Monday Meet-Up for June 6, 2016:
The talented children’s book author, Deborah Diesen
- Please tell us a little about yourself, and how you became an author?
I’m the author of several children’s picture books, including The Pout-Pout Fish series. I’ve loved books and writing since I was a young girl, but I didn’t pursue writing actively as an adult until I reached my mid-thirties. At that time, my kids were young and we were reading dozens of books together each week; the experience reawakened my interest in writing. I thoroughly enjoy writing stories for children, especially writing in rhyme, because it gives me an opportunity to play with words and rhythms and characters in a fun way.
Around the year 2000 or so, I began trying to have some of my children’s stories published. I received my first contract in 2005, and my first book, The Pout-Pout Fish(illustrated by Dan Hanna), was published in 2008. The book has since become a series (with three more Pout-Pout Fish picture books, and three more on the way); the series also includes mini-adventure board books and some novelty items like a lift-the-flap book, a sticker book, and plushes. I also have three non-fish picture books, including the recently released Catch a Kiss (illustrated by Kris Aro McLeod). And I have a forthcoming picture book called Bloom (illustrated by Mary Lundquist) on the way next year.
- 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…)
The happiest writers I know have an ability to compartmentalize their writing life into the boxes “Writing” and “Publishing.” The reason for that is that getting published is hard: there are only so many books that can be published, and rejection comes with the territory, no matter what your talent level is (in fact, some of the best writers I know remain unpublished, despite years and years of submissions). No one likes rejection, and it can be extremely discouraging; but if rejection and the emotions that accompany it aren’t kept separate from Writing, it’s almost impossible to do one’s best work as a writer. Our creative selves need a safe, positive, and nurturing mind environment to play in, so keep the potentially harmful stuff out of reach.
The other thing I’ve learned about the children’s book industry is that it’s full of some of the most wonderful people you’ll ever meet. Many of my closest friends are fellow writers or illustrators: good, kind people who recognize the importance of creativity in life. I’m thankful to have met them, and to get to share together the challenges and joys of the journey.
- What are some of your projects that have been released that you are excited about?
It’s exciting to me that the Pout-Pout Fish series has grown so much. When I wrote the first story, I had no idea there’d be a sequel, much less several sequels, novelty books, and a stuffed animal! I couldn’t have predicted the success of the series, nor could I ever replicate it (as in many things, luck and timing played a bigger role than anything); but I’m sure enjoying the experience. I love that Mr. Fish has connected to so many kids — entertaining them, and maybe teaching them a little something along the way.
It’s also exciting to me that I’ve had the opportunity to write and publish other sorts of children’s stories, too. I hope to always be exploring and growing as a writer, with different characters, plots, and ways of telling a story. Even if my publishing life eventually fades, I’ll always write. I can’t imagine life without it.
- Is having an agent important? Why?
When I first started submitting stories in the early 2000s, my impression was that few children’s book writers had agents. Most houses were open to unsolicited submissions, and submissions were made through the mail. The landscape has changed since then: agents are much more common, and more houses are closed to unagented submissions. An agent can be crucial as a means of opening doors and finding opportunities for publishing your work. That said, I think it’s still possible to get one’s foot in the door (well, into some doors) without an agent, especially for writers who are actively attending conferences where editors give talks and critiques.
- Is self-publishing just as good as traditional publishing? What actions should an author take before making this decision?
I don’t know enough about self-publishing to feel I should give any advice about it. From what I know of it, it can be the right choice for some projects and goals, and the wrong one for others. I think it would be accurate to say that self-publishing requires a little more caution and a lot more research than the traditional publishing route. It requires the author to be very well informed.
- What is the most important piece of advice that you can think of to give to aspiring writers?
Based on my personal experience, I always recommend that aspiring writers find a critique group to participate in. My writing group has improved my writing immeasurably. My group also keeps my spirits buoyed when I encounter the occasional rough seas of doubt. This fall, I will have been with my group for fifteen years, every moment of which I’m thankful for. I wouldn’t be where I am now, or even who I am now, without them.
Thank you, Deborah for the great info!
To check out more about her and her fantastic picture books, check out her website at www.deborahdiesen.com.