Hello, and welcome back to Chelsea’s World of Books blog. It’s time for another Feature Interview. If this is your first time visiting, let me tell you a little about what makes these segments so valuable.
WHAT’S SO GREAT ABOUT FEATURE INTERVIEWS?
Feature Interviews are an INVALUABLE resource for writers and illustrators at every stage of their publishing journey. Not only are they a great way to stay current on market trends and learn more about the industry’s ins and outs, but they also give readers an up close & personal look at the world of publication from the perspectives of a diverse collection of creators.
Every month, I sit down with members of the writing community, and we discuss everything publishing.
Here are some of the things we talk about:
- Writing workshops and resources
- Diversity in literature and why it matters
- Where to find support and community
- How to improve writing craft and set goals
- How to deal with setbacks/disappointments and WAITING
- Helpful tips and suggestions for aspiring authors and illustrators
- Querying agents, contract negotiations, book deals, and time frames
- And of course- NEW BOOKS!
So, now that you know what to expect… let’s get into our interview.
Howard Pearlstein is the author of nine picture books that have been translated into five languages. His upcoming titles in 2024 and 2025 include This Book Is Not For You and The Bad Book for Good Kids, both published by Familius. Howard is also the founder of Copy Rocket, an advertising copywriting agency, and has worked on some of the world’s most popular brands, including Toyota, Verizon and Mitsubishi. A California native, Howard now lives in Birmingham, Alabama with his wife, Debi. Howard has three daughters, Amanda, Jacquie and Emily, who live across the country, and one dog, Maeby, who still lives at home.
I love starting these interviews by asking my guests how they ended up in the wonderful world of kidlit. Can you tell us how you arrived here? How I ended up in the world of kidlit is a much longer story than we have time for today. But I can say that in 2018, I went through a period of self-reflection. Up until that point, my entire career had been in advertising. I loved the career and was proud of the work I had created. But, as I looked back, I realized that I hadn’t created anything for myself, anything personal. Since advertising really is telling a story with an interplay of pictures of words, I had a revelation that I should be able to write picture books. Of course, I had no idea what I was doing, so the first thing I did was Google “How to write picture books.” And you’re the founder of a copywriting advertising agency. Can you tell us how that lends a role in your writing career? I’ve been a copywriter since graduating from college and I truly believe that my advertising experience has provided the perfect training for writing picture books. In many ways, the process is similar: - You have to come up with a concept on how you will communicate an idea. - You have to understand who your target audience is and what motivates them. - You need to know what goals you’re trying to achieve. - You then need to create words and visuals that go together to tell the story in the most creative way possible. - You also need to use the fewest words possible to get across your message. - You want the final product to be something that speaks to the audience on an emotional level since that’s what sells.
PUBLICATION ROUTE: QUERYING & SUBMISSIONS/ AGENTS & PUBLISHING HOUSES
Can you tell us a little bit about your publication route. When did you first start querying agents/submitting to publishing houses? After deciding to write picture books in 2018, I began querying my first manuscript, Orange Porange, in 2019. Were you agented for your first book deals? If not, can you explain what the submission process was like when sending manuscripts directly to publishing houses? And share some details on the timeframe that it took for you to land your first publishing book deal? I began the submission process without an agent. In fact, I just signed with an agent last month (finally), Jes Trudel with The Rights Factory. Without an agent, the submission process is extremely tedious. First, you have to find which publishers accept unsolicited manuscripts. Then you have to research each publisher individually to see if their list aligns with your story. Then, you have to put together a query letter. Since I was so new to publishing, I again had to turn to Google and ask, “How do you get a picture book published.” Luckily, there’s a wealth of great information available. With Orange Porange, I started querying in July of 2019 and was lucky enough to find a home for it in August with Marshall-Cavendish. Now I understand you recently got some very exciting news. Would you like to share this with us? I touched on it earlier, but I finally have an agent! I had queried Jes Trudel with The Rights Factory with a new manuscript, and, on her Query Manager page, she allowed authors to submit additional manuscripts. I took advantage of that and was definitely excited when she reached out to me and wanted to talk. We had a great Zoom call, and I signed with her about a week later. I do hope everyone keeps in mind that I’ve been querying agents relentlessly for 5 years. In fact, one agency told me to stop querying them altogether. Querying publishers and agents is not an easy process.
