Friday, November 30, 2018

Success Story: An Interview with Amy Nielander

Let's dive right in to your great news. Congrats on your book deal with Page Street Kids! Tell us about your forthcoming picture book, I AM NOT LEAVING WITHOUT A HUG.

Thank you! The way this story came about was pretty magical for me. I was walking my daughter to school one day and when we reached the doors, the bell rang. We said our goodbyes, but a nearby parent did not get her goodbye. Her daughter sprinted off toward the school entrance. All of a sudden I heard “I am not leaving without a hug!”. I watched as the girl turned back to hug her mom, but those words floated around in my mind for several days. I kept wondering - what if she didn’t get her hug? I drafted up a picture book manuscript to find out!

When the next SCBWI conference came around, I shared that draft at a Round Table Critique, but it just wasn’t working. I came home feeling a little frustrated until my sticking point triggered a childhood memory. It led me to a new concept which went through more drafts, critiques and rejected submissions. I even put it off for a while and started other projects. It wasn’t until I shared my portfolio with my Rutgers mentor when I returned to it. She encouraged me to prioritize the story and develop it further. I spent months tightening it up. When it was submission ready, I reached out to a previous connection I made at a SCBWI conference, Kristen Nobles from Page Street Kids. After about a month of waiting, I heard back from Kristen and editor, Courtney Burke. They suggested a few edits and when I sent a revision back, they were pleased with the direction. It’s been over five years now since I heard that first sentence!

Find the finished illustration on Instagram

Just a few of the dummies Amy made during the revision process.

How will the process for this book be different from your first book, THE LADYBUG RACE?

The biggest difference for me is the artwork. When I submitted THE LADYBUG RACE, it was finished since I had entered the story in the Silent Book Contest. This time, I’m working on the final artwork post-offer, which is the normal protocol. One other giant difference is the main characters are people…although the reader may find a discreetly placed ladybug on one or two pages.

How did you get your agent?

I was fortunate enough to be referred to an agent by a big hearted Author Illustrator named Valeria Wicker. We have been in an online critique group together for the past 2 years. After she signed with her agent, Adria Goetz of Martin Literary Management, she suggested I submit to her as well (with her recommendation). I did and Adria enjoyed my work. When she offered me representation I wanted to jump on a plane to see Valeria (we have never met in person!) and deliver the biggest thank-you hug in the world. Hopefully we’ll meet up soon, but in the meantime I couldn’t be happier with not only a fantastic, caring agent but having a dear critique partner on this journey with me!

You graduated from the College for Creative Studies in Detroit and worked in the automotive industry. Did you always want to write and illustrate children's books or what inspired you to move in this direction?

Oh - that is a long story. I’m tempted to create a nice visual that tries to connect those dots for everyone reading this. I’ll do my best at distilling. My mom was a dynamic storyteller when I was growing up and loved to write. I loved to listen. I dabbled with my own stories when I was a kid. My decision to be a product designer stemmed from a love for creative problem solving (and making stuff!). When I got married and moved back to Detroit, my job options were all automotive related positions. I took one, however when we started a family, I left it to raise our children. When I was ready to find the best outlet for my creativity I circled back to stories (and my mom), and we decided to try submitting a picture book together. I added illustrations to a story she already wrote (unfortunate rookie move). It was ultimately rejected but during that process, I fell in love with making dummies and marrying text + art together. I decided to give it a go and after learning more about the industry and craft through SCBWI, my first picture book was published 8 years later.

I loved following your Blob Blog and you wrote a post about it here on the Mitten blog back in 2014. How did that project help you grow creatively? Do you think you might revive it at some point?

Thank you Kristin! My blog made me accountable for writing and producing new artwork every week (when I didn’t want to some days). The weekly CREATE A CHARACTER CHALLENGES forced me to do more looking around so I could discover fun shapes around me. The process evolved as I went because I kept learning so much! Posts became more and more about having experiences to pull inspiration from versus randomly creating shapes. Not only did I feel like my creativity was challenged but so was my courage! My last guest was the fabulous Author Illustrator Debbie Ridpath Ohi. And yes, I do hope to return to it someday. I definitely benefited from the weekly challenges, but the number one goal was to make problem solving fun for kids!

Do you have any memorable stories to share from school visits or events? Something funny, sweet, inspiring, or when you learned a lesson the hard way? 

I do have a funny story about a book signing event. I usually bring my soft toy ladybugs with me to school visits or signings. They are the main characters from THE LADYBUG RACE (two ash gray ladybugs). I had a person come up to me once and ask why I had toy mites with me. It never crossed my mind that my little gray ladybugs could look like another insect!

What's next for you, or what else would you like us to know about your work?

After I finish final artwork, I’ll be jumping on revisions for another picture book my agent is eager to submit.

Amy Nielander is a picture book author and illustrator residing in Royal Oak, Michigan. Her first picture book, THE LADYBUG RACE (PomegranateKids 2015) received an Independent Publisher Bronze Medal Book Award in 2017. Her new picture book, I AM NOT LEAVING WITHOUT A HUG will be available Winter 2020 (Page Street Kids). Learn more at

Coming up on the Mitten Blog: Painless Self-Promotion, Book Birthdays, the upcoming SCBWI-MI 2019-2020 Picture Book Mentorship, a Writer Spotlight, and a holiday vacation!

It's Merry Mitten Season! Thanks to our PAL Coordinator, Jodi McKay, for coordinating the Merry Mitten author events with bookstores around the state.

Visit with SCBWI-MI author friends and help spread the word about the Merry Mitten events this weekend and later in December:

Saturday, Dec. 8th at Pages Bookshop in Detroit:

Kristin Lenz