by Teresa Robeson
That may be the motto on Galaxy Quest (one of my favorite movies) but it’s also a good motto for writers and illustrators trying to get into publishing because everything takes forever in the business and you will very likely want to throw in the towel at least several times a year if not twice every hour.
I know this from personal experience. Just how long did it take to get my first book published?
Well, six years elapsed between the first draft to the release date. But, if you start from when I made the decision to be a writer, then I’d say it took me about three decades!
The year was 1990. My husband was having a blast doing his Ph.D. and I was stuck in a mind-numbingly dull job. I tried taking up creative hobbies to compensate: I developed an interest in origami...
and I signed up for a “fine arts for non-majors” class.
Both were fun, but something still felt like it was missing. I mulled this over while I was reading stacks of picture books and middle-grade novels.
What had I been doing on almost a daily basis since I learned English in third grade after immigrating from Hong Kong to Canada?
Eat good food?
Yes, that, too. But the answer was creative writing. Growing up, I wrote poetry, and jokes, and puzzles for my little sister to solve. And, in 1990, I wrote many, many letters to West Coast friends back home because I was stuck on the East Coast in that mind-numbingly dull job.
Letters were all right, but I needed more. As Isaac Asimov said, and I paraphrase, to have your writing published is the only good way to leave your legacy. So how does one become a published writer? I started reading Writer’s Digest magazine to find out and stumbled across an ad for The Institute of Children’s Literature.
Right after taking the class, I sent one piece I wrote for an assignment out to a couple of magazines, and received a call from Paula Morrow, then editor of Ladybug, asking if they could buy the story.
A sale! On my first try! I held it together long enough to finish the call and then screamed for joy.
When I made some more sales in the next few years I thought I was motoring along reasonably well in my publishing career. But then a dry spell hit. Between homeschooling my kids (my second child had special needs) and getting more rejections than acceptances, I cut back on writing. Drastically. I felt defeated and exhausted.
I tried to fill the empty feeling of not writing by doing other creative endeavors again. With kids in tow this time, I made paper (and some photography)
and dabbled in soap-making.
I also ate more good food (thanks to hubby who is as excellent a cook as he is a scientist).
But none of that satisfied the itch for something greater and more meaningful (my foodie self is incredulous, “What could be more meaningful than gastronomic delights??”). So, in 2010, I dove back in with greater determination.
I took more classes, for writing and for illustrating, and I took more chances, applying to any and all grants and opportunities that I qualified for, and joining critique groups where I had to bare my writing soul but, in return, got tons of good feedback that made my writing stronger. I still received a lot of NOs, but I also had some successes because I put myself out there.
Some of the lucky breaks include winning or placing in (runner-up, honorable mentions) a few writing contests, which boosted my confidence, signing with an agent (though she quit after we were together for just one year), and getting picked by Jane Yolen as a nonfiction mentee in the We Need Diverse Books Mentorship Program. The story Jane worked with me on caught an editor’s interest, and with that interest, I signed with my second agent who has gone on to sell another book for me.
I’m not an overnight success, that’s for sure, but there are almost no overnight success stories. But I followed a path to success that anyone can take, and here are the 4 easy steps. Hah.
1) Learn the craft of writing. If you’re writing picture books, also learn the craft of illustrating or how a picture book is put together. Read as many how-to books as you can and take courses. Some of my favorite classes are listed on the Resources page of my website.
2) Start submitting. Bylines in magazines and smaller publications are a great way to build a resume and experience. Winning writing contests (go for the free ones unless you have money to spare) can help your self-confidence and also look good in a query letter.
3) Join a community. SCBWI provides great resources and support. My first ever illustration sale was to their Bulletin (with a lovely acceptance letter from Steven Mooser). Be a part of a critique group, or three, or at least get one critique partner. Your local SCBWI chapter can help you or you can join other organizations, free and paying, that can also connect you with creative, e.g. Kidlit411, Sub It Club, and 12x12 Picture Book Challenge. These places will also help you learn more about the business side of publishing.
4) Settle in comfortably for the long haul. The old song goes, “You can’t hurry love.” Turns out, this is twice as true for the writing world. Take a break if you need to when you get too down about it, like I did, but be sure to jump back in…because getting published is a lot about “right time, right place” and you never know when that will be for you.
Follow Teresa on Twitter and Instagram!
by Stephanie Lucianovic
True to writerly form, I agonized for days and weeks over what to write for this post.
I asked my Twitter.
I asked my cats.
I asked my kids.
Inspiration did not strike.
Then today my oldest son asked permission to read my book while he ate his lunch. It’s the first book I ever wrote. And it’s about death.
Nope, not that one.
This is a book that only recently reappeared in my life when my mom sent it with a bunch of other stuff from my bedroom in Minneapolis.
I had totally forgotten that I wrote it when I took a bookmaking class at the Minneapolis Institute of Art in 1985.
I had therefore totally forgotten that I wrote a story about a murderous doll who killed everyone in the story. When I was 12.
Given my mother’s love for all things dark and creepy, it’s not all that surprising that I wrote dark and creepy story as a kid. In fact, writing a story about a killer doll that I clearly ripped off from an old Twilight Zone episode is not even close to the craziest way my childhood as an amateur author intersects with my adulthood as a professional author.
