Dr. Mira Reisberg is a font of knowledge. Her passion for children’s literature and children’s book writers is obvious in everything that she does. I’ve taken several courses with The Children’s Book Academy and loved every minute of the experience!
Kirsti Call: You are an author, illustrator, teacher, and until recently, an agent. How do you decide what to focus on?
Dr. Mira Reisberg: First of all, thank you for interviewing me on Writers’ Rumpus. It’s a pleasure to be here.
This is such a timely question for me because after working 14-20 hour days for a year, I realized I couldn’t do it all. The pressure to earn a living combined with the pressure to do well by my clients, plus having a traumatic experience during the summer, took its toll and I got very sick. When I thought about what I loved most about agenting, it was helping others and working editorially, both of which I could do through the Children’s Book Academy, so I contacted all the outstanding editors who hadn’t said yay or nay, forwarded the clients’ contact info, and shut the agency down. It was very hard, but now I wake up without pain and anxiety, truly excited to be funneling my masses of creative energy into the Academy. We just had a webinar that 681 people signed up for, which is outrageous.
KC: I’ve taken several courses from The Children’s Book Academy. You are a phenomenal teacher and mentor. What is your favorite class to teach and what courses are coming up soon?
MR: Thank you Kirsti. I think my favorite would have to be the upcoming Craft and Business of Writing Children’s Picture Books, starting September 8th . This course has helped so many people get contract offers and/or agents. In fact, just in the past 7 weeks, 8 of our former students have published kids’ books, received contract offers, or signed with agents, which is pretty thrilling. In this new course we’re having a pitching contest at the end where 10 lucky people get to submit to either an editor or an agent. I’m also especially excited because I’ll get to teach with the amazing Barbara Bottner, whose 41st best kid’s books of the month list is up for August (here’s the link if you are curious). Barbara is most famous for Bootsie Barker Bites and she has taught all sorts of famous people. Besides being a passionate teacher, I’m also a lifelong learner and I know that I’ll be learning lots both from Barbara and from creating all the new content for the upcoming course. Plus I always learn from the awesome students that we get as well. I LOVE it!!!
We get the gamut from multi-published Newbery Honor winners to complete beginners and they all have something to contribute. Actually, I love all the classes because of the students that we attract and because the courses tend to do lots of good and are quite the love fest. For example I adore co-teaching the Chapter Book Alchemist with Hillary Homzie because it’s so much fun and because people get such a kick learning how to do things that they never imagined that they could. Actually, that pretty much happens in all of the courses.
Following the September 8th course, we’re going to have a Craft and Business of Illustrating Children’s Books in November  so that students can learn how to write their own publishable stories, and then learn how to illustrate them. We’ve expanded the content because one of the things that I learned as an agent, is that art directors and editors are looking for black and white work now that more chapter books and illustrated middle-grades are being published. So we’ll be including all sorts of demonstrations and information on them. Then come January, if all goes well, we’ll be bringing back the Chapter Book Alchemist. We’re also cooking up some other new and exciting offerings, which if you want first dibs, free webinars, early bird specials etc., please sign up for our newsletter.
KC: What are some of your favorite books right now?
MR: Well in preparing for the upcoming course, I’ve been reading and re-reading some of Barbara’s books (I’m a longtime fan) including Bootsie, the book Wallace’s Lists that she and hubs co-authored, and Scaredy Cats, which is hilarious. I’m also in love with the new book Sparky by Jenny Offill, about a girl who gets a pet sloth, which I find both very touching and funny, although not everyone loves it because it breaks so many of the writing rules. Another favorite is Exploding Ants: Amazing facts about how animals adapt, because I love nonfiction and how the author, Joanna Settel, brings so much drama into her nonfiction science writing. Listen to these great chapter titles, which crack me up: “Fooled Ya” with sub heads: “A Disgusting Disguise; Fatal Flashes; Murderous Nest Mates.” Or, “The Mating Game” with sub heads: “A Smelly Proposal; A Permanent Connection.” How could you not read on with those tempting word play titles?
KC: You clearly care about the kidlit community and I love how approachable you are. What do you think is the most important thing for success is in the kidlit world?
MR: Thank you again Kirsti ❤ The number one thing is knowing your craft and showing it by having: a strong writer’s voice demonstrated by wordplay, or lyrical and/or dramatic writing, memorable characters, powerful plots, pacing and page turns, cool twists, or novel approaches. You need to make us want to read on because it’s just so darn funny, gripping, or charming, or we just care so much about your characters or story that we have to know what happens next, no matter what the genre. Connecting with universal themes is also important – the desire to have a pet, fear of the unknown, the need for friendship… With picture books, editing for brevity and tightness is essential (but this is actually fun to do once you know how). After this you need to be building a social media platform – if not now then soon as this is becoming more and more important, with publishers wanting creatives to help more with marketing, especially with unknown creatives. Of course we teach all this in the course. Finally – well actually there’s more but for right now – passion. You need to have heart and passion for making kids’ books so that you’ll hang in and keep persevering in building your craft and sending out submissions until it all comes together.
I truly hope this is helpful for some of you ~yours in children’s book love ~ Mira
KC: Thanks for sharing your insights with Writers’ Rumpus, Mira!
Over the past 26 years, Mira has been a best-selling, award-winning children’s book illustrator and writer, an art director, an editor, a kidlit and art education professor, a literary agent and the Director of the Children’s Book Academy. Many of her former students are now best-selling award-winners themselves. Some of Mira’s favorite things include helping others, being in nature, snuggling her hubs and cats, and eating frozen bananas (not necessarily in that order). You can see some of Mira’s older projects at www.mirareisberg.com or visit her at the Academy at www.childrensbookacademy.com.