Good morning, and welcome to Tuesday Debut, everyone!
Today’s debutess is Carrie Tillotson, and just wait until you see how fun her debut picture book, COUNTING TO BANANAS is!
Let’s jump right in, shall we?
Title: Counting to Bananas: A Mostly Rhyming Fruit Book
Author: Carrie Tillotson
Illustrator: Estrela Lourenço
Publishing House: Flamingo Books/Penguin Young Readers
Release Date: April 12, 2022
Fiction, Ages 4-8
SUSANNA: Welcome, Carrie! Thank you so much for joining us today! We’re looking forward to learning from you! Where did the idea for this book come from?
CARRIE: Thank you so much for having me on the blog, Susanna! The idea came from an interaction between my son and his swim instructor. Every lesson, my son had to perform a starfish float, where he lay on his back and floated for ten seconds. The instructor counted “One-two-three, four-five-six, seven-eight-nine, BANANAS!” and my son would laugh hysterically. One day, the instructor said, “Don’t you love my counting to bananas?” In that moment, I knew a picture book title was born.
SUSANNA: How long did it take you to write this book?
CARRIE: I let the idea simmer for about a year before I even started writing it, because I had no idea what the story was about. But once I committed to it, I first journaled with a stream of consciousness approach to see what ideas bubbled up. From title idea in 2017, to first draft in 2018, to final draft in 2020, it took about 3 years.
SUSANNA: Did you go through many revisions?
CARRIE: I think I had about 16 drafts from start to finish, and often took months-long breaks in between some of them. One key for me and this manuscript was receiving a critique ninja visit from 12×12 Picture Book Challenge critique-ninja-and-author, Carter Higgins. Her feedback on a couple of things was key in helping me streamline one of the layers of the text that ended up just not being necessary.
SUSANNA: When did you know your manuscript was ready for submission?
CARRIE: Ha! When one of my critique partners was like, “Why aren’t you sending this out?!”
SUSANNA: When and how did you submit?
CARRIE: I attended the Rutgers University Council on Children’s Literature One-on-One Plus Conference in the fall of 2019, and had a pass to submit to agents and editors from that conference. I submitted Counting to Bananas to two of those editors and a handful of agents, and submitted other manuscripts to other editors and agents, based on their preferences and what they were looking for.
SUSANNA: How long after you found out about your book going to acquisitions (if you did) or after you submitted were you told it was a “yes”?
CARRIE: I don’t remember exactly, but I think it was about four to six weeks.
SUSANNA: When did you get “the call”, which these days is more likely to be “the email”? (Best moment ever! ☺)
CARRIE: Because I submitted directly to editors from the conference, things went a little out of order for me. After I submitted the story, my editor requested an R&R. After that, she emailed to say she was interested in taking the story to acquisitions, encouraged me to continue seeking an agent, and gave me permission to let agents know she was taking the story to acquisitions. I already had submissions out with several agents, so I was able to notify them of an editor’s interest. Shortly after, my now-agent Tracy Marchini set up a call with me, and happily, she and I felt like a great match! Once I signed with Tracy, it was just a couple of weeks until we had an offer for Counting to Bananas.
SUSANNA: How long was it between getting your offer and getting your contract to sign?
CARRIE: About 4-5 months.
SUSANNA: How did you celebrate signing your contract?
CARRIE: Oh, I’m sure I had ice cream – that’s how I celebrate everything!
SUSANNA: A girl after my own heart 😊 Was the contract what you expected in terms of advance, royalty percentage, publication timeline, author copies etc.?
CARRIE: The contract was pretty much what I expected, from having researched in other places like the Author’s Guild, and Hannah Holt’s author surveys. I was happy that my agent was able to negotiate some increases in various items on my behalf, and appreciated all her work during the negotiation process!
SUSANNA: Can you tell us a little about the editorial process?
