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True Story Blog


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

Q. Was THIS BOOK IS SPINELESS the first picture book manuscript you ever wrote? If not, what was the first picture book you wrote and what happened to it?
A. No, it wasn’t. In fact, I started my writing adventure with a chapter book series. I have three of those books finished and they are collecting dust in my computer somewhere. My first picture book I wrote is keeping my chapter book series company. Some day I might break them out, but for now I thank them for what they were … stepping stones to get me where I am today.

A. My love of breaking the fourth wall and my own personal battles with anxiety. Plus, stepping on one of my son’s picture books and feeling its spine give.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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