Welcome to Tuesday Debut, Everyone!
Today I’m thrilled to introduce you to debut author Suzy Levinson! She has something special to share with us: I’m pretty sure this is the first time we’ve debuted a Fiction/Poetry Collection! And, it is her actual book birthday so Happy Book Birthday, Suzy and Animals in Pants! We’re so delighted to get to celebrate with you!
As if getting the opportunity to hear about a poetry collection picture book’s journey to publication wasn’t enough of a treat, Suzy is offering a personalized signed copy of her book to one lucky commenter on today’s post! (US residents only) Just leave a comment below between now and Monday April 17th at 3PM Eastern for your chance to be randomly selected for this fabulous prize!
Are you ready to check out some animals in pants?
Title: Animals in Pants|
Written by: Suzy Levinson
Illustrated by: Kristen and Kevin Howdeshell
Publisher: Cameron Kids/Abrams
Pub Date: April 11, 2023
Type: Fiction/Poetry Collection
Age range: 5-7
Synopsis: What? You’ve never seen animals in pants? A dog in yoga pants, a goat in overalls, a yak in slacks? Animals in Pants presents a parade of impeccable poems about animals wearing perfectly pressed pants.
SUSANNA: Welcome, Suzy! Thank you so much for joining us today. We’re all excited to hear about how a picture book which is a poetry collection develops! Where did the idea for this book come from?
SUZY: Hi, Susanna! Thanks so much for having me!
Well, let’s see. In late 2016, the following things happened:
- I attended a great poetry conference, where I hobnobbed with some of kidlit’s biggest superstars, felt utterly unaccomplished, and resolved to write a children’s poetry collection ASAP.
- I took a picture book class in Brooklyn, mainly to shake off some writer’s block. The instructors suggested that we start a piece by “choosing two incongruous things and finding a way to connect them.” I did just that, and wound up with a poem about a cat wearing pants.
- I attempted to write a pantoum. If you’re not familiar with the pantoum, it’s an extremely evil form of poetry that’s nearly impossible to write well because there are so many rules. At one point, I threw up my hands and said, “Forget this pantoum! I’m making up my own poetic form! I’ll call it a pantaloon, and the only rule is it has to be about an animal wearing pants, like my cat one!”
And with that, Animals in Pants was off and running.
SUSANNA: How long did it take you to write this book?
SUZY: Once I had the concept down, putting together a first draft was shockingly fast. A couple of weeks, maybe?
I started with lists—lists of animals, lists of pants, lists of pants-related terms. Then I mixed and matched. I’d come up with interesting animal/pants pairings, crank out poems, send off a batch to my critique group, then write some more. It felt like I was running on creative jet fuel! But there was a catch…
On one hand, I couldn’t believe how much fun I was having—everything about this project felt right. On the other hand, it was obviously a waste of time. I mean, come on: Was there a single agent or editor on the planet who would take a risk on a children’s poetry collection? By me? I thought not.
SUSANNA: Did you go through many revisions?
SUZY: Oh, yes. Writing this book took weeks, but revising it took years. I futzed and futzed. I certainly had the time to futz because, as I’d suspected, no one in the industry seemed interested in buying what I was selling. So I ran the whole manuscript by my critique partners a few times. I ran it by mentors and experts. I cut poems, added poems, played around with the order of the poems…
And don’t even get me started on all the revisions that happened once I had an agent, and even more revisions that happened once I had an offer! All I can say is it takes a lot of effort to sound effortless.
Luckily, Suzy has an assistant who is very knowledgable about the subject of cats, whether or not they’re wearing pants. Meet Fizzy!
SUSANNA: When did you know your manuscript was ready for submission?
SUZY: I loved Animals in Pants from the start, but when it came to submitting it, I almost missed my big chance.
My first agent wasn’t interested in it at all, mainly because, yep, it was a poetry collection. Once we parted ways, I sent it to a couple of publishers on my own; no dice. Then I shelved it. I loved Animals in Pants, but no one would ever, ever, ever publish it, and that was that.
In 2020, my dream agent, Rachel Orr, responded to a query. She liked the prose picture book I’d sent her, but wanted to see more. She liked the next bunch of PBs I sent her, but again wanted to see more. I only had a few polished stories left…and Animals in Pants. But her website said specifically to not send poetry collections!
I told my husband, Dan, that I probably shouldn’t send Animals in Pants to Rachel. I didn’t want to break the rules. And then my kind, sweet, law-abiding husband said, “Rules, shmools! This book is your favorite thing! JUST SEND IT TO HER ALREADY!!!”
