July 30, 2012

Oh Susanna - What's The Difference Between A Query Letter And A Cover Letter And When To Use Which?

Good Morning Everyone!

There were many posts last week about how much trouble you can get in posting pictures on your blog.  I will probably have to go through all my posts and delete tons, but meanwhile, I'm a bit afeared, so for today's eye candy I will include something which has nothing to do with anything but whichI know I'm allowed to use, a lovely portrait of me reading to a first grade class, drawn by an artistic member of the young audience:
You will note my face, apparently covered by blond hair - I should have shaved:)
Phyllis talking from my unusually constructed arm from which I am also reading
and the enraptured audience of 4 behind me :)
Anyhoo, I hope you all had wonderful weekends!  I am so behind after being away all last week that this may end up being my shortest post ever!  Are you ready?  I might not even stop to draw breath :)

What with all the special events going on lately, we haven't had an Oh Susanna day in a while, and poor Darshana has been patiently waiting for the answers to her questions so let's dive right in, shall we?

Darshana asked:

Q1) What is the difference between a query letter and a cover letter for a picture book manuscript? 

Q2) Which do you use when submitting a PB manuscript to an editor?

Q3) Which do you use when submitting a PB manuscript to an agent?

Darshana's 3 questions are so closely related that I included them all, and I'm betting she's not the only one wondering about this topic, because it's tricky and kind of splitting hairs.

The basic answer is very simple: a cover letter accompanies a manuscript, a query letter does not.

A cover letter is so named because it covers a manuscript.  It would include that a manuscript is enclosed.

Otherwise, both letters should include the following:

  • The basic facts about the manuscript: title, word length, genre, intended age range (e.g. Hillbilly Bob is a 400 word picture book for ages 3-7.)
  • What makes your manuscript stand out from previously published competitors and why it's a great fit for this particular editor/house (e.g. there are few if any picture books about... or, this book about apples will fit beautifully into the kindergarten curriculum...)
  • Your publication history or relevant background and, if appropriate, anything that made you uniquely qualified to write this particular book.  (This would probably be more applicable in the case of non-fiction, e.g. if you wrote a book about space travel and you were an astronaut.)
  • A mention of other enclosures or attachments such as your resume, or a bibliography if your submission is non-fiction
  • Whether or not it's a simultaneous submission
  • Your contact information
  • Anything else requested in that specific agent's/editor's/house's submission guidelines.

(For works that aren't picture books, a sample outline or a chapter synopsis might also accompany a cover letter, but that does not pertain to picture books as a general rule :))

A cover letter should supply the basics, but not much more.  You don't want an agent or editor getting so bogged down in the cover that they never get to the actual manuscript!

A query letter is essentially the same thing, it just invites the editor or agent to request the manuscript from you if it sounds like something they might be interested in reading.

As to when you would use one or the other, most agents and editors are clear about what they want.  Their guidelines will say, send full manuscript for picture books (that means you'll need a cover letter) or accepts queries or queries only (that means a query letter.)

Some houses that are closed to unagented/unsolicited submissions are still open to queries, so that is your chance to sell your idea and get the editor to request it.

No matter what, query or cover is a place where you can use that pitch you've worked on in Would You Read It Wednesdays to hook either editor or agent.  It's no different from your manuscript in that respect - grab their attention and don't let go!

I hope that answers your question, Darshana.  If not, please feel free to ask for clarification on anything in the comments.  And if any of you highly experience readers out there have anything to add, I'd be grateful for any extra information or clarification you can add!

Have a great day, everyone!  Hopefully I'll see you all around the blogosphere as I play catch-up to all your wonderful posts etc! :)

July 27, 2012

Summer Short And Sweets - Week 4

Woo-hoo!  Last day on the road (until next week :)) AND a Summer Short & Sweet Day!
Badge created by Loni Edwards
Did I tell you my GPS's name is Jill?  I've taken to calling her Jo-Jilly thanks to my niece :)  But let me tell you, after this week? 1500 plus miles later? she and I need a little time apart!  She gets extremely snippy whenever I depart from the route to refuel (Susanna runs on Dunkin' - the coffee, not the donuts... most of the time... :), Princess Blue Kitty runs on anything she can get except BP which I am morally opposed to!)  I always promise Jo-Jilly that we'll get right back on the road, but you know, I don't think she believes me!  It's this lack of trust I find hard to live with.  Lucky I get a break for a few days :)

ANYway, are you ready to be Short & Sweet?

Alrighty then.

Pick a letter - any letter! - the first letter of your name, a letter you like the shape of, a letter you like the sound of - any letter!

