The most frequent questions I field on a daily basis involve requests for snacks and more screen time.*

And then there are questions about making books.

*It’s almost dinner, and no. Go invent something or read a book.

I have this book … How do I get published?

I don’t have a secret key to the publishing world. (Who told you I did?!) That would be pretty great though. You’ll hear this a lot, but it’s true: every person’s path to publishing is unique. Like grains of sand on the beach … Yes, exactly like that. All different.

Real talk: I worked toward this my entire life. No joke. I’ve always been a lover of books and have known I wanted to make them. I’ve been studying children’s books, authors and illustrators since I was a tiny human falling in love with books like David Small’s Imogene’s Antlers and Peggy Parish’s Amelia Bedelia. (I could go on and on … ) My work as a teacher and cofounder of Read and Write Kalamazoo were both key pieces in my path as well. I’ve got a few decades under my belt of experimenting with art and writing down ideas in the middle of the night, while kids were napping, or during lunch at work.

My agent and I found each other with a beautiful formula that involved my local bookstore, Instagram, and a magical place called nErD Camp.

Oh! Who’s your agent? Can I send them my book?

Molly O’Neill at Root Literary.

You’re welcome to check out the agency and their submission policy. Root Literary is a force of powerful women who are passionate about books and championing authors and illustrators. Couldn’t be more proud to be represented by Molly and this agency.

Do you paint? Is your work digital?

Yes. Some of my work is traditional, some is digital, and some is a mixture of both. My friend dubbed that tradigital and I am very into that word. As far as traditional methods, I most often use gouache and colored pencils, ink and ink wash, and enjoy carving stamps and block printing. Scissors and X-acto knives all day! MIXED MEDIA! All of my projects are unique in process, which keeps things exciting (and often challenging).

For digital work, I use an iPad Pro. I bounce back and forth between two programs, Adobe Sketch and Procreate.

But for real, how do I get my book published?

OK, yes. I don’t know exactly, but here are some tips that can help:

  • Read a lot of children’s books. Try to read all of them. Span the history of time, past and present. And if you can read future books, do that too. Study page turns and word count, dialogue and pacing. This is your new hobby.

  • Commit to your art—writing and/or illustration— in a regular routine. Every day is ideal, but carve out whatever time works for you. Have your friend keep you accountable. “Sally,” your friend would say if that’s your name. “How’s your book coming? What are you working on? I believe in you, Sally!” Making time for it can be difficult, and you’ll have to sacrifice some stuff along the way. But if you’re serious about this, you’ll be willing to make the time, Sally.

  • You’ll need an agent. Most publishing houses don’t take unsolicited work, so agents are working hard to get your work connected with the right editor/publishing house. I can’t begin to share all that I learn from my agent. Her guidance and support are crucial to my growth as a professional book creator.

  • What authors/illustrators do you love? GOOGLE who represents those creators. And then GOOGLE their agency and read all about said agency’s submission process. (They’re all different!) THEN, you’ll think, “Ah. Submit a query letter … what is a query letter?” You will then GOOGLE “How to write a query letter to an agent” and you’ll learn all about that and find examples of great query letters (This is not an ad for GOOGLE, I promise)

  • Don’t pay people up front for anything, whether it be to help you find an agent, to represent you as an agent, to GOOGLE anything for you, or to publish your book*

    *I don’t know about self-publishing, so that may be an exception? GOOGLE THAT

  • Find people in your area that are into this sort of thing. Befriend a bookstore. (Preferably the folks that work there. Booksellers are the best people.) Find a writers’ group, and if one doesn’t exist where you are, you should make one. Become a member of SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators). You’ll find your people there, and can plug into regional and national conferences. I’m a proud member!

  • You got this, Sally!

That sounds like a lot of work. It’s like a job! I just think my book needs to be in the world.

It is my job! And you’re right, it’s a lot of work. I am grateful to be able to do this work.

This may feel incredibly blunt, but I promise it comes from a place of kindness: Most book ideas for a book aren’t great. I’m constantly coming up with terrible ideas for books. There are trends and algorithms and tiny elves who whisper in editor’s ears which books they’d like to see published. The book you love and are convinced to ready to hit the presses may never see bookshelves. And that’s ok. Don’t be hurt if an elf doesn’t whisper your name. Keep at it. Listen. And then keep at it some more. Check back in with that list above and look for ways to improve your art and storytelling.

I wrote a book, can you illustrate it?

Short answer: probably not.

Longer answer: If you’ve got a book that you’ve written and are looking to publish, it’s not on you to find an illustrator. The publisher will want to match up the story with an illustrator of their choice. Your first job is to make that story incredible, then see above about finding an agent, etc.

I am incredibly flattered that you like my art enough to ask me to illustrate your book. Though for book projects, I will take on book illustration work directly through my agent/editors/publishing houses.

Do you have advice for young writers?

Where do I start? Write the stories you want to read. The end all be all is not publishing a book. Don’t get me wrong, that is very cool, a worthy goal, but so many people beat themselves up and don’t call themselves a writer because they aren’t published authors. I met Jon Scieszka when I was in 4th grade. I told him I wanted to be a writer when I grew up, and he asked me if I was writing anything now. I told him how I used my dad’s electric typewriter to write stories. He then said, “Sounds like you’re a writer now! Keep writing. I’m excited to read your stories some day.” That’s stuck with me my whole life.

Take that advice. You’re a writer now. Give stories to your classmates, write stories with them. Experiment. Play. Collaborate. Swap stories. Find authors and illustrators you love and learn from them. You don’t have to aspire to a professional writing career to be a writer. We all have stories that we all need to hear to build a better world.

Do you do presentations for schools? Library or bookstore visits?

I do! As a former classroom teacher and with my time building RAWK, I love working with youth of all ages. Hands-on art and writing workshops, talking about making books, discussing books I love to read—I’m down for all of it. I’ve been to classrooms (pre-K through university classes), libraries, and conferences.

I’m working on a dedicated page on this here site regarding specific school visit offerings. In the meantime, I am always available for Skype visits and am open to discuss any visit or workshop you had in mind.

Do you have a newsletter?

I do! I send sneak peeks and process photos and videos, information regarding events, links to authors/illustrators/books I love, and more. Scroll just a bit further down and you can sign up for it.

I am a kid/parent/librarian/teacher and would like to send you mail. How do I do that?

Emmy Kastner

2nd Floor

213 E. Frank St.
Kalamazoo, MI 49007