Hello friends, and welcome to the March 2023 FEATURE INTERVIEW. Today we are sharing the floor with special guest Janet Sumner Johnson. Janet is a children’s book author, wife, and mother of three, living in Utah, who writes both picture books and middle-grade stories.
Her debut picture book, Help Wanted: Must Love Books (Capstone, March 2020), was the winner of the 2021 CLEL BELL Read Awards and nominated for both the Colorado and Washington State Children's Choice Book Awards. Her other picture books include Braver Than Brave and A Bad Case of the Almosts, and she has an exciting new picture book series beginning in 2023, The Recess Genius: Open for Business.
So, let’s talk about what got you into writing and when this journey began for you. Can you tell us a little bit about that?
I have always gravitated to writing. In first grade, I was part of our school newspaper. In 3rd grade, I entered an essay in the Reflections contest and took 3rd. In High School, I sent a movie idea to Disney (and got my first rejection letter, lol!). But I never wanted to be a writer/author until after I graduated from college, and I realized that I was always writing because I loved it! With my husband’s encouragement, I wrote my first book and then proceeded to make all the beginner mistakes (querying before revising, thinking I had nothing to learn because I was a natural--HA!). But I stumbled my way into SCBWI, joined a critique group, and spent a lot of years learning before I finally dared to send another query. It was a long path for me!
I’m curious to know, from your side of the desk, which came first, the chicken or the egg? The chicken being your middle-grade stories, and the egg being your picture books- and why?
Love your question! The chicken came first. When I began writing, I actually thought I was writing YA, but after all those years of learning and working with my critique partners, I discovered I’d been writing MG all along. I didn’t even consider writing picture books until having kids. With toddlers, you are reading SO MANY picture books every day, and I think it’s natural that you start to get ideas for picture-book-size stories. I resisted for a long time because I’d learned enough at that point to know just how hard it is to break into the picture book world as a writer. But with so much inspiration and with the encouragement of a critique partner who got me to sign up for Susanna Leonard Hill’s “Making Picture Book Magic!” class, I discovered just how much I love the wordplay of picture books.
Can you tell us a little bit about the mental process for writing in different children’s book categories. Any specific setting or headspace required before you write one over the other? Like, do you need to be sitting upside down, facing north, with just the right amount of wind before you can write a picture book, whereas, for middle grade, you need to hop on one foot, spin around a few times, and have a cup of tea at the ready?
Haha! That’s about right. It’s definitely a different headspace for each category. With picture books, I focus on structure and action to start. I lay out a super quick outline, and once I have that, it’s all about the wordplay and finding fun, lyrical ways to convey the story. It’s very much about the details.
With middle grade, I have to think big picture. I still prepare an outline, which helps me know whether my story idea will work or not without committing too much time (I’m a plotter if you can’t tell). Once I begin writing, I have to block out the wordplay and focus solely on moving the story forward. If I find myself getting caught up in the words or how I’m saying something, I recite this mantra in my head: “It doesn’t have to be good, it just has to be written.” It’s all about the big picture.
Do you find it more challenging to write one vs. the other, or are they equally matched? Is there one you naturally find yourself gravitating toward?
This is a hard question because they’re so different. I find that I gravitate to picture books because I love the wordplay so much. I am a bit of a (recovering) perfectionist, so the shorter works allow me to spend the time with words and phrases and play with form in a way that I just can’t do with middle grade.
If you look at how much time I spend per word, picture books are much more difficult. The simplicity of a good picture book is so deceptive. Telling a story is harder when you don’t have as much real estate. However, looking at the sheer amount of time a middle-grade book takes to write, as well as the increased complexity in plot, I personally have a harder time writing middle-grade.
What is challenging to one person may not be to another, so I think it depends on your strengths as a writer. My strengths lend to writing picture books.
Here’s a fun question. Have you ever had an idea for a picture book and realized it would actually make a great middle-grade story instead, or vice versa, and do you have any examples of this?
When I get an idea for a story, the first thing I do is decide who the audience is. Usually, it’s pretty obvious. Sometimes, I think a story could go either way. In those cases, I write the one that sounds more fun. However, every now and then, form and story overlap and make it hard to decide.
So, for example, I recently wrote a picture book that I think might make a better MG graphic novel. The story needed the pictures to carry the gag, which initially pushed it to picture book for me, but once I wrote it, I felt like the gag might be appreciated more by older readers.
I’m still working on that transition, and who knows if I can pull it off because it’s a new form for me, but I love trying new things and pushing myself as a writer. And it’s always fun to see how one story can lay a seed for another. I love playing with stories and seeing how small adjustments can lead to big changes. No writing is wasted!
In numbers, can you tell us between your picture books and middle-grade stories how many you have published now and about how many are in the works?
I have four picture books out in the world and two more announced. Six total.
For middle grade, I have one out and two more coming. Three total.
So far. 😉
Now, in just the past two months you’ve had two new books enter the world. Can you tell us a little bit about both?
A BAD CASE OF THE ALMOSTS released on Jan. 1st. It is about Abby, whose life is being ruined by Almosts! Almost tall enough. Almost fast enough. Nothing seems to go her way . . . until a chance encounter shows her that Almosts might have a bad rap. What if Almosts can actually be good?
I was struggling with my own Almosts, and I wondered if my attitude might be more powerful than I realized. It was a cathartic story to write that helped me change my own perspective. So it was exciting when my editor at Capstone connected with the theme.
Next, THE RECESS GENIUS: OPEN FOR BUSINESS is about Regina Grey, who is no stand-out student, but who loves to read. When she inadvertently solves her classmate’s problem, she is pushed into a new role as the Recess Genius, which suddenly makes it very hard to find time to read—the one thing she’s ever been good at! Can the Recess Genius use her magical power to solve her own dilemma?