Got one?

Now, pick a name that starts with that letter.  This will be your character.

Now, write us 50 - 100 words (more if you like, but 50 - 100 will do :)) of a story about this character.  But here's the challenge:  you have to use as many words as possible that start with the letter you chose!  Nouns, verbs, adjectives, people, places, descriptions, actions, and things - see how many words that start with your letter you can work into your story.  It does not have to be a complete story (although it can be if you want), just get started and see where it goes.  You might be surprised at the directions you go trying to use words that begin with your letter!

Here's my example, using D (which is for dogs because I miss mine!)

Delilah dreamed of dogs.
Dogs were devoted.  Dogs were delightful.  In fact, they were downright dynamite!
"Daddy," Delilah declared, "I'm desperate for a dog.  Dalmatian or Dachshund, Doberman or Dingo, anything doggy will do."
"Darling Delilah," Daddy said, "how about a donkey or a duck? A dragonfly or a dolphin?"
"Don't you like dogs, Daddy?"
"Dearest, I do!  But I'm dreadfully delicate.  Dogs make me sneeze dangerously."
Delilah despaired.
But dreams don't die easily.
Delilah was determined.
She developed a dog dander destruction device.
"Now a dog will be no danger, Daddy!"
Daddy drove Delilah downtown.
Delilah named her dog Daisy.
Daisy is devoted.  Daisy is delightful.  In fact, Daisy is downright dynamite!
Delilah is delirious.
And Daddy dotes on them doubly!
(122 words)

Get the idea?  Mine's a bit pathetic, I know.  I'm drained from driving :)  But now no one should be afraid to give it a shot :)

I hope you'll find this fun!  Perhaps yours or someone else's will spark a story idea that you can then write normally, without using all the same-letter words.  Either way, it's a good exercise to make you think very carefully about every word you write.  I think you'll be surprised at how much stronger nouns and verbs you'll think up!  And at how your ideas take off in bizarre directions in order to accommodate your letter - I personally would have been unlikely to think up a dog dander destruction device under other circumstances :)

Have fun with this!  I can't wait to see what you come up with - y'all amaze me every week!

Happy writing and happy weekend :)

July 25, 2012

Would You Read It Wednesday - The 50th Pitch! and Straight From The Editor #10

Grab your Something Chocolate and bring it and your computer out to the hammock so you can relax and enjoy today's Would You Read It extravaganza (which simply means that, due to trying to stuff in extra posts and features around the edges, I'm lumping June's Straight From The Editor in with today's pitch :))
Yes, this is my yard - a little blurry because I tried to enlarge the hammock view.
Anyone who doesn't have a hammock is invited to use mine - it's just hanging around doing nothing :)
(Apologies to those of you with desktops - they're a little harder to take out to the hammock - but I'm sure you're resourceful :))

Anyhoo...  you will recall that the winner of the June pitch pick was Lori with her pitch for These Little Piggies.  Here is the original:

Working Title:  These Little Piggies
Age/Genre: Rhyming Picture Book (ages 4-8)
The Pitch:  In this Mother Goose mash-up, five little piggies are living happily in a shoe until a callous old woman forces her way in and turns their lives head over tails.  The piggies decide to set a trap for the old woman so, the first little piggy goes to market... the second little piggy stays home...  Will they succeed in giving the old coot the boot?

and here are Erin's comments:

This is very cute! The one thing that worries me is the phrase “set a trap”. Seems too threatening. I think that, at least for the pitch, you should say, “the piggies decide to do something about her”?

You guys are getting good at this!  Erin hasn't had a whole lot to say the last couple times :)

So, onto today's pitch, which comes to us from the lovely Dana.  Dana is an illustrator/author from Michigan who revels in sketching, painting, and creating new worlds. She is currently working on the illustrations of a PB manuscript that she has also written called "CJ's Tiger".  Please visit her Website (which contains a link to her blog!)  (And really, I just have to insert here that her art is SO engaging!  I highly recommend a look!)  And you will be pleased to know that her pitch is for the very book she mentioned she is illustrating!

Working Title:  CJ's Tiger
Age/Genre: Picture Book (ages 4-8)
The Pitch:  CJ thinks that it would be a great to have a tiger for a pet (even if his parents don’t agree). So CJ is thrilled when he awakens the next day to find that his cat “Tiger” has transformed into a real tiger! But he soon learns that having a pet tiger is a lot harder than he imagined when the day turns into one big cat-astrophe!

So what do you think?  Would You Read It?  YES, MAYBE or NO?

