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The Picture Book Buzz

The Picture Book Buzz - Two Part Interview with Perfect2020PBs/KidLitCollective Members:

You've survived your author and or illustrator debut! You did your part and helped in a debut book group and in the process made some friends and learned a lot about marketing and publishing. Now what? Is the group finished? Do you find a new book group each year you have a release? What if you're lucky enough to have books releasing in subsequent years. Do you join two (or more) book groups? After all you need to start the promotion work about two years in advance.

Fortunately, I have some members from the former Perfect2020PBs sharing with us about changing their debut picture book group into the - Kidlit Collective.

Part 2 – Creating the Kidlit Collective

So, first off, why did so many (if not all) of you decide to stay together in a group?

Jolene Gutiérrez - I love these ladies! We’ve cheered each other on through one of the most exciting moments in our lives: the publication of our debut book! And we’re a group of cheerleaders--sharing news, promoting others’ work, and supporting each other. So it’s lovely to be able to continue being together in this way.

AJ Irving - We have developed wonderful friendships. Several Kidlit Collective members have books coming out over the next few years, so we thought it would be great to stay together and continue to support each other.

Liz Gilbert Bedia – I love our Kidlit family! We support each other and truly understand the ups and downs of the journey we are on. We celebrate each other’s triumphs and provide encouragement when the rejections roll in. I treasure our friendship and the bond we have created, so it seemed natural to stay together.

Tina Mowrey - I don’t remember who suggested that we stay together, but it was music to my ears! Even though I have never met any of these women in person, I feel like I know them. To have them in my corner for the next few years is such an honor and a bonus that I hadn’t even considered!

Rashmi Bismark - Between the pandemic and living abroad at the time, our KidLit group was my only link to a sense of a community and belonging with other PB authors last year. Having a group you can lean into for support, encouragement, and honest feedback is so valuable. Continuing the celebration of each other’s work felt like a great way to extend our connection.

Community and support are definite draws! As is the more unusual extension into a type of extended critique group. Why did you decide to expand to all kidlit genres? Has this made things more complicated?

Jolene Gutiérrez - I think so many of us were writing multiple genres that we decided to embrace all KidLit genres/levels. The only tricky thing about us allowing all genres is that if we’re willing to read/review each other's work, MG and YA are longer works and take more of a commitment to read and review.

AJ Irving - Some of our members have already published books in other genres or have forthcoming titles in other genres. Other members are interested in writing outside the picture book space. Personally, fiction picture books are my first love. My agent suggested that I try my hand at chapter books and middle grade. I’m still in brainstorming mode, but our group definitely inspires me!

Liz Gilbert Bedia – Several of our members have books published or coming out in genres other than picture books, so the expansion seemed like the right move. Although my sweet spot is picture books, I would love to write within the chapter book and middle grade genres. Seeing the others in our group have success is spurring me to branch out!

Tina Mowrey - I don’t think this has made things more complicated because we are in the business of supporting one another and any type of kidlit will do. I want to stay connected and watch each member of this group reach their goals and for some, that includes other kidlit genres.

Rashmi Bismark - Supporting all Kidlit genres creates a kind of solidarity in the group. Many members either have other projects coming out or are curious about experimenting with their creativity. Opening into different genres creates a way to ensure we can keep growing together.

Since you started with just PBs, how many other members did you admit to the group? Did you have a limit? Where there any other restrictions placed on admission to the group? (newness, number, …)

Jolene Gutiérrez - I came to the group rather late because my publication date was bumped, so I transferred from a 2019 debut group to a 2020 group. I’m not certain of our final numbers, but we did eventually close the group so we wouldn’t become too large.

AJ Irving - I was one of the last people to join our group. It took a long time for Dance Like A Leaf to be announced because my publisher decided to go with a different illustrator. I believe we originally had close to 30 members. We now have under 20 members. We have not admitted new members, but we recently received interest from authors about joining our group. We plan to schedule a Zoom meeting to discuss this further.

Liz Gilbert Bedia – I joined the group at the midway point. My friends, Norene Paulson and Dorothia Rohner were already members. I reached out to them to ask if there were any available spots in the group – and lucky for me there were! I am uncertain of our final member numbers as debuts but we did eventually close the group wanting to keep it cohesive and manageable with regard to reviews, support, and tasks.

Tina Mowrey - I joined at the very end, so I’m not certain about numbers. I do know that originally, there was a desire to have authors who had books with PAL publishers, but I’m not sure if that was actually the case when members were admitted into the group.

