Sunday, August 14, 2016

Concept to Completion: Author

Last week, I gave a brief overview of the many, many hands that carry a picture book from concept to completion. Now we are breaking down each step. Step one is the Author.
I’m happy to introduce Tammi Sauer, author of picture books including Mostly Monsterly, Nugget and Fang, and Mr. Duck Means Business (one that I LOVE, I might add. Great ending!)

Welcome to Reading, Writing, and Reaching for Chocolate, Tammi.

So when you get an idea, like Mary Had a Little Glam, how to you start your process?

I start brainstorming! With this manuscript, I compiled a list of vivid verbs and specific nouns that tied into my character. These words included “click-clacked,” “accessorize,” “boa,” and “flair.” Also, I knew I wanted this story to be set in a school, so I listed other familiar nursery rhyme characters such as Little Bo Peep, Jack and Jill, and the kids who lived in a shoe to be her classmates.

That list seems like a fantastic idea. Love the shout out to the other nursery rhyme favorites too! How did you get your agent? Slush pile, conference, contest, ran into her at the grocery store?

I am a slush pile success story! When I was looking for an agent, I researched the names of agents who wrote some of my favorite books. In addition, I knew I wanted to find an agent who had a great reputation, who only accepted works she was passionate about, who was a good communicator, and who offered editorial feedback. I found all that (and so much more!) in Laura Rennert. We’ve been together since 2005 and have sold 27 picture books along the way.

TWENTY SEVEN?! And that’s just as of today. Think about that readers, it all started in the slush pile. What is your process with your agent? Sending only polished manuscripts or spit balling ideas to see what she loves?

I send polished manuscripts.

What is it like for you when a book goes on submission?

Oh, this is one of my favorite parts of the process! I know that at any moment I could receive an email or a call with good news. I love the feeling of possibility.

I’d have a strong possibility of checking my email every five minutes. J What is the shortest and longest time you’ve spent on the manuscripts you’ve sold?

I actually wrote one of my books in a couple of hours. That sort of thing is RARE for me. Longest? Hmm. That would probably be Nugget & Fang. I had written a few early drafts and thought the manuscript was okay. But okay isn’t good enough. I knew the manuscript just wasn’t there. So I closed the file and forgot about it. It was nearly two years later when, with the help of my critique group, I figured out how to make it work. It ended up selling at auction.

Once sold, who at the publishing house do you deal with and in what capacity?

Primarily, I deal with my editor. Sometimes an editor has suggestions for improvement. Sometimes an editor involves me in finding the right illustrator. Most of the time the editor asks for my input on the sketches and the first proofs.

Any advice for the aspiring picture book author?

When it comes to being a part of a critique group, find people who are at least as good as—if not better!!!!—than you are.  It’s nice to have people tell you how much they love your manuscript, but that doesn’t help you to improve. You want people who push you to make things stronger.

Preaching to the choir here. Good critique partners are coaches, teammates, and fans all rolled into one group and help you become a better writer. * What are you working on now?

Eek. I don’t like to talk about my current projects, but I will tell you that Your Alien Returns (Sterling, 2016), Caring for Your Lion (Sterling, 2017), and Truck, Truck Goose(HarperCollins, 2017) are my next three titles.

In my eyes, marketing your new releases count as current work. We won’t peak behind the curtain on the WIPS. So what fuels your creativity? Chocolate, caffeine, music, cake?

Oh, I love all of those things.

In addition, Tara Lazar’s PiBoIdMo (Picture Book Idea Month) provides a lot of fuel. Each November, Tara hosts dozens of writers and illustrators who offer posts on how they get their ideas. These posts are filled with wonderful suggestions. PiBoIdMo also challenges writers to come up with 30 ideas for potential manuscripts. I’ve been a part of PiBoIdMo since the beginning. Each time, at least one of those 30 ideas has led to a book.

Another great creativity boost is Linda Ashman’s Nuts & Bolts Guide to Writing Picture Books. This resource is a goldmine of information, interviews, and exercises. One of the exercises suggested writing a fresh take on a familiar song or rhyme such as “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” or “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” Out of nowhere, the words MARY HAD A LITTLE GLAM popped into my head. I knew I had to write Mary’s story.

Each time, at least one of those 30 ideas has led to a book.


I am a PiBoIdMo participant and winner too.  Readers, you can find PiBoIdMo here.

Thank you again Tammi for joining us here today. Best of luck with your upcoming releases. I can’t wait to see what you come up with next.

For more about Tammi check out her website .

*Step two in the process of concept to completion is Critique Partners/Groups. I personally don’t see this as optional, but others may disagree. If you are looking for a critique group I suggest starting with SCBWI or any other groups you are associated with. Many have critique group match makers or online forums where you can find those who write in your genre, age group, rhyme vs. prose, etc.

Critiquing others work will also help you see what works and what doesn’t. So by helping others you are also helping yourself.

Join us next time for Concept to Completion: Agent
Current Hand Count: 1 author + Critique partners = approx. 5-10
Time: Hours to Years


  1. Ever since Cowboy Camp, Tammi Sauer has been a powerhouse and an inspiration. Thank you for featuring her, June.

  2. It was my pleasure. She was a joy to interview. I'm looking forward to her new books!

  3. Thank you June for featuring Tammi Sauer. I've learned quite a bit from her comments. Always a pleasure!

  4. You are very welcome, Virginia. I'm glad you enjoyed it.