Author & Champion Spotlight:
If you have stumbled into this tiny nook of the internet by mistake, allow me to welcome you to Picture Book Spotlight. If you are confused what that means...it's a blog about picture books. You know the books with...pictures...for...kids?
If you are still confused and would like to return to a more familiar place of the internet, I cannot help you. You are stuck here for life. Or at least until you click elsewhere. So get comfortable. And I apologize in advance. There is nothing funny or entertaining about this blog. It is a serious place for serious artists so get ready to be serious and not smile for several minutes.
Don't even think about smiling.
Aaaaaaannnd that just might be my strangest opener ever. Maybe not. Probably.? Definitely not. On to the interview.
Today I am very happy to share a Spotlight Interview that is both an Author Spotlight and a Champion Spotlight. What's a Champion Spotlight? Thanks for asking. I've only done one other Champion Spotlight--check out Jess Townes' Spotlight Interview.
To me, a picture book champion is someone who is doing something unique to...well...champion picture books. Not just an author but, maybe someone who is an author with a big generous heart who does a lot for the kidlit community and who maybe just happens to have dreams of becoming an agent someday...yes, I'm talking about Kaitlyn Sanchez.
I have corresponded with Kaitlyn as a friend and critique partner for a minute or two. She's helped me with many a manuscript---and she would love to help you with yours! Did I mention she wants to be an agent...more on that below!
She recently had a huge opportunity come her way and I couldn't be more excited for her--dive into the interview to find out all about it!
My phone, my family, Google Docs.
What’s something you absolutely must have in your refrigerator or pantry?
Cheez-Its and chocolate. I'm currently addicted to BarkThins, have you had them??? Delicious 😋
What is one goal you have for yourself in 2020?
One of my biggest goals is to balance everything, making sure there's always family time.
It all started with my parents.
My dad has always loved making up songs and stories for my sister and I, he still does, in fact! So when I was pregnant with my daughter, I knew I would sing a lullaby my dad created for us to her. However, that song was about a birdie, and we had a turtle and cat as pets so I decided to extend it to include them.
Once my daughter was born, I made up rhymes and songs about EVERYTHING and my mom kept saying, "You should write children's books."
I always just brushed it off as a mom's compliment—they believe we can do anything right? But then a friend from college posted on Facebook that she wrote a children's book and was looking for feedback. That was it. After all my mom's encouragement, I finally realized that if someone I knew could try it, why not me? Hadn't I always loved writing stories as a kid anyway?
I had heard a story on NPR about the Best Language for Math, hint, it's not English, and as a math teacher, I thought If I'm going to do this, it's going to help math students everywhere so I started a rhyme based on this article. (This was 2017.)
Once I thought it was ready, I contacted Ruth Spiro. (Ruth was the only published writer I knew. I had sent her fan mail about her AMAZING board book, Quarks, that my daughter, husband, and I all adored, and she had kindly written back.) Since I only had one story, she suggested I find publishers who accepted unsolicited submissions, so I sent them.
(Family picture when I sent my first set of queries)
And then waited.
I got great responses, form responses, and no responses.
All the ones that responded, loved the idea but it wasn't right for them at the time, so I finally thought Hm...there must be something that needs to be improved. So I dove into more research.
Luckily, I found Kidlit411 and Harold Underdown's website. I met wonderful new writers on the Kidlit Swap page on Facebook with whom I became critique partners. I finally had some money to join SCBWI and go to conferences, and I was off.
When I found Tara Lazar's Storystorm, I was finally able to think of more than just a few story ideas. I joined Twitter to participate in pitch contests and made a blog to help meet other writers. I got some traction from contests, getting likes during Pitmad and Pbpitch and honorable mentions from Susanna Hill and Vivian Kirkfield's contests and from Diana Murray in Tara Luebbe's Writing With the Stars contest.
Though Diana chose someone else to mentor, she gave me a critique that helped give my story a whole new hook. And we became great friends, too. She's one of my favorite people in the Kidlit world!
All of this gave me validation, but getting no's after those close calls with editors and agents was actually really hard, so I decided my picture books weren't ready and I needed a break. I would pursue magazine writing first, as many of my predecessors had started that way.
Then suddenly, there was a post on Kidlit 411 Facebook page for picture book submissions, so I sat down and wrote something totally new that I would love to read to my daughter, and a few months later, I got an R&R and the ball was rolling, I got the offer, then my agent! (This was 2019.)
Now, with the inspiration of my agent, Rebecca, and my CPs, Andrea Walker and James McGowan, I have an additional dream. I want to become a literary agent. I want to support others and help their writing dreams come true by helping them get their stories to the best level and connecting them with editors who get their story too. Because I finally said this out loud last year, I decided to research it and pursue it. Now, I'm an intern at Olswanger Literary, and I just adore it!
(Family celebration when I signed with literary agent, Rebecca Angus)
There was so much serendipity here. First, I got my book deal and asked friends how to approach agents about it.