Animals in Pants was the eighth piece I sent Rachel, the very last one. It wound up being the deciding factor. In her email, she said something to the effect of “I can’t live without this manuscript,” and offered me representation on the spot, before we even had a phone call. It was a moment I’ll never forget.
SUSANNA: A match made in heaven! When and how did you submit?
SUZY: Even with Rachel on my side, finding a publisher who’d be willing to take a risk on a poetry collection, let alone a debut author’s poetry collection, was challenging. We’d already done one round and received some polite passes when we heard that Amy Novesky at Cameron Kids had just bought The Crab Ballet, a gorgeous poetry-PB by Renee LaTulippe. Clearly, Amy had fabulous taste and an ear for poetry, so we sent Animals in Pants her way and hoped for the best.
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”?
SUZY: After all those years of thumb-twiddling, the submission-to-acquisitions-to-yes phase was like a whirlwind! We subbed to Cameron in mid-January 2021, they expressed interest in late January, and on February 9, Rachel called me…with an offer, woohoo!
SUSANNA: When did you get “the call”, which these days is more likely to be “the email”?
SUZY: It’s weird, the stuff you remember about big moments like “the call.” I remember that Rachel called me from a supermarket parking lot. I remember being almost instantly worried; Cameron Kids specified that I’d have to add more of a story arc to the collection (What if I couldn’t do that? Would that mean the deal was off?). And I remember that Dan ran out to buy a bottle of prosecco and then we danced around the kitchen to “Celebration” by Kool & the Gang.
SUSANNA: How long was it between getting your offer and getting your contract to sign?
SUZY: Five months, but oof, it felt like five years. In that time, I managed to convince myself that I was never going to get a contract at all.
In that time, I also did a rather complicated revision—well, the end result wasn’t complicated, but the journey to the end result was complicated. I tried MANY things to deliver on that story arc I’d promised before we landed on a surprisingly simple solution to tie the whole book together.
I never knew that big edits can happen before the contract is signed! Apparently, it’s quite common. Maybe next time, it won’t stress me out so much.
SUSANNA: How did you celebrate signing your contract?
SUZY: At first I freaked out. See, I hit the wrong key when I was filling in the digital contract and sent it off without my birthdate, which sent me into an emotional tailspin. I’d waited so long for the contract, only to mess it up now?!?
I emailed Rachel to tell her about my glaring error. And of course she assured me that it wasn’t a big deal, she’d simply send Cameron the missing birthdate. And how funny was it that she’d never realized we’re the same age? Cool!
And THEN I managed to calm down and have a little champagne.
One thing I’ve learned over the years: excitement and anxiety often feel the same, at least in my brain. Being able to parse out the excitement and actually enjoy the big moments is, um, something I’m working on?
SUSANNA: Was the contract what you expected in terms of advance, royalty percentage, publication timeline, author copies etc.?
SUZY: Thank goodness for my awesome agent, that’s all I can say. I had a vague idea of what the contract would entail, but the thought of reading through all that fine print was dizzying. It’s still dizzying! I just glanced at my contract to answer this question and now I need a nap.
The contract’s fairly standard: 5% on hardcover editions until we reach a certain number of sales, 6% thereafter, slightly less on paperbacks. And hilariously, it includes a New York Times Best Seller bonus, which I will NOT be holding my breath for…although you never know, right???
SUSANNA: Hahaha! I have the same reaction to contract language! Can you tell us a little about the editorial process?
SUZY: Once the dreaded story-arc issue was settled, there wasn’t much drama. My first concern was not mangling the meter during the editorial process. When it comes to rhyme, meter is always, always, always a biggie for me. But it was clear from the get-go that my poems were in safe hands with Amy Novesky.
Working with Amy was so collaborative and fun—probably because she’s a writer, too! She had me write one new poem, which was fine because I like writing poems, and it wound up being a great addition that makes me laugh every time I read it. When it came to small tweaks, we always reached an agreement. We had to cut a few poems for space reasons, which was hard but unavoidable. I couldn’t bear to part with the snake poem so Amy was willing to trade it for the lizard poem (sorry, lizard).
I think the biggest change for me was the title. For years, the book was called Pantaloons. I loved that title, but I was also willing to accept that I’d lost all objectivity, so I let it go. And I’m glad I did! Animals in Pants is obviously the correct answer.
SUSANNA: What was your experience of the illustration process like?