This one is an origin story. I imagined a wise kid who other kids could come to for solutions to their kid problems. But I wanted to know how she got there. It took a lot of tries to get this one right, but I’m so excited for everyone to meet Regina!
And I know that’s not all for the new books out this year. You also have a very exciting release this Fall… tell us about that!
This Fall is the release of The Winterton Deception: Final Word. It is the first book in this Mystery Series surrounding the Winterton's—a wealthy dictionary magnate family. My editor called it a middle-grade Knives Out, and I wrote it because I wanted more books like The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin. It has family drama and hidden passageways. It has a cut-throat spelling bee and a missing artifact worth millions.
When Hope Smith gets dragged into the Winterton drama by her twin brother, who enters them in the Winterton family spelling bee, she wants nothing more than to get in and get out with the prize. That all changes when a clue to a missing artifact lands in their laps, along with the promise of learning more about their long-dead father. Hope can’t resist the call to solve it, but with millions on the line and others following the same trail, Hope might just be in over her head.
It is complex and twisty, and it was oh-so-fun to write! I can’t wait for the world to meet the Winterton's and all their family drama.
Oh, my goodness. That sounds so good! Did I mention I love Knives Out? Because I LOVE Knives Out. A middle-grade version of this just sounds out of this world exciting to me! Okay… next question.
Do you have any advice for authors wanting to write both picture books and middle-grade series?
Yes! The big question with a series is, what thread do you plan to pull through to future books? Is it the character’s personality (think Olivia or Judy Moody)? Is it a theme (think Creepy Carrots or The Giver)? Is it specific type of situation (like with my book where the kids are seeking advice from the Recess Genius, or even a Series of Unfortunate Events)? Is it a genre (think a mystery series)? What is the appeal in the first story that drew people to it? That is what you want to continue into the series.
And once you have an idea, try writing some pitches for future books in the series. This will tell you if it’s viable as a series and if it’s something you’d want to keep working on (because a series is a commitment, and it can lock in your writing time for years (particularly for middle grade). Are these the books you want to be writing?) Plus, if you are pitching a series to a publisher, they will want to see what ideas you have for the next books. The time you spend planning the series is time well-spent.
Thanks for this terrific advice, Janet.
Now for some fun get-to-know-you questions
Warm (but not hot).
Favorite place- real or imagined, or both?
The beach! There is something about the crashing waves and the beauty of the ocean.
Favorite books- you can include up to 5!
(Thank you for the 5! Here are 5 recent favorites.)
PBs: Pirates Don’t Dance (by Shawna J.C. Tenney); Mother Bruce (by Ryan T. Higgins); A Spoonful of Frogs (by Casey Lyall and art by Vera Brosgol)
MGs: A Wish in the Dark (by Christina Soontornvat); A Place at the Table (by Laura Shovan and Saadia Faruqi)
Fresh laundry. Or Cinnamon Twists. Tough choice!
Dream vacation? No rules.
A River Cruise through Europe. No cooking, I can be as lazy or as go-go as I want.
Favorite tv shows- you can include up to 3!
The Good Place; Phineas and Ferb; Ted Lasso; (Honorable mention to Wednesday)
Phineas and Ferb- YES! Also, I love Wednesday! In fact, I fell in love with her at first sight when I was about 6 or 7, in the 90s THE ADDAMS FAMILY movie. I wanted to look and be just like her.
Siblings? If so, how many? And which number in the line are you?
4. 2 brothers, 2 sisters. I’m 4th of 5.
Thanks so much for being with us today, Janet! It was such a treat to learn about your methods and hear about all your great stories.
Now for our Giveaway Prizes
Yes… you read that correctly. There was an ‘s’ at the end of that word.
Janet has generously offered to give away multiple prizes.
What are the prizes? How can I enter?
Here ARE the answers.
Prize 1 Giveaway: A copy of A Bad Case of the Almosts
Prize 2 Giveaway: A copy of Recess Genius
If you would like to enter to win a prize, leave a comment on this feature interview post with
PRIZE 1 or PRIZE 2 (OR THE NAME OF THE BOOK YOU'D LIKE).
And that’s it! NOTE: This giveaway is international for wherever Book Depository delivers.
Winners will be selected at random and contacted within two weeks of this post.
To see other great interviews, be sure to subscribe to the blog. And if you enjoyed this post, be sure to like it before you leave.
If you’d like to connect with Janet or find out more about her books, you can find her website and social media links listed below. Thanks for reading!
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Welcome to my third FEATURE INTERVIEW segment. And to start off the new year of 2023, I have a special guest joining today. Let’s give a warm welcome to Brittany Wuthrich!
Brittany is a local Children’s Author living outside of Nashville, Tennessee. She released a picture book entitled BIRD AND THE TREE for ages 4-8.
A little background on my relationship with Brittany Wuthrich:
I was perusing a local bookstore in my area (Curious Capybara) and stumbled upon an adorable book! I picked it up, and lo and behold; it was a local author. So, when I set up a short story contest in the library over the summer of 2022, I knew I wanted to get ahold of Brittany and see if she’d like to co-judge to find our finalists. Fortunately for me and the children’s library, she did! Having her as one of our panelists and judges over the summer was an absolute treat.
Today, we’re going to be discussing some shop talk on the behind-the-scenes of independent publishing. We’ll be answering questions about where to find an illustrator, how to pay an illustrator, how to format, how to edit, how to market, and so on. So, if you’re looking into self-publishing your picture book… keep reading to find out how it’s done!
We’re also going to be delving into some serious topics on mental health and recovery.
DISCLAIMER: IF YOU OR SOMEONE YOU KNOW ARE SUFFERING FROM SEVERE MENTAL HEALTH ILLNESS (suicidal/depression) AND ARE NOT COMFORTABLE DISCUSSING, PLEASE STOP READING NOW.