If your answer is YES, please feel free to tell us what you particularly liked and why the pitch piqued your interest.  If your answer is MAYBE or NO, please feel free to tell us what you think could be better in the spirit of helping Dana improve her pitch.  Helpful examples of possible alternate wordings are welcome.  (However, I must ask that comments be constructive and respectful.  I reserve the right not to publish comments that are mean because that is not what this is about.)

Please send YOUR pitches for the coming weeks!  For rules and where to submit, click on this link Would You Read It or on the Would You Read It tab in the bar above.  There are openings in August, which is not very far away at all at this point, so we could really use some new pitches!!

Dana is looking forward to your thoughts on her pitch!  Just so y'all know, she is at work and, being a responsible type, can't respond to comments until later when she's on her own time, but SHE WILL BE HERE as soon as she can :)

Have a great day!  If you see someone looking lost in North Carolina, that will be me :)

July 23, 2012

Meet Tiffany Strelitz Haber, Author Of Debut Picture Book The Monster Who Lost His Mean and A Giveway!

I know.  We haven't done Oh Susanna in ages!  But awesome things keep coming up that I just have to slide in somewhere, one of which is today's post about a great new picture book.  So... next week?

Today I am delighted to introduce you to Tiffany, but real quick before I do, let me just announce that the winner of Steven Petruccio's gorgeous picture book Puffer's Surprise from last week's author/illustrator interview is Delores (thefeatherednest)!!!  Congratulations, Delores!  I hope you'll enjoy this beautiful book!

Now then!  Everyone, please meet Tiffany!  I have to tell you, I found this interview so entertaining that I'm afraid you guys will never want to come back and read my boring old posts after it, so you have to promise not to throw me over :)

Tiffany Strelitz Haber & Co. :)

SLH:  When did you start writing for children?  

TSH:  When I was in third grade, I wrote my first "rhyming picture book".  I continued writing for many years.  In fact, all throughout highschool, and a bit in college as well.  So obviously, when I was figuring out what I wanted to do for a living, I headed straight for the financial world!  I was never really one for connect the dots.  :-)   Anyway.  Yadda, yadda, yadda, cut to 24 years later (give or take)...chronically unhappy in the career I had been diligently building for over a decade, and feeling like it was 'now or never' to make a change, I realized I was barking up the wrong tree entirely.  I wanted to really love what I did for a living.  So I went back to what I had loved for so many years before, and started writing for kids.

SLH:  Do you have an agent, or did you submit on your own?  

TSH:  Agent.  I learned very quickly (by attending a couple of NJSCBWI conferences), that having agent representation opens doors otherwise closed to most authors.  It also allows you the freedom to really focus on writing (and later promoting) as opposed to spending countless hours researching publishing houses and editors, constructing query letters, physically printing, stuffing, stamping and mailing submissions out, following up get the point.  

SLH:  Was The Monster Who Lost His Mean your first submitted PB or did you have others before that haven't sold yet?

TSH:  I actually got extremely lucky.  My agent subbed two PBs of mine simultaneously to a variety of houses.  Several months later...within the same week, we had offers on both.  It was very exciting!  (SLH: OMG!  I think I speak for most of our readers when I say I could sure use a week like that! :)

SLH:  Tell us about the moment when you got THE CALL!!!  How did you feel?  What did you do?  Did you celebrate? Call all your friends and relations? :)

TSH:  Ok, so I was on a ski trip with a bunch of friends.  We were sharing a house and had been out super late the night before, so everyone was passed out on various couches and beds.  Anyway...for some reason, I found myself wide awake at 5 in the morning so I checked email on my phone.  And there it was.  We had an offer on MONSTER and as I leaped off the couch and looked around for someone to share the news with (read: tackle with uncontrollable zeal), I realized  I was surrounded by zombies.  There wasn't a single soul within a half mile radius that wasn't dead to the world and stickin' to it.  So I kind of just muttered to myself in the corner for a while with a pre-dawn bloody mary.  Party of one, please!

SLH:  Do you have anything else under contract?  

TSH:  I have another rhyming picture book due out in April 2013.  It's called, Ollie and Claire (Philomel/Penguin) and was illustrated by the amazing Matthew Cordell.

