Tuesday Debut – Presenting Hannah Holt!

Welcome to the October 2nd edition of Tuesday Debut, everyone!

Not only do we have a fabulous new author and debut picture book to enjoy today, this particular author did some research into advances, royalties, and rights last year which she has very kindly shared with us below.  After last week’s questions, I know you’ll all find it interesting!

So without further ado, put your hands together for Hannah Holt and her debut picture book, The Diamond And The Boy!

The Diamond and the Boy
written by Hannah Holt
illustrated by Jay Fleck
Balzer+Bray, October 2, 2018
Nonfiction, ages 4-8


DiamondMan Final cover

Told in a unique dual-narrative format, The Diamond and the Boy follows the stories of both natural diamond creation and the life of H. Tracy Hall, the inventor of a revolutionary diamond-making machine.


SUSANNA: Thank you so much for joining us today, Hannah!  We are thrilled to have you here and so excited to hear all about your amazing book!  Where did the idea for this book come from?

HANNAH: Tracy Hall was my grandfather. The idea to write his biography was simple enough, but how to tell the story eluded me for years. I took the story in a dozen different directions before landing on the dual narrative with graphite.


SUSANNA: How long did it take you to write this book?

HANNAH: About five years.


SUSANNA: Did you go through many revisions?

HANNAH: Yes, about eighty.

SUSANNA: I am noticing a trend here, folks!  Last week, Beth told us her book had undergone 91 revisions.  It sounded like a LOT, but Hannah is giving her a run for her money!


SUSANNA: When did you know your manuscript was ready for submission?

HANNAH: When it was accepted for publication!
Kidding (sort of). I still struggle with knowing when my stories are “ready.”

I worked on this story for years. I had it professionally critiqued. The story won an award—and I still had to completely rewrite it before it was accepted for publication. A story can always be made better. However, every so often, you have to try the market. Sometimes you just have to let go and submit.

Yes, edit it and revise it. Rest it and rework it. Critique it and tweak it…and then send it out!


SUSANNA: When and how did you submit?

HANNAH: I wanted an agent, so I mostly submitted to them.

I sent in small batches of 5-8 at a time. When a rejection came in, I would send another query out. I was working towards a goal of 100 rejections in a year.

I didn’t quite make that goal because I signed with my agent, Laura Biagi, and we were fortunate to have The Diamond & the Boy picked up quickly.

Laura was actually my second agent. My first agent, Danielle Smith, is no longer working in the industry.

While working with Danielle, I received no rejections. None. My stories went out and nothing came back. After we parted ways, I set my rejection goal to take back control of my career.

If you aren’t getting rejected, you probably aren’t progressing towards publication.

Rejects are good! They are proof you are working.

Hannah and Zephyr

Hannah hard at work with her supervisor and neck-warmer, Zephyr 🙂


SUSANNA: When did you get “the call”?  (Best moment ever! 🙂 )

HANNAH: I spoke with my editor before I had an official offer.

Laura and I received interest from multiple houses for The Diamond & the Boy. My agent arranged phone calls with the interested editors, so I could hear their editorial ideas. Kristin Rens had a fantastic vision for the story, so I accepted the offer from Balzer+Bray.


SUSANNA: How did you celebrate signing your contract?

HANNAH: I signed my contract, and then finished washing the dishes.

Okay, later in the day, I went to dinner with my husband, but it’s funny how normal duties of life didn’t disappear just because a book contract is signed.


SUSANNA: Was the contract what you expected in terms of advance, royalty percentage, publication timeline, author copies etc.?

HANNAH: My advance was larger than expected, probably because of the interest from multiple houses. It still didn’t make me rich. I’ve sold more than this book, but I’m not living off my income from picture books.

I didn’t know what to expect in other areas, so I deferred to my agent’s judgment on those items. (Hurrah, for agents!)


SUSANNA: Readers of this series have expressed a strong interest in knowing a little more about the specifics of contracts.  As it happens, Hannah conducted a poll last year to gather information on that topic and she was kind enough to provide a graph and summary explanation which I hope everyone will find helpful.  Even though I’m sticking it smack in the middle of her interview 🙂


I asked about advances as part of my children’s author survey last year. I had over 100 published picture book authors participate. The most common advance range for smaller houses is $1,000-$5,000. The most common advance range at Big 5 houses is $5,000-$10,000. However, I’ve attached an image to show you the spread. My debut advance was higher than average, but I had interest from multiple houses. That drove the offer up quite a bit.

My agent at the time was aggressive about pursuing international rights, so she only sold North American rights. I’ve spoken with editors about this. It’s more common for picture books to sell world rights because the words and illustrations are often created by different person. It can be easier to sell as a package. One editor I talked to said picture books at her house are about 2/3rds world rights. This same editor said it’s more common for novelists to retain world rights.

