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Q&A Blog

Cloud Conductor

Kellie Byrnes is a children’s author, full-time freelance writer, and book reviewer. Her #firstpicturebook was acquired by a publisher after she attended her first kidlit conference. Today she tells us how she constructed the CLOUD CONDUCTOR—“Inspiring and full of positive messages . . . [an] exquisite book” (kids-bookreview.com).

Q. Was CLOUD CONDUCTOR the first picture book manuscript you ever wrote? If not, what was the first picture book you wrote and what happened to it?
A. Cloud Conductor was the first manuscript I wrote, actually. I came up with the idea, started to write it, and then realized I needed to keep reading and learning about picture books more. When I came back to it, though, it flowed much more easily.

Q. What inspired CLOUD CONDUCTOR?
A. The book was inspired by my reading an article about a sick child. I wondered how a little kid would cope with being cooped up inside for so long when they’re ill, not being able to do the things they normally enjoy. My mind wandered and I thought about how the imagination would be so important during these times. I pictured a child looking at the clouds, and seeing fun shapes in them. From there, the title ‘Cloud Conductor’ popped into my head, and I knew this was something I had to write, and follow the story of.

Q. How did you pick the title of your book?
A. As mentioned above, the title actually came very early on, when I was first thinking about the idea for the story. It was nice that it flowed so well. These days, I often struggle to name my manuscripts – I find it really challenging!

Q. Do you write by hand or on the computer?
A. I use both options. When I’m first brainstorming ideas and plotting out picture books, I do it all by hand. For the first draft, it might start as handwritten too, or sometimes I just go straight to the computer. It depends how well developed the idea is, and what my mood is, to be honest!

Q. What is your favorite part of the book? And was that part in the first draft?
I love all the illustrations in the book (the illustrator, Ann-Marie Finn, did a wonderful job). But I particularly love a spread towards the beginning of the book, where it shows Frankie, the main character, working on an invention.

I didn’t specify in the text what the invention would be, but Ann-Marie turned it into an automatic ball thrower for Frankie’s dog. As the owner of two dogs, who has spent countless hours over the last decade throwing balls for them to fetch, this really hit home! I really like the way it shows Frankie’s curious and persevering nature, too.

Q. How did you select the names for your characters? 
A. I originally wrote the story with a different name for the main character. However, my publisher wanted this to be changed, since the name I had used she felt was too popular at the time, plus they’d just published another book that had a character with the same name. So I brainstormed with a friend, did research online and in baby-name books, and proposed a few options. In the end, though, the name Frankie just popped it my head! It wasn’t a name that I had brainstormed, but something must have made my subconscious come up with it. I have no idea what, though!

Q. Why did you decide to tell the story in first, second, or third person? 
A. I wrote the book in third person, and this was pretty much just based on the fact that most picture books I had read were written that way. Today, I still typically write my picture books in third person. Occasionally this changes, but not often.

Q. How much of the story did you know when you began writing CLOUD CONDUCTOR? 
A. Hmmm, when I first started to try and write it (before I got stuck because I didn’t understand picture book structure well enough), I think I knew the beginning and ending, but not really all the details of the middle.

Q. Did CLOUD CONDUCTOR receive any rejection letters? If so, how many (ballpark)?
A. No, I was really fortunate with Cloud Conductor. I attended my first kidlit conference in July 2016, and booked in for manuscript assessments with a couple of editors. I just wanted to get feedback to see if I was on the right track with my writing, but happily I actually got a contract from one of the editors I saw there. So no rejection letters for this one. I have numerous other rejections now, though, for other manuscripts!

Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on CLOUD CONDUCTOR.
A. I was absolutely over the moon! I had always wanted to be an author, but then put those dreams aside for many years after I worked in the publishing industry for a time and saw how challenging it was to get published (plus I thought I needed more life experience, to have stories to tell).

Really, it was all just about a lack of confidence though. Finally getting that first contract, after committing to myself in mid-2015 that I would finally start to work on my own books, was amazing. Quite life changing, in fact.

Q. What kind of input did you have in choosing an illustrator for the book? 
A. I didn’t have any input into the illustrator chosen. I was thrilled when I was told who it was though, as I was already a fan of Ann-Marie’s work.

Q. What jumped out at you when you saw the first sketches and jacket cover?
A. The main thing that jumped out at me was the color palette. I didn’t see early sketches at all, just illustrations when they were a fair way along, so all in color. I absolutely love the colors used throughout, and the way they add more meaning to the book.

Q. How long did CLOUD CONDUCTOR take to be published—from the time you received an offer until it was printed?
A. It was a little under 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. I didn’t add anything later, but the ending was changed. I initially had it ending way too sadly for a picture book! There was an image I saw in my head, in the original ending, that I really loved though, but I was okay with changing things. It’s important to listen to publishers, after all, especially for your first book!

Q. Have you read  CLOUD CONDUCTOR to kids? If so, which part of the book gets the best reaction?
A. Kids seem to be most intrigued when the story launches into the images Frankie sees in the sky. After all, most little ones have spent some time looking up at the clouds and seeing fun shapes, so I think they immediately identify with that.

Q. Did you create any book swag for CLOUD CONDUCTOR? If so, what kind?
A. The publishers created some great bookmarks and coloring-in sheets to go with the book, which is great. Plus, I’m also excited to announce that some gift cards have just been released, which are based on illustrations from the book.

There are two designs at the moment, which can be purchased separately to the book, and which feature Frankie. They can be used for a variety of occasions and uses. I just received my copies recently and the cards look amazing – wonderful quality, and really fun, positive messages. I hope other people like them as much as I do!

Q. What is your #1 tip for picture-book writers?
A. Keep reading, learning, and writing. I don’t think there’s any substitute for any of those steps.

