Twenty Year Anniversary (and Book Giveaway!)

I’m deviating from our usual kind of post to mark a personal milestone of sorts. Twenty years ago this month, I quit my job at UCLA to write children’s books. Not exactly something I’d recommend—the quitting your job part—especially since I didn’t have a clue what I was doing. But thirty-plus books (and a few hundred rejections) later, I’m still at it.

So, to celebrate, I’m giving away some books (more on that below). But first I thought I’d share an abbreviated version of the talk I gave at the Carolinas SCBWI conference last fall called “Ten Tips from (Almost) Twenty Years.”

So, here goes:

Three Essential Things That Have Helped Me Through Twenty Years of Writing—and Discouraging News, Heaps of Rejection, Humbling Bookstore Appearances, and Massive Changes in the Publishing Industry—That I Hope Will Help You, Too:

Chapel Hill garden

I also started gardening 20 years ago–good therapy, and good exercise while you’re working out story problems.

1. Keep learning. Yes, absolutely, attend classes and conferences if you can. But if you can’t spare the time or money, use your library card. Read books on craft, and study really good picture books, as we do here. My first writing epiphany happened when I started typing up picture book texts—looking at word counts, page breaks, absorbing the language. I still do this with books I love.

It’s also really important to keep learning about yourself. Writing is, ultimately, a form of self-expression. What is it that you—and only you—have to say? What fascinates you? What are you passionate about? Your enthusiasm and authenticity will come through in your work.

2. Keep experimenting. First, experiment with your manuscript. Who’s your narrator?  Try letting someone else tell the story.  Is it written in third person?  Try first.  In rhyme?  Try a different meter.  Write it in letters, journal entries, poems.  Just try stuff.  This is not wasting time.  This is an investment in your story, and the only way to figure out the best possible way to tell it.

Second, experiment with the kinds of stories you tell. The first few manuscripts I sold—Babies on the Go, Castles, Caves & Honeycombs, Rub-a-Dub Sub—were rhyming stories featuring a variety of animals. At some point, the editor who’d acquired them said: “You don’t want to be the person who only writes rhyming animal books.”

Well, shoot. I was very happy to be that person, actually. But her words stung—and encouraged me to branch out. So—in addition to, yes, a few more rhyming animal stories—I’ve written poetry collections, song adaptations, dialogue-only texts, nearly-wordless manuscripts, holiday stories (and many more experiments that no one will ever see).

3. Keep hoping. Years ago, I told a class of high school students I’d gotten rejections for two years before selling my first manuscript. A girl in the back asked, very earnestly: “How did you find the strength to go on?”

I admit the question struck me as a tad, well, dramatic. But you know what?  It was hard.  It’s still hard.  We write with no promise that our work will sell, or if it does sell, whether it will be well-received by critics or book buyers.  So—given all the obstacles and uncertainty—how do we go on?

We hope.

Here’s a confession: When I quit my job twenty years ago, I hoped I’d have a career like Jane Yolen’s (who’d sold maybe 200-some books by then), or write a perennial best-seller like Goodnight Moon. Although I’ve come to accept that I’ll never catch up to Jane, I can still hope for the latter. Why not? There’s no harm in hoping, right? So, when a manuscript gets turned down by three editors, I hope the fourth one will buy it. When a book gets good reviews but struggles to sell, I hope the next one will do better.

Of course, hope will only get us so far. We also have to do the work. To use a current education buzzword, it takes grit to persist when something is difficult, when the odds are against us—and grit is absolutely essential in this business. But grit without hope is joyless. And we need a certain amount of joy to write for kids.

So here’s to hope and grit and joy—and books! Speaking of which, let’s move on to the giveaway . . .

I’m going to randomly select five winners. Each one will receive two of my books—one of these from the first decade . . .

First Decade Collage

And one of these from the second . . .

Second Decade Covers

Plus a copy of The Nuts and Bolts Guide to Writing Picture Books.

