It's rare to get to sit down and chat with a debut picture writer. It seems that because picture books are sometimes a tough sell, finding a true blue debut is not the easiest task. But today I am lucky to sit down and talk with Kenneth Kraegel, author of the 2012 debut picture book KING ARTHUR'S VERY GREAT GRANDSON (Candlewick), which features the title character seeking out adventure and facing down monsters. Along with getting a starred review in Publishers Weekly, the book was a New York Times Notable Children's Book of 2012 as well as a Wall Street Journal Children's Book of 2012.
Kenneth Kraegel is a self-taught illustrator and writer. He is the recipient of a Society of Children’s Books Writers and Illustrators Tomie dePaola Honor Award and was a finalist in the third annual CJ Picture Book Award in Seoul, South Korea. He lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
What is the book’s genre/category?
King Arthur's Very Great Grandson is a picture book for children 4-9 years old.
Please describe what the story/book is about.
Henry Alfred Grummorson, the great, great, great, great, great, great, great grandson of King Arthur, goes out looking for adventure and encounters a Dragon, a Cyclops, and a Griffin, but none of them want to fight, so he goes down to the sea and challenges the Leviathan....
Where do you write from?
I write in my studio, at home, which is in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
Briefly, what led up to this book?
I was writing and illustrating other picture book stories that generated some interest, but never quite enough.
What was the time frame for writing this book?
I was actually just trying to come up with some new pieces for my illustration portfolio. I had drawn and painted three pictures with the same character. By the time I finished the 3rd painting, I had a general idea for a story. I spent a couple of months developing a storyboard and then made a book dummy, that I sent to my (now) agent.
How did you find your agent (and who is your agent)?
Ronnie Ann Herman of the Herman Agency is my agent. I had sent her a story a couple of years earlier, that she was interested in, but declined. Later on, I sent her one or two new stories, that she didn't like. I wrote her to tell her about an illustration award I had won and she was excited about that, so I sent her the dummy of my book and she signed my almost immediately.
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What were your 1-2 biggest learning experience(s) or surprise(s) throughout the publishing process?
1. I was surprised at how slowly the publishing world moves. I thought that once you had a contract things moved along at a nice pace. That hasn't been the case, things still move slowly.
2. I have been amazed at how kind and helpful everyone I have worked with has been. It has been a pleasure working with all of them.
Looking back, what did you do right that helped you break in?
Eventually I figured out that my illustrations did not make sense to people without my words and my words didn't makes sense without my pictures. Once I had a dummy with illustrations and words together, I began to get real traction. Also, maintaining a relationship with an agent post-rejection, proved very fruitful.
On that note, what would you have done differently if you could do it again?
I don't know, I think the fumbling around is necessary, but I probably would have started going to conferences earlier.
Did you have a platform in place? On this topic, what are you doing the build a platform and gain readership?
I had a portfolio website then, and now I have the website and blog, as well as a Facebook page. I speak at schools and give readings when I am invited. The best events are the ones that I am invited to, rather than the ones I initiate.
Something personal about you people may be surprised to know?
Before I was pursuing a career in picture books I was pursuing a career in vegetable farming.
I am in the beginning stages of working on a new picture book with Candlewick Press.
Other writing/publishing articles & links for you:
- The Differences Between Young Adult and Middle Grade Fiction.
- "How I Got My Agent," by Middle Grade Author Allan Woodrow.
- A Young Adult Query That Worked -- See It Here.
- 6 Tips on Writing Picture Books (That Just May Warm Your Heart).
- Literary Agent Interview: Quinlan Lee of Adams Literary.
- Sell More Books by Building Your Author Platform.
- Follow Chuck Sambuchino on Twitter or find him on Facebook. Learn all about his writing guides on how to get published, how to find a literary agent, and how to write a query letter.
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