So You Want To Write A Childrens Book — Girls Gone 50

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This beautiful book celebrates the special bond between mother and child. Choose the name and appearance of both characters for a truly unique gift.


Interview with Antoinette Portis, NY Times Best-Selling Picture Book Author & Illustrator

Many people have fantasized about leaving behind their mundane office job to become a prosperous children’s book author, one who is like a rock star to young children. Furthermore, they dream of having the opportunity to meet and spend time with Maurice Sendak in his home state of Connecticut.

Antoinette Portis, who was once a colleague in the advertising world, is an inspiration to us all. She imagined a reality and is now living it out.


In 2007, Antoinette made her picture-book debut with the New York Times best-seller, Not A BoxThe work of Dr. Seuss has been recognized with the American Library Association’s Geisel Honor, and it has been included in the New York Times’ selection of the Ten Best Illustrated Books of the Year.

Since then, the author has released a total of ten books, the latest of which is entitled “Hey! Water!”.

We recently had the opportunity to meet with Antoinette in her studio and discuss how to be successful like her.


What led you to where you are today?

As I progressed in my career at Disney Consumer Products, I went from being a Creative Director to Vice President. However, as I moved up the ranks, I found that the work became increasingly focused on the business side and less and less creative. This sparked a desire in me to engage in creative projects of my own.

I had a great package of benefits – a good salary, a car allowance, and business-class travel – but I eventually decided that I could no longer stay in this position. I wanted to either become an installation artist focusing on specific locations or a children’s book author and illustrator. Which of these paths was more likely to accept someone of my age? Young kids tend to think anyone over 12 is old, so that made my decision a bit easier.

I attended a number of writing courses while enrolled at UCLA extension. Additionally, I was a part of a writers club that met monthly for a few years. Then I went to a master class taught by a renowned author and instructor. At the initial gathering, I presented a rhyming picture book project that I spent a lot of time on. She read it, then proceeded to throw it away, saying, “No”. I managed to keep my emotions in check until I reached my car.

Having had multiple successful professional experiences gives me the confidence that I can find solutions to any problem. I was certain that I could get my work published, I just had to put forth my best effort.

When I left art school, I lacked the self-assurance that I have now. I was unable to deal with the rejections I encountered. However, my years in the business world have provided me with the resilience to continue despite repeated rejections.

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How did “Not A Box” come to be?

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My master class teacher imparted some words of wisdom that have stuck with me ever since: “Think back to a time in your childhood and write about something that held great significance to you – something that you feel a strong connection with.”

I have identified with the 4-5 age group when writing picture books as I have been able to relate to them. I feel I understand their sense of humor and what they value.

I recall being in our driveway with my brother in a huge cardboard box from the grocery store that we transformed into a train. We had tin-can lids attached as headlights, and we felt like we had come up with a great idea.

I stood in the kitchen as an adult and it occurred to me that while we were playing, my mom was likely feeling overwhelmed with all the chores of raising five children. I could imagine her looking out at us, wondering why we were occupying the driveway, and worrying about having to clean up the mess.

The contrast between a grown-up’s outlook and a child’s perspective is something I find captivating. I especially enjoy writing about how children learn to recognize the value and truth of the worlds they create for themselves and have the courage to stand up for their own ideas.

Not A BoxAdults may perceive it to be about imagination, but there is an underlying sense of rebellion when it comes to standing up for one’s own imagination.

I composed the initial draft of the text. Afterwards, I created a dummy version that is similar to what is seen in the finished product. I had a clear vision of how I wanted the book to be presented aesthetically. As a fledgling illustrator, I kept the sketches uncomplicated and neat. I applied a graphic design perspective when crafting the book.


How did “Not A Box” get published?

I took the initiative to submit my work to two publishers and an agent. I created physical copies of my work, although that is no longer necessary in the digital age. In a short amount of time, Harper Collins offered me a two-book deal.

The publisher was very supportive of the book, featuring it on the front page of their catalog and setting up in-store displays. They even planned to send me on a book tour, but this was thwarted when my father became ill. Consequently, I was unable to complete the tour.

The judges of the Geisel Award utilized a unique evaluation method when selecting the winner. They gave picture books to kindergarteners and monitored their reactions. NAB was a favorite among the kids because it was thought-provoking without being patronizing.

So Not A BoxThe 2007 Theodor Geisel honor book, an American Library Association early reader award named after the beloved Dr. Seuss, was awarded to a deserving recipient.

How did you become friends with children’s book legend Maurice Sendak? 


In 2010, I was honored to be one of the inaugural Sendak Fellows. Maurice had been wanting to create this fellowship for years, so it was an incredible opportunity. For a month, we lived in a house next door to his in Connecticut and he welcomed us into his barn where he gave talks. He was a very open person, having been in therapy much of his life, and he was open with us. We developed a friendship, and I enjoyed our time together as he shared his life experiences.

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Ok, so can you really make a living at this?

There are a few people who get very rich doing this work. Drew Daywalt’s and Oliver Jeffers’ The Day the Crayons QuitThis book was so popular that it stayed on the bestseller list for years! However, only a select few authors have the privilege of achieving this feat, like a select few actors make it to stardom.

Creating children’s books is an expression of fond memories from childhood and an opportunity to interact with and inspire young minds. It is a way to share a love of literature and spark imagination.