How to win? Just leave a comment below by May 15th. I’ll randomly choose five winners and announce them in my next post May 26th. (If you plan to donate the books to a special library or preschool program in need, please say so. I may have extras.)

One more thing: Although I often include hyperlinks in my posts, this time they’re all going to one place—my new website. After many years of using the Authors Guild’s service, I’ve moved everything over to WordPress. As a non-technical person, the learning curve felt positively Everest-like and nearly brought me to tears on occasion (Favicons? Breadcrumbs? SEO? What IS this language??!!). So please stop by, check out a few pages, and reminisce with me about life in 1995.

Thanks for helping me celebrate!

Yours in grit and hope–


Linda Ashman

Linda Ashman is the author of more than 40 picture books, as well as The Nuts and Bolts Guide to Writing Picture Books, a how-to guide for picture book writers.


  1. Very nice web site, Linda! And congratulations on 20 yrs of writing picture books! Wow! Thank you for the tips, especially the GRIT!

  2. thanks for the post. I am still waiting to be published by a traditional publisher. Have been writing alot. Thanks for sharing your braveness.

  3. Congratulations on 20 years – and thanks a bunch for the great tips – and the giveaway! Your website looks great, by the way. I really Ned to do that wordpress thing – one of these days!

  4. It’s funny how a spin around the internet can lead one to the ‘just right’ words of encouragement. Thanks for sharing this post. I like to enter giveaways and then (after reading myself!) share books with Fred Wish Elementary school in Hartford, CT. Last year we gathered enough books for the whole kindergarten to go home with their own book for the summer!
    Happy writing.

  5. Thanks for the inspiring post! Congratulations on 20 years of writing. 🙂 While the girl’s question was dramatic, I sure can empathize. It IS hard to toil on in the face of rejection. But, unless we want to abandon the path we’ve chosen, on we go! 🙂

  6. Hope and Grit. Words to live by. Thanks so much for your generous honesty.

  7. Cheers and congratulations, Linda! Here’s the twenty more years and twenty more after that of learning, experimenting, and hoping – and achieving! Your books are marvelous; keep them coming!

    • Yowza, 40 more years?! Okay, as long as you’ll still be around too. You can organize the book club, and I’ll do the Bingo games. 🙂 Thank you, Emma!

  8. Congratulations on twenty years of writing, learning, climbing and growing – and thank you so much for sharing it with us! As a writer in the first year after “quitting my job” – it is so encouraging to read stories like yours. Here’s to 20 more years of gorgeous books – and at least one bound-to-be-classic.

  9. Congratulations, Linda! Your Nuts and Bolts Guide to Writing PB’s has been so helpful to me!

  10. Love this! Your suggestions on how to develop ones writing are great, but your message of keeping hope really hit home. Thanks, Linda and happy 20th anniversary!

  11. Thank you so much for this post. Your words are very encouraging and inspiring! Congratulations on twenty years!!

  12. Wow, 20 years! Congrats and here’s to 20 more. RAIN is one of my recent favorites. You keep producing such wonderful work. All the best.

  13. What great advice! I will keep learning and hoping!

  14. Thanks, Linda! I always appreciate your insights, and your books are treasures.

  15. Happy Anniversary, Linda. 🙂

    Here’s to grit and hope!

  16. Congratulations on 20 years, Linda! Thank you for sharing your tips with us. Your books are wonderful and I was happy to see you’ve got 8 more coming out. Wow! Congratulations, too, on your shiny new website ~ it looks great!!

  17. Yay for you! I love LITTLE BABY BUTTERCUP. And I’m going for the higher drama- it’s been more than 2 years and I still haven’t gotten a book acceptance. But I thank God for little encouragements: magazine acceptances that keep me hoping for bigger things.

  18. Linda,

    Wonderful post but whoop whoop on your anniversary. Loved meeting you at SCBWI Carolinas conference, I can’t believe it’s almost been a year. Thanks for all the inspiration and encouragement.

