Blog Archive

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Putting the Pictures in Picture Books: Author Interview with Joan Holub

I am in awe at the number of books you have written. You move from pre-school board books
with only a couple hundred words to middle grade books of 200 + pages. However, you started as an illustrator with Scholastic. Did you continue working as an illustrator until your books started selling?
Scholastic was a great place to work. I did freelance book design for a while after leaving, then moved into illustration full time. I author-illustrated some books (Boo Who? A Spooky Lift the Flap Book) and illustrated books by other authors (Breakout at the Bug Lab), and along the way I discovered I really enjoyed writing more than anything!

In 1996 with the help of your agent you sold 3 of your books to publishers in 3 months. Was it smooth sailing after that or was that just a fortuitous start? 
My art rep kept me busy with illustration, almost from the start. She didn’t encourage my writing, so I wound up doing that on my own and later found a wonderful literary rep (Eden Street) through my Goddess Girls co-author, Suzanne Williams, who was already working with Eden Street. That was the first project I was involved my current rep shopped and sold.

Two of your series are Goddess Girls (middle grade) and Heroes in Training (chapter books)
Have you always been a fan of Greek mythology?
Ever since my own fourth through sixth grade studies on Greek and Roman mythology, I’ve been hooked. I studied mythology in college as well. Goddess Girls is set at Mount Olympus Academy where Zeus is the principal and Mr. Cyclops is the Hero-ology teacher. Each book is based on an actual myth and features a main middle-school age goddess, demi-goddess, or mortal girl from mythology.

What do you expect your readers to take away from your books?
Our goddess girls are strong characters that have adventures, problems, and friendship drama, but always work through them with humor and the help of friends.

Do you write books and then submit them to publishers? Or do you query or pitch an idea to see if there is an interest?
I write the entire manuscript (or create a dummy) to submit for picture books, early readers, and board books. For chapter books and middle grade, I write a series proposal and three to five chapters of the first book.

How do you keep the writing fresh and contemporary after so many books?
It’s not a struggle. I always have something to say and have a stack of ideas on my idea shelf. I’m not the kind of author who keeps a neat notebook or journal of ideas. My stack consists of napkins, notes scribbled on torn pieces of paper or on junk mail.

When you write the factoid books like the ones for Babe Ruth and the
Statue of Liberty, how do you go about doing research and narrow 
down the points you want to make?
I collect every viable book I can find on the subject, seek out ‘official’ websites, and try to visit a museum about the subject if possible. Then it’s a matter of sifting through and thinking about what’s most interesting and important about a subject. It’s kind of like a sculptor taking a block of marble and cutting away till she’s left with a final piece of art that fulfills her vision.

Since you have a background in illustrating, how do you handle someone else illustrating your picture books?
I often make a dummy for a picture book or board book and share it with the editor. They sometimes share it in turn with the illustrator, but sometimes not. The artist does their thing and I don’t interfere. Because I was an illustrator, I know that it only makes a project harder if someone else is trying to tell you how to do it.

Can you explain what you mean when you talk about rhythm in a story? What is the key to writing a successful board book or pre-school story?Every time I write a picture book or board book, I first re-educate myself by reading new books in the stores and old favorites. I have made charts of books I love and books that have sold super-well to figure out their pacing (rhythm) and structure and what makes them tick. 

The key to writing a young book is to think about what real, young kids of today will enjoy and find the place where that story intersects with your own burning passionate interests. That way you’ll love writing it and kids will love reading it!

With all the books you’ve written, do you have a favorite book? Is there a story you’ve written that you really believe in but has not yet been published?
Like any author, I love all my babies. Maybe especially the Goddess Girls (Glen Hanson, cover artist) and Heroes in Training (Craig Phillips, cover artist) books, and my picture book Mighty Dads and Little Red Writing

Mighty Dads (illustrated by James Dean of Pete the Cat fame) was my first New York Times bestseller and LRW (illustrated by Caldecott Honoree Melissa Sweet) made numerous best book of the year lists and received three starred reviews. Like most authors, I have tons of ideas I believe in that have not yet been published—because I haven’t written them yet!

What books do you have coming out for 2016? What are your goals for 2016?
I had two new book releases in January. My new board book is This Little President: A Presidential Primer, for little leaders-in-training illustrated by Daniel Roode. I kept it simple and upbeat to hold the interest of toddlers, and with the presidential race particularly exciting this election year, the timing has been great. My groovy new chapter book for ages 7 and up is What Was Woodstock? There’ll be three Goddess Girls books out this year—the next one will be Echo the Copycat in April.

What do you wish you knew sooner about publishing?
That there’s no trick to it. Editors are real people who just want to publish good books. So all we have to do as authors is write them.

Do you think you would ever consider 
self-publishing since you have an 
established name and brand?
I think it would be fun, but I don’t have time right now, and my agent and editors are all pretty awesome.

Are there any other points about writing that you would like to add?
Just a heartfelt THANK YOU to you for having me on your blog, Chris!

It's been a pleasure chatting with you and learning all about your books. If you would like to learn more about Joan's current and upcoming books, here's some links to get you started.

1 comment:

  1. Wonderful interview, Chris and Joan! I just read Joan's Little Red Writing book.