Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Susanna Leonard Hill Makes Picture Book Magic


In my quest to become an author-illustrator, I’ve been studying books and taking classes to learn the craft of writing picture books. The most helpful class I have taken so far is Susanna Leonard Hill’s online course, Making Picture Book Magic. Susanna’s class is ideally designed for busy people, is reasonably priced, and best of all, covers all the basics and many advanced topics anyone would want to know about writing picture books.

In this post, I review her course, interview Susanna, and have the pleasure of having her announce some GREAT news (scroll down to the end of the interview).

Introducing Susanna Leonard Hill


Susanna is the award-winning author of nearly a dozen picture books, including Punxutawney Phyllis (a Book List Children’s Pick and Amelia Bloomer Project choice), No Sword Fighting in the House (a Junior Library Guild selection), Can’t Sleep without Sheep (a Children’s Book of the Month), and Not Yet Rose (a Gold Mom’s Choice Award winner). Her books have been translated into French, Dutch, German, and Japanese, and one may be forthcoming in Korean. She lives in New York’s mid-Hudson Valley with her husband, children, and two rescue dogs.




Her course: Making Picture Book Magic


© 2013 Loni Edwards
Susanna's online course is designed to be completed within a month, with daily email lessons and assignments that take 15-30 minutes a day. A new class begins each month. The three reasons I loved the course:

1. It is paced for busy people but covers all the bases.

What I loved best about the course was that I was able to produce a first draft of one of my best stories simply by following the 15 minute daily exercises, that covered every topic, from character development to plot to opening lines to middles and endings and much more. I had come up with an idea for my story about three weeks before the course started in a bout of insomnia, and all I did was work through the exercises to fully develop the story. Of course, I spent a lot of time after the course editing and rewriting, but it was great to have the bones of a good story to work with.

2. I joined a talented community of fellow picture book writers.

While in the class, the other students and I joined a Facebook group which served as a critique forum. After we had finished, we “graduated” to the alumni Facebook group. With each month, a new crop of MPBM alums join this group, sharing ideas, information, and continuing to critique each others’ stories.

3. It is very reasonable. At $99, it is affordable. This course, along with Ann Whitford Paul’s Writing Picture Books: A Hands On Guide From Story Creation To Publication, will jump start anyone’s picture book writing education. 

An added bonus is that taking the course gives a $25 discount off a paid critique by Susanna. Susanna's critiques are amazing and well worth their full price, but who doesn't like a discount? Learn more about her course at Making Picture Book Magic. 


Interview with Susanna


Susanna agreed to answer some questions about her path to picture book author and teacher extraordinaire:


Q. How did you make the leap from aspiring to published author? What was the key to your success?

Susanna' s debut PB
I have wanted to write picture books ever since I read Harry The Dirty Dog and Make Way For Ducklings as a child. I always wrote... a lot! But it wasn't until after my daughter was born that I found a way to pursue writing for children. Reading a parenting magazine one day, I saw an ad in the back for the Institute of Children's Literature. I sent in my writing sample, was accepted to the course, and I started my life as a children's author. There is no doubt that course played a huge role. I was a complete newbie, and I learned so much from it, not just about writing but about the world of children's publishing. Back then the internet was not yet a factor. The amount of information about writing craft, agents, editors, submissions etc. simply didn't exist.

Shortly after completing the course (which took me three times as long as it was supposed to because I kept having children :)), I was very fortunate to meet the woman who became my agent, Liza Voges of Eden Street Lit. While my daughter and her son played in the yard, she and I chatted about how she was a children's literary agent and I was a children's writer. She asked to see some of my work. It took me 6 months to get up the courage to show her any, but when I did, she liked it and took me on as a client. She sold my first manuscript, The House That Mack Built, less than a year later. From that standpoint, I guess the transition was relatively painless. I had a lot to learn. I worked hard at improving my writing all the time (still do!). But I was lucky in meeting my agent, and I think she may have been the key to my success (along with not giving up when the going gets tough!). Without her, I'm not sure when I would have had the courage to submit, and I'm sure I wouldn't have been as on-target with my submissions.  

