One of my favorite memories growing up was sneaking ginger snap cookies from the cupboard with my grandpa while my grandma made us peanut butter and pickle sandwiches. There’s something powerful in a relationship with your grandparents and author, Amy Nielander, displays that perfectly in her new picture book.
Read more about Amy’s publishing journey and learn more about this touching grandma/granddaughter relationship in her upcoming book, Grama’s Hug.
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An Interview with Picture Book Author, Amy Nielander:
Congratulations on your upcoming picture book, Grama’s Hug! Tell us a little bit about the book.
Thank you Brooke! I’m honored to share my picture book making experience on Journey to KidLit.
GRAMA’S HUG is about a devoted grama and her space-loving granddaughter, May. The story follows the pair during May’s elementary years as they become an inseparable team. They create art, birdwatch and prepare inventions for the annual space fair. They never, ever say goodbye without a hug until that moment slips away one day. It is published by Page Street Kids and will be released January 28th, 2020.
Where did your inspiration come from for this story?
Back in 2013, I was walking my daughter to school one day when the bell rang and a parent yelled out “I AM NOT LEAVING WITHOUT A HUG!” Those words cemented themselves in my mind and I walked away knowing I had the heart of a story. I kept thinking, what would she do if she didn’t get that hug?
The first draft I wrote tells a completely different story though than today’s picture book. I shared that manuscript at an SCBWI round table critique but it didn’t resonate with anyone. It wasn’t until I began digging deeper when a childhood memory was triggered.
I drafted a new concept and that was the foundation for GRAMA’S HUG. The title later changed in the production process but I dedicated the story to my friend Kathy, who was the parent that shouted those words. I didn’t know her at the time but our friendship blossomed later that year.
This is your second published book. Have there been any differences in the publishing process this time around?
Yes. There was a significant difference in the publishing process compared to my first picture book, THE LADYBUG RACE (PomegranateKids). The final artwork was finished when I submitted the story because it had been entered in the Silent Book Contest. With GRAMA’S HUG, text and artwork continued to be tweaked throughout the final artwork stage.
What have you found to be the hardest part of publishing?
I think the hardest part for me is the lack of interactivity that goes with working from home. There were some days when I wished I could be in the same room with the rest of the team discussing the project. When you pour yourself into a story that is focused on a strong relationship, yet can’t completely form relationships around you due to the nature of the business, it can feel a little isolating.
And what’s your favorite part about the process?
One of my favorite parts of the process is ideating. When the book cover needed to be designed, I enjoyed thinking up all of the possibilities. I loved the ideation phase when I was a product designer and feel like it has equipped me with that let’s-push-some-boundaries kind of mindset.
I see you’re represented by Adria Goetz at Martin Literary Management. How did that relationship come to be?
Yes! Adria is a dream agent (and she was a PW Star Watch Honoree this year!). I was introduced to her by my incredibly talented critique partner, Valeria Wicker (we are both members of the Perfect 2020 Picture books group and her debut PB THE UGLY DOODLES will be released September 2020). Valeria had just signed with Adria and encouraged me to query her with my work. She thought we would be a great fit and…she was right!
What’s your best piece of advice for someone looking for an agent?
Focus on making your work the best it can possibly be. There was a time when I prioritized finding an agent versus fine-tuning my dummies. When I shifted my focus to strengthening stories, my dummies began to receive more interest. You’ll find that dream fit if your work is truly anchored.
Would you say someone needs to have an agent before they publish their first book?
No. That is the beauty of attending conferences and workshops! Vonna Carter posts an extensive list of opportunities for writers/illustrators. I’ve attended many SCBWI conferences over the years as well as a Highlights Foundation PB Bootcamp and the RUCCL One-on-One Conference.
Every time I went to an event, I shared work and received feedback. If you do your research, you can pick conferences a favorite editor/publisher/agent may be presenting at or is offering critiques.
I also recommend applying for mentorships like the Nevada SCBWI Mentor Program.
Do you have any other books in the works?
Oh yes! We have a picture book out on submission right now and a second one will go out in March.
What’s your best advice for someone hoping to break into the publishing industry?
Do whatever you have to do to make your work the best it can possibly be! Work with a freelance editor, go to conferences, spend more time every day making art and writing, take an online class or find a critique group. Finish your projects and be proud of them because you did everything you could to make them exceptional. If you believe in your stories 100%, a publisher will too.
Thank you to Amy Nielander for sharing her publishing journey with us! Grama’s Hug will be a great addition to any child’s bookshelf. 😍 Be sure to order your copy!
And for other interviews around the blog, check these out:
- Creating a Religious Picture Book with Joy Wieder
- Finding Your Voice with Elisa Boxer
- Keep Persisting with Brian Gehrlein