I met Annie Cronin Romano in April at the NESCBWI conference and then got to spend a bit more time with her just last week at a book event hosted by our publisher, Page Street Kids. I’m so happy to interview her about her beautiful bedtime picture book, BEFORE YOU SLEEP, releasing on October 16, 2018.
1.Can you tell us how you came to writing and about your path to publication? Did you always know that you wanted to write children’s books?
I’ve loved reading for as long as I can remember, and my love of writing flowed from that. I was an English major in college and often wrote for my own enjoyment, but I never thought about being a children’s writer until I had children of my own. As I read to them, I fell in love with children’s books again and started learning as much as I could about the craft of writing for children.
2. I love learning where the idea of a story came from. Can you tell us about the inspiration for BEFORE YOU SLEEP?
I worked for nearly 15 years as a speech-language pathologist (I still work in special education), and many of my students struggled with expressive language and vocabulary. One exercise I would do with them involved describing items using the five senses as a jumping off point. (What does it smell like? What does it feel like?) One night I was having difficulty sleeping. The phrase “before you sleep, before you dream” popped up in my mind, so I wrote it down. The next day I played around with that phrase and eventually tried structuring the phrase around the five senses, like the exercise I’d do with my students. It blossomed from there.
3. What does your writing process look like? Are you a plotter or a pantser? Maybe somewhere in-between?
For my picture books, I definitely lean toward the pantser camp. I enjoy reading a story that offers something unexpected, so when I write I usually don’t have the storyline outlined or a specific ending in mind. I leave my writing open to the opportunity for those unforeseen twists and turns. I’ll brainstorm a general idea or phrase and start writing. I often end up in a place I didn’t expect, which is so fun! If I have a story planned out to the detail, that surprise element often escapes me. I also write middle grade novels, and I took the pantser approach for the first novel I wrote. But I did adopt the plotter route for my current middle grade work in progress, and I must admit the drafting process to date has flowed more smoothly overall. So I’m keeping my options open!
4. BEFORE YOU SLEEP is published by Page Street Kids. Can you tell us a little bit about your journey to publication?
Sure! The few months before BEFORE YOU SLEEP was acquired by Page Street, I was subbing a few other picture book manuscripts and my middle grade novel to various agents. I was hesitant to send out BEFORE YOU SLEEP because, despite loving this manuscript, I thought it was too quiet for the current market. I eventually sent it to five agents I thought might be a good fit and received three positive personalized rejections with helpful feedback. Then I pitched it last minute in February 2017’s #PBPitch Twitter event. I got a “like” from Kristen Nobles, the publisher for the newly added children’s division at Page Street Publishing. Just three days after I sent Kristen my manuscript, she emailed me to ask about discussing the possibility of publication. That rapid turnaround time is highly unusual, but because they were just starting out, they didn’t have a backlog of projects. I don’t have an agent, so I communicated directly with Kristen. By early April of 2017, I had a signed contract. By the way, I sent out my first every children’s book query in May of 2005, so it took me nearly twelve years to receive an offer of publication. Never give up, people!
5. Let’s take a minute to gush about Ioana Hobai’s illustrations in BEFORE YOUR SLEEP. Tell us about that moment when you saw the art for the first time.
I was familiar with Ioana’s art before I found out she would be illustrating BEFORE YOU SLEEP, and I loved her style. Page Street allowed me to have a say in who would illustrate my book, and when I received some portfolios to consider, Ioana’s portfolio was among them. The first time I saw her sketches for the book, I was thrilled! The colors were so soothing and the faces so sweet! Ioana captured the essence of BEFORE YOU SLEEP beautifully, and I couldn’t be happier with how the artwork came together with the text! It’s an extra benefit that we live relatively close to one another, as we’ve been able to schedule some events together. It’s been a great experience working with her!
6. What is your favorite part of being an author?
Just knowing that my words will be out there for kids to read has been my favorite part. As I write this, BEFORE YOU SLEEP has just one more week until its release, and the idea of walking into a bookstore or library and seeing it on the shelves is incredible to me! I love writing for children and have been working at it for years. Having the opportunity to finally share my work with children is a dream come true.
7. What is your least favorite part of being an author?
I think my least favorite part would be the marketing aspect. I’m pretty much an introvert, so marketing my book and putting myself and my work out there on social media has been a challenge from a personal standpoint. I’ve had to climb out of my shell to advocate for my book. But I’m doing it! And I’ve learned that people in the kidlit community are really wonderful about supporting debut authors.
8. What other projects do you have coming up and where can people follow you online?
My next picture book, Night Train: A Journey from Dusk to Dawn, comes out in April 2019 with Page Street Kids. It’s a lyrical picture book that offers a glimpse into the scenes of a night train as it travels across the countryside. Ileana Soon has done a beautiful job with the illustrations, and I’m excited to see it on the shelves! I recently finished a humorous picture book and a nonfiction picture book biography—my first nonfiction manuscript—and have started submitting those projects. And I’m working on a middle grade ghost story which I hope to be querying by next summer. People can find out more about my work at my website, www.anniecroninromano.com. Or follow me on Twitter @AnnieCRomano, Facebook at www.facebook.com/anniewriter, or Instagram at anniecroninromano.books.
Thanks so much for having me on Writers’ Rumpus, Kim!