Q. I’ve enjoyed so many of your books. Is there one that is a favorite? What inspired you to write that story?

That, Sylvia, is a cruel question :) It's like asking which is your favorite child! :)  I don't think I can pick just one. I love Punxsutawney Phyllis because of her spunk and self-confidence. Phyllis was inspired by wondering why on earth Punxsutawney Phil always had to be a boy when certainly a girl could do the job just as well :) I love Can't Sleep Without Sheep because it's silly and fun. Can't Sleep was inspired by my son, whose mind was always going a million miles an hour at bedtime. And I love Not Yet, Rose because I think it's a story that speaks to the questions a lot of kids have about getting a new sibling. Rose was inspired by my daughter while we were waiting for my son to be born, so it has a very special place in my heart.

Q. As an experienced picture book author, what do you recommend a beginner do to improve his or her craft (other than take your course)?

Susanna recommends this

  • Well, it's probably advice you've heard before, but I'd say read a lot of picture books. There's nothing like immersing yourself in what you want to write to get a feel for how it's done well. 
  • If you have the means, take a few courses. Different courses stress different things and explain them in different ways. 
  • Also, there are some excellent craft books out there from which you can learn a great deal. I highly recommend Ann Whitford Paul's book, Writing Picture Books: A Hands On Guide From Story Creation To Publication
  • Finally, if you're able, join Julie Hedlund's 12x12 group. It's an amazing community of writers (and illustrators) at every stage of their careers and there is a wealth of information and opportunity available.

Q. How did Making Picture Book Magic come about? What has been the most surprising or gratifying thing about this course?

One day I just got to thinking that I'd like to teach a writing course. I wanted to design my own. I wanted to make it something that busy people could fit into their schedules. And I wanted to make it affordable because most of us don't have tons of spare spending money, and I truly believe that everyone should have the opportunity to learn something they want to learn. I also think it's important to take multiple courses if you can (as I mentioned above), and one way to manage that is by not having to spend too much on any particular one. So I started writing my course. It took me 8 months of writing and beta testing and rewriting. I also wanted it to include art that would inspire picture book ideas, so I searched for illustrators whose work I loved that I thought would enhance the course. When I was finally pretty sure that it was as ready as it was going to be, I opened it up to writers starting in February.

What has been most gratifying is the positive response to the course. The people who have taken it seem to learn from it and enjoy it. And it's a wonderful experience for me to have the opportunity to engage with so many talented writers. Most of them stay on in the private Making Picture Book Magic alumni Facebook group after their time in the course is over, and it's a pleasure and a privilege to be able to keep exchanging thoughts, ideas, tips, and opportunities with such a great group of people.

Q. A quick challenge: provide any thoughts or words of advice in haiku form. 

Hmm... Haiku is definitely NOT my area of expertise... I had to look up the rules to do this :)  But I'm always up for a challenge:



Q. Do you have any upcoming projects you can share with us?

Yes, I DO have some news to share. :)  I have a new picture book coming out in Fall 2015! It's called ALPHABEDTIME! and will be illustrated by Betsy Snyder and published by Nancy Paulsen Books, an imprint of Penguin Books.

Yes, I am falling over myself with excitement. :)


                                        * * * 

Congratulations, Susanna, on the new picture book! I can't wait to see it on the bookshelves and thanks so much for the interview. I will also print out your wise haiku and post it on my computer.






Where to Find Susanna Online



Pinterest:  (which is new, under construction, and used for Perfect Picture Books) http://www.pinterest.com/susannaleonard/boards/

64 comments:

  1. Thank you so much for inviting me to your blog, Sylvia, and posting such a nice review of Making Picture Book Magic! AND for being the place where I got to share my very exciting news! :) The post looks beautiful! You did such a lovely job! Thank you again, so much, for having me!

