I met Sue at a SCBWI conference, and through Facebook. We share a love of children's books, and a love for writing them. I reached out to her for an interview and she accepted.
Sue is a children's book author and senior copywriter for eBay. She is a freelance writer as well. Her motto is: Don't give up! She is full of helpful information that may just be the ticket to help you on your way to publication.
Below are the questions I asked her:
1. Describe your writing in 5 words:
Bouncy, fun, rhyming, sweet, humorous.
2. What time do you get up and what do you eat for breakfast?
Let’s be clear that this is not a decision I get to make each day! I am woken up by my 8 and 9 year old boys around 6:15 a.m., but pretend not to hear them until about 6:45, when I finally succumb to their calls for breakfast. (but often hubby will get up and feed them and buy me 15 more precious minutes).
Breakfast is usually coffee and either a bagel or cereal or eggs, or eggs on a bagel. ☺
I do have an agent, but that wasn’t always the case. When I had about 6-8 solid picture book manuscripts under my belt and a YA that was in first draft form, I realized that submitting those manuscripts to editors, writing new stories, and keeping tabs on the market was too overwhelming to do on my own. I started querying agents at that point.
However, I sold my first 3 books without an agent. I signed with an agent just in time to have her negotiate the 2nd and 3rd book contracts. Whew!
4. What's the best thing about belonging to SCBWI?
Do I have to choose only one? Sorry, I can’t. Here’s my list: the people, the networking, the support from people trying to do just what I’m doing, experiencing the same struggles, and the feeling of belonging to a community that is out there trying to do a wonderful thing—expand children’s imaginations.
I belong to the Author’s Guild, but the main reason I joined was because I was unagented when I sold my first book and they offer a contract consulting service. Which is contract review and advice.
Soon after I joined, I saw other benefits, like website templates and hosting, which I use. It’s also great to have an organization looking out for my best interests on the whole.
6. Have you thought about illustrating your own books? What has kept you from doing so?
I HAVE thought about it, but don’t tell anyone! Haha.
I was actually an art major in college, with a focus on illustration, if you can believe it. I changed my major halfway through to marketing communications, and kept art as a minor. While I do think I have some art skills, I’m a much better writer than I am an artist.
And have you seen the art in children’s books these days? I think I’d have to go back to art school to compete. That said, I aspire to one day brush up my skills and at least give it a try.
8. What's the hardest thing for you to overcome when writing a new manuscript?
Figuring out (and then writing) a satisfying ending.
9. Did you ever want to give up being a writer? If so, what kept you going?
I have never wanted to give up being a writer, but at times, the thought of giving up trying to get published crossed my mind. But then I thought of all the work I put in, and all of the fun stories that would never have a chance if I didn’t try every possible way to make it happen.
It was definitely an inner motivation, but I would stop and ask myself, ‘If I give up, what will I do?” Probably keep writing. I have wanted to give up on specific projects many times! What I’ve found, though, is that I rarely throw in the towel on any one project, but instead park it for a while and pick it up later.
10. What are the top 5 things you've learned while trying to get published?
• Never think you are better than anyone else.
• Be open to trying new things
• Listen to your critique group
• Apply for SCBWI grants-you’ve nothing to lose
• Don’t take your spouse’s feedback personally (in fact, I recommend not sharing your work with them unless you have to)
• SCBWI is a lifeline. Join it or perish!
That’s 6. Oh well!
11. What's the funniest thing a kid has asked you about your books?
“Why did you write it in rhyme? Rhyme gets old.” LOVE IT!
12. How do you promote your books? Twitter? Facebook? School visits? And which one helps you the most?
I do all of the above, plus: bookstore events, SCBWI listservs, attending conferences, speaking at conferences (if I’m invited), selling books at conferences, donating to schools’ auctions, hosting or participating in giveaways.
It is hard to say what is the best return on investment, because awareness is so hard to measure. So when I do these various things, I just try to be selective and make what I’m doing count for all it can. And then I pray that people actually like the books once they buy them. Praying never hurts. ☺
13. How do you get invited to a school visit? Do you make cold calls? Do you email principals? Do they call you?
Funny you should ask, because up to this point, I’ve not had a ton of time to devote to school visits (I work almost full time writing for eBay), so the invites have come from word of mouth, friends at different schools, my own kids’ schools (elementary and preschool), etc. I’m hoping to do more outreach to schools in the area in the new year to build up this part of my writing career.
14. Who did your trailer for Tons of Trucks? Do you see trailers for books as the next big marketing tool?
My illustrator and her husband made the trailer for Tons of Trucks. She is amazingly creative and talented, and her husband is an animation specialist, so lucky me! The trailer is darling! I created the trailers for Shoes for Me! and A Dress for Me! on iMovie. I think they turned out pretty cute for someone who was learning as I went.
15. Who are you reading right now?
I am reading 2 books. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime by Mark Haddon, and I just cracked open Katherine Hannigan’s Ida B.
16. What do you think about the publishing world today? Is it easier or harder for writers to find an agent or publisher?
I don’t think it’s gotten any easier to get published, but I do think writers have more options these days. Self-publishing has become much more acceptable, because good writers are not afraid to say, ‘I’m good, and my story should be a book, so I will make it a book on my own.’ I’ve seen many authors have success this way.
Maybe I’m wrong about this next statement, but I feel like there are so many more agents out there now, than even 3 years ago. I think layoffs in publishing have pushed very skilled people to use those skills elsewhere, and they’ve become agents, or freelance editors, and the like.
17. Agents caution writers about rhyming books. How did you get past this anti-rhyming view?
I tricked her! Just kidding. I think that there are two kinds of rhyme. Good rhyme and bad rhyme. Agents and editors see a lot of the bad, so they try to minimize this by warning against it. But if you are good at it, go for it. Good rhyme is like bubbles in champagne---it rises to the top.
18. Have you ever gotten to meet the illustrators of your books? And, how does that working relationship work?
I’ve only met them virtually. My illustrators live in Michigan, Ohio, and Massachusetts. I’ll soon add the UK to that list.
So far I feel I’ve been very lucky in that the illustrators want the books to succeed as much as I do, so it’s been harmonious and fun to take the journey together.
19. What are you working on now?
I’m working on 2 picture books and a middle grade novel. It’s the middle grade I’ve been working on for 2+ years. But I still love it, and my goal for 2013 is to finish it. Seriously. My kids keep asking to read it. It’s embarrassing.
20. How can my blog readers help you to become an even bigger success?
Nothing helps more than a word of mouth recommendation. Go to your local library and see if they have my books (they may not carry Trucks because it’s a lift-the-flap book and libraries shy away from those usually).
If they don’t have my books, they’ll often order a copy for the library. Then many families can share the book and more little readers get the chance to become Sue Fliess fans. Yeah!
Yes! A story I finished recently about adopting an older dog from a shelter, just got picked up by my editor at Little Golden Books! Yippee!
It’s called We’re Getting a Pet and it will pub in spring 2015. That’s not a typo. Stay with me people!
And I have two books coming out in Fall of 2013. Robots, Robots Everywhere!,
illustrated by Bob Staake, will pub in August 2013 with Little Golden Books, and A Gluten-free Birthday for Me!, illustrated by Jennifer E. Morris, will pub in fall 2013 with Albert Whitman & Co.