  19. I really enjoyed reading your post, and the “tips” are fantastic for a beginning, pre-published author such as myself. I’m definitely going to work on tip #2 with my current manuscript and “experiment” like crazy. If you happen to have extra books, I would love to donate to our local public library. The librarian has been so helpful in getting me as many books as she possibly can for my “learning,” but she works on a very limited budget. Thanks again for a great post!

  20. Great post, Linda! It’s an inspiration to those of us who are still struggling writers. Congrats on twenty years!

  21. Thanks for sharing your wealth of experience with us. Congrats on your anniversary. Here’s to 20 more years of grit and hope!

  22. Thanks for the inspiring post–and congratulations on persevering for twenty years!

  23. Wonderful post and motivating post. Thank you for sharing!

  24. Congrats on 20 years of hope and grit and joy! I’m still doing the work thing, but hoping not to in the very near future.

  25. Linda, congratulations on 20 years of writing! I took that leap too, about five years ago, leaving a statewide association job to give time to my dream. Your story about hope and grit stirs my grits (a word critically meaningful to a southerner). May your next 20 be wonderful and productive.

  26. Congratulations on your 20 year milestone! Thank you for sharing your pearls of wisdom from your journey. I especially like this pearl from this post: “Just try stuff”. I’m off to try stuff…with eternal hope. =)

  27. I first encountered your work online, in a post about illustrator notes. You had included the ms for Rain, and explained how you thought about setting up the text for illustrations. Then I had the opportunity to hear Christian Robinson speak, and of course he raved about working with your words. You have given so much to our kid lit community. Thank you!

    • How great that you got to hear Christian speak! We’ve exchanged emails but haven’t met in person. What a talented guy (and lovely person). Thanks so much for your comment.

  28. Many, many congratulations, Linda! And many, many thanks for the advice (grit and hope) that came to me today just when I needed it. You are so very generous, and I am grateful for all that you have given to this community. All the best to you!

  29. I love the three essential things – aren’t they common for many other things as well. Congrats on the anniversary.

  30. Thanks for the sage and inspirational advice, Linda! And congrats on being in the business 20 years! 🙂

  31. Nice perspective, sensible advice. Thanks and congratulations!

  32. Thank you for sharing your journey. I especially agree with the “keep learning” tip! Congrats on all of your success!

  33. You’ve got me beat by 7 years! Good for you and so glad you took to writing. Think of the many thousands of children you educated and entertained.

    I routinely give books to the school where I used to work. They would welcome a donation for sure.

    Ann Ingalls

  34. Thanks for this interesting post. I like your new site. I’m thinking of moving my blog to WordPress and setting up a page there. My daughter will help me. Maybe that will keep the tears to a minimum. Thanks for a chance to win.

  35. CONGRATULATIONS Linda! (*I’m throwing breadcrumbs-at least the birds will eat them*) Your website looks wonderful too. Also, much success for the next 20+

  36. Hi Linda,
    I have been learning about writing picture books for years now, (I especially like the rhyming ones) and I actually just recently checked out Samantha on a Roll from my local library. The part of this that you will like the best is that I have a friend who is still at the “thinking about writing” stage, and I gave her some titles of excellent picture books that follow all of the rules: Samantha on a Roll was one of them!! : )

  37. Linda, I think your three guidelines will make their way onto a post-it note on my computer. Good inspiration!

  38. This is a wonderful post! Congrats on your anniversary and thanks for sharing your wisdom!

  39. Congratulations on 20 years, Linda! And what a terrific website. EIGHT new books on the way?! You’ve been BUSY!

  40. Congratulations on 20 years, Linda! I’m reading your Nuts and Bolts Guide right now because I too believe you have to keep learning no matter how long you’re been at it 🙂 And great website!

