Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Author Interview: Leslie Helakoski

I'm thrilled to invite my friend author/illustrator Leslie Helakoski back to my blog. Not only is Leslie an award-winning author/illustrator but she is also the Co-Regional Advisor of the SCBWI Michigan chapter and she's part of the team that has orchestrated the Mid Wild, Wild West 2013 SCBWI Multi-State Conference in Fort Wayne, Indiana from May 3 - 5, 2013.

Today, we're here to celebrate her latest picture book Doggone Feet! (Boyds Mills Press, Mar 1, 2013) which is SO doggone cute! Congratulations, Leslie!

What was the inspiration behind this story? And the path to publication?

A couple of years ago, I saw a tapestry hanging in a shop with two dogs sitting under a table. I went back to my room and started writing about the dog’s point of view. I grew up with dogs around the table, so I was familiar with their behavior. But raising my own family with a dog under the table at mealtime gave me a new perspective. We always laughed at how the dog knew where to position herself for the most tidbits. Even though I thought this was a brilliant relatable idea, it was a tricky sell. I didn’t think I wanted to illustrate with all the perspective involved in portraying life under the table. So it was initially sent out with only the text. Several publishers passed it by thinking it was limited visually because of the setting being under a table throughout. But I could imagine it being done—I could see it in my head. Finally, I decided to illustrate a scene or two myself to show how it could be done. A couple of artist friends convinced me that the perspective could be distorted and that what I was doing was working. As soon as my agent sent it out with art it was picked up.

Doggone Feet! is told from the dog’s perspective in rhyme and the language is toe-tapping, read-a-loud fun! I’ve heard it’s very difficult to write in rhyme especially when it comes to revision. Do you approach the revision process differently when you’re revising in rhyme as opposed to prose?

The revision process is not really different for me though it does take even longer than usual. I revise the story content over and over. Then I revise the rhyme over and over. But I love the revision process. I like when I have the security of a strong story idea and I just have to play with the words until I get it smoothed out.

As your picture book career continues to build, is it easier or harder to sell a book? Does being more established help or hinder?

I think it’s still difficult to get a book idea past a marketing team these days as they are not always willing to take risks on a book that might be a bit different. But I feel lucky that I do have books out that have sold well because it does make it easier to get an editor’s attention.

How do you find a balance between the promotional/marketing/business side of being an author/illustrator and the creative/inventive/artistic side of your job?

Balance? I’m tipping over on one leg most of the time. This year I’ve decided to devote more time to marketing than I have in the past. Making myself take time to market and promote is hard for me because it’s not really where I want to spend my time. It’s hard to ignore the fact that social media makes a difference, so I have taken two months to set up signings, blog posts and to create a library story kit that will be available on my website preceding the launch of this book. I’ve also created a book trailer. Some of the marketing and planning is fun but I can’t wait to get back to actually writing.

 What do you think makes a successful picture book? 

It’s such a mystery sometimes what the public latches on to. Sometimes, I don’t get it at all. But when I do ‘get’ it, it’s usually a book with humor on a universal theme, wording that surprises me, and art I find fun and well-designed.

Where do you see yourself in ten years from now? What are you currently working on? What can readers look forward to next?

I’d like to be saying something profound and very funny about creating children’s books.It will probably take me ten years to think of something.

Right now I’m working on sketches and layouts for Big Pigs, which will be released in the spring of 2014. I just got back a 7 page editorial letter on rough sketches, so I have a lot to do. I like this part so I don’t want to have to squeeze it in.

I have a couple of other ideas percolating for picture books. I may even venture into self-publishing an idea that my editor says marketing will not get behind. Authors have other options these days, which is both scary and exciting!

To see all of Leslie's books visit her website and make sure you check back after her March 1st launch to download the story kit that accompanies Doggone Feet!  To read another interview with Leslie, including the release of Fair Cow, click HERE.

Thanks, Leslie!! I foresee another doggone award-winner with this book!