But we’ll get to that.
If you follow me on Twitter or read my cover reveal interview with Mr. Schu, you will be familiar with my banging on about how much I adore the Edward Gorey-inspired font used in The End of Something Wonderful. I bang on about that font because along with her collection of Charles Addams books, my dark and creepy mother also has every Edward Gorey book ever written.
And this is where a strange story gets even stranger, Irene Vandervoort — who designed The End of Something Wonderful and is therefore responsible for the font used in it — has NEVER MET ME.
Dun dun DUN!
It’s totally true. Irene and I haven’t ever spoken or emailed or anything. She didn’t know about my dark and creepy childhood, full of Ouija boards, seances, voodoo dolls, and Edward Gorey books, and she certainly didn’t know I authored the 1985 thriller Family Deaths of 1984 (or Neptune).
And yet somehow she knew.
I think this is the true brilliance of illustrators, art directors, and book designers. They take a text and make these amazing decisions and choices that delicately pull elements out of the story — elements that possibly even the writer didn’t know or remember were there or could be pulled out.
Take the endpapers for The End of Something Wonderful:
Reader, I literally burst into happy, hysterical tears when I saw those endpapers.
They are the endpapers I didn’t know I wanted.
They are the endpapers I didn’t know the book needed to finely highlight all that is darkly funny and yet emotionally affecting about the text and illustrations.
Those endpapers are the icing on the funereal cake.
The choice of a font or the design of endpapers are subtle, almost invisible forces that add so much to the overall feeling a reader will end up gleaning from that book. As a reader, you should look for them, notice them, think about how and why they were chosen. Because they were chosen for a reason and they were chosen to make the book even better than it was when it started out as an embryonic Word document on someone’s laptop.
So here is my advice to text-only picture book authors: if you like the way your book looks — and not just the illustrations but all of it — ask your editor for the name and social media handles of whoever designed it.
Then thank them.
Give them shout outs when you talk about the book.
Tag them when others say great things about the book so they can see it too.
Because they are working from a source a genius that I, mere word pusher, cannot comprehend and therefore stand in complete awe of.
They are also the people who will create an Edward Gorey-ish font because somehow they divined that when you were 12 years old you wrote a book about a murderous doll and that you “dedecated” that book to Edward Gorey.
Be sure to follow Stephanie on Twitter for your daily dose of humor, wisdom, and social outrage!
We are so excited to feature Marcie F. Atkins, author of Wait, Rest, Pause: Dormancy in Nature, on our interview today!
Notable19: As the Do-Re-Mi song goes, “Let’s start at the very beginning”: are you a first born/middle/family baby/only child? Do you think that has affected your creative life at all?
Marcie: I’m a first born and have lots of first born characteristics--fiercely independent, Type A, overachiever, etc. It has definitely affected my creative life. I’m always fascinated with getting work done, being efficient, and I’m not afraid to just go do something. I can also have trouble relaxing, so that is often hard on my creative life.
Notable19: You were probably every parent’s dream as a kid, what with wanting to get things done and not waiting until the last minute. So, thinking about your childhood, what is a moment from growing up that is crystal clear in your mind?
Marcie: Sitting on the steps of my very first house, not wanting to go downstairs in the dark to get something for my mom. Why? Well, because the Incredible Hulk lived in the bathroom down there.
Notable19: The Incredible Hulk?! That’s a bit of an odd fear for a little kid. Speaking of odd, growing up, what was the weirdest job you ever had?
Marcie: I shredded medical records one summer in a closet with a ginormous shredder that could have eaten my arm. It was mind-numbing. I wish podcasts had been around back then. We had walkmans and headphones, but they had cords, and I didn’t want them to be eaten up by the machine.
Notable19: The thought of being chewed up by a giant shredder probably helped keep you awake even though the job was mind-numbingly dull. Now that the shredder is no longer a threat, what keeps you from falling asleep these days, and what do you think about when that happens?
Marcie: Usually, I’m blaming myself for having too much caffeine, but I’ve often had books keep me awake at night. I had the beginning of a middle grade novel come to me late at night. I managed to write it down in the dark. It was my first novel and will likely never be published, but I did love the way it started.
Notable19: Many writers definitely think about their manuscripts while lying in bed. Besides in bed in the middle of night (LOL!), where is your favorite place to write?
Marcie: My favorite place to write is my office. You can often find me there at 5:00am, sipping green tea, and sitting on my exercise ball, trying to get the words to come. I’m very lucky to have a dedicated space.
However, I really can write just about anywhere. In the summer, I love writing on my porch. On Saturday mornings, you can often find me at a coffee shop with two friends for our mostly-weekly write-ins. I also carry a writing bag with me just about everywhere I go. With two active kids, I often find myself with 10-15 minutes to write in a parking lot somewhere.
Notable19: Those all sound like great places to write! But what happens when you get writer’s block or something? Do you have a surefire way to get past the blank page, such as writing exercises or prompts?
Marcie: Morning pages à la Julia Cameron. There was a time when I’d lost a number of people who were dear to me. I struggled to write at all. I stared at my computer every morning and nothing. I decided to do morning pages and not worry if I got anything else done. Looking back on it, I realize that’s how handled my grief, though I couldn’t name it at the time. Now, when I’m stuck, I realize that doing morning pages can help me process some of what I’m trying to figure out.
Notable19: Besides having writer’s block, what is hardest for you about writing? Easiest?
Marcie: Getting words down on the page is the hardest for me. I subscribe to the mantra, “Get it down, then fix it up,” but that doesn’t mean getting it down is easy. The easiest thing is getting excited about new ideas.
Notable19: When you’re not writing, or if it’s just a blah, rainy sort of day, what do you like to do?
Marcie: I love sitting on my front porch with a good book.
Notable19: Of course! Any author worth her salt is always reading. Stepping beyond your front porch, if you could travel anywhere, where would you go?
Marcie: I’d likely go back to Thailand, where I grew up.
Notable19: How very cool that you grew up in Thailand! We can probably guess what your answer might be to the next question, then: what is a food you couldn’t live without?
Marcie: Thai food. I live in a place that has lots and lots of Thai restaurants. One of my friends from boarding school in Malaysia lives about 20 minutes away from me now (it’s a small world…), we try out a new Thai restaurant each time we go out. There seems to be an endless supply, but we have our favorites. I’m especially fond of Thai street food, most especially Khao Soy, a Northern Thai dish.
Notable19: Maybe you need to create a blog reviewing and recommending Thai restaurants you’ve been to! One last fun one to finish up: what’s the most well known book you’ve never read?
Marcie: I’m pretty sure I’ve never read any Jane Austen books. But I did read my way around the library as a kid. With no TV, I read a book a day during my elementary and middle school years.
Notable19: We bet you still do read your way around every library you live near. Thanks for sharing with our readers a bit about yourself today! Bet you got most of us hungry for Thai food now.
Follow Marcie on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. Also check out our Books page to see where you can preorder Wait, Rest, Pause: Dormancy in Nature!
by Hannah Stark
Have you ever considered creating an educator’s guide or activity to go along with your book? There are so many audiences to consider; teachers, librarians, homeschoolers, parents, caregivers, and kids and there are so many possibilities when it comes to what you might make!
For the last fifteen years I’ve been teaching elementary school. I’ve received tons of educator guides to go with books and often search online for activities to supplement a lesson or text. While some publishing houses create educator guides or coloring pages, I’ve noticed some authors and illustrators also create their own. These are posted on professional websites, handed out at school events, distributed at book events, or emailed with newsletters. This post aims to help authors and illustrators come up with ideas to best supplement their book.
The Fun Stuff
Some of the easiest things you can create are printables that are purely for fun. These include mazes, unscramble the word puzzles, word searches, coloring pages, and simple games. I think of these as universal activities because everyone pretty much knows what to do when they see them. While they don’t serve that much educational purpose, they do work our brains in different ways. Here is a simple set of cards I made for a game of memory. Adults just need to print them and kids can help cut them out. Teachers like print and use activities. If there is too much prep work they might steer clear but a game like memory can become an easy classroom center after reading a book aloud.
Arts and Crafts
As an educator and a mom, my Pinterest feed is stock full of “craftivities.” Craftivities are art-based activities that tend to be SUPER cute. These hands on projects can do great things for book promotion, especially with eye-catching photos on Pinterest or Instagram. Educators like to put art projects up on bulletin boards and homeschoolers are always looking for hands on projects to break up the day.
Craftivities can be super simple like making a mask or a puppet of a character from your book. They might be a simple origami activity or what teachers call “foldables.” An example of this might be a fortune-teller. Consider projects that include reuse of materials to keep supply costs down. To create a craftivity you just need to supply directions and some photos of the process or product.
Creating supplements that can be used for deeper thinking about your book can feel daunting! Am I being developmentally appropriate? What grade level teaches this content? Is this how teachers would do it? My first piece of advice would be to talk to teachers that work with the age group your book is aimed towards. Get a sense of what kids can handle academically. Ask a teacher to help you develop an idea or ask for feedback about how to word things more clearly. Teachers are helpers and we love to share our knowledge.
It is also helpful to think about what subject(s) you’d like to create for. Maybe you can tie in some math or a science experiment? It is helpful to take a look at the Common Core Standards for you’re the grade level of your readers. While not all states follow the Common Core, they can give a sense of what is generally expected for kids at a certain age. For example, Kindergarteners are expected to be able to count by tens. This is a page I made using my main character Trucker that aligns with this standard.
There are also many ways to integrate literacy skills. You might create a list of discussion questions. Since my story is for ages 3-6 I created a list of questions to prompt discussion on my website. These include images of trucks and trains from a Pinterest board and it is intended to help develop a young child’s verbal skills.
In the classroom, the list of discussion questions below can monitor comprehension and develop key skills for young learners. This includes sequencing events, cause and effect, character and setting, problem and solution, and message. These are all foundational skills in the Kindergarten to Grade 4 classrooms.
One other idea is to write a paired text to go with your book. Paired texts are generally thought of as fiction and non-fiction texts that can be somehow paired because they connect around a topic. I could write an informational piece about trucks or trains or junctions to go with my book. This provides educators with another way to engage your book in the classroom. For a Kindergarten class doing a unit on transportation, these resources support curriculum, save educators some time and energy looking for another resource, and help develop students as narrative and informative readers.
I hope this post has helped my fellow authors and illustrators become inspired to create resources to supplement their books. If you’d like to see more of the printables I’ve created for TRUCKER AND TRAIN please visit my webpage https://www.hannahcarinastark.com/ .
We are JUST SO delighted to showcase Notable19 member Sara Shacter, author of JUST SO WILLOW!
Notable 19s: From the cover, Willow looks to be the cutest polar bear...friendly enough to be a pet, which leads us to ask: did you have a pet growing up, and has it made its way into any of your stories?
Sara: My only pet was a goldfish named Marilyn, after Marilyn Monroe. The name was my mom’s idea – Marilyn Monroe had very expressive lips, and my mom likened them to a fish’s mouth opening and closing. I know. A bit of a stretch.
Sadly, Marilyn was rather mean-spirited. When I bought her a friend, she ate it. Yet what she lacked in manners, she made up for in fortitude. I was a terrible pet owner. I wouldn’t clean her tank until the water became somewhat opaque. Occasionally I forgot to feed her. But she lived for 13 years.
Marilyn has not appeared in any of my stories, but (spoiler alert…) I thought of her while reading Ryan T. Higgins’ We Don’t Eat Our Classmates. That book is hilarious.
Notable19s: Cannibal fish and being eaten by classmates sound like the stuff of nightmares and would make a person have trouble falling asleep. LOL! What do you think about when you have trouble falling asleep?
Sara: For better or for worse, I often think about my Work In Progress. The peace and quiet lets me ponder plot points and turn phrases in my head. On the upside, I often get inspired and scribble deep thoughts on the notepad that resides on my nightstand. On the downside, I get so involved in my thoughts that I don’t fall asleep! Bit of a vicious cycle.
Notable19s: Warm milk might help with falling asleep; sadly, the tryptophan in turkey does not help with sleep. Now that we’ve got everyone hungry, what is a food you could not live without?
Sara: Bread. Warm, crusty bread with buttery deliciousness melting on top. My husband calls me “Gluten Girl.” I’d make a good medieval prisoner at the top of a crumbling castle tower, eating nothing but bread and water. But it would have to be high-quality bread. No mass marketed white bread for me.
Notable19s: Now that we know what your favorite food is, how about your favorite TV show as a kid?
Sara: I didn’t really have a favorite, but I watched a ridiculous amount of The Brady Bunch. (This may reveal my approximate age…) I logged so many hours that my mom could be in different room, hear the introductory lines of dialogue, and yell, “Isn’t this the one where Marcia gets hit in the nose with a football?” I should really apologize to my mom.
Notable19s: Too funny! One final question for you, so we will ask about the craft. What is the hardest for you about writing? The easiest?
I’m not sure the words “hardest” and “easiest” really apply. When an aspect of craft is difficult, it’s also challenging and exciting. When an aspect of craft seems “easy,” I think it’s more a matter of it feeling joyful than actually being “easy.”
That said, what I struggle with most is the blank page. There are SO many ways to tell a story! I’m a tad type-A, so it can feel overwhelming to seek the “right” beginning. I try to remind myself that none of my words are etched into anyone’s soul. Revision is good! In fact, that is what I enjoy most – revising. Shaping a draft until it sings is incredibly gratifying.
Notable19s: There certainly are many ways to tell a story, and we’re so glad you told yours!
Please be sure to follow Sara on Twitter or Facebook and visit her website for updates and be the first to find out when JUST SO WILLOW is available for preorder!
By Brooke Boynton-Hughes
You sold your picture book manuscript! Huzzah! And now it will become a BOOK! With illustrations! But, will the illustrator capture your vision? Will they draw your characters just as you hoped they would? And what's taking so long, anyway?!
My author/illustrator debut, BRAVE MOLLY (Chronicle), came out earlier this year, and while it is the first book that I've authored, it's the 9th book (out of 10) that I've illustrated. I've heard from author friends that they can sometimes feel a bit in the dark about what exactly is going on with their manuscript once it has been picked up by an editor.
While I can't speak to what exactly is happening on the publisher's end, I'm hoping I can shed a little light on what's happening on the illustrator side of things while you're waiting for months, or years, for your manuscript to become a real-life illustrated book.
While I'm sure my process shares similarities with other illustrators, every illustrator has their own way of working. Please take what follows with a grain of salt.
Step 1: To Illustrate, or Not to Illustrate!
My agent sends me an email with the good news that an editor has a manuscript that they'd like me to illustrate. Occasionally an editor or art director will ask an illustrator to do a sample illustration before officially offering the illustrator the job, sort of like an actor auditioning for a part.
If I'm excited enough about the story to want to spend at least a year of my life with it, then I usually say, "Yes!" Sometimes an illustrator just doesn't connect with a story, although, there are a lot of reasons why an illustrator might pass on a manuscript: scheduling conflicts, already juggling too many projects, stuff going in their personal life, etc. etc.
Step 2: Hello, Publishing Folks!
Before starting a book, I talk with the editor and/or art director about the vision for the book. Sometimes this conversation is short and sweet and sometimes it’s more involved and covers things like color palette, age and gender of characters, or any other number of things that might be relevant to the story. At the very least, technicalities like trim size and page count are discussed at this stage.
Step 3: The Layout!
I start each book by creating thumbnail layouts. Thumbnail layouts are small, rough sketches of every spread in the book. Creating tiny, rough layouts helps get me thinking about what I want to convey without getting too caught up with the details.
At this stage, I'm thinking about how the illustrations can add to the story without just restating visually what the text says with words. I'm also thinking about how the visual pacing of the story works with the pacing of the plot and trying to decide which moments of the story should be double page spreads, single spreads, or vignettes.
Sometimes an editor has already paginated the text, and sometimes I work out the pagination. It depends on the editor and on the story.
Step 4: More Layouts!
Once I have a rough thumbnail layout that I like, I re-draw it more clearly and at a larger size. The new, cleaner sketches give a good sense of the composition of each spread and of the visual storytelling that's taking place throughout the book.
Step 5: Character sketches!
It usually takes a while to figure out what a character looks like, which for me starts by drawing lots of heads. I have pages and pages of drawings of just heads (I'm pretty sure this isn't normal…? But it works for me).
None of the picture book manuscripts I've illustrated contained any indication of what the characters looked like (other than age), which left lots of room for me to play and explore. Once I feel I have the characters figured out, I'll re-draw them side by side and do a digital color study in Photoshop. (In reality, I'm often going back and forth between working on the character sketches and the layout).
Step 6: Waiting!
This is when I email everything to the art director and wait. Sometimes the wait can be a week or two, and sometimes it can be a few months. The process of illustrating a picture book is collaborative and each party needs time to do their part of the job. This is usually when I catch up on personal projects, or if I'm juggling more than one book at a time, I'll switch over to the other project.
Step 7: Notes!
The editor and/or art director will send notes on the layout and character sketches. I make revisions based on their feedback and email them the new version. Rinse and repeat.
Step 8: Full-size Drawings! (My favorite step!)
Once the editor and art director have approved the layout and the character design, I start on full-size drawings. I work directly on my final watercolor paper. (Some illustrators do their full-size sketches on tracing paper and then transfer the drawing to their final support. Also, I want to mention again that every illustrator’s process is different. This is just how I do things.)
Step 9: More waiting!
I scan the finished drawings, email them to the art director, and wait for feedback. I think this is usually when the editor or art director will send the images to the author for review (but don't quote me on that).
Step 10: More Notes! More revisions!
Since I’ve worked out most of the bigger visual problems in the layout stage, there usually aren't too many revisions at this stage. But sometimes, for one reason or another, things need to be adjusted and there might be a lot of back and forth: revise something, re-send it to the art director, wait for notes, revise it again, etc.
Step 11: Stuff happens!
Twice while in the midst of illustrating picture books (and both times with the same, very patient publisher) I had to have surgery rather unexpectedly, which meant that the books had to be pushed back a few months. If your book is pushed back a list, it might be that the illustrator has to deal with life stuff. (Or it might just be because your illustrator is slow. Sometimes we can be slow.)
Step 12: Final Art!
Once I've received approval on the full size pencil drawings, I ink all of the line work and then paint all of the images one by one. Instead of painting the illustrations in order from beginning to end, I jump around so that if the way I paint changes slightly as I go, the progression won't be noticeable. I also jump around so that I can tackle the more complicated images at the beginning when I'm feeling fresh and save the more straightforward images for the end when I'm often battling drawing-hand fatigue.
Step 13: Fingers Crossed!
I scan the final images, email them off, and hope that I get the go-ahead to send the original art via snail mail. Sometimes changes need to be made, and since I work with traditional media (instead of working digitally), this sometimes means that I have to re-do an illustration completely. Sometimes I'll repaint just a small section of an image and ask the art director to Photoshop it into the rest of the illustration.
Step 14: Proofs!
Once the publisher has my finished art, they make scans of the images and the art director lays in all of the text and works their art director magic. Then the publisher has proofs made which they send to the illustrator for approval (I think they usually send proofs to the author, too). Sometimes colors need to be adjusted, or errors are caught and fixed.
Step 15: We made a book! Together!
Once everyone approves the proofs, the book is off to the printer! Hooray!
I imagine that it would be incredibly nerve-wracking to hand your manuscript over to an illustrator who may not envision things the same way you do. But, just as an author wouldn't want someone standing over their shoulder telling them which words to use where, an illustrator wouldn't want someone telling them exactly how something should look. An illustrator's job is not to re-create exactly what the author has envisioned, but rather, to bring their own, unique vision and voice to a story.