Q1 Large House vs small house advance

graph copyright Hannah Holt 2017


SUSANNA:  Thank you so much for sharing that, Hannah.  I think I can speak for all our readers when I say it is extremely helpful!


SUSANNA: Tell us about the editorial process…

HANNAH: I was fortunate to talk to my editor before accepting the offer, so there weren’t any big surprises.

I had pitched the book as a dual narrative meet-in-the-middle story, and Kristin wanted a side-by-side telling. I fully supported this switch and working with Balzer+Bray was a delight. Kristin kept me in the loop for everything from copy editing to the progress on the illustrations.


SUSANNA: Tell us about your experience of the illustration process…

HANNAH: I was involved from the very beginning.

My editor suggested four possible illustrators, and Jay Fleck was my top pick. Fortunately, he accepted the offer from my publisher. Yay!

My editor kept me in the loop as illustrations progressed. I saw sketches, and at some point, my editor asked if I would help supply research material. Of course, I was happy to help, and we went through a few rounds of sketches and tweaks.

I never spoke directly with the illustrator, and I tried to leave Jay as much stylistic freedom as possible in my notes while keeping the story technically accurate. I’m very happy with the result. The final artwork is stunning!

SUSANNA: Very cool that your editor sought your input on who the illustrator would be!


SUSANNA: Did you include art notes in your manuscript?  If so, can you share an example?

HANNAH: I only had one illustration note in the text for The Diamond & the Boy. It was describing something vaguely enough that I thought the illustrator might need some help:

“Once-frail sticks and sheets

become strong enough to lift his feet

off the earth. (illo note: huge kite)”

The resulting illustration looks like this:

The Change page


SUSANNA: Did you get to see advance reviews from Kirkus, SLJ, etc?

HANNAH: The Diamond and the Boy has had two trade reviews so far: Booklist (a STAR!) and Kirkus. I saw both reviews before they were made public and fortunately both were favorable.


SUSANNA: How long did it take from offer to having the first copy in your hand?

HANNAH: About two years.


SUSANNA: What kind of marketing and promotion has your publisher done for this book?

HANNAH: My publisher sent my book out for trade reviews and awards. They’ve brought The Diamond & the Boy to major book conferences, like Texas ALA. They’ve also had a digital copy available on Edelweiss+ and sent me several Folded & Gathered copies.

I won’t be going on a publisher sponsored book tour or anything fancy like that, but I’m happy with the level of support I’ve received.


SUSANNA: Describe any marketing/promotion you did for this book.

HANNAH: I helped organize a picture book debut group with about 50 members. We recently ran a group giveaway for educators with over 1,600 entries. It’s much easier to market with friends. I highly recommend that approach.

I’m also writing blog posts (like this! Thanks, Susanna!), putting together a classroom guide, and recording videos for science experiments correlated with my book.

When focusing on promotional material, I try to spend time rather than money. Like I said earlier, writing books hasn’t made me rich.


SUSANNA: How long was it between the time you started writing seriously and the time you sold your first picture book?

HANNAH: Ten years.

In the last decade, I’ve watched many friends sign with agents and publishing houses. Some friends have become quite successful. Others have left the business. I’ve also seen books hit bestseller lists and then eventually go out of print.

Through all this, I’ve learned that quick success isn’t necessarily the path to happiness. Becoming “published” is not the end-all, be-all that budding authors sometimes think it is. It’s important to know what you want and not become distracted by the siren call of every opportunity.

Market trends come and go, but stories don’t expire. There is no deadline for success. Through it all, keep chasing your own dreams!

SUSANNA: That is excellent advice, Hannah!  Thank you so much for sharing your experience with us today.  We all really appreciate it and wish you the best of success with this book and all the books to follow!  Readers, if you have any questions for Hannah, I’m sure she’ll answer if she has time!


Hannah Holt is a children’s author with an engineering degree. Her books, The Diamond & The Boy (2018, Balzer+Bray) and A Father’s Love (2019, Philomel) weave together her love of language and science. She lives in Oregon with her husband, four children, and a very patient cat named Zephyr. She and her family enjoy reading, hiking, and eating chocolate chip cookies. You can find her on Twitter and at her website: HannahHolt.com

You may purchase her book at:


We can help our debut authors successfully launch their careers by purchasing their books, recommending their books to friends and family, our children’s teachers and librarians, and our local libraries and bookstores, by sharing their books on social media, and by reviewing their books on Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes&Noble, and other sites where people go to learn about books.

Thank you all for stopping by to read today!  Have a lovely, inspiration-filled Tuesday!  Maybe today is the day you’ll write your debut picture book 🙂


Missed any previous Tuesday Debuts?  Check them out!

Christy Mihaly – Hey! Hey! Hay! A Tale of Bales And The Machines That Make Them

Jessie Oliveros – The Remember Balloons

Beth Anderson – An Inconvenient Alphabet: Ben Franklin And Noah Webster’s Spelling Revolution

84 thoughts on “Tuesday Debut – Presenting Hannah Holt!