So, let’s jump right in!
I always like to start with the heart of it all: inspiration.
Let’s talk inspiration and first steps:
Brittany, what inspired you to write THE BIRD AND THE TREE?
(SEE IMAGE BELOW…)
I wrote a poem about this quote and what it meant to me. The real and raw place I was in when I wrote this is not easy to talk about. It isn’t easy to access because of how far I’ve come from where I was, either. It isn’t uncommon, though. It seems like a lot of people deal with anxiety and trauma. That doesn’t minimize it, of course. So the poem I wrote deals with a little of mine.
I ended up going to what is essentially group therapy sessions to deal with it. Ok, so I don’t know how comfortable I am with sharing this. It seems appropriate though, because of what happened recently with the guy from the Ellen show. Tragically, he passed away from suicide. People were so surprised because of his happy persona and how young he was.
I think for the same reasons, people would be surprised to know that I was at a point in which I had gotten close to making a similar decision with my life (despite how I appeared outwardly).
It is hard to admit that I let myself get so far in despair. But it happens to people from all types of walks of life. People deal with depression. It is just a fact. It is real. That is why I would like to advocate for mental health awareness. So… back to how this became a children’s book.
In those group sessions, it was normal to discuss a quote or a topic at the top of the hour. On this particular day, we got a black-and-white quote printed out on a piece of paper (with this exact graphic above). I think it spoke to me because it was a reminder that I had strength in ways I didn’t always acknowledge.
That same day, a poetry organization in Nashville came to the group to lead an exercise in poetic expression. I can’t remember the name of the group. The exercise was to write a poem in five minutes. There wasn’t enough time for me to get distracted by self-doubt or email. When the timer stopped, so did I.
I already had a respect and love for poetry. I was all about it. I loved approaching it in this different way, though. Oftentimes, I feel blocked from writing as freely as I did when I was younger. This exercise unlocked a new way to approach writing that I still use to this day.
In the five minutes, I imagined being a bird. I thought about what it was like being stuck or why it would be hard to move on in a situation. Really, I didn’t do a lot of thinking… I just wrote. When I heard the beeping of the phone timer go off, I put my pen down. I had written BIRD AND THE TREE.
When the exercise was over, we were asked if we would like to share what we wrote. I remember that there was a meaningful silence in the room after I read. I remember that what I read seemed to resonate with my cohorts. It felt good to know that some could relate to the Bird as I did. It felt liberating to share.
I had no idea that just a few short years later, I would be living in some of the happiest years of my life, that I would be a mother to a little girl and later a little boy. I would be more authentically in touch with my faith in God and my family. It took a lot of work, and I feel very removed from the place I had found myself in then. But all I can say is that it happens. All I can say is I forgive myself.
On my last group day, I got a parting gift. All participants get a painted rock with a descriptor or an affirmation of some kind on their final day. In my case, and it’s a little serendipitous, mine was a painting of a bird on a branch. The group leader reflected back to me that I reminded her of the bird on the branch from the quote. It meant a lot to me, and I still have the rock to this day. My husband encouraged me to turn the poem into a children’s book. Eventually, I did.
Wow, Brittany. Thank you for sharing these intimate details behind your inspiration for BIRD AND THE TREE. I know it isn’t an easy thing to talk about, and I’m sure that many who are or who have struggled against the battle of mental health appreciate your story.
Having many family members myself who suffer from various mental health illnesses, ranging from chronic and suicidal depression as well as seasonal depression and bipolar, (myself included)… and personally experiencing the death of my own husband years ago due to depression, I understand that this can be a very sensitive thing to share. But in sharing, there is healing. And it’s truly wonderful to see how you have been able to heal and grow and find happiness with your ever-blossoming family!
So, now that we’ve discussed the inspiration… what was the message you hoped to share with this book?
Initially, when I decided to make this a children’s book, I thought that it could be a message of hope. I could see through the story how what Bird was experiencing was grief. Years before, I had learned about the five stages of grief through a Stephen’s Ministry class at my church. The class focused on serving others who were dealing with loss and hardship. I think I was only fifteen or sixteen at the time, but one thing that has stayed with me to this day is that there are things not to say to someone who is hurting. The other thing was that grief has layers. Specifically, there are five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. *source here*
Through that lens, it is easy to see that the character of Bird is going through the grieving process. He didn’t want to believe that everything would change, even when it was clear that it would. That’s denial. There are other examples throughout the book that all lead to his ultimate acceptance: when he uses his wings to move on. We all experience grief at all ages.
Excellent! And were you happy with your finished product?
Yes. Given the chance to go back, though, I would change the title. It seems there is already a book called The Bird and the Tree. Not a huge difference, but my book doesn’t have a ‘The’ in the title. BIRD AND THE TREE is not on Amazon at the moment, so this other book usually comes up if someone searches for it, which can cause confusion of course. I like to think I did my research, but I had no idea this book existed until it was pretty much too late into the process. I could probably look into changing the title with any reprints I do, we’ll see.
Can you walk us through the beginning steps of the publishing process?
Lots of typing things into a search bar. Nowadays, there is so much information out there, the game is also to know the right stuff to search for. In my case, I was searching for self-publishing, how to launch a Kickstarter.
You mentioned that you used a Kickstarter to help with the publishing process. Can you explain that in further detail?
Kickstarter was the catalyst for this project to be possible. It gave Becca and I not only the funds but the confidence to keep going. I would recommend Kickstarter to anyone trying to self-publish. It is a resource, leveraging social media as well to keep followers in the loop through every step of the way. For our Kickstarter campaign, Becca and I set a goal: $2,800. People that donate to a project on the site are called backers. Once the campaign started, we had thirty days to meet that goal. If we did not hit $2800 within that time, all the money would be refunded to the backers. It kicked us into gear to be active about sharing our intention of creating a children’s book. We laid out what the book was about, gave examples of illustrations, and set rewards for different tiers of backers.
