I’m very excited to introduce Hubber Sue Fliess, also known as AroundTownSue on HubPages. Sue is a very successful published children’s author having published over 120 articles, with 6 published children’s books and another 8 under contract to come out in the next two years! Her Tons of Trucks book has sold roughly 40,000 copies since its release in 2012 and her Robots, Robots Everywhere! book, released in August 2013, had a run of 50,000 copies and has already gone back to press! She does school visits and speaking engagements at conferences as well as book signings at book stores. Check out her Amazon page or your local book store for her available books! Without further ado, let’s dive into the treasure trove of information that Sue has to offer!
Briefly tell us about yourself.
I’m a children’s book author of over a dozen books, Senior Copywriter for eBay and whenever I can be, a freelance writer. I live in the Bay Area of Northern California with my husband and two boys and our rescued English Lab, Teddy. My background is in public relations, marketing, and art. Oh, and I love to travel!
Becoming a published author is a goal for many of our Hubbers. How did you get your start?
First, I’d like to emphasize that getting published should be among many goals, but not the only goal. I just read an excellent book on writing that, if you read only one book on writing this year, let it be this one: Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. Writing should give you joy whether you get published or not. I was fortunate enough to get published, but I will say that once I sold a book, an author friend pulled me aside and said, “Congratulations! Now remember, you’re only as good as your last book.” So hitting that publishing goal delivers new pressures. Be happy to create work you’re proud of, keep writing and improving your craft, and then if publication happens, you’ll likely be more satisfied with your accomplishment.
When I started out in 2005, I realized my only credential relevant to children’s book editors was that my first job as a publicist for a big publishing house. In an effort to gain more writing credentials for my manuscript submissions, I ventured into other types of writing. So I got a gig writing articles (my first published pieces) for an educational website while working on my children’s stories. I talked with librarians, joined SCBWI, started attending conferences, and formed a writing critique group. And as soon as I submitted one manuscript to publishing houses, I started working on the next one. I had roughly 6 stories out on submission at any given time. Then I finally got an offer from an editor for my first book, Shoes for Me!, illustrated by Mike Laughead. That story had been rejected 24 times. It only takes 1 yes.
Can you briefly describe your process when writing a book? What were your greatest challenges when you first started? Are they the same today?
I usually get an idea for a book and think about it for a few days before writing anything down. Then if I’m still excited about it, sometimes I will look on Amazon to see if something very similar is already out there. If not, or my idea is different enough from what exists, I’ll start writing the story. Since I mostly write picture books, I just jump right in, no outline or anything. I try to give it a title, but not always. I work in spurts, so I may work on something madly for 3-4 days, then let it simmer, come back to it to polish it enough for my critique group to see, then work on it with their feedback in mind until it’s ready to show my agent. She may have editorial feedback too, and once I’m finished, she starts submitting it to editors.
It’s a challenge to manage all submissions, rejections, follow-ups on my own. I did it for a few years, and then was able to land an agent. I think agents are more open to taking on picture book authors than when I was starting out, so that’s good news. But many more houses are closed to un-agented, or unsolicited manuscripts, so if you can invest the time trying get an agent, I recommend it. Now that I have an agent, my biggest challenge is carving out time to write! But meeting with my crit group once a month is a big motivator. I don’t want to be the one who isn’t bringing anything to the group!
Publishing Information: How did you find and attract your publisher? Do you recommend authors getting started with ebooks? Did you go that route at first? I know you have written a Hub on this; is there anything you would like to add/update?
I am still a firm believer in trying to get your work recognized by traditional publishers before self-publishing. All of my books, with the exception of my touch-and-move novelty trucks book, has an electronic version and the publisher takes care of making that happen. There is less of a stigma associated with self-publishing today, but it’s harder to stand out in that market, as anyone—quality writer or not—can self-publish. You have to fight more for credibility than you do if a publisher pays you to make a book. I am traditionally published and of course, now there is no reason for me to publish my stories on my own.
In re-reading my Hub on my publishing tips, the only thing I would change is that many more editors are accepting email submissions now – likely if you’ve met them at a conference. So the waiting time to hear back is often shorter, and you may not have to wait 3 months to ping them. Still respect their time, but following up is getting easier. Also, the editor I mention in my “Bonus tip” just bought a fairy manuscript from me last year – so I’m finally getting to work with her!
If you could give three pieces of advice for our authors that want to publish a book, what would they be?
Do your homework. Starting out in publishing is like starting out in any industry. Learn who the players are (editors, agents, other authors), attend conferences, take workshops, hone your craft. Don’t expect to meet an author and get an introduction to their editor or agent. It’s tacky.
Read as many books in the genre you are trying to break into as possible. Use your library! Check out a hundred books to see what they do right, why they got published.
Be patient. It took me about 3 years to get an offer, and that was actually surprisingly fast for this industry, so I feel very fortunate. Timing is everything, so don’t rush it. If you are meant to be published, it will happen at the exact time it’s meant to happen. If you are not meant to be published, there is a world of good that can still come from your writing – share it with others. Talk to kids about writing. Teach. Keep writing.
Thanks Sue, for giving us your time and expertise. I hope our Hubbers have learned from it; I know that I have!
For more information on Sue:
And if that’s not enough, Sue also sings. She has written and performed two writing parodies for buzz marketing! Check them out:
5 replies on “Advice from a Published Children’s Author: Sue Fliess”
Thanks for the pointers. I love writing. My first published book is, “Whispers from Heaven, My Story.” I’ve always wanted to write a book for children. I almost had one completed when my computer crashed. Thanks again for the advice.
Mildred, don’t give up the dream! I bet if you go back and write that story again, you’ll bring new insights to it. Good luck!
I absolutely love that she said that her book Shoes for Me! had been rejected 24 times before a publisher finally said yes! All those rejections led up to the right offer.
HI Sue, this gives me more inspiration to keep up my writing. I’ve been researching how to publish my character and the many adventures he has. My friend just published a business how-to-book independently. I am trying to illustrate but currently I am having a hard time illustrating the books.
A family member referred your site, and it is so reaffirming. Thank you ! I am a nurse that writes literary fiction. I took my first AWA creative writing class 6 years ago, and it took three years before nursing magazines and the local paper started taking my essays and short stories. Only one story has made it into a literary magazine.
Thanks you to you, I am going to get back to revising that novel sitting on the shelf, the one with 16 rejection letters on top on it !