Author Interviews,  Creator Interview Series,  Grow Your Writing,  Sunflower Scribe Spotlight

#GrowYourWriting Creator Interview: Author, Susan Johnston Taylor

Welcome back to the ‘#GrowYourWriting Creator Interviews’ blog series in 2024. I’m thrilled to feature talented kidlit creators this year and shine a spotlight on their beautiful work and inspiring journeys.

Today I’d like to welcome Author, Susan Johnston Taylor. Her nonfiction picture book ANIMALS IN SURPRISING SHADES was published by Gnome Road Publishing in 2023 and is a delightful mix of STEAM and poetry. I’m so excited to chat with Susan about her book and writing journey!

You can connect with Susan on X/Twitter, Instagram, and her website.

Stay tuned all the way to the end of the interview for your chance to win a signed hardcover of Susan’s book, ANIMALS IN SURPRISING SHADES. (US addresses only)

1 – What inspired you to pursue a career in children’s literature, and when did you start creating?

For much of my career, I’ve written about personal finance and small business for adults. But after awhile, writing about mortgages and insurance lost its luster, so back in 2016, I decided to try something completely different and write for kids!

2 – Can you share your kidlit journey thus far with our readers?  What writing/illustrating credentials, awards, contest wins, or other recognition would you like to share?

I drafted my first picture book manuscript in 2016. I doubt it’ll ever get published, but it sparked that initial interest in kidlit. I started studying at the Writing Barn that fall, kept writing, and in 2020, I was a finalist for the Cynthia Leitich Smith Mentorship Award with the Austin chapter of SCBWI. The following year, I sold my debut picture book, ANIMALS IN SURPRISING SHADES: POEMS ABOUT EARTH’S COLORFUL CREATURES, to Gnome Road Publishing!

3 – What part of the process, from the first draft to submissions, do you find the most challenging, and how do you overcome that?

Finding the right structure is the most challenging part for me, and that takes a lot of time and experimentation. For my debut picture book, ANIMALS IN SURPRISING SHADES: POEMS ABOUT EARTH’S COLORFUL CREATURES, I let it marinate and eventually thought, “what if the poems followed a rainbow structure?” It starts with a red poison dart frog, then an orange newt. This works well in read-alouds because by the time I get to the third animal (a yellow ghost crab), I ask kids to predict what color comes next and they love that interactive element.

4 – I love the thoughtful way you considered structure for your story! That gives me so many ideas which brings me to our next question. Can you tell our readers more about your journey from ideas to publication?

I came up with the idea for ANIMALS IN SURPRISING SHADES in January 2020 after reading about the Malabar Giant Squirrels in India. I drafted the poetry collection over the next several months and shared it with my critique group. Then I started sending it out. That summer, I received a revise and resubmit from an agent, so I stopped submitting it and spent the next several months revising. By late fall 2020, I sent my revision back to the agent. No response, so I started sending it other agents. My critique group insisted that this HAD to be a book, so I decided if I didn’t get an offer of rep by the end of 2020, I’d start sending it to editors on my own. By March 2021, I had an offer from Gnome Road Publishing, and working with them has been a great debut author experience.

5 – What overall advice would you like to give aspiring kidlit creators to grow their writing?

Don’t underestimate the importance of community! Critique groups have been an important part of my journey, not just for feedback on my work but also for support and commiseration. I’m still part of several critique groups, and now that my book is published, I’ve joined several marketing groups that help support each other’s books.

6 – What’s next for you as a creator?

I plan to continue promoting ANIMALS IN SURPRISING SHADES: POEMS ABOUT EARTH’S COLORFUL CREATURES and my school visit program. I also have another project under contract, but it’s not announced yet.

Bonus Badge tie-in: What tips do you have have for our readers and Grow Your Writing Challenge participants who are interested in pursuing their revision retreat badge?

I have a whole presentation on points of view in picture books, but as part of the revision process, I think it’s helpful to try writing in a different POV. Most picture book authors tend to default to third person (he, she, they, etc.), because that’s most traditional, but trying a version in first person might help you understand your protagonist better. Maybe you’ll decide to keep in first person or go back to third person and bring some of those more personal details with you. The second person you is trickier, but there are picture books written entirely in second person and it could also be worthwhile to try that, too. Or try writing from the point of view of a different character and see if that unlocks any new discoveries.

Guess What? It’s giveaway time! Susan has graciously offered to giveaway one hardcover copy of her book, ANIMALS IN SURPRISING SHADES.

To enter, leave a comment on this blog post below! Entry period closes on Jan 16, 2024 at 12am PST. One Winner will be announced January 17, 2024.

1 Bonus entry is available for anyone who shares this post on twitter, follows, and tags @UrbanMuseWriter and @C_Alemshah. 


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