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    1. Thank YOU, Susanna. Very honored to be able to help spread the GREAT news. You are such a generous member for the kidlit community and deserve every success.

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  2. Sus, I am thrilled to say the least! So happy for you. I could feel your happiness in the announcement. Sylvia, I agree with her. The post is lovely! You did a fabulous job. And I can second the review of Making Picture Book Magic. It's all THAT! :-)

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    1. Thanks so much, Robyn! I am VERY HAPPY! And thank you for seconding Sylvia's MPBM review - you're so kind!

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  3. Fantastic interview Sylvia and Susanna. A BIG, BIG Congratulations on your new book!! Kudos on getting Betsy Snyder as the illustrator, I love her work. Nice haiku.I think MPBM is the fantastic course and I hope many, many more people get a chance to experience it.

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    1. Thank you so much, Darshana, for the congrats and the nice words about MPBM! (And for complimenting my pathetic attempt at a haiku :)) I'm excited about Betsy - her work is beautiful!

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  4. Great interview! Congratulations on your new book Susanna! I love Betsy Snyder's illustrations! I'm taking MPBM now and it's been wonderful -- especially the self-paced nature that enables you to read, contribute, do work when you have the time.

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    1. Thank you, Margaret! I'm so excited about the book, and about Betsy illustrating it. I can't wait to see how she imagines my story :) And I'm SO glad you're enjoying the course! I love having you in it! :)

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  5. SUCH exciting news about Susanna's upcoming book -- good news for us as well as for you, Susanna!

    This is a fantastic interview, and Making Picture Book Magic sounds, well, magical. Some day I'll be able to take it!

    Thank you for this!

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    1. Thank you so much for your good wishes, Beth! I'm glad you enjoyed the interview and hope you'll get to take MPBM one of these days - I would love to have you join our group :)

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  6. Beautiful post, wonderful interview, great review of MPBM, and SUPER-FANTASTIC NEWS to share!!! I am SO thrilled for Susanna, and so privileged to have taken her course and learn from her! HUZZAH!!!!

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    1. Thank you for all the capital letters and exclamation points and kind words my dear friend! :)

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  7. You are so right about Susanna's course, Sylvia! That's what I tell everyone too: it is the best value for the money and the small steps each day held my hand long enough to help me write a picture book draft, one that had lots of promise.

    I am so excited for Susanna and her new book!!! My personal favorite of hers (and it's one of my all time favorites too) is "Not Yet, Rose." But I can't wait to read the new one!

    Great interview, Sylvia!

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    1. Thanks so much for the congratulations and for all your kind words about MPBM, Teresa! I love ROSE too, as you know, but ALPHABEDTIME! is a completely different kind of story :)

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  8. Fantastic post, Sylvia! And a great, big hearty CONGRATULATIONS to Susanna! I'd also like to add, that this has been my favorite course so far! If you have not yet signed up- get going! You're going to learn so much about your craft! :)

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    1. Thank you for the congrats, Elaine! And I'm SO SO glad you enjoyed the course. Thank you for encouraging others to take the plunge! :)

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  9. YAY SUSANNA! So excited to hear your great book news. Seriously couldn't happen to a more deserving person...your contribution to this community (and to my writing life!) is huge. Happy, happy day!

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    1. Aw shucks, Amy, you're so sweet! Thank you for your good wishes and for being happy with me today! :)

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  10. Wonderful interview Sylvia and WOOT WOOT Susanna! Wonderful, wonderful news!

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    1. Thank you so much, Cathy! Good news is even better when you have so many wonderful people to celebrate with!

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  11. What a great interview! Thank you, Sylvia, for sharing this. I love the Haiku, Susanna. Congratulations on your upcoming book! That's so exciting! :-)

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    1. I'm so glad you enjoyed the interview, Cheryl. Thank you for your congratulations, and for being nice to my little haiku :)

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  12. Huge congrats on your new book, Susanna! You must be over the moon:0) Fab haiku, I'm printing it out too! Sylvia, thanks for sharing your thoughts on Susanna's Making Picture Book Magic. I've had the course in my radar for a long time and now will certainly sign up as soon as I can.