Enough buzz was created as a result of the campaign that 54 backers funded the project to help us exceed our goal within that time. We were pumped to see that support!
Did you ever consider going the traditional route with your book, or did you know from the beginning that you wanted to publish independently?
I was so energized at that point and time to make the book happen that I didn’t want to risk being told no. I wanted control of the project and trusted myself enough to do it. I still made mistakes along the way, but I am glad that I had this experience.I can relate to that! I’m working on patience… but when you’re excited about something, it’s hard to wait! You just want to shout it out from the rooftops. So, how long did it take you to write and revise your story before publication?
Did you hire a professional editor?
Yes, using a service called Reedsy, I hired a professional editor named Jennifer Rees. She has a background as a Senior Editor at Scholastic Press, where she edited picture books and novels. I was excited to read from her bio that she was an editor for The Hunger Games.
The way Reedsy works is that you find the service you’re needing: editing, design, publicity, and marketing (to name a few), then search through the service providers to narrow down a shortlist. I looked for editors who specialized in children’s picture books.
Once I had my shortlist, I sent requests out with a brief seeking developmental editing, copy editing, editorial assessment, and proofreading as the service needed for BIRD AND THE TREE.
From the five I sent out, two made offers, two declined, and one did not respond. So I had two quotes to select from. After I selected Jennifer’s quote, she sent a rundown of how our collaboration would work.
I appreciated working with an editor that had a seasoned background. She offered advice to help my manuscript (the poem I wrote in 2019) translate well for children’s literature.
Working with Jennifer’s feedback helped me unlock a new side to Bird’s story. It was darker in tone to start with and there was not as much closure for the character. I added the element of the acorn that we see grow into a new tree at the end of the story. Her feedback was detailed and very helpful. That process lasted over the span of about three months.
Did you test your book on beta readers on any sites before publication? If so, can you list where you were able to find them?
Only a handful of friends and family.
Let’s talk illustrations & cost:
Where did you find your illustrator?
Our husbands work together.
Terrific luck! And how did you handle payment with your illustrator? Was it a royalty share, or did you pay a flat one-time commission rate and purchase ownership of the illustrations?
It was a 50/50 split to a certain point. Becca had lots of other projects to focus on while I was still focused on promoting the book. Basically, there was a payout at that point. Going forward, I have ownership of what I sell.
Did you have a clear idea of what you wanted your images to look like, or did your illustrator have total creative control of the artwork?
I worked closely with my illustrator to find the world that Bird lived in. I took a role as art director with collaborative control. We had weekly meetings whenever possible to discuss the direction of the book.
Was it easy to communicate with your illustrator?
Yes. It isn’t too challenging, but we live in different states. We were working together over video calls during the thick of COVID lockdowns.
I think during Covid, many were doing similar styles of work and communication. What a crazy time! And what recommendation would you give to someone who is looking to hire an illustrator?
I don’t feel like an expert in this area because I was lucky to find Becca. I’ve heard people find them on Fiverr. I know sometimes reviews are not reliable, but I definitely look at reviews. I research what I’m looking for. If you know the art style, you’re going for in your book (watercolor, digital, etc.), look for someone who specializes in that area. Have lots of references to share with your illustrator to help them get a visual of what types of illustrations you are looking for. Becca and I had fun rereading some of our favorite children’s books.
How long did the illustration process take?
Since the illustrations are a big part of telling the story, in this case, it took about as long as the book took to make. I had already had the poem completed in 2019. The book took about a year and a half to make.
Were you able to see the images during the process, or was the entire book illustrated, and then they came to you with the final product?
I got to see different evolutions of both the Bird and the Tree. Here are a few different drawings of Bird that Becca pitched early in the process.
How cool! I love these little birds. What kind of illustrations did you end up using? Were they all digital or hand-drawn, or a combination?
Becca used an app on her iPad called Procreate to digitally draw the illustrations.
Your book cover is just fantastic—how did you land on that illustration for the front cover?
Simply to introduce Bird hanging out at his favorite spot. To compel the reader to want to know Bird’s story.
Let’s talk marketing and cost:
As far as the publishing cost and marketing, what was the ballpark pricing for getting your business up and running?
Ballparking around $3,500 for every aspect of the project. The publishing arm was around $2,000 of that.
That’s good information to know. Thank you!
What kind of marketing did you do for your book?
Grassroots. Mostly Instagram. My illustrator and I collaborated on Instagram lives and stories. In the early days of the Kickstarter campaign and publication, I hosted open mic nights at Kave House of Haggai for poets and musicians. The events served to share about the book and give a platform to other local creatives.
I know you have some coloring pages that you brought in (that coincide with the story BIRD AND THE TREE) and shared when you came to the library over the summer. They were just adorable! Are those available for purchase somewhere? If so, where can we find them?
Thank you! They are not available for purchase right now. I just have them for special events. However, I would eventually like to get a few merch items on my website.
Can you tell us what other (if you have them) promotional things you have to go along with your book?
In our Kickstarter campaign, we offered some fun promotional items for backers! Becca made mugs, tote bags, and tees. Elena drinks her “coffee” (chocolate milk) out of her Bird mug.
Do you have an author website, and if so, what platform did you go with—and do you recommend it? If not, what other preferred social media or online presence do you use to connect with readers?
I have a website: brittwut.com. It’s a central location for a lot of different things I’m working on at the moment. It is also where the book can be purchased.
I use Wix. It is just really easy to use. The interface is clean, and I like the storefront features. I prefer to use Instagram at the moment to send out information to my readers. I’m just comfortable with Instagram. I’m aiming to use other social platforms this year.
