Josh Funk resides in New England and is a writer of children’s picture books. His debut picture book, LADY PANCAKE & SIR FRENCH TOAST (Sterling) came out in September 2015. Josh has kindly agreed to talk with 24 Carrot Writing about his books and writing process.
Congratulations on the publication of your debut picture book, LADY PANCAKE & SIR FRENCH TOAST (Sterling 2015)! Can you tell us a bit about your journey to the printed page? How long was your process from idea to print?
Thank you! And thanks for inviting me to 24 Carrot Writing!
I wrote my first picture book manuscript in the summer of 2011 (not Lady Pancake, a different story that will never see the light of day). My wife found a class in the adult education catalog taught at our local high school by author Jane Sutton and signed me up. I quickly realized that I had a lot to learn, but I was excited and the members of the class became my first critique group. Through the class I was introduced to SCBWI and I attended the 2012 New England SCBWI Conference. As soon as I walked into the conference center in Springfield, MA, I knew that this was the place for me.
By 2013, I felt that my writing was in a pretty solid place. I even had the courage to read an early version of Lady Pancake at the NESCBWI Spring Conference Open Mic. But I was getting virtually no response from queries to agents. So that summer, I decided to send my manuscripts directly to publishers.
And I got a few hits. Scholastic was interested in PIRASAURS!, DEAR DRAGON garnered interest from a couple of small publishers, and in early November of 2013 I got an email from Sterling Children’s stating that they’d like to publish LADY PANCAKE & SIR FRENCH TOAST. By mid-January, 2014, I had signed with an agent, PIRASAURS! was acquired by Scholastic, and my agent sold DEAR DRAGON to Viking/Penguin. It was quite an exciting two months!
Did you always want to be a writer? What led you to focus on picture books?
No. I used to write poetry when I was very little (like 6 or 8). Apparently my play-by-play poems about Larry Bird and Roger Clemens were a hit in my family. In college I played guitar and wrote songs – however, the lyrics were more fun and quirky than ‘poetic.’
When I began reading picture books to my children, I found some really awesome ones that I loved. I often credit the following four books as my inspiration to be a writer:
- Iggy Peck, Architect by Andrea Beaty and David Roberts is written in rhyme, using clever and advanced language, about a relatively obscure topic (architecture) and I always thought that was cool.
- The Curious Garden by Peter Brown is simply beautiful art with a poignant (but not preachy) story.
- The Gardener by Sarah Stewart and David Small, written in epistolary format, evokes incredibly strong emotions (especially the wordless spread when Uncle Jim finally sees the rooftop garden).
- Vunce Upon a Time by Siobhan Vivian and J. Otto Seibold is about a vegetarian vampire. If you can write an awesome picture book about that, you can write a picture book about anything.
Aspiring writers often are unsure whether to submit to agents or editors. What advice do you have for writers wrestling with this submission decision?
My advice is this:
- Work on your craft. Don’t think about submitting until your readers are telling you that your writing is ready. Don’t submit too early. Again, work on your craft. And once you’re sure your writing is ready…
- Query agents. Having a good agent on your side is huge. The three biggest things an agent can do for you are:
b. They have access to all publishing houses. A good agent will know what editors are looking for which types of stories and try to match your manuscript with the right home. No more unsolicited submissions. No more slush piles.
c. An experienced editorial eye. A good agent will be able to help round your manuscripts into the right shape before sending off to editors.
I recommend querying agents for at least six months to a year before you...
3. Send directly to publishers. If you don’t have success finding an agent (like me), use SCBWI’s The Book, The Children’s Writers’ & Illustrator’s Market, and Google to see who is accepting unsolicited submissions and go from there.
Many children’s writers are discouraged from writing in rhyme. You have had success with rhyme in Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast. Were you ever encouraged to write a non-rhyming version? Why do you prefer to write in rhyme?
I was never encouraged to write a non-rhyming version. For a while, I thought that my stories were only any good because of the rhyme. But I have branched out a bit and I have started writing in prose lately.
