Three Questions for Author Ann Whitford Paul (Plus Giveaway!)

Ann Whitford Paul is an author, poet, teacher and mentor to many writers (including me). In addition to her acclaimed children’s books, Ann is the author of Writing Picture Books: A Hands-On Guide from Story Creation to Publication.

Ann’s latest book is If Animals Said I Love You, illustrated by David Walker (FSG, 2017), which Kirkus praised for its “bouncy and fun to read aloud” verses and “adorable” art. (To win a copy, leave a comment below.)

This charmer is a follow-up to If Animals Kissed Good Night, a longtime Amazon bestseller currently ranked at #91 with nearly 1,000 fabulous reviews (not that we pay attention to such things, of course!).

I first met Ann when she was signing books at my then-neighborhood bookstore in Los Angeles. My son was in a Snugli at the time, which means we’ve been friends nearly 20 years! I recently got to chat with her when she was passing through Chapel Hill, and am so pleased to have her visit here at PBB. As you’ll see, she’s honest, down-to-earth, and funny, and always willing to share her experience with others.

So here are my questions—and Ann’s responses in bold.

(1)  The journey of If Animals Kissed Good Night from picture book to blockbuster board book is so interesting and encouraging. Can you tell us a bit about it, and about the companion books it inspired—especially your latest?

First of all thank you so much Linda for your friendship over the years (I so admire your talent) and for these thoughtful questions.

If Animals Kissed Good Night was inspired by a game my son Alan and I used to play on the days we visited the zoo (which was so near we could go several times a week.)  After story time and before I tucked him into bed, we used to pretend we were some of the animals we’d seen and kiss like they might—we would make our arms into elephant’s trunks and kiss, get down on the rug and squirm like snakes, and try to stretch our necks as tall as giraffes and kiss, etc. 

Initially I tried to write this manuscript in prose exactly as it happened—a parent and a child kissing, but when one editor rejected it with the comment the manuscript felt “incestuous” I knew I was on the wrong track.   I decided to make it entirely imaginary and wrote couplets for each animal.  But it needed a through line which is why the sloths kissing slowly appear several times.

The book was illustrated by David Walker (who also illustrated our Little Monkey says Good Night.  I adore his work.  It’s warm and soft, gentle and loving.

The picture book was doing well, not great, when much to my surprise, it was taken out-of-print.  I was devastated, but my publisher, FS&G, unbeknownst to me had another plan.  A new edition was in the works—a board book, with a different cover— and WOW! The book took off!

Not long afterwards, my husband and I were planning a trip to New York and since my original editor, Melanie Kroupa, had retired, I set up an appointment to meet my new editor Janine O’Malley.  I’m so glad I did, because she asked me to consider doing a companion book.  Back home I wrote two!  If Animals Bathed in Tubs and If Animals Wore Clothes.  She rejected them both—two days before Christmas!  Not a very happy holiday!

However, she did suggest another possible title, If Animals Said I Love You.  That discouraged me.  It felt too similar to animals kissing. How could I make it different?  Luckily, at least for this project, my son Alan, now with a child of his own, lives in Africa and we were planning a visit.  I determined, in spite of my misgivings, to try and do what Janine requested.  While we were on safari, or trekking to see chimps and gorillas, I worked on my couplets. 

Doing a follow-up book means the writer already has a form to follow which makes writing a little easier.  By the time we returned home, I had a completed the draft which FS&G bought immediately.

Then they asked for two more.  If Animals Said Merry Christmas was a pleasure to work on because I am crazy for the holiday.  It will be out in the fall of 2018 and the next fall, 2019, look for If Animals Went to School.

(2)  A few years ago you self-published ‘Twas the Late Night of Christmas, illustrated by Nancy Hayashi. When we talked recently, you said “Never again!” Can you tell us what prompted you to go that route, and what you learned from it?

The book started out as a poem I had written for our annual Christmas letter.  As I mentioned above, Christmas is a special time for me, bringing the family together and forgetting day-to-day cares and chores to celebrate love and giving.  At the time I must have also been exhausted over the upcoming holiday because the poem takes off from the famous rhyme by Clement Moore to imagine help coming to clean up after the mess.  I submitted it to several publishers, but it was clear it spoke more to parents than children.  That’s why I decided to self-publish with the talented Nancy Hayashi doing the illustrations. But once a project is written and illustrated, there’s still much that needs to be done.  The book needs to be designed, edited, printed, etc.  That all costs money.  And takes time—time I would rather have spent writing more books. 

The promotion part threw us for a loop.  My sister-in-law Jane Kaczmarek of Malcom in the Middle fame made us a YouTube video (watch it here) but neither Nancy or I were horn-tooting, singing, shouting, turning triple flips, kind of people.  And that’s what you need when you self-publish.   The most successful self-published authors are those who already have a platform for promoting their books—like a blog where you post craft ideas and can mention your book, or a school program promoting a specific issue or your special expertise where you can share your book.