Let’s talk reviews and getting your book into bookstores:
As every writer knows, finding readers is half the battle- especially when self-publishing. As far as commercial marketing goes, what avenues did you find most successful for finding readers to review your work? Can you name a few places or give a few suggestions in this area?
I probably have not done nearly enough in this area. I was pleasantly surprised, though, at the reception of the book when I went to local markets. It was a lot of fun to set up with the books and meet people in the community.
Other than Curious Capybara, do you have your book available in any other bookstores? If so, where? Are they all local?
They are all local. Currently, the book is available at Kave House of Haggai in Gallatin and on my website, brittwut.com. Southwater Manor carried them for a while. I had them at Mango + Rose before it closed. I gave two copies to The Getalong in Nashville. Curious Capybara carried a few copies as well (and I’m so glad that you found the book there).
Because you are self-published, did you have to do a consignment set-up with local bookstores? If not, what was the process like? Was it easy or difficult? Explain.
Yes. It was mostly on consignment. The process was easy! Payouts vary from place to place. Some would send a check, and others would Venmo. This usually happens on a monthly basis. Because this was local, it was not too hard to get started. Usually, shop owners were receptive to carrying a book from a local author. I love working with and supporting these local businesses as well! After a few conversations and agreements over terms, I would replenish the books as they sold. When I got pregnant with my second child, I stopped cycling my books out at most places because I needed to be at home more at the time. When I did markets, it was also fairly easy. There was a flat rate for a space, and the events usually lasted 1-2 days. I accept Square and Venmo for transactions. They are also not very complicated to use.
If someone didn’t live locally but wanted to purchase your book online, where could they find it?
Let’s talk formatting and publishing platforms:
How did you format your story for printing? Text & illustrations?
Becca made her own font using quirky handwritten letters. How cool is that?!
VERY COOL! Was formatting a nightmare, or did you enjoy it?
Getting the color profile correct for printing was tricky.
I did not enjoy this part. I also experienced some decision fatigue when it came to the size of the book, the paper coating, and binding. It was nice that PrintNinja sent a packet with physical examples to look at. That helped a lot. Still, it was a little daunting for me to lock in on something.
About how long did it take?
I believe it was close to a year and a half.
Did you have to hire someone or enlist help from someone you knew, or did you do all the formatting on your own?
I used Adobe InDesign. Becca sent me the art files, and I formatted the document into a .pdf.
Did the publishing platform you used offer any formatting aid? If so, what was the pricing like on that, or was it offered as a complimentary service?
PrintNinja has a lot of resources and guides for formatting on their website. It was no extra cost to access these, and they’re readily available to anyone regardless if they’re using the service or not. Check out their Printing Academy.
What type of binding did you use on your book spine? And what material was your book cover?
Binding - Saddle Stitching
Size - 11x8.5
Page Count - 32
Cover Paper - 14pt Cover, Gloss
Cover Finish - Gloss Lamination
Inside Paper - 85 lb Text, Matte
Color Options - Full Color
I know you have your book in paperback form— do you have a hardcover available as well? If not, is that something you may do in the future?
I would absolutely love to see BIRD AND THE TREE in board book form. I think the illustrations would really lend to it. Currently, it is only in paperback.
Do you have any other digital or audio options available to download THE BIRD AND THE TREE?
Not yet, but I want to. I would love to create an animated version as well.
Did you run into any snags along the road of publication? If so, how did you overcome them?
We had some problems getting the correct color profile out of Procreate. Even though the document was set to CMYK, when it was exported, it was converted to RGB. How and why that happened are still over my head. We ended up converting the Procreate file to a .psd (Photoshop) file and exporting it from there as a CMYK file.
Basically, the CMYK color profile is best for print, and the RGB color profile is best for viewing on screens. So because our initial submission was in RGB, the colors Becca used would have looked muddy or slightly different in print.
There was also an issue with the bleed (the area of the page that would be trimmed): just that extra needed to be added.
That was a learning process for me.
I wanted to make sure the books arrived before Christmas. There was a long process from print to ship, and we were approaching the fall season. PrintNinja is located in China. There was a Chinese National Holiday from Oct 1st - 8th in which production would be shut down. We were already delayed because we had to reject the first proof due to color profile issues. Shipping would typically take 6 weeks from overseas. We ended up paying to expedite some of the copies.
We were able to reject the proof in time and make the changes needed with the bleed and the color profile. Thankfully, the books arrived just in time for the Christmas season. Many of our friends purchased them as gifts for their family members.
Unfortunately, a number of books got damaged in transit, but PrintNinja issued a small refund to rectify the problem.
What are some advantages and disadvantages that you’ve personally experienced along your independent publishing journey?
I think the good has outweighed the bad. I can’t say enough how supported I felt to have funded this on Kickstarter. Becca helped a lot with that too. Having creative control was a huge advantage. It also helped that I have a background through both education and work that helped me understand a lot of the technical aspects of self-publishing. I already had the Adobe Creative Suite to use InDesign for assembling the pages. If I didn’t understand a part of the process, I knew how to find those resources.
I wouldn’t call it a disadvantage, but on the flip side, because creating this book has been a one-stop shop if I slow down (which I have with the birth of my son), the book, in a way, slows down.
I would like to have more of a web presence for the book using SEO and other social media campaigns, but it has been gradual. To solve this, I could probably focus on a little more delegation in 2023… and time management. This amuses me to imagine, but maybe writing a blog post or creating a reel while my toddler has a snack and my three-month-old naps.
If you had it to do all over again, would you still go the self-publishing route? Why or why not?
I would… but I would also like to see what it would be like to submit to a publisher to have that experience.
Any final words of advice to share with our readers?
I realized after the fact that the spine of the book matters. It is very important to have a spine so that you can see the title of the book from the side. Some local Nashville sellers have turned down the book (even when they liked the story) to carry in their shops as a result of the saddle stitched spine.