So be patient and trust that the illustrator of your picture book loves your manuscript just as much as you do and is doing everything they can to help bring your story to life. And together we’ll make a beautiful book!
by Cathy Ballou Mealey
Whoops, I misunderstood! I thought my assignment was to write post-LUNCH tips for debut picture book writers, illustrators and creators. Nonetheless, let’s see what can be salvaged from this post. In no particular order:
1. Thank your companions. Whether you lunched or launched, thank those who joined you for the event, especially the parents and caretakers who brought their little ones with strollers and diaper bags in tow. Hand out bookmarks or coloring pages and thank them for being great listeners. I’m sending a special shout-out to two critique partners, Carrie and Hayley, who surprised me at my library while I was reading WHEN A TREE GROWS for toddler storytime.
2. Tip your server. If you lunched, please tip your waitperson with cash, currency, money or moola! If you launched, consider thanking the store manager, librarian, teacher or event organizer with a special item. I’ve donated copies of my book, mailed small swag gifts, delivered snacks and sent handwritten notes on book-themed stationery. Surely an illustrator’s sketch would also be a very special, one-of-a-kind thank you.
3. Write a review. If you lunched, post your praise on Open Table or Yelp! If you launched, share an event tip or special highlight on social media. Promote an upcoming event at the venue that might interest other authors or fellow book lovers.
4. And finally…My last tip is not lunch-related, but is helpful pre and post launch. Double check your links and social media profiles to make sure they are current and correct. Update your blog or SCBWI profile so your book info says “Now Available” instead of “Preorder Here.” Does Goodreads have your current book cover in view? Make sure your WorldCat, NetGalley or Edelweiss+ entry is up-to-date and accurate. Check outside links maintained by your publisher, literary agency, professional organizations, etc. to make sure your book information is just a click away.
Now take a deep breath, a nap, a stroll outdoors, whatever helps you to recharge your creative drive in your new post-lunch, post-launch life! Because someone has surely asked “What are you working on next?"
When A Tree Grows
Written by Cathy Ballou Mealey
Illustrated by Kasia Nowowiejska
Sterling Children’s Books, April 2, 2019
Fiction, ages 3-7
WHEN A TREE GROWS is a rollicking read-aloud that follows a zany chain of events triggered by a broken tree, a cranky Bear, a nut-loving Squirrel and his loyal friend Moose.
Cathy Ballou Mealey lives with her family north of Boston, where she delights in watching silly squirrel antics and is waiting patiently for a moose to appear. Her favorite nut is the hazelnut and her favorite cupcake is cardamom crème.
A little bird (maybe a Ruby-crowned Kinglet?) told us that today is the birthday of Notable19 author Teresa Robeson, the subject of this blog post! It also happens to be the book birthday of Notable19 member Jessica Lanan…THE FISHERMAN AND THE WHALE is one beautiful baby! Maybe Teresa was a beautiful baby, too?
Teresa: Not as beautiful as Jess’s book, I'm sure. You be the judge…
Notable19: Let’s say you and Jessica’s book are beautiful in different ways. LOL! You’re smiling like you’re amused by something in the photo.
Teresa: I might have been watching TV. I’m somewhat embarrassed to say I watched a lot of TV growing up.
Notable 19: Really? What was your favorite TV show as a kid?
Teresa: I don’t know that I had a favorite show. In Hong Kong, I loved a couple of series imported from Japan. One involved a moon-fairy who was banished to Earth to do a certain number of good deeds before she would be allowed back to the moon. Another was about a competitive swimmer who could execute a kick at the turn that launched her out of the water so she could reach the finish faster than her competitors. The third show I adored was Star Trek. It was syndicated in Hong Kong in 1968 and I just loved Spock with all the passion of a 4 year old. I think it was the ears…or maybe the bowl haircut that most kids endured at one time or another. Heh.
Teresa: After we moved to Vancouver, my favorite shows were Six Million Dollar Man, Twilight Zone, Bionic Woman, and Wonder Woman. As you can tell, I have always been drawn to science fiction and fantasy.
Notable19: It’s surprising that your first book wasn’t SFF.
Teresa: Well, I have SFF stories in the anthologies published by the Minnows Literary Group. All the money earned from the anthologies is donated to Doctors Without Borders.
Notable19: That is a terrific charity to support! Let’s stick with your childhood for another question. What is a moment in your youth that is crystal clear in your mind?
Teresa: Hmmm, shall I talk about a traumatic moment or non-traumatic? I’ll go with the latter. I will never forget watching the stray alley cat that adopted us give birth inside a blanket-lined box that we used to put out for her. Newborn kitties are just the cutest things…the mother cat eating the placenta, not so much.
Notable19: Ah, the miracle of birth! Did that make you want to be a veterinarian? And, relatedly, what’s the weirdest job you ever had?
Teresa: That didn’t make me want to become a vet; it did, however, make me want to become a crazy cat lady. Funny enough, the weirdest job I had was almost vet-like. I had to perform gonadectomies on rodents in hormones studies for a biopsychology professor. I made some good friends in that job though, including the admin assistant of the psyc department who gave me a well-paying summer job the next year that helped me save up enough to take a one-month vacation in Europe after college graduation!
Notable19: That was serendipitous. And speaking of vacations, if you could travel anywhere now, where would you go?
Teresa: If there choices were not confined to Earth, I would love to travel to Titan, the largest moon of Saturn. If confined to Earth, it would be a toss-up between the Galapagos or back to Hong Kong, especially for Chinese New Year.
Notable19: Those are very disparate choices. Sounds like Chinese New Year is a special holiday for you, but if you could invent a holiday what would it be?
Teresa: If I were the Queen of the 'Verse (Firefly reference for those of you not in the know), I would create a “Sleep For 24-Hours” holiday where you can catch up on REM and deep sleep without the guilt. Seems like most people are sleep-deprived these days and it would really be a perfect holiday. Family gatherings, setting off fireworks, and picnics are overrated.
Notable19s: You may be on to something there. We hope you can run the universe one day so we can all catch up on our sleep. Thank you for sharing your quirky experiences and thoughts with us!
Teresa says that if you're not scared off by her odd jobs and odder sense of humor, you can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. Pre-order her book on our Book page or at your favorite local independent bookstore.
Here’s the start of something wonderful: our interview of Notable19 member Stephanie Lucianovic, the author of THE END OF SOMETHING WONDERFUL!
Notable19: Let’s open with a question as oddly fun as your book, Stephanie. If you were a new color in the crayon box, what color would you be?
Stephanie: Oh, man — I honestly don’t think I can come up with a new color unless it was something like Anxious Amber, Impatient Indigo, or Worried Wisteria. Okay, but I will say, this, though — if I was an old color in the crayon box I’d be ochre. Not because of the color itself — which I believe is kind of a brownish gold? — but because when I was a kid I did not know how to pronounce it. I thought it was “o-chur” or “o-kree.”
Then, years later, when I learned how it was actually pronounced, I remember being so gobsmacked by how mysterious words could be and how crazy it was that your original perception could be so entirely different from the reality under all the layers. Now as a writer, whose lifelong love of words might have started with my mispronunciation of that crayon color, I know that digging for the layered truth is how you get and tell the best stories.
Notable19: It is fascinating how our perception of things and people can be so off-base…like we tend to think established authors have it all together and are fonts of wisdom when many are trying to find their way, too, like the rest of us newbies. Speaking of other writers, if you could swap places with another author for one day, who would it be and why?
Stephanie: Ame Dyckman, hand’s down. She has the wackiest, funniest, most engaging flights of fancy on Twitter, all of which clearly show how her brain works when she writes her books. I yearn to be that funny and free with a brain open wide to whatever kookiness creeps in and no slamming doors of negative self-editing.
Notable19: Ame is truly one of the funniest people in writer-land! She makes even the most stoic people laugh. And we all love a good laugh. Sometimes, though, we love a good cry, too. What is the first book that made you cry?
Stephanie: Okay, this is a great question because I loved to cry over books as a kid. Like, I truly reveled in that emotional release, and I think the first book that gave it to me was Beverly Cleary’s SOCKS. I vividly remember getting the book from Griffen Bay Bookstore in Friday Harbor, WA where my grandparents lived and reading it on our vacation. I was a huge cat lover as a kid (still am) and being away from home meant worrying and missing our cats at home in Minneapolis every single day. When I read SOCKS I could not get over how awful I thought the family was to their beloved kitty when a new baby came along. I just sobbed over their “cruel” treatment of him and I knew that if SOCKS had been my cat I would NEVER treat him like that.
The funny thing is, I reread that book a lot as a kid but I have not been able to bring myself to reread it as an adult. Ever since I had my own kids, I cry a lot more easily and I’m too chicken to relieve the trauma.
Notable19: It must be just as hard to write a sad book as it is to read one. But what is hardest for you about writing in general? And the easiest?
Hardest: waiting for something to happen when my writing is out there in the world.
Easiest: procrastination. Just in the time it took for me to complete this interview, I have cleaned my entire house, gone onto Twitter and had 1,821 fights and 503 random musings, eaten several meals, and an invented a fish language that includes a plethora of diphthongs and monophthongs.
Notable19: LOL! Ame Dyckman might have competition in the funny author category. Finally, one last question before you get back to your fights on Twitter: where is your favorite place to write?
Stephanie: I mean, it’s my only place to write, but: my bed. I live with my family of two kids, one husband, and two cats in the Bay Area and we rent. We don’t have enough rooms for me to have an office, and I certainly don’t have a covetable writer’s shed filled with books, tasseled pillows, steaming cups of tea, and hand-sharpened pencils out back. So my office, my writer’s space, is my bed.
It’s where I sat crosslegged and wrote 70,000 words for my first (non-kids) book, Suffering Succotash: A Picky Eater’s Quest to Understand Why We Hate the Foods We Hate (Tarcher Perigee, 2012) and it’s where I have written all my picture books, including The End of Something Wonderful (Sterling Children’s, 2019) and Hello, Star (Little Brown, 2021).
To be quite honest, even if we hit the lottery and bought a house with an office for me and a bespoke shed set out in some woodsy back acreage, I’d probably still be writing on my bed. Just like I did when I was a kid.
Notable19: That sounds very cozy, really. Who needs a fancy desk and office when you can have a comfy bed to write in? It was delightful learning more about you, Stephanie, and we look forward to reading both of your upcoming books!
