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No matter what, “pursue what you love doing,” an interview with bestselling authors Sara Connell & Andrea Beaty

The takeaway, for me, is to pursue what you love doing. It might lead you to become a bestselling author or it might not. But in the end, you will have spent your time doing something worthwhile. Aspart of my series on the “5 Things You Need To Know To Write A Bestselling Book” I […]


The takeaway, for me, is to pursue what you love doing. It might lead you to become a bestselling author or it might not. But in the end, you will have spent your time doing something worthwhile.

Aspart of my series on the “5 Things You Need To Know To Write A Bestselling Book” I had the pleasure of interviewing Andrea Beaty. 

Andrea is the author of the beloved New York Times bestselling picture books about pursuing one’s passion with persistence. She is the bestselling author of ADA TWIST, SCIENTIST and ROSIE REVERE, ENGINEER, which spent more than two years on the New York Times Bestsellers List. She’s won numerous awards including the Parents’ Choice Gold Award and Association of Booksellers for Children Best Books for Children. Her latest book, ADA TWIST AND THE PERILOUS PANTS, is set for publication on April 16, 2019.


Thank you so much for joining us! Can you share a story about what brought you to this particular career path?

I never had an inkling that I would become an author until I became one. I studied computer science and biology in college and worked in the software industry for a few years, then left the corporate world to start a family.

That’s when I discovered the marvelous world of picture books. This was the early 90’s and, I think, a halcyon age for picture books. The art and language used in these books was powerful and beautiful and in a whole other universe than the books I read as a kid. I fell in love with the art form.

A picture book’s magic is unique. Like the light from an electric arc, it is found in the gap. In this case, it is in the gap between the words and the illustrations. It’s poetic and it’s musical. Reading a picture book to a child is a true act of love and one of the greatest things in the world.

I read dozens of books to my kids every day and inevitably, I started getting ideas and writing them down. That was fun!

I wrote things that cracked me up. I wrote silly things and sincere things and whatever came to mind. I did it for myself and for the sake of doing it. That, I think was the key to finding my voice as a writer. I did not realize until much later that finding my own voice was the key to being good at writing and essential for successful publication.

After a few months of writing stories that I loved, I wondered if other people might like the stories too. Turns out they did. After the typical slog of rejections, rejections, and more rejections, I finally found an agent and a publisher.

Now, after 20 years, I’m an overnight success! Voila!

The takeaway, for me, is to pursue what you love doing. It might lead you to become a bestselling author or it might not. But in the end, you will have spent your time doing something worthwhile.

What was (so far) the most exhilarating or fulfilling experience you’ve had as an author?

Hands down, my most fulfilling experience as a writer is hearing from parents with stories of how our books have inspired their children. I receive so many notes about kids who stop being freaked out by failure and try again like Rosie Revere. Or who follow their passions like Iggy or who see themselves in Ada’s curiosity. It is a heady and very humbling thing to know that kids connect with these characters. It’s an honor that I never would have imagined in my wildest dreams. No award or accolade can ever compare. Sappy but true!

What was the craziest, weirdest, wildest experience you’ve had as a bestselling author?

ROSIE REVERE, ENGINEER was read by Astronaut Kate Rubins on the International Space Station as part of a wonderful program called Story Time From Space. It was literally out of this world!

Here’s a link to the video! http://storytimefromspace.com/rosie-revere-engineer-2/

What is the greatest part about being a successful, bestselling author? What is the worst (if anything) part?

The best part is the freedom that comes from having financial stability. It means that I can write and be creative and still help my family. It’s a rare and precious thing to make a living at your art. I try to make the most of it as a sign of respect to my parents and my husband and everyone who has worked so hard so that I could have that chance. Nobody makes it on their own. We’re all just standing on someone’s shoulders.

The worst part about being a bestselling author is the green M&M’s. Seriously! Could somebody PLEASE pick those out of the bowl so I don’t have to?

Actually, there is no worst part to being a bestselling author. And if there was, whining about it would make me feel like a big weenie.

What is the one habit you believe contributed the most to you becoming a bestselling writer?

It’s not technically a habit, but I think my success lies in writing for myself. I’m my own audience. If something moves me or makes me laugh and if it has truth, I think it will also reach other readers. In my case, those other readers are kids, but I think the idea holds for any writing. Truth — even if it’s very simple — is universal. That’s why we can read stories about people who are very different than us but still connect to the characters. That’s why books build empathy in readers. We can see ourselves in the stories because they say something that is true about us.

Which writer or leader has had the biggest impact on you as a writer?

Two specific books had the greatest impact on me as a writer. HOW THE GRINCH STOLE CHRISTMAS by Dr. Seuss and MISS SPIDER’S TEA PARTY by David Kirk. These books taught me that a picture book can rhyme, tell a great story, and be funny at the same time. That’s a lot to handle in about 800 words!

What was the biggest challenge you faced in your journey to becoming a bestselling author? How did you overcome it?

My biggest challenge was and remains finding the discipline to carve out writing time and not give it away to every shiny distraction that passes by.

It is so easy to nickel and dime the day away with e-mail, Facebook, Twitter, the dishes, vacuuming . . .

It’s not without a price, however. My dust bunnies have grown into full-sized Babadooks and Sherlock Holmes couldn’t find a matched pair of socks in my house if Watson’s life depended on it. But that’s okay. It’s the price of admission.

There came a moment when I realized that my stuff was the enemy of my time. The more stuff I had in my world, the more I had to deal with it and the less time I had to do the important things like enjoy my family, my garden, and my writing. Sitting and staring blankly at my flower garden is part of my process and it is, therefore, more important to me than dusting tchotchkes. So, I am on a slow-motion tear through my house to get rid of the things that slow me down. I say “thank you and goodbye” and move on without guilt. It has been liberating and opened up space to write.

My other big challenge is balance.

The balance between marketing and writing ebbs and flows depending upon where I am in a book’s publication process. Before my books became bestsellers, I accepted every invitation to do events and did every online interview possible. I spent enormous amounts of time blogging, contacting reviewers, and everything I could think of to get my books noticed. It took time from writing, but I think it was a good decision and helped get the books on the radar. Now, I say “No” to most things because I just don’t have bandwidth to do them. I joke that I would turn away Thomas Jefferson if he showed up at my door with an autographed copy of the Constitution and a box of chocolates. But let’s be clear, I’d keep the chocolate. I’m not a monster!

One of the best things I did along the way was set aside a portion of each advance and use it as a marketing budget. Sometimes that was fifty bucks or a couple hundred dollars. Eventually, I could afford a few thousand dollars. I used that money to get the word out. At first, I spent it on marketing items like bookmarks, stickers, postcards and such. I footed the bill to attend book conferences. Later, I used it to hire people to help with the marketing!

That was a turning point for me. And, I think, for my books.

Publishers are amazing and have very, VERY hard-working marketing people who do a great deal for every book. But, usually, their efforts are targeted at the tried-and-true methods of spreading the word about a book: reviewers, publishing and library industry publications, library conferences, etc..

Before ROSIE REVERE, ENGINEER came out, I hired my college-aged daughter for the summer. She helped research influencers outside the children’s book world who might be interested in a book about a girl who was an engineer. She found contact information for parenting science blogs, science journalists, stem advocates, girl-empowerment advocates, and all kinds of people outside the usual children’s literature circles who were excited to discover books for their kids.

I credit my daughter’s research and the publisher’s willingness to follow-up on it for helping ROSIE REVERE become my break-out book.

I have since hired friends, acquaintances, and even a college marketing clubs to do that kind of basic research on potential audiences for my books. I pass the findings to my publisher who reaches out to them with e-mail blasts and potentially sends advanced reader copies or other marketing materials.

What challenge or failure did you learn the most from in your writing career?

Writing and publishing are two connected but very different things. Writing is the act of creating something from thin air. It’s magical and beautiful and heartbreaking and invigorating all at the same time.

Publishing is the act of finding the exact thing that a publisher needs at the exact moment they need it. It’s an oddly personal business which is, at the same time, not personal. If your book flops, it’s not a personal affront to you no matter how personally you take it. Publishing is a business. It’s one that sells snippets of your heart, but it’s still a business.

