, Ada's Violin, Shaking Things Up, and Lifeboat 12. She is the recipient of an E. B. White Read-Aloud Picture Book Honor, the Christopher Award, the Américas Award for Children's and Young Adult Literature, and the Bank Street Flora Stieglitz Straus Award, given annually to "a distinguished work of nonfiction that serves as an inspiration to young people."

Today, she tells us her 5 Favorites:

 

My favorite place to write:  Outside, preferably on my screened porch or better yet, on a sailboat in Maine
My favorite mentor text: Anything by Andrea Davis Pinkney. Love the way she combines nonfiction with poetry.
My favorite writing tip: Type up a favorite picture book to see the words without the art.
My favorite marketing tip: You can't do it all so do whatever works for you, whatever you enjoy. If you like to make videos and book trailers, go for it. If it's outside your comfort zone, skip it. (Or ask a kid to do it!) 
My favorite book event of the year: The Society of Illustrators Original Art Show. I usually go twice: once to see all the authors, illustrators and publishers at the opening and a second (quieter) time to be transfixed by the art and pore over the books.

 

 To learn more about Susan and her books, visit her website.

 

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I AM A WOLF

“I was dealing with the stress of surgery and possible cancer and honestly my book deal was the one thing that kept me hopeful. Even if everything went wrong, I still had that.”

—Kelly Leigh Miller

Illustrator Kelly Leigh Miller received her book offer when she was in the hospital awaiting surgery. Today she is healthy and happy to be celebrating her "loveable" (Kirkus Reviews, starred review) #firstpicturebook. I AM A WOLF is “a joyful debut, starring a stray with the force of personality, if definitely not the disposition, of a Chris Raschka dog"  (Booklist).

  

Q. You worked as an illustrator before your debut book I AM A WOLF. How did you make the transition to writer/illustrator and how does it compare with being an illustrator of someone else's work?

A. Most of the work I did as an illustrator was editorial work or toy based. I always wanted to work on children's books. I've illustrated other's self published comics before and really enjoyed that. I do notice there is a difference in how I work if I wrote the story or if someone else did. When I work on someone else's writing, I want to make sure I get their vision right and try to make my drawings as clear as possible. Usually my initial drawings are tighter and look more finished. That way if there are any changes, I can do it in the sketch phase, which is far easier than the final art phase. 


In contrast, when I'm writing and illustrating, I kind of do both at once. It's very loose and intuitive. Usually I have to draw really messy thumbnails while I write and most of my writing is done in my sketchbook. Then when it comes to the sketch phase, they are far looser than I would normally show anyone. In the case of my children's book, I didn't feel my rough drawings were tight enough to pitch so I tried something new where I draw really quickly in blocks of grey shapes for my book dummy. Since I both wrote and illustrated it, I could try this sort of experimental book dummy drawing where as before, I would probably want to check with the writer. 

 
When it comes down to it, I really like both. I really love illustrating my own stories but  illustrating others stories makes it so I can illustrate stories that I would have never thought to write but equally love!

 

Q. Was I AM A WOLF the first picture book manuscript you ever wrote? If not, what was the first picture book you wrote and what happened to it?

A. Nope! The first official manuscript I wrote was back in 2011, maybe? It was my thesis back in college. It was called THE HANDYMAN and was a story about a girl who found out her grandpa was a superhero. At the time, I didn't really do anything with it, but when I met my agent years later back in 2016, I cleaned it up and tried pitching it again. We worked with it, but realized it might be better for an older middle grade crowd so I've been working to adapt it to an older crowd. It's changed quite a lot since I originally pitched it but the core message is the same.

 

Q. What inspired I AM A WOLF?

A. My current dog actually! Haha! I feel like so many people write about their pets and now I am one of them. We had adopted her from the shelter the year before I wrote the script. Because the shelter rescued her from animal control, they don't know exactly what happened to her but based on some behavioral issues, they think she might have been through some abuse. She was afraid of everything! She was extremely hard to train, but she is such a sweetheart. Before we took the time to train her though, she was the dog everyone overlooked at the shelter. She had been there quite a while because she barked at everyone who came close to her! When we met her though, she took instantly to us. Sometimes I feel like the dog just has to find the right home and the right people they trust to work though whatever they are going through. Also training. Lots of training. 

 

Q. How did you pick the title of your book?

A. It was actually just the working title and it sort of stuck with the book! I'm very bad at titles. I picked it because it was the most memorable line out of the book in my opinion as just a placeholder then it turned out everyone liked it as a title so it stayed! 

 

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

A. A little bit of half and half. I write my rough drafts in my sketchbook but edit on the computer.

 

Q. How did you select the names for your characters? 

A. I write down a bunch of names that I like when I come across them in my sketchbook. When it comes to naming individual characters, I try to pick a name from the list that seems to suit the characters personality.

