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The Picture Book Buzz

The Picture Book Buzz - Interview With Lisa Amstutz PLUS Giveaway.

First, a minor bit of housekeeping. The winner of TEA WITH OLIVER is:

Judy Sobanski

Some of my fondest memories revolve around time spent with my mother and grandmother in the kitchen canning fruits and making applesauce. Later I discovered the joy of freezer jam and spent many years filling a freezer with jams, much to the delight of my husband and kids.

Today, I have the great pleasure to introduce you to my friend and amazing writer, Lisa Amstutz. She has written in a range of genres that spans from picture books to adult and been published in both the trade and educational markets. Her first trade picture book is a delightful story about a multi-generational family making applesauce.

Lisa, Thank-you so much for stopping by to talk about your newest book, Applesauce Day (which released Aug. 1st) and writing.

ME: Tell us a little about yourself. (Where/when do you write? How long have you been writing? What is your favorite type of book to write?)

Lisa: I started writing for adults about 12 years ago, and got interested in writing for children several years later. Fortunately, I found SCBWI early on and found good friends and mentors there to point me in the right direction. My favorite books to write are picture books, both fiction and nonfiction. I love the challenge of paring a story down to its essentials—it’s a lot like poetry—and making it interesting to a child.

What is something no one (or few) knows about you?

When I was a kid, I taught myself to talk backwards. On long car trips, I’d read all the road signs backwards or sing songs backwards to myself. I never told anyone about this, because I thought it was weird. And don’t ask me to demonstrate!

This is indeed unique and fascinating! I wish my sister and I had thought about that. What a great secret language that would have been. Can you explain the difference between trade and work-for-hire books? Is Applesauce Day your first trade picture book? Do you prefer one type to the other?

Trade books are what you typically see in bookstores. Trade publishers purchase the rights to a book and pay the author royalties (a percentage of the sales). Many, but not all, also pay an advance on royalties, which is an up-front payment. Once the book has sold enough copies to “earn out” the advance, the author begins to receive royalty payments.

Many educational market publishers, on the other hand, use a work-for-hire model. They hire writers to write the books they want to publish, and pay them a set fee for doing so. Generally there are no royalties involved.

Applesauce Day is actually the second trade picture book I sold; the first one, called Today We Go Birding, will be published next year. I’ve also written 60+ books for the educational market and an adult nonfiction trade book. I can’t say I have a favorite – they are all fun and challenging in different ways.

Was any book harder than the others for you to write?

The hardest book I ever wrote was a middle-grade nonfiction book on the Titanic. It was a fascinating topic, but there was so incredibly much information out there to sift through, some of it conflicting, and I had a very short deadline. It turned out OK in the end though.

That does sound like a challenge. Who was your favorite author, illustrator, and/or favorite book as a child?

I was blessed to have parents who read to me—a lot. Two of my early favorites were The Snowy Day (Ezra Jack Keats) and Richard Scarry’s Best Storybook Ever. Once I learned to read, I read everything I could get my hands on. I particularly loved mysteries—Nancy Drew, The Hardy Boys, etc.

What/who is your greatest source of inspiration? (as a child or now as a writer.)

My family is a big source of inspiration, especially for this book, which is based on a family tradition. I also get a lot of inspiration from being in nature, and love sharing that with kids.

Except for the two history books, most of your books involve biology or science/technology. Do you feel Applesauce Day is a big departure from your other books?

Topic-wise, no, as I often write on agricultural topics. It’s not just an academic interest—my family lives on a small hobby farm and we raise bees, fruit trees, veggies, and a variety of livestock, primarily for our own use. The more lyrical tone of the book is different, however, and of course it’s fiction. It was a lot of fun to write!

Your farm sounds delightful and a wonderful source of inspiration. What is the hardest thing about trade publishing? The most amazing?

It’s a long, slow process. I don’t want to discourage anyone from trying, because it’s very rewarding, but for most people, it takes years to break in, and the path is paved with many rejection letters. There are no short-cuts; you just have to put in the time writing and learning the craft.

For me, it’s been an amazing journey—along the way, I’ve met so many wonderful people and grown both as a person and as a writer. Actually getting a book published was just the icing on the cake.

What a great way to look at it; an extra treat, rather than the entire goal. Something for me to aspire to. Is there something you want your readers to know about Applesauce Day?

I hope it will encourage families to try making applesauce together, and maybe start a tradition of their own. A recipe is included in the back—all you need are apples and a little sugar!

The book’s illustrator, Talitha Shipman, put together a great book trailer. Check it out at!

I hope everyone checks it out, Talitha did an excellent job. Any projects you are working on now that you can share a tidbit with us?

I’m working on several biographies and nonfiction proposals right now, but nothing I can share publicly at this point. I will have several more books coming out in the next year—watch my website or Facebook page for updates!

How exciting! Congratulations. So, is there anything about writing, illustrating, or publishing you know now that you wished you had known when you started? Or anything you’re glad you didn’t know about in advance?

It’s probably good that I didn’t know how long the whole process would take! I wish I could tell my younger self not to play so many head games about writing and getting published. I could have started a lot sooner and saved myself a lot of angst.

As far as writing picture books, I’ve learned that it’s easier to sell a book with a clear marketing hook and an emotional connection. I’ve also learned that making a picture book dummy is invaluable, and strongly encourage every picture book writer to take the time to do so.

What is your favorite animal? Why?

I love watching wild birds, and our little flock of chickens and ducks is endlessly entertaining as well. As far as pets, we have a dog and three cats that I’m pretty fond of.

Thank you, Lisa for stopping by. It was wonderful to chat with you. Best of luck with your book launch events and future endeavors.

Be sure to comment here or the Perfect Picture Book Friday - #PPBF post to be entered for a chance to win a free copy of Applesauce Day.

To find out more about Lisa Amstutz, or get in touch with her:

Maria Marshall

 Photograph © A. Marshall

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