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    1. Thank you, Donna! I certainly am over the moon - there's no other way to describe it :) I'm glad you like the haiku - I wasn't kidding when I said I had to look up the rules! :) - and I hope you'll get a chance to join MPBM one of these days - I'd love to have you! :)

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  13. Susanna, you are cool as a cucumber - dropping that new book news so casually at the end of the interview! You rocked it! Congratulations!

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    1. Thank you, Genevieve! And I wasn't that cool :) It was a last minute question Sylvia asked, and I actually had to check with my editor this morning to ask if I could share and she said YES! :)

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  14. Congratulations, Susanna! And thank you, Sylvia, for interviewing Susanna and sharing her news with us all. I'm a current student in MPBM and am loving it! Susanna, you are so generous with your comments and encouragement. I am thrilled at your news! Can't wait to read it!

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  15. Thank you so much, Debbie! For the congratulations and all your lovely words about MPBM! I'm so glad you're enjoying it. I can't wait to see how the book looks with Betsy's art! But it's going to be a while... :)

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  16. Sylvia, thank you for this interview. And Susanna, CONGRATULATIONS!!! So awesome. I have to say my fav. book of yours is Can't Sleep. It is now proudly on my kindle and my grandkids LOVE it. My littlest grandgirl covers her eyes when the buffalo come out but she loves the cows. I am planning on taking your course---but one thing and another keep jumping in my way...but I'll be in touch soon. Love, LOVE LOVE news like this-so happy for you.

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    1. Thank you so much, Laura! How cute of your little grandgirl! That is so sweet. I'm sorry if she find that buffalo scary! And I'm so looking forward to having you in the course - we will have such fun!

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  17. Count me among the huge fans of Susanna's course. I cannot possibly say enough good things about it. Congratulations on your new book, Susanna! That fabulous title is a great hook (do I really need to wait until 2015???). Thanks, Sylvia, for the fun & informative interview!

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    1. Thank you so much, Victoria - you're so kind! I'm glad you like the title, and sorry, yes, you'll have to wait. Otherwise i would get in trouble! :)

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  18. Oh my, oh my! Wonderful interview and happy, happy news! Am I using too many exclamation points in the comment?! I just love Susannah and am so excited to hear her news!!! Yay!

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    1. I think you're being very reserved and judicious in your use of exclamation points!!!!! Thank you so much for your happiness on my behalf!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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  19. Great interview. Love the class. Love Susanna. We'll look forward to the fall 2015 release! YAY!

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  20. Hi Sylvia,
    What a great interview.

    And oh Susanna, I am so very, very, very, proud of all of your amazing accomplishments.
    I have three of your books and can't wait to get my hands on the newest member of the family. Thank you, for being such a great role model and you're always so willing to help all us. :-)
    Tracy

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    1. Thank you so much for your congratulations, Tracy, AND for having 3 of my books! :) I can't wait to get my hands on the newest member of the family either! :) I can't wait to see the art! But Betsy won't even be starting it until the end of the year!

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  21. Susanna, hearing news of your new book deal has been the highlight of my day. It couldn't have happened to a kinder, more generous soul. I'm looking forward to reading and reviewing your new baby in 2015.

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    1. Aw shucks, Kirsten! You're so sweet! Thank you, thank you, my friend! :)

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  22. YAY! Great interview Ms. Liu! Congratulations on your new book Ms. Hill! :D I love the title!

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  23. I am SO, SO, SO excited for Susanna, and I'm going to share this post on my FB page so other writers can learn more about Susanna's wonderful course!

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    1. Thank you, Julie, you're too kind! I really appreciate the congrats and the sharing! :)

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  24. Wow!!! I loved this review and interview! Great job, Sylvia!

