Perfect Picture Book Friday Special! – Starry Forest Books – A Perfect Picture Book Publisher PLUS A Fantastic Opportunity Giveaway!!!

Break out the fancy coffee mugs and some celebratory chocolate cake for breakfast, my friends! We have a very special edition of Perfect Picture Books today!

In lieu of a book, I have an interview with a publisher who is actively looking to acquire picture books. This is a unique opportunity to get an inside look at a publisher you might not have known about, along with insight into what they’re looking for. In addition, one lucky winner will get to have a 20-minute Zoom call with Robert Agis, President of Starry Forest Books, where you can talk to him about anything in publishing! This is an amazing opportunity to get some insider info on all the things you’ve been wondering about in the publishing world. And don’t forget to practice your pitches, because he’ll definitely ask to hear about what you write and what you’re working on! This giveaway starts today and runs through Wednesday, June 15th! (Details and entry info at the bottom of this post!)

(Also, the Perfect Picture Book List for this week will be down at the bottom as usual, too. I may not be sharing an actual book today, but everyone else is!)

I want to thank Amy Dixon, Editor at Starry Forest books, for taking the time to join us today and give us this wonderful glimpse into an up-and-coming publisher! Thank you, Amy! In addition, she was able to get some responses from the other two acquiring editors, so you get to hear from all three!

First, some general info about Starry Forest Books!

Tell us a little bit about Starry Forest Books and how it came to be.

In 2016, Robert Agis, then an editor at Union Square & Co., collaborated with Barnes & Noble buyers to develop new series and title ideas. Starry Forest Books was a boutique publisher commissioned with actualizing these ideas for Sterling and Barnes & Noble. With creative direction from Robert Agis, Starry Forest developed several series including Baby’s Big World and Classic Stories which immediately proved successful. 

Inspired by Starry Forest’s potential, and with the vision to create distinctive children’s books and media, Robert took over Starry Forest in 2019. He negotiated worldwide distribution through Ingram, started a foreign rights business that includes growing sales in China, Russia, Spain, and elsewhere, and expanded the Starry Forest creative team and support roles to a team of ten. From three modest series sold through one retailer in 2019, the company has expanded to worldwide sales with more than 120 titles published or in development. 

Looking at your website, we can see you’ve done a lot of board book series and classics in the past. What does the trajectory of Starry Forest look like moving forward?

Our vision statement is “Make Something Beautiful” and we plan to continue pursuing that vision with the 20-30 titles we’ll publish each year. This includes the development and growth of our existing brands, like our Baby’s Classics and Gamer Baby series, as well as stand-alone picture books. We will also be expanding into categories such as chapter books and eventually, middle grade fiction! We’re thrilled that our first two stand-alone picture books will be entering the world in August, and we’ll be sharing more about them below!

For the next few questions, we asked the Starry Forest Editorial Team to chime in and give some inside scoop! They are Allison Hunter Hill, Anna Lazowski, and Amy Dixon—ALL both published authors and acquiring editors at Starry Forest Books.

You are here on Perfect Picture Book Friday! We’d love to hear what you look for when evaluating a picture book manuscript.

Anna Lazowski:

A fresh concept, or unique take on something familiar will always make a manuscript stand out. So many manuscripts start out strong but falter partway through. I love it when I get pulled in by the opening lines and the author is able to hold me there as the narrative unfolds. I also look for authors who know how to use emotion to connect with the reader, and understand that half of their story will, ultimately, be told by illustrations. 

Can you tell us about a Perfect Picture Book on your list? What drew you to this story?

Allison Hunter-Hill:

Being an editor is a little like being a parent– I can’t pick a favorite book-child! But I can tell you what I look for in picture books and what drew me to this one. Perfect Picture Books have a “spark” in them that sets them apart. It could be dialogue that makes you giggle and begs to be read out loud like “Not A Book About Bunnies” by Amanda Henke (coming in 2023!). Or a clever text that turns your world upside-down like “The End” by John Bray. Or maybe it’s an old tale that suddenly feels new again, like Valerie Tripp’s lushly re-imagined Greek myths, “Goddesses and Gardens.”