CARRIE: When my editor first asked for an R&R, the changes were pretty minor. Once the manuscript was acquired, we had one more round of revisions. My editor and I had a phone call to discuss, which was very helpful because it helped clarify a couple of questions I had about her comments. From there, revisions were pretty straightforward.
SUSANNA: What was your experience of the illustration process like?
CARRIE: I LOVED seeing the illustrations take shape! I remember in particular being asked if it was OK with me for the fruits to have faces and personalities. I hadn’t considered that before, but was definitely OK with it. Once I saw the initial sketches, I was so glad I had said yes because I fell in love with all the hilarious fruit expressions! It was really exciting to get to see the process from sketches to final art, and I really appreciated the opportunity to give my own input at various stages, which I hadn’t expected going in.
SUSANNA: Did you get to see advance reviews from Kirkus, SLJ, etc? What was that like?
CARRIE: Yes, I saw an advance review from Kirkus and it was thrilling! I was happy to receive a positive review, knowing that they sometimes have a reputation for being a bit blunt if they don’t like a book – and to have my book compared to one of Mac Barnett’s felt great!
SUSANNA: High praise! How long did it take from offer to having the first copy in your hand?
CARRIE: The offer came in July of 2020, and publication was April 12, 2022, so just a few months shy of 2 years.
SUSANNA: What kind of marketing and promotion has your publisher done for this book?
CARRIE: They have done so much, and I appreciate every bit of it! My publicist sent the book out for reviews and helped arrange a couple of virtual events with local bookstores, as well as preorder signing opportunities for me. And the marketing team helped create a downloadable activity guide, animated trailer, and adorable posts on social media. They probably both did so much more than I’m even aware of, and I’m so grateful for everything they’ve done!
SUSANNA: Describe any marketing/promotion you did for this book.
CARRIE: One of the biggest and most helpful things I have done is to join a debut group of picture book creators, Kidlit Caravan. It has been really helpful to talk with other creators navigating the debut process to get ideas and see what others are doing. A few specific things I did were to create some bookmarks, which I plan to give away for school visits and at book stores, helped create the activities for the activity guide, and have appeared on a few blogs. I tried to keep my promotion efforts tied to things that would be fun for me, and not worry about the rest!
SUSANNA: How long was it between the time you started writing seriously and the time you sold your first picture book?
CARRIE: 8 years! After years of lurking on the SCBWI website and wanting to be involved in making children’s books, I finally realized that the only thing standing in my way was myself. That summer of 2014, I signed up for my first SCBWI conference, and I’ve been writing ever since.
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?)
CARRIE: Probably the most important thing I’ve done is to get out of my own way. Like I mentioned in the previous question, I thought for years that authors and illustrators were these amazing people, and I wondered how to be like them… until I realized the only thing stopping me was myself. So to everyone who has dreams they want to achieve, I say go for it!
SUSANNA: Thank you so much for taking the time to participate in this series and paying it forward to other writers! We so appreciate the opportunity to learn from you, and wish you all the best with this and future titles!
CARRIE: Thanks so much to you and your readers for giving new authors an opportunity to share!
Readers, if you have questions for Carrie, please post them in the comments below and if she has time I’m sure she’ll respond!
You may purchase Carrie’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)
Julie Rowan-Zoch – Louis (picture book illustration debut!)
Gnome Road Publishing (publishing house debut)
Julie Rowan-Zoch – I’m A Hare So There (author/illustrator debut)
Nancy Derey Riley – Curiosity’s Discovery (author/illustrator self-published debut)
Kate Allen Fox – Pando: A Living Wonder Of Trees (nonfiction)
Rebecca Mullin – One Tomato (board book)
Cynthia Argentine – Night Becomes Day: Changes In Nature (illustrated with photographs)
Anne Appert – Blob (author/illustrator)
Karen Condit – Turtle On The Track (hybrid publishing)
Renee LaTulippe – The Crab Ballet (picture book poem)
Amy Duchene – Pool Party (collaboration/co-writing)