I also have a couple of stories in that critical, "at an editorial meeting" type phase where it could still go either way...but you know you're close and you're just kinda....waiting. (read: pacing, email-refreshing, obsessing)

SLH:  And please share where we can find you...

facebook:  (BIG facebook gal.  Let's be friends!)
Twitter: @tiffrhymes
Blog: for tips and tricks on writing in rhyme, come check out

Just for fun quick questions:

Left or right handed?  right
Traditionally or self-published? traditionally
Hard copy or digital? hard
Apps or not?  not that I know of?
Plotter or pantser? plantser?
Laptop or desktop? lap
Mac or PC? Mac
Day or night worker? DAY
Coffee or tea? Coffee (and then suddenly tea for like...a day)
Snack or not? I want to meet the person who says "not".  And then never talk to them again.
Salty or sweet? Salty.  Althought salty and sweet in the same bite is actual heaven on earth.  #ChocolateCoveredPretzels
Quiet or music? Quiet
Cat or dog? both
Currently reading? Helter Skelter
And now, my lovelies, Tiffany has generously offered a signed copy of her brand new, hot-off-the-presses, WONDERFUL book.  All you have to do is what the Rafflecoptor widget tells you to.  And may I just say that I hope the Rafflecoptor widget is going to show up somewhere - it probably will not show up where I intend it to, so look around, be ingenious and persistent, and hopefully you'll find it wherever it chooses to appear :)

a Rafflecopter giveaway So yeah - fill that in.  You get extra points for "liking" and "following" and things of that nature.  And just in case the widget doesn't work, and I am off in the boonies of PA/VA/NC unable to fix it, please also take part in our fun contest in the comments - it's supposed to show up as mandatory in the Rafflecoptor thingy, but like I said, my faith has limits.... :) so I'm putting it here too:

Everybody knows the 'M' in MONSTER stands for Mean.  When one young MONSTER loses his...and becomes THE ONSTER, everything goes awry.  What does the first letter in *your* name stand for?  How would you feel if you lost it?  Answer below for a chance to win a signed copy of THE MONSTER WHO LOST HIS MEAN!

Have fun!  And if you have any questions or comments for Tiffany, fire away.  I'll try to talk her into checking in from time to time :)

Happy Monday, All!


July 20, 2012

Summer Short And Sweets - Week 3

Hurray!  Hurray!  It's a Summer Short & Sweet day! :)
badge created by Loni Edwards
First off, help yourself to some of these delicious cookies
and a glass of refreshing iced tea
because we can be more creative after a little snack :)

Now then, are you ready for today's Short & Sweet?

I totally wrestled with this one and I hope it's going to be fun and also work right... I guess we'll see :)

So we have to go on the honor system again - no peeking! :) - and I need you to get a piece of paper and a writing implement of your choice.  Then write down the following things in a list bearing in mind that everything below is supposed to be related so it can hang together:

1.  A noun (you know, a good old person place or thing)
2.  A color that describes that noun or some part of that noun you'd like to highlight (e.g. red, or, lavender, or, cerulean)
3.  A comparison to that color (in the manner of simile or metaphor e.g. summer sunset, or, shadowed snow on a January evening)
4.  Something that belongs to your noun written as adjective, adjective noun (e.g. wide, feathered tail, or, slim, brown limbs, or brass ratcheted gears)
5.  A verb ending in -ing that is something your noun could do (e.g. soaring, or, stretching, or, grappling)
6. Another verb ending in -ing that is something else your noun could do (e.g. sailing, or, reaching, or, frowning)
7. A place written as: preposition [a/an/the] adjective adjective noun (e.g. over [a] broad green valley, or, across [the] shimmering shining stream)
8. A description of something your noun could do in relation to something else, written as:  verb ending in -ing preposition adjective noun (e.g. scouting for silver salmon, or, basking on sun-baked sand, or, digging up acorn jewels) - (yes, I realize "for" is a conjunction, not a preposition, but you can use it if you want.  The reason I didn't put conjunction is because the others - and, or, nor, but, yet - won't work.  But use "for" if you want :))
9. Repeat #8 with another description (e.g. plunging toward immovable earth)
10. Repeat #8 with a final description (e.g. hoping for sweet success, or, diving for delicious dinner)
11. A simile for the action in #10 (e.g. like a rocket ship, or, like a bow drawn across singing strings)
12.  Your original noun from #1.

Okay!  Got your list?  What we are accomplishing here is part Madlib, part poetry, and will hopefully result in lots of descriptive poems (haha - like how I tricked you into writing a poem? :)) that will also serve as story sparkers by giving all the devoted readers specific, detailed, poetic descriptions of characters, settings, or objects that they could use in a story!  For those of you who write picture books, there are a lot of similarities between picture books and poetry, so this is good practice :)

Wasn't that totally awesome how I snuck that up on you?

So now, all you have to do is type your poem into the comments using this template and your list:

I am [a/an/the] noun from #1
Color from #2 as [a/an/the] comparison from #3
With [a/an/the] adjective adjective noun from #4
Verb from #5, verb from #6
Prepostition [a/an/the] adjective adjective noun from #7
Description from #8
Description from #9
Description from #10
Like [a/an/the] simile from #11
I am [a/an/the] noun from #1

Here's my example:

I am a falcon
Gray as a stormy sky
With powerful, peregrine wings
Soaring, sailing
Across the shimmering, shining stream
Scouting for silver salmon
Plummeting toward wavering water
Diving for delicious dinner
Like an arrow sprung from a huntsman's bow
I am a falcon.

Here's another one because I think this is fun :)

I am a birch
Silver as starlight on snow
With strong, slim limbs
Reaching, stretching
For the faraway, fickle moon
Gazing at kaleidoscope constellations
Soaking in the dewdrop dawn
Standing among my slender sisters
Like a dancer waiting for the music to begin
I am a birch.

And one more:

I am Sarah
Gold and brown like honey on toast
With hidden, heartfelt hopes
Uncurling, unfurling
From their secret silent space
Running with quiet concentration
Leaving behind even the fastest few
Flying on winged feet to finish first
Like fleet Atalanta
I am Sarah.

Ok, I'll stop now because I'm really not very good at this even though I think it's tons of fun :)

So do you get the idea?  You may of course tweak a bit.  If you need a different verb form or fewer adjectives or an extra word or one less line or two colors, etc. feel free to change it up.  The word prompts and template were just to make the job easier and less intimidating :)

I hope you'll all have fun with this!  I can't wait to see what you write!  And after my humble examples, I hope everyone will feel very brave about putting theirs up - I know without a doubt you can all do better than I did! :)

Have a great weekend, and please join me Monday to welcome Tiffany Haber as she talks about her debut picture book, The Monster Who Lost His Mean (which I just had the pleasure of reading and it is REALLY TERRIFIC and you should all get a copy for the littles in your life, or for yourself as an example of a well-done picture book in verse!!!)

Happy weekend :)

July 18, 2012

Would You Read It Wednesday - The 49th Pitch!

Wow!  Do you know what I just realized?  This week's pitch is #49, which means we've been doing Would You Read It for almost a whole entire year!  And week #52 - the WYRI Anniversary - is going to coincide with final week of the Olympics!  I have a feeling this calls for a celebration of some kind... I'm just not sure what :)  Feel free to make suggestions!  Especially if they involve chocolate cake :) and open flame :)
All we need here is a little photoshopping so it says
I actually do have a special Would You Read It announcement today.  Remember that poll I took last week?  Well, some late voters changed the picture a bit.  The results indicated that the majority of you were happy either way, but a fairly large group were in favor of change, while only 3 people felt it should definitely stay the same.

So here's what we're going to try.  Beginning with July (you know, the month we're in right now... last time I checked anyway... :)), any pitcher WHO WOULD LIKE TO (it is not in any way, shape, or form required!) may rewrite their pitch before the pitch pick based on the feedback they received from all you generous and helpful readers.  They will just have to get their rewrites in to me before the last day of the month.  Sound good?  I'm game to give it a try if you are.  If we all decide we hate it, we can always go back to the old system :)  But a lot of people have asked about it and would like the opportunity to improve, and I'm all for encouraging improvement :)

I would also like to take this opportunity to say how much fun I'm having with Summer Short & Sweets!  I've been amazed and gratified at how many people have been participating, and everyone is so creative and talented!  It's such a pleasure to see what you all come up with that I find myself eagerly looking forward to Fridays!  Thank you all for being such great sports :)

But now, onward!  It's time for today's pitch which comes to us from the lovely Vivian whom I'm sure you all remember from last month's incredibly informative guest post for the self-publishing mini-series, but just in case you don't know her, here's a little info:

Vivian Kirkfield has been involved in the care and education of young children for over 50 years.  From babysitting to teaching kindergarten and Head Start to raising her own three children while operating a home daycare, Vivian's passion for picture books encouraged her to write her award-winning book, Show Me How! Build Your Child's Self-Esteem Through Reading, Crafting and Cooking.  She shares her mission to help every young child become a lover of books and reading during her school visits with kindergarteners and her presentations to parent and teacher organizations.  Julie Hedlund's 12 x 12 Challenge was the catalyst that started her writing picture book stories again...and now she can't stop!  Many of her stories are based on her experiences as a teacher, mother and grandmother.  The Tomato Turner is a true story about her own family...and she plans several sequels...Confessions of the Tomato Turner and The Tomato Turner Returns.
Vivian's book/author website:

And now, here is her pitch:

Working Title:  The Tomato Turner
Age/Genre:  Picture Book (ages 3-8)
The Pitch:  Stuck in the middle between a brainy older brother and an adorable baby sister, four-year old Peter is determined to do something spectacular that will make everyone proud of him - when he sees the basket of green tomatoes on the kitchen counter, he seizes the opportunity to astonish his family.

So what do you think?  Would You Read It?  YES, MAYBE or NO?

If your answer is YES, please feel free to tell us what you particularly liked and why the pitch piqued your interest.  If your answer is MAYBE or NO, please feel free to tell us what you think could be better in the spirit of helping Vivian improve her pitch.  Helpful examples of possible alternate wordings are welcome.  (However, I must ask that comments be constructive and respectful.  I reserve the right not to publish comments that are mean because that is not what this is about.)

Please send YOUR pitches for the coming weeks!  For rules and where to submit, click on this link Would You Read It or on the Would You Read It tab in the bar above.  There are openings in August, which is not very far away at all at this point, so we could really use some new pitches!!

Vivian is looking forward to your thoughts on her pitch!

And before we all go off to our wonderful Wednesdays, I wanted to mention a special upcoming treat!  My friend and fellow author, Tiffany Haber, had her debut picture book release yesterday!!!  Here is her book:
Awesome, no?!  And here's where the special treat part comes in: Tiffany is coming over to visit with us here on Monday July 23 - that's in like 5 days! - and along with what I'm sure will be a fabulously entertaining post, she will be giving away a signed copy of this exceptionally fun-looking brand new book!!!  Mine is on order and due to arrive tomorrow.  I can't wait to read it!

Alrighty.  You're excused.  Have a lovely day :)  Hope to see you Friday for Short & Sweets!

July 16, 2012

Meet Steven Petruccio, Author/Illustrator - And A Giveaway!

I am so excited to be able to kick off this hot summer week in July by introducing you to Steven Petruccio! He is a very talented author/illustrator (and a very nice person! :)) and I think you'll really enjoy what he has to share.  Not only that, one lucky commenter will win a signed copy of Steven's book Puffer's Surprise!  More on that at the end...
Puffer's Surprise is part of the
Smithsonian Oceanic Collection
So please join me now in welcoming Steven!

SLH:  Steven, thank you so much for taking the time to join us today!  Let's jump right in, shall we?  When did you first become interested in writing and/or illustrating?

SJP:  I’ve done both for as long as I can remember…bet you never heard that before.  I always drew more than I wrote but ideas were always floating around in my mind for new stories.  I used to read comic books on my stoop in Brooklyn and then go to my room and copy the pictures.
Steven at age 4 - ready to take on anything :)

SLH:  Were you encouraged by family/teachers?
SJP:  My dad is really a wonderful artist.  He made his career in advertising as an art director and studio manager.  He used to bring work home with  him to retouch the old-fashioned way, with an airbrush. I remember spending time at his side while he painted away and I was amazed at the results.
A drawing Steven did at about age 5... a natural talent!
SLH:  You are both an author and an illustrator, so which comes first for you, the story or the art?
SJP:  I’m more of an illustrator, that’s the part I really love, so I always see a character first and imagine what he or she might do after that.  I know all about characters whether I create them or not, before I draw or paint them.  I imagine what they’re like outside of the story.  It makes it easier for me to imagine what they are doing or what they might do.

SLH:  Is there an author/illustrator who has been especially inspirational or instrumental in your own development as a writer/illustrator?
SJP:  Well. I learned art from my dad.  I had no art classes in grade school or high school but my dad would show me how to draw things and I’d observe him at work.  My parents made sure I had pencil, ink and paper and all the art books I wanted.   My dad arranged for me to meet Burne Hogarth who wound up writing a letter of recommendation for me to attend The school of Visual Arts in NYC.  I’m a throwback to a time when illustration was not far removed from fine art.  The technical quality of my work is really important to me, the basics, you know…  good composition, creative use of color and value and so on.  N.C. Wyeth is my biggest influence in illustration because of his own story and because of what he was able to do with the printed page.  I maintain a written dialogue with his grandson, Jamie Wyeth, who has mentioned how much he likes my work.  Recently he wrote to tell me that he was working on a huge painting of a shark jawbone and he has my original cover painting for “SHARKS!” hanging right next to it in his studio!
A drawing of Tarzan Steven did at age 14.
He had no art education, so he learned from comic books.
An ink drawing of Tarzan Steven did at age 16.
SLH:  What was your first published children’s book?  Tell us about the moment when you got your first offer!
SJP:  Understand that being an artist was not seen as a practical career choice and I was encouraged to seek advertising work because my older brother, who always drew and painted as well, followed that path.  My goal was to make a living drawing and painting everyday.  As an illustrator just staring out, you take whatever comes along.  I started getting magazine work even before I graduated from SVA and did mostly editorial work for three years.  I was then asked to illustrate some books that another illustrator had backed out on but I had to alter my style a bit to do so.  I needed the money so I took the job.  The first time I really got to use my own ideas was in a Little Golden Book titled “ Dr. Hilda Makes House Calls”.  It was a fun book to do, I got to create my own characters in my own environment and I totally enjoyed it.  Seeing it in print was very satisfying.