  1. Nadine Poper says:

    I love all the information here. Thank you both! The Diamond and the Boy will pair well with Sam and Dave Dig a Hole by Mac Barnett. As a librarian, I am always looking for good fiction/nonfiction, (in this case biography) pairings for lessons. It will be on my next book order.

  2. Sandra Sutter says:

    Thank you for sharing your experience! This is a fantastic blog post, and I’m excited to read The Diamond and the Boy with my children. Congrats, Hannah!

  3. Kathy Halsey says:

    Today is YOUR day, Happy Book Birthday, Hannah! I have appreciated the work you did for writers re: your surveys and Iknow I will be looking into the structure of THE DIAMOND AND THE BOY. Into, have a PB bio that has changed a lot in 4.5 years. Your book sounds so interesting. Congrats.

    • Susanna Leonard Hill says:

      I think a common thread that is emerging through these interviews, Maria, is how much writing is really a part of writers’ lives. Yes, the moment of publication is a HUGE one – no denying – but there are still dishes :). And for most of us, publication is a process that takes years. We stick with because we love to write. Publishing one book doesn’t mean you’re done. We still want to write more, and work toward publishing the next one.

  4. matthewlasley says:

    Once again another great interview. Congratulations Hannah!
    Thank you for all the information that you supplied. “Rest it and rework it.” is the best piece of advice I have seen that most either don’t do or rush.

    Good luck and I look forward to reading your book!

    • Susanna Leonard Hill says:

      Glad you enjoyed Hannah’s interview, Matthew. And yes, “rest it and rework it” is Hannah’s version of my advice to stick your ms in the sock drawer for a while before taking it out for another look :). A little distance can work wonders!

      • matthewlasley says:

        I think one of the biggest mistakes beginning writers make, and some seasoned writers, is not giving it time to marinate. We either try to jump back into it too quickly or we try to completely ignore it. It is a valuable lesson I learned but still struggle with.

      • Susanna Leonard Hill says:

        I know. It IS hard! When you first finish a story, there is a such a glow of accomplishment, and a misguided moment where you think it’s the greatest thing since sliced bread :). We have to learn to let the glow wear off a bit so we can evaluate more level-headedly and make the always-needed revisions before submitting!

  5. ingridboydston says:

    Thank you for sharing your journey, your research and the cool, specific Iillo note! All of it so helpful! I look forward to reading your book and suggesting it to our school librarian.
    Susanna, will there be a Halloweensie contest this year? Keeping my fingers crossed! 🎃📚🧡!

    • Susanna Leonard Hill says:

      So glad you enjoyed Hannah’s interview, Ingrid! And yes… good lord willin’ and the creek don’t rise Halloweensie will be running as usual. I’m working on prizes – always the hard part – but hoping to post the contest Monday 🙂

  6. Rene` Diane Aube says:

    Thanks for a great interview, Susanna and Hannah! I’m so encouraged by your reminder that getting published isn’t the be-all and end-all of life…perspective is always a good thing to keep clear!
    There may still be hope for me yet, since I’m behind about three years and having to pick up and re-start. 😉

  7. sarahheturadny says:

    Congratulations ! I am very encouraged by the fact that it took 10 years from when you began seriously writing until your first publication ! You said so many useful and helpful things but somehow that’s the one that stuck in my head !! Ha! Thank you! Sarah

  8. laura516 says:

    Congrats, Hannah! Your book is waiting for me at the library and I plan on reviewing it on Amazon. The graph of advances was especially interesting. Thank you!

    • Hannah Holt says:

      Yay! Thanks for the library request and pending review. I don’t know how many people realize that little things like that can make a big difference for authors. Thanks a ton!

  9. bababloggayaga says:

    Aye aye, both me thumbs be up for you two for sharing your experiences. If’n I had me more thumbs they all be up too. I especially liked the part about rejections they being a sign of life! That means I still be very alive. Sorry you got caught up in that Danielle Smith thing. But I be extra glad you landed on yer feet.

  10. Wendy says:

    Catching up on posts–I’m excited to see Hannah has TWO books coming out shortly! Wonderful news (and I’m not even a cat person but I want a buddy like Zephyr now).

  11. Debbie Lee says:

    Congrats Hannah!!! Thank you for sharing your journey to publication with us. I sometimes feel my book is taking “too long” (and I’ve only been working on it for a year!) but your process has shown me that slow & steady is the way to go. Can’t wait to read your book!

    • Susanna Leonard Hill says:

      I’m so glad you enjoyed Hannah’s interview, Debbie. And yes, definitely take heart and stay strong – it’s a recurring theme in all these interviews that success takes time! But we’re all in that waiting game together 🙂

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