Blog Archive

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Revisiting Fairy Tales: Author Interview with Katelyn Sinclair

What made you decide to write your children's book? Was there any particular author you read that made you think, I could write like that?
I’m a poet, and more than anything I consider myself to be a student of Dr. Seuss. I love the challenge of writing in rhyme, especially using iambic tetrameter (like Green Eggs and Ham) and anapestic tetrameter (like The Cat in the Hat).

There’s a great deal of kids’ poetry out there in which the meter is a bit wobbly and inconsistent, and I wanted to offer an alternative to that. People disagree about how much this matters, but I’m in the camp that believes a strong, predictable meter is a key element of poetic structure for young children who are just learning about language and rhythm and rhyme.

What made you go the indie-route? What was the hardest part for you in publishing or marketing your first book?
Yes, I’m an indie. I never considered being anything else. Primarily because I wanted to be both author and illustrator, which I knew would be unlikely on a traditional path. My ultimate goal wasn’t sales, but to learn through experience how words and illustrations work together to tell a story, and to develop an internal sense of what makes a good picture book.

This decision has had far more positive impact on the quality of my work than any other choice I’ve made. Four books later, my work continues to sell and to receive some really fun attention. I feel very fortunate.

How long did it take you to write your first book? How many rewrites did you do?
About four years, largely because I had to learn many indie skills from scratch: print layout software, color management, etc. My day job was 50-60 hours a week at the time, and I was both writing and illustrating the book -- and I did more rewrites than I can count. But since then, as long as I have time to make a book project a high priority, I usually finish in about six months.

What is the hardest part of writing for you? Starting? Creating a scene? Dialog? etc?
My enthusiasm usually plateaus when a book is in final revisions and there’s a lot of tedious double-checking, polishing, touching-up (and second-guessing) to be done. I typically feel very impatient to be finished and to move on to writing the next book, so I have to force myself to stay focused and give this phase my full attention. 

What does your editor remind you to do most often?
Watch the word count! For my first book, The Golden Ball, I didn’t listen, and the result was a picture book of over 2000 words. Nobody quite knew what to do with it because it didn’t fit the standard modern expectations for a picture book form. 

Despite this, Kirkus Reviews called it “playful poetry that begs to be read aloud,” and it won an IndieReader award. I’m very proud of those honors. The Golden Ball is its own unique entity, and I don’t regret my choices, but I probably won’t be doing that again anytime soon!

I’ve always had a list of very strict rules that I follow to keep myself in line – how often a rhyming sound can be repeated, etc. That list now includes the maximum number of lines per page. This structure is far more helpful than restrictive because I no longer waste time writing lines that won’t fit into the book (and my books are a much more reasonable 500-900 words each!).

What’s the best encouragement you’ve had in your writing?
I had a ninth-grade English teacher who was absolutely terrific, and my parents have always been big fans. Those things certainly gave me confidence in my ability as a writer and poet. But the very best, most encouraging experience ever has been visiting schools and reading to students. I visit a lot of classes from kindergarten through third grade. 

The students’ reactions are so genuine, and if they are enjoying my work, it’s so much fun and so validating. They ask fantastic questions and they make me think, and that’s far better motivation than any good reviews or awards.

We have all experienced rejection. Give me an example of one you’ve had, and how you learned to write past it.
Critical comments are never fun when you first hear them, but I’ve come to actively seek out that kind of feedback because embracing it significantly improves my work. With The Golden Ball, many parents tactfully said things like, “My child loves your book, but I don’t read it very often because it’s so long.” After the fourth or fifth person said that, I decided to stop pushing the limits of the picture book form and started writing shorter books. 

I could give other examples, but suffice it to say I have come to value criticism much more highly than praise. I want each of my books to be better than the last one, and truly listening to candid commentary is fundamental to achieving that.

What has surprised you the most in writing/publishing? What frustrated you the most?
I guess this shouldn’t surprise me anymore, but it’s pretty much a given that anywhere I go, once people find out I’m a children’s author, one or more of them will tell me about how they’ve always had an idea for or are working on a children’s book, too. 

While I think that is great and that the world can always use more wonderful children’s books, the thing that frustrates me is that these comments are usually linked to an implication that writing a book for children is easy. It most definitely is not.

What do you know now about writing that you wished you had known sooner?
I wish I’d realized sooner is how truly important marketing is. It’s at least as much work as writing a good book, and even more critical. 

What is some of the best writing advice that you’ve received or could give?
Choose something you’re really good at (dialogue? humor?) and figure out what kind of writing project will best showcase it. For me, it was rhymed poetry, and children were an obvious natural audience for that.

It’s pretty common advice to say just keep going, don’t give up, etc., but I think this is so often said because it’s excellent and important advice (not just in writing but also in life). Don’t be afraid to take risks, and don’t be afraid to fail. That’s when you’ll really learn something.

Are there any other points about writing that you would like to add?
It’s hard work. Everything about writing, even the part you enjoy, is still hard work. I remember once reading something that said the world is full of people who want to have written a book but don’t actually want to do the work required to write it. I think there’s significant truth there. Don’t be those people! Just keep going, every day, until it’s done!

What is the next book that will be coming out?
To date, I’ve finished a fairy tale series (The Golden Ball, The Three Little Pigs, The Tortoise and the Hare), and an original Halloween title, Spooky Things. I’m currently working on several new picture book projects, including If I Were A Fish, due out in summer 2019, and an early reader series about the adventures of a mischievous little girl and her imaginary friend. 

That’s all for today’s interview. If you would like to know more about Katelyn’s books, here are some links to get you started.

No comments:

Post a Comment