In part 6 of Publishing #kidlit in a pandemic, we’re chatting with prolific #kidlit author Sue Fliess (* pronounced fleece), who has celebrated SIX Book Birthdays this year including two this month—WOW!
CHRISTMAS CHEER a super cute counting board book with Scholastic/Cartwheel, launched Oct. 6th. (Wait–a Christmas book in October? See Q 3. below.) Illustrated by Jay Fleck, it’s the companion counting book to HAUNTED HALLOWEEN.
And TODAY, October 13th, is the Book Birthday of the Spanish edition of Sue’s bestselling Little Golden Book I’M A BALLERINA :
Soy bailarina de ballet (Random House Little Golden Book, Illus. Joey Chou) is the perfect read for National Hispanic Heritage Month/ National Latinx Month, (Sept. 15- Oct. 15) or anytime.
Let’s give these books a party,
Boy do we have some questions for you!
Q 1. What challenges have you had launching your books during this pandemic?
Sue Fliess: Hi Erin! Thanks for having me on your blog.
Challenges for book launches during a pandemic…
where do I begin?
Authors already have so many challenges launching books in a non-pandemic world! There is so much noise, so many books launching at the same time—often by bigger, more well-known authors and illustrators—that getting even a tiny slice of airtime for your book seems like a miracle. I’ve done the bookstore signings where no one shows and you sign a bunch of stock, and the only sales are from bookstore staff, most likely out of pity. (And believe me, even with 35 books out, in-person events like this still happen).
Publishing in a Pandemic
Sue Fliess: I had two books publish on March 3 (HOW TO FIND A UNICORN / Sky Pony/ Illus. Simona Sanfilippo, and FLASH AND GLEAM Light in Our World / Millbrook / Illus. Khoa Le) roughly 10 days before my state (Virginia) shut down. I was set to visit two schools that week in New Jersey, and the focus would have been on those books and getting to share them with students. I never got to launch them. My Unicorn book has literally just been sent to my reviewers because the publisher’s warehouse had shut down for Covid-19.
“A ray of light, both illuminating and beautiful.”
That said, even though publishing books during a pandemic is a huge bummer, I realize I’m still so fortunate—my books were not debut books, I wasn’t counting on the sales to be able to sell my next book, and I have enough of a brand/following that they didn’t flop out of the gate. (that’s not to say it didn’t really hurt sales!) I reminded myself of this to keep it in all in perspective. I did a bunch of virtual (live and recorded) readings of my books so folks could see the books, but of course, all my school visits, bookstore events, speaking gigs for conferences and the like were either cancelled and only a small percentage were converted to virtual.
“A silly, inspiring story of a princess who makes her scientific dreams come true.”
THE PRINCESS AND THE PETRI DISH / Albert Whitman / Illus. Petros Bouloubasis, published in April, and I did some virtual events with my publisher as well as some recorded readings. Thankfully this is part of my STEM fractured fairytale series, so fans of Little Red Rhyming Hood and Mary Had a Little Lab were anticipating it.
In June, HOW TO MEET A MERMAID / Sky Pony /Illus. Simona Sanfilippo, published and in a great stroke of luck, our state had opened up just enough that I was able to have an outdoor story time with my local indie! I read Mermaid and Unicorn and it just felt so good to be able to share a book with real live humans.
Thankfully, at the end of the day, there are bloggers and authors like you, who support each other and help get the word out. Thank you!
Q 2. I’M A BALLERINA! is written in rhyme, as are most of your picture books. Does the Spanish edition Soy bailarina de ballet rhyme too? (I have noticed that translations of my rhymed books are based more on the illustrations than on a direct translation. Or are yours true to the text?)
Sue Fliess: I’m so delighted to tell you that the Spanish version still rhymes! I took Spanish through high school, so I’m terribly rusty, but from what I read, it sounds like they were able to closely keep the story the same, while rhyming it in Spanish. I’m very impressed!
Q 3. Tell us more about your Christmas board book, CHRISTMAS CHEER (Scholastic Cartwheel / Jay Fleck / Oct. 6th ) Why is a Christmas book coming out before Halloween?
Sue Fliess: CHRISTMAS CHEER counts to ten as it follows two children on the night before Christmas. They prepare for Santa’s arrival and Christmas morning. In very spare rhyme, it includes lots of Christmas-y things: mistletoe, reindeer, hanging stockings, caroling and more. One star shines / Moonlit pines. Two awake / Cookies bake. All holiday books generally publish a few months prior to the actual holiday so that bookstores and other booksellers can order them and stock them in time to sell them in advance of the actual holiday. Also you have a better chance of being included in holiday book roundups if you can get the book into the reviewers’ hands well in advance of the holiday. And since this one is coming out before Halloween, why not get the companion Halloween book HAUNTED HALLOWEEN while you’re ordering? J
A “Not too scary, not too sweet…way to get the Halloween party started for older toddlers and young preschoolers.”
Q 4. What would you say to pre-published Sue, now that you have 35+ titles out in the world?
Sue Fliess: You are not in charge of the timeline. It’s not going to happen when you think it’s supposed to happen. Keep writing and submitting, be patient and work on your craft.
My first book, SHOES FOR ME!, was rejected 28 times before I sold it, but while I was trying to sell it I was writing new stories. By the time I landed an agent, I’d been writing for 3 years and had roughly 10 saleable manuscripts to give her out of the gate. Keep in mind, the first thing you write may not be the first book you sell.
Q 5. What are you working on these days? (How’s that MG novel?)
Sue Fliess: I’m currently working on book 2 in my spy picture book series: BEATRICE BLY’S RULES FOR SPIES (Pixel+Ink , Illus. Beth Mills, Book 1 releases April 2021–ED note: you can preorder now! ), and I recently finished a super fun, energetic picture book that I just sent to my agent…hoping she loves it! It’s pretty much the first fresh new story I’ve written in a while. Hmm, that MG novel is still here. Giving me side-eye. I thought I was going to finish it during the pandemic, but my anxiety took a front seat and I actually did not get much writing done at all this spring. But I just gave myself that space and forgave myself. I do feel like I’m ‘coming to’ a bit more now. Getting excited about writing again and actually coming up with new ideas. Phew!
ED: I love that Sue. We’ve all been reeling from so much craziness this year. It’s important to give yourself permission to not write sometimes.
And it was so much fun to celebrate Children’s #Environmental Health Day with you and your beautiful book THE EARTH GIVES MORE (Albert Whitman / Illus. Christiane Engel.)
Do your part. Use what you know.
Help the Earth to thrive and grow.
excerpt from THE EARTH GIVES MORE
Huge thanks to Sue Fliess for taking the time to chat today, and
HAPPY BOOK BIRTHDAYS x 6!
To find out more about Sue Fliess and her books, check out SueFliess.com and follow her on Twitter @SueFliess & Instagram @suefliess. (***Did you know Katy Perry reads her books?) Also–here’s a fun flashback of our first interview together WAYYYY back when.
Up next, we’ll be talking to actor, producer and debut picture book author Angie Bullaro about #kidlit publishing, Girl Power and hockey!
Meanwhile, stay safe–and VOTE!
Sue, you are so prolific! Congrats on a great year!
I love hearing some of your back story, Sue. My 7yo twin grands are as big a fan of you as I am!