Whew! We made it through all the shop talk. Now, time for some fun questions…
Tell us a little about yourself. Do you have any hobbies outside of writing?
I do! I have a few hobbies: papercraft (cardmaking, stickers, and, more recently, bookbinding), photography, and digital design. These are things I get into while being a stay-at-home mom. Also, last fall, I started a folk trio called Smoke and Ember.
Do you have any siblings? Are you a middle, oldest, or youngest?
I am the oldest. I have a younger brother, by five years.
What about your family? I know you have two little ones now! Do you and your hubby plan for more children down the road?
Up until baby number two, I think we were certain that two would be it. That’s probably right. However, if another baby would ever happen to happen, I think I’d be okay with it.
Are your family all readers?
My husband reads occasionally. He reads autobiographies and instruction manuals. My daughter Elena still rips a lot of her paper books, but her favorites right now are Finding Nemo and a Disney Princess Little Golden book about The Little Mermaid.
Do you have any pets?
I have two pets! A dog and a cat. The cat was first. His name is Nash. I got him from a friend when I moved back to Georgia for a year in 2015. So in a way, he was my first child, haha. He likes drinking water from the faucet and birdwatching from our bedroom window.
The dog is Graham. He is an F1 Golden Doodle. He has a lot more Golden Retriever in him than Poodle. His hair is straight, sometimes, it waves when it is wet. He loves sticks and playing keep away. He is very gentle around my toddler. I got him a few months before I found out I was pregnant. He has been a very good sport about sharing the attention.
How cute are they! And thank you for sharing pictures. We LOVE pictures!
If you could travel anywhere in the world, and stay as long as you wanted, without the restriction of work responsibilities or financial restrictions, where would you go, and how long would you stay?
I’ve never been, but the pictures convince me that this place is amazing. I’d want to go to Lake Como in Italy. I would find a coffee shop with a waterfront view, set up my portable watercolor kit, and just study the views: the colors of the houses, the boats, and the shiny blue water. Oh, that would be so fun.
If you could describe your perfect day, what would it look like?
Hmm, maybe the day I just described at Lake Como. Well, in reality, I think the perfect day is when I get everything on my to-do list done while also being the mom my kids need me to be. It’s a day where everything is balanced perfectly. There is work and play, rhythm and calm. The rhythm of the day is like a song. At the end of the day after the main swell of the music, I can sit and look at the stars from my back deck and be thankful. I guess it’s a day where I can successfully be everything to everybody and everything to myself all at the same time. Ha ha. Seems like a far reach.
If you could meet any fictional book character(s) who would it/they be?
The Count of Monte Cristo.
Miss Clavel from the Madeline books.
Oh my goodness. Amazing choices!
If you were an animal, what animal would you be?
Lynx. I like cats. Lynx strikes me as both beautiful and fierce.
If you could have one superpower, what would it be?
What’s your favorite color?
Mauve, in various shades
Thank you, Brittany, for your time in answering all these questions.
To find Brittany’s book, THE BIRD AND THE TREE visit:
Her website www.brittwut.com
Or Instagram @britwut
Did you enjoy this interview? Support this author by purchasing their book HERE!Using this direct purchase links also supports this blog.
Biscuit and Gravy visit the fire station to learn about fire safety. Their imaginations run wild as they tell their parents how they defeated the fire monster. Questions and answers about fire safety are included at the end of the book.
Biscuit and Gravy Learn About Fire Safety. Written by Shaun Tyson. Illustrated by Simon Tyson.
Published March, 2022.
Want to support this author and blog? Purchase a copy of BISCUIT AND GRAVY LEARN ABOUT FIRE SAFETEY with this special Amazon Affiliate link.
A little background on my relationship with Shaun and Simon
I met Shaun and Simon in the summer of 2022, but Shaun and I were in contact earlier in the year. For the 2022 Summer Reading Program, hosted in the Children’s Library, I was looking for fun activities to do with the kids. Of course, being an avid reader and writer myself, I was excited about the idea of having a short story contest.
The goal of the short story contest was to engage kids within the community and motivate them to write a story. The rules were simple: anyone up to the age of 12 could submit a story, up to a max of 1,000 words. All of the participants would have a chance to share and read other stories on our story board display in the Children's Department. However, three special winners would be chosen and awarded a special prize at the end of the summer. Because who doesn't love a good incentive?
This idea seemed way cool... but I wondered, what could bring this contest to the next level of awesome? And then it hit me. What if we had LOCAL CHILDREN'S AUTHORS not only help participate in selecting our finalists but also present the prizes to the kids, along with a copy of one of their autographed books? There's a great way to incorporate the community!
By a sheer chance of luck, the weekend prior to this novelty idea, a local Children's Author- Shaun Tyson- had come into our library and donated a copy of his children’s book Biscuit and Gravy Learn about Fire Safety. So, of course, he was on my radar as a possible candidate. It didn’t take long to track Shaun down, and he was overwhelmingly gracious about the opportunity. Working with Shaun was a joy. He was a fantastic communicator, provided everything I needed- when I needed it- and, he was super easy-going.
Now that we had Shaun on board, it was time to find some more authors. Where did I find them, you ask? Well, as every librarian knows, the best place to find writers (other than in the library of course) is at your local bookstore! So, that’s just where I went. I paid a visit to Curious Capybara, a local gem in our area, and in no time, I had leads on some other fabulous authors. And thankfully, all of them were more than willing to join the judging table and help us find our short story finalists. Acting as judges were Rainbow Mosho, Brittany Wuthrich, and Shaun Tyson.
Upon meeting Shaun and his son Simon in person, I was met with an immediate feeling of warmth and kindness. The entire clan (wife and other son too) were down-to-earth, and just overall a pleasure to have visiting our library. So, when I started doing feature interviews, I immediately thought of them. And just like last time, they graciously accepted.