CHALLENGES, ROADBLOCKS & INSPIRATION
What are some difficulties you’ve personally faced throughout your publication journey and what helped you to overcome them? Constant rejection is by far the biggest difficulty. You receive one form rejection letter after another – or nothing at all. For me, what helped to overcome this difficulty was always keeping my commitment to my goal (to be a picture book author) front and center at all times. Challenges, obstacles, and difficulties don’t matter when you’re 100% dedicated to your destination. I love that! "Challenges, obstacles, and difficulties don't matter when you're 100% DEDICATED TO YOUR DESTINATION." What has been your biggest source of inspiration to keep going? My biggest source of inspiration is my desire to make a career out of writing picture books. Right now, the royalty checks don’t come anywhere close to paying the bills, so I know I need to keep writing more (and better) books to make that goal a reality.
AUTHOR EVENTS: SCHOOL & LIBRARY VISITS AND FESTIVALS (INCLUDE PICS)
Let’s talk about author visits! Being a librarian and kidlit author myself, author visits are one of my FAVORITE things! Can you tell us a little bit about some of your experiences visiting schools/libraries/festivals? I just had my first author visit on Halloween, and it was fantastic. I wanted to make my presentation perfect, so I spent weeks working on it. I think this idea that it had to be perfect came from my advertising background, where so much is always riding on client presentations. My wife finally told me to just relax and have fun. I did and ended up having a great time presenting to first graders and then second graders. I’ve always heard that you have to be prepared for anything with school presentations. This is definitely true – and I wasn’t prepared for one question. I read one of my books, Tribeca, about a three-legged cat, and one of the students asked if I had a pet. We recently had to put our dog to sleep, so I was caught completely off-guard by the question and didn’t know what to say. I finally answered, “I used to.” So, besides that moment, the visit was awesome. I’ve also recently been trying to get out into the community by having a booth at a local farmers market and a book festival. Those have been a lot of fun and very rewarding in the sense that it’s very rewarding to hand someone something you’ve created, and they pay you for it right on the spot. I’m hoping that attendance at these types of events will lead to more exposure for me beyond the events themselves.
Any suggestions for authors or illustrators who may be newly debuting on how to go about booking visits like these? I wish I knew the secret to cracking the school visit code. I got lucky with my one school visit because it was at my wife’s former school. I’ve reached out to other local schools and haven’t heard a word back from any of them. I’m thinking the key to this, just like getting published, is to be completely committed and to not let anything deter you.
PUBLISHING RESOURCES & TIPS
If you had to share three of the greatest resources you’ve found in the kidlit publishing industry so far, what would they be, and why are they so valuable? There are so many resources out there that it’s difficult to choose just three. When I began writing picture books, I simply scoured Google for any and all info I could find. I can’t remember all the sites I visited. However, once I started submitting, I found several good resources for finding publishers that accept unsolicited manuscripts. One source for that that seems particularly thorough and up-to-date is https://bitsykemper.com/publishers/. I also listened to quite few podcasts. Two that I found the most useful The Yarn (Travis Jonker and Colby Sharp) and Literaticast (Jennifer Laughran). Finally, there’s a regular newsletter called QueryTracker Weekly Update. I think it’s by the same company that does Query Manager. Anyway, this newsletter provides updates on which agents are open for submissions and the genres they represent. It’s where I saw that Jes was open, so I highly recommend that people sign up for it. Are there any tips you would like to share with our readers that you wish you had known when you were just starting down the road of kidlit publishing? Besides not knowing anything about picture books, I also didn’t know how slow the publishing industry is. Having spent my entire career in advertising, I’m used to a start-to-finish process that can take as little as the same day to maybe a month or so for large-scale TV commercials. With publishing, everything moves slowly. For example, I signed the contract for my book that’s coming out in 2025 back in 2021. And now, we’re moving onto my favorite part of the interview- the books!