Q. Do you have a favorite writing exercise or marketing tip that you can share?
A. When it comes to marketing, try not to be afraid to put yourself out there. I know it can be challenging, but the more you send press releases or contact bloggers or journalists to see if they might be interested in profiling you and/or your book, the easier it gets. Plus, try to make life as easy for others as possible, by including all the info and images they might need upfront. People are busy, so the more work you do for them, the more likely it is they’ll run your story.

Q. What are you working on now?
A. Lots of things! I’m someone who flits about from project to project, depending on my mood, so I always have at least 5 or more things on the go at once. I’m editing and writing new picture books (fiction and non-fiction); editing and writing junior fiction novels; and working on some outlines for middle grade and young adults books.

I also have my second picture book coming out late next year – it’s a humorous story about some cheeky animals – so I’m discussing illustrations and ideas with the illustrator and publisher as required. I can’t wait for that book to be published!

I am also a book reviewer and blogger. I review children’s books each month and interview authors and illustrators about their work, creative processes, inspirations, favorite books and more. This keeps me busy, too. In addition, I’m a full-time freelance writer, so my life is pretty well taken up with words and stories!

Q. Where can people find you? (Website, Twitter, Instagram, etc.)
A. My website is www.KellieByrnes.com, and you’ll find my blog here too.
As for social media, please connect with me on Twitter at @KellieJByrnes, on Facebook at KellieByrnesAuthor, and on Instagram (I’m not really active on there yet, but will be as soon as I find some more time) at kellie_byrnes.
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Monty & Sylvester: A Tale of Everyday Super Heroes

Carly Gledhill has worked as a print designer for studios and retailers and completed an M.A. in children’s book illustration. In April, she became an author too when her #firstpicturebook was published by Orchard Books. Today she tells us about creating MONTY & SYLVESTER: A Tale of Everyday Super Heroes, including how she got the names for her characters after watching a popular daytime television show.

Q. Was MONTY & SYLVESTER the first picture book manuscript you ever wrote? If not, what was the first picture book you wrote and what happened to it?
A. MONTY & SYLVESTER is the first book I finished writing from start to end, I had tried a few times before to write but nothing came together. The book was quite a quick process, everything fell into place organically, although I still wasn’t sure it was any good when I had finished. I completed an MA in Children’s Book Illustration and had made many novelty books to avoid having to write a story, so it’s not my natural habitat.

Q. What inspired MONTY & SYLVESTER?
A. I drew the characters first and they existed for a while before I came back to them. I loved the unlikely friendship between big furry bear and little blue mouse. I was trying, and failing, to work on other stories, so I thought I’d give these 2 another go. The original drawings really inspired the story at this point, the characters seemed quite naive and lovable so the story naturally lent this way. I decided they should become superheroes when thinking about what kids do at play time, obviously flying and saving the world was what I did as a toddler so it seemed about right. They are the least likely characters to do well at being superheroes too which is where the humour kicks in, pow!

Q. How did you pick the title of your book?
A. I wanted the title to reflect the everyday playtime nature of the story. Obviously MONTY & SYLVESTER need their name in lights on the cover as they are the stars, but it is just a tale of playtime gone exciting, it could happen to anyone!

Q. Do you write by hand or on the computer?
A. All by hand for this one, there isn’t an awful lot of text in the book and a lot of it relies on humour. I drew it all out as I illustrated the book. I’ve always used type in my illustration so knew where and what it should look like to enhance the story. Some of the original hand-drawn type made it into the final version too.

Q. What is your favorite part of the book? And was that part in the first draft?
A. The first spread is probably my favourite. It hasn’t really changed since the first draft and sums up the personalities of our protagonists straight away! It’s a soft introduction to the book, sets the scene with a few clues of what’s to come!

Q. How did you select the names for your characters?
A. They were originally named after a couple of property developers on daytime TV Favourite ‘Homes under the Hammer’. (I don’t watch daytime TV usually I was just waiting for a delivery to arrive, honestly.)

Q. How did you decide between telling the story in first, second, or third person?
A. Oh dear, I didn’t, it’s a bit of a mish-mash of narration and the characters chatting away!

Q. How much of the story did you know when you began writing MONTY & SYLVESTER?
A. I had the basic outline ready—2 friends want to be super heroes that day, they’re a bit rubbish at it, they need a plan! I knew the setting would be domestic. I think that was about it. It really escalated from there with a different problem at the turn of each page, introducing more characters and peril!

Q. Did you write the story first, then illustrate it? Or did the images appear before the words?
A. I have to get excited about the characters so I usually start with a good drawing of what they will look like then usually they talk to me and lead their own adventure!

With MONTY & SYLVESTER I didn’t know what I was doing, so I did both at the same time. Now I’ve got more of a clue. I try to write the story first before illustrating the spreads, working on storyboards with rough sketches.

Q. Did MONTY & SYLVESTER receive any rejection letters? If so, how many (ballpark)?
A. I was very lucky in this respect, I sent the book to my agent Arabella at the Bright Agency and very soon Orchard Books were interested in it. I couldn’t believe my luck!

Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on MONTY & SYLVESTER.
A. Disbelief, excitement, ticking off life goals with a big pen!

Q. How long did MONTY & SYLVESTER take to be published—from the time you received an offer until it was printed?
A. It’s been about a year and a half, which as an illustrator who has worked commercially for years, seems forever! I’ve just received my advanced copies of the book, so it still isn’t out in the world yet. I can’t wait!

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. It was more the opposite with this book. The initial book had very clean spreads, very minimal with a pared down colour palette and I had to add more in. More was needed to make the book more colourful and action packed, inspired by classic Batman with graphic stars and action words.

Q. What is your #1 tip to those who want to write picture books?
A. It’s fine to give up on an idea and move on to something else, not every idea will work. You’ll know when you’re onto the right one. Also leaving your desk and going for a walk, or taking a few days off to refuel the mind is usually a good idea when things get frustrating.