  41. Wow. I really needed to read this post today. Thank You! And, congratulations on an exciting and enlightening 20-years-and-counting adventure 🙂

  42. I think you’re amazing!

  43. Congratulations! You have done well in your 20 years. Please enter me in the drawing. Wishing you much happiness and continued success in the greatest industry in the world!

  44. Congratulations, Linda! Quite a milestone. Love your new website too. 🙂

    • Thank you so much, Ms. Jama. And I appreciate the kind words about the website. I know you went through a blog transition a while ago yourself, and yours is a beauty!

  45. Congratulations on 20 years! “Here’s to hope and grit and joy–and books!”

  46. Congratulations on 20 successful years and many more to come!

  47. Congrats on reaching the 20 year milestone, Linda. Thanks for the inspiration and encouragement in your post.

  48. Congrats on 20 years! So glad to hear I’m not the only one to switch to Word Press and find the learning curve huge. Love your books and your honesty! It’s so encouraging.

  49. Congratulations! I love your books and The Nuts and Bolts Guide! Congrats on the new website, too! Looks great!

  50. Congratulations! Those books look so lovely 🙂

  51. Thanks for sharing your journey. And congratulations on your 20th Anniversary!

  52. Donna Reddington Rhine

    hi Linda
    Congratulations on twenty years! What a wonderful career choice.

  53. What a wonderful accomplishment. Your books are delightful.
    Here’s to 20 more years of success!

  54. Ah, see: while you’re holding yourself up against Jane Yolen, some of us are holding ourselves up against you! That sounds like plenty to show for 20 years in this business. Congratulations, Linda!

  55. Quitting the day job. Sounds familiar. Hope it turns out as well for me as it has for you. Congratulations on twenty years!

  56. Congrats on both the 20-year anniversary plus the new website! The stories behind the stories are fascinating, especially for those nearly wordless books (No Dogs Allowed–one of my favorites); I always wondered how those were submitted.

  57. I wish I had a day job to quit!
    This is a nice bit o’ inspiration, Lina. Thanks.

  58. Ashley Bankhead

    Thank you so much for this post. I really needed to hear number one. Thank you.

  59. This is a great site, and yes, congratulations on 20 years!!! I’ve written a non-fiction book and getting 3 illustrations ready (plus dummy) for possibly being able to illustrate it also. I know it’s a long shot. But this goal is helping me learn and experiment with illustrative techniques I’ve never tried before (don’t ask me why I haven’t) and studying great books, brush stroke by brush stroke and how and where white space is left in picture pages, is helping me immensely. Location is really learning, learning and learning. Thank you for helping us all learn more with your site.

  60. Great post, Linda! And congratulations to a great 20 years. Here’s to 20 more! And thanks for a fabulous giveaway!

  61. I’ve bookmarked this, Linda, to return and reread along my own book writing path. Congratulations on your 20 years! Your readers have certainly been the beneficiaries of your bold leap.

  62. Congratulations, Linda! 20 years is something to celebrate for sure. Your new website is beautiful!
    Thanks for writing Nuts and Bolts! I love that book. It’s a wonderful reference.

  63. Thank you, Linda. You are an inspiration!

  64. Congratulations, Linda, and thank you for your advice.

    You’re correct; the rejections are hard, but optimists keep working, learning, and going. I love attending workshops, critique sessions, and classes. I hope someone says yes to at least one of my picture books. I love writing them.

  65. Hurray, Linda! Congratulations— what a great and motivating post!

  66. Congratulations on 20 years and a new website, Linda! And thank you for sharing your three essential things! Learning, experimenting, and hoping are so important in this business! Those three are always at the top of my list when I’m working on new art or project ideas.

  67. Rita D. Russell

    Congrats, Linda, on 20 amazing years! You are an inspiration. Thanks so much for this encouraging post. Incidentally, I read “Peace Baby” to my preschool class earlier this year, and they loved it. They happily spoke its refrain for several days later, unprompted by me. 🙂

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