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Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Nuture Your Imagination: Author Interview with Kathleen Long Bostrom

My interview today is with an author who has published 50+ books, most of them for children. Her books are published in 20+ languages around the world, with well over one million copies sold since her first book was published in 2008.

Read on to discover what keeps her going and how she keeps her writing fresh. 

You’ve now published 51 books, which is an awesome accomplishment. What was your first book?
My first book was published in 1997. The World That God Made was the second book accepted for publication; the first was What is God Like? Tyndale House published both of them. I consider What is God Like my first book even though it came out a year after The World That God Made.

At that point how many finished manuscripts did you already have?
I have drawers full of manuscripts! I can’t remember how many I had done when my first book was accepted (after four years and 250 rejections, by the way!) but I know I had several because I was submitting many to different publishers at the same time.

A writer can’t just submit one manuscript and wait for that to be accepted for publication because it might never get there. So, I have lots of projects I’m working on at the same time, although I always focus on whatever manuscript is under contract until it is edited to the satisfaction of the editor.

At what point did you realize you could make writing kids’ books a full-time career?
I have been writing for 25 years, my books have sold several million copies in 20+ languages around the world. I retired from ministry six years ago to focus on being a fulltime writer and STILL do not make a living at it.

I’ve had some good years but have never made what I made as a pastor, even though pastors are notoriously underpaid. I would love to have an income that would be considered self-supporting, but fortunately, I don’t have to as my husband is still working as a pastor (we co-pastored for thirty years). I would consider it a great accomplishment to have a self-supporting income but mine is far below the poverty level.

How do you keep the writing fresh after so many books?
I never have trouble keeping the writing fresh. I love what I do, read lots of books, write what I love, and have a fabulous writing critique group that motivates and encourages me.

How did you go about finding your first publisher?
As far as publishers, I studied the market guides to see who was publishing what and what their guidelines were. Back in “those days,” before internet became so widespread, I had to buy the market guides in actual book form! It’s very important to find a publisher who publishes the genre of book you are writing, so I am still careful about publisher information, although I do have an agent who does a lot of that for me.

How did you go about signing with an agent?
I didn’t have an agent at first, I handled my own submissions, tracking, and ultimately, the contracts. After a few years, as I made connections with other published authors and others in the publishing industry, a friend suggested I submit a manuscript to his agent. She loved the book and took me on as a client although children’s books weren’t the agency’s main genre.

My first agent passed me along to her sister at the same agency, but when they decided to forgo children’s books altogether, I had to find a new agent. I reached out to a lovely woman whom I’d met at a writing conference where we’d hit it off, and she was my agent for years. After she retired, she kept me as a client for a while, then I was once again on my own.

I reached out this time to an agency where my third agent had worked for a number of years. They didn’t do much in children’s books, so it was a long shot, but good timing as they had just decided to do more in the children’s book field. That was four years ago and I’m still with this agent today.

I still attend conferences, writer’s events, and stay in touch with editors as best I can. I make contacts and share the information with my agent, and we work together. She sends out the queries but is open to my suggestions and has plenty of contacts herself.

Most Christian themed publishers do not take submissions from non-agented authors today. What tips do you have for finding an agent who works that market?
As far as finding an agent, that is really tough! I know many fabulous, published authors who struggle to find an agent who will take them on. It’s frustrating and sad and demeaning. I am fortunate to have an agent and I don’t take that for granted.

For those trying to find an agent, I think going to conferences, especially through SCBWI (The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) is key. Find out what the agents are looking for and submit to them. One of the benefits of these fabulous conferences is that most of the staff are willing to allow a one-time submission from attendees, which opens lots of doors. But do everything you can -- conferences, queries, etc.

Some agents and editors post on Twitter about the kinds of manuscripts in which they’re interested, and even offer occasional opportunities for submission: things like Picture Book Pitch. It takes a ton of time to do all the homework, but part of the necessary business of being a published author.

When your picture book is produced by a traditional publisher you don’t get to choose the illustrator, but it seems like you have the same illustrator for many of your books. What’s it like working with Elena? Have you had any disagreements with her on her illustrated view of your words?
Tyndale House connected Elena and I for the Little Blessings books. She is wonderful, talented, kind, and I loved working with her. It’s been many years since we collaborated, but I hope that one day we can do so again. I didn’t have any problems with her, she’s a dream to work with. Although at that point in my career I didn’t get to make any suggestions on the art; and with her, I didn’t need to.