Q. Do you have a favorite writing exercise or marketing tip that you can share?
A. I love storyboards. Making the story fit with exciting doodle illustrations is my favourite part. I usually have lots of blank storyboards printed out and go through tens of them before everything fits and flows together. It’s picture book problem solving!

Q. What are you working on now?
A. I’m just completing the second MONTY & SYLVESTER book with Orchard (top secret at the mo). Then I’m going to have a bit of time to draw and be creative and think of some new book ideas. I also have a children’s brand called Corby Tindersticks, I’ve just designed some new products so I’m working on marketing those too! You can see more at www.corbytindersticks.com

Q. Where can people find you? (Website, Twitter, Instagram, etc.)
A.
www.carlygledhill.com
instagram.com/carly_gledhill
twitter.com/carlygledhill
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CURIOSITY

While doing research for his #firstpicturebook, Markus Motum visited the NASA’s Twitter account for the Mars Rover which was written in first person. Markus knew that element would help the reader connect with the robot’s story so he followed the rover’s lead in CURIOSITY —“a fascinating page turner” (New York Journal of Books) and an “engaging children’s book debut” (Publishers Weekly, starred review).

Q. Was CURIOSITY 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 my first after graduating, however my final major project at university was a picture book. I already loved picture books but it was that project which cemented the fact that I wanted to make them myself.

Q. What inspired CURIOSITY?
A. The true story of Curiosity—a rover the size of a 1 tonne car, successfully making its way to Mars, attempting a never before done landing—to me was stranger, or rather, more wonderful then fiction. On the one hand it was a great scientific based story, but on the other I just saw this amazing story with a rover people seemed to care about on a personal level. 

Q. How did you pick the title of your book?
A. The name of the rover was such a perfect fit for the title of the book. The book shows where your curiosity can take you. Clara Ma won a NASA competition to name the rover, and part of her submitted essay for the competition is used to close out the book itself. 

Q. Do you write by hand or on the computer?
A. I'll start by hand, as ideas or sentences come to me I'll want to get them down immediately, for me there's no more instant method than pen to paper. Notes or paragraphs will be jotted all around my sketchbooks. As the project progresses and I need something resembling a coherent story, I need the computer to help!

Q. What is your favorite part of the book? And was that part in the first draft? 
A. I always liked the last few spreads, which take place after the rover has finished telling us about her journey. The story beats haven't changed since my original idea. I also had to change the colour of the Martian sky for one spread, as the colours I had chosen didn't match up to the time of day it would have been when Curiosity landed on local Martian time! I really liked the new colours and how it turned out. 

Q. What kind of resources did you use in your research for this story?
A. I used a number of books, including the Haynes Owner's Workshop manual which featured previous rovers like Spirit and Opportunity, as well as Curiosity. NASA is great at putting out content whether it be written or videos, so I had a great library of resources from things they just make public. Finally to make sure the book held up to factual and scientific scrutiny, Walker brought on a Mars expert, Stuart Atkinson, who brought some great insight to the project and was great at making sure the text (and pictures!) were kept accurate. 

Q. Why did you decide to tell the story in first person? 
A. In the very early days, when I was still approaching how I might tackle the book and story, I visited the rovers official Twitter account, and saw that the rover tweets in the 1st person. “My launch was a total success!” or “I’m making final preparations for my landing...wish me luck.” It created an immediate connection for audiences with this rover. It anthropomorphized the rover beautifully, and I knew having the rover talk directly to the readers could help in getting them engaged. I didn't want this to be a dry science lesson. By the end I wanted readers to really care about this rover and its amazing journey, and hopefully having it in the 1st person helped achieve this. 

Q. Did you write the story first, then illustrate it? Or did the images appear before the words?
A. The story was only very loosely planned out before the images I wanted in there started popping into my head, from there they would appear in tandem. 

Q. Did CURIOSITY receive any rejection letters? If so, how many (ballpark)?
A. I made a list of dream publishers I would love to be published by, and was going to work my way down the list, sending my only copy of the book to each in turn. That was the plan, but Walker Books, at the top of the list, asked me to come have a meeting with them. Needless to say I was rather caught off guard!

Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on CURIOSITY.
A. I tried to remain as calm as possible — I didn't want to risk counting my chickens before they had hatched. Needless to say my parents reaction more then made up for my seemingly calm one!

Q. How long did CURIOSITY take to be published—from the time you received an offer until it was printed?
A. It took a little over year, which was spent making many iterations and changes to the one I had originally pitched to Walker. Some of this was narrative based, to help the book and story flow better, and some of this was changing illustrations based on Stuart's Mars knowledge.  

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. Towards the end of the book there was an additional spread of the rover with no text which I really wanted to keep, but we had too many pages so the spread had to go. There was so much to cover in the book, there was nowhere else we could take pages out!

Q. What is your #1 tip to those who want to write picture books? 
A. Spend time working on your idea/story. Once you've got your foundations established, everything else will fall into place that much easier. 

Q. Do you have a favorite writing exercise or marketing tip that you can share?
A. It’s not a very original one, but always have your pen and sketchbook/paper to hand wherever you go. You can guarantee inspiration or an idea is going to come to you when you least expect, not when when you need it the most! 

Q. What are you working on now?
A. I'm currently working on a book cover for a novel by Walker Books— producing artwork for someone else's writing is a first for me, and solidifying ideas for the difficult second album, or rather picture book!

Q. Where can people find you? (Website, Twitter, Facebook, etc.)
A. I'm on Twitter (@markusmotum ), Instagram (markus_motum), and my blog can be found at www.markusillustration.blogspot.com 
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On vacation...will be back soon.

