Thursday, August 17, 2017

It's A New Podcast Episode: A Conversation With Sean Qualls!

Check out this awesome interview with award-winning illustrator, artist, and author Sean Qualls. He spoke with Theo Baker, about Sean's journey to becoming a children's book creator, what inspired him, and how his own style evolved!

There's so much great stuff, and everyone can listen to the trailer here.

SCBWI members can hear the full podcast episode by signing in at and then going here.


and Illustrate and Write On,

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

The Crystal Kite Interviews: Debbie Levy's I DISSENT: RUTH BADER GINSBURG MAKES HER MARK wins in the Atlantic Division (Pennsylvania, Delaware, New Jersey, Washington D.C., Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland)

I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark 

by Debbie Levy 

Lee: Please tell us about your Crystal-Kite Winning Books!

Debbie: I Dissent begins like this: "You could say that Ruth Bader Ginsburg's life has been . . . one disagreement after another." 

The book tells RBG's story, from childhood to her tenure on the U.S. Supreme Court, through the lens of her many disagreements--disagreements with unfairness, with discrimination, with inequality. The theme here is that disagreeing does not make you disagreeable--and that important change can happen one disagreement at a time. 

From objecting to school rules that required girls to take sewing and cooking while boys got to learn how to use tools, to arguing in court as a lawyer for the ACLU in the 1970s against rules and policies that treat women and men differently for no good reason, RBG has used dissent as a force to change society. Her example shows kids (and adults): go ahead and say no. Dissent. Push back. But: do it in a way, if possible, that causes people to join with you. Listen to the arguments on the other side of your position. Choose your battles. Think before speaking. 

Is it any wonder that I thought she was a great person to introduce to young people in a picture book? When we--the people at Simon & Schuster, my agent Caryn Wiseman, me, and the illustrator Elizabeth Baddeley--realized in 2015 that there wasn't yet a picture book about RBG, we were surprised. And then we worked really hard and really fast to make our picture book the first one. 

A couple of other things that were intentional in creating this book: Early on, once I realized the "I dissent" theme for telling RBG's story, I also realized that this presented a fun opportunity to fill the book with lots of great vocabulary words. So I Dissent stresses lots of vivid synonyms for "dissent," and they are rendered in Elizabeth's strong, bright hand lettering. I also realized that RBG, known as a very serious person, is so much more--she can be quite funny, and she certainly appreciates humor. So while the book doesn't portray her cracking jokes, both text and illustrations include humorous touches, to capture the humor and fun of Ruth Bader Bader Ginsburg. 

Having I Dissent recognized by my SCBWI colleagues through the Crystal Kite Award, in a field of many outstanding books and in a vote by so many talented writers and illustrators, is so meaningful and rewarding.

Author Debbie Levy

Lee: How long have you been involved with SCBWI, and can you share what you feel you’ve gained by being a member?

Debbie: I have been a member of SCBWI for many years--at least fifteen, maybe more. When I started writing for children, SCBWI offered information, instruction, and advice through its publications, conferences, and informal gatherings. It offered a community and new friends. And as I've gained more experience as an author, you know what--those same offerings still make SCBWI an indispensable part of my writing life! 

Lee: Do you have any advice to share with other children’s book writers and illustrators?

Debbie: If they're reading this, presumably they're SCBWI members, so they've already taken the first piece of advice I would have given them!

Thanks Debbie, and again, Congratulations on I Dissent winning the Crystal Kite Award!

You can find out more about Debbie at her website,

Illustrate and Write On,

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Five Lessons from 100 Published Picture Book Authors - A Guest Post by Hannah Holt

I saw Hannah talking about this research on social media, and invited her to blog about it here. I'm so glad she took me up on it...

2018 Debut Picture Book Author Hannah Holt

Earlier this year, I joined Epic Eighteen—a group of picture book authors and illustrators with 2018 debuts. It’s been great rubbing shoulders with other almost-authors, and it’s made me think deeply about the practical aspects of this beautiful yet challenging career.

For example, everyone in the group has another source of income besides writing. Are any picture book authors living solely on writing? Also, some authors have agents. Others don’t. How essential is an agent? To answer these and other questions, I created an anonymous survey. So far, 135 published picture book authors have participated, and I’ve learned things, like...

1. You don’t need an agent to break into the picture book trade market. 

Almost half (48%) of the authors surveyed sold their first book without an agent.

2. However, having an agent is advantageous. Really advantageous. 

Overall, agented authors sold books to larger houses for more money than authors pitching their own stories. Average advances were 500% higher for authors with agents. Authors were also more likely to have sold multiple books with an agent.

3. Picture book advances range from $0 to $50,000+. 

The most common picture book advance for a small house falls between $1,000 to $4,999, while the most common advance for a Big Five publisher is between $5,000-$9,999.

Here’s the spread.

Advances at small houses:

Advances at large houses:

4. You don’t need a regular writing schedule to become a published author. 

About a third of published picture book authors don’t have a set writing schedule.

Also, those earning the largest advances tended to be authors without a schedule. In contrast, picture book authors working 40+ hours a week earned smaller book advances (<$5,000).

“Butt-in-chair” doesn’t necessarily translate into more dollars in your pocket in the short-term. 

However, the more years an author had been writing, the more likely she would have a sizeable annual salary. Two picture book authors in the survey earned more than $100,000 last year. They have both been writing professionally for 20+ years.

So find a writing groove that works for you, and settle into it for a decade or two.

5. Rejection is normal. 

Picture book authors are usually rejected at least ten times before signing a book deal. Fifteen-percent of authors are rejected 100+ times prior to selling a book. Also most picture book authors write six or more stories before selling anything.

Keep calm and query on!

(Bonus) 6. There is an exception to every rule. 

Perhaps you’ve heard about overnight successes and wildly successful authors without agents. These things happen. They are just outliers.

Three-percent of published picture book authors sold a book on the first query. The first query! Oh, those lucky (and talented) ducks.

Also having an agent doesn’t guarantee success. While most authors love their agent, ten-percent hate theirs. No agent is better than one you don’t trust.

Finally, many authors find success with a regular writing schedule. In fact, the majority of published authors have some kind of consistent writing routine. Good news for me because I’m one of them.

I’ll publish a full summary results in the fall. Until September 15th, I’m still collecting data. If you’re a traditionally published children’s author, please consider taking my survey: Picture Book Author Survey 

I also have a survey for chapter book, middle grade, and young adult authors. I’ve had over 100 replies so far and am still taking more: Chapter Book, Middle Grade, and Young Adult Author Survey 

A HUGE thank you to all the authors taking the survey! Here’s to demystifying a career as a children’s author!

Hannah Holt is an engineer by training and a picture book author by trade. Her first two books, Diamond Man (Balzer+Bray 2018) and A Father’s Love (Philomel 2019), showcase science stories with heart. You can find Hannah chatting on Twitter, working on her website, and eating chocolate chip cookies with total abandon.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

"SCBWI ROCKS!" A #LA17SCBWI Photo Collage by Carolyn Wooddall

I noticed Carolyn Wooddall asking different conference faculty members to pose in unusual ways during the autograph party... She was having them spell out "SCBWI ROCKS!!!" and here are her final collages:

 Thanks, Carolyn! And thanks to all who participated.

 (It's even a game - how many of the faculty members can you name?)

Illustrate and Write On,