    Susanna!!!!!!!!!!! I am so happy for you! You know I'm a HUGE Susanna fan and I am so happy about your news. Alphabedtime! is such an adorable title!!! And I went over to look at Betsy Snyder's illustrations and they are beautiful and wonderful!!!!!!!!!! Can't wait for it to be on the shelves!!!

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    1. Thank you so much, Penny! I'm glad you like the title and Betsy's art! I'm so excited to see how it comes out! And I can't wait to see your book either! Which I just realized I haven't asked you about the illustrator and I'm going to do that right now! :)

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  25. Wonderful interview! Congratulations, again, Susanna, on this new pb sale!

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    1. Thank you so much, Tina! The only thing better than a new pb sale is having so many wonderful people to share it with! You are so nice! :)

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  26. Okay, with all of the book announcements, you never said a word. You are by far one of the most gracious people I've had the honor to meet. Susanna, I am such a big geeky fan of yours and I am SO Proud of You. I AM SO HAPPY about the news of Alphabedtime! Wait until I tell my the kids. They'll be so excited! Thanks for sharing Betsy's site. Her work is great!

    Sylvia, you did a great job with this interview. Thank you for sharing this post and the great news with us. Well done. Your page looks great.

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    1. Thank you, Pam, for all your good wishes and kind words! You are too sweet! :) I think I'll have to think up a hare-brained scheme to come to Georgia with Alphabedtime when it's out and visit your literacy programs :) So glad you enjoyed the interview - Sylvia did such a lovely job, didn't she? :)

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    2. Woo-hoo!! Don't tease me. That would be sooooooo WONDERFUL!! The children would LOVE that. I would LOVE that!! Okay, calming down. Yaaaaay!

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  27. I really enjoyed this interview, Susanna and Sylvia. And what great news! Congratulations, Susanna! ALPHABEDTIME! What a great title and IDEA! Can't wait to read it.

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    1. Thanks so much, Dana! And I wish we'd had room to do into detail about all the talented illustrators who contributed to the course and mention you and your amazing work! That will have to be another post :)

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  28. Great interview Sylvia and Susanna! Interesting to hear about your writing journey Susanna. Making Picture Book Magic is a great writing course for any of you looking. Susanna's lessons are succinct, but packed with great info and her critiques are excellent. :D

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    1. Thanks so much for your kind words, Meg! I so appreciate them :)

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  29. PBs are totally out of my realm. Know I know where to steer people when they're interested in writing one. Thank you!

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  30. I just wanted to chime in (after a busy week, and weekend) to say congratulations to Susanna on her latest book deal! Her class has been on my writing "to do" list for a while now, and this post makes me even more certain that it will be worthwhile. Thanks, Sylvia!
    - Carrie

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    1. Thanks so much for the congrats, Carrie, and I look forward to having you in class one of these days! We will have tons of fun! (And also hopefully learn stuff :))

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  31. Wow oh wow Susanna! What great news! So happy for you. When in earth did you find time to write? Do I have to wait till 2015 to see it?

    Like Julie above, I'm posting this on my author page to share with my readers about MPBM. I loved that course and most likely will take it again if that is ok. I loved the manuscript that came out of it and after many revisions I am busy subbing it. Thanks so much for a wonderful interview with a magnificent surprise at the end.

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    1. As you'll find I already posted this post on my latest PPBF review today. http://clarbojahn.wordpress.com/2013/09/27/perfect-picture-book-friday-virgie-goes-to-school-with-us-boys/

      It's at the end with related material.

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    2. Thanks so much, Clar, for your congrats and your kind words about MBPM, as well as for posting about it on your site! I really and truly appreciate it! And yes, I'm sorry, you will have to wait until Fall 2015 :)

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  32. Susanna, Sylvia - priceless, this! Thank you both!

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  33. So glad you enjoyed it, Richa! Thank you!

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