So, let’s jump right in!
Questions for Shaun:
What made you decide to write a book?
There are firefighter books out there. Some have great messages, but few teach fire safety. I felt there was a need for a children's book that taught actual fire safety tips that the child could remember.
What was your favorite part of the writing process?
Seeing it all come together with the illustrations. Simon really brought the characters to life.
Did you come up with the concept of the story first or the title? Did the title ever change?
The story concept was first. The title came after the character names were developed, which were created by my other son, Sully.
How long did it take from the point you had your first idea for the story to publication?
Probably close to a year from concept to print.
At any point, did you consider doing traditional publication?
I looked into it, but it seemed less likely that I would be able to achieve my goal.
What made you decide to self-publish?
I decided to self-publish because I would be fully in control of what I wrote and on our own timeline.
Can you tell us a little bit about your personal connection to the story on fire safety?
I have been in public safety for over 23 years. A large part of that has been in the fire service, predominantly in fire investigations. Seeing so many fires and how they were caused fueled my passion for fire safety education.
Was it difficult to decide where you would get your illustrations, or did you know immediately that your son would be the perfect fit?
It was an easy decision to keep it in the family. Simon is quite talented.
Do you think you’ll publish more books in the future? If so, do you think you’ll continue a series using your characters from your first book or start fresh on a new venture entirely?
I do have an interest in publishing another Biscuit and Gravy book. I think stories can be both fun and educational. But we will have to wait and see what happens.
If you published again, do you think you would go the independent route again or try to seek out traditional publishing?
I think I would continue to self-publish because I do like the freedom that comes with it. Although, it is tougher to get the word out about your book. They both have their advantages.
Now for some fun questions….
Melted caramel. Karamell-Küche in Epcot’s Germany Pavilion is the place to go if you like caramel.
Epcot at Disney World.
Otters are awesome.
Favorite tv show?
Any of the baking competition shows on Food Network.
Favorite book (s)?
I am going to keep with kid books and say the Berenstain Bears books.
If you could have any superpower, what would it be?
Although super strength would be tempting, I think super speed so I can get more things done in less time.
If you were an animal, what would you be?
Although I love otters, I think I would be a fox. They are mysterious creatures.
Thanks Shaun! Now, let's talk to Simon a little bit.
Questions for Simon:
How old were you when you started working on the illustrations for BISCUIT AND GRAVY LEARN ABOUT FIRE SAFETY?
I was 17 years old when my dad first approached me about illustrating the book, but 18 by the time I started the illustrations.
Was this your first time doing any kind of creative art professionally?
This was my first book, but I had done some commission artwork for friends and family prior.
Do you have any history of art education?
Currently, I do not have any art education, but I do plan to take some art classes while in college. Most of what I have learned about techniques and tools comes from watching other artists on YouTube, such as Jazza and James Raiz.
How long did it take you to draft your work?
If I remember correctly, it took me about three weeks, give or take, to draft everything. Certain pages were a bit trickier to tackle than others, and I would go back and forth on what to do with them.
How did you create your illustrations? Did you use an online program, or were your creations hand-drawn? If hand-drawn, what mediums did you use? If you used an online program, did you do hand sketches first?
For the final illustrations seen in the book, I used a program called Clip Studio Paint. However, I started off with simple pencil sketches to get the basics of how Biscuit and Gravy would look in each picture. I'd take a picture of the sketch with my phone, email it to myself, and then use that as a rough guide on my computer to make cleaner lines and coloring. Certainly not the most efficient way to do things, but it worked for a first project!
What was it like working with your dad?
Working with my dad was a ton of fun. When it was time for me to illustrate, to go along with the writing he already had done, he gave me tiny doodles of what he wanted many of the pictures in the book to look like. It was cool getting to see his original vision develop over time into the final product, a process that is really rewarding as an artist.
Did you enjoy the process of illustration?
While tedious, I enjoyed the illustration process. Drawing is one of my favorite things in life, so getting to design these lovable characters and present them in dynamic ways was very fun.
Do you think this is something you might continue to pursue in the future?
I've considered pursuing more illustration work in the future! I would love to help more authors with their work, there's just a "do I have the time" issue. We'll see what opportunities are presented in the future, though. I keep an open mind! I do know for certain, however, that Biscuit and Gravy's adventures are something I'll be coming back to when the time comes!
Now for some fun questions…
So many favorite smells to choose from, but I'll have to go with freshly baked cinnamon rolls!
I really enjoy the color feldgrau green.
My grandparents' house is probably my favorite place on earth. (Grandma often makes cinnamon rolls!)
Aww! Great answer!
Autumn is my favorite season. In my humble opinion, the perfect weather happens during this time of year.
Cherry Coke is my go-to beverage, but cherry Sprite is a close second.
Komodo Dragons are by far my favorite animal. Such cool creatures!
Favorite tv show?
Star Wars the Clone Wars has been a consistent tv show in my life. While my favorite tv show changes frequently, I'll have to go with this one. Having grown up with it since I started school, it has a special place in my favorites list.
Favorite book (s)?
My favorite book is the Outsiders by S. E. Hinton! Such a dynamic story with lovable characters. It's also worth noting that my favorite illustrated book would be any of the Pigeon books by Mo Willems. His work was a huge inspiration for Biscuit and Gravy Learn About Fire Safety!
If you could have any superpower, what would it be?
If I could have any superpower, it would be to emit fire. Not only would it look cool, it's practical for things like roasting marshmallows! Would be smart of me to make sure I have the fire safety stuff memorized before using the power though.
If you were an animal, what would you be?
I think it would be cool to be a panda. Sometimes I feel like one, sitting around eating and sleeping for most of the day!