Rashmi Bismark - I joined the group as it was forming thanks to connections through my publisher. I remember the group had intended to keep membership to around 20-30. There ended up being quite a bit of shifting as book schedules changed. I do feel as though a more intimate number allows for deeper connections between members. It also keeps tasks and reading each other’s work manageable.

Sounds like you found a good balance. How has this year been different, and/or the same, as what you experienced last year?

Jolene Gutiérrez - Our group has become smaller and we aren’t constantly celebrating book launches like we were last year, but there are plenty of positive things going on with our members.

AJ Irving - I think we are more knowledgeable and organized. It’s also exciting to see some of our members finally be able to do in-person events!

Liz Gilbert Bedia – While our group has become smaller and we are no longer debuts with book launches throughout the year, we still maintain the same camaraderie and support that we enjoyed last year.

Tina Mowrey - I still see everyone supporting each other’s endeavors and making the time to communicate with one another as needed.

Rashmi Bismark - I still feel connected to our group even though our new launches aren’t as frequent this year. It’s great to be able to celebrate all the book events and other exciting offerings from group members. Taking turns to manage our Social Media accounts has also been a fun way to really stay engaged.

Is there any downside in combining PB. MG, & YA authors in a group? Would you advise a combination for a debut group? Why or why not?

Jolene Gutiérrez - Because we’re more of an established group, I think it works. Longer MG and YA works take more of a commitment to read and review, though, so that’s a challenge. I don’t think I’d advise a combination of levels for a debut group unless all members agree to reading and leaving reviews for each member.

AJ Irving - It felt like a natural step for our group to stay together even though some members now write outside the picture book space. I would not advise combining multiple genres in a debut group because debut panels, interviews, and other promotional opportunities are often organized by genre.

Liz Gilbert Bedia – I think it is a natural move for a more established group like ours. I also think it provides an opportunity to those in the group (such as myself) who only have written in one genre to perhaps learn more about the other genres, ask those “newbie” questions within a trusted group, and feel inspired to branch out.

Tina Mowrey - As everyone has already stated, it’s probably best to stay with one genre for a debut group.

Rashmi Bismark - I agree with everyone above. This has worked for us because our group became cohesive through our debut year experiences. That provides a nice foundation to now expand and be more flexible.

I am finding your collective very intriguing. What is the biggest benefit of the Kidlit Collective? The biggest drawback or downside? (what about if you’re an illustrator?)

Jolene Gutiérrez - For me, the biggest benefit is being surrounded by these creative women! We try to celebrate and support each other. I think our biggest challenge is just how busy everyone is. This can mean it takes us longer to get things accomplished.

AJ Irving - Sometimes you need to vent or ask questions or get advice. I’ve learned so much from all these ladies! And sometimes you get to celebrate. There is nothing better than sharing good news with a group of people who understand deeply how hard you’ve worked to achieve your creative goals. No downside! It’s a gift that keeps on giving. I am in a critique group with several Kidlit Collective members as a result of sharing our debut year together.

Liz Gilbert Bedia – The biggest benefit is being a part of such a fabulously creative group! I am an introvert by nature, so I find it difficult to share in larger settings or platforms. But in our group I have always felt comfortable to share or ask questions – even ones I deem as “dumb” question. :) These gals have become my family in kidlit and I am thankful for each and every one of them! Biggest drawback? I honestly can’t think of one.

Tina Mowrey - The biggest benefit for me, by far, is the opportunity to remain connected with these women. Even if I never had another book launch or event, I would want to stay in touch with them. I’ve learned so much through the efforts of this group’s members and I’m so grateful for that and their friendship.

Rashmi Bismark - For me, the number one benefit has been COMMUNITY. Though we’ve only met on Zoom or via online interactions, this has been an incredible opportunity for me to connect with other KidLit creatives in meaningful ways.

As with your debut group, do you have rules or responsibilities set out? How do you ‘enforce’ these if necessary?

Jolene Gutiérrez - I don’t know if there are rules per se, but there are expectations: that we’ll all chip in and do our part to promote each other and that we’ll all try to read and review everyone’s work.

AJ Irving - We decided to create teams to distribute responsibilities. Some folks are more comfortable with Twitter. Some folks are more comfortable with Instagram. We also have coordination and graphics teams. I’m grateful we have so many talented illustrators in our group! We use folders and spreadsheets to keep everything as simple and organized as possible.