SLH:  Where/when/how do you get your ideas?
SJP:  Well, as the illustrator, the story generates the ideas for the characters  and settings.  I always try to put my own twist on things stylistically and compositionally.  As an author my ideas come from my own experience.  I may see a person and they remind me of something or generate a potential character or I may see a place and something there inspires a story…it just happens.  The coloring/activity books I’ve written and illustrated for Dover Publishing ( American Legends and Tall Tales,  History of the White House, History of the Civil Rights Movement in America and Roadside Attractions) were ideas my editors and I developed to make them as interesting and informative as possible.

SLH:  What has been the most challenging thing you have faced as an author/illustrator?
SJP:  If you’re familiar with my natural science illustrations you’ll notice how detailed my illustrations are.  That’s not by accident or pure imagination.  I research every detail for every blade of grass or seaweed that I paint.  For my book, “Exploring Underground Habitats” I had to wait two months for  a scientist  to return from a research trip so I could get accurate reference for a particular cave spider!  Researching is always a challenge but well worth the effort.

SLH:  What has been the most wonderful thing that has happened to you as an author/illustrator?
SJP:  Okay, so I wake up every morning and get to do what I’ve always wanted to do, what I love to do.   Now that’s wonderful!

SLH:  Do you do school visits?  Would you be kind enough to briefly describe your program/presentation?  What is your preferred age range and group size?  Do you have materials available for parents/teachers to go along with your books(s)?
SJP:  I’ve been doing school, library and museum visits for the past twenty years.  Now, understand that I was very shy as I was growing up.  I also sing and play guitar and when I was younger my parents would ask me to play for relatives ,so I would go into another room, close the door and then play and sing.  Needless to say, I overcame that shyness.  When you really know about what you do it’s easy to talk about it and teach others about it.  I went to see some authors and performers who visited my kids’ classes when they were in elementary school and was later asked by their teachers to come and talk to the class about what I do.  I actually liked it!  I saw what kids were interested in, what they wanted to see and hear and what the teachers expected from me.  I also make sure that my programs meet art-in-ed learning standards so it’s not just fun…it’s funducational!  I have a general program which I can alter depending on the age group and two workshops to give practical experience and develop an appreciation of the creative process.  I give teachers follow-up materials so they can continue learning about picture books and illustration.

SLH:  What advice do you have for authors/illustrators just starting out?
SJP:  I’m currently advising three young artists who want to become illustrators.  They approached me and that shows me their passion and desire to be creative.  I do teach at Marist College in the Studio Arts Department as an adjunct one night a week because I want to teach young artists the practical things they need to succeed.  I tell theses young illustrators and art students the ups and downs of the industry.  It’s hard work, long hours, shorter and shorter deadlines, constant marketing, negoiating and continuing to grow as an artist.  I tell them all to be persistent!  Any creative field is difficult, know that starting out, be prepared for rejection…and more rejection, believe in your work and keep producing new work.  Don’t give up!

SLH:  Can you give us any hints about what you’re working on now?
SJP:  Right now I’m working on a new book about American Heroes also, a big educational illustration project and sending out dummies of my own stories as well as developing new stories and dummies.

SLH:  Do you attend writer’s conferences?  Enter contests?
SJP:  I don’t know everything and I love learning new things and hearing the stories of other creative people.  I attend conferences when I’m asked to be on a panel or do a book signing only because I’m usually busy working on a project.  It always seems that conferences that I’d love to attend ,just to see and hear other people, are always around times of deadline crunches or painting projects.  ( I also paint for exhibition regionally and nationally.)  As for contests, most of the books I illustrate are not eligible for competitions because they are part of a series.  I’ve never been one for competitions anyway.  I do enter my fine art work in juried exhibits though, to gain exposure for that part of what I do.