To see where you can preorder THE END OF SOMETHING WONDERFUL, please visit our Books page. Also be sure to follow Stephanie on Twitter where you can watch her verbal-boxing matches!
We’re not afraid to say how absolutely delighted we are to feature Brooke Boynton-Hughes today! BRAVE MOLLY is her debut book as both author and illustrator, and that is pretty…brave, don’t you think? ;)
So, the $64,000 question, Brooke: where did the idea for BRAVE MOLLY come from?
Brooke: The seed of the idea for BRAVE MOLLY came to me while I was attending the SCBWI Summer Conference in Los Angeles. SCBWI conferences are full of inspiration, learning, and friendship, but they can also be overwhelming and tend to exacerbate my social anxiety.
While taking notes in my sketchbook (which for me consists mostly of doodling) during the 2013 conference, I drew a girl walking along, looking a bit discouraged, which was really just a visual marker of how I felt at the time. I imagined that the girl was being followed by a monster who was the embodiment of her feelings about herself and I wondered what happened next.
After five years, LOTS of different drafts, several rejections, and many revisions, BRAVE MOLLY grew from a doodle born of frustration into a 48-page picture book about bravery.
Notable19: Love how the book was born of sketches you did at the conference! When not at a posh hotel in L.A., where do you like to write and draw?
Brooke: Where I work depends on where I am in the process of creating a story. If I’m working on final illustrations or polishing a final draft I work in my studio (which is a smallish, coldish room in the basement of my house). If I’m at the very beginning stages of working out a story idea, which usually involves lots of scribbling of notes and quick, loose sketches, I like to work at a coffee shop. I guess getting out of my house gives my brain more room to feel out a story. Although, as a mom to two toddlers I mostly just have to work in little snippets wherever and whenever I can.
Notable19: It is so hard to work around little ones. On the other hand, they can give you ideas for stories, as can your own childhood memories. What is a moment from your childhood that is crystal clear?
Brooke: When I was a kid, my mom was a swim teacher. She got me to put my face in the water by telling me that if I looked at the bottom of the pool, I might be able to spot the friendly sea creatures that lived there, in particular, a purple octopus named Ollie.
One winter when I was around three, my family was driving home from somewhere or other when my parents decided to stop at the park where people were ice skating on the frozen pond. We didn’t have skates, but we had on our snow boots, and we slid around on the ice and watched people skating.
My older brother, Christopher (who would have been 7 or 8), and I wandered to one end of the pond where we discovered that a large section of ice had broken away, exposing the murky water beneath. Chris and I stood at the edge of the opening and looked into the dark water.
With a bit of a dare in his voice, Chris said, “I bet I can dive in there.” Without hesitation I replied, “No, I can!” and I flung myself into the icy water. I was mid-air when I realized my error (mostly because my brother called out a panicked "NOOO!" which seemed to come at me in slow motion). I splashed into the water and for a moment I mostly just felt a bit embarrassed (I was a good swimmer and wasn’t afraid of the water). However, I quickly realized that if sea creatures lived on the bottom of the pool, they must also live on the bottom of the pond. And while the creatures that lived in the clear, blue water of the pool were friendly, the creatures that lived in the murky, frigid water of the pond may not be. I felt certain that octopus tentacles were winding their way up through the water towards my ankles and I started to panic and cry.
My dad ran/slid over and pulled me out. My parents took off my wet clothes, wrapped me in a blanket and took me home. A few years ago I created a portfolio piece inspired by that memory. (Also, for years my anxiety dreams have involved floating in dark water while surrounded by malicious creatures hiding in the murk).
Notable19: Yikes! That is both horrific and hilarious at the same time. It was really brave of you to just dive right in. Is that how Molly is, too? How is the main character of your book like you?
Brooke: Molly is an introvert and so am I. Molly’s experience of being followed by unrelenting, multiplying monsters is directly based on my frustration with my own shyness, social anxiety, and self-doubt. Hopefully, the moments of the story in which Molly is brave will serve as a buoy for readers who can relate to Molly’s struggle.
Notable19: Oh, most people can probably relate to Molly’s struggle. Some people find the strength deep inside, but others might have to go farther to find their courage. Speaking of going far, if you could travel anywhere, where would you go?
There are so many places I'd like to travel to! I'd love to thru-hike the Pacific Crest Trail. I'd like to go to Norway and see where my ancestors are from. It would be amazing to go to the Lake District in England and see where Beatrix Potter lived and worked. I've wanted to visit Mongolia for many years. In 2015 my husband and I spent most of the year traveling around the U.S. in an RV. We hope to do the same thing in Australia someday. There are too many amazing places to choose just one!
Notable19: That is for sure. Traveling is so great for many reasons…though you might want to avoid the ocean voyages that sail over the murky depths with tentacle critters lurking beneath…LOL! It was such fun getting to know more about you, Brooke!
Be sure to follow Brooke on Instagram and Twitter and check out our Books page to see where you can preorder BRAVE MOLLY!
We are a group of writers and illustrators who have debut books (actual debuts , debuts as author-illustrators, or debuts with medium/large publishers) forthcoming in 2019. Thank you for joining us on our exciting journey!