So, the hardest part of being published is adjusting your reality when your book comes out and the world doesn’t stop turning to take note. Instead of the sound of cheers from an adoring world, you hear crickets. It happens. It is bruising when it happens, but that’s just the reality of publishing.

The best and most important thing you can do when writing is to take joy from it. Love that part of the process and keep doing it. If your book does well when it comes out, celebrate. If your book doesn’t do so well, celebrate as well. You wrote a book! That’s a big deal. Take joy in knowing that you will have connected with somebody out there even if you never hear from them.

Writing a book is like tossing a rock into a lake. You never know how far those waves will travel and what changes they will make in the world.

Be proud.

What are the 5 things a writer needs to know if he/she wants to become a bestselling author?

1. Not all opinions are created equal.Finding people who can help you improve your writing is a valuable part of getting published and finding your book’s audience in the world. A strong writer’s community can help you through the tough times. However, you can waste valuable energy and time chasing every critique or opinion. I have seen people utterly lose their writer’s voice by chasing every manuscript suggestion. At the end of the day, a writer’s voice is the only thing that sets them apart. Seek the help of people who truly get what you are trying to write and who understand the writing process for your kind of story. Eventually, you will learn to trust your instincts and know which ideas will help or hinder your story.

2. Do more. No matter what level of marketing support you get from your publisher, there is always more you can do to get the word out. The amount of time and money you can and should spend on marketing changes at different points in your career.

The balance is tough. Time spent marketing takes away from writing and vice versa. When ROSIE REVERE, ENGINEER came out, I set aside writing new things for almost a year while I did everything I could to help the book find its footing. I coordinated with my publisher and found new avenues for them to reach. It paid off. Rosie found her audience and has been on the New York Time Best Sellers list for almost three years. Maybe she would have made it there in either case, but I think my efforts helped. At some point, though, the most valuable thing to do is get back to writing the next book and let the chips fall where they may.

3. Hire people to help with repetitive tasks.If you supplement your publisher’s marketing efforts, find people to help you with those tasks. It doesn’t have to cost a lot. Make a donation to a college marketing club or a scout troop for envelope stuffing. Hire your college-aged daughter to use the Google machine and find bloggers who need your book. Set aside part of your advance for this and always pay enough to make it worth their time.

4. Get out of your lane. The publisher will likely cover traditional marketing avenues like review journals and library conferences. There are many, many people in the world who don’t follow publishing. They don’t read book reviews or visit bookstores. And yet, they might be very interested in your book. People who love soccer might be very interested in your book if it relates to soccer. Go find the bloggers who spend their time talking about soccer and let them know about your book.

This is easier to do for some books than others, but every book has some kind of connection to a place or profession or other specific group of people. When our picture book, HAPPY BIRTHDAY, MADAME CHAPEAU, came out, I hired a friend to research milliners, fashion bloggers, and horse-racing fashion magazines. Yes, there are magazines dedicated to hats worn at horse races. And yes, they are mostly British. God save the Queen!

5. Support Indie Bookstores. Publishing is a crowded, noisy space filled with thousands and thousands of books trying to get oxygen. Without champions, a quiet book slips away into oblivion. Indie booksellers are champions of great books, no matter how quiet or how quirky. They are passionate people who share the treasures they find with everyone they meet. Indie booksellers fell in love with IGGY PECK, ARCHITECT and shared it to a wider and wider circle of people. Because they did, we decided to explore some of the other kids in David Roberts’ marvelous illustrations. That led to ROSIE REVERE, ENGINEER and ADA TWIST, SCIENTIST and who knows where it might all end.

What are you most excited to work on next? Most excited to read next?

I am excited to work on THE QUESTIONEERS series of chapter books based on the characters from these picture books. Chapter books are a whole different writing experience from picture books so I’m enjoying the challenge. We have a marvelous new website supporting the world of these characters. (www.Questioneers.com).

As for reading, the tower on my bedside table is terrifyingly tall. At the top is Trevor Noah’s memoir, BORN A CRIME. I think I will start with that and then enjoy some poetry. Poems are like dessert. The perfect way to end a day.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?

The single biggest thing we can do to make things better on this planet is to educate girls. How can we ever expect to solve the climate crisis and other world problems without all of the world’s talent pool engaged and empowered?

Thank you so much for these great insights!


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