 

Q. What made you decide to tell the story in first, second, or third person? 

A. The story just sort of came to me in first person! It made the most sense for the story I was trying to tell.

 

Q. How much of the story did you know when you began writing I AM A WOLF? 

A. I AM A WOLF is one of the weirder scripts since I got the full story all at once in my head and wrote the initial dummy in about a week. I've written many other book dummies between my first one and I AM A WOLF, and this is the first time this has ever happened. I have a feeling it's a fluke though. I've written a few other dummies after that in between deadlines and those are following my normal pattern of me figuring the stories out through many drafts. 

 

Q. Did you write the story first, then illustrate it? Or did the images appear before the words?

A. They both appeared at the same time! Part of the story is the words playing off what is specifically happening in the illustration.

 

Q. Did I AM A WOLF receive any rejection letters? If so, how many (ballpark)?

A. If it did, I'm honestly not sure. The book went to auction since we had a few publishers interested and I kind of was more interested in that than the rejections! I think I pitched 2 or 3 other scripts to publishers before I AM A WOLF that all got rejected. I'm not new to rejection and I like to stay on the positive side!

 

Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on I AM A WOLF.

A. Haha so, my offer and signing story is a bit weird. I'm pretty open about this, but I actually received the offer in a hospital bed! At the time, I had a massive tumor and they removed it and my right ovary. Thankfully it didn't turn out to be cancerous but we didn't find that out until like a month or two later after testing. At the time though, I was dealing with the stress of surgery and possible cancer and honestly my book deal was the one thing that kept me hopeful. Even if everything went wrong, I still had that. 

 

The book went on auction around the time I was admitted to the hospital and when I was discharged, my agent and I had picked the final book offer. My signing story is definitely not a normal one! 

 

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

A. As of now, it will be published in Summer 2019! Publishing takes much longer than other fields I've worked in but that's because there is so much going on. There's editing revisions to tighten the story, sketch revisions for the same reason, final art, and then edits for the final art... It's just a long process. 

 

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?

Not really! The story is basically the same as when I pitched it, but so much better. Sometimes I get really close to my work and don't notice some obvious things to make it stronger so thankfully my editor is there to help out! I think all the changes to the script only made the story stronger. 

  

Q. What is your #1 tip for picture-book writers?

A. Keep writing and finish a book dummy/book script. Those seem like simple things, but they really aren't. You can learn a lot about your own writing process by finishing a story and looking at the finished product. You may not end up pitching it, but in the process of finishing a story, you learned a lot about yourself and how you write. Understanding your own writing process helps in the long run. 

 

Q. Do you have a favorite writing exercise or marketing tip that you can share?

A. I feel like I'm still learning when it comes to writing. I really like finding writing prompts online and practicing with those! They help me get out of my comfort zone and they don't always have to be long writing segments either, which is nice for times when I only have a few minutes to write.

 

Q. Where can people find you? (Website, Twitter, Instagram, etc.)

A.

Website: kellyleighmiller.com

Twitter: twitter.com/bookofkellz 

Instagram: instagram.com/bookofkellz

 

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Review These #FirstPictureBooks

There are many ways to support debut authors, such as writing online book reviews. More reviews = more visibility. But authors can feel awkward asking you to do that. So, inspired by Debbie Ridpath Ohi’s popular blog post, I will ask for them. Have you read these #firstpicturebooks? If so, what are your thoughts? C’mon—add some stars to a book’s life! (And I’ve made it SUPER easy for you by including direct book links to GoodReads, Amazon, and B&N!)

 

Lovely Beasts

GoodReads

Amazon

B&N

Read the #FirstPictureBook Q&A

 

Paul and His Ukulele

GoodReads

Amazon

B&N

Read the #FirstPictureBook Q&A

 

Ode to An Onion

GoodReads

Amazon

B&N

Read the #FirstPictureBook Q&A

 

Khalida and the Most Beautiful Song

GoodReads

Amazon

B&N

Read the #FirstPictureBook Q&A

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MAYBE THE MOON

“The favourite pages seem to be the first ones – everyone loves to spot all the animals, and wherever they crop up again and can be spotted later in the book is popular.”

—Frances Ives

 

Inspired by her own experience of moving to London from the countryside, Frances Ives wrote and illustrated her #firstpicturebook. MAYBE THE MOON reminds us that whatever the differences between people and places, we are all united and are never alone when we share the same moon. Today Frances tells us how she created her debut picture book.

 

Q. Was MAYBE THE MOON the first picture book manuscript you ever created? If not, what was the first picture book you created and what happened to it?

A. It was! I started a very rough draft when I was at university, and never quite let go of the ideas behind it – I'm really pleased I didn't now!

 

Q. What inspired MAYBE THE MOON?

A. I think my main inspiration is my own experience of changing environments – I'm originally from the countryside, and have lived in London for about nine years altogether. I believe that you can really change your own experience of environments by embracing all the positives you can find, and if you need to as I do, finding the areas of quiet amongst the bustle.

 

Q. How did you pick the title of your book?

A. With the help of my publisher – we felt it just brought the whole message of the book together and of course, it mirrors the text on the final page.

