Anna Grossnickle Hines           Home    Guide

 Questions and Answers About My Work

What made you want to be a writer and illustrator?

I was very shy as a child, but I loved to draw. When my teachers put my pictures up on the board, I liked having everyone admire them. One day I was looking at a picture book and thought making pictures for books would be a good job. I decided I wanted to be a person who made books for boys and girls when I grew up. The only other thing I ever wanted to be was a mother.

How old were you when you first started?

I was seven when I decided I wanted to make books. I was about 28 when I first sent stories to publishing companies. It was over seven years later that I sold my first book to one of those companies.

How did you get started being a writer and illustrator?

I studied art in college, but the college I went to didn't have any classes in illustration and the art teachers didn't think children's books were important. I learned about drawing, painting and design from them, but studied illustration on my own by reading books about it and experimenting. Later I started working with children and reading books to them. I paid a lot of attention to the books they liked and tried to figure out why. Then I started getting ideas for stories of my own. I practiced writing for a while before I found out how to send a story to a publishing company.

For more details see my articles.

How did you find out how to send a story to a publishing company?

A friend told me about a conference being held by a group called the Society of Children's Book Writers. I went to the conference and for the first time heard real authors and illustrators speak. I talked with them and was encouraged to keep trying to do what they did. I also heard editors speak and learned about different publishing companies, how to decide which one to send my stories to, and what to send.

 What did you do after you found out how to send a story to a publishing company?

I sent a story to one company and got a very nice letter back. The letter said, "We like the way you write and the way you draw, but this story isn't right for us. Send us something else."

So I wrote another story and sent it to the first publishing company and sent the first story to another publishing company. Then I got two nice letters back saying about the same thing.

I wrote another story and sent it to the first publishing company, sent the second story to the second publishing company and the first story to a third publishing company. I got three nice letters back.

I did that for more than seven years, until I had over one hundred nice letters. Finally, I sent a story to Greenwillow Books, a company that had sent me eighteen nice letters. This time instead of sending me a nice letter the editor called me on the phone and said, "Yes, this one we want to make into a book."

What was the name of your first book?

Taste the Raindrops.

What happened after the editor said yes they wanted to make your story into a real book?

First she wanted me to make a few changes in the words. Some changes were fine with me, but one change I wasn't so sure about. I asked her why she wanted to make that change. She said, "If you don't want to change it, that's fine." Then I had to make all the pictures for the book.

For more about this read my article First Book: Ecstacy and Panic.

Where do you get your ideas?

Most of the ideas in my stories come from things that have happened to me or my children, or other people I know. They come from feelings I remember having when I was a little girl, or things I observe that trigger my feelings. When that happens I think, "Oh, this might be a good idea for a story". I put the idea in the back of my mind or jot it down so I won't forget it. I have a little garden of story ideas growing in the back of my mind all the time.

A story is made from many ideas put together so they make sense, and help the reader have a new experience, understanding, or feeling. You can read "The Story Behind the Story" on many of my books to see where I got some of the specific ideas. Just go to My Books and click on the jacket or title.

How do you write your stories?

A lot writing time is spent playing with ideas in my head while I do things like gardening, washing dishes, walking, or working on the pictures for another book. I think about the ideas a lot as I'm going to sleep or waking up in the morning. I play with them, combine them in different ways until a story starts to take shape. When I think of something I don't want to forget I write it down on whatever paper is handy.

When I am ready to work on a new story I sit down at my computer. I write it, read it over, go back and make changes, wait a day or two and read it again, maybe making some more changes.

Often I will print out a copy and share it with people in my family, or with my writer friends. Sometimes we get together or sometimes we trade stories by email. My family and friends may give me some suggestions. If I agree with their suggestions I may make some more changes.

When I am satisfied that the story is as good as I can get it, I send it to a publishing company.

For more detail about thinking about ideas and shaping stories see my Articles, especially Voice of the Picture Book or Making Ordinary Magic.

What do you send to a publishing company?

I send all the words in the story in a neatly typed manuscript and a short letter introducing the book. If it is a picture book, since I am an illustrator, I also send a dummy. In the beginning I would also include a copy of one or two finished illustrations, not the original art. Now that publishers know my work I don't include sample illustrations unless I have something very different in mind than what I usually do.

What do you do if the editor doesn't want to publish your story?

If the editor sends a story back she or he will say they don't want to publish the book because they don't like the idea, or because it is too much like another book they have already published, or they may say they like some things about the book but other things bother them.