Dennis McKinsey illustrated my three “Dr. Seuss” style Bible stories and I would love to work with him again but can’t track him down. Guy Porfirio is the only other illustrator who has published more than one of my books. I loved his work on Papa’s Gift. He lives in Tucson where my in-laws lived so once when we were visiting, I got to meet him and we stayed in touch.

When Flyaway Books accepted The Worst Christmas Ever I asked if they had an idea for an illustrator and they asked if I had any suggestions. I jumped on the chance to suggest Guy, and one other illustrator I liked. They chose Guy, and he did another great job. We did a workshop together in Tucson in March 2019 a few months before the book was published, and that was great fun. I learned a lot about his technique for illustrating and found it fascinating! I hope we can work together again. Usually, the writer doesn’t get to suggest illustrators nor have much say, so I am fortunate.

What is the hardest part of writing for you?
The hardest part for me is choosing which of my many ideas should be my focus. I write a lot in rhyme, and it’s great fun, but a lot of work to do right. I have piles of manuscripts that need revision, folders of ideas that need to be fleshed out. Deadlines help me focus but getting to the point of having a book under contract only happens when I focus on one or at the most a few at a time.

Starting can be a problem, but I know from experience that I just need to get something down on the page. Then I have something concrete to work on, and I feel much less anxious.

What does your editor remind you to do most often?
My editors don’t really remind me to do anything. But I do respect when they have comments or suggestions on a manuscript. I enjoy working with editors who are hands-on. I appreciate the feedback, as I know the editor wants the book to be the best that it can be. We’re on the same team, Team Publish a Great Book!

What’s the best encouragement you’ve had in your writing?
My husband and kids are my greatest supporters, my personal fan club! They encouraged me early on when the kids were young and living at home and experienced the ups and downs of trying to get published. In the midst of four years of rejections, our youngest son asked Santa one year, “Please, could you just publish my mommy’s books?” To know he’d give up everything for what I was working so hard to accomplish is something I’ll never forget. All three kids and my husband kept me going in times when I wondered if I’d ever have a book published.

How you learned to write past rejection letters or no responses?
I’ve added many, many more rejections to the 250 I accumulated before my first book was accepted for publication so it’s difficult to pick out one. I’ve had to keep writing past all of them. Sometimes, an editor just doesn’t “get” my style, or likes books with themes or styles in which I don’t write. I have to keep being true to what I believe I’m supposed to write, and to write what brings me joy knowing that it will do so for others.

What has surprised or frustrated you the most in writing/publishing?
I never imagined the amount of time I would spend on the “business” of writing: correspondence, tax records, keeping track of what’s being reviewed and what’s been rejected; attending conferences (great fun!), connecting with agents and editors and other writers, publicizing my books, etc.

I can go for weeks without even working on a manuscript, yet I am busy with the business of being a writer. I thought that all I’d ever have to do was write. But that’s just not true. I do love the learning and the conferences and studying other books to know what’s already published. But I still love sitting down and writing the best.

What is the best writing advice you’ve received or could give?
Don’t just wait for inspiration. Sit down and face the empty page, or screen, and get some words out! “Butt in chair” is how Anne Lamott puts it. Inspiration often comes once the writer puts words on a page, even if the draft isn’t very good, it can be improved, but you’ll never get anywhere unless you start.

Are there any other points about writing you would like to add?
Read a lot. Write about what you love. Take time to dream, clear your mind with physical activity like long walks if you can. Much of writing for me is done while I’m swimming laps or walking the dog. Nurture your imagination. Fill your world with simple beauty. Be grateful. It’s a marvelous gift to be a writer and to love it even more as the years go by.

What is the next book coming out? Can you give me a short synopsis?
I have another board book not yet done and not under contract that is close to completion, I think! I’m writing it as a sequel to Will You Be Friends with Me? but also as a standalone. I’ll keep you posted!

If you’d like to learn more about the many, fabulous books Kathy has penned through the years, here’s how to do that.
Goodreads:  (FYI – your link from website isn’t working)

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