 

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

A. The illustrations and story go hand in hand for me, and notes are often scribbled on the edge of rough pencil drawings, so the story is created from there and mostly by hand!

 

Q. What is your favorite part of the book? And was that part in the first draft? 

A. I love the night time cityscape, which has been in the drafts from the very beginning of the idea. It really sums up the whole message for me, as Eric sees the grey city in a whole new light with his friends…. It was also my favourite to make, which I'm sure influenced my decision!

 

Q. How did you select the names for your characters? 

A. The only named character is Eric – he's been called this since the first draft nearly a decade ago! I think it was just an unusual name that I liked. A little bit of unknown information – his friends are called Ralph and Jess, and the sausage dog is called Reginald, but I like to ask children what they would like to call the animals when reading it to them; my favourite so far is 'Frog the Dog'.

 

Q. What made you decide to tell the story in third person? 

A. When creating the story we were imagining it being read aloud, and by using the third person we could give the impression that the narrative voice was whoever was reading the book to a child. We were really keen to give Eric his own voice as well, though, which is why the rhyming verse is in the first person.

 

Q. How much of the story did you know when you began creating MAYBE THE MOON?

A. I had an idea of the arc, what I wanted to happen, and the illustrations I wanted to make, and that really influenced the story. 

 

Q. Did you write the story first, then illustrate it? Or did the images appear before the words?

A. My initial ideas tend to start visually, and are influenced by the sort of images I would like to produce. I worked really closely with the publishers to help develop the story further, which was really helpful – especially for my debut book!

 

Q. Did MAYBE THE MOON receive any rejection letters? If so, how many (ballpark)?

A. No! I was incredibly fortunate that Michael O'Mara were the first to take a look at the whole premise and come back to me with a positive answer! I know that this isn't the case for most people, and I fully expect to have a few rejections in the future.

 

Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on MAYBE THE MOON.

A. I'm aware this sounds like a pun – but I was over the moon! I wanted to get to work straight away, and make the most of an opportunity I couldn't quite believe was happening!

 

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

A. 14 months in total, from my contract being signed until publishing date.

 

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 are always little details that I want to add, and I'm a bit of a quibbler so will always look back and critique my own illustrations, or think 'why didn't I add an extra flower there? Or an extra bird? Or change that expression slightly?' I think with an extra page I would have really expanded on all the fun things Eric and his friends could get up to in the city.

 

Q. When you read MAYBE THE MOON to kids, which part of the book gets the best reaction?

A. The favourite pages seem to be the first ones – everyone loves to spot all the animals, and wherever they crop up again and can be spotted later in the book is popular.

 

Q. Did you create any book swag for MAYBE THE MOON? If so, what kind?

A. My publisher created some lovely little charm bracelets with silver crescent moons on them, which they sent out in PR packs, and it's been lovely to see them on wrists over twitter and instagram.

 

Q. What is your #1 tip for picture-book writers?

A. Don't give up on an idea, but be prepared to compromise too.

 

Q. Do you have a favorite writing exercise or marketing tip that you can share?

A. As above, just keep going and don't lose faith. It's ok to put something to one side for a while (in my case it was several years!) but if you believe it can work you can find a way.  As far as marketing goes, social media can be an excellent tool, but don't let it swallow you up!

 

Q. What are you working on now?

A. I've got a couple of other pitches that I'm working on, and I'm excited to work up the roughs for those! I'm also working on some personal artwork, to push my own practice.

 

Q. Where can people find you? (Website, Twitter, Instagram, etc.)

A. You can find me at '@francesives' across all my social media accounts, apart from facebook where I had already inconsiderately taken my own name… so I'm Frances Ives Art on that page.

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WHEN A TREE GROWS

“I knew the beginning and end would mirror one another, but the mushy middle was created as I wrote. I cut the scenes that didn't feel funny enough or have great illustration potential.”

—Cathy Ballou Mealey

 

In addition to working in the fields of college administration and teaching, Cathy Ballou Mealey has also been a crossing guard, hash-slinger, gift-wrapper, pet sitter and—her favorite job—"Mom." This month she adds debut author to that list with the publication of her #firstpicturebook WHEN A TREE GROWS. “Laugh along as a story about a tree in the forest comes full circle, bringing three creatures along for a bumpy but fun ride” (Kirkus Reviews).


Q. Was WHEN A TREE GROWS the first picture book manuscript you ever wrote? If not, what was the first picture book you wrote and what happened to it?

A. OZZIE THE OYSTER was the first picture book manuscript that I finished, an entry for the Cheerios "Spoonfuls of Stories" contest. Ozzie is still languishing on my hard drive, trying to imagine how he will get back his (lemon) zest for life.

 

Q. What inspired WHEN A TREE GROWS?

A. I was out in the woods, enjoying a nature hike with my family when we heard a distant, creaky Crash! Was it a falling tree? An animal? We froze, listened and after a long silence, hiked on. I began to wonder: What if that crash had scared a bear or frightened a deer?

 

Building on that "OR" question, I framed a wacky story with two different possible outcomes, one rather expected and one funny, unexpected outcome. Readers will find that "OR" spotlighted on the bottom corner of each recto page with a clever curled paper art effect.

 

Q. How did you pick the title of your book?

A. The original title was WHEN A TREE FALLS. My editor suggested that "GROWS" would be a stronger title, neatly tying the end to the beginning.

 

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

A. I wrote TREE on the computer, then cut each scene into separate strips of paper. I added some stick-figure critters by hand, and moved text around with sticky notes until I had the funniest possible sequence of events.

 

Q. What is your favorite part of the book? And was that part in the first draft?

A. When Squirrel decides to return to the forest, he writes a letter to Moose. What happens to the letter is my favorite, funniest part of the book.  That sequence has not changed since draft #1.

 

Q. What made you decide to tell the story in third person and present tense?

A. The action-oriented sequence of events really called for third person, present tense format. I didn't even experiment with other versions.

 

Q. Did you outline your story first or did you create your story while writing it? 

A. I knew the beginning and end would mirror one another, but the mushy middle was created as I wrote. I cut the scenes that didn't feel funny enough or have great illustration potential.

 

Q. Did WHEN A TREE GROWS receive any rejection letters? If so, how many (ballpark)?

A. My agent sent out two rounds of submissions, and it was not a fit for four houses. We received one offer and one request for a revise-and-resubmit.

 

Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on WHEN A TREE GROWS.

A. Yippee! And "Should we open some wine to go with this meatloaf?"

 

Q. What kind of input did you have in choosing an illustrator for the book? 

A. Sterling suggested three potential illustrators – all fantastic. There was something to love about each and every one, but Kasia Nowowiejska's adorable forest animals won our hearts.

 

Q. What jumped out at you when you saw the first sketches and jacket cover?

A. The warthog! Kasia is from Poland, and I loved the European flair in her forest sketches. The cover was not finalized until the end. I love the shiny copper foil lettering!

 

Q. How long was the publication process for WHEN A TREE GROWS from the time you received an offer until it was printed?

A. Three years, four months. When the PW announcement was published in March 2017, I could officially share the news with everyone that TREE was becoming a book.

 

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. An early draft had a sweet city scene between Squirrel and a pigeon, but it didn't make the final cut. I thought three animal characters were enough for this book.

 

Q. When you read WHEN A TREE GROWS to kids, which part of the book gets the best reaction?

A. They love to see Squirrel scooping coins out of the fountain to buy a bus ticket home.

 

Q. Did you create any book swag for WHEN A TREE GROWS? If so, what kind?

A. Sterling is compiling an activity kit with simple mazes, word searches, coloring pages, etc. I've dreamed up a craft project using a paper plate to create kid-sized moose antlers. I can't wait to share it with kids!

 

Q. What is your #1 tip for picture-book writers?

A. Never leave home without your library card!

 

Q. Do you have a favorite writing exercise that you can share?

A. Paste your PB draft into a word cloud generator like WordItOut or Wordle to visually gauge the frequency of words in your text. A word cloud can help you find terms to cut or replace with stronger choices.

 

Q. What are you working on now?

A. Next up for me is a still-secret picture book with an amazing publisher in Canada. A sloth and a squirrel are involved. Look for an announcement soon, and a book sometime in 2021.

 

Q. Is there a public launch for the book (reading/party at bookstore, library, etc.)?

A. I am collaborating with our town Tree Committee and Library on exciting launch events this spring. Look for details on my Twitter and Facebook accounts.

 

Q. Where can people find you?

A. Please come connect and say hello! Tell me if you've seen a Moose in real life, or if you need a recipe for cardamom crème cupcakes.

Website: https://cathyballoumealey.wordpress.com/about/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/CatBallouMealey

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/cathy.mealey

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/catballoumealey/

 

 

 

 

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BIG CAT

Get to know your characters inside out. Take your characters and put them into scenarios you won't necessarily find in the book. I do this through drawing, by drawing them in different settings, such as their home, their classroom, on holiday. But I'm sure the same thing can be achieved through writing too.

—Emma Lazell

 

Inspired by her naughty cat, Emma Lazell wrote and illustrated her #firstpicturebook while finishing her Masters of Illustration at the Cambridge School of Art. At her graduation exhibit, a publisher spotted it and now BIG CAT is ready to pounce onto  bookshelves!

 

Q. Was BIG CAT 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 was the first that I finished and felt happy with! I'd written and illustrated a few before but never got them quite right, or managed to get to an ending I was happy with. In some cases, the story worked, but the illustrations didn't, or vice versa. With BIG CAT everything clicked.

 

Q. What inspired BIG CAT?

A. My Cats! BIG CAT started out as a story all about an oversized domestic cat, based on my naughty cat Ruby. It was a few drafts on that BIG CAT became… without revealing any of the story… the Big Cat that he is.

 

Q. How did you pick the title of your book?

A. I don't fully remember, the title just seemed to fall into place. I think for a long while the story was just called Cat.

