I met Sue Gallion last year when the Missouri and Kansas chapters of SCBWI (the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators) were talking about merging into one chapter. At that time, Sue was the Regional Advisor for Kansas SCBWI, and her first picture book, PUG MEETS PIG was just coming out. Her delightful characters in the Pug & Pig books have taken her on an exciting journey. In 2013, PUG MEETS PIG received the Most Promising Picture Book Manuscript award from SCBWI. And both books have received starred reviews. PUG & PIG TRICK-OR-TREAT was just released this summer.
Congratulations, Sue! Tell us a little bit about your Pug & Pig books. What was your inspiration? Why a pig and a dog!?
Hi, Peggy! Thanks for the invitation! Both Pug and Pig books were sparked by events in real life. A friend of mine’s daughter owned a pug, named Charlotte. The family then adopted a rescue pig, and named him, of course, Wilbur. I heard lots of stories about Charlotte and Wilbur from my friend during our water aerobics class, and I liked the way the words “pug” and “pig” sounded together. When the family had to find a new home for Wilbur because Charlotte never warmed up to him, the story came together!
Pug’s personality is very similar to my black lab mix, Tucker. The Halloween story idea came from Tucker’s reaction to the dog next door dressed in a glow-in-the-dark skeleton costume.
How did you find your editor? What can you tell us about your ‘road to publication’?
I am one of the many SCBWI success stories! When I signed up for a manuscript critique of Pug Meets Pig at the LA SCBWI conference in 2013, Allyn Johnston of Beach Lane Books/Simon & Schuster critiqued it and was interested in a revision, which sold about a month later. But my “road” to writing for kids began in 2006 when I took a children’s literature class at a local community college.
How did you acquire your agent?
Liza Voges of Eden Street Literary is my agent. That agent search is one of the most challenging parts of this business to me. In my experience, there are no shortcuts. You need to all the research you can to query agents who you think would be a good fit for your work. I do think it’s important for picture book authors to have several manuscripts that haven’t been submitted to editors to share with potential agents.
What made you want to become a children’s author?
I clearly remember my older sister reading Little House in the Big Woods to herself, which made me determined to learn to read that book, too. My dreams as a child included being Jo March in my garret. Then I majored in journalism and worked for corporations and non-profits as a writer and in public relations. When my kids were born, I loved reading to them and was always happy to read “just one more.” And now I get to read (and buy!) books for two little grandsons!
Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
I am a great procrastinator and will do anything else except write. But then there’s that feeling -- when you’re working on something and it seems to click, it is such a thrill.
What encouragement helped you along the way?
The encouragement of other writers and illustrators has been invaluable. This is such a crazy business, and most of us need advice, affirmation, and honesty (even when it hurts) from other creative people. The joy has to come from seeing your own work improve and turning an idea into a manuscript. It’s also a thrill to see other people’s work become books!
Where do you turn for instruction and inspiration?
I am in a three-person critique group with Ann Ingalls and Jody Jensen Shaffer. I continue to learn so much from Ann and Jody as well as many other authors and illustrators in our region and elsewhere, and I’ve been lucky to go to a number of SCBWI conferences and workshops. Some of the online resources I find most helpful are Picture Book Builders, ReFoReMo, and Tara Lazar’s blog. I check out stacks of current picture books, too.
Do you have any advice for beginning children’s writers?
Read, read, read current books (published within the last three to five years) in the genre you are working in. When you find an author whose work you particularly like, read all their books. Read books featured in the journals such as Horn Book and Publishers Weekly, and read the American Library Association and SCBWI award winners.
Can you share some tips on marketing a picture book?
Sometimes the wildest ideas actually work! I researched social media celebrity pugs and pigs and sent packages with a copy of Pug Meets Pig and a personal letter. Several of them then featured the book in an Instagram or Twitter post. The Pug Diary, a blogger in Australia, did a giveaway and a great feature. Here’s an Instagram post from Priscilla and Poppleton from Ponte Vedra, FL. The post got 10,500 likes and surely sold some books. I’m sending the Halloween book out to a variety of places now.
Building my teacher and librarian contacts on Twitter and doing Twitter giveaways of books or swag is another specific goal of mine. Those groups are terrific book supporters. Twitter is a great networking tool within the children’s literature community and a way to support each other, along with rating other people’s books and doing brief reviews on Amazon or Goodreads. You don’t have to buy someone’s book to do a review, just check it out from the library or read it in a bookstore. Those reviews really help the author and illustrator.
Marketing your own work is challenging if you were raised, like me, not to “toot your own horn.” But it’s an important part of the author’s role, and I’ve actually had a lot of fun with it.
Sue, thank you so much for sharing your Pug and Pig adventure here on my blog!
Sue lives with her family and her black lab mix, Tucker, in the Kansas City area. Sue’s stories, poems, and activity rhymes have also been published in children’s magazines including Highlights and High Five.
You can find out more about Sue and her books on her website.
Sue tweets @SueLGallion. And she frequently adds to her lists of favorites on Goodreads.
PUG MEETS PIG, illustrated by Joyce Wan, Beach Lane Books/Simon & Schuster 2016. ISBN: 9781481420662
PUG & PIG TRICK OR TREAT, illustrated by Joyce Wan, Beach Lane Books/Simon & Schuster 2017.
Starred reviews for Pug & Pig books!
Read the PW starred review here.
Read the Kirkus starred review here.
Read the PW starred review for PUG MEETS PIG here.