What drew me to Judy Roth’s “Cadence and Kittenfish” was the character of Cadence, herself– a bright, spunky little mermaid who does dance class with dolphins, Tai Chi with the lighthouse keeper, and wants a kitten SO BADLY that she can’t see what’s right under her adorable nose. Judy writes with such a unique, lyrical understanding. Her words are always fresh, surprising, and just begging to be read out loud! As a former librarian, I’m always on the lookout for a great storytime pick!

Illustrations play such a big role in creating a Perfect Picture Book, and there is so much talent to choose from! What did you love about this illustrator, and what made her right for this project?

Allison Hunter-Hill:

Jaclyn Sinquett is such a dream! I had three big requirements in mind when I started looking through illustrator portfolios: enchanting underwater scenes (no flat blues, please!), charming, lifelike girl characters, and the most absolutely irresistible kittens.

I knew Jaclyn was perfect for Cadence when I saw her art for “Sincerely, Emerson” by Emerson Webber. I could just tell that Jaclyn remembered what it was like to be an 8 or 9-year-old little girl– wistful, optimistic, and real. Top that off with her warm, painterly style and delicate detail work, and I was confident she would knock it out of the park. And she did!

The word that comes to mind when I think of Jaclyn is “generous.” Whatever you give her, she multiplies and gives back in abundance. I asked for a rough idea on a color scheme and she pitched a palette based on seaside blown glass and salt-water taffy. I sent her a boring copyright page and she draped it in delicate doodles of sea fronds. I mentioned it would be neat to see Cadence’s room, and what came back was something out of an enchanted mermaid dream: driftwood and coral bunkbeds with sea sponge pillows, a found-anchor nightstand, a delicate seashell tea set, and a literal Saltwater Guitar. 

Follow Jaclyn Sinquett @jsinquett on Instagram for close-ups, art process videos and more!

To me, a Perfect Picture Book illustrator is one who loves the story just as much as you do. Remember being a kid and finding a friend who would 1000% commit to pretending that the floor was molten lava? Or that your lego castle was under seige by giant Barbies? Or that you were both majestic horses with elaborate names like “Moonfire” or “Chestnut Lighting” or “Princess Starhorn”? (Someone please say yes. I’m begging you.) Finding a perfect illustrator is like finding that friend. They aren’t just willing to immerse themselves in a new world with you… they really want to play, too!

What kind of experience can an author or illustrator expect to have with Starry Forest Books?

Amy Dixon:

As a creator myself, I can say that I’ve been quite impressed by the sincere desire that the Starry Forest Team has to connect authentically with creators. Often, when there is interest in a manuscript, we have a Zoom call with creators, agents, editors, and our president, to meet and chat about the story. These have been some of the most enjoyable conversations, because they are about so much more than just a sale. We get to learn about the creators; where they are from, and what inspired them to write this story. We get to hear about what other projects they are working on. We become invested in the creator’s journey and get to explore the potential for us to be part of their growth, both with the existing project, and their overall craft.  And we get to see if there’s chemistry—we have a positive culture at Starry Forest and want that positivity to extend to the creators, and then pour out from our books to the consumer too. The hope is that everyone who crosses paths with Starry Forest Books is better for it. There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that a creator that chooses to work with Starry Forest will feel seen, heard, and valued. The passion that our company has to “Make Something Beautiful” is not just about producing a gorgeous book, but also about creating a beautiful experience for the writers and artists we work with.  

Do you have a wish list you can share with us? What types of stories are you looking to publish next? 

Amy Dixon: 

Right now, I am EAGERLY reading submissions! Hint, hint, it’s a great time to submit to me! My team will tell you that I am really loving creative non-fiction right now—teach me something without making me feel like you’re teaching me something! I adore stories about real events that inspire me to be a better human, especially ones featuring kick-ass women. I also would love to see more manuscripts that make me laugh, and where the illustrations tell a whole part of the story that isn’t in the text.  You can see more about the things I love and our submission guidelines on my manuscript wish list.