 

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

A. By hand, usually while story boarding. I like to be able to lay things out visually and quickly and whenever inspiration comes to me.

 

Q. What is your favorite part of the book? And was that part in the first draft? 

A. There are three moments I really like: the big tiger reveal for its saturation of orange; the tiger tea party; and the moment where Isobel realises how fun Big Cat is, compared to grandma's other cats.

 

Q. How did you select the names for your characters?

A. I didn't have a particularly difficult job here, as my main characters have very self-explanatory names: Grandma and Big Cat. Isobel, the little girl, is named after my younger sister, although her name doesn't actually appear in the story.

 

Q. What made you decide to tell the story in first person?  Q. Why did you write BIG CAT in the past tense?

A.(Answering the two questions above together) In both cases this wasn't a conscious decision, more something that just happened as I wrote. The writing voice I used didn't really change at all from the first conception and drafting of the idea.

 

Q. Did you write the story first, then illustrate it? Or did the images appear before the words?

A. The images definitely came first. I feel as if I am an illustrator who has somehow fallen into being a writer too. But pictures certainly come first, because that's what I am used to. I think very visually and pictorially and know exactly what will happen visually, before even beginning to think about a written story. Since BIG CAT, I have actually tried to work the other way round, and write first, but it doesn't work for me.

 

Q. Did BIG CAT receive any rejection letters? If so, how many (ballpark)?

A. No. I was really lucky with BIG CAT. I finished it during my Masters in Children's Book Illustration at Cambridge School of Art, and it was spotted by my lovely publishers at my graduation exhibition.

 

Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on BIG CAT.

A. Over the moon of course!

 

Q. How long was the publication process for BIG CAT— from the time you received an offer until it was printed?

A. Almost exactly a year, I signed a contract in Spring 2018, and BIG CAT will release in the UK on the 4th April 2019. But it went to print in much sooner than that. I worked on it between May and October and I received the first proofs in late October, and the first advance copy in December.

 

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. For a long time, BIG CAT had a different, more abstract cover that I felt really happy with. But it wasn't commercial enough. It took persuading and hard work to create the new cover, but it was definitely the right decision. I'm so much happier with the final cover. It's really easy to get attached to a piece of artwork or writing and much harder to see the benefits of changing it. But in this case it was definitely the right decision.  

 

Q. What is your #1 tip for picture-book writers?

A. Keep going! Expect and allow your idea to change and morph continually. Lay your story out visually from word go to get the pacing and exciting page turns. You'll know when something clicks.
 

Q. Do you have a favorite writing exercise or marketing tip that you can share?

A. Get to know your characters inside out. Take your characters and put them into scenarios you won't necessarily find in the book. I do this through drawing, by drawing them in different settings, such as their home, their classroom, on holiday. But I'm sure the same thing can be achieved through writing too.

 

Q. What are you working on now?

A. Top secret at the moment, but I can say, if you quite liked BIG CAT but you're more of a dog person, then this will be the book for you!

 

Q. Is there a public launch for the book (reading/party at bookstore, library, etc.)? If so, provide details:

A. Yes! BIG CAT book launch will be the 10th April, at Heffers Bookshop, Cambridge, UK

 

Q. Where can people find you? (Website, Twitter, Instagram, etc.)

A. Find out more at www.emmalazell.co.uk or find me on instagram and twitter @emmallazell

 

BIG CAT will be released in the UK on the 4th April 2019. Available to preorder now. Coming soon to the US and Commonwealth. 

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HER FEARLESS RUN

“I was also very fortunate that Kathrine [Switzer] read the F&G and went page by page with me to ensure that everything was as accurate as possible. I can't say enough about her…she is just as amazing as you would expect her to be.”

—Kim Chaffee

 

Described by her former students as the “best second-grade teacher ever,” Kim Chaffee is also a mom, marathon runner, and now—a debut author. Her #firstpicturebook HER FEARLESS RUN celebrates the first woman to ever officially run the Boston Marathon and is a “biography that goes the distance!" (starred review, Kirkus Reviews).


Q. Was HER FEARLESS RUN the first picture book manuscript you ever wrote? If not, what was the first picture book you wrote and what happened to it? 

A. HER FEARLESS RUN was more like the 6th or 7th manuscript I ever wrote. The first story I ever wrote was about a boy who loved bananas so much but he left his peels all over the place so his mother banned him from having them anymore. That story is currently in the drawer :)

 

Q. What inspired HER FEARLESS RUN? 

A. I was inspired to write HER FEARLESS RUN when I heard Kathrine talking about her 1967 Boston Marathon experience at the Boston Marathon in 2016. As I runner, I never thought twice before signing up for a race that someone might tell me I couldn't because I was a woman and I realized that I have Kathrine to thank for that. After looking to see if there was a picture book biography out there on her already, I was thrilled to see that there wasn't and knew I needed to write it!