If they say they don't want to publish it at all I will send it to another company. If they say they like some parts but not others, I will think about their comments and if I agree and can think of a way to change the story so I think they might like it, I will send it back. Often I am right and they decide to publish the book, but if they still don't think it is right, I'll try another publisher.

What is the longest it ever took you to write one picture book?

I first had the idea of writing a story about a child who was afraid of the thunder when my daughter Lassen was four years old. I tried several versions over the years, but wasn't ever satisfied until we moved to Pennsylvania. On our first night in our creaky old temporary home there was a gigantic thunder storm. Big, brave eleven year old, Lassen, crawled into bed with her papa and me. I added that idea to the ones I already had to write Rumble Thumble Boom!.

What is the shortest amount of time it ever took you to write one book?

I got the idea for Gramma's Walk one day while walking on the beach. I wrote it that same day and sent it to the publisher the following Monday. I got a call on Thursday morning from the editor who said she wanted to publish it.  I've written other stories in one day, but they've always been ideas that I'd already been thinking about for a while. Then they needed more work before they were ready to send to a publisher.  The only other time the editor called to say yes to a book the same week I sent it in was when I sent Big Like Me. Usually it takes a few weeks at least.

Do you ever give up on an idea?

That's kind of hard to say. Sometimes I do give up working on a story and set it aside, but I never throw anything away. Someday I might come up with a way to make that story work. What often happens is that some of those same ideas will be used in another story.

How long does it take you to write a chapter book

Cassie Bowen Takes Witch Lessons took several years and many revisions to get right. The only chapter book on which I kept track of the time was Boys Are Yucko!. It took me three months of daily writing to write it, one month to revise it the first time, two weeks to revise it the second time and another week to check the galleys for any last minute changes.

What is the longest book you ever wrote? How long was it?

The longest book of mine to be published was Boys Are Yucko!. I think it was about 160 typed pages. The book has 167 pages.

Have you written any chapter books?

Yes, three of them. Cassie Bowen Takes Witch Lessons, Boys Are Yucko! and Tell Me Your Best Thing. They are all out of print, but you might find them in a library.

Do you plan to write any more chapter books?

I certainly do. I have a couple in the works right now and plenty of ideas. I just need to take the time to write them.

How do you make the pictures?

First I make very rough sketches of my picture ideas in a dummy. This helps me to see that I have good ideas and that there will be changes in the scene or the action from page to page so the book will be interesting to look at as well as to read. The sketches in the dummy show the people at the publishing company what I'm thinking about for each page. These sketches are done with pencil and are pretty scribbly.

When a publishing company decides to make my story into a real book, we decide what size and shape the book will be. The words are set in type just like they will be in the book. That way I can see how much space the words will need on each page.

One thing that helps me make better pictures is to have something to look at. I think careful observation--looking--is an important part of good drawing. It's also an important part of good writing, by the way. I look through my collections of photographs to see if I have any that will help. Sometimes I look at photographs in books. Often I take new photos to look at.

Sometimes people in my family pose for me, but since my kids are all grown up now, I have to borrow kids to pose now. I ask them to do or pretend to do the things I want to draw the people doing in my book, then I take their pictures.

I draw with a pencil. I erase a lot. I trace parts of my own drawing that I like and then re-draw the parts that didn't come out right the first time. Sometimes I use my computer to make drawings or parts of the drawings bigger or smaller.

When I have the lines the way I want them, I trace them onto my good paper with a light pencil line. Then I start working on the color.

For the books I illustrate with quilts, I do a lot of the design work on the computer before I start cutting and sewing fabric. Then I sew the quilts either by hand or more often on the sewing machine. You can learn a lot more about how I do these illustrations by looking at the book pages for Pieces, Whistling, Winter Lights and 1,2, Buckle My Shoe.

What do you use to make the color?

Sometimes I use watercolor as I did in Flying FirefightersThe Day of the Highclimber, and Bouncing on the Bed.

Sometimes I use colored pencil as in Big Like Me, Moompa, Toby and Bomp, Gramma's Walk, What Joe Saw and the Bean Books.

Sometimes I use a combination of the two as I did in Big Help! and Grandma Gets Grumpy.

For Rumble Thumble Boom! and When the Goblins Came Knocking I used colored pencil on black paper which was fun.

