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.