 
Q. How did you pick the title of your book? 

A. The title, HER FEARLESS RUN, was not the title I submitted. It used to be The Right to Run. The subtitle has always been the same. When I signed the contract, Charlotte Wenger and Kristen Nobles suggested we change the title to FEARLESS, which I loved! Then, after talking with the sales and marketing teams at Macmillan (Page Street Kids distributes through Macmillan)- they suggested a change. HER FEARLESS RUN was created by the wonderful collaboration of minds at Page Street Kids!

 

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

A. I always brainstorm and start writing on my yellow legal pads with Ticonderoga #2 pencils — creature of habit! Then, once I feel like I'm getting into a groove, I move over to the computer and continue working there.

 

Q. What kind of resources did you use in your research for this nonfiction book? 

A. I was very lucky that Kathrine has written an autobiography, Marathon Woman. It was extremely helpful for my research. I also used some newspaper articles and some short video clips that Kathrine made for makers.com. I was also very fortunate that Kathrine read the F&G and went page by page with me to ensure that everything was as accurate as possible. I can't say enough about her… she is just as amazing as you would expect her to be.

 

Q. Did you outline your story first or did you create your story while writing it? 

A. I am definitely a plotter! Yes, I did work out some sort of outline before I began drafting but, after revisions, the final text is far from what was originally intended. 

 

Q. What information do you include in the back matter? 

A. The back matter explains how Kathrine did not intend to deceive anyone when registering for the race…she wore lipstick and earrings to run that day…as well as how Kathrine continued to fight for woman's equality in the field of running after that historic day. I also mention how Kathrine continues to inspire and support women through her charity, 261 Fearless, Inc., which connects woman all over the globe and provides opportunities for them to find their strength and self-esteem through running and walking. I'm so honored to be running this year's Boston Marathon as a charity runner for 261 Fearless, Inc!

 

Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on HER FEARLESS RUN. 

A. I had been going back and forth with my editor on revisions so I was hoping things were going in the right direction toward an offer but I never let myself believe it. I tried to stay positive, thinking that at the very least I was getting professional feedback that would make my story stronger. When I finally got the email that had the word OFFER in the subject line, I gasped and walked away from my computer, without even opening it! I made my husband read it first because I couldn't believe it was actually happening!

 

Q. What kind of input did you have in choosing an illustrator for the book? 

A. Page Street Kids was awesome about giving me input into the illustrator. My editor, Charlotte Wenger, sent over a few illustrators to consider. I picked a favorite and it just so happened that Charlotte and Kristen picked the same illustrator! Hooray for Ellen Rooney and her artistic brilliance!

 

Q. What jumped out at you when you saw the first sketches and jacket cover? 

A. Ellen's art is so incredibly stunning! I am so lucky she said yes to this project! The color choices and the strong emotion she conveys through her art take my breath away!

 

Q. How long was the publication process for HER FEARLESS RUN—from the time you received an offer until it was printed? 

A. I received the offer in May 2017 and the book will publish April 2, 2019. Almost 2 yrs!

 

Q. When you read HER FEARLESS RUN to kids, which part of the book gets the best reaction? 

A. I love this question! The part that gets the best reaction is when a runner shoves the race official off the course after he tries to take Kathrine's numbers. That part gets lots of cheers!

 

Q. Did you create any book swag for HER FEARLESS RUN? If so, what kind? 

A. Swag is so fun and there are so many options…for now I have bookmarks and stickers but am looking into temporary tattoos and perhaps pencils. I love swag so I need to pull myself back from going overboard!

 

Q. What is your #1 tip for picture-book writers? 

A. I think my #1 tip for picture book writers is to keep going. Rejections happen and yes, they hurt, some more than others. But try to look at it as weeding out the wrong people to publish your book, to make way for the right one. HER FEARLESS RUN received some rejections and I am so glad it did! Kristen was the perfect person to publish this story because it meant as much to her as it did to me and that feels like the way it should be.

 

Q. What are you working on now? 

A. I just started research for a new picture book biography that I am really excited about and feel a strong connection with the subject…wish I could say more but you know how that is! :)

 

Q. Is there a public launch for the book (reading/party at bookstore, library, etc.)? If so, provide details: 

A. Yes! I have a local launch on April 6 at 11:15 at The Bookery in Manchester, NH which I am so excited for! The following day I get to launch the book at Brookline Booksmith with Ellen Rooney, the illustrator! And on April 12, Ellen and I will join the one-and-only Kathrine Switzer at an event in Boston to celebrate her, the 261 Fearless charity runners (I am one of them, too) and we'll sign books, too! 

 

Q. Where can people find you? (Website, Twitter, Instagram, etc.)

Twitter: Kim_Chaffee

Facebook: www.facebook.com/KimChaffeeAuthor

Instagram: kchaffeebooks

www.KimChaffee.com

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THE LOST BOOK

“Recently, in order to learn more about writing, I started transcribing the texts of picture books that I like. This exercise helps me notice such details as punctuation marks, repetition of words and phrases, words in capitals, page breaks, etc., and better understand how the author approached the text.”

