Debut Authors Tell All: Mike Malbrough, Picture Book Author

A snippet from Children’s Writer’s & Illustrator’s Market 2018, in this short interview, debut picture book author Mike Malbrough talks about the importance of connections and face-to-face interactions in the children’s literature industry.
Publish date:

Every year the editor of Children’s Writer’s & Illustrator’s Market compiles a handful of debut authors with unique stories to feature in the latest edition. In my first year as editor, I interviewed 21 debut authors for the 2018 book. And while you’ll have to pick up the latest copy of the book when it pubs in October, I wanted to share a sneak peak of the kinds of authors you’ll be seeing this year.

This post is taken directly from Mike Malbrough’s interview in CWIM 2018. He’s one of 7 picture book authors to be interviewed, to go along with 14 middle-grade and young adult authors. Other interviews that I can’t wait for you to see: Ariel Bernstein, Jesse Sima, Alyson Gerber, Ellie Terry, Tiffany D. Jackson, and New York Times best-selling author Angie Thomas.

In this interview, Mike talks about the importance of making connections and seeking out face-to-face interactions with the people of the children’s writing industry.

Mike Malbrough
Marigold Bakes a Cake (July 2017, Philomel Books)

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QUICK TAKE: A fastidious, excitable cat who loves to bake is driven to distraction by some busybody birds.


PRE-BOOK: I freelanced as an illustrator and graphic designer for many years. I was a teacher and created silly puppet shows for children.

TIME FRAME: Super-fast! I created Marigold the Cat for my portfolio in January 2016. I wrote and revised the script over the next few months. I took a dummy of Marigold Bakes a Cake to a conference in April of that year. An art director at the conference liked the book and took it back to her publisher. By the end of spring I was offered a book deal and before the end of 2017, I had turned in the final art. A total whirlwind!

ENTER THE AGENT: I was introduced to my agent through a friend who had recently signed with her. She liked my work, which opened the door to possible future representation. From there I cultivated a relationship with her by checking in every few months, asking questions and sharing my work. I made a checklist of all of the steps that she suggested I take and kept her informed of my progress. Eventually, about a year and a half later, I officially sought representation and she said yes! That agent is Lori Kilkelly at Rodeen Literary Management.

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BIGGEST SURPRISE: I have been surprised by how much is up to me. Trying to find an agent/publisher can feel very reactionary. You have to figure out what they are looking for. You can’t be too precious about your work. You have to be flexible and adaptive. Then, suddenly, you have an agent, or a deal, and the buck stops with you. It’s your book, your career.

[Check out more authors who were featured in our Breaking In column here.]

WHAT I DID RIGHT: Having a long career in the creative arts has been a huge help. I have had my work rejected so many times in the past in fields nowhere near as supportive and collaborative as the Children’s Literary Market. I also think that building good relationships from face-to-face introductions has served well.

 Click to get your copy!

Click to get your copy!

WHAT I WISH I WOULD HAVE DONE DIFFERENTLY: I wish I would have met the fine people in this industry much earlier in my career. I would have more hair left … I think.

PLATFORM: I am on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. I treat those spaces like other relationships, professional or otherwise. Play nice, listen to others, and don’t always talk about yourself.

ADVICE FOR WRITERS: Big picture: Jog. Don’t sprint. Find a pace that you can sustain and keep a level head. Write consistently. Send out your work and grow from feedback. A practical picture book tidbit: As an author/illustrator, I can submit my books in dummy form. This gives me more control over pacing and page turns, and I can demonstrate the thought put into these important reading elements. Writers who are submitting manuscripts should consider how they choose line breaks in a similar way.

NEXT UP: I am currently writing and illustrating the sequel to Marigold Bakes a Cake with Philomel. Look for it in Summer 2018. I am also illustrating a chapter book series called Warren and Dragon, written by Ariel Bernstein, published by Viking. The first two books will be released in 2018.

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The Children's Writer's & Illustrator's Market is the definitive publishing guide
for anyone who seeks to write or illustrate for kids and young adults.
Pick up the most recent updated edition online at a discount.

If you’re an agent looking to update your information or an author interested in contributing to the GLA blog or the next edition of the book, contact Writer’s Digest Books Managing Editor Cris Freese at


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