Anna Lazowski:

I absolutely love reading submissions, because when you find a gem in your inbox, it’s a truly incredible feeling. I’m always looking for a diversity of voices and experiences, and stories that help us understand each other. I love things that are a bit quirky, am a big fan of a well-placed surprise, and have a soft spot for creative use of language. You can find out more about what I’m looking for and check out our submission guidelines on my manuscript wish list

Where can we find you online? 

Website: www.starryforestbooks.com

Twitter: @starryforestbks

Instagram: @starryforestbks

Giveaway! 

We are giving away a 20-minute Zoom call with Robert Agis, President of Starry Forest Books, where you can talk to him about anything in publishing! This is an amazing opportunity to get some insider info on all the things you’ve been wondering about in the publishing world. And don’t forget to practice your pitches, because he’ll definitely ask to hear about what you write and what you’re working on! This giveaway starts today and runs through Wednesday, June 15th!

Enter the Starry Forest Books Giveaway Here!
Use the link to follow @starryforestbks on Twitter and Instagram, retweet the “Giveaway Time” tweet, and tag a fellow Picture Book Enthusiast by commenting on the “Giveaway Time” Instagram post. (You can find links to these posts at linktr.ee/starryforestbks)

Thank you again, Amy, for all this wonderful information and for taking the time to visit with us today! We all so appreciate it!

And now back to our regularly scheduled programming. . . 😊

For the complete list of books with resources, please visit Perfect Picture Books.

PPBF folks, please add your titles and post-specific blog links (and any other info you feel like filling out 😊) to the form below so we can all come see what fabulous picture books you’ve chosen to share this week!

Have a wonderful weekend, everyone! 😊

Tuesday Debut – Presenting Gnome Road Publishing!

It’s Tuesday, and you know what that means!

Time for another exciting installment of Tuesday Debut!

Today’s debut is a very special one! Not an author. Not an illustrator. But a brand new publishing company!

You have a unique opportunity here to learn about this new resource in children’s literature and get in on the ground floor. Publishers need manuscripts to turn into books, and you are the talented people who write them!

So without further ado, I’d like to introduce Sandra Sutter, Owner-Publisher, and the creative force behind debut Gnome Road Publishing!

Gnome Road Publishing – Logo Design by Wendy Leach

SUSANNA: Hello, Sandra! We had you here on Tuesday Debut with your delightful picture book, THE REAL FARMER IN THE DELL, back in April of 2019, but we are delighted to welcome you again as Owner-Publisher and creative mind behind a brand new publishing company – Gnome Road Publishing! You are a published picture book author.  What inspired you to start a publishing house of your own?

SANDRA: Gnome Road Publishing has been on the horizon for quite a while. I knew in my heart that becoming a publisher was my ultimate goal when I first began writing for children in 2017. I am a behind-the-scenes kind of person, and I love bringing ideas and people together. Once upon a time (in former lives), I was a counselor and a mediator, and those same skills and enjoyment found in collaborating with others seem to be at play. Now, with my experience in the publishing industry, I have the tools and information I need to finally move forward.

SUSANNA: How did you choose the name “Gnome Road Publishing” and what does it represent?

SANDRA: Little did I know when I chose the name (way back in 2019!) that gnomes would be as popular as they have been lately. I’m taking that as a sign of good things ahead. The name comes from a real place (an actual road) in the mountains of Northern Colorado, near where I grew up. It would be much more interesting if I had a story to tell about gnomes and how that relates to a publishing house, but the truth is I simply like the earthy, mythical, and somewhat mischievous nature of gnomes. And, the name reminds me of a childhood place associated with happiness and the outdoors. I think illustrator Wendy Leach, who I hired to design the logo and artwork for the website, was able to capture that feeling and history for me. I really love how it all turned out.

SUSANNA: What do you hope to accomplish/what are your goals/what is your mission as a publisher? (What do you want from authors and illustrators, and what do you hope to provide for readers?)

SANDRA: If you look on the GRP website, you will see two mission statements. One is for the (future) readers of our books, and the other for creatives that come to work with us. I feel a responsibility to not only produce books that children love and want to read time and again, but to also shine a light on the talented people who create these stories. My job as a publisher is to be a bridge that connects authors and illustrators together with children that love good storytelling and reading.

