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Am I a real author? Suzanne Lipshaw can officially say YES to this question! After publishing her debut picture book, I CAMPAIGNED FOR ICE CREAM, Suzanne Lipshaw can call herself an author.
But that wasn’t always the case! Read her full interview with me to learn more about her publishing journey to finally hold her published book.
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Your debut picture book, I campaigned for Ice Cream, came out on April 30th! Tell us a little bit about your book.
I CAMPAIGNED FOR ICE CREAM is the true story of my son, Josh, who at nine-years-old (he’s 27 now) wondered why ice cream trucks never came to our neighborhood. He soon discovered that a 1954 peddlers’ law forbade the sale of anything on our township streets including ice cream. Josh felt strongly that this was unfair, so with a little guidance from his momma, he decided to petition town hall to get the law changed.
Walk us through the process you went through from idea to publication:
I CAMPAIGNED FOR ICE CREAM started as a middle-grade fiction manuscript. Several chapters into that manuscript, I heard about Kristen Fulton’s Nonfiction Archeology class. Since I teach developing readers by immersing my students in a different science theme each year, the idea of writing nonfiction picture books strongly resonated with me.
Kristen’s course inspired me to try the ice cream truck story in a nonfiction picture book format and it worked!
From there the manuscript went through many revisions and several run-throughs with my critique partners. Once I felt it was ready for submission, I made the newbie mistake of jumping right into querying agents. Many rejections later, I had an interested agent, only to learn that agents were looking for at least three picture book manuscripts. I had two others in the works, but not far enough along to keep her immediate interest.
Not being known for my patience when it comes to waiting, I decided to forego the agent route and query small publishers. In time, I received an email starting with “Congratulations” and was thrilled that Josh’s story would become a family legacy and an inspiration to all who read it.
What has been the most challenging part of publishing?
It’s a paradox, but not getting feedback from literary agents AND getting feedback from literary agents. Receiving rejections is hard for all, but not getting any feedback, in my opinion, is even harder. It puts the writer at a loss as to what type of changes need to be made.
On the flip side, when I did receive feedback from two agents, their opinions were polar opposites. The agent mentioned above said “Your manuscript is incredibly well written. It’s one of the best nonfiction picture book submissions I’ve read in a long time. I like how simple and matter-of-fact the storytelling is.” The voice in this picture book jumps right off the page. Another agent said the manuscript needed more voice, more excitement…
What is the biggest obstacle you have run into so far?
Being published by a very small publisher has had several advantages, but getting into brick and mortar bookstores is an obstacle I am working on overcoming.
What has been your favorite part of the process?
Sharing my journey and knowledge of writing craft with the students at the schools where I taught. When I was writing the fiction middle grade, I had a critique group of third and fourth-grade students. We met once a month and they would read my latest chapters and give me their opinions and ideas.
If I ever go back to writing a middle-grade story I would do this again. Kids are insightful, funny, and full of brilliant ideas!
Last year, I ran a NaNoWriMo writing club that met three times a week during the month of November and then once a week for the remainder of the school year. Sharing story and craft with students who love to write was a rewarding endeavor.
Finally, this year my students lived the process with me and I used several decisions, like a choice between two covers, to engage my students in higher level thinking skills. It has been a win-win for my students and their teacher.
What was one thing you learned that would help other authors?
Trust the illustration process would best describe my advice to new authors. Initially, I was concerned that the illustrator would have a different vision for my book than I did and that Josh and his brother Jeremy wouldn’t feel like my boys.
However, as the illustration process emerged, I realized that it is essential to let the publisher and illustrator work their magic. I was fortunate my publisher chose to hire Wendy Leach (SCBWI Kansas) to illustrate my book. With my manuscript, author’s note, and a photograph of my boys in hand, she captured the essence of both Josh and Jeremy in her illustrations and added a dose of humor and whimsy that elevated my manuscript to the next level.
I see that you do a lot of speaking gigs. How did you get involved with that?
The short answer is I was thrown into it somewhat unwillingly by the two principals I’ve worked for. One principal nominated me to speak at the Michigan Department of Education School Improvement Conference about a teaching approach I created to engage and motivate developing readers called Yearlong Themed Project Based Learning Approach.
Speaking in front of a crowd, especially one filled with adults, was way out of my comfort zone, but when your principal gives you this kind of honor, you don’t say no. This speaking engagement led to several other professional development speaking opportunities.
Several years later, a different principal called me into her office to tell me our school couldn’t afford to hire an author for March is Reading Month this year and asked if I would be the “celebrity” author that month. I was unpublished, still tweaking my first nonfiction picture book and speaking in front of a crowd was still out of my comfort zone!
My initial reaction was panic. But again how do you say no when your school needs you? So I developed a presentation called “Am I Really an Author?”. I ended up having a blast and began getting calls from other schools to present. Now that I’m a published author I am working on additional presentations.
What would be your advice for someone who wants to book school visits?
I did my first two school visits for free and was told prior by other authors that this would be a mistake. However, I strongly disagree. The free visits gave me the confidence to continue speaking and they opened up the word of mouth door for other school visits.
Lastly, what would be your best advice for someone looking to publish their book?
Have patience and continue to write other stories while you are in the querying process.
I CAMPAIGNED FOR ICE CREAM is now available for purchase. (Get your copy here!) Thank you so much to Suzanne Lipshaw for sharing her story with us and congratulations on her first picture book! I am excited to see what more she publishes.
For more author interviews, check out these articles:
- Author Interview with Tina Shepardson on Walkout
- Stacey Corrigan on Her Debut Picture Book Experience
- Interview with Picture Book Writer Connie Dow
- Interview with Rochelle Groskreutz on her Debut Picture Book