In When We Married Gary and Miss Emma's Wild Garden I have used acrylic paints. The art material, such as colored pencils, watercolors, or acrylics, is called a medium.

For Pieces, Whistling, Winter Lights and 1,2, Buckle My Shoe, I used fabric, which called for a very different process. You can read and see how I did those books on the webpages that link to them.

For I Am A Backhoe the art was all done on the computer using PhotoShop and Corel Painter.

Where do you get your paper?

I buy it at art supply stores. That's where I get my colored pencils and paints and all the things I need to illustrate my books.

Now that I'm using fabric I do a lot of shopping in fabric stores and quilt shops.

Do you ever mess up?

Lots of times. Sometimes I can fix a mistake, but sometimes I have to start over.

One of nice things about acrylic paints is that if I try something on a picture and then decide it needs to be different I can paint right over the part I want to change. They are opaque, which means they will cover up what is underneath.

Water-colors are transparent, so you can see through them. Colors and shadows and some things can be changed by adding layers of paint, but what is painted underneath will still be part of the picture.

Colored pencils won't completely cover what is underneath either so I'd better be pretty sure about what I want things to look like before I start.

With fabric I take out a lot of stitches that are crooked. I also take out the stitches if I decide I need to use a different color of fabric in that spot.

As time goes on I am using my computer more and more. Not for finished pictures but to try things out before I do it on the real picture. I make lots of my quilt designs on the computer and can even scan the actual fabrics I will be using. Look at the Whistling and Pieces pages to see more about how I do that.

When I was doing the watercolor illustrations for Bouncing on the Bed I scanned some partially painted pictures so I could try different colors for dad's shirt and some other things I was having trouble making up my mind about. Computers can be very helpful in that way!

Is it hard to stay in the lines?

I've had lots of practice. Still I do get out a little bit sometimes and have to try to fix it or move the line.

What is the hardest part of illustrating a book?

The hardest part is making all the things that are supposed to be the same look the same on every page. If a child has the same shirt on, it has to be the same color on every page. The people have to look like the same people all the way through, whether they are happy or sad, or standing up or bending over. If they are in the same room, or the same place outside, but seen from one side in one picture and a different side in another picture, I have to think about how everything in the scene it will look from each side.

It makes it even harder when I also have to make sure there is a fairly clear space to put the words. I might want to put a picture on the wall, but if on another page I need to put the words in that space, they picture is going to be in the way. This is called being consistent. Consistency can be pretty tricky.

When I do the quilt designs on the computer it is much easier to try different possibilities, lots of different possibilities, so, now it can be hard to make up my mind. Sometimes I think I could keep trying different combinations forever and never get the real quilts done. Something helpful can give you a new kind of problem!

You can see an example of this on How I Illustrated Whistling.

What happens to your drawings or quilts after the book is published?

They are returned to me. So far I have almost all of them. I have given one to my mother, one to my grandmother and one to my husband's parents. I plan to give some of them to my children when they want them. Some of my sketches and samples I have donated to a library.

My quilts are sometimes put in special exhibits.

How did you get to be so good at drawing?

Lots of practice, careful observation, and taking classes. I am still trying to get better.

How long does it take you to make a book?

It can take anywhere from a few days to several years to write a book depending on how long it takes for the right ideas to come together in that little garden in my mind.

Once the story is written, I send it to a publisher. They usually take somewhere between a few weeks to several months to make up their minds.

If they say yes, then it usually takes me about a year to do the illustrations including time to send sketches and samples to the art director to be checked. While the sketches for one book are at the publishing company, I may be working on the illustrations for another book.

If I work very hard I can usually finish three books in one year. It takes me an average of about one hundred days of my work time on each picture book. When my work is all finished it takes another year for the book to be printed, bound and ready to be sold.

How long does it take you to make one picture?

That can vary a lot. First I work on the sketches, trying to get all the parts of the picture the right size and shape, and in the right place on the page. When I have that all worked out and am ready to trace it on the good paper to do the finished illustration, it depends on what medium I am using for the color.

If I am using watercolor and don't have a lot of detail, I may be able to do one or even two in one day.

If I am using colored pencils with lots of layers and detail, I can spend three or four days on each picture.

The acrylic paintings for Miss Emma's Wild Garden took almost a week for each one.

Some of my quilts take a few weeks. Some of the quilts for Winter Lights took two or three months, about 400 hours of working time.

How do you put the covers on?

I don't. That is part of the publishers job. My job is just to write the story and make the illustrations, just one copy of each. Getting it printed and made into a book is the publishers part of the job.

Sewing or gluing the printed pages together and putting the covers on is called binding the books. It is done in a factory called a bindery and when it is done we say the books are bound.

Where do you work?

I have a room upstairs in my house that I call my studio. It is set up with everything I need to do my work. I have a computer for writing, a drawing table, drawers, cabinets, and shelves with art supplies, paper, books, collections of photographs and other things I use.

My studio is the long room on the top of our house. It's a great place to work with everything I need.
At one end of the room is my writing area with my computer and books.
Here in the middle of the room is my drawing table and files with my art work and paper. Art supplies are in the small drawers and the closet to the left.
The other end of the room has my sewing area, which I need now that I am illustrating some of my books with fabric.

Do you work on writing and illustrating everyday?

Most days, unless I am away from home. I like to get up, meditate, exercise, have a shower, eat breakfast and get to work. I usually work all day, taking breaks to get the mail and eat lunch.

In nice weather, when I'm not in a hurry to finish a book, I often take some time to go out and work in the yard with my husband, or go for a short ride in our kayaks.

Often, if we don't have visitors or go to see our kids and grandkids, I work on the week-ends, too.

Is it hard?

It is a lot of work and hard in some ways, but I really love to do it. Some people may love to play soccer, football or softball, do gymnastics or dance, or play a musical instrument. When you love something and want to be good at it, it takes a lot of practice and hard work, but it is fun, too, so it doesn't seem so hard. That's the way writing and drawing is for me.

Is it fun?

Yes, I think it is a lot of fun.

Do you ever get frustrated?

Sometimes I get very frustrated, because I can't get the words or the pictures just the way I want them. But it can be very exciting, too, when a problem finally gets solved, or a new idea comes up. That happens more than the frustrating parts.

Do you like writing or illustrating better?

I wouldn't want to give up either one. My best days I write for a few hours in the mornings, then draw or paint in the afternoons.

What is your favorite book that you made?

I am not a person who likes to have a favorite anything, except for a favorite husband. I like to have a variety of colors, and foods, and books. When it comes to my own books there are things that make each one special to me, and I can't really choose a favorite any more than I could choose a favorite daughter. I like the process of making the books, so I usually answer that my favorite is the one I'm working on.

How many books have you made?

As of 2010 I have 65 books published.  Of those, I illustrated 55 and wrote 47. For 37 of the books I did both.  

I also have short stories included in two anthologies, Haunted House and Dirty Laundry, and two poems in Jane Yolen's Weather Reports.  

How much money do you make?

On most of my books that I wrote and illustrated I get paid a 10% royalty on each book sold. That means that if a book sells for $15.00 I get $1.50 for each book the publisher sells. On the books that I write but don't illustrate, like My Grandma is coming to Town, or illustrate but don't write, like Whistling, I get half and the other person gets half. On paperbacks I just get 6%, so if a paperback sells for $5.00 I get 30 cents. I make enough to live on if I live carefully, but I would be making more if I was still teaching school, which is what I did before I became a writer and illustrator.

How much money does it take to make a book?

It doesn't really cost me very much to make a book. Art supplies are the most expensive thing, paper and ink for my printer, and postage to send things to the publisher. With my quilt books I've spent quite a bit of money on fabric.

The publisher pays to get the book printed. That's the part that really costs a lot. That's why they are so choosy about which books to publish. They have to be pretty sure they will be able to sell thousands of copies of each book they publish. Otherwise they will lose money.

Since I keep wanting to do more and more with my computer, using it to design illustrations, create programs for my talks, brochures, and keep up this webpage, upgrading my computer and buying software, digital cameras, scanners and things like that are also part of the expense of being a writer and illustrator.

When are you going to stop writing books?

Never, I hope.

What advice would you give to a kid who wants to be a writer or an illustrator?

I would suggest paying close attention to everything especially your own feelings. Observe what happens around you using all your senses. Listen to the way people talk. Think about what makes them do the things they do. Keep a journal. Practice and learn all you can. And read, read, read!

What advice would you give to a grown-up who wants to be a writer or an illustrator?

The same as above. Read LOTS of children's books of the type you'd like to write. If you don't enjoy reading them, you probably don't have any business trying to write one. Read the classics and read the new ones coming out.  If you don't know which books to choose, ask your children's librarian to help, or check out books or websites with recommended lists. (In the late nineties I made this list of some of my favorites.)