SUSANNA: Can you tell us about your staff members and staff structure? Associate editors, art director, art editors, etc?

SANDRA: Well, there is me at the very top. And then there is me at the very bottom. This is a small, start-up press so I am responsible for almost all aspects of the publishing process. However, that does not mean I work alone. I have a team of helpers, from members of my Acquisitions and Editorial Advisory Board to consultants on design and marketing strategies. And, this is a family-owned business, so I have hands-on support at home, too. As the company grows, I look forward to building a staff dedicated to furthering the GRP mission. 

SUSANNA: What will you publish? Board books? Novelty books? Picture Books? Early Readers? Chapter Books? Graphic Novels? Middle Grade? YA? Fiction and/or Nonfiction? Please be as specific and detailed as you care to be – the more information the better 😊

SANDRA: Can I pick “D. All of the above?” I certainly wish I could publish them all! But starting out, my focus will be on picture books through early middle-grade and a select number of upper middle-grade and young adult novels. As much as I like board books, I am not actively seeking them. Long-term, I am interested in producing novelty books and items under the Gnome Wild! imprint. But all in good time.

Logos and Art by Wendy Leach

SUSANNA: As owner/managing editor, what is your wish list for each category?

SANDRA: The GRP website has a wish list for each of the imprints which I hope provides guidance on what we are looking for (and what I particularly like as a publisher). But no matter the specific topic or style of writing, one thing a story must have is the “R” factor. Re-readability! I want to publish the story a child will pick out at bedtime three times a week, the one with the tattered corners and curled pages from being checked out and loved so much at the library, or the one a classroom of children beg the teacher to read at story-time. Please – send that story to me!  

Another way to answer this question might be to share a few of our household favorites (picture books, in no particular order):

  • Tyrannosaurus Rex v. Edna, the Very First Chicken by Douglas Rees (Illus. Jed Henry)
  • They All Saw a Cat by Brendan Wenzel
  • The Tree Lady by H. Joseph Hopkins (Illus. Jill McElmurry)
  • The Legend of Rock, Paper, Scissors by Drew Daywalt (Illus. Adam Rex)
  • The Oldest Student: How Mary Walker Learned to Read by Rita Lorraine Hubbard (Illus. Oge Mora)
  • A Gift for Amma by Meera Sriram (Illus. Mariona Cabassa)
  • Holy Squawkamole! by Susan Wood (Illus. Laura González)
  • Caring for Your Lion by Tammi Sauer (Illus. Troy Cummings)
  • The Most Magnificent Thing by Ashley Spires
  • Mummy Cat by Marcus Ewert (Illus. Lisa Brown)
  • Read the Book Lemmings by Ame Dyckman (Illus. Zachariah O’Hora)
  • Just a Minute: A Trickster Tale and Counting Book by Yuyi Morales
  • The Invisible Boy by Trudy Ludwig (Illus. Patrice Barton)
  • There are no Bears in This Bakery by Julia Sarcone-Roach
  • Teach Your Giraffe to Ski by Viviane Elbee (Illus. Danni Gowdy)
  • Sophie’s Squash by Pat Zietlow Miller (Illus. Anne Wilsdorf)
  • When Grandma Gives You a Lemon Tree by Jamie L.B. Deenihan (Illus. Lorraine Rocha)
  • The William Hoy Story by Nancy Churnin (Illus. Jez Tuya)
  • In the Sea by David Elliott (Illus. by Holly Meade)
  • Predator and Prey by Susannah Buhrman-Deever (Illus. by Bert Kitchen)
  • Alma and How She Got Her Name by Juana Martinez-Neal

There are so many more! A few of my older favorites are The Upstairs Cat, The Riddle Monster, and Calvin and Hobbes comic strips. And if you really want to get my attention, get your hands on a copy of This Room is Mine by Betty Ren Wright (Illus. Judy Stang) and send me something like it for today’s market.

SUSANNA: How many titles do you expect to start with and in what genres?

SANDRA: The plan is to start with 4 to 5 picture books, an early reader or chapter book (with series potential) and one or two MG or YA novels each year, with the first releases coming out at the end of 2022 or beginning of 2023. I would like to double that soon thereafter, but again, one step at a time.