Tina Mowrey - I’m probably on the receiving end of the “enforcing” sometimes! But it’s usually just some reminders or inquiries to make sure I’m on track. 😊

Rashmi Bismark - I also think after being together so long, we all know what pieces we enjoy contributing to. There is also a natural sense of accountability that develops when you form relationships in a group like this. Tasks become less of a burden and more of a chance to care for each other in some kind of way. I also think our group is very empathetic and understanding when members need to step back a bit or have a lot going on. It did help to have more firm “rules” and expectations at the start though.

Seems like you've found the right balance. What is the vision for this group? How long do you think it will last? Would you admit new members?

Jolene Gutiérrez - We’re all just getting started and there are lots of exciting things coming from the members of our group, so I’m hoping we’ll be supporting and celebrating each other for a long time to come! I’m personally not against admitting someone new, but they’d need to be a really good fit for our group, bring valuable skills, and be someone that our entire group would agree to admit.

AJ Irving - We hope to stick together for many years and continue to support each other. I think it’s so important to have a community that understands your journey. As much as our friends and family love and support us, they don’t necessarily understand the ins and outs and ups and downs of publishing. Personally, I am open to admitting new members. I remember feeling panicked when I discovered that so many 2020 debut groups were already closed. I would hate for someone to miss out on this special experience.

Liz Gilbert Bedia – This group has so many wonderful things happening in 2021 and beyond. I hope we stick together for many more years to come. Publishing is a tough business. I think it is important for writers and illustrators alike to have a group that understands the ups and downs unique to the creative and publishing processes and can provide encouragement and support along the way. I am not opposed to admitting new members as long as they are a good fit for our group, will contribute, and are someone that the entire group agrees upon.

Tina Mowrey - Can I just say, “ditto” to what Liz wrote? I feel like we still have more to experience and learn and I wouldn’t want to do it with any other group! And I can’t wait to meet everyone in person at some point in time.

Rashmi Bismark - YES to meeting in person someday!!! That’s my hope, too. I agree with everyone above in terms of new members. I’m looking forward to learning and growing more together with KidLit Collective!

I wish you all, and the rest of the group, all the best! Is there anything else you’d like to share about your experiences with Perfect2020sPB and Kidlit Collective, surviving 2020, and or the differences you see in 2021.

Jolene Gutiérrez - For most of us, debuting in 2020 during quarantine was such a challenge and unlike the debuts most of us dreamed about. 2021 holds much to be thankful for--new book releases, book deals, and other ways we’re growing as writers. It’s an exciting time!

AJ Irving - Debuting in 2020 was definitely a trip! I am so grateful for all these ladies for their encouragement and advice. I am looking forward to sharing this journey with them in 2021 and beyond.

Liz Gilbert Bedia – Debuting is a challenge in its own right but debuting in 2020 took that challenge to a whole other level. I can honestly say I don’t know what I would have done without these fabulous ladies. Their constant support, encouragement, endless cheering, and genuine kindness made debuting in a pandemic just as special. I know great things are in store for our group in 2021 and the years beyond, and I am so grateful to be sharing this remarkable journey with them!

Tina Mowrey - With so much despair in the world during the pandemic, I am thankful to have had this group as an anchor. Not just for my “author stuff”, but for the challenges of life in general. I think we are a stronger group for all that we went through in 2020.

Rashmi Bismark - The challenges of having pandemic debuts definitely brought us all together in ways I don’t think any of us anticipated. It’s incredible to have a group of peers you admire who genuinely care about seeing your work flourish. I’m eternally grateful for the friendship and mentorship I’ve received here.

Tina, I think you "hit the nail on the head." Congrats on finding a format that works for continuing as a group. Thank you all for sharing these insights and hard-earned advice with us.


Jolene Gutiérrez -Bionic Beasts: Saving Animal Lives with Artificial Flippers, Legs, and Beaks,

AJ IrvingDance Like a Leaf

Elizabeth (Liz) Gilbert Bedia - Balloons for Papa

Tina Mowrey - Being Bailey Rae

Rashmi Bismark, MD, MPH - Finding Om

Be sure to check out June 16th Perfect2020PBs/KidLitCollective joint interview Part 1 (here), with Nanette Heffernan, Norene Paulson, Skylaar Amann, Charlotte Watson Sherman, and Susan Novich.

To follow Kidlit Collective, go to:

Instagram - @kidlitcollective


Maria Marshall

 Photograph © A. Marshall

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