Author Interviews: Kate Dopirak; Cindy Sommer.
Kate Dopirak is the author of You’re My Boo and Snuggle Bunny (A StoryPlay Book). Read her interview here:
Kate Dopirak: My sons inspire most of what I write. My nieces, nephews, and neighbors get in on the action sometimes, too. I watch them do something or hear them say something and – BOOM! – a story idea starts.
PBP: Can you recommend a source of ideas for picture book writers?
KD: Reading, writing, living – especially paying attention . . . are all good sources of ideas for picture book writers. I’ve been inspired recently by Show Me a Story! Why Picture Books Matter and Ideas Are All Around:
PBP: Do you have an agent? Do you recommend picture book writers get an agent? Why or why not?
KD: I am represented by Adams Literary. I like having an agent because I like being a ‘we’, a team. There’s something validating (and comforting) about a professional believing in my work enough to put her name on it, too. I also think I get faster, more thorough responses from editors because my manuscripts are submitted by my agent. And when questions come up, I love being able to ask for her advice. Oh, and I’ve made some talented, inspiring friends and critique partners simply because we share the agency bond. So, yes – I definitely recommend having an agent.
PBP: What was your path to publishing like? How long did it take? Care to say how many rejections you received?
KD: I taught elementary school, where one of my favorite things to do was read to my students after recess. I fell in love with children’s literature! Once I had my sons, I couldn’t resist the desire to write for them.
I wrote a draft of You’re My Boo when my youngest son was a baby. We celebrated his 9th birthday the same month Simon & Schuster published it. I know that seems like a loooong time, and it is. But a lot happened in those years: I joined SCBWI; I became part of a writing group; I attended writing workshops and conferences; I signed with Adams Literary; and I kept writing and writing and writing.
My Very First Offer: AKA a normal Thursday, until it wasn’t. I was cooking dinner. My agent called with Beach Lane’s offer for You’re My Boo. I was no longer capable of cooking dinner. I was a wreck! A wild, wonderful wreck.
I got rejected 144 times before Highlights High Five purchased my poem, Bathtub Soup.
PBP: How did you feel when you learned your first (and/or even your second) manuscript was accepted for publication?
KD: Oh, I was extremely professional. For about two seconds. Then the tears started. Followed by ugly crying.
PBP: Are there any books on writing that helped you that you would recommend to your fellow picture book writers?
KD: Oh, yes! Here are four of my favorites: 1. Children’s Writers & Illustrators Market 2017 by Chuck Sambuchino, 2. Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott, 3. On Writing: 10th Anniversary Edition. A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King, 4. Writing Picture Books by Ann Whitford Paul.
PBP: Are there any online resources that helped you that you would recommend to your fellow picture book writers?
KD: I can’t beg you enough to join The Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. You’ll need and love everything SCBWI. Please promise you’ll click on their ‘Resource Library’ to find ‘TheBook: Essential Guide to Publishing for Children’ (for members). I also love Kidlit411, Inkygirl: Guide for KidLit/YA Writers & Artists, Tara Lazar: Children’s Books & Writing, and Picture Book Builders.
PBP: How are you promoting your picture books?
KD: I’ve offered giveaways on Goodreads and blogs. I wrote a handwritten note to any local store where I could imagine my books being sold, letting the owner know about You’re My Boo, Snuggle Bunny, and me. I reached out to my local libraries and schools so they could help spread the word, too. I’m participating in as many events as possible. I’ve found it most successful to jump in on something that already exists. For example, a local farm offers a preschool story time every Monday morning. The audience is not coming specifically for me, but they seem to enjoy when I’m there, and they buy my books. I feel like it’s a great situation for everyone involved. When I’ve done ‘Kate Dopirak’ events, they are not nearly as well attended, so I don’t waste time on those anymore.
PBP: Do you have any other recommendations, suggestions, and/or words from your own experience for prepublished picture book writers?
KD: Yes! Surround yourself with good people. I’m lucky to have a group of writing friends and critique partners who are super supportive but also 100% honest with feedback. They make me a better writer and a better person.
PBP: Your second picture book, Snuggle Bunny, is a “Story Play” book published by Scholastic. How did you come up with your concept for that, or did Scholastic request you write something with this concept?
KD: Here’s the scoop on Scholastic’s StoryPlay Line: https://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/childrens/childrens-book-news/article/72155-scholastic-rolls-out-storyplay-line.html. My agent submitted Snuggle Bunny as a picture book. Scholastic asked us if it could be the one all-new title in the inaugural StoryPlay list. Of course we said, “YES!!!”
PBP: Is there something you know now you wish you had known before having your PBs published?
KD: Well . . . yes. There is no easy. Writing is hard. Rejection is hard. Marketing and promoting are hard. But loving a picture like these two snuggle bunnies reading Snuggle Bunny is easy, which justifies all the hardness.
Cindy Sommer is the author of Saving Kate’s Flowers. Read her interview here:
Cindy Sommer, author of Saving Kate’s Flowers, which won the Crystal Kite Award for the New York region, shares helpful tips for picture book writers.