—Margarita Surnaite

 

While studying illustration at Cambridge School of Art, Margarita Surnaite drew a sketch of a rabbit that caught her instructor’s attention. Margarita started to build a story around that rabbit and today it is the star of her #firstpicturebook as an author/illustrator. Published by Andersen Press, THE LOST BOOK is a "lovely book [that] embeds a message about the importance of reading and the issue of overuse of technology in an appealing fantasy adventure.... An excellent read-aloud choice" (starred review, School Library Journal).

 
Q. Was THE LOST 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. No, it wasn't. My first picture book that I showed to publishers was called "Different" and it was my Bachelor's degree final project. I submitted it to Nami Concours, an international children's book illustration competition held in Korea, and it won an award. This gave me confidence that picture book making might be the right path for me. When I created this project, I knew very little about the picture book market. The book turned out very experimental and dark so eventually I decided to shelve it.

 

Q. What inspired THE LOST BOOK?

A. One day, during my MA Children's Book Illustration studies, I was presenting new book ideas. What caught my tutor's attention, however, was a sketch of a rabbit holding a book and sitting next to people looking at their phones. I realized that this sketch had the potential to turn into a story, so I started developing the rabbit character and building the world around him. It's amusing to think that "The Lost Book" wouldn't exist today if my tutor hadn't brought my attention to that sketch.

 

Whether intentionally or not, my stories almost always originate from my observations or personal experiences. While developing "The Lost Book", I became very aware how distracted people have become, especially due to their digital devices. The scenes of the human world in "The Lost Book" were influenced by my experience of visiting London. 

 

Q. How did you pick the title of your book?

A. I came up with this title early on. I made a list of potential titles, but "The Lost Book" seemed like the best choice to me. I liked that this title could have a literal and metaphorical meaning, which was fitting for the story. I'm glad that my publisher decided to keep it.

 

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

A. I write and draw both ways. I brainstorm ideas and develop my characters on paper and then create finished dummy books on the computer. While I'm working on a dummy book, I like to print out sheets with thumbnail-sized spreads and make edits with a pencil. I make new printouts with each round of revisions. I also print out, cut, and glue together mini dummy books to check how the pacing and page turns work. I always keep a notebook around that I use for messy drafting and problem solving of my stories. 

 

Q. What is your favorite part of the book? And was that part in the first draft? 

A. The spread with the escalator scene is probably one of my favorites. It was already in the first draft. 

 

Q. How did you select the names for your characters? 

A. I chose my main character's name "Henry" spontaneously. I can't remember when and why I decided to name him that, but for some reason it felt right.

 

Q. What made you decide to tell the story in third person?  

A. In my first dummy book the story was told in first person. But a year later, I revised the story and wrote it in third person instead. I wanted to use more than one point of view.

 

Q. Why did you write THE LOST BOOK in past tense?

A. It felt natural to tell the story in past tense.

 

Q. Did you outline your story first or did you create your story while writing it? 

A. I started by developing my characters first. I drew them over and over again until I had some idea of who they are, what they want, and what kind of world they live in. Then I began to piece the story together by making a storyboard. 

 

Q. Did you write the story first, then illustrate it? Or did the images appear before the words?

A. The images appeared first. I figured out most of the story through sketching and storyboarding. Words came later in the process.

 

Q. Did THE LOST BOOK receive any rejection letters? If so, how many (ballpark)?

A. Yes, a few. I didn't actively submit to publishers though. As an MA Children's Book Illustration student, I got to exhibit "The Lost Book" at the graduation show in London and at the Cambridge School of Art stand during Bologna Children's Book Fair, which were attended by industry professionals. 

 

Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on THE LOST BOOK.

A. I got the offer on December 22 so it felt like receiving an early Christmas gift. I was very excited but also slightly worried about all the work and creative challenges waiting ahead of me in order to complete this book. 

 

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

A. I received the contract at the beginning of 2017 and the book came out in 2019. It took over two years. However, I started developing the story in autumn 2014.

 

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. Luckily, the majority of the story stayed the same. I had to take out one spread because the dummy book was longer than 32 pages. However, I am happy with the changes that my editor suggested. 

 

Q. Did you create any book swag for THE LOST BOOK? If so, what kind?

A. I made some bookmarks and a book trailer. 

 

Q. What is your #1 tip for picture-book writers?

A. It sounds cliché, but read as many picture books as you can. I was skeptical hearing this advice over and over again from different picture book writers. In the past year, however, I finally started to understand its importance. Reading picture books is key to learning the craft of picture book making.

Don't read picture books just for pleasure. Study them. Read them silently. Read them aloud. Analyze them inside out: the text, the illustrations, the design choices, the plot structures, etc. Ask yourself what makes them work and what doesn't. Read a wide range of picture books such as classics, award-winning, bestselling and newly released books. Explore books in genres, subjects, and styles that usually don't appeal to you. 

 

Q. Do you have a favorite writing exercise or marketing tip that you can share?

A. When I read picture books, I'm naturally more drawn to images than text. Recently, in order to learn more about writing, I started transcribing the texts of picture books that I like. This exercise helps me notice such details as punctuation marks, repetition of words and phrases, words in capitals, page breaks, etc., and better understand how the author approached the text.

