Erin Dealey is the author of more than a dozen children’s picture books. Today, she shares information about how her journey has evolved over the years.
CHRISTINE VAN ZANDT: Welcome to Kite Tales!
ERIN DEALEY: Thank you Christine. I am honored to be here.
CVZ: You have an impressive number of publications. Is it different writing and selling the next book, versus, for example, the first, fourth, or eighth book?
ED: The short answer: every submission is different. Long answer: I do have ongoing relationships with certain editors, so at this point they know I have a good “track record,” but a submission is not an automatic YES, no matter how long you’ve been with an editor. For example, I’ve known my amazing editor Caitlyn Dlouhy (who now has her own eponymous imprint under Atheneum/Simon & Schuster) ever since she pulled Goldie Locks Has Chicken Pox (Illus. Hanako Wakiyama, Atheneum, 2002) out of the slush pile. She also pubbed Little Bo Peep Can’t Get to Sleep (2005), and then there were many years and submissions until Peter Easter Frog (Illus. G. Brian Karas, Caitlyn Dlouhy Books, 2021) came out this year. I’ll give you a moment to do that math.
As for Sleeping Bear Press, I’m delighted to announce I recently signed my fourth SBP contract (I wish I could share more—stay tuned!) which will be my third book with my editor Sarah Rockett (Snow Globe Wishes and K is for Kindergarten), but there were many submissions in between. In contrast, Dear Earth … From Your Friends in Room 5 (Illus. Luisa Uribe, 2020), is my first book with Tamar Mays at HarperCollins, and I certainly hope there will be more projects together, but nothing has “clicked” yet. Patience, and a good story, are key. It’s true what they say: This crazy #kidlit journey is a marathon, not a sprint.
CVZ: Do you feel you have an author brand? If so, what is it?
ED: I’ll be the first to admit that my writing is “all over the map,” with picture books in both verse and prose, plus various themes like holidays, fractured fairy tales and nursery rhymes, “first day,” grandmas and grandpas, and even some work-for-hire titles that are only available in Korea. Along the way, I have learned that my brand is Erin Dealey. Not that I haven’t tried to find my “lane.” I have a third, very fun (in my opinion) fractured fairy tale that never sold. And I’ve written “sequels” for Peter Easter Frog as well. However, although I envy (ah yes, it’s true!) authors whose characters reappear in dozens or more books, I’ve discovered it’s quite liberating to not fall into a certain niche.
Because my “brand” is Erin Dealey, and not a specific character or format, editors and readers don’t expect my books to fit in a specific lane. This allows me to play with all the new ideas in my brain, like my epistolary eco-friendly picture book, Dear Earth … From Your Friends in Room 5. If your goal is to branch out, or write in a variety of genres, it’s possible the best brand for you is YOU.
CVZ: So what characterizes the Erin Dealey brand?
ED: I might be delusional—ha-ha—but I hope when people hear “Erin Dealey,” they think of unique stories and language that resonates, whether the text is playful or lyrical, rhymed or prose. Right now my only Erin Dealey “niche” might be picture books, but I have a variety of projects, including a middle-grade novel, an early reader, a YA novel, and even a screenplay that are either on sub or in revision (again). As I said before, it’s lovely to not be limited to one lane. I play with words, in whatever form they show up. That’s the beauty of being your own brand.
CVZ: Any tips about how to boost your brand?
ED: I realized long ago how important it is to make sure people can easily FIND an author on social media. Teachers and librarians want to contact you for school visits or zooms. (Note: WRAD / World Read Aloud Day is a great way to get your name out there.) Students want to find out more about the author of a book they love. The fewer steps they must take to find you, the better. All of my social media platforms, as well as my website, are “Erin Dealey.” Twitter is @ErinDealey, Instagram is erindealey, even Pinterest is Erin Dealey. People don’t have time to search the internet for your I-am-an-author-with-a-clever-moniker name to find you or your books. Be YOU. Share YOU.
While we’re on the subject of social media, don’t think of it as a place to sell your books. Think of social media as your #kidlit community. Make friends, learn from others, support each other and they will support you.
CVZ: How do you decide which kind of book to write next?
ED: Most of the time, the ideas for books choose me. Picture books pop into my head whenever I’m working on a longer project. I’ve learned to honor those crazy random ideas, so I often work on both long and short projects at the same time, and of course the picture book takes a lot less time. I get so many ideas that I keep an idea notebook. And please note, I have a lot of manuscripts that didn’t get any further than my critique group, but the common denominator is that they were fun to write.
Dear Kite Tales friends, if you have any takeaways from this interview, I hope they include this: Enjoy what you do. My middle-grade manuscript has a serious thread in it, but it was still so wonderful to get to work on it every day. I always feel that if an author has fun creating a project, you will feel that joy or wonder in the story, the words, or the characters somehow.
CVZ: How has being a K-12 Language Arts and Drama teacher factored into your writing?
ED: Honestly, I wouldn’t be here, writing children’s books, without that teacher part of my journey. I was NOT the kid who wanted to write books someday. But I always loved words. As a Theater teacher and director, I wrote skits and plays long before I thought of writing children’s books. Because of theater, dialogue comes easily to me. Teaching Shakespeare taught me scansion and pace. Because of theater and teaching, I can read my audience at school visits and on zooms, and pivot my presentation if need be. But my aha moment as a writer was when I discovered picture books and novels are theater. You want to draw your audience into a world of possibility. You want the language to be auditorily pleasing—whether actors say your words aloud, kids listen to them at story time, or readers hunker down with your book by themselves. You want readers to come back after “intermission.” You want them to ask for more.
CVZ: In closing, do you have a final piece of advice to help other writers?
ED: Oh my goodness, where do I start? I would say, above all: TRUST.
TRUST in your creativity, and the random crazy ideas that urge you to explore and question and play until a manuscript emerges.
TRUST the process—including the rejections, and even the long wait for feedback—or a yes.
TRUST that the YESes will come—maybe not on the project you’ve pinned your hopes on, but one that will surprise you in endless delightful ways.
TRUST letting go.
TRUST being you.
TRUST that you are on this #kidlit journey for a reason.
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Erin Dealey’s original career goal was Olympic Gold Medal tetherball player. When that didn’t pan out, she became a teacher, theater director, actor, mom, and author—and now welcomes any opportunity to visit schools around the world. She lives in northern California with her husband and a very energetic Golden Retriever. You can find her online at erindealey.com and follow @ErinDealey on social media.
Snow Globe Wishes, cover art Claire Shorrock, courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press. Dear Earth … From Your Friends in Room 5, cover art Luisa Uribe, courtesy of HarperCollins. Peter Easter Frog, cover art G. Brian Karas, courtesy of Caitlyn Dlouhy Books. Little Bo Peep Can’t Get To Sleep, cover art Hanako Wakiyama, courtesy of Atheneum / Simon & Schuster. Author image courtesy of Erin Dealey.