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,

Thursday, July 27, 2017

The 2017 Golden Kite Award For Picture Book Illustration Goes To "The Music In George's Head," Illustrated by Stacy Innerst

I caught up with Golden Kite Winner Stacy Innerst at the #LA17SCBWI book signing...

Thanks, Stacy, and again, congratulations!

Learn more about Stacy Innerst here. His winning book, "The Music In George's Head," was authored by Suzanne Slade.

Curious to learn more about The Golden Kite Awards? Here's that link.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

The Hero Is You - A Guest Post By Kendra Levin

Kendra Levin is an executive editor at Viking Children's Books and a life-coach working with writers. Her book, The Hero Is You, is "a grounded self-help guide to a healthier writing process." And it sold out from the #LA17SCBWI bookstore on the first day of the conference! So I asked Kendra to share with us a taste of what she wants writers to know...

Editor and Life-Coach for Writers, Kendra Levin

This past month, I had the pleasure of connecting with writers and illustrators at SCBWI’s annual national conference in Los Angeles. In two breakout sessions and an intensive, we talked about how to see the creative process as a journey through ideas drawn from my book, The Hero Is You.

The idea of the hero’s journey is an ancient one, but it’s full of tools writers and other artists can use, not just for craft but to help you develop a more intuitive, personalized, and creative way of working that fits you and your life. If you missed the conference, or missed out on my sessions, here are a few key nuggets we dug into:

1: Give yourself a map. 
Psychological studies have shown that people who create a detailed plan are more likely to accomplish their goals than those who don’t. Whatever stage of the process you’re at with a particular project, breaking the larger goal down into smaller, more actionable steps and connecting each one to a deadline can be enormously helpful in moving you closer to achieving your goal. Let’s say you’re hoping to complete a first draft of your manuscript by the end of 2018—how much writing will you have to do each month in order to make that goal? Each week? Each day? Whether you’re counting words, clocking your hours spent, or tracking your progress some other way, log yourself like you would with a fitness tracker—another proven technique for meeting goals. Don’t beat yourself up if you don’t do everything in the exact timeline you’ve planned—just keep going. Your map will lead you where you need to go!

2: Acknowledge your strengths and weaknesses. 
Every hero has inherent gifts and vulnerable areas, and so do you. Use your strengths as an asset but not as a crutch—don’t be afraid to take risks in your work and explore beyond what you already know you’re best at. Rather than bemoaning or avoiding your weak spots, pay close attention to them: they have even more to teach you than your strengths do. They’re opportunities for growth.

3: Have a clear mission. 
Why do you create? What’s important to you about sharing your work with the world? What message do you want to convey with your writing or art? How do you hope to change or impact people through what you are creating? Who are you trying to reach with your work?

Asking yourself these questions can help you identify your mission as an artist. And when you know what your mission is, it can become a touchstone you can return to any time you’re in doubt or questioning what you are doing. Whether you are aiming to help marginalized children feel less alone in their experiences, to inspire or empower young people to dream big, or simply to make kids laugh and forget their worries, your mission likely reflects your deepest core values as an artist and as a human being.

Every hero has a mission, from the most epic and noble to the most subtle and internal. And I can pretty much guarantee that, whatever your mission is, it makes you a true hero to the young people you are hoping to reach with your work. So keep at it and remember: you’re a hero.

To find out more about the hero’s journey, or to catch Kendra at her next speaking engagement, visit

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

It's a New Podcast: A Conversation with Publisher Allyn Johnston

We're delighted to share with you this one-on-one conversation with Vice-President and Publisher of Beach Lane Books, Allyn Johnston.

Everyone can listen to the trailer here.

Members of SCBWI can listen to the full episode here (sign in first, then click on "Members log in and click here for full podcasts")

In this in-depth, behind-the-scenes chat with Theo Baker, Allyn shares about her journey to becoming a children's book editor and publisher, the questions she asks of her authors and illustrators, and she shares some great stories about how certain books -- and long-term relationships with her Beach Lane Books authors and illustrators --  happened!

