Author Spotlight Series · illustrators · picture book

How NOT to Publish a Picture Book.

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Newly-published author/illustrator, Val Jones, tells us about the funny thing that happened on the way to HarperCollins.
Newly-published author/illustrator, Val Jones, tells us about the funny thing that happened on the way to HarperCollins.

In 2010, I was forced to retire from my position in Data Management. I didn’t have the stomach to compete with fresh-faced, energetic graduates clambering for the precious few job openings…now what?


My cousin Tina is a retired school teacher and loves children’s books. She started on-line writing courses and since I had freelanced when my daughters were small, I could be her illustrator (of course!). We joined Eastern PA’s chapter of SCBWI and signed up for the Fall Philly Fest. Tina wrote a story and painted a couple of illustrations. I also wrote my own story and created a dummy. We were ready for our contracts!


At the Fall Philly Fest an author spoke about her submissions to publishers, while unraveling a roll of rejection letters that stretched from one side of the room to the other. But she was a YA author, nothing to do with me, (right?). I checked my watch. Only minutes to go until my first critique…I was about to be discovered!


MousePotatoPie_Cover_final_2My ‘Mouse Potato Pie’ had no storyline, no pacing, no arch. Thanks to my corporate background, (where sharks eat their young), I listened carefully to my critique, thanked the Author/Illustrator, and calmly left the room before bursting into tears. I recovered and re-wrote ‘Mouse Potato Pie‘, this time in rhyme (brilliant, right?).


April 2011 we attended SCBWI EPA’s Pocono Retreat held in Shawnee. Tina brought her story and my rhyming masterpiece was in the bag. Judy Schachner was the keynote speaker and coincidently, Tina had sat next to Judy’s daughter on a flight to Utah earlier that year. Tina had an opener and chatted happily with Judy as I clutched my wine glass, star-struck-dumb by the Mother of Skippyjon Jones! Later that evening Judy graciously looked at ‘Mouse Potato Pie.’ Her comments were kind but truthful. (86 the rhyme…)


During that weekend, I was invited to join a wonderful critique group of ‘Illustrators Who Want to Write.’ Over the summer, I wrote ‘Pity the Kitty,’ ‘Fuzzy Legs Brown,’ ‘The Christmas Pony,’ ‘YAWN’ and ‘Here’s the Thing.’ As Tina’s interests turned away from writing, I began to research workshops I could apply to my ‘Master Plan’ to become an author/illustrator.


Fergus with lid_RGBIn the fall, I qualified to attend the ‘Advanced Illustrators Workshop’ presented by Highlights in the spanking-new Barn and cabin facilities in Honesdale, PA. It was MIND-BLOWING! Days of hands-on workshops delivered by super-talented illustrators — even Caldecott winners! The first evening featured an illustrator’s exhibit. I gazed down the tables covered with stacks of published picture books by attendees – as I stood by my homemade Christmas cards and (huge) portrait of my dog, Fergus.


Lindsey Barrett George was one of the presenters and she was (literally) stopped by Fergus’s oversized painting. She asked about my dog’s tail and suggested I write his story…”write what you know.” (What a concept!) That evening I began to write a children’s version of Fergus’s adoption.


Throughout 2012, I faithfully met with my critique group, attended local SCBWI events and signed up for a Highlights workshop in the fall. My critique at the workshop was with an agent. She liked my dog story, but she needed an agreement from her partner (WOW!). During the workshop Lindsey BG stopped by. I mustered the nerve to ask if she would look at the story dummy she had encouraged me to write last fall… she graciously agreed. Lindsey was to the point… too much story and (by the way) the main character is supposed to solve the problem. (Who knew?)


The Agent’s partner gave my dummy a thumbs-down, but I was still encouraged.  I emailed a ‘thank you’ to Bobbie Combs up at Highlights, who had set up my critique. To my astonishment, Bobbie replied that she liked my dummy and she knew an agent who might be a good match. (Agents should be good matches?) Bobbie offered to introduce me to this agent when the revisions to my dummy were complete.


Broccoli in old box RGBAbout a month later ‘Who Wants Broccoli?’ was ready and Bobbie introduced me to Karen Grencik of Red Fox Literary Agency. (Incredible!) Karen kindly replied that she was not taking new clients BUT she really liked Broccoli and graciously agreed to do an Agent Submission. I could not have asked for anything more.


Enter the Twilight Zone. Three hours after Karen submitted to a handful of publishing houses, Nancy Inteli, Editorial Director of HarperCollins Childrens Books loved Broccoli! It was the fastest response Karen ever had! She cautioned me the acquisition meeting was the next big hurdle. (Note to self: look up acquisition.)


May 2013 the SCBWI Pocono Retreat was held in the Highlights Barn in Honesdale. Karen hadn’t heard anything from HarperCollins for a few weeks so we agreed it would be okay to display my ‘Broccoli’ dummy during Friday’s Visiting Editors Event. One editor was from HarperCollins and she was surprised to hear ‘Who Wants Broccoli?’ was on Nancy Inteli’s list. Harper’s acquisition meetings were on Fridays, three Fridays had passed and she hadn’t heard anything about Broccoli. (Sigh.)


The Barn in Honesdale is the perfect retreat location. Cell phone service is nearly impossible, but I did have a wireless signal on my iPad. Late that Friday night after the editors event I opened my email and my heart almost stopped. My agent, Karen, had been trying to call me all day!


WhoWantsBroccoli_cover_RGBSaturday morning, surrounded by SCBWI and Highlights friends, I shared the unbelievable news. HarperCollins Children’s Books was going to publish ‘Who Wants Broccoli?!!!!! (It was May – looks like a Christmas release, right?)


…almost two years later, ‘Who Wants Broccoli?’ was released.

(Now, what’s all this about marketing… the publisher does that, right?)


Val Jones lives in Pennsylvania with her husband Bob, their dog Fergus, and Pity the Kitty.  Please visit Val online or “like” her on Facebook.



  • This giveaway is for a copy of Who Wants Broccoli? by Val Jones. Many thanks to HarperCollins for donating a copy for one reader.
  • For a chance to win this copy of Who Wants Broccoli?, please leave a comment about this post by Tuesday, June 30th at 11:59 p.m. EDT. I’ll use a random number generator to pick the winners, whose names I will announce at the bottom of this post, by Wednesday, July 1st.
  • Please be sure to leave a valid e-mail address when you post your comment, so I can contact you to obtain your mailing address if you win.  From there, my contact at HarperCollins will ship your book out to you.  (NOTE: Your e-mail address will not be published online if you leave it in the e-mail field only.)
  • If you are the winner of the book, I will email you with the subject line of TWO WRITING TEACHERS – Val Jones. Please respond to my e-mail with your mailing address within five days of receipt. A new winner will be chosen if a response isn’t received within five days of the giveaway announcement.

Comments are now closed.

Thanks to everyone who left a comment. And a special thank you to Val who stopped by to respond many times!

Paulina Tawil‘s commenter number was chosen so she’ll receive a copy of Who Wants Broccoli? Here’s what she wrote:

What a great story! I love to share with my students the tireless work that goes into publishing books. I can’t wait to get this book on my shelf, The illustrations are beautiful. Congratulations to Val, I will keep an eye on whats to come.

50 thoughts on “How NOT to Publish a Picture Book.

  1. Thank you so much for sharing your process and long road to publication. I love sharing these types of stories with my 5th graders, especially those who write a draft and say, “I’m done!” They are usually shocked when I tell them about authors who spend years trying to get published! Fingers crossed that I win the book to share with them as I share your journey!


    1. It sounds like yiu are someone with grit and tenacity. I am attending a conference this week where authors share their stories, and it has opened my eyes about the world of pitching, revising and marketing. This is a part of reading and writing that often ahppens behind closed doors. Thanks for sharing!


