Hugs for New Picture Book Author Amy Nielander

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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.

Picture Book Author Amy Nielander Full Interview

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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. 

Amy Nielander’s upcoming picture book, Grama’s Hug!

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! 

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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:

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  1. Thanks for sharing your inspiration and process. I am encouraged and motivated to begin my own story sharing process.

  2. In my 83 years, I have seen plenty of children and have two of my own, two grandchildren and one great grandchild. I feel blessed and long have I yearned to write a children’s book. You have inspired me cause the logistics of it were always daunting. Want to do it now. Don’t you think I should start soon?

  3. Grama’s Hug looks like a sweet book. I was incredibly close to my grandmother and her hugs were extra special. I’d love to share you book with my own grandchildren. Thank you for your tips on getting an agent, Amy.

  4. I loved the information and advise that came from the interview. Love the story. Ready to start fine tuning my own book I have started. Thank you for sharing.

  5. Thank you for the interview. My Grandmother died around my 50th birthday. When I retired, my hobby was genealogy for awhile. I researched my family and so much about my Grandmother. I have draft of story of her life and am actually writing stories about her experiences in her early years. It feels like she whispers in my ears. She is still my guiding light.

    1. Oh Sandy…thank you for sharing. I am so sorry to read about your Grandmother’s passing. Learning about her must be comforting and I wish you the very best in finding her life story.

  6. Thank for your honesty and your knowledge. You inspire me to continue my journey and to complete my stories.

  7. This is a great insight. I’m a picture book writer in the process of querying.

    And my grandma was such a huge part of my life, I almost tear up reading the title alone and seeing the cover finishes the deal. *lol*

    Look forward to seeing more from you!

    1. Thank you for reading the interview Matthew! I’m so happy it resonated with you. My grandfather was a big part of my life and his joyful presence definitely helped me shape the story. Your grandma will find a way to live in your stories too.

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