Author Spotlight: June Smalls

Author Spotlight: June Smalls

Happy Friday and welcome to a special bonus edition of Picture Book Spotlight!

At the beginning of May I started posting once a week instead of every Tuesday and Thursday. As you might imagine, three months straight with two posts a week was becoming difficult to manage. And I didn't have time for my own writing...a bit of a problem for an author. So I decided maybe less was more.

However, Stacey Corrigan from @OntheScenein19 reached out to see if I would be interested in featuring authors and illustrators debuting this year. Of course I was!

So in order to accommodate all my scheduled interviews (I'm booked well into 2020), I had to create space for the occasional two-a-week post.

That brings us to today's Author Spotlight. I'm so pleased to feature June Smalls and her debut picture book, Odd Animal ABCs! June is a member of #OntheScenein19 and had her debut picture book was published at the beginning of May.

This book is so fun and has an eclectic cast of characters--some of which you maybe didn't know existed! So if you're an animal person...this book is for YOU!

June has generously agreed to do a giveaway, so read to the end for details on how to win a signed copy of her book for a kid in your life!

Our giveaway contest with Diana Murray is still going strong. If you write in rhyme and would like a manuscript critique by Diana, make sure to subscribe and retweet her interview to enter.

Finally, I'm very excited to share ANOTHER interview with Kristen Kiesling who recently signed with her agent! Check back in on Tuesday, June 18th for an inside look at her success story finding representation--so pumped for her!

Without further ado, here's June!

I need quiet for thinking/daydreaming.

I need something to write on.

I need research sources – internet, library, or primary sources.

What’s something you absolutely must have in your refrigerator or pantry?

Chips. I’m always eating chips!

Where do you feel most inspired and why?

It may sound silly, but my couch. I close my eyes and let my mind wander. Especially in the early morning when I’m not 100% awake. No rushing, no judging, just following thoughts around the spiderwebs inside my mind and seeing where they lead me.

Give us a little about your background. How did you get into kidlit, and why picture books?

I’ve always written and was always a huge bookworm. When The Kid was little I was reminded how I fell in love with reading. It all started with picture books.

I started out toying with ideas and stories and one day I decided, I’m going to do this! I knew I didn’t want to self-publish. I didn’t want to worry about heavy sales, marketing, editing, choosing illustrators, inventory, shipping, etc. Plus, I was scared. What if I wasn’t as good as I thought? I had to pursue Traditional Publishing…

So, I joined SCBWI, joined a critique group, and attended classes and conferences. It took a little over five years from when I got serious to getting an agent and book sales.

Nothing is cooler than a little kid telling you your book made them laugh and getting into serious conversations with kids as young as two about the smell of foxes, wombat poop, and when they say, “I want to know more.” They want to learn more about these animals, or they want to see what other animals are out there. That is pretty great!

Their reactions during read-a-louds when we get to letter H is hilarious too!

Let’s talk about Odd Animal ABC's. Your book is really fun! So many great animals featured that typically don’t get the spotlight in kidlit. Why did you choose odd animals?

At one point in time people thought gorillas were a hoax. People didn’t believe that Komodo dragons existed.

Kids have a great capacity to learn and there are so many amazing creatures out there. Kids just need to see them. Then, like the gorillas and the dragons, they become common knowledge.

Plus, I think they are cool!

What’s the story of Odd Animal ABC's path to publication?

I subbed to agents who, even when they liked the manuscript, said ABC’s were a hard sell. So, I subbed to editors I’d met and small presses that seemed like a good fit.

There was no magic formula or golden ticket. Blue Manatee Press pulled my manuscript out of their slush pile and liked it. They made and offer and I acquired an agent at that same time who handled the contract.

Something I really enjoyed about this book was the relationship between the text and the artwork. The characters interacted with the letters and names of the animals in such fun ways. And the puns and general snarkiness made me smile. I loved that the odd animals had a little edge to them and were almost graffitiing their name into the book. I’m curious if you included that concept as an art note or was that something Claire chose?

I submitted with simple art notes or text that showed what I wanted.

Example: Alligator – Aye-Aye

The editor and I both knew there would be some form of vandalism or strikethrough. Claire came up with the awesome watercolor that showed the original name, while giving the odd animals that fun takeover feel. I can’t imagine it being any more perfect.

Interviews like this one, giveaways, author visits at schools and museums, and joining a debut group, On the Scene in ’19.

I’ll also be a part of the Read Local Challenge for 2019-2020.

Shelly, from my event with live animals. She is an amputee that is now an animal ambassador (and obviously a fan). :-)

I saw on your interview with Susanna Leonard Hill that you are looking to do some book signings at zoos. What a great idea! Anything lined up yet? Which zoo would be your dream zoo to do a signing at?

I’m still trying and I have some interest, but I don’t want to post their names without confirmation. However, I’d love to visit the Bronx Zoo in NY or the Cincinnati Zoo (so I can meet Fiona).

I did a visit at the Shenandoah Valley Discovery Museum in an animal themed morning where we had live animals join us from the Blue Ridge Wildlife Rehabilitation Center.

I’m glad to see you are getting school visits booked. I think that is so important for picture book authors to practice. What do you hope to accomplish with these visits? Will you offer different workshops?

When visiting children, I want to spark curiosity. Whether it is about animals, nature, art, whatever. I want them to want to learn more. I want them to want to do their own research.

I also discuss creativity and remind them that art isn’t only words or paint. Dance, computers, comics, music, construction, landscape. Everything can be art. I’ve presented to preschoolers up through third grade and have a blast every time.

I am working on presentations for kid lit writers about research, even for fiction. I hope to hear back soon from an SCBWI conference to see if I’ve been selected to present.

Tara Lazar recently had a blog on the nature of success. I wonder if you can comment on her thoughts from the perspective of a debut author.

First, Tara Lazar is awesome. I’ve attended a workshop of hers and I’ve had a skype critique with her. She is wise, hardworking, and seems to have fun the whole time. A great balance.

She is completely right. Success isn’t defined by any one moment or achievement. Writing, as a career, isn’t done with one book, one award, one draft. I had hundreds of rejections. I kept learning, writing, putting my work out into the world. I published my debut picture book because I kept moving forward. I enjoy the journey as much as the milestones.

I had a local Books-a-Million that wanted me to do a signing. We set a date, but their regional director wouldn’t let them order my book in bulk (like, not even 20). The local manager was upset, but what can you do? I’m not yet a big name or a big draw. So even when there is interest, you still can’t always make things happen.

What are you working on now that has you excited?

I’ve got more picture books out on submission and I’m working on some chapter books as well. One contemporary series and the other a magical series. And I can’t wait for the world to see She Leads.

You have another book coming out in 2020. Awesome! What can you tell us about She Leads: The Elephant Matriarch?