At the time, one of my CPs was already repped and offered to share the list of agents she complied. One of the agents on her list was Rebecca Angus--I had others from the Golden Wheat Literary Agency on my list but not Rebecca because she was closed to queries when I had compiled my list. But now, she was OPEN! What luck!
And even more so, when I checked out Rebecca's Publishers Marketplace, I saw one of my newest CPs at the top of her list! I asked Annemarie about Rebecca and asked if I could let Rebecca know we were CPs, and she generously said yes.
I knew within the first few minutes of our call that Rebecca was perfect for me because she just gushed about my math story: she got it! Like really really got it. And I just adore her style of communication and her proposals are just stunning.
As for writing, I actually got a HUGE dose of imposter syndrome after signing. I thought, What if the story that she loved was the best I'd ever write.
And then magically one night, right before I was about to fall asleep, I saw an image that I just had to write about, so I grabbed my phone and wrote it down. I fell in love with this story, then more ideas just flooded, and I breathed a sigh of relief. If you want to hear the beginning of this story, the wonderful Renee LaTullipe just did a video critique of it on her Peek & Critique on January 13th!
I have enjoyed your blog posts and seeing the opportunities you’ve created on your website, Math is Everywhere. How did it all get started and how has this labor of love impacted your journey?
Thanks so much, Brian, back at ya! Your blog and opportunities for writers are so rockin'!
I started my blog for a few reasons, one, I had read it was a great way to build an author website, and two, my CP Katie Walsh had one and I was able to get her support in starting it using her blog as a guide.
As for my journey, my website has had a great impact on my journey, connecting me with wonderful writers.
You recently acquired an internship with Olswanger Literary. Congratulations!! I’m so pumped for you! Tell us a little bit about what your internship will look like and what you hope to accomplish through this experience in the future. What are you most looking forward to about it?
Thank you so much! I am absolutely loving it!
I started my internship at Olswanger Literary in November and have helped with over a dozen projects so far, all of which I've adored, especially getting knowledge and encouragement from the amazing Anna Olswanger. I couldn't ask for a better mentor.
So far I have helped with book cover ideas, looking over contracts, market and comp research, and giving my thoughts on submissions.
My ultimate goal is to become a literary agent. As my internship progresses, I will get the opportunity to find people to represent. And, with Anna's guidance, hopefully sell some stellar stories to some phenomenal publishers. (Maybe some of the stories will come from one of you readers, Brian!)
Don't give up. Take breaks, change your focus, but always come back. If you have stories to share, always come back.
If you could select your top five best resources that continually help you as a writer, what would you choose and why? (could be websites, contests/opportunities, blogs, etc.)
This is only the top 5, all of my faves can be found here: https://mathiseverywhere439319476.wordpress.com/resources/
Oh gosh, there's so many, the most recent was the arc I received from Diana Murray: Five Fuzzy Chicks, illustrated by Sydney Hanson that comes out next month and is just so adorable. Another was My Shape is Sam by Amanda Jackson and illustrated by Lydia Nichols. The message warms my heart and there's also math--super win in my eyes.
I could go on and on and on, so I'll leave it at two each.
Hahaha! If you participated in 12 Days with Julie Hedlund you know why I'm laughing, my gratitude post was VERY long, so I'll try to be more succinct here.
A super shout out to all the people I named above, including Slyvia and Eliane from Kidlit411.
A shout out to the phenomenal Jocelyn Rish for helping me get my pitches where they are--she's a pitch magician, everyone.
Renee LaTulippe for sharing her Rhyme and Meter clinic so I could actually understand rhythm, and my agent sister Helen Wu for sharing this resource with me.
Ciara O'Neal for having the idea for a spring writing contest and letting me help take it to the masses. Lydia Lukidis and Jolene Gutiérrez for helping so much with the Fall Writing Frenzy. I couldn't have done it without you ladies.
So much love for all the amazing writers who have let me interview them for my blog.
And of course, a major shout out to all my current and past critique partners and all my writing friends. Without you, I'd be nowhere. A special shout out to the amazingly talented Heather Bell for being my first critique partner and sticking with me all this time, love ya, girl!
There's probably so many more, but I said I'd try to keep it short, so I'll stop there.
they're awesome! Yup it's that simple. Even as an adult, I LOVE reading picture books. I learn new things, I laugh, I cry, I relate, I grow. To give this knowledge, power, and connection to kids is just... amazing.
Thank you so much, Brian, for giving me this opportunity to share about my journey and for all you do for the writing community.
No prob! And Thank YOU for sharing, Kaitlyn! We are pumped for you in this new venture! And also probably secretly counting the days when you announce you are allowed to acquire clients so we can query you...cough. I mean...what?
Thanks for reading this little ol' Spotlight Interview, kidlit fam! Kaitlyn is doing a two-winner critique giveaway! And I can say from personal experience that Kaitlyn's critiques are fabulous and effective. So check out the details below to enter!
Two critiques: winner's choice
Two winners will choose one of the following: