Carol Gordon Ekster: It’s such a small #kidlit community. I’ve interviewed two of your critique buddies and they sent you to me. I’m honored and thrilled to introduce you and your newest book to our readers here at Writers’ Rumpus. Can you tell us how you journeyed into the world of children’s publishing?
Jennifer Jacobson: Thank you for giving me this opportunity! When in college, training to become a teacher, I took a mandatory course in children’s literature and fell completely in love with children’s books all over again. I knew then and there that I wanted to write for kids. As a first-grade teacher, I wrote alongside my students. Just like them, I shared my work in Author’s Chair and received feedback. I modeled revision. When my own kids were young, I accepted a new job as assistant to the children’s librarian at our local library. I created the story hours (which required loads of reading) and read The Horn Book and other review trade journals on my lunch hour. Later, my husband was transferred to another state and I accepted a freelance job at an educational publishing company. My task was to read 500 picture books within a limited time and recommend titles for their first-grade anthology. It was after this intensive time of reading that I sold my first picture book. I credit immersion in the newest literature to my breakthrough.
CGE: Your picture book, This is My Room (No Tigers Allowed) released this past May 2019 with Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers, illustrated by Alexandria Neonakis. Please tell us the story behind the story.
JJ: My two children inspired this book. When Holly was three, she was afraid to sleep in her own room. Together we created a sign that read: no monsters, no animals, no ghosts, no bugs. The sign worked! Holly felt safe from that point on. When my son Erik turned three, he, too, was suddenly afraid of the dark. I knew just what to do! I took out paper and markers and created a sign. Unlike Holly who participated in the sign-making, Erik looked on warily. When I’d completed it, he shook his head. “Mom,” he said. “None of those things can read!”
My picture book not only celebrates independence and problem-solving but learning to read as well.
CGE: The world of children’s publishing can be soul crushing…and joyous. Your previous published picture book came out over 20 years ago. How did you manage to keep your spirits up and continue working on your craft?
JJ: I must admit that the joy of publishing other forms: beginning readers, transitional novels, middle grades and YA, sustained me during those twenty years. (I was never able to heed my former agents’ advice of sticking to one age group for branding purposes. My current agent, Alyssa Eisner Henkin at Trident Media Group, supports my writing for all age groups. Nor was I able to listen to those who tried to discourage me from writing picture books.)
Throughout it all, my picture book dreams remained strong. There is simply nothing more satisfying than imagining a child cozied up in a parent’s lap, or an enthusiastic teacher in a small chair leaning toward her enchanted students, or a child, holding your book and pleading, “again!” for the umpteenth time. So I kept at it . . .and at it . . .and at it.
Here is an equation I keep in mind:
Selling a picture book = captivating idea + just-right editor + re-readable + current trends + not similar to something recently purchased + fairy dust.
It’s a hard target, but I’ve always loved a challenge.
CGE: Jennifer, your equation for selling a picture book is awesome! Can you tell us what has changed since your previous picture book released in terms of marketing, your reaction to the publishing process, or what you’ve done to promote this title?
JJ: Social media changes everything. It’s actually a blessing and a curse. A blessing because we writers now have a way of reaching readers directly. (This blog post wasn’t possible when my first picture books came out.) We can point out aspects of our stories the publishers overlooked. We can remind readers that our book is here.
But it also means that the author’s role has broadened in so many ways. We’re expected to spend considerable time marketing. And because we’re able to witness all of the wonderful and creative things that other authors do, we (or should I say I?) experience a constant feeling of inadequacy as a successful marketer.
CGE: You are certainly not alone in your feelings! We continue on despite everything. And what does the future hold for Jennifer Richard Jacobson?
JJ: I’m launching a new chapter book series next year with Pixel+Ink — books that feature sisters (Twig and Turtle) who live in a tiny house. I also have a new middle grade novel, Crashing in Love, coming out with Candlewick in 2021.
Of course, I’m also submitting new picture books come January. Fingers crossed!
Thank you so much, Carol, for giving me the chance to reflect on the journey today. Thank you for your brilliant blog!
CGE: Thank YOU, Jennifer…for your inspiration and for bringing your passion and books into the #kidlit world. And fingers crossed!
If you’d like to connect with Jennifer you can do so here: