It’s Tuesday, and I’m so excited to introduce you to a new debut-ess! Let’s give a warm welcome to the lovely and talented Jolene Gutiérrez and have a look at her book about learning to respect personal space!
Mac and Cheese and the Personal Space Invader
written by Jolene Gutiérrez
illustrated by Heather Bell
published on August 11, 2020
Clear Fork/Spork Publishing
Fiction, ages 5-9
SUSANNA: Thank you so much for joining us today, Jolene! We are all excited to hear about your journey to publication! Where did the idea for this book come from?
JOLENE: Based on some of my experiences as a teacher librarian and a parent, I know that many kids struggle with the concept of personal space and friendship/social skills. I wanted to write a story that would give kids and adults talking points and tools around these topics.
SUSANNA: How long did it take you to write this book?
JOLENE: My first draft took me a few weeks to write, but something about it wasn’t quite right. I tinkered with it on and off over a couple of years (in addition to writing other things).
SUSANNA: Did you go through many revisions?
JOLENE: Yes, I went through many revisions! Originally, the story included tiny aliens in flying saucers who were zooming into people’s personal space. In 2018, I had a critique with Callie Metler-Smith, owner of Clear Fork Publishing. While we were looking at the manuscript, Callie said, “Why not take out the aliens and just make this about a boy who struggles with personal space? Lots of people can relate to that.”
SUSANNA: When did you know your manuscript was ready for submission?
JOLENE: After my initial critique with Callie, she said she’d be interested in seeing the edits I made to my manuscript, so I shared them with her. We went back and forth for 3 or 4 months, tweaking the story and making edits.
SUSANNA: When and how did you submit?
JOLENE: At the same time I was making edits on Mac and Cheese and the Personal Space Invader with Callie, I was wrapping up one of Mira Reisberg’s Children’s Book Academy courses, the Craft and Business of Writing Children’s Books. I didn’t have an agent at this time, but Mira had invited me to submit one of my other manuscripts to Clear Fork Publishing and Callie invited me to submit Mac and Cheese (then called The Personal Space Invader), so in the summer of 2018, I submitted both manuscripts to Clear Fork.
SUSANNA: When did you get “the call”? (Best moment ever! 😊)
JOLENE: At the end of October in 2018, Callie reached out via email and asked for my address and phone number. . .I was cautiously optimistic. I didn’t want to get too excited and be disappointed. 😉 So when Callie called me and said she and Mira would like to publish Mac and Cheese and the Personal Space Invader, I was over the moon happy!!
SUSANNA: How did you celebrate signing your contract?
JOLENE: After I finished screaming and jumping up and down, my family and I went out for dinner at a nice restaurant and I ate chocolate!
SUSANNA: Can you tell us a little about the editorial process?
JOLENE: Much of the revision process happened before Callie offered me a contract. After I signed the contract, there was more work with fine-tuning the manuscript and language and making sure the pagination worked. Although I never say it in the text, my main character Oliver is a boy on the autism spectrum, so I had a few sensitivity readers including people with autism and school counselors who have worked with children with autism, and I incorporated their feedback into my edits as well.
SUSANNA: What can you tell us about your experience of the illustration process?
JOLENE: Before Callie and Mira signed an illustrator, they did show me a few options and asked their favorite illustrator, Heather Bell, to create character sketches. When they shared Heather’s character sketches, I fell in love with her gorgeous illustrations. Mira hosted various video meetings with Heather and I where we looked at the spreads and talked through edits.
From the very beginning, I knew I wanted Oliver to have a notebook where he wrote and sketched his observations about the world, so I included that information in the form of art notes. My first art note in the manuscript read: Mac and Cheese are guinea pigs. Oliver watches them and takes notes/sketches pictures in notebook. Oliver’s notebook is with him throughout the book, and I love the adorable sketches Heather created within. Here’s an example of Oliver with his notebook and one of the sketches he made based on what he saw Mac and Cheese doing.
SUSANNA: Did you get to see advance reviews from Kirkus, SLJ, etc.? What was that like?
JOLENE: Yes, and that was tough. I made a conscious choice not to label Oliver as a boy with autism, and my reviewer from Kirkus didn’t like that. The reviewer wrote, in part, “Gutiérrez’s simple story, sprinkled with a few Spanish words from the teacher, lacks the context needed to explain why this young, apparent middle grader has no socialization skills, introducing his difficulty with the simple line “I’ve always wondered how to be a good friend.” The author’s note discusses how acceptable personal-space boundaries can vary culturally and individually but does not illuminate Oliver’s particular challenges further.”
I still feel strongly that a person (or reader) doesn’t need to know a child’s diagnosis (if they have one) to treat them as an individual and with respect and compassion. Many people are challenged by personal space, and I didn’t want it to be viewed as something that only people with autism struggle with.
SUSANNA: I understand your reasoning and think it is sound! (And a lot of us have had less than complimentary reviews from Kirkus! 😊) How long did it take from offer to having the first copy in your hand?
JOLENE: A little over 1½ years—it felt like a long time, but honestly, this is pretty fast in the picture book world!
SUSANNA: What kind of marketing and promotion has your publisher done for this book?
JOLENE: They’ve promoted Mac and Cheese in blog posts, on their websites, in Mira’s Children’s Book Academy, and on social media.
SUSANNA: Describe any marketing/promotion you did for this book.
JOLENE: I created a teacher’s guide, activity guide, and craft sheets (with the help of illustrator Heather Bell and my daughter, Shaian Gutiérrez), and created book swag like bookmarks, stickers, and pins (again, with the help of Shaian). I made a book trailer and sell sheets. I am a member of debut book groups Picture Book Buzz and Perfect2020PBs. I was part of a blog tour, participated in Twitter parties, and have done a few virtual school visits. I partnered with my local SCBWI chapter on some events, did a book launch party with local book store Second Store to the Right, was hosted on the Reading with Your Kids podcast, and presented to the Detroit Writing Room. I’m scheduled as a guest presenter for Children’s Book Academy as well.
SUSANNA: Wow! You’ve been busy! How long was it between the time you started writing seriously and the time you sold your first picture book?
JOLENE: Oh, boy. Well, I joined SCBWI in 2008, and at that time, I wanted to write picture books. A friend who was also a writer told me that the picture book market is really difficult to break into, especially since I’m not an illustrator, so she encouraged me to write within another genre. I tried young adult first, but in 2013, I joined Julie Hedlund’s 12×12 group. I still worked on young adult and middle grade as well, but I finally allowed myself to follow my heart write picture books. I received my contract in 2018.
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?)
JOLENE: I always knew the writing journey would teach me patience. It has also taught me persistence. There were times during this journey that I considered giving up. I’m a teacher/librarian as well, so I would say to myself, “What are you doing? You already have a day job and there aren’t enough hours in the day! You don’t need to write.” But the truth was, I did need to write. Not to pay the bills, but to feed my soul. So I told myself I’d just keep writing as long as I was moved to do so. I gave myself permission to stop if the joy in the process disappeared. But the joy never disappeared, because writing is like magic—you’re conjuring something larger than yourself. I self-talk like that a lot, and another thing I’ve told myself in regards to reaching my goals is that I have two choices: to stop working toward a goal (in which case I’ll never reach that goal), or to continue working toward a goal (in which case I’ll get there eventually). The other thought I would offer is try to surround yourself with a supportive community. The KidLit community is one of the kindest communities you’ll find anywhere. Connect with others who are moved to make magic like you are. Share tips and tricks. Read others’ work. Read their books and leave reviews. Settle in with the people who will hold you up when you’re falling and lift you up when you’ve done well.
SUSANNA: Great advice! Thank you so much for taking the time to participate in this series, Jolene, and for paying it forward to other writers! I know I speak for everyone when I wish you the very best of luck with this and future titles!!! 😊
JOLENE: Thank YOU so much for this amazing opportunity! I’m so grateful!!
Readers, if you have questions for Jolene, please post them in the comments below and if she has time I’m sure she’ll respond!
You may purchase Jolene’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)