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by Ann Rousseau Smith, SCBWI CenCal News Liaison

Karen Jameson is the author of Moon Babies, illustrated by Amy Hevron (Putnam, 2019). Her most recent book is Woodland Dreams, illustrated by Marc Boutavant (Chronicle, 2020). More stories are in the works. She was awarded the Sue Alexander Grant for the Working Writers Retreat (SCBWI-L.A.) for her lyrical picture book Woodland Dreams. Karen has retired from teaching to write full-time. She took a moment to answer some questions for the Kite Tales blog.

ANN ROUSSEAU SMITH: Congratulations on your newest picture book Woodland Dreams, illustrated by Marc Boutavant (Chronicle, 2020). It’s a beautiful lullaby book, a perfect bedtime read-aloud. Was there an inspiration behind the charming woodland setting?

KAREN JAMESON: Thanks for your kind words, Ann! I’m so glad you like the book. I’ll take this opportunity to give a special shout out to Marc Boutavant for his gorgeous woodland paintings!

While teaching a science unit, I learned that most of my third graders knew little, if anything, about the flora and fauna of woodland habitats. I imagined writing a story especially for those students—a picture book walk in the forest. I drew inspiration from my own nature walks in Lake Tahoe and the Pacific Northwest. 

ARS: Some aspiring writers are told their manuscripts are too quiet. Your books are both comforting and lyrical. Any suggestions for writers of quiet picture books?

KJ: Thanks! I absolutely got my share of “lovely, but too quiet” comments on this manuscript as it made its initial rounds. Here’s what I’d suggest:

  • Read lots of quiet books. They make great mentor texts! 
  • Find a unique hook (or multiple hooks) to make your story stand out.
  • Take craft classes and poetry classes to polish your lyrical language skills. 
  • Read your stories aloud and have critique partners read them aloud, as well. 
  • Quiet stories DO sell if they’re well written, so revise until they’re the best they can be.

ARS: How did you meet your agent Kathleen Rushall of Andrea Brown Literary Agency?

KJ: I guess you would call it a “cold query,” since I didn’t actually meet her in person. 

After getting my picture books submission-ready, I began researching agencies and agents. On the ABLA website, I learned that Kathleen Rushall was looking for books about animal welfare, conservation, and ecology. My endangered animal picture book, Wee Ones, seemed like a perfect fit! Following the ABLA submission guidelines, I queried her and got an offer of representation about six weeks later. So, it was a combination of research, good timing, and connecting on a project. 

ARS: Any advice on submitting to editors or agents?

KJ: Above all, do your homework!

Check out the Manuscript Wish List website (MSWL) to see what editors and agents are actively looking for.  Follow your dream agents and editors on Twitter. It’s amazing how much useful information you can get that way!

Take part in online opportunities like Twitter pitches, contests, critiques, etc. Read book deal announcements on PW’s Children’s Bookshelf to get a sense of what editors and agents are publishing these days. Attend conferences and webinars with submission opportunities.

It’s a process, but you can be successful if you persevere.  

ARS: What’s next for you?

KJ: I have two upcoming picture books with Chronicle Books—Farm Lullaby (Fall, 2021) and Wee Ones (Spring, 2022). A nonfiction title with a different publisher should be announcing shortly.

More picture books are in the works and I’m always looking for my next inspiration!

Thanks for featuring me on Kite Tales, Ann!

ARS: Thank you Karen, for all your thoughtful responses!

For more information about Karen and her books, visit her website. Join her on Twitter and Facebook.

For information on SCBWI-CenCal events (open to all SCBWI members!), go to cencal.scbwi.org.

For more fantastic content, community, events, and other professional development opportunities, become a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators today! Not sure if there is a chapter in your area? Check here.

Images provided by Karen Jameson and the SCBWI Central-Coastal Region.