I’m glad I had the experience of self-publishing, because I came out of it with a new appreciation for publishers and all they do to make our manuscripts the best they can be.  Even though I may bemoan a lack of marketing and promotion, it’s better than having to do it myself.    

(3) You’re in the process of revising Writing Picture Books, which is regarded as a classic by aspiring and published authors alike. Any hints at what might be different in the new edition? And will you share your top three tips for picture book writers?

In the ten years since the first edition was published, much has changed in the industry.  Picture books have gotten shorter.  Editors are looking for “edgy.” And agents are more required than ever.   The new edition will have several new chapters on Page Turns, the Publishing Business, Self-Publishing, finding an agent and an additional Plotting chapter.  The old examples of published books have been replaced with examples from books published in the last ten years.  I’ve enjoyed the opportunity to have a second look at the book and even learned some new things myself.  I hope all my readers will feel the same.

Three top pieces of advice for picture book writers?

  • Read lots!
  • Write lots!
  • Don’t try to write to market.  Write the stories only you can tell.

Thanks so much for visiting, Ann!

For more about Ann and her books, visit her website, and be sure to sign up for her helpful and encouraging newsletter.

* * * * *  B O O K   G I V E A W A Y  * * * * * *

 

To win a copy of If Animals Said I Love You, leave a comment below by December 1st. I’ll announce the randomly-selected winner in my next post.

 

And the winners of the William’s Winter Nap Giveaway are Lauren Kerstein and Suzanne Kaufman. Thanks for reading!

 

Linda Ashman

Linda Ashman is the author of more than 35 picture books, as well as The Nuts and Bolts Guide to Writing Picture Books, a “how to” e-book for picture book writers.

61 Comments:

  1. I have been a fan of Ann Whitford Paul since I started writing stories for children. WRITING PICTURE BOOKS has been “my Bible,” and I always recommend it to aspiring writers I meet.

  2. “Writing Picture Books” is a go-to on my writing shelves! I would love a copy of “If Animals Said I Love You”…..so, so sweet!

  3. Thank you for your behind the scenes look on your writing, the path to publication for this book, and to know that your wonderful book on writing has been updated! You’ve given us lots to read and I can’t wait!

  4. I have Ann’s WRITING PICTURE BOOKS – it’s the first book I bought when I started my writing career. Excited for the newest edition. Great insight from Ann on her process, how self-publishing vs. trad. book publishing compare, and how her series has changed over time. Thanks, Linda. (And i have NUTS AND BOLTS, too.)

  5. Ann and Linda, you are both my HEROS!! Because I write in verse, your books have been my favorite mentor texts! Now, Ann, I have 3 more to look forward to!

  6. Thank you for an inspirational interview.

  7. It’s reassuring somehow to read about wonderful books that came to be as a result of rejection and change. Thanks so much for sharing.

  8. Ann’s 3 writing tips are spot on. I would add one more: Love the work. If you don’t enjoy the writing process, it can be tough to keep going through the inevitable rejections.

  9. Wow, I can’t wait for the new edition of Writing Picture Books! I wouldn’t have believed that book could be improved, but if Ann has more to say about picture book writing, then I am all ears.

  10. So happy to hear there will be two more books in this adorable series. Congratulations, Ann! My copy of Writing Picture Books is worn and dog-eared ~ can’t wait for the updated version!

    Linda, I also have Nuts and Bolts. Thank you both for all you do to help and support other writers. Great interview!!!

  11. I can see why your books are doing well. They are so kid friendly. I think I’ve just found some new baby gifts. Thanks.

    Really looking forward to the new edition of Writing Picture Books. Any clue as to when it will be out? Can’t wait to get it.

  12. Ann’s children’s books are amazing! And of course I have WRITING PICTURE BOOKS!

  13. Lindsay Hanson Metcalf

    I am always learning something from Ann. How interesting that the publisher would take a book out of print and rework it into a new edition without telling the author. I can’t wait to read these books. The teaser spreads here are delightful!

  14. Can’t wait to read these!

  15. It sounds like the new addition of Writing Picture Books will be a must-have as well!

  16. Wow! What an interesting journey on both the “If Animals” series and your self-published book. Thanks so much for sharing.

    And I can’t wait to read the updated “Writing Picture Books.” I tell all new PB writers I meet that the book is a MUST HAVE.

  17. Writing Picture Books has been my writing “Bible” over the years! Thank you for this interview and congrats, Ann Whitford Paul on your new and upcoming books!

  18. Kathleen Mazurowski

    Wonderful back story to If Animals said, I love you! Imagine writing couplets while on safari! Thanks for sharing and for the writers “bible”.

  19. Beautiful! Congratulations on all of the new books coming out. I also appreciate the info about self-publishing. Thank you and Merry Christmas! (It is coming very very soon…).

  20. Wonderful words of wisdom, Ann! Thanks for the great interview, Linda. A lot of great takeaways in 3 responses.

  21. The book looks adorable and Ann is a wealth of information. Thank you for sharing!

  22. Thanks so much for sharing the “back story” about these books. It’s always interesting to learn the story behind the story. Our writers group refers to Writing Picture Books often, and I look forward to the new edition. I can’t wait to see If Animals Said I Love You.

