Wouldn't have missed it!
Tell us, please. How did you find your way into becoming a kidlit author and why do you love it?
I was a creative writing major in college. I weirdly enjoyed reading what my fellow students wrote more than I enjoyed reading what I wrote. And they sure could write better than me. About 20 of us graduated from the program each year. There were about 200 such programs around the country, which meant that every year there were 4,000 better writers than me entering the market. I was so screwed. So instead, I thought, maybe I could continue to do that joyful discovery of what others wrote. I’d be a book publisher!
I did exactly that. Sometimes as a publisher when I thought there should be a book and it was of a sort that even I could write—like a collection of quotes or a quiz book or a hot dog cookbook—I’d do that. And holy smokes, I ended up being the author of quite a few adult books.
At one point, I saw a market opportunity for “stealth learning” books—classroom content that didn’t smell or look like classroom content that could be published in a way to be kid-driven versus teacher-driven. I started an imprint (Planet Dexter) at Penguin to publish those. When I couldn’t find somebody to write the type of books I wanted, I just wrote them myself. It was easier, quicker, cheaper. Soon I ended up being the author of quite a few children’s books.
Thereafter, if I had an idea for a children’s book, publishers and co-conspirators (illustrators) were open to the possibility. So I ended up having random picture books and nonfiction books published.
(I hesitate to use the word “love” as I think you expected me to. I’m the odd one out. Maybe I don’t belong in this wonderful Raven club. I often feel like an undercover Philistine.)
Being completely honest, I'd say that the publisher part of me loves spotting an opportunity and creating something that nails a response more that the writer part of me loves writing.
Sounds like stealthy kidlit shenanigans to me! What projects of the heart are you working on or have you acquired?
Picking up from where I exited the previous question, I get jazzed by spotting an untapped slot on the bookshelf. So I've got two projects right now.
One, I was lucky enough to first publish Jeff Kinney’s Diary of a Wimpy Kid, which was a matter of shaking up things with a journal format for a middle school audience. It had never been done before (I love doing stuff like that). And ever since I’ve been waiting for somebody to do a journal format for the market under Wimpy Kid, for younger kids. Nobody has. Finally, I found an illustrator to work with me as the author on that notion. Fingers crossed.
Second, I’ve always wanted to write a mystery. I’ve got over 25 years of failed starts. I could never get a comfortable voice. Then I wrote a blog this past year for 134 straight days. I was incredibly comfortable with that voice. Winder of wonders! Why not write a mystery in blog format?
I’ve always loved pushing content and narrative to unexpected places. I first published Wimpy on a computer screen at a time when everybody told me kids would never read it. Kinney and I then created Poptropica, my notion to publish stories via a gaming literacy. I published a book for sick kids printed on tissues in a box. And I’m working on a collection of inspirational quotations printed on rolling papers. I’ve tried as a publisher for decades, to fight the urge to confine narrative and content to stacks of paper bound on the left. So this storytelling via a blog thing has my interest right now.
Cool stuff, Jess! What do you love about working with Kelly Dyksterhouse of Raven Quill Literary?
Kelly puts up with my weirdness and madness. She’s honest. She doesn’t give up. And most of all, she just doesn’t take my stuff and hand it off to publishers. Writing is a lonely thing to do. I often get a manuscript to 85% of what it could and should be. And then I’m stuck. Whereas at the office or with a staff, a full team working together got the work to 100%. But I don’t have that with the loneliness of writing. I’ve found many agents hand off that 85% to editors. But Kelly puts the brakes on and is very talented at helping and guiding me to closing that 15% gap.
Wow, Jess! Thanks for sharing your exciting kidlit journey during our blog party!
Enjoyed it, Dionna!