Many individuals who take on this type of job maintain a full-time job. I am fortunate that my initial two books were immensely successful and still bring in a satisfactory amount of money on a yearly basis.

When authors and illustrators sell a book, they are often given an advance on royalties. Generally, this advance is divided in two, with half of the amount being provided when the contract is signed and the other half being given upon the book’s publication or, if negotiated, when the final art is presented.

Did you have an agent or negotiate your own deal?

I was able to handle the initial two transactions on my own. Since then, it has become quite challenging to get a publisher to take notice of your work without the aid of an agent.

Negotiating was something I’d done in both my advertising and Disney careers. I knew the first offer wasn’t the final offer. It’s assumed that most first-time authors are likely to take any deal offered them because they’re so eager to get published. But I didn’t feel that desperation. I felt like Not A BoxI had an excellent thought randomly come to me as if it were a gift.

At the beginning, my editor said that if I wanted a larger advance, I would have to relinquish my merchandising rights. I had to put my faith in my editor valuing the book, and they did. Eventually, they allowed me to keep the merch rights and doubled the original offer.

Wow! So what do we do to become a children’s author?

  • Read a minimum of 100 recent picture books. Commence with the most recent winners of the Caldecott, Geisel, and Boston Globe Horn Book Awards, as well as the books featured on the New York Times Bestseller List.

  • Join the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators/p>

  • Attend an SCBWIAttending a conference in either Los Angeles or New York can provide a great overview of the industry. Agents and editors are commonly present and may invite session participants to submit their work to them over the following month, making it a beneficial short-cut to gaining exposure. Moreover, the conferences often contain portfolio viewings where editors and agents can review work. It has been known for people to receive book deals from this process.

  • Strive to keep your manuscript concise. It is recommended that picture books consist of no more than 500 words. In addition, it is not necessary to submit illustrations – the publisher does not require nor desire them.

  • Authors who are also illustrators should submit dummy books with some rough sketches and a few completed illustrations as examples.

  • Do your due diligence before submitting to a publisher; make sure to check if they accept fiction if that’s the type of material you are sending in.

  • Get the Children’s Writer and Illustrators MarketA comprehensive listing of editors and agents can be accessed by publishers, as many do not accept submissions without the involvement of an agent.

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Do you try to make your books ethnically diverse?

I like to make sure that my main characters represent a variety of skin tones, including different shades of brown. It may seem like a small thing, but I believe it is important to demonstrate diversity in children’s literature. After all, there are already plenty of books that feature white-skinned children.

To look at the issue through a larger lens, the We Need Diverse BooksThe advancement of diversity within the publishing industry has been spurred on by the conversation on amplifying non-white voices and providing them the opportunity to tell their own stories. It is heartening to observe that more people of color are now being given book deals. However, there is still a long journey ahead of us.

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Do you find yourself writing more about girls than boys?

I always make sure to include female characters in my books. Traditionally, books had male protagonists unless the story was specifically about girls. People used to think that boys would not read a book if it had a female lead, but that is not the case as much anymore. However, I still think it is important to make this point clear – we are all equal!

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Frequently asked questions

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How do I become a children’s book author?

To become a children’s book author, you’ll need to develop your writing skills, seek out resources, and create a portfolio of your work. You can hone your writing skills by taking writing classes and courses, reading books, and practicing your craft. You may also benefit from joining a writers’ group, attending workshops, and networking with agents and publishers. Once you’ve developed your writing, you’ll need to create a portfolio of your work and submit it to publishers or agents.

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In the latest At Home Author video, Vicky Weber tells how she became a bestselling children’s book author in under 9 months. Learn from her mistakes and (hopefully) this inspires your own journey!nn// LINKSnnWant to learn more about how I did it? Check out this FREE video training: a Free Discovery Call: the Profitable Picture Books Program: Ads Tips: Media Marketing for Authors: to Research Book Categories: Publisher Rocket: https://athomeauthor– Secret to Amazon Book Descriptions That Increase Your Picture Book Sales! FACEBOOK GROUPSnnPublishing Children’s Books, An Author Community: This description may contain affiliate links to products we enjoy using ourselves. Should you choose to use these links, this channel may earn affiliate commissions at no additional cost to you.

What qualifications do I need to become a children’s book author?

You don’t need any specific qualifications to become a children’s book author, but having a degree in English or a related field can help you hone your writing skills and gain knowledge of the publishing industry. You may also benefit from taking writing classes or courses to develop your writing skills.

Do I need to have a publisher to become a children’s book author?

No, you don’t need to have a publisher to become a children’s book author. You can self-publish your work and make it available in bookstores and online. However, if you want to have your work published by a traditional publishing house, you’ll need to submit your work to publishers and agents and wait for their response.

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How can I find an agent to represent my work?

You can find an agent to represent your work by researching literary agents and submitting your work to those that are interested in children’s literature. You can also attend writing conferences and workshops to network with agents and publishers. There are many online resources that can help you find agents, such as the Association of Authors’ Agents (AAA).

How long does it take to become a children’s book author?

The amount of time it takes to become a children’s book author depends on how much effort you put into honing your writing skills and creating a portfolio of your work. It can take anywhere from a few months to a few years to become a published author. However, if you have a good portfolio of your work and an understanding of the publishing industry, it can be quicker.

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