She’s a mechanical engineer turned children’s book author and today, we’re turning the tables on Stacy McAnulty.
What is it about writing that you love?
The creativity. I love creating characters, problems, and solutions. Using my imagination brings me joy. I’m happiest when creating. Since I’ve become a full-time author, I’ve learned that writing is only part of my job. I’m also responsible for promoting my books, acting as an accountant, arranging travel, school visits and other appearances. So days I get to spend just writing (or rewriting or editing) are my favorite.
You used to be a mechanical engineer, how did you find yourself writing children’s books?
After my kids were born, I fell in love with children’s books. They were new to me because I didn’t love reading as a kid. There are a few books I remember from my childhood, but I wasn’t the vivacious reader most authors seem to be. In school, I was categorised as being good at math and poor in reading. That led me to a path in engineering. And engineering and writing aren’t as different as people think. They both require creativity and stick-to-it-ness. They both need revisions. One may require more calculus and one more grammar, but once those skills are learned, it’s time to apply the genius of creativity.
Where do you get your ideas for your books?
Mostly from my kids. They’re creative geniuses. All kids are. They think crazy thoughts, and if you’re lucky, they’ll share them all the time. They don’t understand the rules of gravity, so when they hold a balloon, they imagine they can fly into the clouds. They solve problems in unique ways. Don’t have a pen. Why not use a packet of ketchup? As we grow up, we’re told no, no, no. Can’t, can’t, can’t. Children are slower to accept this (asking any parent of a two-year-old), so they see all the opportunities the world has to offer. And they say the darndest things.
What advice would you give to other budding picture book writers and/or anyone struggling to get their book published?
“Hard work puts you where good luck can find you.” –Unknown
Unfortunately, it does take a bit of good luck to get published. And that’s not something you can control. But you can control the “hard work” side of things. You can write and revise and revise and revise a manuscript until it’s simply the best you can create. Once you have this polished manuscript, now what? You must join Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). There’s an annual fee, but it’s worth it! Once a member, you can log onto the website and find The Book: The Essential Guide to Publishing for Children. Read it virtual cover to virtual cover. It’ll answer ninety percent of your questions and keep you from making rookie mistakes.
Other quick tips:
- When you receive a rejection on a submission, send out two more. Publishing can be a numbers game.
- Write something else! While you are circulating a finished manuscript, start writing the next one.
- Sadly, rejections are a big part of the business. And not just for beginning writers.
If people want to get into writing but don’t know where to start, what should they do?
I love lists. So here is my to-do list. The Stacy McAnulty Guide for New Picture Book Writers:
- Read 100 picture books. A majority of these should be books published in the last ten years. Books published when you were a kid are not necessarily to the tastes of today’s children, their parents, or the industry.
- Pick about five of these books and type them up. (Again, preferably stick to the newer stuff.) What did you notice? What’s the word count? I’d guess under 500. Is there much description in these books? What about action? Dialogue? Were page turns important to the storytelling? Keep these files.
- Grab a notebook. I like Moleskine, but it doesn’t really matter. This is going to be your ideas book. If you hear something that you could use in a picture book, jot it down. Perhaps you’ll want sections for characters, possible titles, funny lines, interesting problems.
- Write a picture book. Take one of those ideas and write.
- Write another.
- Write another.
- Rewrite these manuscripts. Compare them to the five books you transcribed in step two. Find a critique group and get their opinion. Hire someone to give you feedback. This step can be difficult if you don’t have a kidlit community. The best place to start searching for your people is through Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI).
- After your manuscript is the absolute best work you can create, put it away for at least a week. A month would be better.
- Reread your manuscript that has been baking in your desk drawer. Do you love it? If yes, proceed to submission stage. If not, rewrite or put aside.
- For the best information of submitting work, join SCBWI and read The Book: The Essential Guide to Publishing for Children.
Which picture book that you’ve written is your favourite and why?
This question is so hard. I love them all for different reasons.
Beautiful has a great message that I want every girl (and boy) to hear.
101 Reasons Why I’m Not Taking a Bath is funny and a huge hit when I visit schools.
Mr. Fuzzbuster Knows He’s the Favorite was inspired my mom and therefore is very special.
Excellent Ed has that balance of humor and heart I’m always striving for.
And then I have a novel coming in 2018, The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl, and I poured everything I am into that book. Those pages contain my soul.
What is one thing few people know about you?
I love the human brain. (Not in a zombie way.) But I’m fascinated by the brain because we know so little about it. I enjoy reading books, watching documentaries, and researching online about this vital organ. While I think it’s too late for me to go back to school to be a neurologist (and I’m really happy being a writer), I’m pushing my kids in that direction of study. When my son was eight, I gave him an extra cookie after dinner, but he had to promise to be a neurologist when he grows. He took the cookie. He agreed to my terms. I can’t wait until he’s in med school and I can borrow his textbooks.
Do you have a favourite quote or saying? If so, what is it?
“Creativity is intelligence having fun.” – Albert Einstein