 

Q. What are you working on now?

A. I'm working on my second author-illustrated picture book. Publication is planned for 2021. I'm also developing new picture book stories to query literary agents this year.  

 

Q. Where can people find you? (Website, Twitter, Instagram, etc.)

A.

Website: www.margaritasurnaite.com

Instagram: @margaritasurnaite

Twitter: @msurnaite

Book trailer for THE LOST BOOK

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MIRA'S CURLY HAIR

MIRA'S CURLY HAIR By Maryam al Serkal and illustrated by Rebeca Luciani (Lantana Publishing, April 2019)

“If you are a novice as I was, don't be afraid to attend a course.

It might be very helpful and beneficial for you to find your niche.”

 

Dubai writer Maryam Al Serkal was inspired by her daughter’s feelings about her curly hair.  After attending a children's book workshop, she wrote her #firstpicturebook manuscript. Next month, that story will be published by Lantana Publishing. MIRA’S CURLY HAIR "does a lovely job weaving in various cultural realities with a universal theme of self-acceptance.... [and] adds depth and beauty to the growing collection of hair-themed picture books for the very young" (Kirkus Reviews).

 

Q. Was MIRA'S CURLY HAIR the first picture book manuscript you ever wrote? If not, what was the first picture book you wrote and what happened to it?

A. In fact yes, this was the first manuscript that I ever wrote. I attended a children's book workshop at a literature festival and at the end of the workshop the participants were asked to produce a piece of writing and that was the birth of my manuscript.

 

Q. What inspired MIRA'S CURLY HAIR?

A. I like writing about things that are relevant to me. MIRA'S CURLY HAIR is about my daughter and how, at a very young age, she started to notice the differences in appearance she had with other people. The most significant to her was her hair.

 

Q. How did you pick the title of your book?

A. Mira is my daughter's name and I wanted the title to be straight forward as the book is.

 

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

A. I love to write by hand but sometimes the handiest thing at my disposal would be the notes app on my phone. It's easier to continue the flow of work when I don't have to retype everything on my computer, the app is synced to my devices which gives me a seamless flow of work.

 

Q. What is your favorite part of the book? And was that part in the first draft? (Please send an image from the book or link to book trailer.)

My favorite part is when Mira realizes that her hair is not as different as she thought.

 

Q. How did you select the names for your characters? 

A. The main character is Mira, after my daughter, and then her mother is referred to as Mommy.

 

Q. What made you decide to tell the story in third person?  

A. I felt that writing this story in third person could make it more relatable to the reader and listener.

 

Q. Why did you write MIRA'S CURLY HAIR in the past tense?

A. There is a level of dissatisfaction that the main character has with her appearance, I wanted the reader to feel that this was in the past but eventually it was going to change which it did at the end of the story. 

 

Q. Did you outline your story first or did you create your story while writing it? 

A. I had a pretty good idea of what the ending of the story would be. I initially wrote it as a rhyme. I eventually diluted the rhyming a bit but I find that my writing flows easily when writing poetry. I love writing poetry. My favorite children's author is Dr. Seuss. I also think it's tricky to write poetry for kids because it either seems forced or not very rhythmical. Personally, it's a challenge that I enjoy.

 

Q. Did MIRA'S CURLY HAIR receive any rejection letters? If so, how many (ballpark)?

A. I didn't receive any rejection letters for Mira's Curly Hair. I guess I was lucky!

 

Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on MIRA'S CURLY HAIR.

A. It really is indescribable. I was very nervous when I sent in my manuscript. I was hopeful but had resolved to manage my expectations and try to handle the rejection in a way that would push me forward. To be very honest I was at a very challenging time in my life and when I received the offer I was thrilled. It gave me a sense of achievement. 

 

Q. What kind of input did you have in choosing an illustrator for the book?

A. Rebeca Luciani, the illustrator, was suggested by my editor and after I saw her initial drawings, I knew that she was the only one who could bring the story to life.

 

Q. What jumped out at you when you saw the first sketches and jacket cover?

A.The first thing that jumped out at me was how well Rebeca had captured Mira with her mischievous look. It spoke to my heart. She also captures the essence of the Arabian culture without making it overbearing.

 

Q. How long was the publication process for MIRA'S CURLY HAIR  from the time you received an offer until it was printed?

A. I would say it took over a year and a half.

 

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 would have liked to keep it in rhyme, but I have full faith in my editor and what she sees as fitting better in the current children's book market.

 

Q. What is your #1 tip for picture-book writers?

If you are a novice as I was, don't be afraid to attend a course. It might be very helpful and beneficial for you to find your niche. 

 

Q. What are you working on now?

A. I have a few more children's books manuscripts that I am working on.

  
Q. Where can people find you? (Website, Twitter, Instagram, etc.)

A.

www.themaryamwrites.com
My Twitter and Instagram account is @themaryamwrites.

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