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. Read More