Debut Author Interview: Jesse Klausmeier, Author of OPEN THIS LITTLE BOOK

Anybody who reads this blog knows that I love interview debut authors and novelists. It's a special treat to get to know debut author Jesse Klausmeier today, because 1) she is a debut picture book author/illustrator (and finding such a debut writer is not easy!), and 2) she used my very own guide, the Children's Writer's & Illustrator's Market to get published. How cool! So if you are writing picture books for kids or may in the future, listen to what Jesse had to say about her journey to publication. Jesse Klausmeier is the author of the debut picture book, OPEN THIS LITTLE BOOK, illustrated by Suzy Lee, which was named an Amazon Top Pick for January 2013, and received a starred review in Kirkus Reviews, as well as many other very positive reviews. Find her on Twitter.
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Anybody who reads this blog knows that I love interview debut authors and novelists. It's a special treat to get to know debut author Jesse Klausmeier today, because 1) she is a debut picture book author/illustrator (and finding such a debut writer is not easy!), and 2) she used my very own guide, the Children's Writer's & Illustrator's Market to get published. How cool! So if you are writing picture books for kids or may in the future, listen to what Jesse had to say about her journey to publication.

Jesse Klausmeier is the author of the debut picture book, OPEN THIS LITTLE BOOK, illustrated by Suzy Lee, which was named an Amazon Top Pick for January 2013, and received a starred review in Kirkus Reviews, as well as many other very positive reviews. Find her on Twitter.

Jesse was born and raised in Madison, WI. The daughter of two teachers, Jesse has been reading and writing stories for as long as she can remember. After graduating from the University of Wisconsin - Madison, Jesse worked at Nickelodeon Animation Studios, and most recently was an assistant editor at Penguin Group's, Dial Books for Young Readers. She lives in Madison, WI.

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What is the book’s genre/category?

Picture book. OPEN THIS LITTLE BOOK is my debut.

Please describe what the story/book is about.

OPEN THIS LITTLE BOOK is my love letter to books; a conceptual and interactive book that takes readers on an unexpected journey of friendship and celebrates the love of reading.

Where do you write from?

When I wrote the manuscript I lived in Los Angeles. I edited the manuscript in NYC, and now I’m living in my hometown of Madison, WI. So, I write wherever I am.

(Just starting out as a writer? See a collection of great writing advice for beginners.)

Briefly, what led up to this book?

I’ve been writing ever since I could hold a pencil. As an adult, I worked for a small independent production studio and wrote and/or edited TV series treatments for network pitches, and copy for commercials, infomercials, and instructional/corporate videos. Later, at Nickelodeon, I worked on promos and series launches for their animated shows. I’ve always loved children’s literature, so I joined the Society of Children’s Book Authors and Illustrators (SCBWI) and that group played an instrumental role in me finding my publisher and my agent.

What was the time frame for writing this book?

I first had the idea of a book about books-inside-of-books when I was five years old. My grandma mocked up a book for me, and I started writing and drawing. About 4 pages in, I got distracted and quit, and totally forgot about the project.

The idea of books within books stuck with me though, and I wrote the first draft of Open This Little Book 20 years later. It wasn’t until recently that I found the book my grandma made, and realized how long I’ve had this concept percolating in my head. Now, 25 years after I made that first little book, I’m so happy to be able to show young readers that their ideas are important, and their books could get published, too.

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How did you find your agent (and who is your agent)?

I met my agent, Steve Fraser, with the Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency at a SCBWI writing retreat in Encino, CA. He enjoyed one of my picture book manuscripts and asked if I’d consider making a few changes. I did, and then submitted it to him. Although he was impressed with my revision, at that time, he wasn’t taking on new picture book clients at that time, so he passed. A year later, at that very same SCBWI writing retreat, I shared another manuscript (Open This Little Book) with editor, Victoria Rock from Chronicle, who ended up acquiring it. When Victoria expressed interest, I got back in touch with Steve and he signed me on. Thanks SCBWI!

What were your 1-2 biggest learning experience(s) or surprise(s) throughout the publishing process?

I had no concept of the amount of time it took from acquisition to publication for a picture book. I sold the manuscript at the end of 2008 and it came out in January 2013. But it makes sense. The timing has to be right for the publisher, author, illustrator, and the market. As a debut author, being paired with a powerhouse like Suzy Lee, and working with Chronicle has been an absolute dream come true.

Looking back, what did you do right that helped you break in?

I think the best things I did were becoming an active member of SCBWI, getting the annual Children’s Writer’s & Illustrator’s Market books, and really committing to learning the craft of writing for children. I read and studied hundreds of picture books, and because of that, I was able to identify the niche for a conceptual book like Open This Little Book that hadn’t yet been filled. Then, I was able to target the publisher I thought was the best fit for the book.

(Is it best to query all your target agents at once? -- or just a few to start?)

On that note, what would you have done differently if you could do it again?

If I could do it again, I’d tell myself not to worry about having a perfect first draft. This held up my writing for a long time, and I still struggle with it from time to time. It wasn’t until I started naming my first drafts, “crap drafts,” that I allowed myself the freedom to play. To know that in the next draft, I may change the main character, the POV, the tense, or go off and explore a completely new plot thread is absolutely freeing.

Did you have a platform in place? On this topic, what are you doing the build a platform and gain readership?

I’m on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/jmklausmeier), Twitter (@jesseklausmeier), Pinterest (https://pinterest.com/jesseklausmeier), and try to interact with people on all platforms. I love to shout out other people’s good news and share articles, photos, and other tidbits I think my community will enjoy. If my book appears in a blog post, I make sure to comment and shout out the blog on FB and Twitter. I also tag any other people that were mentioned in the post. I find this builds great community, and enhances the feeling that we’re all in this together.

(Learn how to create a writer blog.)

Website(s)?

http://www.jesseklausmeier.com/

What’s next?

I have several manuscripts in various stages of completion that I’m excited about. I’m also working with teachers to develop practical resources for the classroom that feature children’s books, while meeting Common Core State Standards’ goals.

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