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We’ve all watched the news and seen the headlines, but Tina Shepardson decided to create a picture book about the violence in schools. In her debut picture book, Walkout, Tina addresses the topic of school shootings and uses it as an inspiring message for her readers.
Tina Shepardson sat down with me to talk about her publishing journey and upcoming picture book. Here’s what she had to say about becoming a newly published picture book author:
Interview with Debut Picture Book Author Tina Shepardson:
Congratulations on your debut picture book, Walkout! Tell us a little bit about your book.
In my debut picture book, Walkout, the main character, Maddie, wants to participate in a walkout for School Safety Week, but their principal says their school will not be participating. The problem is her friend Stella is too scared to join in. Maddie wants to participate and include Stella.
The characters wear orange t-shirts, which is actually a symbol of anti-gun violence. Wearorange.org is a national movement that promotes anti-gun violence in America every June.
Where did the inspiration come from for Walkout?
There have been many school shootings since Columbine in 1999. Just last year, Marjory Stoneman Douglas had a tragic shooting. In the days that followed, my daughter had a lockdown at her own high school. This had me thinking that there HAS to be some way to inform and educate kids there’s something they can do.
All kids and parents should know and feel that when they leave the house for school, they’re safe. And that’s what this book was created to help them explore.
Tell us about your publishing process.
I met my critique partners in an online writing group. We started submitting our work to each other regularly. We help one another revise manuscripts until we believe they are ready to submit. This process involves a great deal of patience, time, and effort from everyone.
There were many exchanges, revisions, and tweaks before I started to submit to publishing houses. Clear Fork Publishing expressed interest and also asked for changes to improve the structure and flow of the manuscript. In October, the offer to publish Walkout became official.
Receiving feedback from other people is great because I’m newer to the writing world. I find it best to use feedback to continually improve, learn and grow as a writer and critiquer.
Are you agented? Or do you plan to be?
I’m not agented yet, but it’s something I would like to pursue. Right now, I’m focusing on improving and strengthening my skills, polishing manuscripts and then begin to submit to agents.
I have been teaching for over 30 years and long term I would like to continue working with children but in a different capacity. Sharing stories will be a great opportunity to serve children in a different way.
What has been your most challenging part of the publishing process so far?
Knowing when you’ve got it right. So often there are times when you submit and get rejections with a variety of comments. Since I am growing and learning all the time, I am not always sure a piece is completely ready. This is why sharing with critique partners is so invaluable. Outside pairs of eyes can be very helpful.
Do you have any tips to help you know when it’s ready to submit?
Having strong critique partners. Sometimes what you can see in other people’s writing, you can’t see on your own. My critique group has been the best resource to know whether a story is ready to submit. We all help one another look for key areas to help prepare a piece for submission. They are just wonderful people.
What has been your biggest obstacle with publishing so far?
My biggest struggle is having time to write consistently. Working full time adds a great deal to the day. I’m really good about planning but sometimes life happens and you don’t accomplish everything on a given day or week.
Currently, I commit 15-20 hours a week on my writing, yet that also includes participating in writing groups online, taking courses, working with critique groups. There are many different parts to the puzzle
What’s your favorite part of publishing so far?
My favorite part is the amazing people I’ve met on and offline. I met two critique partners at an SCBWI NYC Conference this year. We have been working together for almost 2 years. It was an amazing experience. Additionally, the constant willingness of writers to help one another has been so inspiring. They have helped me tremendously and I am so grateful.
Writing is a relationship business. It’s inspiring to collaborate with others and to meet so many genuine people. As writers, there’s room for everyone, and it is a very positive environment.
You also manage a debut picture book group on Facebook. Tell us a little bit more about that experience.
The Debut Picture Book Study Group was already online and I was a member. (You can sign up here if you’re interested in joining!) I became a moderator when they announced they were looking for an additional person.
The group is focused on debut picture book authors. We study 5-6 picture books each year posting various questions about the structure of the book during a month of study. Members discuss the various aspects of the book in our online group.
We also host an author chat where we can learn so much from the actual author about their writing strategies, author journey, and upcoming projects. This is truly fascinating because no two authors have the same exact journey.
Are you working on anything else right now?
I’m working on revising a chapter book as well as other picture book manuscripts. I recently attended another SCBWI conference where an agent gave me really helpful feedback during a critique. Over the summer I will work on revisions before I think about submitting.
What is one thing you’ve learned during this process?
You really have to carve out time to write regularly and commit to working on your craft. Everyone’s busy and we get distracted with the extras in our lives (and should sometimes as there is much to be enjoyed), but when you schedule time in your planner and hold yourself accountable you will make progress.
Many people have helped me along the way and I look forward to helping them just as much.
What’s your best advice for someone hoping to get published?
Keep working at your craft, be positive, and take the journey one day at a time. When you start to get rejection letters, it is okay. They are reading your work!! Read through the comments and see what is applicable and what isn’t. Be open-minded and be willing to work on your craft on a regular basis.
I love that we live in a time where you can do so many other activities to nurture your interests in addition to your job. To be able to work closely with and for children is awesome. There’s so much to learn when you begin a new journey.
Remember, no two journeys will look the same. So keep going and enjoy the process!
Tina Shepardson’s picture book, Walkout, is set to release in 2020 and we cannot wait to read it! If you want to learn more about Tina Shepardson, visit her website and join the Debut Picture Book Study Group on Facebook.
And if you like her advice on publishing, we have some resources that will help you out! Be sure to download your manuscript submission checklist to make sure your story is on track to getting published.
Also, check out these other articles around the blog to inspire you:
- Author Interview with Stacey Corrigan
- Debut Picture Book interview with Rochelle Groskreutz
- How to Know if Your Manuscript is Ready to Submit
- Make Time to Write More Each Week
- Suzanne Lipshaw’s Non-Fiction Publishing Journey