by Margo Dill
Jeanie Franz Ransom is a successful picture book writer, workshop leader, Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) member, and former elementary school counselor. She also persevered through the murky waters of submissions and rejections for ten years, before she joined SCBWI and decided to get serious. Now, she is the author of What Really Happened to Humpty? and Don’t Squeal Unless It’s a Big Deal, as well as three more titles. Next year, she’ll be adding her sixth picture book to her resume. She currently lives in the St. Louis area with her family.
Q. You currently have five picture books published. This is often a hard genre for authors to break into. What was your publication journey like?
Jeanie: I started writing for kids when I started having kids. Before that, I worked as an advertising copywriter and freelanced for magazines. I thought writing a picture book would be easy. Yes, writing a picture book may be easy, but selling it is a whole different ballgame. It took me several years of revising, researching markets, and submitting before I sold my first book, which came out in 2000. My sixth picture book is scheduled for Winter 2015.
Q: Congrats on the sixth book coming out next year. Do you have an agent? If so, how did you secure him/her? If not, how do you choose where to send your manuscripts?
Jeanie: Currently, I don’t have an agent. However, with so many publishing houses now only open to agented submissions, I am looking for one. As for submitting, I usually send my manuscripts to editors that I’ve worked with before. But I also find new markets by attending conferences, talking to people in my critique group, and reading various publications geared to children’s writers. I think that the annual reference book, Children’s Writers and Illustrators Market is a great place to find submission ideas. I buy a new copy every year and use a highlighter to mark publishers I want to submit to.
Q: You do a lot of school visits, which a lot of people are interested in learning about. What is a typical school visit like for you?
Jeanie: I love, love, love doing school visits. I have so much fun, I can’t believe I’m getting paid for it! Typically, when I visit a school, I spend a full day. I do three or four assemblies grouped by grade levels, then a shorter presentation just for kindergarteners. I might have lunch with the librarian and a few students or with teachers. It’s a fast-paced day, and it takes a lot of energy—that and caffeine!
Q: Authors reading this interview would probably like some tips on HOW to book school visits. Do you have any advice in this area?
Jeanie: Unfortunately, there’s no magic formula for booking school visits. Not that I know of, anyway! That said, there are certainly some things you can do to increase your chances. First of all, you need a website. Most of my school visits have come from people who found me via the Internet. You also may want to think about marketing to educators by doing a mailing to school librarians, either near the end of a school year when the next year’s budget is being allocated or right at the beginning before the school calendar fills up.
Q: What are a couple tips you can offer to beginning picture book writers?
Jeanie: These days, the picture book market is a tough nut to crack. That said, if you really, really want to write picture books, go for it! Most publishers want a manuscript that’s under 1,000 words, so you need to make sure every word pulls its weight. Take a trip to the library or bookstore and look at the new picture books. It’s also immensely helpful to have a critique partner or group. Missouri SCBWI is a great resource for finding groups in the area. One important note: Don’t submit illustrations with your manuscript unless you are a writer/illustrator and equally good in both roles. The publisher will take care of finding the illustrator if your manuscript it accepted.
Q: What are you currently working on? What’s in the future for you?
Jeanie: I’m currently writing the third book in my Joe Dumpty detective picture-book series. (The second book, The Crown Affair, comes out next winter.) I’m also trying to finish up my first middle-grade novel. Besides those two projects, I have a couple of self-help books for kids in the works. I’m a former elementary school counselor and a licensed professional counselor, so I plan to continue writing this type of book. And, of course, I want to continue visiting schools to talk to kids about writing.