From Quiet Whisper to Published Picture Book Author Jill Esbaum

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If you’ve ever had the quiet whisper to start something, you know how EASY it is to ignore it. The same is true for picture book author, Jill Esbaum. Until the day she decided to GO for it.

Now with over 30 fiction and non-fiction books in publication, and more on the way, Jill Esbaum is a well-established picture book author. If you have a whisper telling you to write a book, read the interview with Jill to find your own motivation!

Picture Book Author Jill Esbaum Interview | How to Write Picture Books

Full Interview with Picture Book Author, Jill Esbaum:

1. Many people, who have a quiet voice whispering to them to write a book, ignore it. But not you. What made you finally decide to take the leap and write your first book?

Oh, I ignored it for a few years. What finally gave me the push was a health scare that left me with a “What are you waiting for, woman?!” attitude.

2. Did you get your start with non-fiction or fiction first?

Poetry, actually. I was sending picture book manuscripts here and there, piling up rejections, when a published friend who admired my rhyme told me to try sending some short, funny poems to children’s magazines.

When the first one I sent was accepted by Cricket, I thought maybe my friend was onto something. I went on to sell lots of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry to magazines before one of my picture book manuscripts was finally accepted four years later. 

3. Are there any major differences between the two publishing processes or is writing for fiction and non-fiction very similar?

Most of the same techniques are used for both, so I’d say writing them is similar.

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4. You have a new book, Frog Boots, coming out in 2020. What’s it about and where’d the inspiration come from?

FROG BOOTS (March, 2020) is an odd one, because an image just popped into my head one day:  A 5-yr-old boy in rain boots he LOVES, rain boots covered with shimmery, multi-colored poison dart frogs (his favorite animal!), happily showing them off in circle time at school. Then another kid says, “Teacher, that boy’s wearing girl boots.” (the boots are purple), and everybody laughs and laughs.

When that image came to me, I thought the story would be funny. When I got into the actual writing, it wasn’t funny at all, of course. The poor kiddo, Dylan, has a huge issue to grapple with:  Do I make my life easier by ditching the boots forever, or do I find the courage to continue loving them–despite the fact that they were meant for girls? 

5. Do you have any other new books in the works?

Yes! A picture book illustrated with adorable photos, WE LOVE BABIES! comes in with the new year. The light, rhyming text showcases everything we love about baby animals.

Then, in April, another rhymer, WHERE’D MY JO GO?, introduces a funny little dog, Big Al, faithful companion of a woman trucker, whose curiosity gets him into trouble.  Also, another Nat Geo series book comes out in March, LITTLE KIDS FIRST BIG BOOK OF WHERE. I sold a nonfiction picture book recently, too—historical nonfiction—that I’m excited about. But I don’t want to spill the beans just yet. That one’s slated for 2022.

6. Not only do you write books, but you write about writing books. What made you decide to start Picture Book Builders?

I got the idea for Picture Book Builders in the summer of 2014. But I knew I couldn’t do it alone –I am not, by nature, a chatty enough person. I calculated that if I wanted the blog to put up two posts per week, recruiting 7 more picture book authors/illustrators would mean we’d each only have to post once per month.

I asked my friend Pat Zietlow Miller for help. We tried to think of people who 1) were currently publishing picture books, 2) had different writing voices, and 3) wrote in different picture book genres. She came up with 3 names, as did I, and nobody said no. We’ve been going strong ever since. Hard to believe it’s been 5 years.

7. It always seems like you have such amazing new ideas! What has been your best trick for coming up with a new picture book idea?

The best “trick” for idea generation is to keep your mind open to any random thought that flits through. Story ideas are triggered by the mundane and truly weird. I don’t want to examine the process too closely…it might dry up! 

8. Now that you have published over 13 picture books, what has been the most challenging part of the publishing process for you?

Waiting. For submissions to go out.For editorial feedback. For acquisition meeting results. For a first look at illustrations. For publication. For reviews. For sales.

9. Has this changed from your first book to now?

No, unfortunately. But the process has taught me patience. Sort of.

10. What would be your best advice for someone hoping to publish their own kid’s book?

Keep working to improve your writing. That’s really the only way to make sure a submission stands out in this very crowded field. 

Thank you to Jill Esbaum for sharing her story with us. If you’d like to learn more about her and her books, check out her website here. Also if you want to become a picture book author yourself, read these articles to help you out!

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