Picture Book Planet: How did you get your idea for Saving Kate’s Flowers?
Cindy Sommer: One of my daughters asked me the question: “Why do flowers die in winter?” I wanted to give her a simple answer, but there was no easy way. So I wrote this story. Kate is based on my daughter.
PBP: Can you recommend sources of ideas to other picture book writers?
CS: There are plenty of places to get ideas. I use newspaper stories, television, and true life events. I am always open to ideas, and if I get one, I try to write it down before I forget. Sometimes if I hear a funny line, I try to think of a story to go with it. Ideas can come from anywhere. You just have to be open to their possibilities.
PBP: Is there anything you know now that you wish you had known before your picture book was published?
CS: I wish I had known to search out what a publisher’s list is missing, and then try to fill that hole. That is how I got my picture book published.
PBP: Do you have an agent? Do you recommend other picture book writers get an agent? Why or why not?
CS: I do not have an agent. There are still tons of publishers who accept submissions from unagented authors. Unfortunately, it is a lot of work doing it on your own, but you don’t make a lot selling picture books, so to give someone else a portion of your earnings is not worth it. Maybe if you had a ton of books published, and it was getting hard to keep track of them, then I would suggest getting an agent.
PBP: Since you do not have an agent, how did you choose which publisher to send your manuscript to?
CS: I used the Children’s Writers and Illustrators Market, and online. I looked at the publisher’s lists of books from previous years which you can find online, and looked to see what they were missing. My publisher was an educational publisher, but they did not have a gardening book, so I sent them my story, and it was accepted. I also would make sure my story was different from what they had published before. If they had just published a dog book, I would not send them a dog story because they just did one.
PBP: Can you tell us what your path to publishing was like?
CS: My path to publication had its ups and downs. I first started when I had my first daughter. When she napped, I started out writing horse stories for ages 8 to 12 for magazines. The first story I sent out, I got an acceptance. I was hooked! After that, I got various other stories published in magazines. Once I started reading picture books, I thought “I can write these!” Well, a picture book is definitely not easy to write! It has to tell a great story, but with very little words. So you have to be precise. In the beginning, I sent out lots of stories, but they weren’t truly polished. Then I found a children’s writers group, and I attended many local conferences held by SCBWI. I took some writing courses at local colleges. Sometimes I felt like giving up. But I always came back to the writing because I just love to write. Over 20 years of writing, and working on my stories, and receiving hundreds of rejections, I finally sent out a picture book manuscript that just clicked with the publisher. I really think a lot of it is luck, and what the publisher is looking for at any particular time.
PBP: How did you feel when you learned your manuscript was accepted for publication?
CS: I was thrilled when I found out the publisher wanted to publish my story! I jumped up and down with my two daughters. We must have looked like a bunch of bunnies hopping.
PBP: Do you know why the publisher chose your manuscript?
CS: They did not say why they chose my manuscript, but I’m assuming it was because they didn’t have anything like it on their list, and it also fit perfectly with their previous books.
PBP: Are there books on writing you would recommend to your fellow picture book writers?
CS: There are so many great writing books out there, too many to list! But a few are: Children’s Writer’s and Illustrator’s Market by Writer’s Digest, How to Write a Children’s Book and Get It Published by Barbara Seuling, Picture Writing by Anastasia Suen, How to Write a Children’s Picture Book, Volume 1, Volume II, and Volume III by Eve Heidi Bine-Stock, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Publishing Children’s Books by Harold D. Underdown, The Children’s Writer’s Reference by Eric Suben & Berthe Amoss, Children’s Writer’s Word Book by Alijandra Mogilner, The McGraw-Hill Handbook of English Grammar and Usage by Mark Lester and Larry Beason, and a great new book by a fellow colleague and friend, Construction & Revision, A Writer’s Handbook for the Language Arts Classroom by Brian Heinz.
PBP: Are there online resources you would recommend to your fellow picture book writers?
CS: I would recommend joining the SCBWI. Look at amazon.com for book searches that could be similar to your story. I would also use Publishers Weekly online to view publisher’s lists from previous years. Publishers send out lists that come out two times a year, in February and again in the fall. You do not have to join Publishers Weekly to access the older lists. If you wait a few months after a list is posted, you will have access to it without joining Publishers Weekly’s website.
PBP: How are you promoting Saving Kate’s Flowers?
CS: I have a website at www.cindysommer.com, and a Facebook page at www.facebook.com/cindysommer123. I also have a Goodreads page at: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/15070069.Cindy_Sommer. I also post my events in the local newspapers. It would also help to use Instagram and Twitter.
PBP: Do you have any other recommendations for picture book writers?
CS: Don’t give up! Keep perfecting your craft, read, know the market, join a writer’s group and don’t be afraid to share your stories and take criticism, find your niche in the market, and you will be published.
PBP: Thank you for your helpful advice, Cindy Sommer, author of Saving Kate’s Flowers!
Congratulations to Cindy Sommer and the other winners of SCBWI’s 2017 Crystal Kite awards!