Hurray! It’s Tuesday Debut time!
I have to tell you, I love doing these posts so much! So many of the authors who are featured here are writers I have watched come along from their first early steps into the world of writing picture books to their moments of great accomplishment. I have had the opportunity to see how hard they work to improve their craft, research the agent market, polish their work to submit to agents and editors… and to see them keep trying when things didn’t go their way the first… or the fifth… or even the fifteenth time. So I am extra especially thrilled when I get to see their first books in print! 🙂
Today’s Tuesday Debut-ess is a case in point! Talented, determined, and now finally and most deservedly 🌟 published 🌟, I’m delighted to introduce you to Cathy Ballou Mealey and her wonderful picture book, When A Tree Grows!
When A Tree Grows
Written by Cathy Ballou Mealey
Illustrated by Kasia Nowowiejska
Sterling Children’s Books, April 2, 2019
Fiction, ages 3-7
WHEN A TREE GROWS is a rollicking read-aloud that follows a zany chain of events triggered by a broken tree, a cranky Bear, a nut-loving Squirrel and his loyal friend Moose.
SUSANNA: First off, how cute is that moose???!!! 🙂 But getting down to serious business now 🙂 where did the idea for this book come from?
CATHY: I was hiking in the woods with my family when we heard a distant creaky Crash! Was it a tree? An animal? We froze, and after a long silence, hiked on. I started wondering: What if that crash had scared a bear or frightened a deer?
Building on that “OR” question, I framed a madcap tale with two different possible outcomes, one rather expected and one funny, unexpected outcome. Readers will find that “OR” spotlighted on the bottom corner of each recto page with a clever curled paper art effect.
SUSANNA: How long did it take you to write this book?
CATHY: My first draft took roughly 6 weeks to complete before I had a preliminary version to share with my critique group and some trusted writing friends.
SUSANNA: Did you go through many revisions?
CATHY: Yes! Those first critiques helped me tighten and distill my draft into a 32 page picture book format. I wrote ideas on sticky notes, plastering them on the back of my door and re-arranging them into funnier scene sequences. I cut sentence strips from my paper draft and pasted them into a book dummy with stick-critter sketches. Trying multiple revision strategies helped me trim text and focus on story.
SUSANNA: When did you know your manuscript was ready for submission?
CATHY: When writer friends kept asking “How is that TREE book coming along? Don’t sit on that too long. Send it out!” I trusted them!
SUSANNA: When and how did you submit?
CATHY: I used Querytracker to find agents accepting picture book manuscripts. My goal was to send out three new queries each week. At the same time, I was polishing two additional manuscripts to have ready in case an agent asked to see more stories.
SUSANNA: When did you get “the call”?
CATHY: The first “call” came in May 2015 when I signed with Liza Fleissig of Liza Royce Agency. After Liza submitted TREE to publishers, we got nice feedback and a request for revision. I revised for about a month, and the new version went to acquisitions at two houses. By December TREE was putting down roots at Sterling Books for Children with editor Meredith Mundy.
SUSANNA:How did you celebrate signing your contract?
CATHY: Since it was just before Christmas, I bought a special acorn ornament to hang on our tree.
SUSANNA: Oh! So pretty! Was the contract what you expected in terms of advance, royalty percentage, publication timeline, author copies etc.?
CATHY: My agent was helpful in explaining technical contract bits that were important but unfamiliar. I also perused online resources for more information about publishing contracts. As others have mentioned, Hannah Holt’s author survey data – shared in her October 2018 Tuesday Debuts post – is current and extremely useful. I’d say my experience on the “business” side for TREE was on par with other debuts for advance, print run, author copies, etc.
SUSANNA: Tell us about the editorial process…
CATHY: The changes I had made during the R&R stage helped polish TREE to a high gloss. Specifically, the friendship angle between Moose and Squirrel deepened, and the visual humor was tweaked to a funnier level. I shared many illustration ideas both in manuscript art notes and by email with the editor and art director. See if you can find what I described as the “I Love Lucy” conveyor belt image!
SUSANNA: Tell us about your experience of the illustration process…
CATHY: I saw sketches and proofs throughout the process, which I never expected but found very exciting! I knew from the thoughtful questions art director Ryan Thomann posed that we shared a vision for how the final illustrations might look.
SUSANNA: Did you get to see advance reviews from Kirkus, SLJ, etc?
CATHY: Kirkus liked it – hooray! The review says “Laugh along as a story about a tree in the forest comes full circle, bringing three creatures along for a bumpy but fun ride.”
SUSANNA: How long did it take from offer to having the first copy in your hand?
CATHY: Three years, four months. Once the PW announcement was released in March 2017, I could officially share the news with everyone that TREE was becoming a book.
SUSANNA: If your book has been out for at least one statement cycle, has it earned out yet?
CATHY: This interview is posting on TREE’s book birthday, so it is too soon to tell.
SUSANNA: What kind of marketing and promotion has your publisher done for this book?
CATHY: Sterling sent TREE to reviewers and journals like Kirkus. They also promoted it to schools and libraries as part of National Parks Month in April with other Sterling titles.
SUSANNA: Describe any marketing/promotion you did for this book.
CATHY: Three cheers for collaborative marketing efforts with my online debut PB groups, the marvelous Epic18’s and splendid Notable19’s. Through blogs, Twitter chats, Instagram, etc we are jointly boosting our debut releases to reach more young readers. I am also grateful to Danielle Davis whose amazing blog This Picture Book Life hosted my cover reveal in November, 2018.
SUSANNA: How long was it between the time you started writing seriously and the time you sold your first picture book?
CATHY: I wrote my first picture book in 2010 for the Cheerios “Spoonful of Stories” contest. I started to attend conferences, classes and workshops and joined SCBWI and the 2012 12X12 Challenge. I felt ready to query agents in 2015. So, approximately 3-4 years of learning and writing in earnest before selling my first book.
SUSANNA: Anything else you’d like to share about your book’s journey from inspiration to publication?
CATHY: I’d like to thank YOU for giving me the opportunity to share some of TREE’s back story here. Ever since entering the very first Halloweensie contest in 2011, I’ve been truly fortunate to learn from, and connect with, like-minded kid lit writers, readers and reviewers right here through Perfect Picture Book Fridays, your seasonal contests, Would You Read It? and Oh Susanna! You have collated a treasure chest of material in your archives that are so helpful to writers. If my Tuesday Debut interview can add even a tiny tidbit to your resources, I am happy!
And you even provided photo-evidence for me that sometimes cute rodents DO stow away on vehicles bound for the city.
SUSANNA: Cathy, it is absolutely my pleasure to provide anything I may have provided that helped you on your way, and I know your Tuesday Debut post will be more than just a “tiny tidbit” for writers who get to read it! Thank you so much for joining us today and sharing your experience so we can all benefit! I know I speak for everyone when I wish you the very best of luck with this book and the many others I’m sure will follow! 🙂
Cathy Ballou Mealey lives with her family north of Boston, where she delights in watching silly squirrel antics and is waiting patiently for a moose to appear. Her favorite nut is the hazelnut and her favorite cupcake is cardamom crème.
Readers, if you have questions for Cathy, please post them in the comments below and if she has time I’m sure she’ll respond!
You may purchase Cathy’s book at:
(all links below are book-specific)
We can help our debut authors successfully launch their careers by:
– purchasing their books
– recommending their books to friends and family
– recommending their books to our children’s teachers and librarians
– recommending their books to our local libraries and bookstores
– suggesting them as visiting authors at our children’s schools and our local libraries
– sharing their books on social media
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!