Will be back soon with new #firstpicturebook Q&As!
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THOMAS PAINE AND THE DANGEROUS WORD

After teaching American Revolution history in elementary and middle schools, Sarah Jane Marsh became intrigued with Thomas Paine—author of the pamphlet Common Sense, which rallied the American people to declare independence against England. His journey of courage, failure, and resilience inspired her to write her #firstpicturebook. In THOMAS PAINE AND THE DANGEROUS WORD, “Marsh does a fine job of mixing the personal and public elements of Paine's life; he comes across as not just a historical figure, but a fully realized fellow, with hopes and dreams, enthusiasms and disappointments.” (Booklist, starred review)

Q. Was THOMAS PAINE AND THE DANGEROUS WORD the first picture book manuscript you ever wrote? If not, what was the first picture book you wrote and what happened to it? 
A. THOMAS PAINE was my first picture book manuscript. Once I committed to writing about Paine, I spent three years researching and experimenting with different angles and voices across multiple drafts.
 
Q. What inspired THOMAS PAINE AND THE DANGEROUS WORD?
 A. I developed a fascination with the American Revolution after reading Laurie Halse Anderson’s INDEPENDENT DAMES with my kids. I became such a nut about the subject that my daughters’ 5th grade teachers invited me to teach the American Revolution to their grade.
 
Along the way I became enamored with Paine and his renegade spirit and resilient life. Before he wrote his scandalous Common Sense advocating for American independence, he sewed corsets in England.  As a teenager, he ran away to be a privateer (a government-approved pirate) and later struggled through repeated failures before discovering he had knack with words. His story inspired me to persevere with my own writing aspirations. No one had written a picture book biography on him, so I wanted to try.
 
Q. How did you pick the title of your book?
 A. Students often discover Thomas Paine and his Common Sense in a sanitized paragraph in their history textbook. We forget that Paine wrote about a dangerous subject during a dangerous time. He was counseled not to write about the subject of independence or even mention the word. Common Sense was shocking. It was explosive. And it was a game-changer. I wanted to capture those feelings in THOMAS PAINE AND THE DANGEROUS WORD.  
 
Q. Do you write by hand or on the computer?
 A. I prefer to write by hand when I’m starting out. It’s less daunting. I jot down research notes in a spiral notebook and when I’m inspired by a gem of information, I scribble my own retelling in different voices. When I have a good sense of the story, I switch to Scrivener on my computer and write lots of bad drafts, rearranging and retelling different story beats. Ultimately, I set aside about 95% of my writing as I streamline the story for young readers.
 
Q. What is your favorite part of the book? And was that part in the first draft?
 A. I love when “persuaded by words on a page,” teenage Paine runs away to be a privateer with Captain Death aboard the Terrible. It shows his courage in taking action to change his destiny. And later, he uses his own words to persuade American colonists to change their destiny by declaring independence. But also, it’s important to show kids that sometimes the results of our big moves are not what we expect. Sometimes what we say “no” to is as important as what we say “yes” to.
 
The privateering scene was in my first draft, but in more detail with twists and turns. We discussed eliminating this section because of the lengthy word count, but compromised by slimming it down. And Ed’s action-packed illustration was the cherry on top. To my delight, this is the section kids most want to talk about.
 
Q. What kind of resources did you use in your research for this nonfiction story?
A. I seeped myself in history by reading books and Paine’s own words, watching documentaries, visiting the historical sites, and tracking down primary sources online. I’m a stickler for using primary sources, so I went on some wild journeys to chase particular quotes to the original source. A particular thrill was finding the original newspaper advertisement for the Terrible in a database through my local library.
 
Q. How did you decide on the timeframe of this nonfiction story?
 A. Determining a timeframe was a real challenge. Thomas Paine led a full life stirring up trouble around the world with his opinionated writings. However, I wanted to concentrate on his role in the American Revolution. My original draft extended through the end of the war and was 3900 words. I knew I needed to cut, cut, cut!
 
My agent, Caryn Wiseman, suggested ending my manuscript at the Declaration of Independence and moving the rest to the author’s note. This is valuable advice for nonfiction writers. You can always tell more of your story in the back matter.
 
Q. Did THOMAS PAINE AND THE DANGEROUS WORD receive any rejection letters? If so, how many (ballpark)?
 A. We received about 7 rejections.  We knew my manuscript was risky because of the length -- about 2500 words. But my agent Caryn was an ardent supporter of the lengthy story and advocated for it. She found a similar spirit in Disney-Hyperion editor Rotem Moscovich who embraced Thomas and his resilient journey and dedicated 80 pages to tell his story.
 
Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on THOMAS PAINE AND THE DANGEROUS WORD.
 A. Stunned. Caryn had kept me in the loop about the many meetings in the approval process, so we were crossing fingers and toes that THOMAS PAINE would make it through. When the offer came, I felt a deep sense of relief and appreciation that Disney-Hyperion loved this story as much as I did.
 
Q. What kind of input did you have in choosing an illustrator for the book?
A. To my surprise, Disney invited me to submit a “wish list” of illustrators. I had been so focused on crafting the best possible manuscript that I hadn’t allowed myself to daydream about potential illustrators. However, I loved Edwin Fotheringham’s work so he topped my list. His book with Barbara Kerley, THOSE REBELS, JOHN & TOM, was a mentor text and all his books are rich with emotion and historical detail. I was thrilled and nervous when Disney sent my manuscript to Ed and stunned when he accepted. I cried.
 
Q. What jumped out at you when you saw the first sketches and jacket cover?
A. Well, I cried again. It was amazing to see dear Thomas Paine come alive in Ed’s unique illustrative style. I had spent three years alone with these words and Ed added more emotion and detail to elevate the story beyond my capabilities. And Disney went all out with the jacket cover. I love the bold red color and Lincoln’s sprawling quote on the back. And when you remove the jacket cover there is another bold surprise!
 
Q. How long did THOMAS PAINE AND THE DANGEROUS WORD take to be published—from the time you received an offer until it was printed?
 A. Almost three years. At 80 pages, THOMAS PAINE is not a typical picture book and was an especially large project to illustrate. I also appreciate that Disney was equally committed to getting the history right. We fact-checked with retired history professor Dr. Jett Conner and went through several rounds of fine-tuning with Disney copyeditors. So including my three years crafting the manuscript, this was a six year journey.
  