SUZY: From the moment Cameron Kids made an offer, I knew this book would be beautiful. Beautiful books are their thing. But when I found out that Kristen and Kevin Howdeshell would be illustrating, I was beyond psyched. I was already a huge fan of their work!
text copyright Suzy Levinson 2023, illustration copyright Kristen and Kevin Howdeshell 2023, Cameron Kids/Abrams
The illustration process felt collaborative, too. Amy shared the art with me at several stages of the process. I was immediately wowed by the supercool look. IMHO, the book’s a masterpiece, a true work of art!
text copyright Suzy Levinson 2023, illustration copyright Kristen and Kevin Howdeshell 2023, Cameron Kids/Abrams
That’s not to say I didn’t have notes along the way. I had loads of little nitpicks, which felt kind of obnoxious, but I just had to put my author hat on and go for it. Hey, I’m a children’s poet; nitpicks are my love language.
SUSANNA: Did you get to see advance reviews from Kirkus, SLJ, etc? What was that like?
SUZY: Yes! In early January, we got this great review from Kirkus! What a relief. The reviewer really seemed to get the book’s humor, and even complimented my meter. (Practically every poet I know congratulated me on that one meter comment, ha! We’re all such meter geeks.)
SUSANNA: How long did it take from offer to having the first copy in your hand?
SUZY: It was a little under two years, from official offer to book-in-hand. I was shocked to get my first copy in December. I’d heard so many horror stories about authors not receiving copies due to supply-chain issues, but once again, Cameron Kids was on top of things. And since then, they’ve sent me a big box of books for giveaways and stuff. Nice!
According to Edelweiss, the initial print run for Animals in Pants is 10K, which sounds kind of small but also reasonable, given that it’s a poetry collection. But between you and me? I hope we blow that number out of the water. If we can prove that PB-length poetry collections sell, then we can make MORE of them!
SUSANNA: What kind of marketing and promotion has your publisher done for this book?
SUZY: They sent Animals in Pants out for reviews. They provided me with a digital ARC to share for reviews. They answered my dumb questions, like when the heck should I do a cover reveal? And for the last few months, I’ve had an awesome publicist through Abrams who contacts kidlit outlets, assists in planning events, and answers even more of my dumb questions.
SUSANNA: Describe any marketing/promotion you did for this book.
SUZY: Self-promotion is so far out of my comfort zone that I’m cringing just thinking about it. I’ve tried my best, but I suspect I’ve missed a ton of opportunities due to shyness or cluelessness. I wish this marketing stuff came with an instruction manual.
That said, here’s what I’ve done so far:
- After the book deal, I decided to take things up a notch. I invested in new headshots and a professionally designed website so by pub date, I’d feel ready.
- I got together with some fellow authors and we founded our own PB promotion group, Picture Book Junction. We support each other, share experiences, boost each other on social media. It’s awesome.
- I’ve done a lot of review swaps with author buddies, which has been a joy because I love supporting friends. Plus their Animals in Pants reviews have been so nice, they’ve made me want to cry.
- I didn’t organize a full blog tour, but I’ve certainly said yes to interview opportunities that come my way. I probably should’ve been more proactive on that front, though. Next time!
- I’ve set up a few bookstore events. Not many, but still more than this introvert’s comfortable with?
- Recently, an author friend asked me if we’d be hanging out at book festivals soon, and I was like, “Uh…was I supposed to apply for those?” So yeah, I missed the window for spring festivals but I’ve started applying for some in the fall. I’ve gotten into one so far, woohoo!
- To swag or not to swag: that was my question. I didn’t want to spend too much money on swag, but I also didn’t want to show up to events empty-handed, so I settled for mucking about on Canva, making stickers and bookmarks.
- Whenever I pass a bookstore, I stop in and awkwardly ask, “Wanna carry my book?” And sometimes they do! I’ve also emailed buyers at a lot of NYC bookstores, offering to swing by and sign stock, and they’ve all said yes! It’s really blown me away, how nice everyone’s been at these big, iconic stores.
- To support my local indies in Queens, Astoria Bookshop and Kew & Willow, I’m offering personalized signed copies to anyone who orders Animals in Pants from their sites!
SUSANNA: How long was it between the time you started writing seriously and the time you sold your first picture book?
SUZY: I always wrote a bit. I dabbled in a lot of genres. I wrote plays, song lyrics, a MG novel. I knew I loved to write but I couldn’t quite find my thing.
Until it finally hit me: picture books!
In 2013, I took your class, Making Picture Book Magic! That’s when my writing started to feel more serious.
And the next year, I took Renee LaTulippe’s Lyrical Language Lab class, fell in love with rhyme and children’s poetry, and then I was really cooking with gas. Okay, maybe simmering over a low flame is more accurate, but still. I joined critique groups, I won a PB mentorship, I was selling poems to magazines and anthologies…you know, serious.
So long story short, I’d say eight years? Give or take a couple decades?
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?)
SUZY: I tell anyone who’s considering writing picture books the same thing: TAKE A CLASS.
People often start out thinking that writing PBs will be easy. You know who thought that? Me. I thought that. What a waste of time that was, sitting around, not taking a class, assuming it would be easy and then wondering why it wasn’t at all. Don’t be like past me.
And that goes double if you’re a rhymer!!!
Classes offer craft, community, and homework. Nothing jump-starts a writing career like homework. Every time I’ve begrudgingly taken a class, I’ve come out of it with a few decent manuscripts that wouldn’t have existed if it weren’t for homework. Animals in Pants started as homework. I rest my case!
SUSANNA: Anything else you’d like to share about your book’s journey from inspiration to publication?
SUZY: Many of us are drawn to writing because of the sweet, sweet solitude. But surprise: it’s a team sport. Every good thing I’ve written has had a million eyes on it. Animals in Pants isn’t just a book because I wrote it; it’s a book because I shared it, with my critique partners, my instructors and mentors, my agent, my editor…the list goes on and on!
If I actually liked putting myself out there, I probably wouldn’t have chosen this life where I spend so much time at home, typing in my pajamas. But putting myself out there is part of it—connecting with the community, being vulnerable, opening myself up to feedback. It’s not easy, but that’s what it takes to make this weird dream come true.
SUSANNA: You are so right about that. I love the idea of writing as a team sport! Thank you so much for taking the time to participate in this series and paying it forward to other writers, Suzy! We all appreciate the chance to learn from you so much! Here’s wishing you all the best with this and future titles!
SUZY: Thanks, Susanna!!!
Author Suzy Levinson
Suzy Levinson is a New York–based children’s author and poet. Her work has been published in children’s magazines, including Highlights, Cricket, and the School Magazine, as well as in poetry anthologies, including A World Full of Poems (DK Children), I Am a Jigsaw (Bloomsbury), and Shaping the World (Macmillan). Her debut picture book, Animals in Pants (Cameron Kids/Abrams), is out now.
She is represented by Rachel Orr at Prospect Agency.
Readers, if you have questions for Suzy, please post them in the comments below and if she has time I’m sure she’ll respond! Also, remember that your comment puts you in the running to win a personalized signed copy of this gorgeous book (if you are a US resident)!
You may purchase Suzy’s book at:
(all links below are book-specific)
You can purchase Animals in Pants anywhere books are sold!
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
– 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 HERE!
71 thoughts on “Tuesday Debut – Presenting Suzy Levinson! PLUS A Giveaway!”
I certainly admire your determination to make “Animals in Pants” a reality. The fact that you are an introvert is amazing. As one introvert to another I believe there is hope that I might also publish a children’s book some day. Thanks for the inspiration.
Yes! If I can do it, you can do it!!!
Suzy, your story of creativity and persistence is inspirational. I am glad you had and 8th to submit, because ANIMALS IN PANTS is out in the world.
Thanks so much!!
Congratulations, Suzy! This looks delightful!
Congratulations! Wishing you much success with sales and the enjoyment of getting this beautiful book out there!
You are most welcome!!
All the best!!!
Congratulations on your book!! Thank you so much for sharing your journey. I would love to have a poetry collection published!!!
You can do it! Seriously, they’re so fun to write!
I love the book snippets you shared. No wonder you didn’t want to give up on this idea! (and your assistant is adorable). Congratulations!!
My assistant totally agrees with you, haha. Thanks!!!
As a kid I was *obsessed* with Shel Silverstein, so I am SO PUMPED to read your poetry collection, Suzy! Thanks for sharing your process to publication, it’s so interesting how it all happens. Which poem is your favorite in the book? Or can you even choose??
I was obsessed with Shel Silverstein, too! Still am. You know, I don’t think I have a favorite poem…but I DO have a favorite illustration. It’s gotta be the kangaroo Elvis impersonators 🙂
Haha, amazing. Can’t wait to check it out!
Suzy, ANIMALS IN PANTS came about because you persevered and believed in your story! I love your back story and your fearlessness in going for what you wanted, even though you say you are “shy.” Congrats on your book birthday, your agent (love Rachel Orr), and a great debut. I’m checking my library for your book today.
Awesome! Thanks so much!!!
What a great backstory to what sounds like an amazing book. I can’t wait to read it, and I’m glad you persevered! Congratulations, Suzy!
Love this path to publication story – congrats Suzy!
Congrats, Suzy! I loved learning so much about how your fun book came into being! It’s gratifying to know that the book you loved so much, found a home and champions (and had a special, supportive husband!) who believed in it, too. Wishing you much success with this and all your future projects. Look forward to reading more of your poems and stories!
