Tuesday, October 9, 2012

An Interview with Author Sarah Lynn

This week author Sarah Lynn is celebrating the release of her third picture book -- 1-2-3 Va-Va-Vroom! She's here today to talk about writing and her experiences with different types of publishers. Sarah's second picture book, Tip-Tap Pop, has a tap dance theme, so I was also curious about her background in dance. Congratulations, Sarah, and thanks for joining us today!

It seems that you are a very busy woman -- filling your days as a clinical social worker, school counselor, owner of a small private practice, and mom. Yet you still have three picture books under your belt. How do you find the time to write?

I have to be honest and say that I do struggle with finding time to write. I’ve always used the precious time after my children are in bed as my writing time, but I am finding it harder as they get older. They have later bedtimes now, and I find myself more emotionally, physically, and intellectually depleted in the evenings.

I actually think it’s not just about finding “time.” It’s about finding time when my mind is clear. My brain has to be fresh and open for me to create. I’m finding this more difficult as time goes on, but writing is important to me, and so I am determined to find a way to make it happen. I try to jot down notes when I have ideas. I bring these notes to soccer practice or outside when my kids are playing in the backyard. Most of the time I don’t even glance at the notes, but I know I have them there in case another idea presents itself.

I have two confessions, though. I’ll admit that my aforementioned jobs are all part time -- about 32 hours total for the week. It’s my grand attempt at being as involved in my own children’s lives as possible, while still bringing in an income. My second confession is that my laundry piles up awfully high. Writing is a great way to procrastinate household chores!

No worries. My laundry piles are always way too high, too! Aside from your many jobs, you also seem to have a strong and eclectic background in dance. Can you tell us a little more about that? And is dance still a part of your life?

For much of my childhood, dance was the source of my passion. I felt a love for dance that enlivened me. My primary love was ballet, but I also did hip hop, tap, modern, and jazz. I trained hard and long, I went away for the summers to train in Texas and Pennsylvania. When I graduated from high school, I felt as if I needed to make a decision -- to be a professional ballet dancer or to go to college?

Looking back, it might not have had to be so cut and dry, but in my mind I had to make a choice. I decided to go to college and stop dancing. At that time I completely stopped dancing. I’d loved it so much and had been so dedicated that I felt it would be painful to just do it for fun. I knew I wouldn’t be as strong or my technique as good.

After about five years, I did go back and take some adult classes for fun. I caught the eye of the studio owner, and she asked me to teach “baby ballet” on Saturdays and adult classes in the evenings after work. Once I had my own children, though, I stopped that as well. There just aren’t enough hours in the day. I miss it.

I can really see your love of dance shining through in your writing. Tip-Tap Pop has such a beautiful rhythmic quality, even though it is not written in rhyme. Do you think your dance training contributes to the rhythm in your writing?

Yes! My tap dance teacher always spoke our tap dance steps in perfect tap dance rhythm. I can still hear her voice in my head. My ballet teachers always used their hands to demonstrate the ballet moves, I can still see that in my head as well. When I listen to music, I can visualize choreography.

Are there any other ways that dance has influenced your writing?

I love the way dance tells a story. I love the way movements and facial expressions can convey emotion. Dancing is the epitome of “show, don’t tell.” Beautiful language and the imagery of words can be equally lyrical.

Your first two books were published in two very different ways. Frankie and the BigSquish was published as an iPhone App by iStoryTime, and Tip-Tap Pop was published by the traditional trade publisher Marshall Cavendish. What were some of the differences in these two publication experiences?

The experiences were very different. I had gotten a couple revision requests for Frankie and the Big Squish from a mainstream publisher. Despite my revisions, they decided not to publish. When I heard about iStoryTime company, I thought it would be fun to submit this story, since I didn’t feel I’d find a traditional house to publish it. They accepted my story but told me I needed to find my own illustrator. There was no advance for this endeavor. The contract states that once the story sold enough copies, I would begin to earn royalties. However, this has never happened. I look at this option as another way of sharing a story with the world, but for me, at least, it did not bring in any income.

With Tip Tap Pop, I was paid an advance. I will earn royalties if the book earns out my advance. They found the illustrator for me and helped me with editing. This was a fabulous experience. I love the illustrations in this story. I think the editor was brilliant in her choice of an illustrator, because the pictures add a light quirkiness to the mood of the book. This shows the benefit of traditional publishing, because this story would not have been the same without Valeria’s art work.

Were there any similarities between the two experiences?

There wasn’t much similar in the experiences, to be honest. The only main similarity is the feeling of excitement in seeing my words brought to life by an illustrator. That is amazing.

Your third book -- 1-2-3 Va-Va-Vroom! -- was just published by Amazon Children's Publishing. Since this is a fairly new publisher, I am guessing this experience was also unique? Could you tell us more about it?

Actually, I sold the book to Marshall Cavendish, to the same editor who’d purchased Tip-Tap Pop. Shortly after I sold the book, the Cavendish company was purchased by Amazon. My interactions with Amazon have been entirely positive. My editor is still with the company, and she’s lovely to work with. There have been some fun additions, though, like an “author relations manager,” who is my first contact when I have questions. She responds very quickly to emails (within the day), and that’s so nice.

Despite the fact that this is a very difficult time to break into the picture book market, you seem to have had a lot of success in different formats over the last couple of years. Any advice for all those aspiring authors out there?

Yes. It is difficult to break in, and it’s also difficult to publish again (even if you’ve already been published). This is a loving business, because people who create children’s books are accepting and wonderful and friendly and encouraging. However, it’s also a tough business because there’s so much rejection.

This is the advice I try to give myself. I try to remind myself that I write for myself. I enjoy it as an outlet, as a project, as a way to share experiences. I know that most of what I write will not be published. So if I’m only writing with the end goal of publication, I’ll be disappointed more often than not. If I’m writing with the goal of creating, having an outlet, enjoying the actual process of writing, then it’s a win-win. Of course I am thrilled when something winds up being published, but I try to make my motivation about more than that.

The other advice I have is to be open to feedback. Revise like it’s going out of style. Read in your genre as much as you can. Remember, it’s not just about writing something good. It has to be something marketable and different from what is already out there.

Thanks again, Sarah, for joining us and offering such wonderful insight and advice about the writing process! 

For more information about Sarah and her work, you can visit her website at http://www.sarahlynnbooks.com. To read my earlier review of Tip-Tap Pop, click here. Maria Hanley from Maria's Movers has also written a beautiful feature on Tip-Tap Pop here


  1. "This is a loving business, because people who create children’s books are accepting and wonderful and friendly and encouraging. However, it’s also a tough business because there’s so much rejection."

    Truer words were never spoken!

    1. I completely agree, Valerie! Such a beautiful -- and true -- quote, isn't it? Sometimes it's hard to deal with all the rejection, but it's nice to hear it mentioned in the context of a bigger, more loving business. Thanks for stopping by!

  2. I LOVE this interview! Makes me want to write a book so badly! ;)

    1. Thanks, Maria. So glad you liked it, and so glad you introduced me to Sarah! Hope you are inspired to start writing that book :)

  3. Thanks, Kerry! Great post. Happy writing... and dancing. :)

    1. Thanks so much, Sarah! And thanks again for your wonderful contribution to my blog. It was so nice learning more about you and your writing life!

  4. So happy to hear good things about Amazon publishing and their support for authors. You are a shining example of a brave new world in pb publishing!

    1. Thanks for stopping by, Cathy. I found it so interesting that she has published in so many different ways, too. First time I had heard feedback about Amazon as well, and was glad it was positive. Have a great weekend and happy writing!


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