Illustrate and Write On,

Thursday, July 13, 2017

The 2017 Golden Kite Award For Nonfiction Goes to "We Will Not Be Silent" by Russell Freedman - The Interview

I asked Russell to please share the spark of inspiration that became "We Will Not Be Silent: The White Rose Student Resistance Movement That Defied Adolf Hitler.."

Here's his response: 

Over the years I’ve had the opportunity to write about some of the major historical events of my time. Looking back, I’ve recaptured forgotten memories and, through research, gained a deeper understanding of the forces that have shaped my generation. Along the way, I wanted to add my voice to the massive body of literature about the holocaust without simply repeating what has already been said. I was searching for an approach that would convey a redeeming theme of hope and human decency amidst the ruins of history. My eureka moment–my spark of inspiration—resulted from a chance encounter with an amazing movie. A friend gave me a DVD of Sophie Scholl, a German film nominated in 1985 for an Academy Award as the year’s best foreign language film. A powerful story about youthful courage and idealism, the film introduced me to the White Rose student resistance movement in Nazi Germany—an episode of youthful courage and idealism. This was the story I had been searching for. I immediately began the research that would take me to Munich, Germany, birthplace of both the Nazi party and the anti-Nazi student resistance movement, a city dedicated today to the memory of the fearless young activists who defied Adolf Hitler.

Russell's editor Dinah Stevenson was kind enough to answer some questions as well...

Lee; What made you say “Yes!” to “We Will Not Be Silent”?

Dinah: I always say yes to Russell. Sometimes he proposes a couple of different book ideas and I choose between them. This time he didn’t offer alternative projects, and I immediately agreed that this should be his next project. I shared his vision that this book, with its young protagonists, would be fascinating and inspiring to young readers. Further, I responded to the subject on a personal level, since both Russell and I are Jews.

Lee: Did the book change throughout the process of working with Russell, and if so, how?

Dinah: Not noticeably. Russell’s manuscripts are invariably well thought out and complete, and this one was no exception. I asked him to clarify and provide context for some of the content. There were no substantive changes.

Lee: Do you have thoughts to share on Russell winning the Golden Kite for this book — the book you edited?

Dinah: I’m thrilled to see this book recognized by SCBWI, his fellow writers, and to know that you share my belief in this book. Of course I like it when discerning groups like you and the Sibert Award committee agree with me. But many editors are shy, nocturnal creatures and don’t welcome the spotlight. I’m one of them. I credit Russell’s brilliant writing and thorough professionalism with the success of his work, and I’m delighted that he dedicated this book to me—honoring our long-term author-editor relationship and our close friendship.

Thank you, Dinah!

And thanks and congratulations again to Russell!

Curious to learn more about the Golden Kite Awards? Here's that link.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Twitter Hightlights of #LA17SCBWI

What a conference! Here are some of the top moments that are still resonating on social media...

Old friends. New friends. So much love and inspiration! ❤️Thank you for an unforgettable weekend at

"Creating a picture book is the closest you can come to whispering in a child's ear." - LeUyen Pham

I danced the hokey-pokey with my hero . Life does not get any better then this, my friends!

"Readers respond when you're not trying to do what you think they want but when you do what feels most genuine to you.”

"Lean into adversity. Wrap your arms around it, shake it off, and pack it under." Vanessa Brantley Newton

LeUyen Pham has illustrated NINETY BOOKS! And is always trying to explore new styles and challenge herself. Lotsa A++++ tips!

"Writers block is the fear of sucking. Get started & maintain momentum; making the art makes you feel better." – at

You need to dream so big it scares the hell out of you -Vanessa Brantley Newton Yes!

"The author has to keep you on the road. The illustrator can show you the beauty of the road." -Javaka Steptoe on

"The darkness in fairy tales is a necessary darkness." - keynote

"I have always believed a writer never retires. ...As a writer, am I retired? Well, you never know…" - Judy Blume

"I've sold 300 books. All of them had their own paths to publication." -

"Young readers are deep thinkers and deep feelers." -

"Have faith in your art, even when others don't." -Sean Qualls

You can see all the conference blog posts here, and check out what's on social media with the hashtag #LA17SCBWI

And thanks to my fellow team bloggers for #LA17SCBWI, Sona Charaipotra, Susie Ghahremani, Jolie Stekly, and Jaime Temairik!

Illustrate and Write On,