Aww, thanks so much, Marty!!!
Animals in Pants written by an author in pyjamas! I love your book, Suzy, and really appreciated reading about your writing journey that brought it from idea to print! Thank-you for sharing it. BTW, even though I live in Canada, I have family in the States who would happily receive your book should I be so fortunate to win it. Great interview!
As someone with family in Canada, I totally respect this loophole, ha! Thanks!!!
What a fun book idea and thanks for sharing your story!
Thanks so much!!
Thank you for the post today! This book will be so much fun to read. Congratulations on this exciting and beautiful book!
I love this hilarious, pitch-perfect book, and my copy arrived in the mail today! I tell myself it’s for my daughter’s school library, but I may not be able to part with it!
Aww, you are the best!!! THANKS!!!
Can’t wait to read your book! I especially want to see how you put a story arc in your collection. 🙂
I confess the arc is QUITE subtle, haha. You’ll see. Thanks!!!
What a fun concept! Thank you for sharing your story. I’m only a couple of years into my PB writing journey, and reading about other author’s journeys is inspiring.
So glad to hear that, thanks!!!
Congratulations, Suzy! Thank you for sharing your journey so far! You are an inspiration for this children’s poet. 🙂
Aww, that’s so awesome to hear, Sarah! Thanks!!!
This was such a wonderful interview. Congratulations on your beautiful book..loved hearing about the story journey, and how you found the perfect connection with Cameron Books!
Aww, thanks so much!!!
Your journey is so inspiring, Suzy! Thank you for sharing it. Congratulations on ANIMALS IN PANTS! I’m looking forward to reading it!!
Oh, thanks! Yaaaay!!!
Hi, Suzy. Thanks so much for keeping it real, sharing your struggles and challenges. It helps to know I”m not the only one! 😉
You’re DEFINITELY not the only one!!! My career’s like watching paint dry, haha.
Congrats, Suzy! This is a great blog post, and I love how your voice and humor come through in your answers. Plus, you’ve published a poetry collection! Double congrats!!
Yessss, I’m so excited!!! THANKS!!!
If Animals in Pants is half as fun as this blog post, it’ll be a delightful hit! Thanks for sharing and Congratulations!!
Thanks so much, that’s so great to hear!!!
What a delightful interview–and book! I love the concept and I’m looking forward to sharing it with my five-year-old. Thank you for sharing so many details about your inspiring writing journey. I’ve interacted with you a little on 12×12 and reading this post left me feeling energized about writing, learning, and getting out of my comfort zone (and maybe out of my stretchy pants). Here’s to hoping you earn that NYT best sellers bonus!
Get out of stretchy pants?!? Let’s not get too extreme, haha. Anyway, THANKS, this is so nice to hear!
Wow, this book seems incredible and I’d love to read it to my students!
I loved hearing about your journey, Suzy, and can’t wait to read Animals in Pants. The sample spreads are the best!
Aww, thanks, Penny!!!
Suzy, so happy for you! Looking forward to reading your book! This interview was delightful! 🙂
You are a hilarious person and also have great hair.
Thank you for the shout-outs and for sharing those delightful, funny spreads. I can’t wait to get my hands on these animals in pants! I’m so glad they found a home at Cameron so they can keep the crabs company. ❤
Yay, Renee!!! Actually, my hair’s really frizzy right now. Anyway, I’ll just keep on shouting your name from the rooftops because you are the BEST!!!
What a fun book. I love poetry for kids and the examples included here are delightful. I love that they are all ‘pantaloons’ too – makes them sound as fun as they are. But I do agree about the book’s title. A good choice.
Thanks, Norah!!! And absolutely – sometimes it’s better to just say what the thing is, rather than trying to get fancy with it. (But just between us, it’ll always be Pantaloons to me, haha.)
I love it!
This book looks so fun, I think my twins will love it!
Congratulations Suzy! I love the idea of this book, and Fizzy looks like one cute cat!
Thanks!!! And yes, Fizzy is totally ridiculous. 🙂
You had me at “animals in pants.”
Congratulations- this looks AWESOME. ❤️👖🐊
Love the story of how Animals in Pants came to be. I am SO glad your persistence paid off. The illustrations are to die for!
Oh, I know! I got reallllly lucky with the illustrators!!!
This book is on my TBR list. Looking forward to reading it! I love the story about how “easy” this book was to put together. All that hard work paid off. And congrats, Suzy, on working with Amy! I’d love to have her as my editor, too! Plus, those illustrations are fabulous. So much to be thrilled about! Cheers!
Thanks so much!!! Really appreciate being on the TBR list, that’s so nice. Yeah, Amy is awesome! 🙂