Thank you, guys, so much for sharing your story with us! To purchase a copy of BISCUIT AND GRAVY LEARN ABOUT FIRE SAFETY, click here. To find out more about Shaun and Simon, visit their social media pages on Facebook, Instagram, or TikTok, all of which are @biscuitandgravybooks.
Are you an author, illustrator, or any other member of the writing community looking to share some of what you do with others? Contact me below for details on upcoming FEATURE INTERVIEWS.
A little background on my relationship with Angie:
Angie and I have the pleasure of working together in the library, and we both share a passion for writing. It’s always wonderful connecting with other writers, and working with them in person is even cooler!
Fun fact about Angie: not only can she rocks hats like no one I’ve ever seen, but she’s a really awesome and knowledgeable lady, so working with her is an extra treat. So, let’s dive right into the interview.
Angie, what is your favorite genre to read? And does this inspire your own writing?
I love a good mystery; I haven’t written a mystery … yet. It’s in the works! However …
Mysteries have always been one of my favorite genres, both to read and write. I love the suspense and excitement that comes with trying to solve a good mystery. It’s also fun to try and come up with new and interesting puzzles for my readers to solve. Writing mysteries is a great way to exercise your imagination and creativity. Mystery was the inspiration for The Scripture Scout Christian Resources ... where one takes up a magnifying glass and, like Sherlock Holmes, discovers the footprints of Jesus in every part of the word of God ... even in Genesis. Our “mascot” is a magnifying glass and a Bible. But more on that later …
At what point in your life did you realize you wanted to be a writer? Was it something you always enjoyed doing, or did you find your passion later in life?
When I was younger, writing seemed to come naturally, and it made me happy. It didn’t matter if anyone else liked my work or not - all that mattered is getting those words on paper!
Can you tell us briefly about the books you have published and what inspired them?
My first book was published by Thomas Nelson publishing in 2006. I wrote it with an old college friend and later colleague, Greg Taylor. From his missionary experience in Africa and mine as a regular short-term trip leader to Honduras, we pulled our sources together to write a self-help nonfiction work, This resource was inspired by both of us having gone on mission trips (and brought teams) where things didn’t go according to plan because of poor preparation. This largely happens when teams are not properly ready to work cross-culturally in another culture’s land...but now there is hope! “How to Get Ready for Short-Term Missions” was the very first book of its kind.
How long did it take you to write your books? And what made you decide to go the indie publishing route vs. traditional publication?
I remember giving each other deadlines, and it came together through editing back and forth over a few months, I believe. That was when you had to pitch to a publisher who decided they liked you. And so, as I had prepared other works and found that the indie route was more successful. The process has since become simpler (and oftentimes financially rewarding) for those who wish to take on their own projects with minimal help from a big company!
Can you tell us the pros and cons you’ve faced on your self-publishing journey?
PROS: I would say creative control and less waiting around for your book to be “seen.”CONS: The only way to get visibility is to “know” people or actually KNOW HOW to DIY on the world wide web and online marketplace.
If you could give one piece of advice to other indie authors, what would it be?
Start with a blog/website and build a fan base, give freebies, then start sharing your products when you know they trust you and your resources.
We already know that when you aren’t writing, you’re working in the library, but what other work do you do and hobbies do you have? Do you have any other creative passions we don’t know about?
Writing pretty much IS my hobby AND job! The latest book, SCENT OF PINE, is the outcome of a hobby. The job is building products for THE SCRIPTURE SCOUT CHRISTIAN RESOURCES.www.thescripturescout.com – the hub and base for the three sites you will find there, which include:
“The Supercharged Sunday School”
You can subscribe and get loads of freebie at you’re your preferred place and get literally loads of awesome freebies!
Can you tell us something about you that not many people know?
Hmmm… probably these two things:
1. That I have done a LOT of theatre with many different theatre companies in the Nashville area.
2.That most people call me by my given name, Anne-Geri’ – but saying it out loud confuses people when it’s on name tags, so if I have to wear one, it says “Angie.”
Now for some fun questions….
Sweet or salty?
Salty until recently (blood pressure) – now I guess my “secret snack” is ice cream instead of chips! Lol *weeps openly*
Warm weather or cold weather?
BOTH! I love seasonal changes.
Coffee or tea? Iced or hot?
Give me a good hot cuppa any day. If you know what a “cuppa” is, you’ll know the answer!
Oh no, now I’m confused – green? (lol, jk, it’s purple --- I think …)
That was a test... you passed!
Favorite tv show?
Oh, poot, I guess it depends on the genre! I’ll do comedies: Frasier, Only Murders in the Building. and The Vicar of Dibley.
Top five favorite authors/books?
(Yes, I READ every one of these before their works became tv shows or movies)
*doing alphabetical here*
Dorothy L. Sayers
If you could teleport anywhere in the world, where would you go first?
Hmm. I’d say either the backyard swing behind my first home in Auckland, New Zealand – because I hear it’s still there (and if possible, under a rainbow) OR the big rock in the river in behind the village of Silin outside of Trujillo, Honduras.
Tell us about your latest writing projects! What are you working on now?
We just released a product for The Scripture Scout Christian Resources under Supercharged Sunday School. It is a year’s worth of Sunday School curriculum that can be used over and over again without repeating itself. For example, a church kids ministry can use the same lesson across the board with all ages. Each teacher uses a different age-appropriate resource from that lesson, and every child in the kids’ ministry, 3rd through 8th grade, gets taught the same thing! It can be found HERE.
Thank you so much, Angie, for sharing with us!
To find out more about Angie, you can visit her website and social media below:
The Scripture Scout Christian Resources can be found on all of your favorite social networks, but these are preferred by our company:
Are you an author, illustrator, or any other member of the writing community looking to share some of what you do with others? Contact me below for details on upcoming FEATURE INTERVIEWS.