What makes a particular book work or not work? Read the books with children if you can. Which ones do they like?  Why?  If you want to illustrate, study the pictures in the same way.

The competition is keen and your story or art has to be the absolute best you can make it to stand a chance.  Take workshops or classes and work continually to improve. Go to conferences. The SCBWI has many regional ones as well as their annual National Children's Literature Conference. You may find others in your area as well. Form or join a constructive critique group of other writers and illustrators. You may be able to find other people in your area through the SCBWI, your library, or other writer's organization.  Read books about writing and illustrating. Most of all, make a commitment to write or draw on a regular basis, NOW. Don't wait for someday.

Study the market; acquaint yourself with which publishers are publishing which types of books. Where might yours fit best? Then send your work out with a short cover letter and a Self Addressed Stamped Envelope. Try to learn from the smallest comments made in the rejection letters. Improve your story if you can, then send it out again...and again...and again.  It takes some talent, lots of hard work, and, usually, a ton of persistence.

Lots more advice can be gleaned from my Articles and Talks. There you will find information on such topics as illustration and putting a portfolio together, getting startedcritiquing your own work, learning from rejections, writer's block, voice of the picture book, and more. Also check out the information for beginners on the sites I've linked and on this list of books on writing and illustrating.

What if somebody wants to write a story but can't draw good pictures?

That is no problem. Publishers like to find illustrators for good stories. Just send in the manuscript.

What is the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators?

This is a professional organization that offers support, information and camaraderie for people in this business. They hold an annual conference in the Los Angeles area each August, as well as numerous regional meetings and seminars all over the country, send out a bimonthly newsletter, provide guides to contracts, marketing information and other services to members. They have regional advisors all over the country who can help you meet other writers and illustrators in your area for the formation of support and critique groups. For more information write to SCBWI,  8271 Beverly Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90048, or visit their  website which includes a list of regional events.

Do you have to have an agent?  What does an agent do for you? 

I sold my first nineteen books without the help of an agent. As a beginner it is sometimes as hard to get a good agent as it is to find a publisher who is interested in your work.  The main reason I decided to go with an agent was that I don't like the negotiating part--asking for bigger advances and arguing to keep certain rights.  I work well with my publishers and editors and would probably be just fine without an agent, but I like my agent, too.  When I have a story that none of my regular publishers want, my agent helps me decide if it's worth sending to others and which ones, and then she sends it for me.  Publishers often respond to agents faster than they do to authors, and some publishers will only accept submissions that come from agents.  They know that those stories have already been read by someone who can tell a story that is worth publishing from one that is not.

Since a good agent is familiar with the market, has established contacts with the editors, can get faster responses, and has access to some of the companies who are not reading unsolicited manuscripts, she or he can be helpful, but you CAN still do it on your own.  It just takes work. And as I said, it is often as difficult to sign on with a good agent as it is to sell your work yourself.

If you are the kind of person who is good at negotiating, you can easily do that part  yourself, too. The major publishers offer pretty fair and standard contracts to their authors, even beginners.  If you want help SCBWI members can ask for their contract guidelines to help you know what to watch out for, what is negotiable, and what is usually not.  The Authors Guild also offers help to it's members. (I don't know any more about that--check your library or do an Internet search.)

The SCBWI has a list of agents who handle children's book authors and illustrators, or you can contact the Association of Author's Representatives.

PS: My agent also gets 15% of whatever I make on my books.

What is an unsolicited manuscript?

It is a manuscript that a publisher has not asked to see, or is not written by an author whose work they have already published.  Publishers who read unsolicited manuscripts receive thousands of them per year, and may only find one or two that they want to publish. Since it takes a lot of time and money to read them all, some publishers decide it is not worth it.  Some publishers who do not read unsolicited manuscripts do read query letters.  If you send a query asking if they'd like to see your story, and they say yes, then it is considered "solicited".  If that happens you should be sure to mention their response to your query when you send your manuscript.

Can you help me get my book published or recommend a publisher or an agent?

No, I'm sorry, I can't, nor do I read manuscripts or critique art except as scheduled at conferences.  Even with 55 books published I can't be sure of not getting rejections on my own work and things are changing fast these days. There is no easy way, but if it's what you want, go for it!  I wish you all the success in the world.

More pictures and old news about my family and work can be found on these pages:
2000, 2001 & 2002, 2003 and 2004
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