I would love to hear about some of your books and the inspirations behind them! Could you tell us a little about them? Here’s the inspiration for a couple of books: Connor Crowe Can’t Let Go • My wife and I went out to breakfast one day and it seemed like every parent was on his or her phone rather than paying attention to their children. When the kids started getting antsy, the parents gave them their phones to occupy them. I thought this was incredibly sad to see families barely interacting with each other. I remembered a story from when I was little about a boy who pushed vegetables onto his fork with his thumb, even though his parents told him not to. He kept doing it and one day vegetables started growing from his thumb. At first it was cool, but then the vegetables grew out of control. I thought a similar premise could work for a boy who’s addicted to his device and then realizes the consequences. I wanted this story to be a cautionary tale about the dangers of choosing devices over people. Tribeca • My oldest daughter Amanda, a lawyer with the department of justice, called me one day and said I should write a picture book about the three-legged cat she and her girlfriend had fostered and that was eventually adopted by a family with a three-legged dog. I told her it was a great idea, but I’d only write it if she wrote it with me. Luckily, she agreed. I wrote a first draft, sent it to Amanda, she refined it, and then we went back and forth a few times to fine tune it. Writing the story from Tribeca’s perspective and about the thoughts and fears a foster cat could have made the process a lot of fun. When we started sending out queries, one publisher, Margie Blumberg from MB Publishing, gave us some really wonderful feedback. We revised the manuscript with her insights and continued with the querying process. I really think her input helped this story get out of the slush pile. Do you have a favorite book that you’ve published? If so, which one and why? (If you have more than one favorite- feel free to share!) Orange Porange is near and dear to my heart because it was my first published book (and I think the story is funny and sweet). But, I have to say my favorite is The Old Man Eating Alone. First, I really love that it has such a different premise than most picture books. It covers death and dying and it’s about a friendship about an old man and a young girl. I also love the illustrations by Hilde Groven. I think they’re beautiful. But the main reason it’s my favorite is because it was inspired by my youngest daughter Emily. She has always been very empathetic and one of the things that upset her the most, from a young age, was seeing old men eating by themselves. I have no idea why. But I took this idea of an old man eating alone and thought about how I could transform this sad premise into something else. While the story has sadness and deals with dying, it gives the reader an opportunity to look at loss from a different perspective. Do you have a favorite spread in your books? We’d love to see it/hear about it! Why is it your favorite? And who is the illustrator behind it? (feel free to share pictures of your favorite illustrations if you’d like to!) I have so many illustrations that I love, but I’ll include one from Orange Porange. One of the main reasons that it’s so special is that it was illustrated by my friend and former advertising partner, Rob Hardison. When I was learning about picture books, everything I read said that the publisher chooses the illustrator. But when I signed the contract with Marshall-Cavendish, they said that I could choose my own illustrator. Rob and I had worked together for years and had done so many great ads. I knew he was a talented illustrator, so I asked him if he wanted to work with me on this. Luckily, he did. We conceived the idea of the characters together, but then Rob brought them to life perfectly. I chose this particular illustration because I love the way Rob made Orange and Purple look so happy. I have no idea how, with just a few lines, he was able to have them express so much joy.
Thank you so much for being with us today, Howard, and for sharing all this great information with our readers. We’re so glad to have had you with us. But don’t go away just yet- because we’ve now arrived at our PRIZE GIVEAWAY portion of the interview.
During the month of December, 2023, Howard is offering the following giveaway prize to one winner:
A classroom/library visit (zoom / in person, if local) or book reading.
* LIBRARIANS AND TEACHERS, WE’RE LOOKING AT YOU!*
HOW TO ENTER THE GIVEAWAY
During the month of December 2023:
- Subscribe to the blog
- Like this blog post
- Leave a comment below letting me know you’ve done both. (If the guest is offering more than one prize, please specify which you’d like in the comments below.)
Entry window: December 1st-31st.
FAQ: What if I was already subscribed to the blog? Does that mean I won’t qualify for the Prize Giveaway? Not at all! If you subscribed PRIOR to this month, all you’ll need to do is LIKE this Feature Interview and leave your comment below this post.
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