SUSANNA: Will authors and illustrators receive an advance?  What will the royalty structure be like?

SANDRA: Yes, authors and illustrators will be paid on an advance against royalties structure in a traditional publishing format. It should be no surprise that advances will not be as competitive as in a large publishing house, but I believe strongly in providing something upfront for work acquired at GRP.

SUSANNA: What kind of experience can an author or illustrator expect to have with Gnome Road?

SANDRA: I am glad you asked this, and I think it goes nicely with the last question on advances. We know we cannot fulfill our mission to readers without a list of talented creatives! Authors and illustrators can expect timely and straightforward communication from the earliest point in working together, through production, publication, and beyond. As an author myself, I know that feeling valued and appreciated is important to having a good experience in this industry.

Authors and illustrators will be working with me and the GRP team closely to make a book the best it can be, starting with an initial discussion about the overall story vision, what happens behind-the-scenes to turn a manuscript into a physical book, and how we plan to market and distribute the title. We expect authors and illustrators to work collaboratively to the best of their capabilities. I know what I am able to do as the publisher, but I also want to know what each of their strengths are and how that fits with our overall goal to get the book into the hands (and hearts) of young readers. We want to identify those strengths and help creatives to successfully continue down their publishing paths. And perhaps this is a good time to answer the next question . . .

SUSANNA: Will authors and illustrators be expected to have existing social media platforms and presence? How much will they be responsible for marketing and publicity?

SANDRA: Yes. No. Maybe. Is that a good answer? It’s 2021. There is steep competition for space on the shelf, whether that be in a store, a library, school, or someone’s home. Every bit of marketing and positive publicity helps. Although we will be working with a distributor and part of the budget for each title will include an allocation for marketing (and reviews), an author or illustrator should have (or plan to develop) a social media platform to assist in these efforts. Authors and illustrators will not have ultimate responsibility for marketing their book(s), but we encourage active involvement in this process. This can come in many forms – not just a social media platform. But having one is almost essential at this point.

SUSANNA: As a new publisher, how do you plan to tackle marketing and distribution?

SANDRA: “Tackle” is an appropriate word for this topic. Although I love the creative aspects of being a publisher, the fact is much of my time is devoted to making quality products (in a physical sense as much as in the stories told) and getting them into the hands of as many readers as possible. I made the decision early on that GRP would use offset printing rather than print-on-demand services. This provides a wider range of options for distribution and marketing, but it also requires more time and money upfront and greater financial risk. This is one reason advances are less attractive than those found at a large, traditional publishing house. It means I must be very selective about choosing manuscripts and take on a limited number of projects so that resources can be put towards finding book buyers and building the brand as a whole. It is a balancing act of trying to attract talent, making quality products, selling them, and also keeping workload manageable and finding help when needed. Interview me again in five years and ask if all of my hair has turned gray. Chances are it will, and largely because of this.  

SUSANNA:  Will you submit your titles for review by top reviewers (Kirkus, SLJ, Booklist, etc) and for awards?

SANDRA: Yes. I feel this is a core component of a marketing and publicity strategy. But I do not want to discount the importance of less formal reviews and publicity found through connections within the greater Kidlit Community. We will work with our creatives on identifying and creating opportunities for personal growth and publicity through avenues like blog tours, podcasts, online promotional groups, book fairs, school and library visits, honor and awards submissions, and bookstore and influencer relationships.

SUSANNA: Do you have any advice for authors and illustrators who are planning to submit to GRP?

SANDRA: Let’s call it “Words of Wisdom”. First, learn your craft, get critiques, and write a good query letter. If you submit no query at all with the manuscript, send a 900-word story for pre-school age children, or fail to use any type of standard formatting, it is almost certain that submission will end up in the “no” pile. Almost. I could be wrong, but why take that chance with your work? Make your submission the best it can be. My Acquisitions Team will always appreciate the effort!