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. Always. My achilles heel as a nonfiction writer is that I want to share ALL the good stuff. It pains me to leave tidbits out, but I’m getting better about recognizing that more can be shared in the back matter and school visits. There is a scene in THOMAS PAINE that I cut for word length that I might revisit in another picture book. And one omitted detail still haunts me, which is Captain Death and his ship Terrible were scheduled to leave from Execution Dock. But I’m taking that tidbit with me on school visits to show that fact is often stranger than fiction!
 
Q. What is your #1 tip to those who want to write picture books?
 A. Study other successful picture books, especially the ones you love. Outline the story arc and analyze the different components. What angle did the author take in starting the story? How do they introduce character and motivation? Is there a climax or page-turning tension? Is there a theme and how is it revealed? How does the emotional journey change from beginning to end? You don’t have to copy what you learn, just understand the different techniques employed. Don’t be afraid to be a self-taught writer.
 
Q. Do you have a favorite writing exercise or marketing tip that you can share?
A. In the later stages of writing, I like to storyboard my books or make a picture book dummy. (Debbie Ohi has a great storyboard template here).

I quickly sketch with bad stick figures, just to get a sense of scene. Mostly I see how the text reads page to page: where the page turns might be, how the scenes change, and where I need to trim my text for pacing.
 
Q. What are you working on now?
A. My next book is MOST WANTED: JOHN HANCOCK AND SAMUEL ADAMS, a prequel to the history in THOMAS PAINE. This book will span ten years before Common Sense and feature the troublemaking partnership that landed these two men at the top of Britain’s most wanted list. I’m excited to work again with Ed Fotheringham and our team at Disney-Hyperion.
 
Q. Where can people find you? (Website, Twitter, Facebook, etc.)
A. I’m on Twitter at @MsSarahJMarsh, Facebook at @SarahJaneMarshBooks, and my website is www.sarahjanemarsh.com. Thanks for hosting me, Karlin!

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WISHING FOR A DRAGON

Becky Cameron is a graduate of the Cambridge School of Art and the illustrator of PADDINGTON & THE CHRISTMAS VISITOR. And recently her #firstpicturebook as an author/illustrator was published. Inspired by Becky’s childhood memories of playing with her sisters, WISHING FOR A DRAGON is “a delightful whimsical debut . . . with just the sort of lovely little artistic touches we love to see in picture books” (ReadItDaddy).

Q. You worked as an illustrator before WISHING FOR A DRAGON. How did you make the transition to writer/illustrator and how does it compare with being an illustrator of someone else's work?
A. I knew for a long time that I wanted to illustrate and write my own books for children, it just took me a while to figure out how! It was after some research that I decided the best way to get into children's books was to go back to university so I saved up and completed a Masters in Children's Book Illustration at Cambridge School of Art. I learnt a lot in that year and a half about the structure and pacing of books but also about the industry. 

I loved the creative freedom of writing my own narratives on the course and was over the moon that my first deal out of university was for one of my own books (Wishing for Dragon). From there it all just fell into place! I've illustrated other people's texts since and I think it's just a very different experience, I like the process and freedom of writing my own books but equally it can be a joy to help bring someone else's words to life. I think probably I'm still transitioning from illustrator to author-illustrator but I'm doing a lot more writing these days and an evening course on writing for children so hopefully there will be more to come.

Q. Was WISHING FOR A DRAGON 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 actually the third or fourth I'd written, and the least finished when my publisher picked it up. It was very rough around the edges and the illustrations very much informed the text (it was wordless to begin with- gasp!) My editor Emma helped me to restructure it and add more depth.

Q. What inspired WISHING FOR A DRAGON?
A. The imagination of me and my sisters when we were children and the endless games we played together.

Q. How did you pick the title of your book?
A. I can't count how many titles we went through for this book! Originally it was called "We're off on an Adventure" (quite a mouthful). Then for a long time we referred to it as 'adventure story' and then 'dragon book' and finally, after toying with lots of variations, my editor and I settled on WISHING FOR A DRAGON. I think it was the right choice to have the dragon in the title because he is such a central character.

Q. What is your favorite part of the book? And was that part in the first draft?
A. I think my favourite part is when they finally meet Ella's dragon. I wanted it to be clear as soon as you saw him that he wasn't a scary dragon and I think (I hope!) that comes across in the text and the image.

Q. How did you select the names for your characters? 
A. I probably used an online baby name website. I just went for names that I thought sounded nice together!

Q. Why did you decide to tell the story in first person? 
A. That is a very good question. I'd like to say it was done consciously but the truth is that was just how the story came out when I wrote it. I think because one of the children has this secret wish (to see a dragon) I wanted it to be from her perspective. I think because it was influenced by my childhood memories I probably felt like in a way I was the little girl telling the story and I was right in the action.

Q. How much of the story did you know when you began writing WISHING FOR A DRAGON? 
A. Not very much! It was rewritten so many times I don't think much from the first draft has remained in the final book!

Q. Did you write the story first, then illustrate it? Or did the images appear before the words?
A. I made the pictures first and when my publisher picked it up it was at a very early stage and wordless which I think is quite unusual. To make the text work we had to restructure and look at the text separately before redrawing the rough artwork to fit the pacing of the text. 

Nowadays the text comes to me more at the beginning of the idea process and then the pictures and text sort of develop together as one which I think is probably a better way to do it!

Q. Did WISHING FOR A DRAGON receive any rejection letters? If so, how many (ballpark)?
A. It didn't because it wasn't submitted as such. I was lucky to meet lots of publishers and agents at my graduation show and had meetings with some of them where I showed them my portfolio and dummy books. A few showed interest in Wishing for a Dragon but were perhaps a bit apprehensive as it was so unfinished. I was very grateful to Emma Layfield at Hodder for putting her trust in me.

Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on WISHING FOR A DRAGON.
A. I did a little dance around the room before composing myself and setting to work on finding an agent! I had no idea what I was doing with contracts so thankfully the publisher was happy to wait for me to find an agent before I signed on the dotted line!

Q. How long did WISHING FOR A DRAGON take to be published—from the time you received an offer until it was printed?
A. Two years. I'm still getting used to how slow this industry is!

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've squeezed all of my favourite things into this book and I don't think I've had to leave anything out.... oh, other than the text originally started with 'We're off on an adventure...' which was then repeated throughout the text which I quite liked!

Q. Did you create any book swag for WISHING FOR A DRAGON? If so, what kind?
A. No book swag but now I'm thinking maybe I should do! Plushy hot air balloons anybody?!

Q. What is your #1 tip to those who want to write picture books?
A. Don't give up! Your first, second and third ideas might all be rubbish and get rejections but keep working at it until you hit gold.

Q. Do you have a favorite writing exercise or marketing tip that you can share?
A. Keep making things for yourself. Write for yourself and draw (if that's your thing) for yourself. You never know what new ideas will spring from the little things you're making for pleasure. Even when I have a deadline looming I try to write down new ideas or sketch characters that pop into my head. They might not turn into anything or they might just be your next big story idea.

Q. What are you working on now?
A. I'm working with Hodder again on an illustration brief for an exciting book project and I've just submitted a new picture book text to publishers. I've been working on it for some time, fingers crossed it finds a publishing home because I really love it!

Q. Where can people find you? (Website, Twitter, Instagram, etc.)
A.
www.beckycameron.co.uk
@doodleyboo on twitter and instagram
Becky Cameron Illustration on facebook
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GERALDINE

Elizabeth Lilly didn’t want to be a starving artist so she went to college to be an architect. But when she became distracted by writing stories and doodling all over her floor plans, she transferred to art school. On June 26th, Roaring Brook Press will publish Elizabeth Lilly’s #firstpicturebook GERALDINE—a “funny, thoroughly accomplished debut" (Publisher's Weekly, starred review). Congrats Elizabeth! Looks like your “distraction” paid off!

Q: Was GERALDINE the first picture book manuscript you ever wrote? If not, what was the first picture book you wrote and what happened to it?
A. Yes, GERALDINE is my first picture book manuscript.
 
Q. What inspired GERALDINE?
A. I had a long, thin scrap of paper in my studio in 2013. On a whim, I drew a goofy giraffe barely fitting on the paper, craning her neck to drink out of a tiny glass with a huge, long straw. I pinned her to my studio wall and forgot about her till I needed a main character for a story assignment—she became Geraldine.
 
Q. How did you pick the title of your book?
A. The original title was LONG, LEAN GERALDINE. At the time, the whole manuscript was in rhyme, so I loved the sound of the rhyming words. I later rewrote the text to be shorter, simpler and un-rhyming, so my editor suggested the simpler GERALDINE.
 
Q. Do you write by hand or on the computer?
A. For picture books, very much by hand—as an author-illustrator, drawing is a big part of the writing process. I like the looseness of being able to change the words to go with the pictures, or vice versa. I keep my pencil ready in my hand to erase or add words or pictures as needed. It’s usually a Pentel mechanical pencil, which I like because you don’t need to stop to sharpen, and you can buy replacement erasers in bulk.
 
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 when Geraldine meets Cassie, who she finds to be just as much an outsider as herself. That part was not in the first draft because Cassie never existed in the first draft. I invented her during the Big Rewrite. In the first draft, Geraldine figures out how to be happy in her new school through a long, complicated subplot where she ruined and then fixed a school play. It took up way too much time in the book and didn’t emotionally resonate in the end. In the rewrite, I figured out that a simpler, more realistic, and maybe scarier challenge for Geraldine in this situation was just to make one single true friend. And so, Cassie was born.
 
Q. How did you select the names for your characters? 
A. I just thought Geraldine was a good, fancy name for a giraffe girl with a big, dramatic personality. Her full name is Geraldine Giraffe, and alliteration always adds a small smackerel of goofy goodness. Cassie is a nickname for Casandra; it’s never mentioned, but in my mind, Cassie is Latina, like I am, maybe in a school where there aren’t a lot of Latino kids. She goes by Cassie in an effort to blend in as much as possible.
 
Q. How did you decide between telling the story in first, second, or third person? 
A. The first draft was in third person, but a writer friend later pointed out that first person narration can add warmth and personality. I changed it to first person for the Big Rewrite and I immediately felt Geraldine’s voice flow out naturally. My friend was right!
 
Q. How much of the story did you know when you began writing GERALDINE? 
A. Almost none! It started with some silly sketches of a giraffe having trouble doing human things—standing taller than a diving board at a pool, laying over five yoga mats in a yoga class. I thought those were fun and interesting, and I was like cool! Done! A book full of funny giraffe drawings. Much later I figured out this character needed a fuller story with more emotional weight.
 
Q. Did you write the story first, then illustrate it? Or did the images appear before the words?
A. The images first—my stories often start as drawings in my sketchbook of animals or people that seem to be characters that are asking for a story. I don’t have time to write stories for every sketch, so the drawings that happen to turn out extra special and interesting (I think of them as “sparkly”), I develop further into little stories or bits of writing that may or may not go further. For Geraldine, the character popped out visually in my sketches as EXTREMELY sparkly—she and her crazy yoga-mat shenanigans begged for a story right away.
 
Q. Did GERALDINE receive any rejection letters? If so, how many (ballpark)?
A. I was really fortunate with GERALDINE—I queried mainly by email, asking for art directors, agents and editors to take a look at my work and give me short portfolio review meetings in person in New York. I was humbled and amazed to find the people I contacted were very receptive. 90% of them agreed to meet with me, I only got a few emails back saying, “we are not looking for anyone with your style right now, good luck!” I got a nibble on my first round of meetings that later led to signing my agency agreement.
 
Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on GERALDINE.
A. My biggest reaction was when I got my offer to be represented by my incredible agent, Elena Giovinazzo at Pippin Properties. Months before the offer, I very confidently gave her my GERALDINE dummy basically being like, here’s my amazing book! Where do I sign? Elena gently pointed out an agent-client agreement is best entered gradually, agreed to give me feedback on my book, and said we could work from there. I got an email from her with editorial notes—the manuscript was too long, a lot of key themes were emotionally off, and the completely rhyming text should have no rhymes. I had to throw out almost everything. But at the end of the email she encouraged me to revise and re-submit.
 
My blind confidence resurged. Great! I thought. She wants me to re-submit! What an invitation! So I thought and drew and sketched and thought for weeks, and finally sent her a newly drawn and written dummy. She sent back a polite email that said she was swamped with work and I should expect feedback within a month. The next day I got a new email from her that seemed more urgent, asking could we talk on the phone? She had something important to discuss. We finally got on the phone the next day and she told me my rewrite was one of the strongest rewrites she’d ever seen! It was nearly ready to sell as a picture book! Would I be her client? It was the best question I’d ever heard, and I was shocked and SO FREAKING HAPPY!! I called everyone I knew (very expensively, I was in Canada and paid roaming minutes) to tell them the news. I had a career!
 
Q. How long did GERALDINE take to be published—from the time you received an offer until it was printed?
A. Forever. I got my offer in January of 2015, it will be printed in June of 2018. Finally I’ll be able to point to something and say, look! THIS is the thing that made me pull 6 all-nighters in 2016! It’s real!
 
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. Just visual stuff, really. I had some simple, graphic endpapers and title-page images that I loved in the first draft of the dummy, but in order to squish in extra narrative elements in the rewrite, I had to throw them out. I still love them, maybe I can find a way to use them if GERALDINE gets a sequel…
 
Q. Have you read GERALDINE to kids? If so, which part of the book gets the best reaction?
A. Yes, I have! When Geraldine pretends to be the Queen of England and calls the other kids “dahhhhling” it always gets a good laugh. A lot of the book is more serious and thoughtful though so I hear nothing and I start sweating, hoping it’s making some impact on them and they’re not thinking about macaroni and cheese or something.
 
Q. Did you create any book swag for GERALDINE? If so, what kind?
A. I’d love to make stickers—I think they’re a crowd-pleaser. I’m also a dabbling animator so I’m aiming to make a short book trailer.
 
Q. What is your #1 tip for picture-book writers?
A. What you say is more important than how you say it. Make sure you have something meaty to say when you write, and a good reason to say it. That reason is what will keep you from giving up during the 6th and 10th and 12th rewrite! Also, when you’re stuck on what to say, sometimes it can help to imagine you are writing a book for your own 8-year-old self. What book would have helped that kid? Or delighted them?
 
Q. What are you working on now?
A. I’m starting the final art for my second author-illustrator picture book to be released from Holiday House. It’s a prose poem I wrote years ago about the different foods my Colombian Abuela and West Virginian Grandma cooked for me growing up. In my spare time I’m putting huge amounts of pressure on myself to write/draw a new character-oriented story for my third book that is delightfully sparkly and brilliant. It’s going medium-well, on good days.
 
Q. Where can people find you? (Website, Twitter, Instagram, etc.)
A. 
Website: www.elizabeth-lilly.com
 Twitter: @elizabethmlilly
 Instagram: @elizabethmlilly
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#FirstPictureBook Flashback: PENNY & JELLY

In April 2016, I interviewed Maria Gianferrari about her #firstpicturebook PENNY & JELLY: THE SCHOOL SHOW (published in 2015). So what has Maria been up to since then? The sequel to PENNY & JELLY along with six other books! To check out her #firstpicturebook Q&A, click here.

To learn more about Maria’s other books, follow these links:

Penny & Jelly books:“Craft-minded kids will particularly enjoy watching Penny at work. … A pleasure for reading aloud.”—Booklist

Officer Katz and Houdini: “An entertaining romp about rivalry and friendship."—Booklist

Hello Goodbye Dog: “Effortlessly inclusive, Gianferrari and Barton's creative Hello Goodbye Dog becomes an inviting mirror or window for any child, welcoming every reader in."—Shelf Awareness Review, starred review

Coyote Moon: “’Yip-yip-yip-yip!’ indeed, for this sympathetic portrayal of a not-often-celebrated creature who shares our world."—Kirkus Reviews, starred review

Terrific Tongues: “Perfect for a group storytime, this is a useful addition to the wonders-of-animals shelf."—Kirkus Reviews

Hawk Rising: “This captivating introduction to the red-tailed hawk concludes with more than a half-dozen facts about the common bird of prey and further reading."—Publishers Weekly, starred review

Operation Rescue Dog: Coming September 2018!
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LUNA AND THE MOON RABBIT

The Stratford-Salariya Picture Book Prize is a competition held by the Stratford-upon-Avon Literary Festival and Salariya Book Company to find a picture book by an unpublished author deserving of publication. In 2017, Camille Whitcher won and now her #firstpicturebook has been published in the U.K. and will be available in the U.S. this August. Congrats Camille!

Q. Was LUNA AND THE MOON RABBIT 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 indeed my first picture book manuscript. I never considered myself to be a writer before as I was much more focussed on illustration.

Q. What inspired LUNA AND THE MOON RABBIT?
A. I’m a big fan of folk tales, fairy tales and myths and wanted to do something based on one. I’m also a big fan of rabbits, though unfortunately I’ve never owned one. Having lived in Japan for a while, and of course having a Japanese parent, I’d known about the East Asian myth of the rabbit on the moon. I thought it was the perfect basis to create the story.

Q. How did you pick the title of your book?
A. Initially it was simply “The Moon Rabbit”. However, there were one or two other books with the same or similar titles so then it was decided that the girl’s name should appear in the title.