SLH:  What has been your best selling book so far?
SJP:  Ah, sales figures…see, this is a business.  We do have to be mindful of how our “product” is received by the public and sales is the way to do that.  So far, my best selling book has been “ Dolphin’s First Day”, (Soundprints Publishing). It has been in print for years and released in many countries.  The Smithsonian series has really been good for me in terms of sales but I put so much into those books that it’s gratifying to have them appreciated by young readers, parents and critics alike.  Most of my titles for Soundprints are still available.
SLH:  Any marketing tips?  What have you done that has worked well?
SJP:  Well, I have an illustration  agent, Storybook Arts, Inc. and I’ve had an agent for a long time.  We market through our own website and a variety of other sites as well.  I maintain my own site and blog when I can as well as Face book , Twitter , ( although I’m terrible at updating) LinkedIn,  Behanace and SVA Alumni Portfolio.  I try to maintain personal contact with Art Directors and Editors I’ve worked with.  By the way, many people do not have agents, it’s a personal choice depending on how you want to conduct your business.  So don’t let the fact that you don’t have an agent deter you from pursuing your goals.

SLH:  Where can we find you?
SJP:  You can learn about me and see my work at:

…and to see some of my fine art:

SLH:  Reader question:  how important is it to have a story?  Can you just entertain and make people think, or do you have to have a story to make a picture book?
SJP:   Well, really the most important thing is the story.  Whether it’s told in words, pictures  or words and pictures.  If the story is terrible who will want to read the book.  I don’t want to read stories that are uninteresting or not entertaining in some way so I don’t expect my readers to settle for less.  I tend to illustrate stories  that I feel I can bring something to visually.  My own stories have to be interesting to me and not just something I think someone else will find interesting.  I think I’m my worst/best critic.  Stories can be JUST entertaining or JUST thought provoking or… C)  All of the above.

Just for fun quick questions:

Left or right handed?  Righty!

Agented or not?  Illustration agent.

Traditionally or self-published?  Good ol’ fashioned, traditional publishing.

Hard copy or digital?  My book “SHARKS!”  will be available digitally…otherwise I’m a hard copy guy.

Apps or not?  Let’s say…not yet.

Plotter or pantser?  Plot, plot, plot.

Laptop or desktop?  Both…as well as iPod and iPad.  Oh, and remember those things called ‘pen” and “paper“?  I still use them!

Mac or PC?  Both for writing/business.  Mac for art.

Day or night worker?  Whatever the client needs me to be in order to meet a deadline.  I’m an early riser anyway.

Coffee or tea?  Coffee…unless you can find the blueberry tea that Starbucks discontinued.

Snack or not?  Oh yea…you gotta snack!  Make sure you exercise each day though, get up from that desk or chair and move around.

Salty or sweet?  Uh,  is pizza an option?

Quiet or music?  Music…jazz, some classical,  indie rock or golden oldies.  I used to play and sing in a club to afford my art equipment so I covered many genres of music.

Cat or dog?  Used to have a cat…now a fish!

Currently reading?  Biography of Michelangelo ( Kindle ) and re-reading New Art City ( hardcover)

…and now for something completely different ( homage to Monty Python)…
Forging a living out of something you have a gift or talent for is a great thing.  It’s hard to do it alone and I have my wife, KathyAnn, to thank for her support from the very start.  In good times and in bad as they say, she has encouraged everything I do and has been my biggest fan.  Her own artistic background, having worked in NYC as a graphic designer for CBS Television and DC Comics, and sense of design and style have been invaluable to me.  My kids provide support as well while nurturing their own creative side.  My daughter is a wonderful dancer and singer and my son a budding young photographer/videographer and internet entrepreneur.  Surrounding yourself with people who support you, encourage you and inspire you is crucial to your success.  Tolerate those who say you can’t because they can’t and be encouraged by those you see doing what you want to do everyday.   People have been writing and illustrating for ever and ever…why not you?


(See?  Didn't I tell you what a nice person he is? :))

Thank you so very much for going us today, Steven, it was a real treat!

And now!  Anyone who would like a chance to win the signed hardcover copy of Puffer's Surprise, please leave a comment below.  Tell us what you most enjoyed about the interview, or if you have a question for Steven ask away!, or just tell us who you'd like the book for!

Have a wonderful day, everyone, and tune in Wednesday for Would You Read It with Vivian (who I'm pretty sure is pitching a picture book but I can't seem to find that info at the moment, so it will be a surprise :))

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