Little Gnome – Logo Design by Wendy Leach

Please come visit, get to know, and follow Gnome Road!

website: https://www.gnomeroadpublishing.com
Twitter:  https://twitter.com/GnomeRoadPub
Instagram:  https://www.instagram.com/gnomeroadpublishing/

Submissions Info HERE

SUSANNA: Sandra, thank you so much for stopping by today to tell us about your wonderful new publishing company! It’s so exciting – for you and for us! I think I speak for everyone when I say we can’t wait to see what you will publish!

And thanks to everyone 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!

Christy Mihaly – Hey! Hey! Hay! A Tale of Bales And The Machines That Make Them

Jessie Oliveros – The Remember Balloons

Beth Anderson – An Inconvenient Alphabet: Ben Franklin And Noah Webster’s Spelling Revolution

Hannah Holt – The Diamond And The Boy

Laura Renauld – Porcupine’s Pie

Annie Romano – Before You Sleep: A Bedtime Book Of Gratitude

Melissa Stoller – Scarlet’s Magic Paintbrush

Sherry Howard – Rock And Roll Woods

Kate Narita – 100 Bugs! A Counting Book

Vivian Kirkfield – Pippa’s Passover Plate

Laura Roettiger – Aliana Reaches For The Moon

Matthew Lasley – Pedro’s Pan: A Gold Rush Story

Natalee Creech – When Day Is Done

Margaret Chiu Greanias – Maximillian Villainous

Wendy Greenley – Lola Shapes The Sky

Danielle Dufayet – You Are Your Strong

B.J. Lee – There Was An Old Gator Who Swallowed A Moth

Cathy Ballou Mealey – When A Tree Grows

Pippa Chorley – Counting Sheep

Sandra Sutter – The Real Farmer In The Dell

June Smalls – Odd Animals ABC

Jill Mangel Weisfeld – Riley The Retriever Wants A New Job (self pub)

Kathleen Cornell Berman – The Birth Of Cool: How Jazz Great Miles Davis Found His Sound

Eleanor Ann Peterson – Jurassic Rat

Sarah Hoppe – Who Will? Will You?

Marla LeSage – Pirate Year Round

Stacey Corrigan – The Pencil Eater

Shannon Stocker – Can U Save The Day?

Nadine Poper – Randall And Randall

Christine Evans – Evelyn The Adventurous Entomologist

Karen Kiefer – Drawing God (religious market)

Susan Richmond – Bird Count

Dawn Young – The Night Baafore Christmas

Heather Gale – Ho’onani: Hula Warrior

Ciara O’Neal – Flamingo Hugs Aren’t For Everyone (self pub)

Theresa Kiser – A Little Catholic’s Book Of Liturgical Colors (religious market)

Lindsey Hobson – Blossom’s Wish (self pub)

Kirsten Larson – Wood, Wire, Wings: Emma Lilian Todd Invents An Airplane

Valerie Bolling – Let’s Dance!

Janet Johnson – Help Wanted: Must Love Books

Susi Schaefer – Cat Ladies

Heather Kinser – Small Matters: The Hidden Power of the Unseen

Kelly Carey – How Long Is Forever?

Mary Wagley Copp – Wherever I Go

Nell Cross Beckerman – Down Under The Pier

Claire Noland – Evie’s Field Day: More Than One Way To Win

Sharon Giltrow – Bedtime, Daddy!

Gabi Snyder – Two Dogs On A Trike

Sarah Kurpiel – Lone Wolf

Vicky Fang – Invent-a-Pet

Lisa Katzenberger – National Regular Average Ordinary Day

Pam Webb – Someday We Will

Abi Cushman – Soaked!

Teresa Krager – Before Your Birth Day

Lindsay H. Metcalf – Beatrix Potter, Scientist

Nancy Roe Pimm – Fly, Girl, Fly! Shaesta Waiz Soars Around The World

Jolene Gutiérrez – Mac And Cheese And The Personal Space Invader

Julie Rowan-Zoch – Louis (picture book illustration debut!)

Janie Emaus – Latkes For Santa

Amy Mucha – A Girl’s Bill Of Rights

Hope Lim – I Am A Bird

Melanie Ellsworth – Hip,Hip…Beret!

Rebecca Kraft Rector – Squish Squash Squished