  23. Great interview, Linda and Ann. I’m so happy to see another sweet book coming from you, Ann! Can’t wait to read it 🙂

  24. LOVED hearing the story behind the stories! And what wonderful books!

  25. Thanks so much for this interview, Ann and Linda. I didn’t know that there is to be a new edition of Writing Picture Books…very exciting. I refer to it and Linda’s book quite often and recommend them to everyone who excpresses an interest in writing picture books.
    Congratulations on If Animals Said I Love You and your the upcoming books.

  26. Lots of interesting information thank you for sharing.

  27. Loved this interview. Looking forward to IF ANIMALS SAID I LOVE YOU! Thanks Ann and Linda 🙂

  28. I love Writing Picture Books! I’ll look for the new edition. Thanks for the wonderful interview, Linda 🙂

  29. These look like adorable books, & I look forward to the new WPB edition!

  30. How exciting for you, Ann! A steady stream of wonderful books for the young.

    I use /Writing Picture Books/ all the time and I’ve recommended it to many people. Thanks for sharing your gifts with us.

    Jean

  31. Thank you, Ann and Linda, for this inspiring interview! I can’t wait to see Ann’s new book and I do look forward to the next addition of WRITING PICTURE BOOKS, which is my favorite reference for all things “picture book.”

  32. I just love Ann’s books so thank you for this lovely interview and the story behind the story.

  33. What a clever and endearing game to play with your son. I think these books are heartwarming. I have to get a copy of the revised Writing Picture Books as picture books definitely are evolving.

  34. Great and interesting post! Thank you for sharing!

  35. So fun to hear how Ann’s If Animals series began–and I’m looking forward to a new edition of Writing Picture Books!

  36. Love the practical advice! Thank you for sharing!

  37. I attended three picture book workshops in my life. Ann’s was by far the absolutely best one!! Such a great hands on session. Don’t miss it if she offers one of her workshops in your area. Not to be missed.

  38. Excellent post! I appreciate Ann Whitford Paul. Her book WRITING PICTURE BOOKS is an excellent source. I refer to it often.

  39. Wow-I can’t wait for the new edition of Writing Picture Books! I loved reading about your process with your “If Animals” series. Darling books. Congratulations!

  40. Thank you for this wonderful interview! Loved it and felt encouraged by Ann’s journey. Also excited for the updated WRITNG PICTURE BOOKS. I’ll put it right next to the current version on my shelf!

  41. Love Ann’s work and her honesty! If Animals Said I Love You looks so sweet and irresistible. Thanks, Linda!

  42. Love this lady’s wisdom in so MANY areas. Can’t wait for the new edition of Writing Picture Books – on my must-buy list for sure! Thanks for sharing!

  43. Terrific interview. I’ve learned so much from both of you over the years.

  44. As it is for so many other writers, WRITING PICTURE BOOKS is my go-to craft book for picture books. Thank you! Love your new books, and I enjoyed hearing the stories behind them.

  45. Reading how your books were born was fascinating, not to mention inspiring. Thank you so much for sharing your journey.

  46. Loved these insights into your Animals books! And I’m looking so forward to your revised Writing Picture Books. The previous edition was the first reference book I studied, bookmarked, highlighted, and added notations to when I began to focus on writing for children!

  47. Thanks for sharing. It’s helpful to hear your perspective on self-publishing. Looking forward to the revision of Writing Picture Books.

  48. Ann is such an inspiring person! Thanks for the insights.

  49. Stacy Digianantonio

    I would love a copy of If Animals Said I Love You. It looks cute!

  50. Excellent interview, thank you, and lots of great insight here. Looking forward to reading the next book!

  51. This was a super great interview–thank you Ann and Linda!

  52. Loving this blog!

  53. What a great interview! Can’t wait to read this latest picture book.

  54. Can’t wait for your new version of Writing Picture Books. Your If Animals series sounds delightful – I’ve only read the first one, but will be watching for the rest!

  55. Ann, has it really been over ten years since you and I met at my first PNW Children’s Book Conference at Reed College in Portland, Oregon? I miss that conference, but it did leave me with several friends and mentors like you who have continued to help me hone my craft. Congratulations on all your forthcoming books. I can’t wait to see all three “If Animals” books and the revised “Writing Picture Books.”

    Linda, thank you for this interview with a lady who really knows her stuff. And how to share that knowledge.

  56. A new edition of Writing Picture Books! Very exciting. The picture book looks very sweet. I will check it out. Thanks for this post.

  57. These books look adorable! I’m also looking forward to the new edition of WRITING PICTURE BOOKS!

  58. I can’t wait for the new edition of Writing Picture Books, I reference this book regularly!

  59. Looking forward to the revision of Writing Picture Books. I already devourced the current edition!

  60. Thanks for the interview. Great news about the updated edition of Writing Picture Books, congratulations!

  61. Thanks for posting this insightful interview with Ann Whitford Paul!

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