Q & A with PB authors Audrey Vernick and Liz Garton Scanlon

Hi Audrey and Liz! Thanks for stopping by the For the Love of KidLit blog to chat about your new picture book Dear Substitute. This is not the first time you’ve co-authored together. In fact, my daughter has a copy of Bob, Not Bob on her bookshelf, which she loves!

1) How did the idea for Dear Substitute come about? As a teacher, I love the idea, because boy do I hear about it if I’ve been absent!

We started playing with the epistolary form – letter writing – and we wrote a Lot of Letters! To Dear Doctor, Dear Autumn, Dear Tooth Fairy. We might’ve gotten a little obsessed. Anyway, in the end, Dear Substitute was the one that felt most right. We remembered very clearly how different a school-day feels when your teacher is absent and maybe that’s why it’s the one that stuck.


2) You don’t live near each other, in fact you live in different time zones. Was that a challenge for co-writing? How did you collaborate at a distance?

The wonders of technology! Our co-writing happens via a Word doc that we simply pass back and forth, back and forth, making changes, additions and deletions as we see fit. We don’t use track changes because we’re not really asking permission – we’re just moving through the process as if we were one creator rather than two. It’s both a powerful feeling but also wildly freeing and a lot of fun. We have also had the pleasure of being together on a few occasions when attending the same conferences and that puts our process into overdrive, working side-by-side in a hotel room, on two books at once, back-and-forthing them, working in real time.


3) Chris Raschka’s artwork perfectly underscores the storyline. Did you have much input on the illustrations?

We had zero input, thank goodness, because he so far exceeded any hopes or expectations that we fear our input would have only hampered his work! One of the great joys of picture book making is this (often invisible) collaboration between author and illustrator, and it may well have been our faith in that process that originally got us to take collaboration even further and start writing together.


4) Any future collaborations in the works? Hints?

Oh, yes! There’s another book coming soon and it’s all about time and perspective and impatience and dread and excitement and… we’re getting impatient and excited just talking about it here! It should be out next year, illustrated by Olivier Tallec.

5) Advice for picture book writers looking to find an agent?

When you’re building your career and trying to keep your eye on the prize, it’s easy to think an agent is the prize. But the prize is always the craft – the desire and ability to craft a fine story that may one day be read and loved. That’s what will see you through EVERY stage of your career – not just the agent-seeking stage. So we keep developing our craft. None of us is ever too far along to take classes or to seek out critical reads of our work. (Other tidbits—don’t put all your eggs in one basket—keep working on different projects even while you’re out on submission. And don’t be afraid to seek out publication on your own—agents often prefer to work with writers who have been through the publishing cycle before signing. Good luck!)

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