Julie Hedlund is the author of A Troop is Group of Monkeys and A Shiver of Sharks. Her website is an incredible resource for writers. She is a vital, energetic part of the kidlit community and I feel so blessed to have discovered the 12 x 12 forum, which she founded. The 12 x 12 introduced me to the kidlit community, helped me discover agents and publishers to submit to, and made me aware of other kidlit challenges and opportunities. In January, I had written 4 stories; now I have 21 manuscripts in various stages of revision. I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to interview Julie and learn from her insights!
Thank you for having me on Writer’s Rumpus! I am honored to be here!
You’re welcome, Julie. How did you come up with the idea for 12 x 12?
I came up with the idea in 2011 when Picture Book Idea Month (PiBoIdMo) rolled around. I realized I’d only written one new draft that year, and I wanted a way to challenge myself to write more in the coming year. Deadlines are effective for me, so I got the notion that I’d try to write one PB draft per month in 2012. I invited others to join me in the challenge and the rest, as they say, is history!
In a lot of ways, 12 x 12 IS my career, meaning it’s enabled me to earn a living by focusing on what I love best – writing and helping other writers. It is also tremendously motivating to me to know that there are so many people out there who are looking, not just to me, but to the whole community for inspiration, support and encouragement. The mere existence of 12 x 12 makes me want to write more, more, more! 🙂
I expected maybe 50 people to sign up. Needless to say, the response from fellow picture book writers far exceeded even my wildest expectations.
You are represented by Erzsi Deak, of Hen & Ink. How long did it take you to get an agent?
It seemed like it took forever, but in reality it took 3-4 years. But I was only seriously submitting for the last 1.5 of those years. The most important thing writers need to do is be ready to have an agent, and that means writing – a LOT – and improving your craft first.
You have 2 story apps published and the print version of A Troop is a Group of Monkeys is out this month. How long were you writing and submitting before you found your publisher?
I found my publisher, Little Bahalia, about six months before I signed with my agent. I think this makes sense. My writing had finally matured enough and was worthy of publication. I wasn’t actively submitting to publishers — only agents — but Stacey and I met at a conference. I pitched my idea for TROOP as an app to her and she loved it. I was fortunate enough to catch her just as she was launching her digital publishing company.
Do you have a writing routine?
No. I wish.
How do you find time to write?
It’s very difficult. I’m a divorced mother of two children and a large, misbehaved dog. Of course, running 12 x 12 and my other initiatives (writing retreat in Florence, Italy) also take time. So what often ends up happening is that I have to force myself to forget about everything else and write. Having a critique group helps, because after the third month of showing up empty-handed, I start to feel antsy. Same thing with 12 x 12. As the leader, I hate reporting in without a manuscript written that month.
But my writing process is not routine. I sit down, force myself to do it and then feel great afterwards. It’s only the length of time between those sessions that changes. I continually try to reduce the span of time between them!
Where do you get your ideas?
Everywhere. My kids, the news, things people say, experiences. The great thing about writing picture books is that you can truly write about ANYTHING. Not even the sky is the limit. The only limit is the imagination, and since that’s boundless, ideas can really come from anywhere.
What projects are you working on right now?
I am about to launch a crowdfunding campaign for my next picture book. It’s been a fascinating experience so far because I have both a publisher and an agent, but this is the route to publication we decided to take. If your readers come to my blog on October 21st, they can find out all the details then. 😉
In addition, my agent has one manuscript on “semi-submission,” meaning to an interested editor. I have several other PBs that I’m working on revising and I am embarking into chapter book territory too. My in-person critique group is headed up to the mountains this weekend for a retreat, and I hope to make huge progress on the chapter book. Wish me luck!!
On your website, you say your mantra is : Imagine. Create. Inspire. I feel like you’ve done this through your books and building a writer’s community. What is your advice to writers who are just starting their careers in kidlit?
I know everyone says read and write, but that is the absolute minimum that you must do. I would add “get involved” to that advice. There are SO many resources available to writers now. 12 x 12 is only one of them. Join SCBWI and other writing organizations. Take an online course. Participate in writing challenges. Join writing-related Facebook groups. Becoming part of the community will expedite the journey to publication at least tenfold because we all learn so much from each other.
I love your book, A Troop is a Group of Monkeys and so does my 3 year old. How did you come up with that idea?
Aww, thanks so much! I came up with the idea one day when I randomly came across a list of collective nouns for animals and I found loads that I didn’t know. I loved the playfulness of the names and the way they related back to a characteristic of each animal. I must have spent hours reading the list and then researching more. I figured if I found them that fun and interesting, so would kids and their adult caretakers.
If you could be any animal, what would it be, and why?
A well-loved dog. Because then life would just be all good and no stress.
Thank you for taking the time to talk to me, Julie. I know that 12 x 12 has been singularly valuable in my life, and I’m sure that it will continue to impact many children’s writers in the years to come.
Thank YOU, Kirsti. I love having you in 12 x 12. It’s people like yourself who are willing to learn and share that make the community so spectacular!
|Purchase TROOP on Amazon
Purchase TROOP on iTunes
|Purchase SHIVER on iTunes|
Julie is the creator of Julie Hedlund’s Template for Storybook App Proposals and the founder and host of the 12 x 12 picture book writing challenge, with more than 500 members. She is a monthly contributor on Katie Davis’ Brain Burps About Books children’s literature podcast, a contributing editor on the subject of 21st century publishing for Children’s Book Insider, and a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers (SCBWI), and the Children’s Book Hub.
Great idea, and I’d like to know what you’d do with writers who are illustrators, and also do wordless picture books…I’ve done 2 so far (besides my 13 other picture book manuscripts), and essentially go through the same process as I do with stories with text. I’d like to join the ‘golden books’ group of your project, and am curious about this aspect, and have you worked with it…thank you, Esther
It is great to read about other writers! By the way (please don’t take offense), you have very blue eyes. They are rather pretty! I have plain brown. Doesn’t compare, but thank goodness for imagination.
Julie, thanks for inspiring, leading & innovating! I’m thrilled to have stumbled upon 12×12 this year with its amazing community of writers.
Thanks Emily! So glad you are enjoying 12 x 12.