Q. Do you write by hand or on the computer?
A. I would have to say both. I probably start off with handwritten notes, usually on scraps of paper — I particularly seem to like used envelopes to doodle/scrawl on! I then take these scraps and type them up into chunks on the computer and start trying to make sense of them from there.

Q. What is your favorite part of the book? And was that part in the first draft?
A. I think my favourite part is the image where the two characters are lying beside the river watching the koi and it certainly was in the first draft. I had been experimenting with different media initially and found an old bottle of Quink that I’d bought years ago. I thought it’d be appropriate to use for a book set at night time. I’d found out from somewhere that it reacts to bleach well so I experimented painting koi in bleach on slightly diluted washes of Quink. I liked the outcome so made sure the koi were in the book.

Q. How did you select the names for your characters? 
A. I chose the name Luna not only because it means moon in English or Latin based languages but also because it exists in Japan as a girl’s name (spelled Runa when Romanised). It’s often written using the kanji for moon - the first character meaning moon.

Q. Why did you decide to tell the story third person? 
A. I don’t think it was a particularly conscious decision to do so. I think I naturally write in the third person unless I am specifically writing a story about me. Having said that, it’s probably obvious that the way I’ve designed Luna shows that this story is my own wish fulfillment!

Q. How much of the story did you know when you began writing LUNA AND THE MOON RABBIT? 
A. The myth that Luna and the Moon Rabbit is based on is quite well known in East Asian countries. I knew that there was a rabbit as opposed to a man on the moon and that he is seen pounding rice for mochi in the Japanese version of the myth. I didn’t know too much more than that until later on. There seem to be a couple of versions of how the rabbit ended up there. Both interesting, though I didn’t want to illustrate an existing story, I wanted to make it my own.

Q. Did you write the story first, then illustrate it? Or did the images appear before the words?
A. The images definitely came first. In fact it was almost finished before the final draft of the text was written. I think predominantly in images and the atmosphere I want to convey. I find it more difficult to convey moods with words without cringing at what I’ve written!

Q. Did LUNA AND THE MOON RABBIT receive any rejection letters? If so, how many (ballpark)?
A. To be honest before entering the book into the Stratford Literary Festival-Salariya Picture Book Prize I didn’t send it off to any other publishers as I was too afraid of rejection! I’d shown the dummy version of the book at my Graduate Degree Show and from there I had significant interest from one publisher, but after one meeting nothing came of it. I found entering the book into a competition somehow easier than sending it off to publishers.

Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on LUNA AND THE MOON RABBIT.
A. When I won the picture book prize, and as a result a contract, I was pretty stunned. That feeling took a long time to dissipate too. I kept thinking they must’ve made a mistake and it was only a matter of time before they’d call me to retract the prize!

Q. How long did LUNA AND THE MOON RABBIT take to be published—from the time you received an offer until it was printed?
A. It was a little over a year. However, to get it to the stage where I was ready to submit the dummy for the competition took much much longer!

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 wasn’t anything edited out. As for things that could’ve been added, there are probably many! But then I guess those ideas are for another story. There’s nothing that I regret not including.

Q. Have you read LUNA AND THE MOON RABBIT to kids? If so, which part of the book gets the best reaction?
A. I have read it to kids at a workshop. At the first reading, they were all so quiet and I was so nervous (!) that I didn’t really pick up on any particular reactions. However, on the second reading to them at the end of the workshop, I made it more interactive and they seemed to enjoy spying all the hidden rabbits in the images.

Q. Did you create any book swag for LUNA AND THE MOON RABBIT? If so, what kind?
A. I have had a few postcards printed up — some of which were made from previous artwork which I then redid for the book. I don’t know if it counts as ‘swag’ exactly but I also hand carved rubber stamps to use at signings. I know some illustrators like to do a little doodle when signing but I have such a fear of messing it up I thought a stamp would be better.

Q. What is your #1 tip for picture-book writers?
A. I guess what’s been invaluable to me is my picture book maker friends. I have a few very close friends that I made whilst doing my master’s in children’s book illustration and I rely on them to give me honest and constructive feedback on both my illustrations and my writing. However, the latter is much harder for me to share as I’m much less confident with it.

Q. Do you have a favorite writing exercise or marketing tip that you can share?
A. I don’t think I’m qualified to give tips on writing exactly - or even on marketing for that matter! One thing I do, as I have a terrible memory, is make sure I have access to a pen and paper, or something I can take notes on quickly. Ideas can pop up and then disappear quite quickly so I need to make a note of them. A lot of them don’t make much sense to me later but some of them do and are worth developing. It’s the same with illustrating. I don’t create beautiful instagram worthy sketchbooks. Instead, I use sketchbooks as a safe place (I hardly ever show anyone!) where I can doodle, sketch and generally dump my ideas. When my ideas start to dry up, I go back to these sketchbooks and usually find an old forgotten doodle that sparks my imagination.

Q. What are you working on now?
A. I have several ideas on the go, some more developed than others. I need to get them to a point where they’re ready to be submitted to publishers - I also need to get myself ready and confident enough to submit them!

Q. Where can people find you? (Website, Twitter, Instagram, etc.)
A.
On the internet I’m here: www.camillewhitcher.co.uk
On twitter I’m @CamilleWhitcher
On Instagram I’m @milly_of_bunston
In real life I’m either daydreaming or running!

Thank you for having me!
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The best thing I did while waiting for my book to be published

You’ve sold your #firstpicturebook—congrats!!! Now what do you do?
Patience is key in picture-book publishing. My first book took three years—from offer letter to printed books. My second picture book, the read-aloud AN EXTRAORDINARY ORDINARY MOTH, took almost two years to be published. Everyone from the illustrator to the editor to the sales department needs their time to do their thing. So what did I do in the meantime?
Find out at LiteraryHoots.
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