I do think that rhyme, when written well, adds a certain element of charm to a picture book. But it’s very hard to rhyme well – which is why many people are discouraged from writing in rhyme. Frankly, I could talk about this all day, but if you want more of my thoughts on rhyme, check out this page in the ‘References for Writers’ section of my website.
You are a participant in PiBoIdMo and a contributor to the PiBoIdMo daily posts. Have you turned any of your PiBoIdMo ideas into full manuscripts?
I just looked back through all my lists and the answer is actually, no. For some reason, November is not my best month for coming up with ideas.
At 24 Carrot Writing, we discuss setting writing goals. Do you set writing goals for yourself?
Hmm, I don’t think I do. (Note: these last two questions are certainly making me question myself. Ha!)
I think for me, and this goes back to the PiBoIdMo question, too, that I write when I’m inspired. When I have an idea that I love, I’ll spend a ton of time working on it. November hasn’t traditionally been that month for me, I guess. But when I do think of something good, I’m all in until it’s finished.
There are times when I feel like I haven’t written a new picture book manuscript in a few months. Then a few weeks later I’ll have first drafts of a couple new ideas, and maybe even something worth sharing with critique partners or my agent.
The children’s writing community is wonderfully supportive and offers many resources to aspiring and published writers. You are actively involved with The Writers’ Loft in Sherborn, MA as well as NESCBWI. How important has your involvement in the writing community been to your writing success?
The kidlit community is awesome. Not only have I been able to learn a lot from the Loft and SCBWI in regards to both the craft and the business of writing, I’ve made incredible connections with people that have helped me on personal and professional levels.
At SCBWI conferences, I’ve met critique partners as well as authors who’ve given me valuable and timely advice about querying and submitting. I met my agent through a referral of one of her existing clients, a friend I met at NESCBWI. I also met Heather Kelly, founder and empress of The Writers’ Loft.
I joined the Loft about two months after it opened in the spring of 2013 and helped start its first critique group. Now I’m on the executive board, helping to plan events, run the website and newsletter and more. I’m also co-coordinating the 2016 and 2017 New England SCBWI spring conferences (alongside Heather Kelly in 2016). So, yeah, I’d say NESCBWI, The Writers’ Loft, and the kidlit community have been pretty critical to any success I may be having.
Kids can be our toughest critics. Can you give one or two examples of your favorite kid feedback on your debut book?
In the small amount of fan mail I’ve received, I have to say that there are a lot of kids who would like to know if Lady Pancake and Sir French Toast ever get married. I’m going to be honest in saying that I haven’t really thought that far ahead in their lives yet. But one student made the wise suggestion that if they were to get married and have children, it would probably be a crepe (as it is a French pancake).
Crepe! That is one clever student. I love it!
Any final words of wisdom for aspiring children’s book authors?
My best piece of advice is to keep writing. My first book is never going to see the light of day. So don’t get hung up on the first one. Write a second. Then a third. Assuming you’re taking workshops and getting feedback from critique partners, each story you write will be better than the last. So keep on writing.
Thanks, Josh! Please share with us any events where readers (and writers!) can meet you in the upcoming weeks!
Thank YOU again for inviting me!
On December 5th at 10am, I’ll be at Wellesley Books for a Pancakes & PJ’s event.
And all the rest of my upcoming events for December can be found on my schedule of appearances page here.
Josh Funk is the author of LADY PANCAKE & SIR FRENCH TOAST (Sterling), as well as the forthcoming picture books DEAR DRAGON (Viking/Penguin 2016), PIRASAURS! (Scholastic 2017), THIS ISN’T JACK AND THE BEANSTALK (Two Lions, 2017), and more.
Josh grew up in New England and studied Computer Science in school. Today, he still lives in New England and when not writing Java code or Python scripts, he drinks Java coffee and writes picture book manuscripts. Josh is a board member of The Writers' Loft in Sherborn, MA and the co-coordinator of the 2016 and 2017 New England Regional SCBWI Conferences. Find Josh Funk at joshfunkbooks.com and on Twitter at @joshfunkbooks.