    1. Thank you Valerie – and every day since It’s been amazing! I finally love what I do and am so happy Broccoli is bringing smiles to little and big kids 🙂


  2. Thank you for sharing your joruney and congratulations! I look forward to reading your words and pictures with my students. Everyone enjoys a story told with humor and passion. I’ll look for you on the shelves of my favorite bookseller. Continued success…


  3. Oh, we always think things will be easy and then we learn. What a good story to share with would be writers but also with students. We all need to learn and remember to hang in there – it is that big word perseverance that we all need to hold on to. Congrats on the new book!


    1. Thanks Christy – I can’t wait to share with the kiddies this coming school year…we talk about writing (what you know) then REREwriting 🙂 I had a practice session last fall with actual human children and it tickled me pink to hear the kiddies laugh and giggle in all of the right places!


      1. The most wonderful thing was…nobody told me I couldn’t do it, so the thought didn’t enter my mind! I just kept going with encouragement of other writers and illustrators and afterwards (thankfully) no one reminded me what I had done wrong but celebrated what went right :))


  4. What a great example of perseverance! I always give examples to my students of authors who didn’t give up. It’s important that students understand that writing is not a “perfect the first time” journey. Your story will definitely be on my list of “Must Share” this upcoming school year.


    1. Thank you Terrie – so much to learn now about marketing, but most important to me is to get the word out about staying true to yourself and to consider adopting an older dog when picking out your perfect pet – share the word :))


    1. Thanks…after working in the corporate world and finally being able to do what I love to do, the journey was long but not at all painful – maybe a couple of blisters on my painting hand :)))


  5. I appreciate you putting this information out there! I keep thinking I want to write a story about my pug and cat, but don’t. It definitely seems like a daunting task! I found out about the Highlights meeting – we spend some time in the Poconos every summer in Blooming Grove, PA – about 15 minutes from Hawley and 25 from Honesdale. Congratulations on your success!! Did you illustrate your story as well? I love, love, love how cute your dog looks with that look on his face:)
    Thank you for sharing your experience!


  6. I was lucky enough to see an advance copy of Broccoli at Honesdale last fall and it was love at first sight! Congratulations, Val, and thanks for sharing your story. Looking forward to having you as one of our authors at the 2015 KSRA Conference in October!


    1. I am soooooooo excited to have been asked to attend this fall at the KSRA!! I LOVE talking to the kiddies and I’m getting braver at talking to grownups – this is such a wonderful opportunity…thank you Rose!!


  7. I read this in the interest of my sister in law who is trying to publish a children’s book. I’m just a blooming writer myself but unthinkable can both take away a lot from this article! Thanks for sharing.


    1. I’m so happy you found this helpful…there’s so much information and guidance out there telling you what you must do, and it’s so easy to get overwhelmed. Four things worked for me; SCBWI, critique group, workshops and Agent – but that’s me and everyone has a different journey!


  8. What a great story! I love to share with my students the tireless work that goes into publishing books. I can’t wait to get this book on my shelf, The illustrations are beautiful. Congratulations to Val, I will keep an eye on whats to come.


  9. That’s a long wait! I keep reading this from authors though, that they sell the books to agents/publishers but it’s years before they go to market. Such an interesting process!

    I think your dogs are cute. 🙂


    1. Publishing is such a long process – like birthing an elephant, right? But when you finally get to hold that book in you hand (sigh…) there’s not many things that make me cry but that did :-}


  10. I just loved reading this! I think it is so important to share these stories with our students. They often see the finished book and don’t realize the perseverance that was needed to get that book published! Can’t wait to check out Val’s book!


    1. It’s a long process – but I can’t wait to do it all over again! I hope you enjoy Broccoli…and I’ll be knocking on elementary school doors first thing in the fall to share a kid’s version about writing, rewriting and rewriting Broccoli (giggles included 🙂


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