Monday Meet-Up for January 25, 2016

Picture book writer and SCBWI-Michigan co-chair, Leslie Helakoski!

Leslie has written several picture books, including Big Chickens and Woolbur.

Find more about her at helakoskibooks.com

  1. Please tell us a little about yourself, and how you became an author?

I worked at my parents Montessori style preschool for years where one of my jobs was to read stories and lead discussions on books. I went on to get a degree in Advertising Design and worked writing copy and designing layouts for many years. Art and Writing and Kids. It was good training!

Now, I have 8 picture books published and 3 more in the works. Joining SCBWI (Society for Children’s Book Writers) has helped me in many, many ways. Several years ago I became one of the Regional Advisors for SCBWI in Michigan. Helping other people with their publishing dreams adds to the fun of this business. Plus, being with other writers inspires me and gives me the courage again and again to keep trying.

  1. What do you wish aspiring authors knew about the book industry? (Maybe things you wish you had known, or things you had learned the hard way…)

I wish I hadn’t spent so many years THINKING about writing books instead of doing it. But my kids were young and it seemed expensive to attend conferences at the time and difficult to arrange sitters etc. There are lots of excuses and I used them all for years. YEARS!

  1. What are some of your projects that have been released that you are excited about? 

I originally asked Janice to wait a few weeks to answer these questions because I have a few book deals pending. But it’s been a few weeks and I’m still waiting. So I decided to address this point instead. This is not a speedy business for most of us. In November, I had three nibbles on one manuscript and another on a second and third. I couldn’t believe it! I started counting my chickens! Two months later I am still waiting on all of the above. One publisher has responded that they will definitely make an offer but we haven’t received any details yet. One publisher wants revisions on the text before making an offer. One publisher has asked for more time to consider. One publisher has said she’d take it to their acquisition meeting after Thanksgiving but the docket has been so full, that she hasn’t gotten it in yet.

And so I wait. And I am continuing to write other things while I wait. One thing I’ve just finished that I am super excited about is a chapter book—my first. I just sent it to my agent a couple of week ago. It was post-holiday rush and right before the big Mid Winter conference in Boston. So guess what? I am waiting.

  1. How important are literary agents? Should an author secure an agent first?

This is hard to say…agents are important of course. They open doors for you that are not open otherwise. However, I did not have an agent for my first two books. And honestly, I don’t think any agent would have taken me based on my work during those early years of writing. I just didn’t have enough to show that was publishable. I eventually got lucky with an editor who was willing to work with me on a manuscript. But that wasn’t until I’d been working hard at my craft for several years. Most new writers are not ready for an agent but there are always exceptions. The best way to know if you are ready for an agent is to get some of your work in front of the pros and see what the feedback is like. When you start getting good responses on your work (more than one piece) from professional editors and authors, then it is time to start thinking about an agent.

  1.  Is self-publishing just as good as traditional publishing? What actions should an author take before making this decision?

It depends what you want. Speed? More money per book? Receive reviews? Bookstore sales? More control? I am not an expert about self-publishing and have not gone that route. (Never say never!) But here’s what I do know, it is much better option than it used to be. Even big name authors are jumping into that pool and it’s opened some eyes as to what is fair and just in the publishing world.

If I were interested in self-publishing, I’d talk to people who have taken different routes to get there. Some people have tales of caution to share and others have tales of hope and new adventures and so much more input.

  1. What is the most important piece of advice that you can think of to give to aspiring writers?

If you want to write, don’t be afraid to invest a little money in the pursuit of your dream. Go to a conference or workshop. Join SCBWI—it’s a bargain. Take advantage of all the books, blogs and websites and webinars out there that promote writing. If you really love and appreciate something, I think you have the ability within you to achieve it.

Thank you, Leslie!