Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Interview with author Jeannie E. Roberts

Today, my guest is children's author and illustrator, Jeannie E. Roberts. Jeannie wrote the delightful illustrated book, Let's Make Faces!

1. Jeannie, please tell me how long you've been writing, and why you decided to become a writer.

I've been writing most of my life. I began writing short stories and poems in elementary school. I grew up in a household filled with books and poetry. My parents encouraged my brother, my sister and me to read. At an early age, I was made aware of the power and beauty of words. I find myself drawn to writing poetry more than anything else because of its aesthetic and evocative qualities. Creating poetic rhythm using timing set to accents and syllables is especially appealing to write, as in my children's poetry. But I also enjoy writing free verse, where the rhythm is often organized on looser units of cadence rather than a regular meter.

2. Are you a full-time writer or a part-time writer, and how do you organize your writing time?

I'm a part-time children's writer and artist and a full-time business owner. I run an advertising, marketing, art, and design firm (www.jrcreative.biz). At JR Creative Studios, I spend my days writing television and radio scripts, commercial jingles, marketing plans, and producing other creative projects. I try to write my children's and adult poetry in the morning and at night before bedtime. On a good day, I write between two and three hours.

3. What influences your writing?

Many things influence my writing. I'm influenced by my son and the experiences we've shared together, by my childhood memories and life experiences, by observation, by other people's stories, and by nature.

4. Is Let’s Make Faces! your first published work? What other types of writing have you done?

Let's Make Faces! is my first published children's book. I'm a published poet and my work has appeared in Free Verse, Cross Country Skier, Wisconsin Fellowship of Poets' Museletter and elsewhere, including the mixed-media show Vision and the Word.

5. Why did you choose to write a children's story?

There is nothing truer than writing through the eyes of a child. I enjoy the honesty and sweetness of children's stories. Plus when I write a story, I like to visualize the emotional connection which happens between a parent and a child when they read together. It's a bonding experience. Nothing can take the place of a good children's book. It instills happy and lasting memories. Even at age 53, I can still remember my mom reading Dr. Seuss books to me.

6. What was the process of creating this book from the first idea to the final published book?

The idea for my book, Let's Make Faces!, began in 1998. At the time, I photographed my son, Andrew, making silly facial expressions which inspired me to write a whimsical poem about the experience. This project lay dormant for a number of years, but was revived in 2007 when I began creating oil paintings of Andrew's funny faces for an art exhibit called, "Let's Face It."

In September of 2008, I created a mock-up children's book which included 12 illustrations (nine of my son, two of my husband and one of me) and the Let's Make Faces! poem broken out into book format. I showed this mock-up to friends, artists, writers and poets. I asked for as much feedback as possible and was given some good advice. First, I was encouraged to self-publish so I could maintain creative control. Second, I was advised to add more diversity within my book. In other words, to include both boys and girls and children of color versus just illustrations of my son and family members.

In March of 2009, the engine to self-publish began. From mid-March until approximately the end of June (around three months), I painted 30 paintings with each painting averaging between six and eight hours to complete. After all my paintings were done, I had them professionally photographed. In July, the book design and layout process began and was completed in September. In early October, I submitted my book for copyright, gave the electronic book files to the printer, and set up my book web site with PayPal account.

On October 21, 2009, I picked up 15 boxes of books which contained 1,030 copies of Let's Make Faces!. The actual book process took approximately seven months.

7. Why did you decide to create your own publishing company to publish this book?

There are a couple of reasons why I decided to create my own publishing company, Rhyme The Roost Books. First, I anticipate publishing more children's books, including an illustrated poetry collection. Second, I established my own publishing company so I could maintain creative control and be true to my vision as both a writer and an illustrator. Typically, the big publishers prefer to pair a writer with an illustrator they've selected from their own artistic pool.

8. What is your marketing strategy for Let’s Make Faces!

My marketing strategy is to create as much awareness as possible. It's an ongoing process, but I've had a good start with local publicity from both print and electronic media. Public relation events are also in my strategy, which include story times and book signings. Please see more detail below:

Let's Make Faces! was released on October 2lst in time for holiday gift-giving. Press releases were emailed to local media outlets to create awareness. These press releases generated newspaper articles and interviews on television news' shows and radio programs, including Wisconsin Public Radio. My book was also reviewed by published authors, including Jack Bushnell. Since November, I've participated in over 15 book events which have included library, school, and bookstore visits, story times, conferences, and book signings. Let's Make Faces! is carried by more than a dozen retail and book stores throughout west-central Wisconsin and in Minnesota. My book is also available to order on-line via PayPal at: www.RhymeTheRoostBooks.com. Additionally, this web site has links to my Facebook.com page, my YouTube video and kylestreehouse.org, and I've also included testimonials and a book audio.

9. What are your thoughts about children's writers needing an agent or not needing one?

If you want to be published traditionally, I believe it's very beneficial to have an agent. Publishers rarely take unsolicited manuscripts. An agent knows the publishing industry and has the contacts and know how to sell a writer's work. Plus, agents have the expertise to advise writers on legal issues and to maneuver through the minutia of contracts and copyright.

10. Where can people find out more about you and your writing?

To learn more about Let's Make Faces!, please visit my web site: www.RhymeTheRoostBooks.com

To learn more about my background, art, and poetry, please visit these web sites:
www.jrcreative.biz (JR Creative Studios), scbwi.org (Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators) and wfop.org (Wisconsin Fellowship of Poets)

You can find me on Facebook.com and LinkedIn.com, or contact me via email at:
jeannie.roberts@jrcreative.biz or info@rhymetheroostbooks.com

11. Do you have any tips for writers who are new to children's literature?

My advice to writers new to children's literature is to write from the heart, follow your inner voice and not follow trends. It's also helpful to read other children's books, not only to see what's being published, but also for inspiration. Sometimes other books can inspire fresh ideas and take you down paths you may not have otherwise taken. It's also important to write every day, even if it's only for a few minutes. Lastly, don't get discouraged. Being able to write and express yourself is a gift, so don't give up. There is a child and a parent out there just waiting to read your words and to be inspired by you.


  1. Great interview. Very interesting how Jeannie decided to create her own publishing company. That takes guts. Good luck with it! The book sounds great!

  2. Rena, as a picture book author yourself, I know you can appreciate what goes into creating this type of work.

  3. Great author interview Penny.

    It was nice to learn about Jeannie, her writing, her book Let's Make Faces! and about her publishing company. It sounds like a great book and the review Penny did on it was really good.

    I wish Jeannie much success with her book and her publishing company.

  4. Susanne, thanks for stopping by. It's a delightfully illustrated book, if you have little people on your book shopping list.