Welcome to another episode of Tuesday Debut!
I’m excited to introduce today’s debut-ess who is both an author and an illustrator! Illustrators are way under-represented here on Tuesday Debut, since most of our debut-ers are authors only, so it’s exciting to have a chance to hear about the publication journey from someone who does everything!
Please join me in welcoming the talented Sarah Kurpiel and her amazing book, Lone Wolf!
Title: Lone Wolf
Author/Illustrator: Sarah Kurpiel
Publishing House: Greenwillow/HarperCollins
Date of Publication: May 19, 2020
Age Range: 4-8
Synopsis: Maple the husky is mistaken for a wolf so many times that she starts to believe she might be one.
SUSANNA: Welcome, Sarah! Thank you so much for joining us today – we are thrilled to have you! Where did the idea for this book come from?
SARAH: Lone Wolf was inspired by my childhood dog. Years ago, I drafted a few comic strips about her just for fun. When brainstorming story ideas, I thought back to those comic strips and chose one idea I felt had depth: a husky mistaken for a wolf. I imagined how she might feel about being called a wolf again and again. That’s how the story got its start. But that’s not the final story that went on submission. My co-agents—though they weren’t my agents yet (they would offer representation later that year)—provided feedback that pushed me to develop the story further. I’m glad they did. The conflict at the heart of Lone Wolf remained the same, but the point-of-view and story arc evolved.
SUSANNA: How long did it take you to write this book?
SARAH: I spent about two months on and off developing the dummy I sent to the agents who had expressed interest in possibly representing me. Over the course of three months, they gave me several rounds of feedback. I found it helpful to take a few days to absorb the feedback before approaching revisions. Sometimes I feel so attached to an idea that it’s hard to see how it could work another way—at first. All in all, it took me about five months on and off to write this book.
SUSANNA: Did you go through many revisions?
SARAH: I revised the story text many times. I save each version in a new file and end the file name with the date. This helps me keep track of revisions. You never know when you’re going to need to take a step back. When it comes to editorial feedback, I prefer reading it right away and listing all revisions I need to consider. Giving myself a task—methodically translating feedback into a checklist—helps me avoid becoming too overwhelmed. Then (if I have time!) I’ll take a few days to let it sink in. I tend to start with easy revisions while ruminating over the larger ones.
SUSANNA: When did you know your manuscript was ready for submission?
SARAH: When my agents felt it was ready, I trusted it was.
SUSANNA: When and how did you submit?
SARAH: In late 2018, my agents crafted a letter, to which I contributed an illustration, and sent me the first round of editors they intended to contact. Once everything was ready, they sent out the letter, dummy, and samples.
SUSANNA: When did you get “the call”? (Best moment ever! 😊)
SARAH: About a week after submission, I had my first call with an editor. Her vision for the book aligned well with mine. A week after that, the book went to auction. I ultimately chose the first editor I spoke with.
SUSANNA: How did you celebrate signing your contract?
SARAH: After accepting the publication offer, I remember feeling elated to share the news with my family. I don’t quite remember much beyond that! The signing of the final negotiated contract came months later. By then, I was nearly finished with the book! It was certainly a happy moment to sign the contract, but nowhere near as exciting as the day I accepted the publication offer.
Sarah’s writing buddies, Roxie and Cad 😊
SUSANNA: Was the contract what you expected in terms of advance, royalty percentage, publication timeline, author copies etc.?
SARAH: Before the book went on submission, I’d spent a little time researching publishing contracts and reading the results of surveys where picture book makers anonymously self-report information. This gave me a sense of averages, but I still didn’t know what to expect. That’s a huge reason why having an agent is important for me; I don’t know enough about the business side. I don’t yet know what’s reasonable to negotiate and what’s not. When I read the contract it all seemed about right to me, though I had a few questions which my agents helped me understand.
SUSANNA: What can you tell us about the editorial process?
SARAH: Since my co-agents are editorial, I went through several rounds of revisions with them back when they were first considering representing me. I didn’t have a critique partner or group, so I was grateful for the opportunity to receive feedback from people well-versed in the market. After the book sold, I revised further based on the editor’s feedback. By that point, the overall story was pretty well set, so revisions were more pointed. The editor had a nice vision for the book. All the changes made sense, but some took a little getting used to. For example, I was asked to consider making a change to the way I’d been drawing the main character. At first, I worried I was going to lose what made her design unique. But I’m glad I tried it because, in the end, it was the right decision.
SUSANNA: Can you tell us a little about the illustration process?
SARAH: So far, I’ve never written a manuscript start to finish before illustrating it. Some of the illustrations in Lone Wolf preceded text. Others were developed alongside the text. Since I draw digitally, I like to build each new draft upon the previous draft, so I rarely “start over.”
SUSANNA: Did you get to see advance reviews from Kirkus, SLJ, etc? What was that like?
SARAH: Yes! My editor sent me advance reviews. It was always such a nice surprise.
SUSANNA: How long did it take from offer to having the first copy in your hand?
SARAH: Sixteen months.
SUSANNA: What kind of marketing and promotion has your publisher done for this book?
SARAH: Greenwillow distributed copies of the book at events prior to the pandemic, distributed copies to influencers and reviewers, created activity sheets, shared Twitter posts about the book trailer release, updated the book description as reviews rolled in, and offered to connect me with local bookstores.
SUSANNA: Describe any marketing/promotion you did for this book.
SARAH: My favorite marketing-related task I’ve done is make a few animated GIFs. I then applied for a GIPHY Artist channel so the GIFs could be used as stickers in Instagram Stories. The GIFs were fun to make, and I’ve ended up using them in ways I didn’t originally expect: Twitter, videos, and my website. I also made a 15-second teaser trailer (basically a long GIF) and a 1-minute book trailer. One of my favorite bloggers agreed to host the trailer premiere, and I lined up interviews and reviews with a few other bloggers whose blogs I enjoy, including this one!
SUSANNA: How long was it between the time you started writing seriously and the time you sold your first picture book?
SARAH: In December 2017, I purchased a copy of Children’s Writer’s & Illustrator’s Market 2018 and started a dummy. That doesn’t mean I wasn’t thinking about making picture books before that point, but buying that book cemented my commitment. I sold Lone Wolf in November 2018. The reason it took less than a year is thanks to a stroke of luck. An illustration account on Instagram shared one of my drawings and the right person saw it. If that hadn’t happened, I’m not quite sure when (if ever) I’d have felt ready to query agents.
SUSANNA: What is the most important/helpful thing you learned on your way to publication? (Or what is your most helpful piece of advice for up and coming writers?)
SARAH: Don’t wait until you’re ready because you may never feel ready. And after you sell your first book, join a debut group if you can. I’m part of the 2020 Debut Crew. It’s reassuring being part of group that shares ideas and answers each other’s questions. Plus, I’ve gotten to know some kind, talented writers and illustrators in the process.
SUSANNA: Thank you so much for talking with us today, Sarah, and sharing your experience so all of us can learn from it! We are so grateful for your time and expertise! I know I speak for everyone when I wish you the very best of luck with this and future books!!!
Readers, if you have questions for Sarah, please post them in the comments below and if she has time I’m sure she’ll respond!
You may purchase Sarah’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!
Karen Kiefer – Drawing God (religious market)
Theresa Kiser – A Little Catholic’s Book Of Liturgical Colors (religious market)
Lindsey Hobson – Blossom’s Wish (self pub)